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The Trees Swallow People: Part 18

A horror about trees

By Conor MatthewsPublished about a year ago 8 min read
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The Trees Swallow People: Part 18
Photo by Sunil Rana on Unsplash

I did something stupid. Illuminating, but stupid. I suppose that's the same for most people; moments of clarity in drips and drabs of the unintentional. The situation with the trees, for instance. It's peculiar how things have only dawned on me in retrospect. The initial researchers all arrived in Intellex vehicles and gear when the mystery of the trees first occurred. We all just assumed they were from the government. All the research they collected, therefore, was privately owned by Intellex, and thus could benefit no one. Information that could save lives kept secret.

But then it occurred to me; there's nothing stopping me from going down to the park myself and doing my own research. I'm not a scientist, but at this point, anything was better than nothing. Even if I learned one thing, it would have been worth the experiment. Besides, as things were going, I felt an impasse was approaching. It would serve me well to be a little more knowledgeable, I thought.

So Diva and I left for the park. She needed her walk anyway, but, ever since Shepard's indecent proposition, I've taken to leaving Diva alone as little as possible. I have to laugh; she still barks going out. Usually she'd be answered by a chorus of estate dogs yapping from their gardens, but there aren't many left, either fleeing with their families or simply taken by the trees. Diva's barks are met by a distant yip, carried by the wind from somewhere in River Forest. But we're not heading that way.

Spring has finally arrived, bringing with it the conflict of sun, soft clouds, skyward seas of lapis, and strong gusts swaying the bare but soon to be budding branches. I love seeing the same in Autumn, when the blossom petals flitter down in a dusting of pink and peach. How our walks used to be; that's what keeps up going. A wish for reversal, a Faustian bargain to relive a past we never wish to escape.

We pass the old monastery, turn the corner, heading for the pitches, obliterated in the absence of the park ranger, and make our way to the trees. Two things catch our attention. First, like Shepard mentioned, there was indeed a noticeably large evergreen right in the centre of the thick woodland. It wasn't like a redwood, which would simply stretch with a narrow span. In fact, there was no taper at the top. Even though it was just peaking over the height of the other trees, what you could see gave the impression that it was fat and stocky, like a pyramid. If it was growing, it may have been a sapling when I saw the man behind the wall that night. Even that has a haze of longing for us now. And second, once our eyes drifted down to the paddock walls, we found a small congregation kneeling, apparently praying to the trees. I saw no tall, good looking man, but I did make out the squat, bulbous form of his assistant, Tabitha.

Nonetheless, we didn't slow down our approach, and, about a few yards from them, Tabitha, at the front of the group conducting the mumbling symphony, finally noticed us. The members, realising a shift in her focus, joined her in watching me and Diva strut up the pitch. Slowly, they all stood up to witness our magnificent energy. Tabitha stepped out from the group, holding herself to her fullest height, which wasn't much, planting her feet on the ragged earth. She went to speak, but neither of us stopped. She stuttered and fell silent once we side-stepped her on our way to the sloping trench.

The sloping trench was an undergrowth of strangled weeds, pillowy moss, discarded litter, and, fortunately for us, broken twigs. The blanket of leaves from the previous year which buried the trench in a heavy brush had broken down enough where the treasures we sought laid exposed, like shipwrecks on a shore. Diva sniffed around, leaping from mossy patch to mossy patch delightfully as I studied what was on offer. I wasn't too sure what I was hoping for, but I figured something about the length of my hand, narrowing to an uncut tip, with some offshoots, would have been ideal. Not too long, not too short, varied, but replicable. Once I spotted the perfect one, I simply plucked it up, turned around to Tabitha and others, gave them the finger, and strut past.

I must admit, once we were home, I wasn't exactly sure what to do. The motivation at the start was more on a whim, born from disappointment. So much had gone wrong, so I thought why not? Shits and giggles. There's only so far you can push someone before they crack.

Detaching Diva from her harness with my right hand, I held up the twig to what little light was making its way into the front hall. As I said, it was a bland twig, as uniform and weak as a chicken bone. I turned it between my fingers as I walked into the kitchen, hanging my coat on the back of the chair by the table. I leaned on the chair, still studying the twig. I swore to myself, realising I had tricked myself into the most boring project imaginable. Well... if I was to suffer in lobotomising boredom, I should make myself a coffee at least to keep me awake.

I had turned my back on the twig on the table for only a brief second, selecting an American Grande pod to insert into the machine. But when I turned back around, the twig was gone.

Fuck!

