CW: Murder at the Banyan Tree.

On the weekends, or sometimes even during weekdays, when she got too stressed out, Lara went to the botanic gardens located just a short bike ride away from her home to relax and center herself. She had been to the gardens well over a hundred times, and so she knew every nook and cranny, which meant that even if there were a lot of people there, she was still able to find a secluded spot where she could get rid of all her negative energy. It was her happy place – Heaven on Earth.

The banyan tree located in the far corner of the gardens, off the beaten path, was her favorite hiding spot. With its many branches and a thick trunk, the tree provided shelter from the sun and prying eyes. On summer days, Lara would sit on a soft, baby blue blanket she had laid down and rest her back against the cool tree. She’d close her eyes and listen to the surrounding silence. Sometimes, she heard kids wailing in the distance, but it was a quiet spot for the most part – an oasis.

Every now and again, Lara wondered if anyone would notice or care if she hung a swing or a hammock from the tree’s branches. But ultimately, she didn’t want to rock the boat. “Lest they cordon off this part of the garden, and I lose my spot,” she’d worry and push away the dream of turning the tree into a fortress with a playground. If anyone knew, they might have found it peculiar that she put more thought into that than decorating her own apartment. Lara shrugged. The blanket in the summer or a folded chair in the winter would have to do. At least for the time being.

***

Lara sat down by the banyan and closed her eyes. The air she breathed in through her nose filled her lungs. She envisioned them expanding, wrinkles smoothing out, all of the tiny lobe crevices waking up rejuvenated.

The world slowed down.

For a few seconds, Lara held her breath.

The world stopped.

And out,” she thought as she slowly exhaled through her mouth with a woosh. She let go of a figurative balloon that soared to the skies, but the worries of the world she brought with her still filled her mind. Even though she acknowledged those were still there, Lara did not let that bother her.

On the second inhale, she allowed her ears to hear. It’s as if tiny elves living in her ear canals opened up the windows for spring cleaning.

She heard the different birds arguing, the leaves chasing one another in the light breeze, and even the sun smiling. “Do we handicap ourselves on a daily basis by only focusing our eyes and ears on certain things and tuning out others?” Lara mused.

After eyes and ears, it was time to go back to her lungs and nose. A deep inhale. There was a hint of mowed grass in the air. And it just smelled of a summer that was coming to an end. You had to have smelled it before to be able to understand; some things you just can’t put into words. Lara was grateful to be able to experience all that. That’s how she zeroed herself.

At the bayan tree, Lara would make plans for practically any facet of her life – work, relationships, gym, writing, and more. It was then that she felt at her optimal. The banyan tree was her safe space.

While work had been good lately, her personal life weighed on her and caused her stress that time around. Her boyfriend seemed to have a split personality – one day, he claimed that she was the most perfect of humans, while the next – she was not even worthy of being labeled a human. She was getting really tired of the hot and cold.

It was hard to think at home, but in the gardens, once she centered herself, she was able to tend to her problems from a third-party perspective. Once her mind was clear, Lara was able to be more objective and rational when thinking through challenging issues. Yes, Robert had some good sides, but mostly he had the bad, and he seemed to be determined to sharpen the bad ones and destroy the good.

That state of affairs saddened Lara, but she reminded herself that the only person she could change was herself, which wasn’t something she thought was needed in that scenario. “I’ll tell him things need to change, or else I’m done.” She would even offer help by agreeing to go to therapy, but that was the extent of how far she was going to go. She had been through too much.

Once she was done strategizing, as usual, she opened a book she was reading and lost herself in it. Brooks definitely would make for a better boyfriend, and butter chicken sounded like a great dinner idea. She smiled. Life wasn’t so bad. At least by the banyan.

*** A few days later ***

“You’re delusional!” Robert exclaimed, making a fist. “You think the world revolves around you,” he continued as he paced across the room.

Lara, seated at her desk, smirked. Wasn’t it funny how people accused you of the very thing THEY were guilty of? “I’m trying to fix things, and you’re just-“

“Oh, this is a laughing matter to you? Are you having fun? Blame me some more, why don’t ya?! Huh?” Robert approached Lara and looked straight into her eyes.

His eyes used to be the color of the calming ocean. These days they were the color of a bottomless pit of despair.

“I’m just trying to get us some help,” Lara muttered, her head hanging low.

“She wants to send me to a SHRINK! I swear…” he went back to pacing, scratching his arms, and biting his lip. “YOU are the one that needs help. Not me,” he added, pointing his finger at her.

