The Trees Swallow People: Part 16
A horror about trees
The following week, when I returned to fulfill my new obligations I was so generously invited to partake in, walking once again from the train station, passed the two petrol stations, and playing a real life game of Frogger across the bypass, and then the
But Fredrick didn't care. He just shuffled over to me on the computer and asked why do I think I haven't found work yet. I did a double take, caught off-guard by the nonchalance, briefly wondering was I back in last week again. I shook it off and tried in vain to tell him about the tree outside, about how I've seen trees just like it devour people in their own gardens, and how he needed to relocate the offices.
Right, right, I hear you, buddy! But maybe this is what's holding you back from stepping up in life; worrying about other people. Now, this is just a thought, but why don't you try not doing that?
It was the same the following week. The only difference was the tree was now penetrating into the building. The branches swooped up high above the body and curved into the wall, as though in the night it had swung a punch and planted a hit into the wall. The branches held themselves steady, like bark covered pipes. The little spindles of twigs now reached the top of the building, interweaving around one another, like the tails of a rat-king, gripping the exterior in a mesh. The inside was no better, as the branches piercing through the walls lined the ceiling like support beams. Drips of sap fell, forming puddles beneath. I tried my best to skirt around them, tightening my scarf as I still felt the cold cascading in through the broken windows, thick branches having caused cracks and shattered openings. The receptionist, who was still refusing to pay anyone's travel fare, forced a smile while she tried to keep her hands warm despite still wearing her coat. Fredrick seemed to take offence at this, shouting over to her that there was nothing to be done about the temperature until the radiators were fixed.
I took a different approach. Before Fredrick could finish his monologue about how he's here to help me help myself, I cut across him, stating bluntly that he was going to die. The clatter of the keyboards died away, leaving just my soft voice and the hush of the cold January wind through the openings. I told him he was going to be dead this time next week, if not sooner, if he didn't relocate the offices. Go anywhere, I told him. Literally anywhere else. I didn't care. I didn't care about the rent, the contracts, the dole. I didn't care about Fredrick, and I told him so, but I pleaded with him to just leave this building and save his own life.
Fredrick nodded. He hummed. I have never had as sweet a breath of relief as in that fleeting, flickering second that I thought I had gotten through to him. Then he opened his mouth.
I just want to thank you for that. It was really something.
Really, I want you to know I am hearing you loud and clear. That...
He pointed at me.
That really struck a chord with me... In here...
He turned his extended finger in on to himself.
And I want to say I hear you, I see you, but most importantly, I acknowledge you.
There was a pen to the side of the computer's keyboard. Would a ball-point pen be strong enough to stab someone in the jugular, I wondered.
Your experience is valid and I recognise that. I appreciate your truth.
I mean, even if the pen breaks off, you can still stab again with the cracked end, right?
You have really gifted me with a lot. We are on the same journey, with different paths.
The real question is whether after breaking the shard had enough tensile strength to not break again... I was beginning to think the only way to be certain would be to follow through with my thoughts.
But... I do have just one tiny question...
This man dies. I'm only telling you ahead of time because you know where this is going.
...Why do you feel...
Just end it there, please! Why do I feel? I ask myself that every day!
...the need to not look after yourself? Like in having a job, for example.
I didn't say much after that. I gave enough of a response for him to leave me alone. I did my hour, occasionally eye the pen, and left, knowing full well what I would be walking into the following week. It still took me by surprise, though.
Down the road, past the petrol stations, nearly getting hit by a lorry, and then... I stopped at the entrance of the business park. From this distance I could clearly make out Building F, now wrapped in constricting branches and a twisting trunk, bespeckled by leaves. In the faint overcast light I could still see the sheen of the oozing sap, trickling down the building, coating it in a syrup of honey gold, dark and dirty in clumps large enough to make out even from here. The parking spaces outside were a dishevelled minefield of jagged pieces and exposed pipes, torn up by waves of roots, along with a small woodland of trees, dispersed across the radius of the building, slowly but surely making their way to the centre, as though they were baby spiders called for their matricidal feast.
Once inside, I could see the thin carpet had been engorged by a thick decay of leaves, squelching with each step, gurgling mucky bubbles beneath my soles. The overhead branches hung lower now, lank and slack. The walls and fixtures on them were painted in a glacially slow downpour of sap, uneven and clumping in places. The door into the Job-Way offices was torn off its hinges by tiny vines creeping through the walls, which seemed to breathe shallowly under the sap. No one was here... except for Fredrick.
Fredrick was directly in front of me as I entered, bound to his comfortable swivel chair by coiling branches snaking across his limbs, slipping under his clothes, tearing through his skin and bones. His head, white and balding, with little colour other than the disturbingly vibrant purple of his veins, was held in place by a snare of branches, violating his orifices, holding his mouth agape. Just one bulging eye was exposed, the pupil pushing the whites to the fringes.
I'm sorry Fredrick. I'm sorry there's people like you in the world. It would be merciful if you didn't exist. I turned to the computers, broken and repurposed as little terrariums, moss spilling out from the towers and screens. They almost looked pleasantly quaint. There was no point staying. I made my way to the receptionist's desk and forced open the money box; I was owed twenty euros for travel fare. When I went for the door, I heard a forced, struggling cry from behind me.
I looked around at Fredrick. The only movement from his mouth was his tongue, floundering like a dying fish giving feeble, anguished jerks.
I pity them; oblivious to how insignificant we are. As soon as I left, I was sure the trees would descend upon him and do whatever they wished. I didn't feel bad for taking the money, nor for leaving him, but I did for not being able to answer him. I didn't know why. I still don't. As I exited through the door, I heard the last thing he may have ever said.
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