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The Trees Swallow People: Part 12

A horror about trees.

By Conor MatthewsPublished 2 years ago 9 min read
The Trees Swallow People: Part 12
Photo by Stormseeker on Unsplash

I was sleeping when the bangs echoing across the house finally stirred me. In the blissful, groggy sort of state, where you're not yet a person, still a bag of organs that occasionally moves, I just accepted someone was at my front door without feeling the need to hurry. Before all this, perhaps I would have sprang out of bed, leaping into the air and landing on the unswept wooden floor with my bare feet and unclipped toenails, the patter of slapping soles across the floor marching as I race to answer the front door, but now… now I take my time, rising with monumental effort, a slog of sluggishness. The door hammers once more, bringing back a flicker of a nightmare I endured. I take the time needed to talk myself up enough to stand and make my way to the door, Diva trotting behind me in a spritely dash. When I reach the door, however, she retreats, cowering, whimpering. I ask her what's wrong, but the only answer I get was the lowered stare at the silhouette behind the door's privacy window. Tall, squared.

I opened the door to Shepard, who was flanked by a few of his followers, including the woman who was passing out pamphlets down the village when I first came across him. His smile quickly engulfed the scowl he tried hiding as soon as the door was pulled open; perhaps he didn't expect it to be opened so soon. I'm still not okay with how handsome he is; a refined salt-and-pepper professor type. Think Pierce Brosnan now, if he had a Ra's Al Ghul kind of vibe. I'm not a bottom, but Jesus!

BLESSINGS TO YOU!

I jumped. Shepard tempered himself with a croaky cough, clearing his throat, realising he was being louder than he meant to be with me. I imagine it's a force of habit after proselytising all day. Besides the woman from before, I didn't recognise the others with him. They didn't seem familiar from the day I went to Shepard's house, so for all I know, they could have been people he picked up today. I wasn't aware if he ever left Leixlip, but it wouldn't be too difficult for people from Maynooth or Lucan or Blanchardstown to have come across him or gone to see about the weird man who talks about trees they heard about from a friend of a friend.

Blessings to you, Witness. May we come in? I wish to ask your opinion on a matter.

I scanned over the others, unsure if I was comfortable with strangers I had yet to be introduced to entering my home. But then again, I was hardly going to suddenly bounce with joy at the same prospect if I caught their names, so I just stood aside holding the door open. Shepard was barely a foot in the door when Diva, who had been peeking out from around the kitchen door, came hurdling out towards them, barking animatedly, lifting herself up in energetic skips. Shepard merely smirked, going to say something, but it was the woman from the village who caught my attention, as she pull back her foot to kick Diva. I only realised what had happened next after I stood towering over her, her back to the wall, clutching her shoulder. I had rushed forward and tackled her, pressing her up against the wall. Unbalanced by myself and her suspended leg, she fell to the ground, landing on the shoulder I bounced off the wall. In that narrow hallway, I could feel all eyes on me. I wavered between shocked embarrassment and emboldened fury. No one hurts my dog.

I looked over to Shepard. I must have still been glaring, because he leaned back a little from fright. I'm kind of one of those deceptively strong guys; in another life maybe I could have been a gymnast. Shepard's surprise was brushed aside in place of a forced smile.

Tabitha doesn't like dogs. The others can wait outside.

A few of the followers came to lift the woman, Tabitha, apparently, who shook them off of her once she was on her feet. She gave me a snarling glare and retreated back through the front door with the others. I shouted at Diva to be quiet. She gave a few yaps and yips before grumbling and scurrying off back into the kitchen. She pissed in the back hall to show her displeasure.

Shepard sat down at the kitchen table as I prepared the coffee. I was expecting him to speak, but he politely waited over the gruelling hum and cranking of the coffee machine hard at work, and then for me to bring over the cups, milk, and sugar, and for me to take my seat across from him.

Samhain is upon us! A time of remembrance, but also of faith.

He's talking about Halloween. Samhain was the Celtic origins of it, where the end of the harvest signalled the beginning of winter and when the spirits come to visit. I didn't say anything. I waited for him to continue.

As you can imagine, the trees are linked to every fabric of this mortal world. The trees are both here and beyond. We have been showing them reverence, but I feel for this Samhain, as a sign of respect and commitment, we should do something special. Up until now the trees themselves have chosen those who join them, entering their domain. Now, however, I am called to make the choice for them. But I must admit, I do not believe I can make that decision. I hear names, calling out to me, but none feel fully right. I even thought maybe it should be me, a martyr for those yet received by the grace of the divine. Neither that struck me as accurate, either. So I come to you, Witness, the last man left but the first to know, thou blessed to be burdened with the duty of seeing and telling, what name comes to you? Who do you heat that should be made whole with the trees?

THE PARK RANGER!