When she was in the gardens, things always appeared black and white to Lara. She knew they were having problems; she would suggest a potential solution and then either work on their relationship or walk away. Simple as that. But the reality was anything but. Emotions came into play, and Lara was caught in the web of ‘well, I’m not perfect either, I should be able to help him, we’re a team, and I am responsible.’

Lara shook her head. Not this time.

Lara stood up from her chair and looked her boyfriend straight in the eye. “Robert, I might not be perfect, but you’re the one that needs professional help. You contribute nothing to this relationship, and you only cause it harm. I’m tired of this. But it’s not just our relationship. It’s also your life, and I would love it if you were able to salvage it. PLEASE, get some help.”

Robert stood there, speechless, surprised by Lara’s confidence and directness. She hadn’t been like that in a long time. He thought he got that weeded out of her.

“We need to break up. For the good of both of us. I will stay with Nancy tonight, and tomorrow I will come, and we can talk logistics.

Usually, whenever she would try to leave, he would block the door, but this time she was prepared, and he was stunned.

“I’ll kill you, and then myself!” she heard him scream as she locked her car door. “I know where you’re going!”

She swore she did not breathe until she got to the gardens.

“Just breathe,” she kept telling herself as she walked to her spot. Finally, being able to stand her ground felt good, but it also filled her with a ton of anxiety about the future. And the exit threat was worrisome, too, of course.

*** The following day ***

“What do we have here?” Detective Oaks asked.

“A young female with a head wound. Bludgeoned to death,” Officer Peterson responded.

“This is a pretty remote spot. Who found her?”

“The groundskeeper. He walks around the gardens each morning to make a list of the things that need to be done that day in order to keep this place in pristine condition. As you can imagine, this is far from pristine.” Peterson chuckled.

Oaks wasn’t there to chitchat. He came in to assess the situation, gather the evidence, and figure out what happened and who did it. Newbie officers were just in his way. “Anyone saw or heard anything?”

Peterson shook her head. “No, sir.”

“Check her pockets for a wallet and an ID and text me the address. I’ll see if there is anything or ANYONE of interest there.”

*** An hour later at the address ***

“What can I help you with?” asked the man at the door.

“I’m Detective Oaks, and this is Detective Moore. Does Ivette Green live here?”

“Yes. I’m her husband – Derrick. Is everything OK?”

“No, sir, it’s not. Can we come in?”

*** The night before ***

A short distance before ‘her spot,’ Lara stopped. There was someone else by the banyan. She couldn’t believe it. Twice in one week! The first time she saw someone in her spot, she decided that she could use that as an opportunity to go to the bookstore instead. But the second time…

Lara turned around and headed back to her car. First, she had a big argument with Robert, and now THIS? “This is MY spot. I can’t let another person walk all over me,” she told herself as she pulled out a foldable chair from her trunk.

*** A few days later ***

“Finally back together!” Lara said to the tree as she ran her hand over its smooth bark. She was worried that the cops would never remove the yellow crime scene tape. “Took them long enough,” she thought while looking around to see if there was any blood left. “I try to be so good to people… I let her have my spot once. I didn’t even say anything to her… Maybe THAT was why she thought it was OK to return…” Lara wondered if things would have ended the way they did if she politely asked the girl to never come back to the banyan… But it didn’t work on Robert. No matter how many times she asked him not to do something, it did not matter. He still trampled right through that. That’s how people were…

Lara laid the blanket down and started her routine…

***

P.S. I know this could have been developed more, but I didn’t want to make it lengthier than it already is (or turn it into parts).

***

“Write a story inspired by the word ‘peculiar.'”
– prompt used for this CW piece.
[Source: BlogBattle]

***

P.S. As always, you are more than welcome to use this prompt to inspire your post. If you decide to write something, be sure to pingback to this post so that I can get an alert and check out your piece. (A post on how to do pingbacks can be found here.) If pingbacks are not your thing, feel free to simply leave a link to your piece in the comment section below. The more, the merrier!

Stay golden,

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***

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38 thoughts on “CW: Murder at the Banyan Tree.

Add yours

  1. Ah yes, this is a good one! Your way of making the reader think one thing when something else had really happened worked to perfection! Enjoyable story, well written, great twist. I’ve missed your short stories.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. 🙂 I’m glad you enjoyed it. Thank you for your kind words. I’m humbled. There’s this feeling of joy and satisfaction when I write a story and it is well received. Do you experience that with your photographs as well?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes to a certain extent, but I think the work put into a good story far exceeds the work put into a photograph in terms of time and imagination, so the feeling of joy and satisfaction will probably be greater (and more deserved) with the story. Unless of course the photo is something really special!

