by Krazy Daze
"Trauma" shape. Out of sight, never out of mind.
And the Wind Cries…
Charlie stared at the gap in the trees. His jaw hung open. What just happened? What did he just see? Beth was running and the she was gone. The dust still hung in the air. The trees still swayed. It was so quick. A sudden slip and she was gone. It was the scream that unnerved Charlie. It ended too soon; in mid stream. A bloodcurdling half-scream and then nothing. That only meant one thing. But Charlie wasn’t ready for that.
Finally, he found his legs and voice. He ran to the hill calling Beth’s name. There was, of course, no answer. He already knew what he was going to find, Beth on the other side of the hill, neck snapped in two. Eyes fixed in a gruesome final gaze. Staring at Charlie. Glaring at him. Blaming him. This was not how he wanted this to play out.
It was simple. Charlie had brought Beth to the woods, her favorite place. She was always so relaxed here. So serene. It was the perfect place. The most humane. He could break up with her here. She could wander around the woods and collect herself for a bit. Charlie could beat a fast retreat. She wouldn’t want him staying around her sanctuary. It was perfect. But not now. He didn’t want her to die, just go away. He wanted her to be happy. He swore to himself he did. Happy and well, just with someone else.
Charlie made his way up the hill that Beth had taken. The previous moments occupied his mind. Someone had told him to break up with her in a nice restaurant, so she wouldn’t cause a scene. But then he was talked out of that. They told him it was the easy way out for him; putting her in the position of being the trooper and thus sparing him the difficulty of a nasty parting. Better, they said, to take her somewhere she likes. A place she can take comfort in, somewhere she could take some solace in. She always loved the woods. It was her second home. She told Charlie how it was where she went when she needed to sort things out. Didn’t work this time! She went ballistic; started shouting at him. She felt betrayed. Here she was thinking he had finally started to connect with him. He brought her to her favorite place to share it with her.
“And instead you bring me here to shit on me?!”
The words ran through his head over and over; like metal scraping. The shouting quickly degenerated to sobbing, then full on waterworks. Charlie hated tears. He hated bringing them out of her. He felt like he had to do something; so he reached out for her. But she took off running. Maybe he was supposed to follow her, but he didn’t. He wanted like hell to run away, but he couldn’t. He just stood there and watched her run up the hill, deeper into the foliage. Then she vanished, with that horrible scream that made Charlie long for the shrill last words she had left him with.
Charlie made his way through the foliage. He steeled himself for what he knew was coming. He hoped she would mercifully be facing away. He couldn’t bear to look into her eyes. He stopped at the split. He took a deep breath and look in. There was nothing there. Beth was nowhere to be found. There was only empty ground lying beneath a very twisted trunk. Charlie wanted to take a closer look, but he couldn’t bring himself to get any closer to that trunk. The whole area gave him the creeps. He backed up from the vacant area, back down the hill and around. The tree was just as creepy on the other side; like a faceless man looking away. Opposite the tree, there was a trail. It occurred to Charlie that she may have run off. Charlie raced down the trail, calling to Beth. There was no response.
Deeper and deeper he ran into the woods. There was no sign of Beth. He realized that Beth knew these woods far better than he did. She was all about the woods; that and trees. She was always giving Charlie some sort of trees. Charlie kept looking. Thoughts went through his head. Was she still lying somewhere by the hill, dying or dead? Would people blame him? Would anyone believe it was an accident? He told all sorts of people he was going to break up with her. Should he just run home and pretend to be surprised? He hated himself for the questions going through his head. None of them had good answers. The pervading thought was, “What a clusterfuck!”
Fear started creeping in for Charlie; the feeling that he really shouldn’t be here. It was just bad all around for him. So he turned around a made a jog for home. Before long, he was at the tree again. Glaring at it, Charlie felt his stomach tighten. He could imagine this tree’s other side; twisted and malevolent. Charlie stood and stared at it for a minute when he suddenly heard Beth’s voice.
Very faint, “Charlie!”
It came from the tree. Could he have missed her before; maybe in the brush nearby? Charlie steeled himself for another look. Around he went and back into the brush in front of the tree. Again, he moved the foliage aside and checked the hidden clearing. There was nothing there. Again, he thought he should go in and look closer, but he just couldn’t bring himself to do it. He felt like something was waiting for him in there. He could feel the tree staring at him, beckoning, daring him to come closer. But Charlie couldn’t. Just then he heard Beth again, this time from behind the tree. He ran back around. He heard her again calling his name. It was more desperate, but still faint; sounding far away. Charlie looked down the trail he had searched before. It wasn’t coming from there. He heard it again and still couldn’t figure out where it was coming from. Charlie decided she was hiding; trying to get back at him. He wasn’t convinced, but was happier with that conclusion than any other.