I have no idea why I said that, and as soon as I saw the smirk on Shepard's face, I wished I could have sucked back the words from the air, like extracting smoke through a vent. I wished I had been struck mute and deaf, alone in a darkness of disorientating touch.

The park ranger, you say? In Catherine's park?

Shepard watched for my reaction for a moment before looking off to the side, searching his thoughts.

What was it again? Eustace? Was it Eustace? No… Eugene!

He turned back to me.

That's it, isn't it? The bald one?

I nodded, still dismayed by my response. My body seemed unconcerned with surprising me now with its sudden sense of independent autonomy. Shepard seemed satisfied.

Yes, I know the very one you're talking about. Didn't take to kind to our offerings to the trees a few weeks ago. I'm not a prudish person, but I found his language a bit excessive, especially over something as trivial as grass.

That's where he draws the line? Trees he worship but grass is what he considers silly? I wasn't able to ponder on this for too long as Shepard stood up, knocking back his coffee with a satisfied sigh.

Thank you. You have done a great deed today. I will be in touch.

And with that, he left. I tried to stop him. I tried to think of something to say or shout or do. I tackled someone for attempting to kick my dog, but I couldn't bring myself to say anything when it was a person! A dickhead, yes, but still a person all the same. Seconds later Shepard was gone, and I was left with a sickening feeling in my stomach, that my body had betrayed me. I've heard people have felt this way when they soil themselves in war or have become aroused in inappropriate moments; a feeling reminding us just how alien we are to ourselves. Strange thinking nothings inside a goopy organ inside a boney cage wrapped in swads of fat, muscle, and veins beneath a blanket of skin and hair and constraints. Masters of our movements, slaves of our biology. I stood there, alone, wondering what part of me forced the suggestion from the recesses of my mind, up into my throat, and stumbling through my mouth. Anger? Fear? Malice? My coffee was long cold when I was able to go on about my day.

It was Halloween night, technically the first of November, All Soul's Day, when I received a message on my phone. I wasn't long gone to sleep, or at least trying to sleep. My burst of spontaneity was still playing on my mind. I was easily stirred fully awake by the drum of the vibration and sudden glow of the screen, singeing my eyes as they shot open. I was glad for the distraction, I thought at the time, because I was growing frustrated with tossing and turning this way and that way. Even Diva, nesting between my legs, was grateful for the momentary break from this night-time chore. I reached for my phone and read the notification. A video message from an unknown number.

The sickening feeling from before had surged back into my gut, churning bile with boiling anxiety. I tried to soothe myself, telling myself I didn't know what the video was. That was a lie. As though I had gained precognition, I knew. There was no point fooling myself. I was neither stupid nor fortunate. Ordinarily, I'm sure you'd agree, a video from an unknown calling would go unread if not outright deleted. It sounds like the kind of scam a hapless idiot or your mother would fall for. On this occasion, though, given the recent visit from Shepard, it seemed pertinent. I should have tried going to sleep instead. I opened the message and played the video.

It was dark. Huge splodges of black and dark grey pixels filled the screen. A roaring crackle and hiss gave the impression, along with the darkness, that the scene was taking place outside. The videographer, whoever they were, wrestled to keep the shaky video stable, flashing frozen instances in time; barely lit feet, a patch of dim grass, the shattered shards of moonlight through tree branches. Finally, the frame rate caught up with itself, though still a difficult to parse standard definition twenty-five FPS. I felt like it was 2007 again. The "improved" quality clarified the audio. There were the persistent cars shushing along the distant motorway, the cool whistle of the night air, the soft collapse of tattered grass, and something else. Something unusual. It sounded like talking, yet there were no words; none intelligible anyway.

The camera panned up, revealing a submerging depth of red aura; bulbous orbs of heat, each with a blistering, over-exposed centre, held at the end of wood sticks high in the air by an army of shadowy minions. At the front of this crowd holding fiery torches, I could just make out the sharp features, jagged though they were, of Shepard, holding up his hands, staged dramatically before the shot. Raising up high above him was a shaking and squirming mass, like a boil or wart, seemingly out of place with the rest of the ladder it was strapped to. The video tracked forward, getting in closer to the restrained mass. The noise got louder and a little clearer, though still indistinguishable. With the flicker of the fire aiding the poor quality, enough highlights were defined for me to recognise Eugene, the park ranger, strapped, bound, and gagged to a ladder, being slowly manoeuvred towards the paddock of trees.

I jolted out of bed, thinking I could stop them, but I quickly remembered this was a video and not a live stream. He was probably long gone now. As I watched, helpless to stop them feeding him to the trees, I finally made out what his muffled screams were.

GET OFF THE GRASS! GET OFF THE GRASS!

HorrorSeries

About the Creator

Conor Matthews

Writer. Opinions are my own. https://ko-fi.com/conormatthews

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