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The Trees Swallow People: Part 7

We can never go out the back ever again; there’s a tree trying to get in. I don’t know if it’s the same for everyone else, but their trees started like mine; unobtrusively invasive. I let Diva out the back for her morning wee. The previous occupants did the back garden up, covering much of the once grassy plot in concrete, opting instead to construct flower beds, a glass house, a shed, and a little scummy pond. Despite this, there it was, a willow oak sapling sprouting out from a ruptured crack in the ground at the bottom of the back.

Both of us stood there, staring, before looking to each other, expecting an explanation. It was thin, just over a metre in height, with a sparse sprinkling of diamond leaves on drooping branches. The crack at the base was, by contrast, jagged and wide, sprawling crevices unfitting for such a small tree.

Soon the estate was alive with neighbours insisting for each other to witness what we all had in our back gardens, shocked to find none of us was unique. Mary Cullen, a woman around my age who had once felt me up in a pub after one too many pints, gifting me not with a surprise under the table but a black eye courtesy of her then boyfriend, crossed over to me. She didn’t bother to ask if I had a tree like everyone else, just wishing to see mine. We were no further in the front door when more neighbours invited themselves in. Diva, who always barked whenever people so much as passed the house outside, was sent into overdrive. I tossed her into the bedroom and rushed back downstairs to the others; I don’t trust that nosey Emma Murphy from three doors down to be left in my house without at least being tempted to check the drawers.

Soon, the entire village was alive with the news that every house had a tree in their back. The air was filled with shouts and calls, with hints of existential dread and just a morbid sense of excitement. Even some researchers, who were still working away in the taped off section of the park, made their way into the main village. When they weren’t being aggressively questioned by locals, they could be seen talking amongst themselves at a distance from others, gesturing to houses, consulting their clipboards and strange readers they carried with them.

But eventually, as with the still ongoing trees and disappearances, people got bored. The disturbing is not synonymous with interest. Even myself and Diva just went to bed that night as easy as any other, not because we didn’t understand the situation, but rather because we thought, ironically in hindsight, it just wasn’t threatening. It wasn’t until days later, as a sense of normality was returning, they became more of a threat.

I had opened the back door for Diva like usual, glancing at the tree, when a subtle feeling of incongruity struck me; a feeling of danger amidst the familiar. But what was it? All I could see was my garden. As Diva scurried out to do her business, I tried ignoring the annoying tickle of cold concrete beneath my bare feet, stepping out into the back, carefully taking stock of everything. I jumped as a trembling finger savoured a graze across my forearm. I laughed a little when I realised I had brushed past the tree, closer than I had realised. That was when it finally dawned on me. The tree was closed to the house. It had moved.

During the morning when the trees arrived, between showing mine to the neighbours and keeping Diva away from it, I became familiar with its exact position in the garden. It was about two metres from the back wall, in line with the back door, closer to the house than the shed but further than the glass greenhouse, and still close enough to the flower beds to cast a shadow. Now, it’s five metres from the wall, in line with the greenhouse, and no longer darkening the flowers with their presence. Even the branching cracks in the concrete had moved, yet left no trail behind it. It was as if the tree just drifted closer to the house on a stream of broken reality.

I yanked Diva back as she was sniffing the trunk, retreating back inside. I knew how it would sound, but I phoned the guards to tell them what had happened. They had long since accepted what was happening in Leixlip had nothing to do with me, placing an uneasy trust in me that I really was just a helpless bystander in this bizarre life. I ignored the operator on the phone when they asked if I was “the tree guy”.

An hour later, I was out the back again with Garda Sarah and Garda Grainne. Sarah was the rookie, tall and beefy, while Grainne was aged by work and smoking. Grainne took straight coffee, but I had to go looking for a lemon green tea I vaguely recalled buying when Sarah asked if I had any. There we were, all drinking, just looking at a tree. What was to be done? I said it moved. They asked was I sure. I said yes. What could they do? Arrest it? Everyone was advised not to touch their tree, but Sarah let it slip a Mr Koenig in Lough Na Mona had completed destroyed an axe, hacksaw, hedge trimmers, and a chainsaw trying to cut his tree down. Emma barked for her to shut up, reminding her I was the Tree Guy. Before they left, they just suggested trying to record it overnight. I hadn’t any security cameras, but I did have an old HD handicam when I was an aspiring Youtuber, long before I developed a sense of cringe. So long as it was plugged in and set to a lower resolution, it could be left recording all night.

