Fiction / Cecilia Kennedy


The Woman in the Trees

Issue 1. February 01, 2021

 

One sepia-toned ray of sun flashes across the wall to my right; it’s quickly diminished to shadows by rushing clouds. Gusting winds blow and crash against the glass and the sides of the house. In the large, vaulted bedroom that overlooks the dark and distant mountains, I’m carefully vacuuming strips of carpet in even strokes, but avoiding the grooves from the rocking chair where the previous owner most likely sat and rocked and watched the view. Some things, I believe, should remain untouched. An explosion of wind bangs against the siding, and the vacuum cleaner cuts out with a spark. Silence. I’m forced to pull up a chair and look out the window.

            Rows of pines bend and sway violently around the edges of the house. They seem to stretch up endlessly to the sky. Their tips bend towards one another—threatening to topple

over and crush the house in its path. Winds blow the branches upwards. Limbs, like hands, reach down and sway. I hear a terrible cracking sound in the distance. My heart beats faster as the sky darkens. I can no longer watch.

                                                                                                        #

In one breath, I’ve raced down the stairs to find Ben and Trevor relaxing on the couch with books and flashlights.

            “I could light a candle if you want,” Ben says. Trevor snuggles into the couch with his book and looks happy to be sharing a quiet activity with his dad.

In Ben’s offer, the part that’s missing, is the part he’s always telling me: relax and enjoy. But I can’t, and he knows that. However, that won’t stop him from offering—from trying to be generous—knowing that I might not be so generous in return.

            “Did you report the outage?” I ask.

            “Do you want me to report the outage?”

            “Yes. Your cellphone is better. What if the power never comes back on?”

Ben looks at me, silently studying my worried face.

Another gust of wind, followed by another horrifying crash in the distance, makes me jump. Ben wraps a blanket around my shoulders and leads me to the couch, where I sit next to him and try to trust that the entire world isn’t caving in.


                                                                                                        #

Each day, I face the window as I do yoga. If I imagine hard enough, I can stretch my arms out and touch the prickly pines. If I look hard enough, I think I can see a face that juts out from the limbs. It appears to be a woman’s face, staring straight out into the void. Her lips are set in an even line. Her look is pronounced and bold. I start to wonder about her, and how she ended up in the trees. The skies have not lightened since we moved in. They’re still dark, and, set against the stark sky, her face is the only thing I see. The sky just moves in wavy lines around it. I half expect the face to turn and look at me—to open its mouth and speak, but it doesn’t.

            Downward-dog pose. I see the grooves of the chair in the carpet. Looking up, I see her face. Bending over to wrap my hands around my ankles, a shadow crosses the grooves in the carpet; lifting up, I see her face, which seems to have turned about a quarter of an inch.


                                                                                                        #

We’ve lived here for about a month now, and I rarely leave the bedroom. The sky has never cleared. The woman’s head in the trees has moved her gaze slightly each day in my direction. By tomorrow, she will be looking straight at me. Ben and Trevor are growing concerned. They try to get me to leave the house, but I have no desire to go outside. I feel drawn to this spot—to the place on the carpet right before the rocking chair grooves start their curved line. Here, I do my work and exercise. Occasionally, I’ll go downstairs for meals, but I’m waiting—waiting for the day when the woman in the trees turns her head to look directly at me.


                                                                                                        #

The winds are blowing all around again, and I feel nothing but dread. Ben found an old rocking chair in the basement—an old rocking chair that probably belonged to the previous owner. I put it in the place on the carpet where the grooves are, and they align perfectly with the curves of the chair. When I touch the chair to move it into place, it feels like bolts of electricity shoot through my fingers. I pull my hand back in shock. When the pain subsides, I ease myself into the chair. The electric current slows, and I feel nothing but comfort as I rock back and forth—and wonder about all of those tall trees, swaying violently over the house—threatening to crush us all.


