Based on the Port St. Lucie Legend
Back in the 1970s, a series of bizarre incidents occurred at what has since been known as “The Devil Tree.” Beneath this ancient denizen, evil was wrought by a sick serial killer, calling upon forces most evil and dark. People were hung there … and bodies buried there … exhumed by the police. Overcome by superstition, some tried to cut down the tree, to no avail. Since then, it has stood in a remote section of a local park — left to its own devices — quiet in its eerie repose — until now!
Best-selling psychological-thriller author Keith Rommel has imagined the whole tale anew. He’s brought the tree to life and retold the tale with gory detail only possible in a fiction novel. Action-packed, with spine-tingling detail, this thriller is beyond parallel in the ground it uncovers … one author’s explanation of what may have really been said — what may have really happened — under Port St. Lucie’s “Devil Tree.”
An Excerpt from The Devil Tree
The big oak tree had crooked limbs that reached for the sky and a trunk over twenty feet in circumference. The thick canopy above blocked the midday sun, making the air seem ten degrees cooler than the scorching ninety degreeheat beating down from the hot Florida rays.
Port Saint Lucie was a quiet town and seemed to be a world within its own. Dirt roads and cheap housing had the allure to invite northern folks in hopes of escaping the bustle of city life, high costs of living, and the brutal cold winters that took their toll on the mind, body, and spirit.
For Marion, so far the change of pace was nothing short of perfect. The house she lived in was beautiful, her neighbors were pleasant; the air seemed cleaner and the sky a different kind of blue. Looking at the ground surrounding the oak tree, she thought it the ideal spot to have a picnic with her two children, Bobby and Judy.
She had Bobby carry the white and red checkered sheet, which was folded into a neat and manageable square. Judy helped by carrying the wicker picnic basket but struggled with the weight. Neither her mother nor her brother offered to help her because she insisted she could do it and didn’t want help from anyone. Headstrong and full of temper, she was a handful.
Marion fiddled with a transistor radio and tried to get a clear signal so they could listen to music while they spent some quality family time on this perfect day out.
“Right here,” Marion said to Bobby, pointing at the flat ground underneath the giant oak. She mopped the sweat from her brow and looked up the hulking trunk and into the intricate weave of branches that was marvelous to the eyes. Spanish moss hung down, and if it wasn’t daytime the oak might have left the impression of a creepy Halloween prop.
Bobby placed the blanket down and did a fine job of getting all the wrinkles out of it. Marion assisted Judy in placing the basket down on the corner of the blanket, and although she didn’t say so, Marion thought she was thankful for the assistance.
Marion kicked off her shoes and stepped onto the squares and sat cross-legged. The ground was soft enough, and a coolness from the soil seeped up through the blanket, adding to the relief of being out of the direct sunlight.
“Yes, this is perfect,” Marion said, and the radio caught the marvelous chorus of “Norwegian Wood” by The Beatles. “Put your shoes off to the side before you step on the blanket,” she told the children. “I don’t want you tracking dirt all over the place before we eat.”
The kids did as they were told and Marion looked around, admiring the spot she had chosen. It was the
first time she had been to this particular part of town and was glad she’d come across it. She had seen a couple of fishermen on her way in, tugging on the invisible lines they had cast and drinking Blue Ribbon beer. The men had looked over their shoulders at the sound of her car, but she had pulled far enough into the oversized lot that she couldn’t see them from her space.
The water in the canal looked clean enough to cool their feet if they needed, and the flow of water was slow enough that it posed little to no threat of sweeping them away. But she would decide whether or not they would go into the canal after the children had eaten and if they behaved well enough.
Bobby and Judy sat on the blanket, their legs folded Indian-style just like their mother. Bobby’s face lit up as he admired the giant oak and the things that dangled over him.
“Do you think I can climb it when we’re done eating?” Marion thought about it. There was no question the tree was strong enough to hold him. But the sharp angles of the branches and clumps of Spanish moss made her nervous. She’d heard something about there being chiggers in moss. Despite the warm weather, she shivered just thinking about those nasty biting mites.
“I don’t know, Bobby, let Mommy think about it,” she said but already knew the answer to be no. She just didn’t want to start the picnic on a negative. “Let’s eat some lunch then afterward I’d like to go down to the water there and have a look. Maybe we can get our feet wet.”
“Neat, Mom,” Bobby said.
Static filled the Zenith 500 transistor radio, and Marion fiddled with the small dial, delicately turning it until the tuning was sharp. The Beatles came back to life, and she couldn’t help but sing along in an emotional whisper.
She opened the basket and handed Bobby and Judy their bologna sandwiches, which were cut into fours. The children placed them into their laps and ate neatly and with manners.
“How did you find this place, Mom? It’s really neat,” Bobby said. Marion watched as her son was unable to keep his eyes out of the canopy. The tree seemed to invite him up the hefty trunk and into the tangle of branches. The vantage point from up there must be spectacular, she thought, watching him bite into his sandwich with an ailing whine.
Marion ignored him and continued to take in her surroundings. Their 1966 Studebaker Wagonaire was parked about thirty yards away, cooking in the midday heat. She grabbed her own sandwich and unfolded the foil. As she sat there, taking tiny bites, a sudden chill rocked her body. The cold that came up through the ground and the shade of the giant oak maybe took away too much of the warmth, she decided. Marion looked at her children with the flesh goosed on her arms.
