Kelly held her breath as she jumped, feet first, into a small pond. The pond was freezing, she could feel the small hairs on her arms and neck spike to the point that it hurt. The darkness swallowed her, she kicked her legs and prayed she surfaced soon.
The night was unreasonable, there was no moon and no stars. There was an overly dramatic tree that lined the pond, it was large and entirely bare. It had a gray tone; the only other color was the green moss that accumulated along its branches and trunk. At 6 feet or so, it branched off and kept growing. It was thick and fierce looking, overwhelming to some degree.
She breached the surface and gasped for air. She flung her hair back and began to swim in the opposite direction from where she entered. Kelly reached up and grabbed for a root that was exposed from the base of the tree, with its help she could effortlessly climb to the ground.
Kelly rolled over and stared into the darkness behind the pond. She couldn’t see it, but she knew it was there. She had been running for a full hour and was exhausted, but she wasn’t about to give up. She wore a white tank-top and jeans, she regretted not wearing a sweatshirt, but knew that it too would be soaked and would only make her colder.
Kelly was 25 years old, tall and skinny. She didn’t like being outside too much, most of her fonder activities were indoors, her skin was pale and in desperate need of vitamin D. Her arms were riddled with garage tattoos, she regretted each of them.
She turned from the pond and ran past the tree. She managed to get into full stride when she felt the impact of a wall connect with her forehead. She bounced off the wall like a basketball off the backboard, she rolled a few times until she came to a halt.
Kelly got up onto her knees and crawled until a hand reached the wall. She kept her hand on the wall as she began to stand up, the wall was black.
Invisible in the dark.
She turned around, being sure to keep her guard up. To her shock, the pond was gone. The grass, the dirt, everything that was there moments ago had vanished.
All except one thing.
The tree was still there, the moss began glowing brightly. A bright green that looked like it was radioactive, dangerous to touch. The moss began to glow brighter, bright enough that her eyes began to burn.
Kelly placed a hand out in front of her and covered the tree from her vision. With the help of the tree she could clearly see the scenery now. The dirt and grass were now replaced with a linoleum looking floor, checkered black and white. The wall behind her stretched a good 20 feet before it met a corner and shot at a perfect 90 degrees forming another wall. Bare walls painted black.
Looking around she understood that she was no longer outside, she was in a small room with the tree. Kelly looked up and noticed the wall climbed high above the tree. The large tree dwarfed as the walls towered above, disappearing in the darkness.
“No!” Kelly screamed. “That isn’t fair!”
The room slowly began to dim, she lowered her hand once it was at a bearable level.
“That’s not in the rules! You can’t change them, damn you!”
She walked around the room, looking for an exit. She had walked all four walls before she concluded there was none.
“Where are you?” She whispered to herself. Kelly walked up to the tree and tried to look as high up as she possibly could.
The light of the moss had settled on a decent level that was enough to give her visibility in the bare room. Kelly squinted as she tried to focus past the leaf-less branches at the highest point of the tree.
Nothing was in the tree. Not even an old abandoned nest or spider web.
Stepping backwards she heard her foot step into a puddle.
She knelled down and put her finger in the small pool of water. She raised her hand to the moss and saw the rich, red liquid run down her finger.
Kelly wiped the blood onto her shirt and frantically moved away from the puddle. Kelly watched as the puddle began to bubble. Within a moment, it began to violently bubble, like a Jacuzzi for vampires. From the center of the puddle, a small pipe rose.
Kelly moved to the closest wall and waited, she didn’t know what was about to happen, but she was confident it wasn’t anything nice.
Ellan sat and focused her attention on her cell phone. It was sitting beside her on a small table, the face was up so she could quickly see if it registered a new message. She had only sent the message moments ago, but she could feel her anxiety crank up a couple notches as she impatiently waited for a reply.
Subconsciously, she kicked her free leg back and forth, the other leg tucked beneath her in only a position that a female could find comfortable. She wanted to look away from her phone, pay attention to anything else, but she was afraid she would miss the message she so desperately waited for.
