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The Trees Swallow People: Part 15

A Horror About Trees

By Conor MatthewsPublished about a year ago 7 min read
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The Trees Swallow People: Part 15
Photo by Fabrice Villard on Unsplash

#HI

If I said you were invited to a party, but I said it with a gun in my hand, would you go even if you didn't want to? I've always found it funny whenever I received a letter from the Department of Social Protection, welfare that is, proclaiming how I am invited to an exciting employment activation scheme… or else I may have my jobseekers allowance cut. They never outright say it, but it's heavily implied. My theory is they can't outright say they will cut it. Likewise, me holding a gun isn't me threatening you, but you probably should accept the invitation.

Death and taxes, they say, are the only certainties in life. I think they missed bureaucracy. When I think of the time I blurted out that park ranger's name when Shepard was looking for a sacrifice, I knew for certain I had lost my mind because it never occurred to me to name someone from the department. Even before my partner passed away, they were hounding me. They had gone quiet when the trees first gain notoriety, but I should have known better than to think that would have lasted long. I wonder, did they too, like many in the country, lose someone to that cursed paddock, or do soulless creatures of eldritch horror not attract? Does Real recognise Real? After everything, the deaths, the mania, the breakdowns still going on, they're once again inviting people. I had no choice.

The "Job-Way" Reactivation Centre was located in the Maynooth Business Park, an ironic misnomer since it was located outside of Maynooth. Whoever named it obviously didn't have to walk the forty minutes to get to it from the train station, off the bridge down past the petrol station, past the large gated homes, past the last bus stop in Maynooth, past another petrol station, past the small estate still under-construction, past the Aldi (or was it a Lidl?), over the bypass, dodging speeding cars turning onto or off the M4 motorway, crossing the three-lane road, following the path around the corner into the entrance of the business park, and then following the main road until you reached Building F.

I was just about to head on inside, grabbing the door handle and reading the floor layout to learn that Job-Way was in Room A on the ground floor, when I saw, to my disbelief, a tree in the car park. But not just any tree. This tree was just like the one in my back garden. The longer I stared, the more I was beginning to convince myself it was the exact same tree, not just a similar one. It only then occurred to me that I had heard of something like the trees in the paddock before. At the time, the name escaped me, but I've since learned it's called Pando; a single organism that connects a forest of trees, as though they were conjoined twins. This factoid struck me at the moment. What else struck me was the realisation that the tree's presence didn't bode well for those at Job-Way. Perhaps, I thought morbidly as I entered, the trees were good for something after all.

We, myself and the unfortunate invitees, were sitting in a little side presentation room, across from the makeshift receptionist desk. A Power Point presentation was on the screen, displaying a collection of regurgitated platitudes about seizing the day, living your best life, and other buzzwords at least half a decade old that have only now seeped into corporate consciousness; unsurprising when you learn Job-Way is run by a private agency, SeteX, who makes money by low-balling government contracts, profiting off taxes, and getting people off the dole by any means, so their taxes can go to them too. Like I said; eldritch horror.

The lights dimmed and music started playing; a loop of a synth melody escalating to a double beat. Myself, the too-young-to-retire-sixty-year-old, the housewives looking to get back out there, and the Polish graphic designers were all looking around us, confused. The door erupted, and a man rushed past us, spinning in mid air and landed spread legged, holding out his hands, with the most horrifically American smile you've ever seen.

GOOOOOOOOOD MORNING! ARE YOU READY-

They clapped their hands together, further puncturing the stunned silence.

-TO GET BACK TO LIVING!

Sweet Jesus, I think I figured out what Shepard did before the trees! This, it would turn out to be, was Fredrick Paulton, who insisted we called him Freddio, joking, I hope, that he wouldn't answer to anything else, before chuckling to himself. Fredrick was the kind of man who was in his forties but desperately saw himself as a thirty-something-year-old. His relatively fit body, rolled up sleeved shirt, and neatly combed quaff on his aged yet hairless face, along with his bombastic entrance, gave the distinct impression that he bought into motivational speakers like Tony Robbins. I don't disparage that, but not everything can be solved with the power of confidence. No one is in a wheelchair because of a bad attitude. No one was touched as a kid because they didn't have a dream board. No one dies of rectal cancer because they had negative thoughts. Fredrick would disagree.

We sat there for an hour as Fredrick talked through the presentation. According to Job-Way, we weren't unemployed; we were Prospective Workers. They weren't employment agents; they were Career Activators. And we weren't forced to sign contracts that gave away our data; we were joining the patented Job-Way Honesty Family. The only interruption to Fredrick's speech was when he asked two men in the row in front of me why they were talking. One explained his friend spoke no English, and he was translating. Fredrick allowed this, getting back to his speech on why there was no reason we couldn't have jobs.

Afterwards, we were assigned our Career Activators. Some people called out on a roll call were missing. I recognised some as names of people who were swallowed by the trees. It is curious why their names would still be on the register, unless someone was still claiming their allowances. Fredrick got around to my name. I held up a hand, forcing back an "anseo!" from habit. Fredrick smiled, for it was my ill fortune that he was my Career Activator.

I was told to sit at his desk. The office space itself was small enough where only six other agents could work. Whoever wasn't up for a discussion was made to use the ten computers we would be using for job searching. Fredrick kept me waiting about ten minutes, as he had managerial duties to carry out first (guiding his fellow bullshitters, having no patience for those invitees who were computer illiterate, denying us reimbursed travel costs despite the fact the letter said they would be). As he finished up, from the uncomfortable stackable seat next to his more inviting swivel chair, I saw the tree again outside through the window. I could swear it looked closer than it was when I first saw it. Finally, Fredrick sat down. I politely hummed in passive compliance as he began another spiel about being here to help, ending with;

So… why do you think you're unemployed?

I've never understood this question. It's like asking why do you think you're sick? Why am I suddenly expected to know? Maybe there is a certain level of responsibility you must accept, but it can never be complete. How am I to account for chance and randomness, to respond succinctly with all the nuances of economic effects on the work force? I'm not supposed to; that's the point. It's not a question, it's an assault on personhood. I did my best. I talked about how I believed my issue was an internalised shame from being a promising student in school with some creative ambitions but failed to launch successfully after graduation. Little by little, my confidence and self-worth were chipped away. One year becomes two, becomes five, becomes ten. Despite the odd jobs, part time work, and immigration, you are registered as unemployed until you have a full-time job, even if you're not on the dole, so even if you get work, it counts for nothing. It wore away at me. Eventually, you start wondering what's the point. All those dreams, those hopes, they fade away. What's the point of anything? And then there are the trees. I can't blame them. In a way they ground you. They pull back the illusion. Why would I want a job if my boss would replace me tomorrow? Who can think about working when death is everywhere? How is anyone supposed to not be affected by any of this?

Fredrick throatily groaned.

Okay, I hear you… but why wouldn't you want to work?

I didn't respond. I was silent from expectant bemusement, not dumbfoundedness. Thankfully Fredrick ignored me and continued explaining how Job-Way would work. I was to report back weekly and use the computers to search for jobs for at least one hour. Your taxes at work; babysitting adults. You voted for this.

As I left, disgruntled as I wasn't reimbursed for the train, I looked to the right to check on the tree. I was right; it had moved. Just like the tree in my back garden, it seemed to have wafted closer, gliding through nothing. My initial gleeful thought earlier that the tree would act out a karmic retribution on my behalf now felt in bad taste. They were monsters, yes, but only on a human level. They didn't deserve to die. Tragically, one of them would.

SeriesHorror
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About the Creator

Conor Matthews

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

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