A girl discovers a strange tree on her property. What can it mean?
By Stephen A Abell – Wednesday 13th January 2021
Number of Words: 1400
When Poppa lost his job last year, we had to sell off most of our belongings and move out into the sticks. The cabin had been my grandparents. Grandpop died five years ago and Grandma followed three years later. Dad had been occupied with the business when things had taken a downward turn. And, what with the property being in Michigan and us in Columbia City, Seattle, it was too much hassle to put the Cabin on the market.
So on one cool May morning, we set off on the longest road trip of my life. It was one hell of an eye-opener too, especially with the COVID-19 pandemic situation. Even the small townships we passed though were feeling its deadly grip. Most everybody donned masks. I know it’s a little strange to say, but it made me smile. All these people in their face-coverings sent my mind and imagination back to the western days of cowboys. Their bandanas pulled over their nose and mouth to keep out the dust. Or, the bandits employing them to conceal their identities. Some nights I dreamed of gunfights at the O.K. Corral.
On that road-trip, I discovered a whole new America than the one I was used to. It made me happy. I am honoured to be American. Maybe our politicians should take more road-trips and leave the planes on the tarmac. It’s amazing what you’ll see.
We finally arrived at Flintsteel Road and turned onto Beck. As we rounded a ninety-degree bend Pops smiled and said, “Buckle up, it’s gonna be a bumpy ride.”
Understatement of the century.
As the road twisted to the left, we turned right onto a dirt track. Even with the trucks four-by-four system and resistance shocks, we bounded down the track. It took us ten minutes of twisting and turning and bouncing before we turned a corner and there was the eyesore of a cabin. I looked at Pop and observed the smile fade and his colour wain.
“Maybe, it’s not as bad inside,” I enthused.
And it wasn’t. It was dusty and a tad grimy, but nothing a cloth and elbow grease couldn’t fix. All the doors and windows were closed and locked. Keeping those wonderful woodland critters out. Somebody had kindly draped dust sheets over the furniture. All we needed to do was carefully gather them up and place them outside. Truth be told, after being on the road for so long we cherished the housework. The cabin was tidy in three hours. Dusted, polished, beds made, and windows opened to air the rooms.
Dad sat in a recliner by the empty fireplace, a tear welled in his eye.
“It’s gonna be okay Dad,” I offered.
“I know my love,” he smiled back weekly, “this used to be my Dad’s chair. Mom always sat on the sofa.”
“Alright,” I shrugged and turned toward the kitchen and the rear door, “I’ll leave you reminiscing and getting teary. I’m off to investigate outside.”
“Don’t go too far. There’s a track down to the Flintsteel River. It might be overgrown but it’s a nice little trek. Your Grandmother loved to walk down there.” I heard his voice cracking as I closed the door behind me.
The path was dense with foliage. Being a city girl, I couldn’t begin to name my hindrances as I pushed on through. The first thing that struck me as I strolled was the sounds. Though the forest was quieter than Seattle, it resounded with life. The birdsong was beautiful. Next was the smell. I wouldn’t have believed that the air could smell and feel so refreshing. Ten minutes later and I was at the riverbank and it was wonderous. This was paradise and I was smitten.
A little way back from the Flintsteel’s shore stood a strange-looking tree. It arose from a thicket of branches and appeared to be comprised of many thin and spiny twisted tree trunks. Lush dark green leaves hung on dangling vines and gave the impression the tree was clothed in an emerald dress. An image of Poison Ivy flashed into my mind. I smiled and stepped closer. As I encircled the plant, I noticed a solitary branch jutting out towards the rivers opposite shore and the forest beyond. The closer I got the more the tree began to resemble a crude drawing of a human.
Had Grandma or Grandpop been artists? Had they trained the sapling to develop in this fashion? There was a hauntedness to the figure. There was a face; it was irregular and mishappen but it was definitely feminine. I stood under her outstretched arm and gazed to where she pointed. The opposite woodland was dense and foreboding, Darkness and deep shadows stole the trees forms only a few feet over the threshold. In that warm June sunshine, a cold trickle ran excruciatingly slowly through my veins and down my back.
I looked up at the old woman tree and asked, “What’s out there? What’s coming?”
A brisk breeze shifted the green leaves of her dress. I looked at the new old watch on my wrist. The watch was something I would have to get used to. Since there was no cell reception out here and no wifi and little electricity, what was the point of a cell phone? It was consigned for special occasions and town trips. The watch was a wind-up so very environmentally friendly. All the more so because Pop’s had bought it from an antique shop; it was over a hundred years old and kept perfect time. I was shocked to see I’d been stood for a half-hour. I rushed back home. I didn’t want Poppa getting worried.
He recalled nothing of the unusual tree. It hadn’t been there when he was a kid, and no, the grandparents had no artistic blood in them. That night the dream came.
I stood under the arm of the tree and looked into the darkness of the forbidding forest on the far riverbank. As I stared, the tops of the trees directly in front of us began to twitch. The twitching grew more violent as it drew closer to the edge of the woodland. The darkness was beginning to seep out from behind the trunks. The blackness was a many-tentacled creature. It looked to grab a tree trunk and pull its bulk forward. As it heaved its immense mass slowly forward, more and more of the luxuriant forest vanished within its folds. I looked upwards and couldn’t devise where the sky started or the darkness ended. I spun around to the moon at our backs. Outside of its halo stars twinkled. I followed them overhead and towards the advancing darkness. The line was tough to make out but it was there but that too was progressing forward. The blackness was eating the stars.
I looked to the woman and was shocked to see the tree trunks that made up her body were retreating into the soil. They were going back to the Earth. Suddenly I was alone.
The scream that awoke dad emanated from my mouth.
Once I had recovered from the nightmare, I begged and plead for Pops to get dressed. Ultimately, he conceded, and with a torch in hand, we fought our way down to the Flintsteel. The old woman tree was gone, and it was too dusky to make out the forest on the other bank. Bless him, Poppa had tried shining the torchlight across the river but it was still too dark and misty to distinguish any clear shapes.
For the next two weeks, everything went well. Dad cut down the trees, erected the solar panels and built the battery storage shed. He even placed a few water heating panels on the roof of the cabin.
Then one morning in early October, I opened up the back door and standing in the newly cleared yard was the old woman tree. My scream brought my dad running. That night and every night thereafter both me and Poppa have experienced the dream. I don’t wake up screaming any more, just wet with sweat and shaking with fear. A fear which has taken to nesting deep within us both.
Everything had been lovely. Perfect. I was in paradise. But now something dark is coming for us and it’s closer. And, I’m sure the tree has moved a slight bit closer to the cabin.