The Trees Are Watching
by Dan Speeney
The hills were dying. The dirt underfoot had turned from a rich red to a dull black in a similar way as did the bark of the skeletal trees after all the life was choked from them last autumn. Leaves turned black with death were left littered across the forest floor like the final tears that those now dead trees would ever cry. Small black rats scurried across the black dirt and blacker leaves, feasting on the abundance of legged insects that swarmed the base of each tree trunk, and fog blanketed the sparse forest so densely that visibility was limited to a hundred yards. Above all this, a lone human figure sat on top of the rock outcropping midway up the slope that overlooked the nearby territory, tending to a fading fire that reminded him of civilization. His dull black outfit melted seamlessly into the scene before him.
As he rose shakily, his mind began to wander to places far away. Never entirely in the present, always experiencing a vivid memory of the past or a perfect image of a future that he would never get to have, he became detached from his world and paid little attention to his surroundings. His stomach growled as his subconscious moved him through the trees towards the rodent food supply that he would hunt with his bare hands. Suddenly, he tripped over a root and was left splayed out in front of a tree, dazed. As he stood up to his feet, he was struck by a sudden moment of clarity stronger than any sense of focus that he had felt since he had woken up in the forest months ago. He looked up at the tree like a child looked at a bully that had just knocked him down. To his astonishment, the tree looked back, its eyes appearing to glow like red coals behind gnarled knots, and it loomed down close as an unexpected gust of wind swept through the typically stagnant air. He pushed himself upright and staggered back, eyes wide open, staring at the tree. He tried to turn and run, but found the entire forest was watching him; there was no escape. The trees, the leaves, the rats and the insects were all watching him, judging him, plotting to kill him.
He had never found himself feeling this way in the previous months he had survived here. Crazily, he tried running back up the hill towards his lean-to shelter but found himself unable to continue, paralyzed with fear of straying too close to an enemy tree. As he spun in circles, he could have sworn that all the rats had slowly turned to face him, and he came to the conclusion the predator had finally become the prey. That new fear spurred his feet into action and he made a break past the trees up the hill. The wind had picked up, it was whirling even faster now, in a way that stirred the fog more than he had ever seen before.
Into his shelter he ran, collapsing against the side of a supporting tree. In response, the tree snarled viciously at him. He jumped away from the tree so hard that he crashed through the branches that wove the wall together, destroying his home. He didn’t care. He crawled on all fours for several yards until standing up to his legs. To his surprise, the fog had cleared. From his vantage point, he could see for miles in all directions through the crystal clear air. Stretching to eternity in every which way were dead black trees upon dead black trees, every single one staring into his soul.
He collapsed, opening his large fang toothed mouth in a silent scream so loud in his own head that he covered his ears with all four of his clawed hands and feet. He turned his big hollow eyes upwards to look into the sky, and the sky held dozens of eyes perched atop figures taller than he, staring back into his soul, commanding him at their will. His talons raked bloody gouges down his face, leaving scarlet stains across his black pelt, and his limbs dragged his body towards the lip of the outcropping. With one last jerking movement, the animal flung itself off the edge. Its neck snapped on impact, but it made no sound through the thick muddy fog.
The trees were as still as ever.