The entire house was lit up, every light in the living room, kitchen, hallway, and her bedroom, had been turned on. The only room that remained on in the small house was the second bedroom, it remained in perfect darkness behind a closed door. Her husband constantly complained about her habit of keeping the lights on, after 7 years together she still refused to give in. She wasn’t afraid of the dark, but she would rather avoid it if she could.
Ellan and Don had met when they were both twenty, back then she went by El (some of her close friends still called her that). Ellan was only 4 months older than Don. Their relationship started off slow, they were partnered up together on a class project back in the community college they were both attending. She couldn’t stand him at first, his cocky smile and the pride he took in his work annoyed her to no end. At the end of the term, Don asked her on a date, which she declined. As the next term started, she ran into him in the courtyard, he asked again and this time she said yes.
A year later, an old abandoned nature trail that the city had given up on. It was a common place for people to walk their dogs in the daytime, it whittled its way around Lake Treuse and eventually found its way up a decently steep hill. After midnight, Don had taken her up there, they sat at the highest point of the hill and talked the night away. From the top of the hill the entire city was visible, the street lights and porch lights randomly lit up the scenery like stars in the night sky. Linkville wasn’t the biggest city in Oregon, but you couldn’t help but feel small when you see what the population of 25,000 people looked like in the middle of the night. Don got down on one knee, she didn’t even hesitate. She threw her arms around him and repeated her answer, over and over.
Before they could even get married, they had planned to start their family. They knew they belonged together, neither of the them had any doubt they would spend the rest of their lives together. The only thing better than finding your soul mate, was creating life with your soul mate. They tried to conceive a child nightly. After 6 months with no success, they consulted a doctor. After a thorough exam of both Don and Ellan, nothing appeared to be wrong.
“Sometimes it takes some work, it doesn’t always come easy for everyone,” Dr. Manchin said at one of their appointments. She printed out some pages for them to read up on, about ovulation cycles and planning a child.
They were married exactly one year on the day from their first date, April 27th. The wedding was rather small, only family and close friends were invited. Ellan wanted a small wedding, her anxiety wouldn’t allow her to plan anything else. Ellan wore a beautiful, white summer dress she and her soon to be mother-in-law had seen one afternoon after church. Don wore a nice long sleeve, button up shirt, with a lavender tie. Lavender was her favorite color, it was scattered throughout the church.
Life changed drastically after they married. Both Ellan and Don dropped out of college to get some fast cash. Don settled on a job at a mill. Something that could support a family once it finally happened, which he was confident it would. He worked long 10-hour days and finding any extra overtime the boss threw his way. Life got even more challenging when Ellan lost her job. Their inability to get pregnant had left her depressed, and she couldn’t focus on work at the time.
After a full five years of marriage, countless books read, and every possible infertility remedy that they could find on the internet was used, they had finally gotten pregnant.
April 13th was the day that changed their life. At 6 lbs. 13 oz., the world was finally introduced to little Noel Gardner. She was everything they had dreamed she would be.
Ellan and her annoying problem of keeping every light on appeared to be the only thing in his life that Don could complain about, and for that he considered himself lucky.
No matter what time of the year it was, Ellan was always cold. She resisted the urge to take her phone with her as she went down to the coat closet and pulled out a puffy, green throw blanket. Ellan threw the blanket around her like she was going to fight crime and it was her cape. She softly closed the closet door, making sure that the 2-year-old tenant, that resided in the only dark room of the house, stayed asleep. She tip-toed her way back to the only recliner in the living room and tucked her leg beneath her in the exact same manner as before.
She felt the wave of anxiety hit her again, like an amateur surfer up against a swell that would make the most seasoned veteran stay on the beach. Ellan gazed over at her cell phone, it was still not lit up. She began to bite her finger nails, it was a nasty habit that she consciously tried to stop, but from time to time she would find herself chewing the nail until it bled.
