The Whimper Tree

📅 Published on January 5, 2021

“The Whimper Tree”

Written by Micah Edwards
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

Copyright Statement: Unless explicitly stated, all stories published on are the property of (and under copyright to) their respective authors, and may not be narrated or performed, adapted to film, television or audio mediums, republished in a print or electronic book, reposted on any other website, blog, or online platform, or otherwise monetized without the express written consent of its author(s).

🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available


Rating: 9.44/10. From 9 votes.
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When I was a kid, I used to love it when my granddad came to visit. He was a big man, tall and stout and loud, with a huge bushy beard and a booming laugh. He wore an eyepatch over his left eye, and in my mind he really was a pirate. I’d always show him pictures I’d drawn of him aboard a ship, fighting dragons and sea monsters, and he’d laugh his big laugh and tell me that it wasn’t like that at all. But he’d wink when he said it, so I never knew for sure.

One time, I asked him if he’d stolen my dad as a baby, captured him from a sinking ship.

“Why would you think that?” he asked me curiously.

I gestured at my dad, who was in the other room reading. Visually, he and my granddad had almost nothing in common. My dad was of average height with a slight build. He was clean-shaven, pale, neat and wiry. In my grandfather’s presence, he seemed almost to vanish, eclipsed by my granddad’s personality and self.

“He’s so normal,” I told my granddad, “and you’re like a pirate bear.”

My granddad roared with laughter, slapping his knee.

“No,” he told me, “he’s mine, all right. Body and blood.”

“But you’re so different!”

Granddad shrugged. “He liked to read. Nothing wrong with that! He was a sharp boy, and grew up to be a smart man. A lot smarter than his old man, for sure.”

“Didn’t you ever wish he was more like you, though?” What I wanted to ask was if he’d ever wanted my dad to take over the pirate ship, but I knew I wouldn’t get a straight answer if I asked that. I was trying to dance around the question, with a child’s attempt at slyness.

“To tell the truth, I was happy to have him staying inside. I was probably overprotective as a parent, and it put me at ease to have him at home and quiet.”

I tried to picture my granddad as overprotective, and failed. The best I could imagine was him pushing my dad behind him as cannibals attacked the ship.

Granddad saw my disbelieving expression. He leaned in close to me and tapped his eyepatch. “Did I ever tell you how I lost this eye?”

I shook my head. I’d often asked, but he’d always made up some fantastical story that even I didn’t believe.

“I was young. Not as young as you; I was in high school. It was summer, and I was out in the woods with three friends of mine. Brian, Jimmy and Mike, their names were. We were out in the woods because our parents wouldn’t have us in the house anymore. They’d kick us out when the sun rose, and we weren’t expected back until dark. So all day, every day, we’d go roam around.

“This particular day, we were deep in the woods, catching crawdads in the stream and throwing pine cones at each other. We had vague plans of making a fort, but none of us had brought any sort of tools, so this quickly devolved into finding fallen logs and trying to prop them up on each other. We were having mild success, but most of what we found was soggy and rotten from long contact with the ground.

“Then we came upon a dead tree, still upright. It was bone-white, not a leaf or a scrap of bark on it. It stood dozens of feet tall, its skeletal branches clutching at the sky. We all stopped and stared for a minute, captivated by its presence. It was an odd totem of death to find in the middle of the lush, green forest.

“Jimmy broke the silence. ‘Now that,’ he said, ‘will make a nice fort. C’mon, let’s push it over.’

“Brian and I started forward, but Mike held back. ‘Guys, no,’ he said. ‘Leave it be.’

“‘What? It’s perfect!’ said Jimmy, and Brian and I nodded our agreement.

“‘Listen,’ said Mike, and we did. For a moment, all I heard was the tree creaking slightly as it swayed in the wind. And then, quietly, there was a sound of someone sobbing. Distant, small, like they’d long since given up all hope.

“But then Jimmy said, ‘All I hear is a tree that sounds like it’s about ready to fall over. C’mon, push!’ And suiting action to word, he put his hands against the tree and shoved.

“When he pushed, I heard it groan, and it sounded like no tree I’d ever heard. It was a sound of fatal sickness, of a man’s dying breath. I’d been walking over to help him, but I stopped in my tracks when I heard that.

“‘Stop!’ cried Mike, but Jimmy just laughed and said, ‘Guys, c’mon, gimme a hand here!’

“‘Stop it!’ Mike said again, putting a hand on Jimmy’s shoulder, but Jimmy pushed him away. Mike’s face hardened.

“‘I’m going home,’ he said. ‘If you’re too stupid to listen, I’m not going to stay here and watch you get hurt.’

“‘I’m heading back, too,’ I said. Jimmy ignored me. As Mike and I walked away, I heard him saying to Brian, ‘Gimme a boost here. I think I can snap off some of these limbs, and we can use ‘em for the corners.’

“Mike and I walked in silence for a bit, listening to the leaves crunch under our feet. Finally, he spoke.

“‘It’s called the Whimper Tree,’ he said. ‘My dad told me about it. It’s bad luck. People die around it. Especially anyone who tries to hurt it. And it…it keeps them. Afterward, I mean. You heard it, right? The crying?’