So the next morning I went straight to the back, expecting to see the tree had moved. But it was in the same spot as before, as stationary as the camera on a mini-tripod on the ground. I picked it up and began scrubbing through the footage, skipping hours at a time. Aside from a brushing breeze teasing the leaves, and a creeping crescent moon in the sky, sliced by gliding clouds, there was no movement whatsoever. Disappointed, I looked up and found the tree was now less than two feet away from me.

I didn’t so much as stumble back as I collapsed, overcome by the immeasurable weight of shock rooting me to the Earth, looking up to the now looming tree in nausea inducing terror like a submissive prey. My senses came hurtling back into me. I scrambled to my feet, badly scraping and scratching myself, fleeing back inside, scooping up Diva who had tried shooting outside for her morning wee. Again, I called the guards, and again Sarah and Grainne joined me later, with our cups out the back. They agreed it moved, but there was still little they could do. What did I expect? Grainne had just suggested industrial strength weed remover when we all heard the scream.

The sky filled with the ringing knell of a woman’s scream, piercing at first, killing any exchange amongst those forced to hear the harrowing screech, then becoming a moaning roar, the defeated call of acceptance with panicked reluctance, continuing into a reverberating howl of pain, before finally fading into silence, leaving the entire estate standing, their ears and nightmares still ringing. I had never heard someone sound like that. I could never have imagined that was Mary Cullen.

Her neighbours on either side confirmed they heard the scream come from Mary’s back. Sarah and Grainne didn’t enter the house until back up arrived. We were never told what the guards found or what happened to Mary. All we saw was the house slowly, over the next couple of days, become boarded up. Her next-door neighbours said, from their upstairs windows, they could see the back was completely covered by a black tarp. And of course, the researchers were soon seen skulking outside the house only hours later. There was a rumour Grainne took early retirement and Sarah killed herself.

I was thinking about Mary days later, one morning. She was lovely. And truth be told, I didn’t exactly object to her feeling me up that night in the pub. My dreamy fantasies were cut short as Diva jumped down from the bed, impatiently waiting by the door, staring at me as much as to say “well!” We made our way through the house and to the back door. Diva was excitedly panting all the way while my bare feet, still half asleep, drummed after her. I went to open the door.

I went to open the door again.

I went to open the door for a third time before I finally woke up.

The tree was right at the door. Despite its slender frame, blow after frustrated blow from the door couldn’t knock it down. Through the frosted glass set in the door, I could see the scattered noise of hazy shadows pressed upon it with each thrust. Why was I so adamant on knocking this bastard down? Why was I possessed with exhausted rage? I was snapping. I was breaking beneath the weight of everything. Why was I still here? Why didn’t I run? Why could I not make the world stop? Why was I only a human made of flesh and pus that’ll pool in a wooden box in the dirt? Why was I still jerking my shoulder back and forth when the door stopped moving?

I froze, like a child throwing a tantrum would if they were struck. I turned slightly to my right, finding thin, coarse fingers gripping the side of the door. The branches were holding the door ajar. I looked down and saw Diva approach the parting, curious. That’s when I saw a single strand of a branch slither into view, snaking up to Diva.

I lurched back, yanking the door shut. I fell, just missing Diva as she retreated back. The door shut on those ugly arboreal appendages, which squirmed like tentacles, shooting back to the outside. The blurred shadows through the glass masked the painful writhing, a maddening esoteric dance. As quickly as they began, they froze in place, pressed up against the glass.

I lay there, wondering what good was anything I could have done next. Everyone else was suffering from the same invasion. The guards do nothing. I was hardly going to ask Shepard for help. So I did what seemed right. I got up, made sure the door was locked, and from then on, Diva did her business out the front, despite the complaints from that nosey Emma three doors down.

Recommend0 Simily SnapsPublished in All Stories, Fiction, Horror, Mystery/Thriller