Don waited by the exit with Matt Harris, waiting for the final minute to fall before the whistle that released them for the day. Matt was a heavy man that didn’t stand more than 5 feet 6 inches off the ground. He always wore an Oregon Ducks cap and chewed tobacco like a rebellious, nicotine-craving teenager. He was 5 years older than Don, but he was fun enough to shoot the shit about sports (generally football) and they would grab a beer or two after work or watch the games together on the weekend.
“So, any plans for the weekend?” Matt said as he spit brown liquid to the ground.
“Nothing worth mentioning, I think I’m going to work on the garage a bit and see if I can get a little further within our budget limit.”
Matt nodded his head.
Off and on for the last year Matt and Don had put as much work as possible into transforming Don’s garage into a master bedroom. Ellan and Don had talked about starting the task of a second child, after all if they started now it could still take several years until they were once again pregnant. With the possibility in mind, Don concluded that they needed another bedroom. They spent their tax return on a car port, so that the car would escape the wrath of the Oregon winter. Slowly they had emptied out the garage, insulated the walls and started framing the new room. Don was not too familiar with the work, he could swing a hammer, no problem, but when it came to actually converting a master bedroom out of a garage, he needed help. Matt had spent many years of his life working for a construction company, before working at the mill. Since Don had a knack for technology he cut a deal with him in exchange for his labor. Matt’s wife, Jules, had started her own handmade soap company, Baby Buddha Soap, and Don created her a nifty little website, even including a nice updated logo.
His wife had bugged him to get Don to help her make some advertisement for her new line of spring soaps, including banners and fliers and a redesigned website. Matt found this to be a good time to cut a deal with Don for the exchange, quickly Don agreed to the deal.
The whistle blew as the minute hand bumped to midnight. The men walked to their cars and said their goodnight.
“Don’t forget,” Don yelled from across the parking lot as he was half inside his car, “Saturday at 10, I’ll bring the beer.”
Matt gave him the thumbs up and replied with, “That’s only 10 hours from now, kid.”
Don sat inside his small 2004 Jetta. He was a taller man, reaching his final height of 6’5 his senior year in high school. Don was very athletic in high school, he had managed to pack on a few unneeded pounds, but beyond that he was a healthy-looking man. He enjoyed the occasional pick-up basketball game with his friends and enjoyed hiking the nearby nature trails and mountains when he needed to get away for the day. Don kept his hair long, letting his natural curls create a mess at his shoulders. He turned the car on and the CD picked up where it left off.
Beach Boys began to sing halfway through the second chorus of “Good Vibrations”. Don twisted the volume knob up and rolled the windows down slightly. He reached into his pocket and flipped open his phone, no missed calls, no new messages, he dropped it into his cup holder and left the parking lot.
Maybe her text didn’t go through? Maybe he was waiting for her response? Ellan couldn’t take the stress of waiting any longer, she reached over and grabbed her phone. If he wasn’t going to reply in a timely manner, she was going to bombard him with texts until he did.
She pressed the button on the side of her flip phone, which illuminated the top screen, on the tab was a message icon. Ellan was so hurried to read the message that she almost dropped the phone, she flipped the phone open and opened the message.
It was sent 10 minutes earlier. She began to get frustrated with herself when she figured the message arrived when she grabbed the blanket. That blanket had cost her ten minutes.
She read the message and replied. Her anxiety was steadying out now, she took in a deep breath and smiled to herself. Everything was going as planned, a little behind schedule, but she was fine with that.
Ellan looked up at the clock, she had been so fixated on the message that she lost track of time. Don was already on his way home.
She sprang up from the chair and ran into the kitchen, began to fill the sink with water. Once it reached a good level she began to toss in dishes, scrubbing them and then placing them in the dishwasher.
