The Trees

The Trees

A Story by Brea



By Brea Viragh




Riley Mandelbaum rode her bike past the woods every day on the way to school. Her mother warned to never stop, never pause, and most importantly, never go in. Riley had no problem obeying that particular rule. They were ingrained in her memory, a mantra to all young folks.

     Never stop, never pause, never go in.

     Simple and effective.

That Monday in May as she and her cousin Sean jockeyed together toward the four room brick enclosure was as delightful a day as they’d had in a long time. After weeks of rain and a slew of untimely passing’s within their community, the clouds parted and bestowed them all with those sweet rays and a little bit of optimism. All of it combining in the perfect cocktail for spring growth although the trees needed no help.

     “What are you looking at?” Sean skid to a stop beside her and tried to follow her gaze while shielding his brow with a hand.

     Riley continued to stare at the woods, seeing several feet between towering trunks and nothing more. Deciduous skyscrapers. “I thought I saw something.”

     “You’re crazy; there’s nothing there.” Sean smiled, revealing a gap. “I’ll give you five bucks if you go in.”

     Riley shook her head. “No thanks.”

     Everyone always said that the trees were more than alive. That each time a person died, the forest absorbed the energy from the body and used it to grow tall. She understood that the circle of life meant that energy was neither created nor destroyed but simply redistributed.

     These woods took everything.

Loftier than a normal forest, they grew until the tips of each branch reached toward the sky and bloomed together. Vibrant leaves blocked the light and their depths grew shadowed, obscured. Trunks were large enough for eight grown men to link hands and circle.

     Only the foolhardy traveled through those thickets, and those that did were either lost to them all or found months later rambling about the darkness.

     Riley knew that ominous, unnamable things lurked there, and always made sure to keep her eyes on the path.

     “No, I’m serious!”

To show his faith, Sean reached into the blue and grey checkered backpack behind him and pulled a crumbled bill out. His cheer was evident as he unraveled it, holding the money out for her to inspect. “See?”

     Already they lingered too long. Riley’s skin itched from their proximity to the vegetation as though eyes travelled her skin and drank in every inch.

     “No way. Five isn’t enough.”

     “You think I’m playing? I’ve got more! I’ll show you.”

     She waved him away, unconcerned with the money. “Something is in there.”

     “Yeah, of course! It’s the forest, dummy. There’s all kinds of animals and bugs and s**t.” Sean took great pleasure in cursing when they were alone, away from the prying ears of adults ready to raise the whip and knock the manners into him.

     “I know that,” Riley insisted. “I’m not talking about animals.”

     “Or do you mean, something else...” Sean wiggled his fingers as his mouth formed an ‘oh.’ “Spooky things. Woo!”

     “Stop.” She’d never hit anyone in her life, but the taunt had her fists clenching.

     “Maybe you think the boogey man is in there hiding. Or bigfoot. Or maybe all those kids they said disappeared back in the 80’s.”

“I never said that.”

“You’re afraid. Scaredy cat, scaredy cat!”

     “I’m not afraid.” The boast was unfounded and they both knew it. Riley turned to the woods again as shadows reached toward them with spiny fingers. Too close.

     “Then just go up and touch it. You don’t even have to go all the way in. Bring me back a leaf and you get the money. Pretty sweet deal if you ask me.”

     “I didn’t ask. And if it’s such a big deal then why don’t you do it?”

     He wouldn’t, Riley mused even as he shook his head. Though he went through great pains to act tough even Sean knew better than to disobey that particular commandment.

     “Nah, I’ve already done it once.” Sean dove his hands in his pockets, keeping the bike steady with the toe of a black Converse Chuck Taylor.

     “You’re a liar.”

     “I am not. When Paul came into town last summer, he wanted to know what it was about the trees that made them so big. So we went to the edge by the lumber yard and I totally went in,” he claimed.

     “Ah, so that explains why you’re a drooling moron. I wondered if it was something or you were born that way.” Riley chuckled at her own joke, gripped the handlebars and wished to be on their way.

     “Oh, haha,” he said dryly.

     “Even if that were true, which I doubt, there’s no way you would do it again.”

     Sean hated nothing more than being called a coward, even if it were implied. “You want me to prove it?”


     “Fine! I will.”

     He let his bike drop to the ground and Riley watched the dirt give way. Sean was older than her, a family appointed guardian though she would have preferred making the fifteen-minute trip alone. He had the superiority of age and the cockiness of a street brawler backing him with moral support.

