There are many stories surrounding the old oak tree at the back of the school. Some say that an ancient power guarded the tree; that the tree was a prison for a mystical sage so old, so wise, and so powerful that it could not be controlled by any single power, both mortal and divine. Some say that the gods themselves owned the oak. And that if you break off a single leaf or branch, the entire heaven would come upon you and smite you down. Some say that the tree was demonic. That it harbored the demon's spawn and would set itself free when the sky finally rained fire. Well, anyone of those stories could be true. No one knew exactly why they feared the tree. They only knew that it would be best for them, and their families, to avoid it.
Benjamin peered out of his father's Nissan as it sped down the dirt track. The school seemed crumpled, its walls were streaked with moss and the field was overrun with weed. "This is gonna be my school? Dad?!" Benjamin grabbed his father's sleeve and tried to pull an answer out. "But it looks like crap! How the hell am I gonna be a lawyer studying in this dump. I'll probably fail everything! It just won't do. You gotta send me to another place." Benjamin's father kept his eyes on the road as he turned the car into the school. "Son, we don't have a choice. I have to go off to Japan for this workshop, and grandma's the only place for you. I gotta bring back the bucks and the next school from here is a 13hour car ride. So come on, just do this for a couple of months and I promise everything will be back to the way it was once I'm back." Benjamin slumped into the seat and sighed. He took another glance at the school and cursed at its decrepit facade. His eyes drifted to the big oak that shadowed the school's left wing. Then he closed his eyes and went to sleep as the car bobbed to a stop.
Four weeks passed and life still sucked for Benjamin. He hated the rural outlook of everything. He hated the wooden toilets, he hated the insects, the gullible and naive people, he hated everything. Every night grandma would patiently wait for his barrage of complaints to end before passing him a warm bowl of soup and then she would amble down to her sofa and knit yet another sweater. Life here came to a standstill for Benjamin. The only escape he had from the suffocating boredom, was the oak tree at the back of the school. Ever since he set eyes on the tree, he felt drawn to it. As if some power was pulling him towards it. He could spend hours just staring at the bark. Many afternoons were spent napping at the root of the majestic oak. The best thing was, of course, that no one was there. He had the entire back yard to himself. He had the entire tree to himself.
Benjamin knew people were talking about him. He had been snobbish, he had been rude, he didn't care about how these 'cavemen', as he called them, thought of him. He was from the city, he had a different set of rules, he had a different purpose to fulfill. But recently, the whisperings grew louder. People were blatantly talking about him. In the toilet, in class, in the canteen, everywhere. And they were all talking about the same thing. About him, sacrilege, and the old oak.
"Grandma, is there something I should know about the oak in my school? The classmates are all-" The plate fell from her hands and smashed into a million bits. Grandma's usual calm eyes were shot open and her mouth was shaped a perfect O. "Never. Go. Near. The. Tree. Benjamin look at me, have you been near it?" "Grandma, why?" "Have you?" Her old fingers wrapped around Benjamin's shoulder and shook him wildly. "HAVE YOU?!", she screamed. "Grandma! No...no..I ... didn't." "Promise me you'll never go there. Promise me you'll stay far away from it!" Benjamin stared blankly at his grandma's face. It was contorted with fear and anxiety. He nodded.
Benjamin began asking around about the oak and after every story, he turned paler. He was afraid. He had violated a sacred artifact. He had sinned against an unforgiving god. Not only did he often snatch leaves from the tree, he had even carved his random poems onto the thick bark. How can he possibly be safe after such profane a desecration? He called his dad. His father told him he would be back in two weeks and that all he have to do was to stop being silly, and get on with his studies. But how can he? Sprits are after him now. He knew. The stories said that the sinner would be punished when he least expects it. He was in danger, he was in fear, he needed help. And so he began his search for his hero.
Like the plague, the townsfolk avoided Benjamin. Even the school headmaster called up and told him to stay at home to rest. "Rest? What for? I'm not sick!" He protested. But all he got back in reply was that he was not welcomed into the school for now. Benjamin was in a fluster. His time was coming soon. He could feel it.
Word had long ago spread that Benjamin had been seen fiddling with the oak, and when Grandma came to know about it, she suddenly disappeared. For hours at a time, she vanished. Returning only to place packeted meals at Benjamin's door. How can even his family abandon him, Benjamin could not understand. He was alone. And tonight, he knew, he would have to answer for his crimes.
Benjamin lay down beside the bed, covering his cadaverous face with his fingers. His blanket, wrapped about him like a shield. He sat there and watched the door. Praying that he would have another day to live. Praying that he would be forgiven. Praying that his dad would come home early and carry him off to the city, to his sanctuary.
He had been staring at the door for two hours now. Grandma was gone, as usual. He was all alone in the house. The stories of charred bodies and mutilated children replayed over and over in his head. "I don't want to die." he murmured over and over to himself.
And suddenly, soft taps could be heard, from the recesses of his mind, as though a mouse had found its way into the intrinsic networks of nerves and emotions and human control that was the human brain, and Benjamin, alarmed by the sudden mental intrusion, looked up, and gasped. Night had fallen, and his grandma had not returned, perhaps, he wondered, she would never come back, perhaps the demon, which had so often been associated with the tree he had doodled and carved weird characters and composed poetry on, had eaten her. Whatever it was, dead or otherwise, Benjamin had mind only for the mysterious tappings in his head.
He then shed his blanket, climbed to his feet and stood by the window, staring into the emptiness of a suburban night view, hardly feeling comforted that nothing stirred in the distance. His initial fear had given way to his curiosity of the tapping. By this time, it had grown distinctively clear in his mind. "The mice," he thought, "must have become a pianist of sorts" As he made out compositions from Mozart, and a few pieces he didn't know the names of, but had heard previously. It was only then that he realized he was on the second level of his house! Bewildered, he climbed out of the window, and sat by the ledge that had space enough just to allow him to sit comfortably.
It was hours later, as the first rays of dawn emerged from the horizon, that his neighbors found his lifeless body, perched on the window ledge.