She had never gone back to work after Noel was born, she kept saying she needed more time with her daughter. Eventually Don realized that she was wanting to be a stay-at-home mother, there was never a conversation that granted her the title, but that was what she was. Don had managed to move up a couple levels from his starting level in only two years, there wasn’t much wiggle room with finances, but they made it work. Since she didn’t work, she made it her job to clean up after herself and Noel. Ellan wasn’t told by Don, it was something she wanted to do. He left a little before two and was back a little after midnight, he shouldn’t have to come home to a messy house.
Once the dish washer was started she threw a load of laundry in the washer, she reached into the dryer and pulled out the pile that had spent most of the day behind the small door. She tossed it onto the couch and began to fold, she had managed to separate the shirts into his/her piles before she saw the headlights from the Jetta turn into their driveway. She looked around and was satisfied with the cleanliness of the house, she grabbed the remote and turned on a reality television program that was about becoming a model.
Ellan grabbed her cell phone and pressed the side button, while she was rushing to finish the dishes she forgot about it. She had a message waiting for her.
She read it as fast as she could and replied even faster. Ellan listened as she heard the door to the car shut, she held her finger down on the message icon until a tab opened. She pressed down on the tab that read “DELETE THREAD” and she watched as the messages disappeared from her phone. Ellan shoved it into the pile of laundry on the couch just as Don opened the door.
Kelly hadn’t noticed, but she had fallen asleep. Sitting on the ground, she had nodded off with her arms wrapped around her knees.
She panicked, jumping to her feet and as she looked around the room.
Nothing had changed since she fell asleep. The room was still black, the walls were as naked as before, the tree was still bare, besides the random patches of glowing moss. Below the tree, a small puddle of blood, directly in the center, a pipe.
“What am I supposed to do?” She said to herself.
With no other options, she decided to walk up to the pipe. Kelly could feel her heart beating, like it had earlier when she was running through the woods. She took a couple deep breathes and bent down to the pipe. Kelly held her hair back with one hand and grabbed the pipe with the other. She closed one eye and peered into the pipe.
It was dark, she couldn’t see clearly into it.
Kelly reached up to the moss and ripped off a small piece, leaning over the pipe she dropped it inside. She closed one of her eyes again and looked down the pipe with the other.
The moss sat only a few inches below the ground level, on top of a solid surface. She tried her best to understand what she was looking at.
It looked familiar, she knew that she could figure it out. It sat on top of a slit, it was a small black slit, half the diameter of the pipe. There was something dark, maybe furry at the edge of the pipe that looked like it continued behind it. The surface was yellow, the moss shined off it cleanly and she assumed the actual color of the surface was probably pale.
Kelly looked up from the pipe and took in the surroundings, she wasn’t wanting to get caught off guard. She looked back inside the pipe.
“Oh my god!” Kelly said as she finally realized what she was looking at. The strange black at the edge was part of an eyebrow, the slit was a closed eye.
The eye opened, crystal blue.
Kelly fell backwards and crawled until she found the wall again.
A thumping sound began to come from the pipe, like the old plumbing of an equally old house. The pipe started to slowly move, back and forth. Not too much, and if Kelly wasn’t staring right at it, she probably wouldn’t have even noticed.
Small, warm tears began to fall from her eyes. “Please... Please stop.”
The pipe stopped moving, the sound did too.
Kelly couldn’t hold it anymore, she began to lose control. She couldn’t control the tears now, she couldn’t control her breathing, either. She fell to the ground and cried, the hardest she had ever in her life.
“What! What!? What do you want me to do?!” She screamed, her voice changing pitches as she cried through it.
As if to answer her question, the pipe spit out like a fire hydrant. Blood flew into the air, painting the gray tree red.
Kelly tried to scream, but she couldn’t hear herself over the blood geyser.
Don opened the fridge and grabbed a half drank Powerade, something he started to drink earlier and made sure to save it for after work. He took a large swig and moved back to the living room, being sure to turn the kitchen light off as he left.
“Would you like any help, dear?” He offered his wife.
