Fixer Upper-Downer

Writing Prompt: You’ve moved into a fixer-upper house and have finally made a start the overgrown garden. One dark and gnarled tree has coiled itself around remnants of an old stone pillar. As soon as your axe passes through it, the tree falls away into the ground as if pulled from below. Others begin to follow…

Erick wiped the sweat from his brow, surveying the overgrown garden festering with a lifetime of thistles, dandelions and piled up grit.

“Daniel?” Erick called back to the house, “Hey, Daniel? I’m gonna get started on these trees. Strip them out so the roots don’t wreck the mower.” Erick waited for some sort of reply, even a quick cry of approval from his husband. He’s probably in the guest room, still painting I’ll bet. Erick smiled at the thought of Daniel covered in baby blue patches of paint, slaving away to clean up the walls. Might as well get started anyway.

There were three trees in all sprouting from the dense jungle grass of the garden. And of those three only one looked as though it might cause a problem. It was a thick, dark trunk of ancient wood. Gnarled and rotting, wrapped around the remnants of an old stone pillar. There were no leaves to the branches, there was barely any colour to the tree at all. Had it not been for the moss leaking out from the split wood of the trunk then the tree would have looked almost perfectly black. A charred tower beneath the auburn sky.

Erick shouldered his axe, nothing too fancy – and nothing mechanical – then started wading his way through the tall grass to his now victim-in-wait. He shuddered as he passed through the as yet unexplored reaches of the garden, feeling the soft, wet touch of something silky slither past his bare ankles. It’ll be vines, or maybe a hose pipe… just keep on moving on. He tried not to think about the squelching sounds that surfaced underfoot.

As he reached the towering trunk of solemn black he felt the ground harden beneath his feet. Here the grass seemed to have withered away with barely a blade growing around the base of the tree itself. Erick was staring at the wood, watching it crawl about itself in strange patterns, wondering just who would plant such a horrific looking thing. First out, and it’s a big one! The removal of the tree would be a start, a grand start, to the remodeling of the garden. This space could be beautiful, with a little work and a dash of something special. Just imagine it: summer nights spent late outside, a gentle breeze, a nice cold cocktail, a slice of cherry pie.

Flexing his forearms, taking several practice swings, Erick aimed for the heart of the burly trunk biting his lip as he readied himself to fell the ugly beast. One, two. One, two. Chop, chop. Hop to it solider! He gave a short laugh, recalling how his father had taught him to cut wood, to chop down trees. That was before his father had found out he was…

Batter up! Wrong team. Swing. 

The blade of the axe whistled through the air, letting out a heavy sigh as it connected with the solid trunk of the tree. Splinters of wood spat out from the snarling mouth the axe had cut into the wood, a mouth that threatened to swallow the axe whole and be damned to whoever was holding it.

Erick heaved on the axe’s handle trying to pull it free, ready for another swing, but strange as it might seem that cut formed mouth was biting down hard. It really was threatening to swallow the axe whole, and as it chomped away at the tool it sought to drag down Erick with it.

Planting a foot on the trunk and heaving again Erick tried, fruitlessly, to free the axe.

“Come on,” he pulled again lifting up his other leg, now floating over the hard ground with both hands on the hilt of the axe, “why won’t you come loose?”

He was oblivious to the sinking and the shrinking of the trunk. Oblivious too to how the tree’s new-formed jaws snapped away in desperate hunger for the axe, a hunger that included him.

Erick turned toward the house, looking for the guest room window as he lumbered with his weapon. He could see Daniel waving… only he wasn’t really waving, was he? Erick’s face dropped, his grip on the axe loosened, but he didn’t fall. The roots of the ancient tree had crept up from the ground and latched around his forearms, climbing to his waist, his legs, his throat, holding him in place.

Daniel wasn’t waving, he was warning, frantically calling for Erick to run. How had he missed it? The sinking tree, the lively roots, the gaping hole that was forming in the ground. He’d been absorbed in his work, daydreaming about the perfect garden. And now he was about to disappear, deep down below, don’t say forever.

The ground started shaking, the grass rippled in the winds, and one by one those slimmer trees fell away to the worlds below. Erick took one last look at the guest room window, noticing something strange in the reflection of the glass. Not just Daniel, but another figure, a gaunt looking shadow climbing the walls behind his distant love. Erick’s eyes widened with fear, his heart racing at the thought of…

Daniel.

Dead.

Then the garden dropped away, falling through the earth, giving up its grip on what might once have been reality. This version of reality was much darker, far grimmer, a reality to run away from if you could.

Dull red lights flickered in the hollow of the dark. Voices gargled in the shadows, trees just as thick and black as Erick’s own sprouted from the stone built walls. There were eyes too, melding with the voices, yellow flecks of life that promised to feed and to find you.

All around the air felt cold, and yet deep below the distant crackle of fire seemed to linger. Then the falling stopped, and with a heavy thud the tree began to replant itself, roots writhing to take hold of solid ground. Erick slipped from the grip of the receding roots, dripping with sweat, heart pounding in his chest, voices ringing in his ears. He scrambled to his feet and made to run, only now seeing the deathly drop before him. A sheer cliff, swimming down into the deep dark below.

“I want to go back.” Erick whimpered, feeling his way around the tree trunk, hoping to find some solid ground. He thought of Daniel, of the shape he’d seen of which his lover had been unaware.

Then he froze, a lump caught in his throat. The hairs of his neck stood perfectly on end and he felt like he might cry. He had found something as he was groping his way around that trunk…

It wasn’t land.

He’d found a hand.

Copyright © K R Perry 2019

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