     “Good!” She called after him.

     Long legs that usually ate up the ground continued toward the woods in halting strides.

     The closer he walked the slower the steps. Riley stopped herself from yelling after him as a wave of angst had goosebumps erupting over her arms. She went so far as to open her mouth, the words catching in her throat and sticking.

     There were watchers there, she decided. Glittering eyes staring back at her as the trees watched every move. It was unnatural, the way they grew and formed a puzzle work of wood and green. Forests should not absorb the dead faster than nature allowed, like these did.

     She wondered if the souls were trapped inside the trunks, on the inside looking out, and that was why she hated the forest. Her poor grandfather with his antique spectacles and penchant for making dreamcatchers.

     Never stop, never pause, never go in.

     Sean made it to the edge of the timber and craned his neck up, David and his Goliath. The ant in front of a tidal wave. Footsteps paused at the tree line and after a moment of breathless waiting, he turned.

     “I don’t have to prove anything to you!” He shouted, coming back.

     Riley said nothing as the knot in her stomach released in increments.

     “I’m secure in my manliness. In the fight between man and nature, man won.” It was more of a grumble than an actual statement, an under the breath declaration as he closed the distance between them and bent to retrieve his bike.

     “That’s fine,” Riley commented with relief.

     “Man won.” Sean repeated to himself. He regarded her, squinting against the sun. “You won’t tell anyone?”

     “Of course not.”

     “Like I said, I’ve been in there before. I just didn’t want to be late for class. You know how Miss Isenhower gets when we’re late, and I can’t afford any more marks on my worksheets.” He hopped onto the bike seat. “You coming?”

     “Yeah, of course.” Riley purposely released her fingers only after her tendons began to ache, unable to realize how tightly she grasped the plastic. Indentations riddled her palms in a network of zigzag patterns as a result.

     “Keep up, will you?”

     Sean took off as fast as his feet could pedal, leaving her behind with her worries for company.

Riley glanced over her shoulder a final time, narrowly missing the deathly pale arm that shot from between the leaves. And waved.


© 2016 Brea

Author's Note

Good enough to submit to magazines? Please let me know!

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I enjoyed this particular story. Kids not listening to the warnings of adults, trying to prove that we're not 'scaredy cats', we've all been there when younger. The build up to the story was good, and the ending proved to be just as enjoyable.

I would suggest just some small editing. Words such as 'were' and 'that' can be used over and over again in a story without the author realizing it (I know I do it all the time) Take for example the ending

'Riley glanced over her shoulder a final time, narrowly missing the deathly pale arm that shot from between the leaves. And waved.'

Maybe write it as 'Riley glanced over her shoulder a final, narrowly missing the deathly pale arm shooting out from between the leaves'

I only mention it because over the course of the story 'that' is used numerous times. The paragraph below has the word 'that' four times:

'Everyone always said that the trees were more than alive. That each time a person died, the forest absorbed the energy from the body and used it to grow tall. She understood that the circle of life meant that energy was neither created nor destroyed but simply redistributed.'

Again, I only mention this for when writing longer stories, you do not want to fall into the trap of using words too many times, lest it becomes too visible to the reader. Especially when describing something, using 'were' can be repetitive (I'm guilty of doing this all the time!)

Otherwise, it's a great story and your skill at describing and building up the action is very good. Looking forward to reading more of your works!

Posted 2 Years Ago

I liked the story. You had mystery, a haunted forest and interesting characters. I believe could be a story for a magazine. I liked the warning from Mother and the barely escaping at the ending. Thank you Brea for sharing the amazing story.

Posted 2 Years Ago


2 Years Ago

Thank you!
Coyote Poetry

2 Years Ago

You are welcome Brea,
Well written for sure and a nice, but believable twist ending.
"I’m secure in my manliness" feels a little out of place, if I am using a fine tooth comb. Really enjoyable.

Posted 2 Years Ago


2 Years Ago

Thank you! I'll switch some things around and make it flow better :)
The great thought I seen in this. be continue more and more

Posted 2 Years Ago

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4 Reviews
Added on May 18, 2016
Last Updated on May 18, 2016
Tags: Trees, mystery, fantasy, energy, bet



Floyd, VA

I am a poet, short story author, and aspiring novelist. When not writing, I'm likely binge watching HGTV, planning my next home renovation project, or annoying others by threatening to put them in my .. more..

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