fiction

Into the Pines (Part 1)

Her name was Jude, thank you very much. No, not Judy, like Auntie Sherri insisted on calling her, and certainly not Judith, like her mother called her when she was angry. Just Jude, plain and simple. Yes, Jude like the boy’s name; yes, Jude like one of those obscure books in the Bible that no one but a preacher had ever read.

Well, at least it was easy to spell.

She pulled on her Yukon hat and took a moment to marvel at herself in the mirror… or what she could see of herself. The hat covered the top half of her eyes but she smiled proudly anyway. Dad had been looking for his trusty Yukon hat for awhile and Jude had found it covered in dirt and worms after their massive golden retriever, Bear, buried it in the garden. She was going to give it back. Eventually.

“Come on, Bear. It’s time to get going.” He was still fast asleep on her bed. He opened one eye and let out a massive yawn before flopping over onto his back.

“Get up, you lazy dog! We gotta get going!” When he simply huffed, she grabbed at his collar. He cried like he was in pain, but Jude rolled her eyes. She knew just as well as Bear did that he was perfectly fine and just being difficult. At last, the annoyance of having a collar dig into his neck seemed to overtake his desire to keep sleeping, so he rolled off the bed, his slobbery face grazing Jude’s leg. And with mixed fear and excitement, she grabbed the satchel she had packed the night before, drew open the window, pushed Bear’s gangly body through, and jumped out behind him.

As she stepped out, she knew it wasn’t quite cold enough for a fur hat. But today, she needed it. Because today, she was going to the Pines.

Mom’s voice echoed in her mind as she walked sheepishly towards the edge of town: The Pines are no place for a little girl. The Pines are no place for a little girl. Jude ignored the voice but held just a little tighter to Bear anyway.

“It’s okay, Bear. We’ll find it. It’s out there somewhere” she whispered, much more to herself than to Bear.

It was Mom’s cardinal rule: never, ever go to the Pines. It was every Hedgegrove resident’s cardinal rule. Of course, the Pines were just pine trees. It was just a deep, thick forest, nothing more or less. One might get lost… one might meet pirates… one might run into a bear…  But at their core, each resident felt something more than that… a strange, inexplicable, but utterly undeniable feeling that they were not welcome there, that to leave the village might upset a kind of fragile alliance with the forest.

The people of Hedgegrove did all that they could to hold the ancient empire at bay. But every now and then, roots would pop up in the street or snake through cracks in building floors and shake foundations. Sometimes, it seemed less as though they grew over time and more like that sprouted ferociously out of the ground over night as the Hedgegrovers slept, just so that the village folk knew they were still quite at the mercy of the trees.

Jude stood at the edge of Hedgegrove and looked up at the trees which seemed to stretch all the way to the clouds. Until now, she had not noticed how far her feet had carried her. She had been too preoccupied with her mission to notice. But she stood, frozen at the edge of the Pines in the one opening in the hedge, letting the grandness wash over her.

And for the first time, she began to understand why the Hedgegrovers so deeply feared the forest. The branches were woven so tightly they appeared like clasped hands which might grab her. The forest had a silence to it which was never truly silent, peppered with the chirps of unknown birds and insects… occasional ominous growls… surely, that strange cry was just an animal and not a banshee…

Bear nuzzled closer to her and Jude patted his head in reassurance.

“We need to do this, Bear,” She said with resolve. “If it’s really out there, we need it.”

There were whispers… whispers of a pond with water that could heal any illness. And if there was any chance that the pond was real, Jude was going to find it.

There were also rumors of ominous forces and faerie life… Those few brave enough to enter the Pines, they said, never returned the same. They kept silent about their ventures. Rumors had it that… strange fates befell those who dared brave the embrace of the thickets. Odd accidents, early deaths, curious behaviors… some even said they went mad.

But those were just rumors…

And before she could hear another ominous shriek, Jude grabbed tight to Bear’s collar and tore through the first rows of thickets. The pine needles and thorns pressed into her skin, but she blazed on anyway. And when at last she found herself and Bear in a clear spot, the thickets behind her seemed entirely untouched, as though they had closed behind her.

