The Demon Tree
by Will Kern
A Hindu man who owns a sweet shop in Delhi
Has a story as big as his extra-large belly.
You may not think it's true, but I do because
He swore on his grandfather’s ashes it was.

The man’s name was Gopal, and Mala’s his wife.
He lived in the town of Meerut his whole life.
His mom lived there with him, and to round out this crew
His sons, Ram and Shyam, lived there with him, too.

When all this went down, Gopal’s sons were teens
Defiant youths, as they all are, it seems;
For whatever he said was met with guffaws
From these Indian rebels without a cause.

Gopal didn't like it, but he was their dad,
And he knew that he was all the boys had.
So no matter what his smart ass kids might say,
He was all that stood between them and harm's way.

One day, he went to an old fortune-teller
Whose powers, he’d heard, were nothing short of stellar,
But what the old seer saw in the shop owner’s palm
Would blast his security and shatter his calm.

The old man told Gopal, in words that were terse,
“Your luck is about to take a turn for the worse.
You must go to a Kali temple to procure a charm
To use against bad luck and keep you from harm.”

So off to the Kali Ma
Badi he went
To tell the Hindu priest why he’d been sent.
The priest – a
Saadhu – knew exactly what to do
He got his stats: name, birthday, time of birth, too

Then made a charm from the deep mystery
That has been passed down from ancient history.
He wrapped sandalwood ash and strand of Gopal’s hair
In a tiny cloth bundle, then chanted this prayer:

Great Goddess Kali,
The One,
She who resides in the Ocean of Life and in the Cremation Grounds that
dissolve the world,
We concentrate our energies on you,
May you grant us boons and blessings."

Kali Ma is mother of each living thing
And from her womb, worlds and vast galaxies spring
But just as Kali is the giver of breathe
So she is Destroyer and Mother of Death.

The cycles of birth and death live in her womb
As much as a cradle, as much as a tomb,
Her long black tongue laps up the blood of the dead
Around her neck hangs a horrible necklace of heads.

Saadhu finished, and gave it to our friend
Who knew this little pendent would be his godsend.
It cost a week’s pay, way too much, to be sure,
But he didn’t care for his luck was secure.

The last thing the
Saadhu said was – just in case –
He should put pomegranate twigs in a vase,
Pour holy water in it, and set it by his door
And then – for sure – his troubles would be no more.

The weeks passed, and eventually Gopal thought
He’d overreacted, and the charm that he bought
Was nothing but an expensive balm to his fear;
He felt he’d been suckered by the famous seer.

Yes, it was all clear to him now, and he knew
That none of the palm reader’s words would come true.
But what he didn’t know and what he didn’t see
Was the warning included his whole family.

One night, son Ram went for a walk in the park
And passed a haunted pepal tree there in the dark
His father had told him not to go near it
As everyone in town had a reason to fear it.

A demon, he told his son, lived up in its limbs.
And breathed in its branches and sang evil hymns
Ram just shrugged it off, convinced it was a lie,
And missed the strange shape hovering above him in the sky.

Gopal and his wife Mala were closing their shop
When Mala got a call that made her heart stop.
Ram’s girlfriend Sonali, in a voice full of fear,
Said their son Ram was acting scary and weird.

Before hanging up, she begged her with urgency,
“You’ve got to come home right now!  It’s an emergency!”
Mala wanted Gopal to drive quick back to their flat,
But he wasn't worried because he knew that

Sonali liked to blow things out of proportion,
And what she said was usually a distortion.
So he took his time driving, but when he got there,
He and Mala walked right into a nightmare.

He pulled in the car park and from eight stories high,
He heard his son screaming a loud, anguished cry,
A howling, a yowling, a catching of breath,
It sounded like Ram was being tortured to death!

Gopal and Mala ran up the steps, up eight floors,
And ran down the hall to their open front door;
They stood on the threshold and looked at their son,
And the look in his eyes was as cold as a gun.

He was being held down by Sonali and Shyam,
And Gopal's mom was also wrapped around Ram,
But the demon in the boy was in full reign,
And no way in hell could they keep him restrained.

Gopal stood there frozen at the open door -
Ram looked at his father and let out a roar,
A booming lion's roar from deep in his chest,
But it was of some other beast Ram was possessed.

Gopal prayed to Kali Ma, the goddess in black,
To give him the courage to start the attack.
And then, as by magic, She gave weigh his pains,
And he felt the Goddess course through his veins.

With his paralyzing shock and fear held in check
He ripped off the pendant from around his neck
And slapped it and held it upon the boy's head;
Ram screamed and shook like a damned soul of the dead.

The vase of holy water that stood by the door
Would now make a wonderful weapon of war;
Gopal reached down, grabbed a twig from the vase
And shook holy water three times in his face.

That very instant the boy's body shut down,
Like a marionette when the strings are cut down,
He relaxed, went limp, as if unconscious knocked.   
But it wasn't over.  Not by a long shot.

That exact moment the boy dropped like sack
Gopal felt something creep up behind his back;
He heard something – felt something move – he was certain...
Then suddenly – oh God – it swiped past the bead curtain

That hung there across the flat's kitchen door;
Then the beads fiercely rattled and the tree demon tore
Through them, shot through them, out into the night,
Out into the sorrowlands cursed in God’s sight.

Upon waking, young Ram felt a terrible shame
Because he knew no one – but himself – was to blame
His dad told him not to go near the pepal tree
But he didn’t listen, so it all came to be.

Gopal assured his son he needn’t feel guilt
For on these foundations life’s lessons are built.
All was forgiven, and a moral was learned
That a parent’s instructions should never be spurned.

Three years later, Ram gave Sonali a ring
And the two of them married late in the spring
Now Ram tells his own kids of the great blessing
When his dad saved his soul from a demon possessing.
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