Another 37, Day 10
A Short Horror Story
Part 2 of 2 (Part 1)
It was when I was walking home from school, this time in the spring. Now that I think about it, it was the last day of school, so there was an extra bounce in my step. Most of the time I walked home with my best friend Genna, but her parents had picked her up directly from school so they could set out on vacation straight away. So I was all by myself. I knew I would miss Genna for the weeks she was gone, but summer vacation stretched out in front of me and nothing could bring me down.
I took the long route home along the back roads and over near the edge of town where the rich people lived. Or at least, what he had that passed for rich people. They had gardens in full spring bloom and trees covered in blossoms and it was beautiful. I used to go out for walks by myself all of the time, and even though I liked walking with Genna or my other friends I realized that I missed this solitary time to just be out in nature with no one around to distract me. I wondered why I never did this anymore. A moment later, I remembered.
“Pick us up,” said a deep, scraggly voice just a few feet away from me.
I shrieked and jumped into the air. My bag flew off my shoulder and smacked against the ground. I heard a muffled shattering noise that could only mean the unfinished Snapple in the bottle pocket had broken, and my books and notes would be soaked. I didn’t care.
“No,” I said, half to myself. “No, you’re not real.”
“That’s right,” said the voice. The voices. “We’re not real. Nothing to worry about. Just pick us up.”
I couldn’t do that. Anything but that. I had to get out of here. That’s what I thought, and I barely noticed my outstretched fingers until they brushed against the bark, and felt it pulsate.
“No!” I screamed. I jumped back and began to run. I didn’t stop to pick up my bag. I didn’t turn around to look. At one point I tripped and scraped my knees and my hands, but I just picked myself up and kept on running.
I burst through the gate of my front yard ten minutes later, slamming so hard against the fence that white paint flew off in chips as it crashed against the other side. I hunched over and breathed in ragged, gasping pants. Fire lanced up both of my sides, the scratches on my knees screamed, and my lungs felt like I would cough them out in bloody clots. But at least I was home. At least I was safe.
“We won’t forget about you, little girl.” The words scratched their way into my ears. I turned in horror towards the sound to see a small branch just a few feet away. It undulated on the neatly trimmed grass. “We never forget. So go ahead. Pick us up.”
I locked myself in my room that night and hid under the covers. When my mom came to wake me the next day for First Day of Summer Breakfast I told her I was sick and I couldn’t eat anything.
“You do look pretty ragged,” she said as she felt my forehead. “I don’t think you have a fever. Better just get some rest. You look like you haven’t slept in weeks.”
“I feel like it,” I croaked. It wasn’t far off. I hadn’t slept a single minute the night before.
“Poor baby,” she said. “I’ll make you some chamomile, okay? I’ll bring it right up. Let me know if you need anything. I can make you some soup.”
“Maybe later,” I said. My voice was very scratchy. I didn’t like the way it sounded. “Thanks, mom. Mom, can I ask you something?”
I was about to bring it up. The twigs. Then I saw her face. It froze up, into a mask. Before I even said anything.
“Yes?” she asked, her voice utterly empty.
“Nothing, mom. Nothing at all.”
I didn’t leave the house for a days. It wasn’t like me, but the rest of the family chalked it up to my illness. I did feel ill, but not for the reasons they thought. So I stayed in and I read books and I watched Netflix and played card games on my tablet. Anything to keep me busy, keep me from thinking. And I tried not to look out the window. They were out there.
Was I going insane? Surely there weren’t really living, talking twigs littering the streets of my town, begging stray girls to pick them up. I tried to tell myself that. That I was crazy, or that I had just had some kind of weird dream. I could almost believe it, except that it all felt so real. I could hear the blend of deep, craggly voices, thick with anticipation as I reached for them. I could smell the lilacs in bloom in the exact spot where it happened. I had always loved that scent, but it now it sickened me.
It took a week before I dared put a foot outside the house. I volunteered to check the mail. It had been my turn a few times, but I got out of my chores because I had been sick. My parents both believed me because I never stayed in this long, and because what kid fakes being sick right after school lets out? But after a week trapped in my own house I felt cramped and restless, and I knew I couldn’t stuff myself inside forever.
So I walked through the front door, hesitantly. I inched towards the mailbox, one step at a time, glancing in all directions and starting at the noise of a squirrel as it scurried up a nearby tree. I made it to the mailbox. I grabbed the mail. I was almost in the front door when I heard it.
“We never forget.”
This was real. This wasn’t going away. I was terrified, but I couldn’t let it keep me from the world. I had to do something. I had to tell someone. Someone I could trust. Genna. I had to tell Genna. She would be back from vacation in a week, and I would let her knew. She was my best friend, and she was the smartest person I knew aside from my dad and my 6th grade math teacher, but I was scared to talk about this to an adult. Genna would believe me. Genna would know what to do.
I counted down the days until her return on my room calendar. The stretched out far, far longer than summer vacation days are supposed to. I went outside a few times. I wore headphones so I could blast my music. I tried to stay as far as I could away from fallen branches, but it was impossible. Sometimes I saw movement out of the corner of my eyes. Sometimes I thought I heard a voice, and I turned my music up. All the while a single question ran through my head: what would happen? What would happen if I picked them up? The thought terrified me. But at the same time…no. Best not to think about that.