She opened up her satchel and pulled out the knife and slipped it into her belt. Bear gave her a nervous look, but she scratched his chin.

“It’ll just make it easier to get through the thickets.” This seemed to do little to ease Bear and he nuzzled even closer to her with a little cry. Jude tried to keep confidence. But it began to dawn on her that she had no idea which direction to turn or how thick the forest was or if the pond was even real. But as she thought of the Amalia… laying in bed, pale and silent… Jude picked a direction and began walking and Bear kept alert, clearly afraid but determined not to leave Jude’s side. She needed him to be brave right now.

It’s okay, Amalia… she thought. I’ll find it… If the doctors can’t make you better, I will… I promise.

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fiction

Upon Their Arrival

They didn’t come as we expected, in gravity-defying ships from the sky.

Their first Sputnik-like apparatus fell out of the heavens like a meteor. No crop circles. No muffled radio signals. No stars that swelled at alarming rates until we realized they weren’t stars. It crashed down near our town in Nebraska, a suburb of Lincoln. Eyewitnesses – who somehow found their way into existence only after the first news crews noticed the ship – stuttered to explain it. Some said it was a light like the sun which flashed into spontaneous being. Others swore they saw little green men in spacesuits come waltzing out with alien machine guns.

They sent the last remaining SEAL Team to investigate it. When they banged on the capsule and no one answered, they destroyed it best they could. And found there was nothing inside.

It was space debris. It had to be. Some idiotic invention of our forefathers gone awry.

Were we not Man? Remolding the world in our own image, peeling away layer by layer the legacy of our simple-minded ancestors? Were we not in every way superior, in mind, in intellect, in society?

“Scientists are confident that the spacecraft was unmanned,” came the crackling voice of the news anchor, his image, pixelated. “It seems to – ” We never found out anything else from that broadcast because the one working TV in the town square cut out. Like it always did.

Our town found the first one a week a later. A little girl came crying to her mother one day that a “lightening doggy” had shocked her. More and more began to congregate around our homes, darting in and out of visibility. But it wasn’t until one – which seemed to be the master of the group – made us aware of its presence, publicly, that we began to think of them as aliens at all.

They weren’t humanoids. They were nothing like us, we thought. Animalistic bodies. And yet… they were strangely beautiful, in their own way. Pale, iridescent fur, slicked back like a black cat. It shimmied and rippled and exploded with color. Small sparks danced across it every few seconds. We all stared in wonder. They were so sweet, so unassuming.

But so powerful.

We assumed they were incapable of higher intelligence. Assumed we were in every way superior. Until one shimmied its way up to the power lines.

“– sightings of these apparatuses in Phoenix as well.” We stared at the creature. We stared at the town television, now functioning perfectly. We couldn’t decide which direction to wonder at.

The mayor soon sent a telegram to the office of the President that these creatures were not only unthreatening, but able to help us. And though we could not speak their language, strangely, they seemed to have a certain understanding of us; of our needs, of our habits, of even our words. And we loved them for it. Loved what they gave us, loved that they gifted us. Solving our energy crisis one town at a time.

More of their spacecrafts came, slowly. They crashed down at random, we thought. But they always landed outside of cities in crisis. They’d done their research on us, it seemed. But we didn’t notice. We didn’t ask why. Because we accepted their gifts that could save us. The more that came, the more we knew of their presence.

Then at some point, they brought with them something that could translate their language for us. But we didn’t notice. We didn’t ask why. Because they whispered all that which we wished to hear. And their voices echoed. They informed us that, if we could only put our faith in them, they could save us. Save us. Save us.

They came without guns and came without bombs. How could we fear them? Fear such beauty, fear such benevolence, fear such lovely creatures, over whom we – as man – were still in every way superior? Surely, were these creatures a threat, we would crush them.

To us, we were in complete control of the electric creatures.

To them, we were but frogs in pots. And they had patience when we did not.

Someone at the edge of town lost his mind and screamed that the water was getting hotter. We fixed his unbalanced brain with a shotgun. But we all envy him these days.

Because now… now the water is boiling.

*Inspired by The Twilight Zone and the soundtrack for Arrival