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Hah, why can I relate to Lara? 😅
      I’d never go as far as she did, but I never like when someone when someone comes between me and my plans.

      It is an awesome twist Goldie and I would live to know more about Lara and why she is the way she is.
      Asyou know, this is my favorite genre and I read about 150 books a year and you truly belong to my top 5.
      I really hope you will find some time to work on your book soon!

      Liked by 2 people

      1. It’s MY spot!
        And I agree – it’s so annoying when you have some nice plans and someone destroys that. Especially when those plans involve relaxing after a stressful situation.

        Awwww, Andrea! That is a truly wonderful compliment. Thank you!

        I hope so, too!

        Like

  2. Loved the story, especially the turn of events I didn’t see coming. As for flushing it out more, you could have but I learned to let a good story be good. Making it better will result in a WIP unfinished. I have to say again, I didn’t see that ending coming. – Well done.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Guilty!
      Time jumps definitely can be tricky and I’m always careful when writing them as I get SO annoyed by them as a reader when they are not properly done. I thought that I kept them to the minimum while maintaining a story that wasn’t 5k words long.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Tricky to decide who’s right or wrong Sam. The tree seems to be a place Lara practices mindfulness which suggests that she has her own MH going on and it’s a place to breathe. Obviously a poor relationship could be the cause. Equally without knowing Roberts mindset it could be he thinks she’s in need of help, which is what his reaction indicates. Although that could equally be blame game on both sides. Clearly they don’t talk properly so each party escalated their own opinion and polarises everything.

    The twist you lure us into starts with the angry death threat. I actually assumed he meant going to her friend rather than the tree. I figured that was her secret bolt hole. I also thought Robert was threatening in anger rather than carrying it out. That said when Oaks appears I began second guessing.

    Very clever writing there. More so to see Lara more annoying at her space closed off than the poor soul that was murdered there. Does she lack empathy I now wonder and is this propagating an inability to see Roberts side clearly? Hence a therapist might suggest mindfulness exercises to pause and centre one’s mind.

    Excellent take on the prompt and very enjoyable read.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’m glad to see that you picked up on the potentiality that it might be Lara and not Robert that has a problem. Or maybe it is both. It reminds me that viewing an encounter from an outside gives us an incomplete view of what is really going on.

      I’m not sure where Robert was going to go. I figured the friend’s place, too, but Lara might have mentioned her spot to him during their good times, so I’m not sure.

      I’m pleased to hear that you began to second-guess. Mission accomplished.

      Ha! Yes – the area being closed off was a real inconvenience and messed up her plans. Hehehe

      Thank you, Gary! I was so happy to be able to participate this month! Your comments are always so thoughtful and make me think more about the tale and characters. I really appreciate it!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It was her at the tree. CBT and mindfulness often use her techniques to lower anxiety and draw calm. Recognising what she was doing suggested to me that she does have some issues herself mentally.

        Agreed she might have mentioned the spot, but I do feel Robert would flow stronger at the friends place first off.

        Next months word is possibly more of a challenge I think. Once a year I try and include a more unusual word.

        Re my comments. I do try and question things. It’s kind of what I do to myself with characters. Challenge what I’m putting down against their vocalisations on why I’m getting it wrong haha. Often a case of using it to see several possibilities rather than just roll with an obvious one. Hence I fell to second guessing!

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Is psychology a topic of interest for you? It definitely seems like it. (Do I remember something about you being involved in that kind of world professionally, or am I making things up due to the power of suggestion?)

          I think so, too regarding Robert going to the friend’s, if anywhere. We say terrible things when we’re angry. A lot of the time, we don’t mean it once we cool off.

          More of a challenge. Ooh! I’m excited! Barring unforeseen circumstances, I will participate no matter how difficult. In fact, the more difficult, the better. Also, I found that some prompts seem challenging for some, but not so for others. Hmm…

          RE: your comments – I always appreciate them and strive to learn from them as a writer and a fellow critic/ feedback provider. Thank you!

          Stay golden!

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Definitely an interest topic yes. I’ve actually done both CBT and mindfulness myself. My background is biochemistry and microbiology so it’s science based.

            Anger voices are often different to the cool off ones as you rightly say. It adds value here though as it switches from his threat to an actual death even though it’s not Lara. The reader is led into assuming so that was well crafted.

            Haha the next one might throw out a challenge to most methinks. It’s an unusual word. Part of the fun though I hope!

