Until the Time is Right

dark forest

Alejandro held Elmer’s hand as they walked amongst the black pines. They reached the yew tree Alejandro had nurtured since childhood. He leaned Elmer against the black twisted bark, drained a kiss from his beloved’s lips, and produced a golden ring from his finger.

But neither of them smiled.

“I’m so sorry, Elmer,” Alejandro said. From his other pocket, he drew an iron nail and began to recite the Lord’s Prayer.

“Don’t do this, please! It’s not a sin to love me,” Elmer said. But it was too late. Black tendrils slithered out from the tree, coiling around Elmer’s arms and neck. A weak breath carried, “I love you.”

Alejandro paused. He shivered at the words. Yet, they could not linger. It was not his place to love a man. It was not the way of his fathers, of honorable men who grow and love their families above his own desires. It was not the time for their love. He hoped Elmer would understand.

Alejandro continued the Prayer. His eyes fixed on the ground.

“So I am moored to this land then,” said Elmer, dissolving. “Pray the tree grows strong, beg Nature to hold me. You will know my terror if I am ever freed.”

And silence came to the woods.

Alejandro collected a large stone, set the golden ring on the bark, and drove the iron nail into the tree.

“The iron is cold and true,” he said. “I will be back for you one day.”

After that night, Alejandro did the rosary every day. He recited the Lord’s Prayer every moment he could, hoping the spirit of the man he loved would never come to haunt him.

Alejandro stared at the shadow clinging to the black trunks of the forest. He knew the legends were true, a wraith was taking travelers, but he prayed it was not Elmer. Though weak from age and illness, he had collected his coffee-brown rosary beads, a vial of holy water from La Iglesia de la Virgen Guadalupe, and a mallet. As mayor, he had left the sleepy comfort of Buenaire. This life had given him enough. It was time to free Elmer, to start a new one.

Alejandro caught his breath, energized his feet, and entered the forest. No breeze rustled the withered bushes. No sun leaked from the dense canopy. Twigs cracked. Bones crumbled. Yet, Alejandro focused on his breath and his steps. The fear would not conquer him.

It wasn’t long before he reached the yew tree. He saw the black nail. Its head broad and tail thick, staked in the center a ring of solid gold.

“Te quero, Elmer,” said Alejandro, producing his rosary beads. “Al fin, nos juntamos, mi amor.”

As the bony-effigy of Jesucristo swung side-to-side, he sprinkled the agua bendita around the tree and recited the Lord’s Prayer. He spoke the Prayer three times, saying it louder each time, until the water was all gone, and he could feel the energy of the forest shift into one of peace and love. And he knew he had succeeded.

Gray fingertips appeared, one pushed out the nail and the ring settled on the earth. Fingers wrapped around the twisted bundles of bark that made the trunk, and a hand reached out for Alejandro. It was their time at last.

And the earth erupted.

Tendrils coiled around Alejandro’s legs, dragging them into the rough dirt, and around his arms, forcing him to bow before the tree. He struggled to lift his head, but he managed to see a gray head and a mouth had appeared.

“Alejandro,” it screeched. “Revenge!”

“Mi amor, soy yo! I’ve come back for you. We can be together. We can love as we were meant to,” Alejandro cried.

Elmer hobbled toward him. Black veins throbbed in his eyes, filled with a timeless fury. Alejandro gripped the beads tighter. He continued his benediction. The holy words he spoke with conviction, feeling the weight of each vowel, envisioning their magic strike at the demon. They failed him.

Alejandro swept up the golden ring as Elmer’s bony hand, as strong as Nature itself, grabbed Alejandro by the hair and dragged him out of the forest.

As priests and the faithful tried to quell the demon and failed, as Buenaire burned and when all hope was lost, after Alejandro had broken free from Elmer, he shuffled to the main road to meet the love he was so desperate to hide.

“Alejandro,” the demon groaned, hand stretched out, holding the golden ring he took back.

“Elmer, I’m sorry for what I did to you,” Alejandro shouted over the roaring blaze. “I loved you, but I couldn’t. I was weak then, as I am now. You wanted a family, a home with me. That was not the way of my fathers. I couldn’t give it to you.”

“Death to all,” the demon said and whimpered. More roots, wide as boulders, crushed the surrounding terracotta houses. More people screamed as thinner tendrils curled into horrid creatures and chased them through the streets.

“Elmer, please! Forgive me.” Alejandro staggered toward the demon.

His hand cupped the cold, dead cheek. Time and curses had taken away his beauty, but his unwilling charm had never wavered.

“We can make a home together now,” Alejandro whispered. Elmer’s furious eyes softened. “I’m ready now. Let’s go home, my love.”

Tendrils slithered over Alejandro’s legs and arms, and more came for Elmer.

It was time for the old men to find their peace on the earth. They had waited too long for each other. As the ground took them, Elmer exhaled, the ring fell from his finger, and his relief cast a gust through the village, extinguishing the fire.

One final blessing to the world. One of freedom and love, begging that all men could leave behind the sins of their fathers, hoping one day they could be free of shame and fear, and love for its own sake.

Copyright 2022 Kevin M. Casin

Photo by Vital Sinkevich on Unsplash

Kevin M. Casin

Kevin M. Casin is a gay, Latino fiction writer, and cardiovascular research scientist. His fiction work is featured in If There's Anyone Left, From the Farther Trees, and more. He is Editor-in-Chief of Tree And Stone, an HWA/SFWA/Codex member, and First Reader for Diabolical Plots and Interstellar Flight Press. For more about him, please see his website: https://kevinmcasin.wordpress.com/. Please follow his Twitter: @kevinthedruid.

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