Charlie went home and let the evening go by quietly. He sat around, staring at the TV; not watching it. He couldn’t get Beth out of his head. How he’d left her. Where she was hiding. Wondering how long she would hide. Hoping like hell she was hiding. As he went to bed, he glanced at a plant on his nightstand. One of Beth’s plants. He made a mental note to get of all the plants the next day; maybe the day after.
Sleep taunted Charlie for hours; dancing just out of reach as he tossed and turned. He closed his eyes and stared at the ceiling as the sounds of the day rang in his head. The sound of Beth crying; shouting at him. That scream as she disappeared behind the brush. Charlie couldn’t get it out of his head. Of all the ways it could have ended up, this was the worst.
Finally, Charlie drifted off to sleep. But he fared no better. His dreams were consumed by the woods. Charlie ran through them over and over again; chasing Beth’s trailing voice that seemed to echo forever. Again and again, he ran through the same paths and never found her, but felt for sure that she was just around the bend. Finally, he stopped by some fir trees. Silently, the trees parted to reveal the tree in the clearing. There was a more prominent face in it now, that of a gnarled, twisted, spiteful old man. It was glaring at Charlie; as if accusing him of something. Louder and louder, Charlie could hear Beth’s echoing voice call to him. He just kept staring at the tree which seemed to molt and glower. Charlie felt himself sobbing. He turned away from the angry tree and saw another tree in the ground next to him. It was the tree from his bedroom; Beth’s tree. Her voice was thunderous now, calling his name over and over. As he stared at the tree, he felt the tree staring back. The leaves morphed into an image of Beth; staring at him with the same accusatory glare as the ‘old man tree’. Charlie shot awake and flipped on the light. Beth’s plant just sat there looking normal. Charlie stared at it forever, before falling back asleep.
He went through the next day in a haze. Not so much to his surprise, he didn’t hear from Beth. He wanted to call her friends and ask them if they had heard from her, but was afraid to. He figured it was better if others came to him and asked if he had heard from her. Plus, it gave him more time to figure out what to do. No one called him. He kind of resented that, but then he hadn’t really been all that close to any of her friends.
Against better judgment, Charlie went back to the woods. He wasn’t sure what he was looking for. Signs of Beth? Beth, waiting for him? Maybe he wanted to see if he’d hear her voice again. He tried like hell to convince himself he was looking for something more tangible. But he was unsuccessful. So there he stood, waiting. After an hour that felt like three, Charlie began to feel like a jackass. There was nothing here; no Beth, no voice, not even a breeze. There was nothing. Charlie thought about even looking at the clearing again, but thought better of it.
He started for home, breathing a sigh of relief. His sigh almost muffled the sound of Beth calling his name. Charlie whirled around. His heart thumped a few times. He listened close. It had to be his imagination! Charlie kept listening, scarcely realizing he was holding his breath. There was nothing. And then, very faint, very distant,
It was unmistakably Beth. It was faint, but Charlie knew her voice. He couldn’t’ imagine where she was, but she was somewhere in the woods. Slowly, Charlie walked back to the tree, listened for the sound and tried to get a bearing on where she was. He heard it again and still couldn’t figure out where it was coming from. Standing next to the tree Charlie had a revelation that made the back of his hair stand on end. The sound was loudest by the tree. He tried it several times; walking away from the tree and back again. Beth’s voice was loudest near the tree; in fact, it sounded like it was coming from inside the tree. Charlie felt genuine fear now. He felt like he should have checked the clearing again, but he couldn’t go near it. He ran for home. When others were visible, he kept it to a fast walk.
Charlie spent another evening staring blankly at the TV. His thoughts continued to drift back to a story he had once heard. The story was about a guy who was simply walking across his farm in full view of his wife and kids when he vanished into thin air. He was never seen again, but his family could hear him calling for help in the spot where he disappeared. Charlie was happy to believe anything else, but he couldn’t shake this thought from the back of his head.
