SproutA Story by bba
How can you stop a tree from growing?
Someone from his dad’s office called. She wanted to talk to his dad. He told her he wasn’t home. And no, he didn’t know where he was. When she asked for his mom, he told her he didn’t know where she was either. She asked if there was someone else in the house she could talk to. He told her he was alone. What time would they come home, she asked. He didn’t know. She told him to tell his dad to call the office when he got home. He said he would, said goodbye, and hung up.
Two days later, the woman called again. He told her his dad still wasn’t home. And your mom, she asked. Just like his dad, she hadn’t gone home. Did they tell you where they went, she asked. No, he said, they didn’t. She asked when was the last time they went home. He counted with his fingers. Four days, he said. And you’ve been all by yourself in the house since they left, she asked. He said yes. She told him to stay in the house, and she would call back. She sounded worried. After a few minutes the phone rang again. She told him someone would go to their house and ask him questions. She asked him if he had been eating. He said yes but they ran out of cereals, and there was nothing in the fridge but cheese. He didn’t like cheese he told her.
The policemen came. One of them talked to the woman on the phone while the other went to the closet and took his mom’s coat. Then he placed the coat over the naked boy’s shoulders. His skin felt cold, he said to his partner. He heard the partner tell the woman not to worry, that they would take care of him. The partner didn’t let him talk to her again.
They asked him questions just like the woman on the phone said they would. He only nodded and shook his head. He didn’t say anything. He didn’t like policemen. They scared him.
The policemen called the social service, and they, too, asked questions. He told them his name was Jimmy. He told them it was four days since he last saw his parents. He didn’t know where they went.
They searched the rooms, the backyard, and the garage. His parents were nowhere to be found. The neighbors didn’t see his parents leave. His dad’s car was still in the garage. All their clothes were in the closet. There wasn’t anything missing as far as the police could tell. There was no forced entry. No broken windows. No blood trail. The only thing worth noting was their dirty bed. There was soil under the bed covers. And small twigs. And some leaves.
* * * *
Jimmy stared down at his shoes. There was a thick crust of soil underneath the soles. His mother had gotten tired of asking him why there was always dirt under them. He never told her the truth. He was afraid she would get mad. But she never gets mad at him no matter what he did. He guessed new mothers never get mad at their new child just as mothers never get mad at their newborn baby. He didn’t mind calling her mom even though she wasn’t really his mom. She became his new mother since his real mother went missing two years ago. She told him his real mother had gone to a better place. How would she know; she never met her.
The voices were muffled behind the closed door. He tried to listen, straining his ears to hear if anyone would say his name. He thought he heard someone say his name, but he wasn’t sure who it was. He couldn’t hear his mom’s voice. All he could hear was Tom’s mother. He wondered how Tom’s mother could raise her voice in front of Ms. Hopkins. Nobody raises their voices in front of Ms. Hopkins. And if anyone would even try they get in trouble. Every time he saw Ms. Hopkins he tried not to think of anything. She made him feel that she knew what he was thinking. He wondered if all school principals knew what the children were thinking or knew what they would do before they could even do it. Ms. Hopkins surely did.
Tom’s sniffles made him turn from the door. There were red blotches on the gauze around his arm that looked like melted candy. He saw Tom’s cheek glistened with tears. Tom was his friend. But when Tom saw what he did, he wanted to do something so he wouldn’t tell anyone. He only meant to frighten him.
The door of the principal’s office opened, and Ms. Hopkins called him in.
The office smelled like old wood and pages of books. He liked the smell of Ms. Hopkins’s office but that didn’t mean he wanted to spend his time there. It was midafternoon, and the shadows crept out from the book shelves and appeared like they were trying to swallow him. He could see the school grounds through the large window behind Ms. Hopkins’s table. There wasn’t anybody outside now. He figured all of his classmates had gone home. Tom’s mother never left her eyes off him. She looked like she wanted to shout at him or hurt him. He didn’t dare to look at her. He went over to his mom and sat on her lap. She placed her arms around him and kissed his head.
Ms. Hopkins passed by the metal cabinet that stood on the far right wall and for a moment she looked like bear sneaking behind the shadows, hunting for food. She took her seat, placed her elbows on the table, and held her hands together.
