African-American slave folktale about a mysterious tree from Africa and the magic it unleashes on a cruel plantation owner.
Many rains ago, a mighty African king planted a click-bok tree on the day his son was born (for those of you who don’t know, a click-bok is an acorn tree). The king prayed and believed the tree would protect his family, and she did.
When the king died, his son buried him under the shade of the click-bok tree, so that even in death, the mighty king could protect his family. Whenever the son needed a spear, he would use wood from the click-bok tree, and he would be protected from the lion and the tiger. Whenever the son went to battle, he would always trick his enemies back to the click-bok tree where her low branches would tangle them, so he could win his battles. With the help of the click-bok tree, the son became a mighty king himself.
One day, strange looking men came with powerful magic – sticks that made lightning. The new king tried to lure the men back to the click-bok, but they wouldn’t come. Instead, they captured his wife and sons. The king attacked the men with the fierceness of the tiger, but the lightning sticks were too powerful. Just before his oldest son was taken away, the king gave him a nut from the click-bok tree and told him “plant this where you plant yourself.” The mighty king then died.
The strange looking men took the king’s oldest son to America in chains, as their slave. And they made him work on a large plantation in south Alabama. The son did as his father told him, and planted a click-bok tree on the day his own son, Zebedee, was born. Zebedee’s father prayed and believed the tree would protect his family, and she did.
When his father died, Zebedee asked the Taskmaster if he could bury his daddy in the red Alabama clay dirt under the shade of the click-bok tree. The Taskmaster was a mean ol’ hateful so-n-so, and told Zebedee, “No!” But when he did, a heavy branch from the click-bok tree fell on him and broke his leg, crippling him for life.
After that, things got hard for ol’ Zebedee. Every night, the Taskmaster would find a reason to beat Zebedee until he bled. If, for some reason, he couldn’t beat Zebedee, he’d beat Zebedee’s wife. Zebedee had made up his mind to just up and run away, when his wife said she was heavy with his son, Young’un.
Poor Zebedee had to stay now, ’cause being on the run was no place for a gal that was heavy with his Young’un. When the Young’un was born, that mean ol’ Taskmaster made Zebedee’s wife work the fields the very same day. So she strapped her Young’un on herself and went to work the fields that cloudy October day. When the Taskmaster saw her Young’un, he said to her, “The fields ain’t no place for no baby! And you done had enough time off having him, so you can’t take him back! Put that baby in this ol’ empty horse trough under that tree y’all love so much. That way he can’t crawl off!”
Zebedee’s wife was afraid of a beating, so she left the baby and went off to the fields, being sure not to go off too far so she could hear her Young’un crying. She had worked most on the day when it started to rain. Not just a sprinkle, mind you, but a downpour! It was rainin’ so hard the critters started pairing up and heading for the nearest mountain.
At first, Zebedee’s wife was enjoying the coolness of the rain. But then she remembered her Young’un. She ran back toward the trough, but the ol’ Taskmaster blocked the way. She pleaded with him, “Please let me get my Young’un! He’ll catch his death in this rain!” Ol’ Taskmaster just cracked his whip and said “Get back to work! That li’l thing is alright. Can’t you hear him bawlin’?”
But just then, the crying stopped! Zebedee’s wife cried out, “My baby! Oh lawd, my baby done drowned in that trough!”
When Zebedee and the others heard this, they all stopped what they were doing and started toward the Taskmaster. Before they could reach him, he pulled out his pistol and shot two times into the air, and said, “If y’all don’t get back into that field, I’ll fill ya’ with lead!”
As soon as he got them words out, he heard something behind him. BOOM! It sounded like a tree falling. BOOM! It happened again! BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! This time, Zebedee’s wife backed up in fear. Ol’ Taskmaster swung around to look, and what he saw struck fear to his heart – Click-bok was walking toward him!!! The tree was actually pulling its roots out of the ground and walking, like a man walking in deep mud. And every time she pulled her roots up, she left no trace of ever having being planted there.