“I nodded, and Mike continued. ‘He said the Whimper Tree never lets you go. That it feeds on stolen lives.’

“‘So why not just avoid it?’ I asked. It seemed a reasonable question. We’d been pretty deep in the woods today. ‘Or fence it off or something.’

“Mike was already shaking his head before I finished talking. ‘It’s not like that. Not like a normal tree. It’s anywhere. Anywhere it wants to be. It was deep in the forest today, but it could be right at the edge the next time you see it. Or, or in a park, even. But it’s always the same. Bone-white trunk, big clawed branches, looking years dead. And when it moves, you can hear the crying of the people it’s collected.’

“We walked on a long way without saying anything after that. Even the forest seemed oddly still and silent. When the town finally came into view again, it was a huge relief. Mike and I took off for our own houses without so much as a goodbye to each other, eager to be back in the safety and security of home.

“The next morning, we found out that Brian and Jimmy had never made it home at all.”

Granddad paused for a moment, fixing me with his one-eyed stare to make sure I was paying attention. I was utterly rapt. This sounded like another made-up story, but it was his best one yet.

“Mike and I took their fathers back out to where we’d been yesterday, thinking that maybe they’d gotten that fort built and decided to spend the night in it. When we got there, we found that they were still there, all right. Both of them lying at the base of the Whimper Tree. Jimmy with a broken neck from a bad fall, a branch from the tree stabbed through his side. Brian underneath him, that same branch jammed directly into his throat, driven in by Jimmy’s weight.

“Brian’s dad wailed. I’ll always remember that sound, that heart-wrenching noise of pain and loss. But underneath it, behind it, I heard another sound. As the wind blew and the branches of the Whimper Tree creaked, I could hear voices crying out in terror. They were whisper-soft and sounded miles away, but I recognized them all the same. I knew it was Brian and Jimmy, caught by the tree.”

Granddad was quiet, remembering. I piped up: “But how’d you lose your eye?”

Granddad sighed. “I was young, angry and stupid. I thought I could get revenge. I went back a few days later, went out there on my own with a box of matches. I piled up leaves and sticks around the base of the Whimper Tree, built them up nice and high. Then I set fire to it and stood back to watch the tree burn.

“There was a popping noise as a pinecone or wood knot exploded, and suddenly I felt heat on my face and a searing pain in my eye. I screamed, clawing at it, and I pulled an ember the size of my thumbnail out of my left eye. There was another pop, and another piece exploded from the fire, striking me in the nose. I turned and ran, heedless of the fire I’d left behind. I fled all the way home in panic, but it was far too late by the time I got there. My eye had been cooked into uselessness. I never saw out of it again.

“I was almost okay with that, though, because I’d killed the tree. The woods caught fire and a big swath burned. They had to get firefighters in from all over to put it out. People put two and two together with my burned eye and the woods, and I got in plenty of trouble for it. But no one’s property got burned, and everyone understood what I’d been trying to do, at least a bit. So I never did have to see the judge about it. People mainly figured that losing an eye was punishment enough.

“I was pretty well locked down with house chores for the rest of the summer, though. My folks weren’t particularly inclined to let me have a lot of freedom after that. So it wasn’t until school let back in in the fall that I realized I hadn’t won at all.

“It was the first week of school, the first Friday. I was already bored of being back, and let my gaze drift out the window to the woods out behind the school. And there it was, big as life: the Whimper Tree. Standing rooted like it had always been there, its corpse-finger branches pressing through the other trees, standing not ten feet from the forest’s edge.

“My heart froze, and I stared at it unblinking until the teacher noticed and sharply called me back. I tore my eyes away, but as soon as her attention left me, I looked back to see if it had just been a mirage. It was still there, though. Waiting.

“I got Mike to come outside with me later, and we stood on the back steps of the school and looked across the field to the trees. The Whimper Tree stood there, swaying slightly, and although the chatter of all of the kids in school was much too loud to hear anything else, I knew that if I were closer, I’d hear the muted cries.”

Just then, a hand fell on my shoulder, and I jumped about a foot in the air. The hand belonged to my father, who I hadn’t heard come in.

“Dad,” he said, frowning, “are you telling that old story about the Whimper Tree again?”

Granddad just smiled at him. “The fact that you still think it’s just an old story makes my heart glad. That tree followed me until the day you left home—”

“—and it’s out there waiting for me now,” Dad finished for him. “Waiting to finish the job it started.” He smiled indulgently.

“Believe what you like,” said Granddad. “I’ve told the boy about it. He can make his own decisions when he sees the tree.”

Dad shook his head. “That he can.”

I largely forgot about this story for several years. It was just one among many that my granddad had told me, as implausible as any other. So I filed it in the back of my mind along with all the tales of dragons and monsters and spaceships he’d told me, and there it stayed, disused and forgotten.

Until one day in eighth grade, when I was out in the forest with my friend Jamie. We were wandering around, whacking trees with sticks and swinging on vines, when we came across this tremendous dead tree. It was a ghostly greyish-white, not a trace of bark on it, with branches like bone grasping at the sky. Suddenly, my granddad’s story crashed back in on me, and I halted in my tracks.