“Can you tell us what happened, Jimmy?”
He looked down at his shoes and started to rub them together, removing specks of soil that disappeared between the wooden panels. He didn’t want to stare at her round glasses.
“I don’t know what happened, Ms. Hopkins. Tom was just… we were just playing,” he said. His voice had gone down to a whisper.
“And you think it was a good idea to hit my son with a stick?” said Tom’s mother. There was a quiver in her voice that frightened him. He shook his head.
Ms. Hopkins raised her hand. “Please, Barbara. Just let him explain.”
He looked at his mother. She nodded and whispered, “It’s all right, honey. Just tell the truth.”
“I didn’t hit him with a stick, Ms. Hopkins.” His throat began to feel hot.
“How did Tom get hurt?” said Ms. Hopkins.
“I don’t know.”
Tom’s mother clicked her tongue. “What did you do to my son?”
“I didn’t do anything. I don’t know how he got hurt, honest.”
“You don’t know? You did something to his arm,” said Tom’s mother, “Have you seen his arm? You did that to him.”
“That’s it,” his mom said. She stood up and faced Tom’s mother. “I’d know if my son is telling the truth or not. And if he said he didn’t hit your son with a stick then he didn’t hit him with a stick!”
This was the first time he had heard his mom raised her voice. He wouldn’t be surprised if her voice reached the hallways.
“This is a waste of time, Ms. Hopkins. I will not let anyone accuse my son of lying. I think we’ll go,” she said.
He saw Tom jumped as his mom slammed the door behind them. He wanted to stop and tell him he was sorry even though it was his own fault he got hurt. His mom walked away from the office, ignoring the stares from the other teachers nearby. He followed her.
When they reached the hallway, he turned around and looked back at Tom. That was the last time he saw Tom.
* * * *
Barbara asked Tom what had happened for the umpteenth time. He knew she didn’t believe him no matter how many times he told her. And every time he told the story, he, too, started to doubt himself whether what happened was real or not.
“What are you doing?” Tom said over the bushes.
He came to tell Jimmy that the bell rang a few minutes ago. He looked for him everywhere, and when he didn’t see him in the canteen or the classroom, he went out. There he saw Jimmy at the outskirts of the grounds where the trees were thick and tall. He knew they weren’t supposed to go that far away from the school building. If any of the teachers saw them they would both get in trouble.
“Hey, Jimmy,” he said but Jimmy didn’t seem to hear him.
He looked back to the school building. He squinted his eyes from the high sun. Some of their classmates were still out on the grounds, climbing the monkey bars, waiting for their turn on the slide, running around and playing tag. He wanted to go back and leave Jimmy, but he also wanted to know what he was doing there. It took him a few minutes before he decided to part the bushes and step in the woods.
The ground was soft and thick with mulch. Tom minded his steps. He didn’t want to step on a frog or a snake. It was a bit darker under the canopy like looking inside a cabinet where he could not quite see the hanging clothes yet knew they were there. The wind howled above him. It sounded like whispers. He shivered.
Jimmy was standing in front of a tree on the far left. His blond hair appeared like it was floating in midair. He was talking to someone, but all Tom could see were the trees. Tom went to him.
“Jimmy,” he said. “What are you…?”
He felt something on the ground. He thought he stepped on a rock. It wasn’t a rock. It was Jimmy’s shoes. He looked at Jimmy. Jimmy’s feet were buried under the ground.
“You spying on me, Tom?” he said without looking at Tom.
Jimmy was holding something on his hand. Tom couldn’t see what it was but it looked like five wooden sticks or twigs. They were long and thick. He wondered how Jimmy could move the long, twisted twigs like they were his fingers.
“You spying on me, Tom?” he said again.
“No, I wasn’t. The bell just rang and I came looking for you,” he said, “Let’s go back to school, Jimmy. Please.” He didn’t know why his voice began to sound higher.
Jimmy lifted his feet off the ground and faced him. Tom gasped. Jimmy’s feet didn’t look like feet. They were gnarly and deformed like wood; shapeless things that pulsated on the soil.
