Trees

When the first tree disappeared, she didn’t notice. When ten had gone, he couldn’t get her away from the window.

“Daddy…” said Amy, pointing at — and eyes fixated on — the grove of trees at the far end of the yard behind the old farmhouse that had been in their family for generations.

For days that grove of trees had gotten smaller. And while she wasn’t sure what was happening, Amy could swear she just saw the earth gobble one of those trees right up, slurping it down like one might slurp a string of spaghetti.

“Enough,” said Amy’s father. “Enough about the trees already.”

“But daddy…”

“I said enough,” he roared.

Amy froze. She’d never heard her father raise his voice quite like that. But his face quickly softened when he saw the fear on his daughter’s face.

“You shouldn’t worry about such things,” he said, motioning for her to come over. She obliged, and he gently kissed her cheek. “Be a good girl, and go play in your room for a while.”

“But daddy…” she started again, before he held a finger to his lips to shush her.

“Why don’t you go play with your new dollhouse?”

Amy silently walked away as her father picked back up his newspaper and put his reading glasses back on. He might be willing to act like nothing was happening, but she couldn’t. And she wasn’t going to her room.

Amy quietly opened the front door and stepped out onto the porch. She tiptoed, so as not to let the wood’s tell-tale creaking betray her. Once she hit the grass, Amy bolted around the house for a view of the grove, being sure to stay low, below the windows so her father wouldn’t see her.

“Seven… eight… nine…” she counted the trees left on the property, stopping when she heard a distant rumble, like thunder but emanating from the ground below her feet.

Slurp!

Eight. There were now just eight trees left in the grove.

Amy didn’t know why, but she felt drawn to the trees. She wanted to protect them. But from what she didn’t know. She couldn’t resist trying to find out, and quickly cut across the yard until she was standing beneath one of the large evergreens.

She placed her hand on the tree as if she was feeling for a pulse.

“What happened to your friends?” she asked, not expecting the answer she was about to get.

The ground began to shake, knocking Amy off her feet. The tree in front of her began to jerk wildly back-and-forth as if someone was jiggling a loose tooth, trying to get it to finally fall out.

The cracking and tearing sounds coming from beneath her – the tree’s roots ripping apart – terrified Amy, but she couldn’t move.

Then the ground opened in front of her, and before she realized what was happening, the tree she hoped to save was gone, sucked below the surface, leaving a huge hole in its wake. Amy, still frozen, was left sitting on its edge. She screamed as the disturbed earth began to collapse in even more.

“I’ve got you,” said her father, scooping her into his arms and running towards the house as the ground, or whatever was below it, let out a deep satisfied groan.

Amy’s father set her down as soon as he got them safely in the house. She was crying.

“It’s okay honey,” he said, hugging her tightly. “You’re okay.”

“Trees,” was all Amy could mutter.

“It’ll all be over soon,” he told her. “I’m so sorry I didn’t warn you. But it’ll all be over soon.”

Amy didn’t leave her father’s side that night. And he didn’t try to send her to her room. They sat up watching cartoons until she fell asleep beside him on the couch, only woken once by the rumbling of another lost tree that night. She must have slept through the rest, as the grove was gone by morning.

“It’s over now,” Amy’s father told her when she woke up. “But now we have work to do.”

Amy saw her father had already been hard at work, filling the holes in the grove. They spent the day planting new seedlings – the same kind of evergreen she’d played beneath for years, but barely bigger than twigs. She was still too afraid to ask her father why he had those seedlings waiting in the barn, knowing they’d need to replant the grove all along.

* This story was inspired by a writing prompt shared with me on Twitter (the first paragraph given to me as a starter to play with).

The Case of the Missing Kiss

Every day for 10 years of marriage, Nick planted a kiss on his wife’s lips before leaving for work each morning – a kiss worthy of newlyweds.

Then, one cold day in January – a Tuesday – Gina was awoken by the sound of Nick’s car door slamming and his car pulling out of the driveway. This might not bother most wives, but it was so out of the ordinary Gina couldn’t help but feel something was “off.”

“Everything okay?” she texted, not recalling a fight or disagreement the night before that might have led to this highly unusual behavior from her husband.

No response.

The longer she stared at her phone waiting to hear what was wrong or what she’d done or why Nick was in an unusual rush that morning, the more disturbing scenarios came to mind.

What if he was angry with her over something she couldn’t remember, and he no longer felt like he could talk to her? No, our marriage is great.