Diva was in the front room, most likely sleeping on the sofa, so it's not like she saw where it went. As the coffee machine sprang into life, nasally whining, I got down on my hands and knees. I crawled along, hovering my head off the floor just enough to look under the oven and the fridge, both narrow caverns of dust and dirt, discarded bottle caps, and the odd twenty cent coin. Pawing and shuffling forward, I search under the chairs, tables, the kitchen dresser, and even the radiator. Still nothing.

The coffee machine hissed steam and sputtered the last drops from the pod as I gave up, scratching my head. Diva was standing in the open doorway to the hall as I stood up, looking at me as if to wonder what I was doing. I wondered the same myself. Stumped, I reached for my coffee and took a big gulp.

The bastard was hiding in the cup, swimming around in the dark, mucky depths, waiting for the right time to spring out and latch onto the back of my throat. My cup fell, smashing into large shards, thumping my toes, stabbing into the soles of my feet, and scalding my skin in a sticky filament. I didn't feel any of that at the moment, because I was far too distracted by the capillary sized shoots injecting themselves into my body. Conflicting gasps of shock, gags to vomit, and a hushed screech of pain pushed me back, stumbling over my steps, dropping to the ground, gripping my throat desperately. Over the rapid and deranged barks of Diva I could hear the twisting, churning sound of the twig growing shoots, evolving into an arboreal urchin. I felt these new additions seep through tissue. My neck was becoming stiff, pulled up and to the side with the strength to arch and lift my body off the ground. Was it trying to break my neck?

With bulging eyes, deafened ears, and animalistic fear, I plunged my fingers in between my teeth, frantically flicking and grabbing at whatever I could reach, grazing tiny limbs for the seconds that felt like torturous hours. I just managed to curl my middle finger around the body of the bastard, snagging on each of those appendages, gripping tightly at the surrounding walls. I nearly let go, flinching from the searing sting, but quickly came back to my senses. I knew this was going to be Hell to pull out. Even the twig realised this; I could feel it ease and slacken, an unsettling calm rippling disgustedly throughout my body. I imagine it thought it could lull me into letting go. Maybe if it hadn't been so aggressive.

One sweet, pleasant inhale. That's all I allowed myself.

My fingers curled tighter, flooding into a deep red from the strain. My free hand clasped around my other wrist, pulling the whole arm excruciatingly. Like tinnitus, I could hear the shredding of muscle, the leaking of blood, the strain of fibres, and the high pitch wail from within my being. Damned souls are easier to part with than this. I had the main body far enough out of my mouth for me to see it, yet there was still a weaving web of roots vanishing into my throat. My spine and arms ached, though I could not tell if this was from exhaustion or infection. I could hear the leathery tear from within so clearly my teeth winced and my skin pimpled.

One final tug, I whispered tenderly to myself.

One big, strong pull.

My hand shot out so quickly that if it wasn't for the pricking sensation numbing my palm, I would have thought I had accidentally flung the twig across the kitchen. In the brief seconds I had to observe the urchin, I saw it now resembled a tumble-weed, yet its strands and shoots didn’t just splint off into an entropy of patterns but wrapped around themselves like barbed wire, tapered and bloated in places. Blood and strips clung to the ends, which looped back into the mass; a ball of ingrown hair hoping to leech off a host.

I could feel it once again, trying to get into my skin, hot and binding like wax. I grabbed it and tore it off, pulling up puckered punctured holes. Now it was attached to my left hand, refusing to be shaken off. This was becoming comical. In pain, shaking my hand wildly, I made my way to the dresser and clumsily searching the drawers, stealing glances to the tumble-weed sinking into my skin.

Finally! I found it!

I plunged the elongated neck of a lighter into the centre and clicked.

The urchin was set ablaze, burning with an even, spherical glow like a sun. My hand it slowly drifted upwards from was left unscorched. In fact, I instantly felt a refreshing wave of numbness, as though nothing had happened. Up higher it ascended, watched in awe by both me and the now silent Diva. Christ, it was magical. Imagine a floaty, those spots at the back of your eyes you can sometimes see, made real, only a shimmering molten neon orange. It would float higher and higher, passing through the ceiling, like a shadow in a fog.

I stood there, frozen for beats at a time before I jolted myself and scrambled upstairs, Diva skittering behind me. I forced open the stiff bedroom door just in time to see the ball pass through into the attic. I wasted no time rushing back down, out the front door, and across the road. We waited, watching the horizon of the rooftop for close to a minute before we saw it again, rising dreamily. We stood there watching its ascension for so long we lost track of whether we could still make our its glimmer or if it was one of the early stars peeking out in the slowly stewing evening sky.

No matter.

The trees could be killed, and their deaths were beautiful.

#HI

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About the Creator

Conor Matthews

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

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