                                                                                                        #

The woman looks directly at me now. Her face is peaceful, but strong and firmly set, as if in stone. But what surrounds that face—what now comes into view—scares me. All around her, between the limbs of the trees, and in the spaces of the sky are eyes—thousands of eyes that look and stare with such hatred and such full force. I feel like this woman’s face is a part of their hatred and contempt. They look at me with hunger and anger—as if they could produce thousands of monstrous faces and claws to pull my eyes out, topple the trees, and watch me suffocate in the blood of my own crushed body. The thousands of eyes blink and blur. The edges of the room and the sky grow hazy, and I’m no longer aware of anything that can be heard. I watch the hate and the silence. The woman finally opens her mouth to speak. The needles in the pines around her lengthen along the cheekbones and the dark sky fills in with deep, hollow spaces. The eyes are long and drawn as well, filling in with more dark, gray shadows. The face is grotesque—pulled into unnatural, rotting, deteriorating forms that prickle my skin and make my heart stop. She opens her mouth as if to shout, but no words escape—just a smaller, shadowy form that’s tossed into the air. As it tumbles, it takes shape. Another spindly woman with wiry hair clings to a nearby branch. When she lifts her face, her eyes glow red, and I see before me a vision of this woman, alive once, and who once rocked in this chair, in this room. She reaches for the trees and stretches so far that she falls to her death. She hangs limply now, in the trees, strangled by her hair. Her face is blue and bloated.


                                                                                                        #

Ben now wants me to meet a neighbor.

            “Just one,” he says. “It’s not good to stare out the window all day and rock. You’ve got to make friends.”

So, I knock on the door of the woman’s house across the street. I bring a box of chocolates. She lets me in, and I confess that I’ve been sitting for days, looking out the window—and that the view scares me. I ask her if it’s always this dark in these parts. She tells me,

            “Yes, but the views are stunning. Just . . . be careful. Maybe don’t spend too much time sitting and rocking. Bethanne—the woman who lived there before you—she’d talk about the view too. She said the pines grew in cursed soil. She said that the pines would be her death.”

Over sips of wine, the neighbor tells me how Bethanne hanged herself in the trees. They found her there—her body rigid, her tongue rolling out of her mouth. She was still wearing her thin nightgown—thin enough to reveal gray papery skin that matched the dark sky. That night, I

move the rocking chair to the basement, but I change my mind ten minutes later, when the wind begins to blow.


                                                                                                        #

On the day that Ben and Trevor leave for the winter lodge, far off in the mountains, the thousands of eyes stare at me. And then there’s Bethanne, staring at me from the tree. I’m

forced to look at her every day. Her veins, purple and gray, ripple when the wind blows. All of the eyes blink at once. I don’t dare tell Ben what I’m really staring at. The cracking of branches echoes in the distance.

            “I really think it’ll do you some good,” Ben says. “I know I can’t make you go, but I wish you would come with us.”

            “No. I’d only worry about what happens here. I wouldn’t be able to enjoy myself.”

            “The trees won’t fall on the house and, if they do, what will you do about it?”

He thinks I only worry about the trees.

            “I’ll be fine. Please have fun. You deserve a vacation.”       

            “So do you,” he says, but I won’t budge. Instead, I watch the woman’s body dangle and sway in the tree, while the eyes blink and the branches snap in the wind.

The garage door lifts; I can hear Ben and Trevor drive away—and then, silence—except for the wind, which whips the branches even more violently. The woman’s body sways in response. Then, against the force of the wind, she turns towards me and opens her eyes wide—and screams. Her shrieks pierce my soul. I close the blinds. I can’t watch anymore. When the power cuts out, I open the door to go down the stairs and find the flashlight—to grope about the dark,

but the shrieks grow louder. On the staircase, it feels like the walls are closing in, and when I look to my right and to my left, I see those eyes—all of those eyes—replacing the blank space on my walls.

           


My heart pounds in my throat when I reach the first floor and grab the flashlight. As I go up the stairs, the whites of all of those eyes glare in the light. In the bedroom, I find the rocking chair and I drag it down the stairs. The wooden curves splinter and crack as I pull it past the walls—and the blinking eyes. The shrieks won’t subside. The trees crash in the distance.