What if he was having an affair, and he didn’t kiss her out of guilt? No, not Nick; not after seeing his mother cheat on his father.

What if he went out to warm up the car and some thug carjacked him, forcing Nick to drive him away at gunpoint? Yes. That had to be it.

Gina knew these thoughts were crazy. She wasn’t usually one to be so irrational. That’s just how much that morning kiss meant to the two of them. They’d both come from broken homes and promised themselves the day they moved in together that they would never become one of “those couples” who stopped doing and appreciating the little things.

Have we become one of “those couples?” Gina wondered.

She decided to set her phone down, count to ten, and calm down.

That didn’t work.

She texted again. Now she was genuinely worried about him. What if something was wrong, or there was an emergency at work?

Still no answer.

Gina decided to take a shower and act like everything was normal. It was, right?

As she stepped out of that shower though, she was startled by the sound of her front door being locked. Nick worked until the evening. She should have been there alone. What if she was right about the carjacking and the thief came back after doing something to Nick?

Gina hurriedly wrapped a towel around herself and grabbed the only weapon she could find – the toilet plunger from the master bathroom. She knew she looked ridiculous, and not much of a threat, but she would be damned if she was going down without a fight.

She moved back into the bedroom so she could better hear what was happening in the house. It seemed quiet. She started breathing easier. But that didn’t last long.

*thud thud thud*

The loud, awkward banging of heavy footsteps on the stairs sucked the breath right out of Gina. Someone was definitely in the house.

The bedroom door started to open, and she moved closer, armed with her plunger, terrified, but ready for a fight.

Gina didn’t even wait to see who stepped through the door. She swung. Hard.

“Oww!” shrieked a familiar voice as a large bouquet, now missing most of its flower heads, fell to the floor.

Gina, half frozen in fear, half relieved to see Nick standing before her hadn’t even realized she’d dropped her towel when she went to battle with a bouquet of roses. She was too busy screaming at her husband.

“What are you doing?” she demanded. “Where were you? Why aren’t you at work? Why didn’t you respond to my texts? I was so worried. You left without kissing me goodbye…”

Nick, never much for words, just looked his frantic wife up and down and laughed. He could tell she wasn’t amused though and quickly handed her an envelope to make amends.

Confused, Gina opened it. Her eyes began to tear up, making Nick feel a little guilty for making her worry.

“I hid them at the office so I could surprise you,” said Nick. “I thought I’d be back before you woke up.”

In the envelope was an anniversary card. And in that card were two tickets to Paris – a trip the couple had hoped to take for their honeymoon, but they couldn’t afford it at the time.

“Really?” Gina asked in disbelief. “I thought we were celebrating this weekend.”

“I’m sorry I didn’t kiss you before I left,” said Nick, moving closer and putting his arms around his wife to make up for his earlier mistake.

“You’re cold!” Gina shrieked, jumping back.

“You’re naked,” he said, pulling her close again. “Maybe we can start that second honeymoon a little early?”

The Secret Admirer

“Hey baby.”

Chrissy’s eyes barely opened enough to make out the text on her phone. Who the hell would text someone at two in the morning? It must be a wrong number.

She put her phone back on her nightstand and rolled over.

Buzz. Buzz.

Chrissy picked up the phone again and saw “I miss you baby” staring back at her in her text notifications.

“I’m not your baby. You have the wrong number,” she responded.

Before she could turn the phone off, it rang. She answered it.

“Hello? I’m sorry. But I told you. You have the wrong number,” Chrissy said.

“No I don’t. Why are you being such a tease? You want me to come over, don’t you?” The voice was strangely familiar, but Chrissy couldn’t place it.

“No. I don’t know you. Please leave me alone.”

“You know who this is baby.”

“No. I don’t,” Chrissy insisted as goosebumps formed along her arms.

“You know me baby. And I know you want me,” he said.

“I’m hanging up now.” But he jumped in before she could.

“You do that baby. I’m just up the road at our favorite little pub. I’ll be at your apartment in less than five minutes.”

She froze as he hung up. She worked at a pub up the street from her apartment. She worried it wasn’t a wrong number after all.

Plenty of guys worked there and hung out there regularly. Staff contact information was easy to come by. It was kept behind the bar in case someone needed to call around for fill-ins. And anyone who saw her there could have followed her home to find out where she lived.

She grabbed her phone, purse and car keys and headed out her front door to the stairwell. But she saw headlights pulling into the parking lot in front of her building from the window there. That could be the guy.