“No, thank you. I can manage.” She smiled at him from the floor beneath the couch. The piles of clothes were wrapped around her in a horseshoe.
Don sat down in the recliner that Ellan had occupied earlier, he placed the drink on the floor beside him and hit the arm on the recliner, sending him into the reclining position he desired.
“So, Matt is going to come over in the morning and help with the room.” He said.
“That sounds good, maybe we could finally finish it before Noel goes to college.” She said with a smile back at him.
“How much longer do you think it will take?”
“Matt is confident we could get it done by the fall, a little bit here and there if we keep saving right.”
“That would be nice.”
“Yeah.” Don reached down and grabbed the Powerade, unscrewed the cap and took a large drink.
Ellan finished the last shirt and stood up, reaching back down and grabbing a pile of shirts that had been designated as Don’s pile. She started to head down the hallway when the buzzer on the washer rang.
“Donny, could you move the clothes over?”
Don collapsed the seat and moved to the laundry “room”, a closet at the end of the dining room that had a washer and dryer tucked inside. Don transferred the clothes and moved back to the living room, turning the dining room light off as he left.
Ellan entered the room to grab the next pile of shirts, leaving just Noel’s on the couch, she would put those away in the morning once the little lady was awake.
Don made his way around the kitchen, dining room, and eventually the living room, closing the blinds on all the windows. Ellan walked down the hall, she had put on a sweatshirt while she was in the bedroom. She walked over to Don and gave him a hug from behind, as he rolled the small post on the blind that closed it from the outside world.
“I love you, Donny.”
He turned around and gave her a large kiss, he loved that he had to bend over to kiss her lips, she loved it too. She smiled and let go of him.
Ellan moved towards the coat closet and opened the door.
“Hey, I am going to head off to Heathers for a bit.”
“What? Why?” Don said back, it was a fight they had frequently, even though Don knew it was pointless he was still up to the challenge.
“I’m cooped up in here all day, you know that. I feel like a prisoner, all I do is hang out with you and the baby, I need to hang out with my friends. It shouldn’t be more than an hour or two.”
“No, that’s not true. You guys could easily go to a park or go for a walk. You could invite Heather over whenever, you don’t have to take off so late. Why couldn’t you go over there in the morning when I have the baby?”
“You know Heather, she isn’t going to leave her house any time soon.”
Heather was the only friend Ellan claimed. Don wasn’t fond of her, not even slightly. She was very needy, very annoying, and very loud. She borrowed money, with no intention of every paying it back. She had two children, with no idea who either of the fathers could be, no job, and lived off food stamps and unemployment. As long as the government would pay her to not have a job, she wouldn’t get one. Heather had her house broke into recently, her Blu-ray player and all the corresponding movies were stolen. She used that as an excuse to not leave her house, she didn’t want anyone breaking in again when she was gone. Don knew that was just a convenient truth, she didn’t leave her house before the break in. In fact, Don wasn’t sure how anyone could break into her house since she never left, he is guessing she was hard up for some cash and sold it to someone, too embarrassed to admit it to Ellan and just lied to her.
“I don’t care,” Don said, truthfully, “I don’t like the idea of you being out this late. You don’t know how to just visit for an hour or so, you always end up spending the entire night over there.”
“Things will be different this time, I promise.”
“Bullshit. You said that last time, I really don’t want you to go.”
“Seriously? Are you kidding me right now?” Ellan began to turn red, she was pissed. “You know, very well, that I will be watching Noel all weekend. You will be too busy in the garage, with your friend, and I will have to act like a single parent in her all day! It’s bullshit that you get to go out and have a life, I’m stuck in here! Every day!”
“Whatever.” Don said as he turned off the television. In the past, he had been able to guilt her into changing her plans, and he was going to try his luck with that route. “I can’t even remember the last time we went to bed together, but whatever.” He turned and walked down the hall.
Don stopped in the middle of the hall, listened as the closet door opened and closed, followed by her car keys jingling and the front door opening... and closing.
