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Behind the Line of Trees

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When my grandpa died, I thought that it was a long time coming. Don't get me wrong, it was a tragedy, but it wasn't exactly unexpected. He was an old man, his mind half gone, living alone in a house nearly thirty miles out from the nearest town. When the news came in that someone had found him in his home, dead for at least two weeks, I was saddened but not surprised.

Having just gotten a liberal arts degree at the University of Oklahoma, I wrestled for a while with the idea of moving into his old house. My parents didn't want it, they didn't really want to rent it out, and it was nicer than anything that I would be able to afford for years on. Finally in April of this year, I swallowed my fears and moved into the place. My brother Ben decided to come with me, since he had just had a bad break with his live-in girlfriend and needed a place to stay for a few months until he could get back on his feet. The old house was large enough that I would have felt wrong saying no.

Before our grandfather's mind had started to go, he had quite a bit of money. I never really saw him a lot growing up, since he lived a few hundred miles to the south of us in eastern Texas. Still, I remember the presents he bought us all for Christmas and for birthdays and whatnot. Usually, they were a lot better than what our parents could afford. He had pitched in when I got my first car, agreeing to pay for half as long as it wasn't some "rice burner" as he put it.

No one would ever claim that he was a perfect old man, or that we didn't have our falling outs, but he helped me to get a brand new F-150, so it's pretty obvious that he at least cared about us. This house was just a last birthday present, I thought to myself on the day I moved in. A few months early, sure, and in a little bit of an inopportune spot, but it didn't even really need a lot of work. The upstairs bedroom had been completely scraped out by the police department from out in Silver Springs for reasons that I didn't particularly want to think about, but other than that, it was really nice.

Our first night there, Ben and I just dragged in our mattresses, a television set, and my old Xbox 360. We sat up late that night just messing around, because neither of us really wanted to go to sleep. After we got done with the racing game that was the only thing both of us could agree on, we sat up and talked for a while about how life had gone since we had moved away from home. Pretty much the only subject we never broached was the reason why our grandpa had died.

He had been a brilliant old man even with his problems, the head of a software company before his retirement. It had only been in the past few months that he had begun to show signs of senility, and he had gone downhill fast. A month before the end, he had called home talking about the past, and about watching the devil stand under an apple tree when he was a child. After that, he didn't contact us at all, or anyone else for that matter. He went out from dehydration after apparently flipping every circuit in his house and making it to where the water couldn't pump. To say the least, it was disturbing to think about.

Maybe I dreamed about him that first night, and maybe I didn't. I'm not sure anymore. I know that I did several of the nights after that, though. He went from being the old man who I remember to being a desiccated corpse before my eyes in those dreams. It was like watching someone mummify. I'm sure that it was because of my own fears at the time, since I had just gotten over a mild cancer scare. I had a nervous disposition, and finding a mysterious lump on my leg hadn't helped matters.

The next day, whether I had one of those dreams or not, we started bringing in more things. There wasn't really a whole lot of my stuff, since I had been living in a dorm for four years. Ben dragged in two computers, several bookshelves worth of paperbacks, and a treadmill for some reason. By the end, it looked like he was the one living there and I was just the guest. We went into town later on in the day and got some food, along with a 12 pack of Pepsi and a 6 pack of Coors.

It was on arriving that morning that I realized something was a little off about that house.

We pulled into the driveway, hopped out of my brother's Mazda, and were midway to the house before I noticed for the first time that no birds were chirping. There was an open field behind the house, going back maybe a few hundred yards to the forest. Normally, I would have expected to hear some wildlife, but nothing stirred behind the line of trees. I mentioned the eerie quiet to Ben, and he joked that maybe Slenderman had stolen all the birds. Honestly, as a joke, it was even weaker than it should have been. Ben had noticed that the quiet was deeper than it had been the day before, as well.

We sat up that night, but Ben whipped out one of his college textbooks on European democracy, so it was just me playing Halo alone. I shut the volume off once after Ben had gone to sleep in his own room, and I listened for the sound of crickets chirping. There was nothing. I opened my window and looked out over the field, where fireflies would normally have been flickering this time of year. Nothing but darkness and the stars greeted my roving eyes.

I went to sleep that night, and I know that I had one of the dreams.

