The Poplar Tree is a creepy ghost story about two young girls in an English boarding school who are bullied and excluded by their classmates. It is inspired by an old ghost story by Elizabeth Bowen called “The Apple Tree”.
I remember Crampton Park School. I went there when I was 12 years old. It was a boarding school. There were about 100 girls and we all slept in one big dormitory.
The house was very large and dark-looking. It may have been beautiful once, but it had fallen into disrepair. Quite frankly, the place was crumbling and falling apart.
The grounds were very large and full of trees. There was a very high wall round the garden. It felt like a prison. We were trapped in there for so long, it began to seem like our whole world.
I don’t think it was a very good school. The teachers weren’t unkind to us or anything, but everything about it was miserable. Everything seemed to go wrong.
It seemed like Donna and I were always in trouble. There were about a hundred other girls, but none of them liked us. That’s how we were thrown together. We were the unpopular ones. Nobody wanted to hang around with us. I suppose that was why we hung around with each other. Nobody else wanted us.
Donna was extremely ugly. She looked very odd, with her wild, frizzy, unkempt hair and her drab, unfashionable clothes. She had spots all over her face and wore thick glasses that made her eyes seem as if they were bugging out. I looked almost as bad.
It was like we had some kind of disease. Nobody would come near us. They were ashamed to be seen with us. Sometimes, we were ashamed to be seen with each other. I don’t think we realized how unhappy we were. We never spoke about it because we were too ashamed. We used to pretend everything was alright. We tried to tell ourselves it was just because we were different.
We used to sit there together in a lonely part of the garden, under the shade of a beautiful old poplar tree. We called it “The Popular Tree”. We used to try and fool ourselves into believing that we were the popular ones and all the other girls were the freaks. It was obvious we were deluding ourselves but, because there were two of us, we were able to keep up the delusion and that just made it worse.
It was impossible to believe anyone could ever care about either of us. We didn’t even care about each other. We were just like two patients in a hospital, shut away from the others and quarantined because of a disgusting and contagious disease. I began to feel that, if this was what life was like, then I couldn’t bear to live it any longer.
Then, one day, the teacher gave us a class project and I was paired with another girl. She was one of the most popular girls in school. She was so pretty and everybody liked her.
While we were working on the project together, she somehow took pity on me and we became friends. She took me under her wing and showed me how to improve my appearance. She got me to brush my hair and wash my face properly and use deodorant. She told me she didn’t mind me, but she couldn’t stand Donna.
When we finished the project, I thought she would drop me, but she didn’t. We went on bring friends. Then, she introduced me to her friends and, to my surprise, the others began to like me as well.
I joined their group and set about distancing myself from Donna. She was left alone. I deserted her and would avoid her like the plague. From the moment we parted ways, everything began to go right for me. She seemed to represent everything that was horrible in my life. She represented a period of my life I wanted to forget.
Donna was miserable when I left her. She never cried, she just used to wander around by herself, looking lost and forlorn. When I was with the others, I used to see her, sitting there alone under the poplar tree, watching me. Whenever the others pointed and made fun of her, I joined in, laughing and jeering along with them.
One afternoon, Donna approached me when there was no one else around. She asked me to come with her to the poplar tree. I didn’t want to go with her, but I felt guilty, so I went.
When we got there, I couldn’t bear it. I didn’t want the others to see me with her. I was afraid the stench of her unpopularity would rub off on me. I was so frightened of being excluded again that I said terrible things to her. I told her hated her. I told her I wished she was dead.
That night, as I lay awake in bed, I saw her get up. She put on her dressing-gown and went out of the dormitory. She didn’t come back. I lay there waiting and waiting, with a terrible feeling in the pit of my stomach. It felt like a tightness in my throat.
The next morning, the teachers noticed Donna was missing. They searched all over for her, but nobody could find her. They called her parents, but they hadn’t heard from her either. Everybody assumed she had run away.
A few weeks later, I was out in the gardens. I went over to the poplar tree and sat down in the shade. Then, I happened to look up. That’s when I saw her. Two rotting feet were dangling just above my head. Her dead eyes stared down at me accusingly. She had hanged herself. All along, her rotting corpse had been dangling there for weeks, hidden among the branches of the poplar tree, and nobody knew.
I had a nervous breakdown after that. I collapsed and they brought me to the hospital. I lay in bed for weeks, wasting away, unable to sleep, unable to eat. They didn’t know if I would live or die. Life was never the same after that.
The school tried to hush it up, but soon word leaked out. It was all over the newspapers. “Little Girl Commits Suicide in School” the headlines screamed. It was a scandal. The newspapers contained few details and a lot of speculation.
The tree was cut down. Some of the teachers and staff resigned. Most of the students were taken home by their parents. The school was eventually forced to close down and the crumbling old house and grounds were sold at a loss.
Ever since then, I have been haunted by Donna. I see her in every tree I pass in the street. She hangs there from the branches, her face all red and her purple tongue dangling from her mouth, staring at me accusingly with those wretched bugged-out eyes.
It doesn’t matter where I am or who I’m with. I wake up in the middle of the night and see her standing over me, with the belt of her dressing gown tied around her neck. She beckons me to come with her and I am powerless to resist.
Some nights, I find myself walking in my sleep. My husband discovers me with a belt wrapped tightly around my neck. He has to shake me awake and slap me to make me calm down.
It’s only a matter of time before she succeeds. It’s only a matter of time before she exacts her revenge. It’s only a matter of time before Donna manages to take me with her… back to the poplar tree.