Ellan wasn’t about to get guilt tripped into staying tonight. She had arranged everything and would look like an idiot if she backed out.
She walked over to her car and lit a cigarette, taking in a deep lung-full, she fumbled with her car keys as she tried to open the door to her small, silver Honda. Finally getting the door open she climbed in and rolled the window down, blowing the smoke out.
The Honda slowly backed out of the driveway and headed down the road, she reached into her pocket and grabbed her cell phone. She thumbed through the contacts and pressed dial once she found the right number.
“Hey, it’s me. I’m on my way.”
The blood was rising fast.
Kelly kept her mouth out of the water, as she tip-toed to the tree. The blood geyser made it impossible to see the tree, she made her way around to the other side. The blood began to cover her mouth, she kicked her legs in the fluid and began to swim, doing the best she could to keep her face out of the liquid.
She finally approached the tree and reached for the nearest branch, pulling herself out of the water. Kelly sat on top of the branch and got to her feet. The geyser was not entirely blocked, the tree only gave her so much freedom from its spray. She needed to get above it, it ended up the tree another 10 feet.
Kelly put one arm above the other and began to climb. Her white tank top was now a dark red, her paste white skin was now a bright red. She fought back the tears, she was terrified, but determined to survive.
She finally got above the geyser, the blood barely nicking her shoes.
Kelly looked around, she couldn’t see anybody else, she was entirely alone. The blood continued to rise, but nothing moved inside it.
“I don’t get it,” she said to herself, “where are you?”
She reached over for a branch to stabilize with, she felt the branch stretch away from her. Kelly turned her eyes and watched as the branch moved further away.
“Oh, no... Oh my god! It’s the tree!”
Kelly felt a small branch grip her ankle, she easily reached down and ripped it off. She looked over and saw another branch moving and stretching away. The moss illuminated the room, but not entirely, the branches had stretched into the darkness.
Looking down at the rising sea of blood, Kelly knew she had no other choice.
She plugged her nose and jumped. She opened her eyes to see the branches rocket out of the darkness and shoot towards her.
Kelly felt her body come to a complete stop, mid-air. She felt down and noticed a thick branch wrapped around her waist. Kelly tried to rip at it and break it, but it was too large.
“Please. Please stop.” She began to sob, once again.
The geyser abruptly came to a halt, the entire room became ghostly quiet. The only audible sound was the stretching of the branches.
A deep growl came from the darkness, low and fierce.
Kelly began to fight the branch again, kicking and ripping at it.
The growl grew louder, loud enough that the branch began to shake.
And just as fast it stopped.
“No.” A raspy, scratchy voice said from the darkness.
From the darkness 3 branches shot like the tentacles of a wooden squid. They shot out fast and hard, Kelly did not have time to see them, let alone react.
The thick branch that had wrapped itself around her waist unraveled, retreating in the darkness. Kelly remained in the air, fresh blood flowing down her thighs, running down her legs and escaping from the bottom of her jeans.
Kelly reached down and grabbed one of the branches, it had pierced directly into her stomach. She reached up and felt another branch that had dug through her shoulder, popping out the back. The pain was intense, she felt her fingers twitch. She wanted to scream, she wanted to cry, but nothing would come out of her mouth. Kelly turned her head and found the third branch.
Pointing directly at her eyeball, inches away, it followed her as she moved her head.
“No.” She weakly said to the darkness.
The branch cocked back and pierced through her face.
Slowly, the branches released her body.
Kelly fell through the air.
Her lifeless body hit the ocean of blood with a splash.
In the front room of her studio apartment, crashed on top of the coffee table that held People Magazines and US Weekly, Kelly laid face down.
Her body finally went still as her chest finally stopped rising, her upper body stretched out along the table. Blood drained from her freshly opened stomach wound and from her shoulder.
One eye traded in its beautiful blue for a new, ghostly fog.
The second eye bled slowly over the magazines.