This story is by Carly Commiato and was part of our 2017 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Martha walked outside of her warm home and stood on the edge of her wooden porch. She scanned the trees through the setting sun and wrapped her arms around her torso. The air was crisp, the leaves were falling, and her daughter, Emily still hadn’t returned home from her afternoon trek through the woods.
“Emily! Time to come in!” She yelled. From within the woods she heard her daughter’s sweet voice saying ‘goodbyes.’ The sound of crunching leaves followed as Emily emerged into the backyard.
“Well it’s about time, honey. Your little trips are getting longer each day.” Martha embraced her daughter and they walked inside.
Emily took her place at the side of the dining room table as Martha prepared dinner.
“How was school today?” Martha asked. Emily drew in her coloring book. She looked up at her mother and forced a weak smile, and returned to her activity.
Martha walked to the table with two plates of macaroni and cheese. She set one in front of Emily and the other at her seat on the end.
As she sat down, she attempted the question again.
“What did you talk about in math class?”
“Nothing new, really.”
Emily twirled her spoon in her hand as she gazed out the dining room window.
“Did something happen today? You usually eat two whole plates of this stuff before I can even begin eating my own.”
Emily’s eyes swelled with tears. She played with her spoon in her fingertips and without looking up at her mother, confessed, “Tomorrow is Daddy Day at school. Everyone is supposed to bring their Daddy to lunch.”
A few tears made their way down Emily’s face and dropped into her cheesy dinner.
Martha felt her own tears forming. She glanced at the military photo sitting on the fireplace mantle across the living room. She hadn’t handled the death of her husband well, especially when it came to helping Emily deal with the loss of a father.
She longed to stare into those big brown eyes one last time. Her heart ached to know that it would never be.
Attempting to change the subject, Martha asked, “How far into the woods have you been traveling?”
Emily’s eyes slowly dried and regained an ounce of spark. She looked up at her mother and said, “Not very far. I just sit and talk a long time.”
“Who do you talk to? I heard you saying ‘goodbye’ earlier.”
“Are the trees your friends?”
“Yep. Only the ones that talk back, though. Not the regular trees.”
Martha smiled at her child’s imagination. It brought her comfort to see Emily chowing down on her dinner.
The night was restless for Martha. She tossed and turned with the shadows of swaying trees stirring over her bedroom walls. A hopeless sigh left her lungs. Sitting up against the headboard of her bed, she reached for her water sitting on her end table.
She thought of how her husband used to keep his glasses on the table, how his body would block her from reaching her water during the night, and how cold the bed felt without him.
A shadow moved over Martha’s line of vision. She turned to the window and screamed, “Shit!”
The silhouette of a man stood up against the glass. He placed his hands firmly to the window panes and peaked inside.
Martha’s heart leapt into her throat. She grabbed her phone and ran into Emily’s bedroom down the hall while dialing 9-1-1.
“Emily!…Yes, we have an intruder on our property! Please send help now!…Emily, we have to hide, honey.”
Martha found her little girl sitting in her window seat, smiling at the woods beyond.
“Emily, we have to go hide. There’s someone outside!” Her screams hushed to a whisper as she approached her daughter. The emergency operator informed Martha that the police were on their way.
“Mommy, it’s okay. It’s just Daddy. He’s one of the tree people now.”
Ignoring the comments from her daughter, Martha pulled Emily’s arm and forced her to run down the hallway and into the laundry room. She shoved brooms and dirty towels around in the closet, making room for the two of them to hide. Gripping a broomstick tightly in her hands, Martha tried to calm her breathing and stay quiet.
Emily whispered, “Really, it’s okay. He knew I was sad and he said we could go with him. Don’t you want to be with Daddy again?
“Emily, please be quiet. This isn’t a game. A man is out there and he will hurt us if we’re not quiet.”
“It’s not a man, it’s Daddy. Please listen to me, he’s one of them now!”
Emily burst through the closet door and sprinted down the hallway. Martha yelled at her to come back but the child ran with determination.
Martha turned the corner into her bedroom just in time to see Emily opening the window and taking the hand of the intruder.
“Emily! No!” The man pulled the child from the window and into the night. Martha leapt out after her daughter hit the ground. She felt her heart stop at the strange sight as she looked up.
The man’s skin was rough, his fingers long and frail, and his legs thick and clumpy. His hair was intertwined with brown leaves. And then, Martha saw his eyes. They were the only human aspect of the arborescent man.
The eyes were familiar, big and brown. They glistened with tears as the figure offered a course hand to both Martha and Emily.
Martha watched Emily take the offer without hesitation. With a shaky hand, she joined them.
Thirty minutes after the initial 9-1-1 phone call, two policemen arrived at the home. They searched the house from corner to corner, but found no signs of human presence.
The Chief walked into the backyard, shook his head, and lit a cigarette.
“Hey, Chief! Should we call it? There’s no one here and no signs of a break in.” The second officer joined the Chief for a smoke.
“Call it. Another prank call or something. Stupid kids.”
The Chief dropped his cigarette and kicked dirt around to extinguish the burn. He turned toward the house and nearly ran into a trio of trees near the back door.
“Stupid place for some damn trees.” He shook his head and walked away.
The three trees – two tall, one short – were rooted in place and would remain there together, eternally.