            When I reach the bottom of the staircase, I put the rocking chair near the front door and race to the basement for an axe. In one hand, I hold the axe, and in the other, I drag the rocking chair outside—fighting against the wind and rain that pelts my face. My cheeks sting. It’s not long before my hair is plastered to my face. And all of those wretched eyes look on. The woman, hanging from the tree, kicks and struggles to get free. She wants to scratch my eyes out—to tear my soul from my body.

            “I’ll tear all of your eyes out!” I say. “I’ll rip them from your skulls!”

With the axe, I strike the rocking chair. The woman’s screams grow louder. She struggles to free herself from the tree, where she’s caught hanging by her hair, the strands forming a noose.

            The first few pieces that I chop from the chair are large, but I work against the wind and rain, bringing the axe down over and over again, until nothing but splinters remain. Though my hands are already raw and bloody, I turn to the tree. I’ll chop it down, with that horrid woman still in it. I’ll bring the axe down right over her skull—and across her hideous spying eyes.

I raise the axe up high and start to pick off a piece of the tree. Her feet dangle and kick at my forehead, so I hack at them with the sharp blade, severing her feet from her legs, which now resemble stumps with bits of tissue and veins still clinging. The hair around her neck gives way enough so that she can reach my hair with her hands and pull. The pain is sharp and intense. My scalp burns as she raises me up by my hair into the tree, but I still have the axe. I reach for a sturdy branch with one arm—to ease the pain and pressure of my hair being ripped from my skull. I come face to face with the woman, who I believe is Bethanne. If she threw herself from the window—if she hanged herself here to get rid of the eyes—she only became one of them. Another pair of eyes, which glow with an otherworldly unnatural glow.

            I’m able to pull my chest up and over the sturdy part of the branch and attempt to get some leverage, despite the incessant screaming and the wind. Her face, which is now inches from mine, is horrifying and desperate. She screams louder than the wind—wailing over her lost soul, but I refuse to join her. She reaches up with both hands to grab the branch from which she hangs—loosening the strands of hair that hold her neck. Swinging onto the branch and landing next to me, she reaches for my neck. I can see all the way down her throat. Her tongue is black, and her teeth are charcoal gray. She rises above me, balancing unnaturally without feet on the swaying branch. She has both hands around my neck. I feel darkness closing in. My face swells and I can’t hear a sound. Before the world around me fades forever, I will myself to swing the axe—slicing her straight down the middle. A streak of lightning flashes across the sky. She tumbles to her second death in two pieces. The trunk gives way. The last

thing I remember is the sickening thud of my own body as it hits the ground. My breath leaves me.


                                                                                                        #

When I wake up, I’m in a clearing right in front of my house, just below the bedroom window. The axe is still in my hands, and I’m covered in mud. My palms are sticky with blood, and my body feels tender, sore. Ben and Trevor are standing over me—looking at me in disbelief. The rocking chair is still in splinters on the ground—wet with rain. Somehow, I’ve managed to clear a circular space that once held tall pines.

            But—Ben and Trevor—their faces. I’ve never seen them look so frightened.

            “Did the trees really bother you that much? Did you have to cut them all down?”

And the question strikes me as ridiculous, so I laugh. I laugh for the first time in so long, and that laugh, which has been trapped inside of me, bubbles up quickly—reaching the tops of the pines that still remain. If only they could see what was so funny. If only they could see the wretched, mangled torso of a woman, crushed under the mighty trunk of a tree, the splinter of a rocking chair lodged in her nose.






Cecilia Kennedy taught English and Spanish courses in Ohio for over 20 years. Currently, she lives in the Greater Seattle area with her family. Since 2017, she has been writing and publishing short stories (mostly in the horror genre) in literary journals, magazines, and anthologies online and in print. The Places We Haunt (Potter’s Grove Publishing) is her first short story collection, which was released June 30th. She also keeps a blog of her humorous attempts at cooking and home repairs: Fixin’ Leaks and Leeks: https://fixinleaksnleeksdiy.blog/

 
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ISSN 2635-2842

York

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