Sleep went about as well as the night before. When sleep did come, Charlie wished it hadn’t. He found himself walking the woods again, but this time in an amber fog. Dusk threw the woods into a smoldering haze. Not far off, he could hear Beth screaming for him. But the screams where accentuated by a low mumbling. Charlie made his way to the hill which was now cleared of brush; looking somewhat like a burial mound in the coming dark. The gnarled tree stood alone; staring at Charlie and mumbling something he couldn’t understand. In the gathering dark, another light took over; a myriad of lights that floated about like miniature stars. They hovered as if alive. Charlie didn’t know why, but he feared the lights. As he approached the raving tree trunk, the lights gathered around him like bees. The closer they got, the greater his fear grew. He felt as if thousands of eyes were staring at him; as if they wanted something from him. Charlie felt himself sobbing uncontrollably. Just then he awoke, still sobbing. He sat up in bed and looked all around him. It was still in the middle of the night. Slowly, Charlie lay back down into bed; hoping for oblivious, dreamless sleep. He heard the low rumble of thunder far off in the distance. He hoped to hell it was thunder.
The next day, questions started coming as he knew they would. Just friends and family that were looking for her. No cops, not yet. But Charlie knew they’d be along. He knew he’d need a story. Charlie forged a partial truth about what happened. They were walking and he broke up with her. She then ran towards the woods. He tried finding her there a couple of times, but no luck. He hadn’t seen her since. He showed others an alternate area where she ‘entered the woods’. No matter what, Charlie didn’t want them to look in the area with the tree. After a day of multiple half-truths, Charlie was more than weary. He settled into a big bottle of Jack Daniels and sat gazing into the TV. He didn’t even try to not watch this evening. He just stared and drank. Evening gave way to night and Charlie gave way to a semi-blissful state of numb. He faded in and out until well into the night when something yanked him out of slumber. Still buzzed, he found himself being pulled outside by something. Once outside, he could hear what had been an undercurrent. It was Beth, once again calling his name. But he could hear it much more clearly now. He followed the voice, doing his best to keep a straight path. He walked unseen in the dark of the wee hours. He made it to the entrance of the woods; still clutching the bottle of Jack Daniels. He was buzzed enough to brave the woods, but not brave enough to face it sober. The woods were dark, but Charlie could make out patches of moonlight here and there. They were enough to guide him.
Beth’s voice was stronger than ever. Charlie could hear it down that too familiar path. The moonlight filtered through clouds giving it an odd ethereal dance. Charlie followed Beth’s voice back to the tree. There was an undertone that Charlie could hear; a sort of rumbling. The closer Charlie got, the more it came into focus. When Charlie reached the hill, he knew exactly what it was; mumbling. The tree was mumbling. Charlie felt a haze about him that was more than the alcohol. He stared into the brush. He could almost feel the tree staring back at him. The floating stars were nowhere to be seen. In fact it seemed darker near the hill than anywhere else. The moonlight seemed oddly specific and lingering in the distance. Charlie heard Beth again. This time without the desperation he had been hearing. Now she was almost whispering like a lover. Charlie looked around to the source. From behind the tree, Beth came sauntering around. Charlie’s eyes were affixed to her. Never had she been more beautiful to him. She seemed to glow in the moonlight. It was then it started to rain a little. Clouds obscured the moon; yet Beth was still glowing. Out of the corner of his eyes, Charlie saw the patches of moonlight start to move. He glanced around him. The patches of light were moving toward him. Charlie’s heart pounded in his ears. He felt his lower lip quivering. His breath became intermitted sobs. The stars were coming! As they closed in on Charlie, they came into focus. They weren’t stars, they were people; pale luminescent people like Beth. All were chanting his name, over and over again in a gentle drone,
Their eyes manifested the malevolent staring Charlie remembered from his dream. The mumbling of the tree became thunderous, yet muffled in denseness around Charlie’s head the seemed to spin in the opposite direction of his stomach. Closer and closer they came; moving slow, moving constant, blocking his exit. Charlie stared back to Beth, still sobbing. She answered with a tiny silent smile. Soon her face was lost in a sea of faces. Thousands of eyes, all staring greedily at Charlie, swimming ever closer until their light blotted out the darkness of the night woods; his chanted name following him into oblivion.
The next morning, Charlie was found dead by a park ranger and carted away. He was slumped against the gnarled tree on a gentle hill. An empty Jack Daniels bottle lay at his side. His eyes stared off at nothing. His face was completely without expression. The ranger’s companions speculated he was taken by the night or the booze or a combination thereof. Hardly mattered in the end the ranger thought. The ranger lingered after Charlie was carted away. He always liked hanging back in the woods for alone time, but this time something caught his ear and made him stay back. He swore he could hear something in the wind; almost sounded like a young man calling out for help.