He stood up out of the cold dirt. It was dark. He felt around himself. He placed his hand on something knobby. A tree. He held it there, waiting for his eyes to adjust.
His hand slipped.
A screamed cracked the dark air.
Frank leapt away.
The scream became a moan. The moan became sobs. Then, silence.
“I wouldn’t do that if I were you.”
Frank frowned up toward the voice.
The voice met a laugh. “Not exactly who.”
Frank blinked. Things came slowly into focus. The dark outline of a woman, crouched. Black trees. A dark gray sky.
“Then what are you?”
“A part of it all.”
“Will you tell me where I am?”
“Fuck off then.”
The voice laughed again.
“I’ll see you soon,” it said. There was a rustle, a snap. The scream rang out again. Frank held his ears. When it faded, he straightened up. He looked around at the forest and then the forest floor. Littered with branches. He walked over to the tree. He placed his hand on it. It was warm. It felt sad. He put one foot on a lower branch and hefted himself up. He climbed higher. About halfway up the tree a branch broke. The scream started but, faded fast.
“What are you doing?” It asked. Frank started. He slipped and fell back to the forest floor.
“What the hell? Was that you?” he asked the tree. It didn’t move. He got closer. He reached out and snapped off a twig.
“Hello?” The Tree said. It sounded scared, sad.
“Hello,” Frank said. He frowned. “What’s your name?”
“Hi, Melanie. Can you tell me why I’m talking to a tree.”
“I’m not a tree,” the tree said, stronger. “I’m—“
The Tree fell silent. Frank reached out and snapped another branch.
“A girl!” the Tree finished.
“I’m sorry. I don’t understand. Are you somewhere else?”
“No. I am here. I am always here and always will be I suppose.”
“Do all the trees here talk?”
Frank broke of another branch in preparation.
“Do you know why you are here?”
There was a pause. “Yes. The women like to tell us.”
“The flying ones. They come and they break our branches. They taunt us.”
“Why?” Frank asked. He felt like reaching out and laying a hand on the tree in comfort. He resisted.
“For, what we did to ourselves.”
“What?” Frank asked.
“For killing ourselves,” The Tree whispered.
Frank looked down at his own wrists. He noticed a few leaves growing from the wounds. He ripped them off.
“So, all of these trees are people?”
The Tree was silent. Frank reached out to break off another branch. He stopped. He walked to the tree beside it and snapped a branch. This one yelled. A deep voice emerged.
“Please stop!” it cried. “Just let me rest!”
“I’m not here to torment you. I just want some answers!” Frank called out. But, it was no use. The tree just kept moaning. “Let me rest, let me rest, let me rest…” before falling silent.
Frank stepped back. He could feel his legs growing stiff. He shook one violently. In a desperate spasm. He stopped. He knew what he had to do. Before it was too late.
He took off running.
As he did he grabbed branch after branch of each tree he passed. As they broke, screams tore through the forest. But, he yelled louder. He yelled only one thing.
One name. Sara.
At the top of his lungs he shouted.
“Sara! Sara Morgan!”
He ignored his skin growing hard and rough. He ignored his legs trying to reach into the dirt. He only listened, for the tiniest hint.
Then, he heard it. In the cacophony, a small voice crying out.
He ran toward it. He broke a branch.
“It’s me, it’s me,” he said.
He ripped as many branches from the tree as he could reach.
“Frank, how could you?” The Tree said in a soft voice.
“I’m sorry,” Frank said. “I’m sorry, I had to find you. I had to tell you.”
Frank coughed as his throat hardened. “It was my fault. I drove you here. I drove you to this. I shouldn’t have blamed you.”
Frank was crying. “I love you,” he said.
“I love you, too,” The Tree whispered, and then fell silent.
Frank didn’t notice as his legs became roots. His torso, a trunk. His arms branches. His knees, knobs. His fingers, twigs. And his tears, leaves.
He stood there in the clearing, for eternity.
And, when the winged-women would fly through The Wood, tearing branches from trees and mocking the dead, there were always two trees, that only laughed.
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