Family Trees

“Mommy, why are the trees moving?”

My daughter stood, rooted in place, staring out the window in to the dusk. The sun was setting behind the treeline; I didn’t have to turn around to know that. My senses had been finely tuned to the turning of each day for as long as I could remember.

They had to be. It was a matter of survival.

She was blissfully unaware of the weight of her words. There was no way she could have known how such a simple question would freeze the blood in my veins. The ancient woods bordering my family’s land had been peaceful and quiet all of her seven short years, having fallen silent almost three decades ago.

When I was her age.

All of us who knew had prayed they would remain that way.

I turned, feigning calm indifference, to see what she was talking about. I didn’t want to, but curiosity and a desperate hope pushed me to it. The evening was windless and warm, yet as the ink of night spilled across the forest, the lower branches and small saplings bent and swayed as though a storm were rolling in. Among the lengthening shadows, one stood out, dark as onyx against the dusky gray of the rest. If you looked directly at it, it would blend almost seamlessly with the rest, but slightly to one side or the other and there it was, clear as day. Even if you didn’t want to see it. Especially if you didn’t want to see it.

The only sound was the tick-tick-ticking of the egg timer by the stove, counting the seconds until the hot water was ready. I used it because I hated the sound the kettle made, and it could alert me in time to prevent it. This time, when it chimed it’s pleasant warning, I didn’t move. I couldn’t tear my attention away from the edge of the woods.

I’ve never been so grateful for the shrill whistle of the kettle echoing through my house as I was in that moment. It almost completely masked the sound coming from the treeline, a sound that filled my every nightmare since childhood. My chest tightened. It took every ounce of self-control I had to fight the instinct to pull my daughter close. I didn’t want to scare her. I didn’t want to have to explain, to rip away the innocence of her childhood as had been done to me. If she heard it, she gave no indication. My ears had been trained to hear it from an early age, however, and I could have picked it out above any other noise.

That horrible, shrieking, almost human sound.

My little girl never knew she’d had an uncle, and with any luck, she never would.

 

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