Tom screamed. He started to run back the school building but his foot caught one of Jimmy’s shoes, and he stumbled to the ground.
“No! Don’t!” he heard Jimmy scream.
He felt something on his arm. They were rough, thick, and brown like wood. But it wasn’t wood. It was Jimmy’s hand.
“Hurry, Tom! Hurry!” he said in a trembling voice. His eyes were as round as coins.
Around them the trees began to bend down. Their thick trunks creaked and cracked. The branches swayed from side to side as though there was a strong wind blowing through them. The leaves moved in a flapping motion - like gnawing jaws.
The ground tilted and shifted. Then the roots began to dig up. They sprouted out from the soil like fingers.
Jimmy helped Tom up. Tom cried as the roots flailed and thrashed around them. He felt one of the roots coiled around his arm and tried to pull it down the cold soil. Jimmy grabbed the root and broke Tom’s arm free.
They ran out of the woods, and the trees stopped moving.
* * * *
Jimmy opened the window, and the cold night wind blew on his face. His mom tucked him in and kissed him goodnight. But he couldn’t sleep. Not with the trees whispering outside and calling him.
The backyard was silent. The grass had been cut clean. The rosebushes on the side of the house were in full bloom. The trees that lined up on the edge of the lawn had grown strong and tall, and under them were new sprouts of young trees. No one ever noticed the new trees. Nobody cared much for the trees like he did. His mom wanted them cut all down, thinking that they might attract wild animals. He begged her not to. He begged hard.
“Tom didn’t need to get hurt,” he said. He kept his voice low. He didn’t want his mom to hear him. He was supposed to be asleep at this late hour.
The leaves tinkled like the sound of dripping water but nothing else moved in the backyard. The brass wind chime stayed motionless. The red flag on his sandbox didn’t wave. The rope of the tire swing remained still.
“No, no,” he said, “He won’t hurt me. He’s my friend. He only went to the woods because the bell rang. He didn’t come to spy on me.”
The rustling of leaves answered him.
“Please, don’t hurt him. He’s my friend. He didn’t mean to…”
The sound of the trees became louder. The tree trunks creaked as they bend forward towards Jimmy’s window. The branches reached out from the shadows, and the thin, twisted twigs bathed in the moonlight. Jimmy started to cry. He didn’t want them to hurt his friend.
"Please,” he said as tears rolled down his cheeks.
The leaves began to rub on each other, making a high pitched scratching sound that made Jimmy’s hair bristle.
The trees were laughing.
* * * *
Tom’s mother changed the gauze for the fifth time that night. She didn’t understand why there was so much blood yet there weren’t any wounds visible. The doctor in the clinic said he couldn’t find any deep laceration where the blood might have come from. The x-ray showed no broken bones. The blood test showed normal; he didn’t have any bleeding disorder. The doctor ruled out skin allergy; Tom’s arm didn’t show rashes of any sort. There was nothing wrong with his arm but Tom kept insisting that it hurt a lot. The doctor told his mother that he might need to see a special doctor, one that deals with his kind of disorder. That made his mother even more upset. She knew he was really in pain even if the doctor thought he was only pretending.
Under the gauze, Tom’s arm itched. He wanted to scratch his arm but it hurt. He lifted his arm to the moonlight. The blood wouldn’t stop. The gauze felt cold and wet.
He sat up and removed the gauze. His arm looked fine but it throbbed with pain. He turned on the lamp and looked closely at his arm.
Something moved. The hair on his arm began to grow, sprouting out from his skin like roots. The lines of his skin deepened, and his skin became harder. He touched his arm. It felt rough like a trunk of a tree.
He called out to his mother.
By the time Tom reached his door the hair on his arm had grown down to the floor. They kept growing, and growing. His arm became heavy, and he couldn’t lift it. His whole arm had become wood. The roots had clung themselves to the floor. He could feel them tugging him down. Then he felt his shoulder began to change. Then his neck.
He tried to call out again but he couldn’t speak. His tongue had become a leaf.
© 2012 bba
AboutHello! My name is Brian Ayson and I'm from the Philippines. Nice to meet you! I write short stories mostly, somewhere within the realms of horror, fantasy, drama, dark fantasy. Please feel free .. more..
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