The next few weeks were okay. We got everything completely set up, cleaned out whatever there was to clean around the house, and discovered a box of my grandpa's old things in the attic. Most of it was stuff from the time he spent in Japan during World War II, including his collection of medals. One of them was a purple heart.

I loved that old man, even though I might not always sound like it. I had a funny way of expressing it at times, but I really did care about him deeply.

It was in the middle of May that we started having real problems. I remember Ben saying that he thought he saw an albino deer, up in the woods. He sat on the back porch that evening watching the forest, but nothing moved. As darkness began to fall, a breeze started to come in from the south east, off of the distant Gulf of Mexico. I thought that maybe I saw something, for a split second, in the undergrowth near ground level, but it didn't look like a deer. I talked Ben into following me in the house, and I slept fitfully that night. Something about what I saw haunted me, although I wasn't sure yet what it was.

The next morning, we had to take another trip into town. This time, it wasn't for supplies, but to watch some movie that Ben had been going on about for weeks. As a result, we got home late at night.

It was waiting for us in the driveway.

I only saw it for a second before the lights in my truck cut out, but I could have drawn police sketches for the rest of my life from that thing. It looked something like a human being, only it was nearly eight feet tall. Its skin was stretched tight over its bones and muscle, and it looked lean, paradoxically both like it was emaciated and terribly strong. The hair on its head was thin and scraggly, and its eyes were hollow black pits. I hadn't seen the claws yet, since they were hidden by the front of my truck, but I could see its teeth, and they are what I remember most about this thing. Its mouth was opened like it had come unhinged, and it was full to the brim with knives.

When the lights cut out, Ben looked over at me, and in the gloom I could see the expression of pure terror on his face. The thing was still visible in the darkness outside, a darker shadow in the night. We both stared at one another, and it seemed unwilling to make a move.

I don't know what time it was, because I couldn't see my watch, and it very likely wasn't functioning, anyway. It became obvious as the minutes dragged on into hours, though, that this thing was standing there for a reason other than toying with us. Somehow, it couldn't see us.

When morning started to dawn red on the horizon behind the house, I was afraid that its vision would improve, but it still just stood there. With better light, I could see that Ben was crying. Tears streaked down his face as that thing stared at us, unmoving and hungry. I remembered then watching a movie when I was younger, Jurassic Park.

The T-Rex in that movie just stood by when its prey wouldn't move, counting on them to budge before it did, because its brain wasn't wired up to see anything but movement. The real T-Rex may not have been like that, but with the dawning of the day, it clicked that this thing probably was. That, I realized, was why my grandfather had died of dehydration in his own house. This thing had caused the power to shut off. It had short-circuited the breaker, and then it had just waited him out.

Higher, the sun rose in the sky. I and Ben sat alone in that truck with the Watcher staring at us for nearly four more hours as the temperature inside of the truck started to rise. Without power, the air conditioner wouldn't run, and the electric windows wouldn't roll down, not that I really trusted them anyway. It was eleven o' clock in the morning when Ben looked at me, shook his head, and cracked the door slightly.

I stared in wide-eyed terror, but Ben turned to the door. Slowly, he creaked it open, and stepped out. I watched as he closed the door, and the thing moved its head toward him. Still, it didn't quite seem to realize where he was. Ben walked forward, every movement careful and measured. He was less than three feet from the thing, and it sensed just enough motion to turn its head toward him. I watched as he walked past it, the thing unmoving and largely unseeing. I really thought that Ben was going to make it to the house.

Then, he stepped on a twig.

It took all I had to not scream as I watched the thing cover the short distance between itself and him in one bounding leap, then knock him to the ground. Its claws appeared then, fierce obsidian blades. Ben screamed, and I heard that thing howling like a wolf from Hell.

It was evening before I finally became conscious of the world again. When I did, I realized something. My truck was running.

I kicked it into reverse as fast as I could, backing out the long driveway from my grandfather's house.

Two years down the road, everyone thinks that he was killed by a bear. They keep telling me that what I saw wasn't really what happened, that I just mistook a common animal for a monster. I'll always remember when that thing looked back at me one last time, though. I don't think that I could ever forget what lives behind the line of trees.


-C.S.B.-

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