Another 37, Day 9
A Short Horror Story
Part 1 of 2 (Part 2)
Ever since I was little I’ve been afraid of twigs. Trust me, I know how ridiculous that sounds. Twigs? I don’t talk about it anymore. Not to anyone. Not since the last time.
It started one day when I was nine years old. I was at Wayland Park during twilight, on one of our Twilight Walks. That’s what the whole family called them, both of my parents and my brother and I would set off towards the park just as the sky started to purple. The two of them would sit on a bench or up against a tree and let the two of us run around as we would until it started to get too dark for them to see us easily. That’s how safe this town used to be.
This particular time it was winter, or late fall. I remember because there was that nipping chill that always makes me think of hayrides and bonfires where everyone wears wool hats and huddles up next to each other for warmth. And I remember the trees. The were bare of leaves, so the park looked like a mass of wooden spiderwebs clustered against the darkening sky. Wayland Park must have evergreen trees, but I don’t remember any of those. Just the craggy, barren fingers scratching at the air. We had just had a windstorm, so there were severed branches all over the ground ground.
I had a favorite tree that I used to play under. It was gnarled and had a huge knot in the middle that I could leap up and grab onto with both my hands. More than a few times I scratched up my forehead doing that, but I didn’t care. My mom would just dab antibiotic ointment on my head and sigh and tell me I was lucky I was so cute.
This evening it was almost full dark, and I knew I could expect my dad’s deep voice to come echoing through the park any minute now to end my fun. I was tired; it was a school night, I think, but I started running around more exuberantly so as to not waste my last few minutes. That’s when I heard it. A voice, but not my father’s.
“Pick us up,” it said. It was scratchy, like someone who just woke up and needed a glass of water.
“Excuse me?” I said, turning around to look. There was no one there. Just an empty patch of ground covered in broken branches from the tree above me.
“Pick us up,” said the voice again. It sounded very strange. Even deeper than my father’s. Too deep to be a regular person, I thought. Like a cartoon voice, only there was something creepy about it.
“Is someone there?”
“Yes, we’re here,” said the voice. “Come on over. Pick us up.”
I saw movement in that direction, on the ground. Was it a squirrel? That didn’t make much sense. Squirrels didn’t talk.
“I can’t see you,” I said. I was getting uncomfortable, but I didn’t want to be rude.
“Yes you can,” said the voice. “You’re looking right at us. Come on. Come over. Pick us up.”
I stared right at it, and I could see exactly where the movement came from. But it was too dark to make out what it was. To this day I have no idea why I walked over towards the voice. The hairs on the back of my neck stood up and I had the urge to run away. Maybe I was curious. Maybe I thought it was all in my head. But that’s what I did; I walked towards the voice.
“That’s it,” it said as I approached, and I could tell now that it was more than one voice. “Come closer. Come closer and pick us up.”
I stepped towards it cautiously, another voice in my head screaming at me to flee. But I didn’t. I approached, step by step. I saw what was moving, now. It was several twigs, long and spindly. They shifted around as they spoke. Wriggling, like worms.
“That’s it, little girl. Don’t worry. Just reach down. That’s right. Reach down and pick us up.”
My fingers stretched out in front of me, towards one of the branches. They bent sinuously on the ground, almost as if they were…satisfied. I needed to stop. I couldn’t do this. But I couldn’t help myself. It was like I was watching my hand moving against my will. It was almost there. All I needed to do was close my fingers and the twig would be in my grasp.
“That’s right,” said the voices. They sounded excited, now. “That’s just right. Just like that. Pick us up, little girl. Pick us up.”
My fingers closed. I felt the rough bark against my skin, and it moved under my touch. It writhed.
“Stacey! Jacob!” My father’s voice boomed from somewhere behind me. It shattered the spell. I let go of the stick and pulled my hand away sharply, as if it had been burned.
“Stacey!” The warm voice came again. “Jacob! Come on, kids! It’s time to go home!”
I ran towards the voice like it was the only shelter in the middle of an ice storm. I always ran towards him like that, I told myself. It was normal. It wasn’t because I was scared. Why would I be? Nothing strange had happened. I certainly hadn’t almost picked up a talking, wriggling branch that wanted so desperately to be picked up.
For a couple of seconds as I raced towards my father I believed it. The twigs weren’t making any noise now. I must have imagined it. I decided there was no reason not to glance back, just to prove to myself that nothing had happened. That it had just been a long day, I was light headed from romping about and my imagination got the best of me. No reason not to just take a quick look, just to make sure.
I wish I hadn’t. Maybe then that would have been it. None of the rest of it would have happened. Maybe they would have left me alone. But I did look back. And I saw them. Even more of them, now. Where had they all come from? They shivered along the ground in erratic, staccato motions. Like they were frustrated. Angry. Angry that I had escaped.
I asked my mom about it a few days later, because it weighed on my mind. I didn’t believe it had really happened, or at least that’s what I kept telling myself. And I didn’t want her to think I was making things up. But I had to ask someone; I needed someone to tell me it was nothing so I could stop thinking about it.
“Mom,” I said to her as we were making turkey sandwiches together. She let me cut the tomatoes as long she was there watching. “Is there such a thing as talking twigs?”
“What do you mean, dear?” she said as she spread mustard onto the bread.
“You know, twigs that can talk. That tell people to pick them up, or something.”
The expression fell off of her face. It went totally blank, like she had just woken up. I barely ever saw that look on my mother, who was always laughing or smiling or crying. Something. Not this blank, empty visage.
“That’s normal,” she said, her voice as flat as her expression. “Don’t worry about it.”
“It’s…normal? For twigs to talk?”
“Yes. It’s normal. Don’t worry about it.”
A chill ran through me. Why was she acting like this? I tried to think of something to say but nothing came. A moment later her usual half-smile returned. I watched it blossom on her face, and when she spoke it was like nothing had ever happened. “Can you pass me the cheese, please? I got this English farm cheddar from Mrs. Wilkins and it’s supposed to be super sharp.”
I didn’t bring it up again after that. I thought about asking my father, but I couldn’t stand the idea of watching his laughter lines flatten out and listening to that stale, mechanical tone in his voice. I didn’t know that it would happen, but the idea scared me. So I kept it to myself, and just hoped that the whole thing would go away.
For a long time it did. Nothing happened, and I stopped thinking about it. I didn’t forget it, and I never touched fallen branches or got any closer to them than I could manage. But that didn’t really affect my life, and more and more I came to believe that I had dreamed the whole thing, or seen it on TV somewhere and imagined that it happened to me. That’s the kind of silly thing little kids do, after all, and once I got into middle school I spent a lot of my time ashamed of all the kiddie things I did and thought and was into. This was just one more of those.
Until it started again.