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The Trees Swallow People: Part 9

by Conor Matthews 14 days ago in fiction
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A Horror About Trees.

It had been days since we were trapped. What little light was managing to penetrate the forest of people outside my windows came in stages of intensity; soft bars in the morning, sharp beams by lunch, and an illuminating haze by dusk before quickly plunging the house into darkness. It felt like we skipped Summer with how early night came.

Tinnitus began to set in soon after that. From the banging on the house, I could feel nothing but a storm in my grey matter, a constant rumbling of rolling thunder beneath my scalp. If I concentrated, I could notice when the banging stopped and what I was hearing was my own skull reverberating. I noticed it was never the same people by the windows for long, though I never spotted the changing of the guard. This was usually when there was a brief reprieve, when the plates didn't rattle, or when Diva wasn't cowering beneath the bed. I imagined, as I savoured the sweet calm before the next imminent cascade of torment, this is how breath must feel in between waterboarding sessions. It was Hell and Heaven seconds apart.

After the first day, they cut the power mains to the house. The darkness of the night was only magnified both by the bodies shrouding the windows and the fact I didn't have so much as the microwave's LED clock for light. My phone was turned off to save energy but also because there was no point. The guards weren't responding to my calls. I could even see one every now and again standing in solidarity with the other brainless zombies. What of my neighbours during my captivity? Were they too met with apathy from the guards? Were they just glad it was me and not them? Were they among those outside? I don't blame them for not helping.

I managed to sort out food pretty well at first. I was amused initially by the surreality of having to eat a tub of ice-cream to keep it from melting since the freezer stopped working. Most things had to be thrown out once the smell started to get too much to ignore. It wasn't long afterwards that I had to resort to using the fireplace to make bland stews.

It was the night I was left with no other option than to use my hands to scoop out cold baked beans from a tin, chasing it down with the bread heels I was pretending weren't going bad when things took a drastic shift. I was just going for another scoop, sauce coating my fingers between my lips, when my tinnitus suddenly stopped, and so did the banging.

I was caught off-guard, my fingers gliding out of my mouth, disgustingly sensual, as I looked to the closed kitchen door; I didn't want Diva seeing me like this.

My breath, a sound I had forgotten, filled the silence like the washing tide filling a shore, raspy, wheezy. I strained to hear over my stupid lungs. I held my breath.

The crash came from the kitchen window behind me, a symphony of glass shard cymbals, trumpeting thuds, shattering violins, and a chorus of stinging night air. Diva, barking erratically upstairs, accompanied the composition as the countermelody.

I threw myself across the kitchen, stumbling, leaving the tin to splatter on the floor. I hit the fridge pretty hard, dropping to the floor, turning to grip my shoulder in agony, my legs sprawled out before me. The house finally came to life as power returned. A hallway light I forgot I hadn't turned off illuminated the intruder in a soft bounce.

He was naked, slim, tall, and pale. His hair was a nest of auburn, his eyes big enough to swallow mouthfuls, and that smile… It was the same horrible, warped, mocking smile as those things outside. I didn't even notice the knife in his hand until he raised it to his throat, already slitting it as he spoke.

You are the witness.

I watched, in shock, as he trembled against his will but succeeded in pulling the blade across, his body becoming baptised in a waterfall of dark blood. His eyes bulged as he struggled to breathe; he must have opened his oesophagus, drowning himself. His head bounced as he dropped to his knees and fell slump on the floor, like a freshly killed livestock. That smile never faltered.

The crowd outside was gone. I never thought to check if there were gone after the messenger killed himself upon delivery of that cryptic line. The pool of blood had slowly crept outwards and had stained my feet when I decided, coming back, to phone the guards. To my surprise, they came.

I told them what had happened. We were all just so tired of this; exhausted with these nonsensical acts. The village was either going slowly mad, throwing themselves to the trees, joining Shepard's cult, or were packing up and leaving. And there was me; Tree Guy. The depressed guy with a dog. The guy who lost his partner to cancer. The guy having an affair while she was in the hospice. The guy who wasn't even there when she passed. The guy who wished he followed through and killed himself instead of chickening out. That's me. That's Tree Guy.

They packed up the body. They told me they needed to treat the house as a crime scene. I went upstairs to pack; I'd need to spend a few nights in a hotel. This would be the first time since Michelle passed that I had slept anywhere other than in our bed. I sat on the bed, I cradled our whimpering dog, and I bawled. The sheer weight of how helpless I was in my life was only now dawning on me. I cried and kept crying even after my eyes began to sting. I drenched myself in tears and spit, hopeful I could wash away my pain. It was all too much.

The guards were nice enough to give me an hour.


About the author

Conor Matthews

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

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