Ol’ Taskmaster swung around with his pistol and fired a round smack dab into the heart of that tree. Click-bok swung her limbs in the air like she was in a wind storm. Then – BOOM! BOOM! – she took two more steps. He fired twice more, and this time Click-bok stumbled backwards and let out a mighty cry – a painful cry that sounded like a man dying and wood splitting, all mixed up. She took another step, BOOM! This time coming close enough to for the ol’ Taskmaster to touch. The Taskmaster knew that was a might too close, so he swung around and aimed at Zebedee’s wife and said to Click-bok, “Make one mo’ step and I’m gonna shoot!”
Click-bok stopped and stood very still, just like a tree should. Then the Taskmaster looked at Zebedee and said, “It’s yo’ pappy’s fault for planting this Devil tree. Yo’ wife is dead.” And with that, he pulled the trigger and the shot rang out.
Click-bok quickly pushed a root in the way and caught the bullet, letting out a painful cry. Ol’ Taskmaster swung around, put the gun right up against the Click-bok and pulled the trigger. The gun let out a mighty… CLICK!
Click-bok had been counting on this, for she had been counting the shots, and she knew he was out of bullets. The Taskmaster turned to run, but Click-bok reached out with a root, wrapped it around his ankle and started to pull. Ol’ Taskmaster reached for his Bowie knife and went to cut off her root, but she was too fast for him. She wrapped a root around his arm and pulled the knife away. Then she started to pull him into the ground. Ol’ Taskmaster started to scream – it was a horrible scream, the scream of a dead man.
Zebedee’s wife covered her ears from the sound. When Click-bok saw her, she wrapped a root around Taskmaster’s mouth. The last thing anyone heard of the ol’ Taskmaster was his muffled screams coming from under the ground. And then the ground was still, like that tree had always been there – all was quiet.
Then Zebedee’s wife heard a whimper in the tree. When she looked up in the low branches of ol’ Click-bok, she saw her Young’un. She ran to climb the tree, but Click-bok lowered her branches and gently handed Young’un to his mama. Then Click-bok spread her branches and stood up tall and proud. And she’s stayed that way to this very day.
Now, in the fall of the year, you might find yourself seeking shelter from the rain under a big ol’ oak tree. If you listen, you can hear the acorns hitting the ground (Click-bok! Click-bok!). Some folks say if you listen real close, you can still hear the muffled screams of the ol’ Taskmaster. Now don’t you worry, because as long as the red Alabama dirt is fertile and the rain comes down, the Click-bok tree will be protecting her children – now and for many rains to come.
– THE END –
The Click-Bok Tree – Story Credits
Written and Told by Lester Thomas
Directed by Craig Dominey
Sound Design by Henry Howard
We’ll let storyteller Lester Thomas tell you where “The Click-Bok Tree” came from:
“In my family, like a lot of families in south Alabama, (the elders) would warn us from danger by telling us tales. We’d be warned, ‘Don’t play on the train track at night, or the headless conductor would get us,’ and ‘Don’t play near the river at night or the Swamp-boogie would et ya.’ Of course these tales were designed so we wouldn’t get drowned or be hit by a train. These tales would mostly do the trick – not only because they were scary, but mostly because they had a bit of truth about them. The fact that a train really beheaded a conductor or that children have been known to disappear while playing by the river at night would fuel these tales.
The tale of the Click-bok tree has its origin in an Alabama River town called Camden. The story goes that a slave got his hands on some gold and hid it in a tree that was six paces from the big house. When he returned after the Civil War (around 1870), that same tree was now eighteen paces from the house. How can this be? Trees don’t get up and walk – or do they?”
Lester “Mudbone” Thomas has been a professional storyteller since 1994. All his stories spring from family ghost story sessions during power failures. Lester is a computer engineer/ex-standup comic and lives with his wife and three children in Atlanta, GA.