There’s a local legend where I come from. They’re simply referred to as the willow men.
There’s hardly a need for the law enforcement in this town. The willow men take care of all that. Every single step taken, every word spoken, every drop of blood spilt. The willow men know about it before anyone else. Believe me, anyone that has invoked the wrath of the willow men has gone missing without a trace.
That’s why when I realized what I had done it was too late. The willow men were coming.
She just wouldn’t shut the hell up. No matter what I said and what I would do she was just hysterical. She kept pacing about the house screaming. She said she found this and that and knew I was cheating on her. She’d ask me who it was and I told her she was crazy. I guess I wore that excuse out. After a while, I couldn’t take her damn voice anymore. I’d walk room to room and she’d follow me. When we got to the kitchen I had my fill.
I reached for the first knife I could find and jammed it into her throat. The face of anger and sorrow melted into one of despair and disbelief. The crimson fluid ran freely all over her blouse and she dropped to her knees, scrambling around on the floor. She clawed at the tile and made gurgling noises which only served to infuriate me. I grabbed an iron skillet that had been pre-heating on the stove and took a swing at her head. A wet crack followed the impact and while I didn’t need to keep going I did.
I lost count of the number of times I hit her but I had a good deal of blood on me. What was left of her head was being held together by thin particles of bone and blood continued to rush out. I dropped the skillet to the floor with a loud clang. I wish remorse could have followed so I would’ve felt a least a bit human but it didn’t. I was just happy to be rid of her. With a grunt I picked her body up off the floor and hoisted it unto my shoulder. Her face hung next to me, dead eyes staring with conviction. I could only chuckle. As soon as I got outside, I dropped the ragged heap onto the ground and went to find a shovel. That’s when I knew they were watching.
I could hear the whispers from the woods and in the corners of my eyes I could see them staring intently at my every move. Whenever I would look up to the woods I would find only gnarled trees staring back at me. I knew they were there. It was dusk by the time she was good and buried. I was drenched in sweat and it had made the blood stains on my clothes expand and turn orange. I looked back up to the woods and I saw them peering from behind the trees. Long, gnarled faces with hollow eyes and gaunt figures. I could only half see the faces as they chose to hide behind their precious trees but they were there. Watching, whispering…
“What are you staring for, bastards?! You heard her! I had to do it,” I yelled at them.
Was I expecting a response? I don’t know. They just continued to watch me from behind the trees. I spit on the ground and threw the shovel down. They would come for me under cover of darkness and I wasn’t going without a fight. I stole away into the house and prepared. I pushed couches and dressers in front of doorways. I nailed wooden boards haphazardly to cover all the windows. As the sun crept underneath the horizon a great trepidation settled in the pit of my stomach. Was it honestly nerves? I hated to think it was such a powerful fear that I would start breaking into an ice cold sweat. I loaded up my shotgun and reached for a bottle of whiskey. I forced down a mouthful and then another and slammed the rest of the bottle against the wall in frustration.
One door I left open. It was the back door that stared out to the woods. I put a chair down in front of it and sat, shotgun in my lap. They were still staring at me. The willow men. We stayed staring at one another for three days. Eventually, exhaustion began to get the best of me and I started to nod off. I tried desperately to keep my eyes open. For a foolish second I propped my head up with the shotgun so that it wouldn’t fall. I snapped back to reason and lifted my head high. Last thing I wanted to do was shoot myself. Had I known what was coming I probably should have.
I pushed myself to stay up for a few more hours. The day came and went and it was the dead of night before I knew it. They persisted behind the trees. I began to rationalize that if I closed my eyes for a second, I could have enough time to open them while the willow men were coming at me so I could take a few down. Smiling I did just that. Of course, its’ difficult to tell how long you were asleep. Could be a second, could be for days. I opened my eyes again and found I was still sitting in my chair with my shotgun in my lap. I snapped up when I saw that the willow men were no longer behind the trees. I flipped out and held the shotgun up, darting around barrel first. I took a few steps outside and tried to control my heavy breaths. I shook damn near uncontrollably and found it impossible to keep the gun steady.
I began to calm down when I didn’t see anything outside and began to return to my post when I stopped dead in my tracks. I felt tears well in my eyes and something began to push up and out of my throat. The willow men were peering from around the doorway and the sides of the house. I froze staring at their gnarled up faces and branch-like hands. I had to do something. I pulled the gun up and fired off a round. It managed to take out part of the door frame but it missed them altogether. I popped open the shotgun and madly grasped for a fresh shell in my pocket. I successfully reloaded it and lifted the gun back up.
The willow men continued to look at me from where they had been. I took careful aim this time and fired once more. Another shot hit the doorframe, although this time it was closer to the willow men. I fumbled for a third round and as I did, I saw a large shadow cover me. Looking up, the willow men were upon me. I screamed and closed the barrel down on my thumb effectively severing it. Immediately after that, I lost all consciousness and collapsed.
When I awoke, it was ice cold. My vision began to return to me slowly and I could feel that I was being dragged. My heart sank when I looked around. Darkness stretched as far as the eye could see and I knew I was in the deepest part of the woods. Where my thumb had once been was black and swollen and had managed to numb up to my forearm. My ankles were in severe pain too but I didn’t know why. When I looked, I saw that they had been clearly snapped and the willow men were dragging me by my feet. I began to scream as loudly as possible for someone, anyone.
All I did was cause more willow men to appear and watch me from behind the strangest willow trees I’d ever seen. Their trunks were small and looked just like leather. The earth around them was red and moist yet where I was being dragged was dry, rugged land. I looked up to the canopy and wish I hadn’t. Skinless corpses hung down, blood dripping freely to feed what I now knew were flesh-bound trees. My screams were swallowed by the dark and my throat gave out, hoarse from the strain. In the silence, I heard a faint moaning.
I looked around to see if there was someone else here. Maybe some poor bastard who suffered my same fate. To my horror, I discovered the source of the moans. The bodies hanging on the branches of the trees were all still alive. Soon, I too would have my flesh torn asunder and be damned to hang up there and feed the hungry willow trees. There was nothing I could but accept my fate. The willow men had me.