This novella, short though it is, is one of the best ghost stories I’ve read in quite a while. It’s also a good coming of age story. Set in a small town south of Dallas in 1978, it’s the story of two friends, one white, one black, who discover that there are worse things hunting in the night than the difficulties they face by day.
Kevin, the narrator, is best friends with Bobby. This is a good thing, although it’s not always easy. Bobby’s skin is the wrong color in this small town, and to make matters worse, his father died a few years ago. Bobby’s mother struggles to make ends meet.
The boys find solace in their tree house, which looks down on a creek. One afternoon, while sharing comics, they see a younger boy, Tommy, being chased down the creek. What’s chasing him is something out of a nightmare. At least that’s what Tommy claims. They decide to walk Tommy home, past the old cemetery and around a white, dead tree they call the bone tree. On the way home, they discover that Tommy was not only telling the truth, but that he didn’t know the whole truth.
Kevin and Bobby learn that no good deed goes unpunished, but Kevin grows to realize that just because that’s true doesn’t mean you should back down in the face of evil, whether that evil is a racist bully or something far worse from the other side of the grave.
Fulbright has been steadily building a body of work in the horror and dark fantasy fields for a number of years now. I should also mention in the interests of full disclosure that he and his wife Angeline Hawkes (author of Out of the Garden, reviewed here) have been friends of mine for a number of years. I’m not giving him a good review because he’s my friend, however. This book is that good.
In addition to having some genuinely creepy chills, such as when Bobby hears a tapping at his window and his dead father’s voice calls to him, there are moments that are truly moving, like when Kevin’s father tells him he did the right thing by standing up and fighting a bully.
Fulbright captures the time and place perfectly. I was about the same age as Kevin in 1978, living in north Texas and attending a racially divided school, and there were places in the story where the writing took me back. In fact there was only one fault I could find. Kevin mentions watching Battlestar Galactica after having gone to school earlier in the day. This threw me out of the story a bit because Battlestar Galactica aired on Sunday nights. (Don’t ask how I remember this.)
The Bone Tree is a perfect Halloween story. The price for the trade paperback is a little steep, but the ebook is a bargain. It can be yours in seconds with just a few clicks. This one I highly recommend.