“Are you guys cold at all?”
“No,” Judy said. “It’s nice here. I like it, Mommy.”
“Yeah, Mom, it’s really neat here.”
Marion nodded in acceptance but noticed her skin was clammy. Even though she was chilled, sweat seeped from her forehead as if she had just gotten done with a long run. She thought for a moment that maybe she was going through midlife changes or something.
The wind blew and rustled the leaves above. The old oak tree creaked as the branches near the top swayed. There was something strange in the way it made sounds against the wind. It was almost like a tired old voice that complained about being disturbed. But that was silly, Marion decided, because trees couldn’t talk and they certainly couldn’t complain about the wind moving their branches. It was a tree made of wood. Nothing else.
Then, Marion felt her energy drain and she lost her appetite. She looked at Bobby and Judy to see if they
were showing any of the same unexplainable symptoms, but they were oblivious. She felt like she needed to leave for safety reasons but had an inexplicable desire to stay right where she was. The cold didn’t matter, her sudden loss of appetite didn’t matter, and the protest of the tree didn’t matter either.
The tunes that came out of the transistor radio had become something in the background, and whatever she was feeling coursed through her body in a cold wave that made her shudder.
“It doesn’t want us underneath it, but now that we’re here it doesn’t want us to go yet,” Marion whispered and looked at her children and then up into the tree.
Bobby stared at her inquisitively.
Marion looked at him and motioned to speak. A sense of danger for her children’s safety came like a fire raging over her, but it quickly faded like someone tossed a wet blanket over it. Her mouth clamped shut and confusion kept her still.
What’s wrong with me? she thought. Her fears and thoughts were ridiculous and irrational and she knew she needed to get control over her herself. As she looked around, time slowed to a crawl. Judy chewed with her mouth open and Bobby made chomping sounds while he rocked back and forth and hummed.
“Stop it,” Marion shouted with so much anger that the kids froze. Her eyes were as wide as quarters and she shut the radio off, almost breaking it as she slammed it down to the ground. “I taught you two better than that. Eat with your mouths closed and stop making them sounds. It’s disgusting and we will never be invited over to anyone’s house if you two can’t keep your manners in mind.” She pointed at Bobby. “And you stop jerking back and forth and humming while you eat. Do you hear me?”
Bobby nodded. His eyes were as wide as hers but wet with tears that threatened to pour down his face. Judy just stared, her body perfectly still and stiff.
“Did you hear what I said?” Marion said. “I want to hear that you heard me!”
“Yes, we heard you. I’m sorry, Mom,” Bobby said.
“Shut up and stop whining, Bobby. It’s as bad and as annoying as you eating with your mouth open.”
The wind blew again, and high above the leaves flickered and the branches swayed, creaking and groaning loudly. Leaves twirled down from above and fell onto the blanket, settling between Marion and her children.
“Stand up,” Marion said sharply, and the children did as they were told. She stood as well and took their hands. She stepped off the blanket, and with a strong tug, she dragged the children toward the water.
“Where are we going, Mom?” Judy said. Her mother held her tightly and kept her hand high enough that her feet were barely touching the ground.
“Mom?” Bobby said, and his voice cracked.
Marion didn’t answer. She marched the kids straight ahead with her eyes forward and her path unwavering.
They splashed into the water until it was past their waists, and then she let them go. With an inhuman growl she swung her fist and punched Bobby in the right eye, knocking him down. Bobby struggled to stand, but the blow to the face and the slick bottom kept him off balance.
Marion grabbed Judy and pushed her head underneath the water and held her there, staring into the
distance all the while. The little girl thrashed and tried to break free of her mother’s hold, but she couldn’t match Marion’s strength. After a few moments, Judy went limp and Marion let her go. She began to float; her body was still and peaceful and could no longer bother the tree.
Turning her attention to Bobby, Marion closed-fist punched him again. This time with such force that an instant gash formed over his eyebrow and he yelled out in pain and begged for her to stop.
And she did, but only for a second. Marion looked downstream and saw that the fisherman she had seen
earlier were too far away to know what was happening here. She grabbed Bobby by the neck and pushed on the back of his head, submerging him in the water. He thrashed, too, but had little fight left in him.
And she did, but only for a second. Marion looked downstream and saw that the fisherman she had seen earlier were too far away to know what was happening here. She grabbed Bobby by the neck and pushed on the back of his head, submerging him in the water. He thrashed, too, but had little fight left in him.
Marion stood there, her children floating on either side of her, their deaths glorious . . . but something remained incomplete. She turned around and looked at the giant oak for instruction. Their picnic setting beneath the massive shaded area was a picture of love and the promise of a perfect day. In Marion’s eyes, the oak shivered again.
She knew what she had to do to finish this.
Marion walked out of the water and went to her Studebaker. When she got into the vehicle, she rolled up the windows, started the engine, and pulled the column shifter into drive. The car started to roll forward, as the grading sloped towards the canal. The vehicle plunged into the water. The interior quickly filled up with water and sealed the doors and windows shut. The car drifted into deeper waters until it was completely submerged and she was trapped inside. She opened her mouth and sucked in the murky canal water stirred up from the bottom and felt the darkness wash over her.
Now, everything was as it should be.
Keith Rommel is an award winning author of eight books and is the co screenplay writer of The Cursed Man movie adapted from his first novel with the same title.