“Whoa, cool tree,” said Jamie. “Betcha I can climb to the top.”

I shook my head, feeling a sense of dread but unable to formulate the sentence I wanted to say.

“Sure I can!” said Jamie, misinterpreting my head shake. “No, I just—it’s not a good idea,” I said.

“Why? You chicken?” taunted Jamie. He sauntered over to the tree and started to climb, his feet kicking for purchase on the smooth trunk. He shimmied his way up to the lowest branch and grabbed on, swinging himself up onto it. I held my breath as he swung, then released it in a rush of air as he made it without mishap.

“See? It’s easy!” said Jamie, straddling the limb. He reached out for a long, thin branch to pull himself upright, and he was halfway to his feet before, with a sharp snap, the branch broke free and Jamie tumbled to the ground.

I raced over, terrified, but Jamie was already bounding to his feet, laughing. “I’m fine, I’m fine. Were you worried about me? Little worrywart?” He poked at me with the broken branch as he teased, jabbing at my stomach with each question. I swatted the branch away, my concern replaced by amused annoyance.

“Worry baby!” Jamie chanted, slicing at me with the stick. He whacked me on the arm, which stung from the impact.

“Quit it!” I said, snatching the stick from his grasp and whipping him on the arm in return. He lunged for me and we tussled for the stick, rolling around on the ground as we each tried to tear it away from each other.

With a crack, the stick broke between us, splintering in our hands. I felt a sharp pain as shards stabbed into my palm, and I cried out and broke free of the grapple. I rose to my feet, my bleeding right hand cradled in my left, and saw Jamie not only bleeding from his hand, but also from several pinpricks on his neck.

“You okay?” he asked, our minor battle already forgiven.

“Yeah,” I said, squeezing my hand in an attempt to lessen the pain. “You?”

He inspected his palm. “Yeah, it’s fine. Mom’s gonna want to pull those splinters out when I get home, though.”

He made a face which I mirrored. The idea of tweezers and digging needles didn’t appeal to either one of us. I could see several of the slivers buried under my skin, though, and they were going to have to come out. There was more pain in my future.

I was right about the needle and tweezers, but wrong when I thought it would end there. The next morning, my whole hand was red and swollen. It throbbed painfully whenever I moved it, and I could barely bend my fingers.

My parents rushed me to the hospital, but it was already far too late. The doctors did what they could, but my hand was going gangrenous at an impossibly rapid rate. In the end, they were forced to amputate.

I learned later that Jamie was also admitted to the hospital that day. Unlike me, though, he didn’t just have shards in his hand. He’d also gotten tiny fragments in his neck. And while I lost my hand, Jamie lost his life.

I remember the day of Jamie’s funeral, feeling the ache in my missing hand as I watched his coffin lowered into the ground. I remember the rage I felt at the unfairness of it all, and the desire to do something about it, to get back at the thing that had caused it.

But my granddad was there, his big arm around my shoulders. I looked at his eyepatch, thought about his attempt to kill the Whimper Tree, and I chickened out. I told myself that it was the smart thing to do, told myself that it was just a coincidence, told myself a thousand things to make it okay. But I knew deep down that the reason I hadn’t gone back to chop that tree down was that I was afraid. I hated myself for that for years.

Until today, I would have said that that day was the low point of my life. I lost my friend, I lost my good hand, I lost my belief that the world was a good and fair place. But I made my way back from there. I learned to be left-handed, I moved on with my life, I grew up and let things fade a bit. I graduated, moved out, got married, had kids of my own.

And that’s where we are right now. Because my oldest son is fourteen, and he’s on a camping trip with his class. He just texted me a group picture of all of them standing at the campsite smiling together. And directly behind him, bone-white trunk stark against the surrounding trees, stands the Whimper Tree.

Most of it is out of frame, but I’d know that trunk anywhere. And if that weren’t enough, there’s one branch visible in the picture, too. It’s not stretching up for the sky. It’s pointing toward the camera, a threatening finger. And it’s curved downward ever so slightly, reaching possessively for my son.

I didn’t see the text when it first arrived. I only noticed it an hour or so later. I’ve called his phone, but he’s not answering. Neither is the teacher. And the way I felt that day at Jamie’s funeral is nothing compared to the pit in my stomach right now.

I’m going to drive out there now. I’m bringing my axe. I doubt I can kill the tree, but I have to try. And I know it’s miles away, but it seems to me that I can already hear the faint, faded screaming of my son’s voice.

Rating: 9.44/10. From 9 votes.
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🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available

Written by Micah Edwards
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

🔔 More stories from author: Micah Edwards

Publisher's Notes: N/A

Author's Notes: N/A

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Copyright Statement: Unless explicitly stated, all stories published on are the property of (and under copyright to) their respective authors, and may not be narrated or performed, adapted to film, television or audio mediums, republished in a print or electronic book, reposted on any other website, blog, or online platform, or otherwise monetized without the express written consent of its author(s).

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