Finally the day of Genna’s return arrived. I texted her in the few days beforehand that I missed her and I really wanted to see her as soon as possible. She said she felt the same. So it wasn’t hard to arrange to go over to her house the day she got back.
“Hey Stace,” she said as she opened her front door and I hugged her. “What’s up?”
“Nothing much,” I said as I stepped in. “It’s just been boring around here without you.”
“I know, right?” she said.
“Hello, Stacey!” her mom called to me we walked through the living room towards the stairs up to Genna’s room.
“Hi Mrs. Beaumont!” I said to her.
“You kids want some snacks?” she asked.
“Maybe later, mom,” said Genna, and we raced up the stairs.
“How was Paris?” I asked.
“It was super fun,” she said. “But I wish you could have been there. And we went to way too many museums.”
“So what’s on your mind?” she asked. “You sounded like you had something way important to tell me.”
“Yeah, it’s…it’s nothing. I was just bored, like I said.” She gave me a skeptical look. I wanted to tell her. I had to tell her. But not just yet. Not when I had this chance to have fun with my best friend and forget about things for a while.
So we sat on her bed and she showed me the pictures she took on her phone at the Eiffel Tower and her “favorite French cafe.” Then we played with her dolls for a bit. We were both way too old to play with dolls, of course, but that’s why we only did it when we were together. Mutually assured social destruction. Then she showed me the fan fiction she was writing and I gave it a Serious Critique.
It was fun, but as time went on my stomach started to twist up. I couldn’t put this off much longer. Did I really want to tell her? I had to. They were still out there. They weren’t going away. If I didn’t tell someone I would scream. So after we ate dinner and I helped her do the dishes we ended up back in her room, and I decided I couldn’t put it off any longer.
“Genna, can I ask you something weird?”
“Yeah,” she said. “Of course.”
“No, I mean, this is really weird. You might not like me anymore after I tell you. It’s that weird.”
“Weirder than when you told me you liked Josh Corbin?” she gave me a wicked smile.
“Yes,” I said, and my voice sobered. “This is serious.”
“Jesus Stacey,” Genna said. “You’re freaking me out. What’s going on?”
I took a deep breath. “Have you ever, I mean, have you ever seen something so strange you couldn’t make sense of it? Like, something…I mean, have you ever heard of a stick, like, a twig or something…talking?”
Genna’s eyes widened, and her face became a mask of horror. I heard her door open behind me, and the sound of footsteps.
“Did you…did you hear a twig speak to you?” She sounded terrified, more scared than I had ever heard her.
“That’s normal,” said a voice behind me. It was utterly without inflection. I turned around and saw her mom holding a tray of cut fruit. Her face was expressionless. “Don’t worry about that. It’s normal.”
“Mrs. Beaumont?” I said. “Are you okay.”
“Everything is okay,” she said mechanically. “Everything is normal.”
I looked back at Stacey, and she regarded her mom in shock. Then Mrs. Beaumont’s countenance softened. “I thought you girls might like some dessert.”
“Thanks mom,” said Genna. And I muttered my thanks as well. Mrs. Beaumont put down the tray and smiled at us and walked out of the room.
“What did you see?” Genna hissed in a loud whisper. “What did you hear, did you…did you touch them?”
“No,” I said. “I mean, almost, I…”
“Don’t pick them up!” Her voice trembled. “For the love of God, Stacey, whatever you do, don’t pick them up!”
“Did you…Genna, have you seen them? Have you heard them, too?”
She shook her head. “Not me. But my sister did. She told me, before…”
“What are you talking about? When did this happen?”
“Isabelle,” she said softly. “ A few years ago. My little sister. Isabelle.”
“Genna, what the hell are you talking about?” I looked at my friend in confusion. The next words were out of my mouth before I had a chance to realize what they meant. What they suggested. “You’ve never had a sister.”
“Yes,” she said as she closed her eyes. “I did.”
Genna and I didn’t talk about it anymore, after that. But things between us were never the same. Sometimes secrets bring people together, and sometimes they make you think about things you don’t want to think about. I didn’t ask her about Isabelle. Maybe I didn’t want to know. Maybe it was because I did want to know, and that scared me even more.
That was a long time ago, now. The twigs were telling the truth. They never forgot about me. Oh, I didn’t always hear them. I didn’t always see them writhing just on the edge of sight. Sometimes years would go by with nothing. But they always came back. And I could never forget them, not for a single day. Any stick, any severed branch could be one of them. Could speak to me, could tempt me.
They’re talking more and more these days. They’re getting harder to resist. Harder to ignore the voices that sometimes come from everywhere. More and more I just want to stop running. I don’t want to be scared anymore. And maybe there’s something else, too. There’s always been something else. Something that made my fingers reach out before I could stop them, so long ago, in that park, in the twilight. Maybe I want to see what happens. Maybe they spoke to me, of all people, for a reason.
It would be so easy. So very, very easy. Then it would be over. Then I would have my answers. The simplest thing in the world. All I need to do is reach out
and pick them up.