            As for comments. I feel just saying it’s ace doesn’t really tell the writer much. Same with don’t like it. What we need is considered reasons for both replies. If it leads to discussions then even better 😊

            Liked by 1 person

  4. Solid premise.
    Bit wordy. You could focus on extracting the essence of solace and solitude in one or two paragraphs.
    You might want to mention the interloper in the first or second paragraph. Sow the seeds.
    In the scene with the cops at the address — don’t mention names — make us wonder if this is Robert’s and hers home.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hah! While I was worried it was too long for people to read in one sitting, I was worried that it did not contain more content (words?).

      Good point. I did think about bringing her into the picture before, but ultimately decided against it. I really wanted to focus on lulling the senses and making things seem ‘zen’ without any hints. But I understand and agree with your recommendation.

      Another great tip and again, something I wondered about… In my head, the plot thickened with the potential of Lara and Robert actually being known under different names officially. Just another thread that I could pursue if I decide to gather all these one day and expand.

      Thanks for reading and your thoughtful comment. Stay golden!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Wow. Clever, clever. It seems like some assume Robert the culprit, others Lara… But you never explicitly state which. And it COULD be either of them — though considering Lara immediately went to get her chair and the unfortunate victim was bludgeoned to death, I’m thinking Lara’s a lot more skewed than she thinks she is.

    I may as well point out, though, that at one point (“the night before”) Lara’s name became “Laura.” Also — and I found this more funny than anything else — I didn’t realize children were allowed to go whale hunting. In the second paragraph, I suspect the spelling of “whaling” may not have been the intention.

    Liked by 1 person

        1. Hahahaha! Sorry, I did not mean to laugh… Yes, I know how it goes… Hang in there, try to improve things you can improve, and learn to let go of those you can’t. It’s something I still struggle with, but think that’s the answer to many issues.

          Liked by 1 person

  6. The best part about having a twisted mind is the ability it gives you to write twisted stories! 🙂 Job well done, and I particularly liked some of your metaphors, like elves spring cleaning and eyes now resemble pit of despair. Robert may very well be bi-polar, and I spent part of the story thinking “just leave him.” Never guessed he was actually right that Lara needed psychotherapy more, but then again, she’s probably beyond help in that arena. Her seeing him as “the problem” was actually a great underhanded clue. The fact Officer Peterson chuckled at her own callous remark made me suspect she was another player in this story that we were just getting introduced to. Not so, it seems, but locking her and Lara together in a room could prove interesting…. Your time jump was provocative and worked well, a good example of the the “show, don’t tell” mantra. Great read – although, did I miss part 2 of To the Core? That was what I was expecting to read, but this one didn’t disappoint!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hahaha! Yes, indeed. Sometimes I read my own stories and wonder who I am. What sits deep within me? But in the end, I believe that a twisted mind doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to be… twisted. Does that make sense?

      Thanks for pointing out the metaphors. I know they can be quirky, but they tickle me and when they do so to others, I am most pleased.

      They both might need help. Sometimes these people are drawn to one another.

      I love it how sometimes the secondary characters can come forth to the foreplan. I can definitely see a plot with the police officer partners.

      Yes, I still hope to do a part 2. Maybe next month? Or in-between, outside of BBprompt? The banyan tree story just demanded my attention there and then, so I did what I had to do 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  7. An journey redolent with atmosphere and imagery.
    The journey through Lara’s eyes is a wonderfully deceptive, the opening portraying a calm and reflective young woman, in a relationship which is turning dangerous, only to gradually draw us into the world of someone who is actually the danger.
    The pace and direction of the narrative had me wondering just what was Robert’s story. We only see him through the eyes of a person who kills another for sitting at ‘her tree’? Maybe he is exasperated by her own mood swings and she’s wearing down down, when she’s good he feels relief and appears good to her, when she’s in a different mood (We don’t know what), he thinks ‘Oh no. Not again,’ and his reserves go. There again, maybe he has always been like this and Lara has been drawn to the tree as her only source of comfort and sanctuary to a psychotically obsessive degree. Who knows?
    That’s what I like about the story, we are on uncertain, unpredictable ground.
    Can we even trust the Banyan Tree?
    Very well told and drawn out Sam.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I’ll agree with that…..
        There was this play staged in London early 1970s, set in the 17th century Britain during the Civil Wars…..I can’t remember the title or trace it…..Anyway, there’s this exchange between the two central characters which always sticks in my mind.
        ‘There are always two sides to every argument,’
        ‘Three, if the truth be known,’

        Liked by 1 person

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