She turned around and pounded on the door of her neighbor across the hall. If he was heading to her apartment, she wanted to be anywhere but there. The neighbor, a woman of around Chrissy’s age, answered just as the headlights dimmed. Seeing how frantic Chrissy was, she let her come inside.

Chrissy ran to the neighbor’s living room window that overlooked the front parking lot. She saw the man walk up to the exterior door. His face was highlighted by the floodlights pointing down at the doorway. He looked up towards the window where she stood.

She recognized him. He was a regular at the bar.

She was horrified to see him pull a key out of his pocket and use it to open the front door.

“Oh my god,” Chrissy cried. “I should call the police.”

Thump. Thump. Thump.

Chrissy could hear the man’s footsteps as he approached the floor of her apartment. She held her breath, not sure if he’d shout, bang on her door, or quietly leave if he couldn’t get in.

Instead, she heard a key go into the lock of her neighbor’s door. The doorknob slowly turned as Chrissy started dialing 9-1-1.

She stopped when her neighbor squealed.

“Oh sweetie, you almost scared us half to death” she said as she flung her arms around the man. “Chrissy, this is my boyfriend, Mike. You’ve probably seen him around.”

Chrissy let herself breathe again, pushing out a huge sigh of relief. Maybe it was a wrong number after all.

“Hey baby,” he said, turning his smile to Chrissy.

Her breath once again escaped her. She glanced out the window towards her car. It sat barely ten yards away, but, to Chrissy, even that suddenly looked like miles.


This story is loosely based on a real incident. The texts and call happened almost exactly like this, but dragged out over more and were far more lewd. The apartment setup here was based on mine at the time. And the pub scenario came from a similar incident related to my ex-fiance who worked in a restaurant very close to the apartment.

In my case, thankfully the individual on the other end of the line was too far away to show up. It was an ex who had been stalking me for about two years. After a long break where he’d finally left me alone, I didn’t recognize his voice, and he’d used a different phone number, though I did later get confirmation. At the time, the incident was rather unnerving. 

Shelter

It didn’t matter how menacing the gray sky looked. Nothing would stop Rob from getting out of his hellhole of a hometown. He packed up his rusty old pickup and hit the road for the last time.

No more small town gossip. No more boarded up buildings up and down the lone stretch through town. No more of his cheating ex-girlfriend or his louse of a best friend who took her off Rob’s hands. No more working for the family business. Rob shut down the hardware store as soon as his father passed and it became his to close. Its cash flow could best be described as “hemorrhaging” anyway.

He wasn’t even twenty minutes out of town when his cell phone beeped with an alert. He picked up the phone to see if it was anything important.

“Damn it,” he growled as he pounded his fist on his steering wheel, hitting the truck’s horn.

It was a tornado warning. One was spotted not far from him, and it was heading in his direction. It would be on him in less than ten minutes. His eyes scanned the horizon, looking for somewhere to take shelter. Only one old farmhouse stood out among the fields and the lone road he sat on. He hit the gas and headed in the house’s direction.

By the time Rob pulled down the drive and got out of his truck, the sky was so dark it could have been night. The wind nudged him toward the front porch where he frantically pounded on the door.

“Hello!” he shouted. “Is anyone in there?”

Knowing he didn’t have much time, he peered in the window. A small, elderly man sat hunched over in his chair across the room. He didn’t lift his head. Rob tried the front door, but it was locked tight. There wasn’t time to break in through a window to help. He needed to get underground. He pounded hard on the window one more time to try to wake the man from his deep slumber. For all Rob could tell, he wasn’t breathing anyway.

“Poor fool,” he said out loud.

Rob turned around and, seeing the gray funnel in the distance, ran to the side of the house. He checked the cellar door. Locked. He rushed to his truck. He grabbed a heavy wrench from the toolbox in the truck’s bed.

He hit the old rusted padlock.

“Come on,” he pleaded with the cellar door as he continued to beat on the lock. “Open damn it!”

One final, panicked swing of the wrench did it. He pulled the padlock away, opened the door, climbed down into the cellar, and pulled the door closed behind him. He crouched under the workbench on the far wall, protecting his head while he listened to the roaring of a freight train above him.

When the noise stopped, he emerged from the cellar and looked around. The house was banged up, but it still stood. Even his pickup was still there, though a large tree limb had fallen onto the truck’s bed. The tornado must have changed course, the worst of it barely missing them.

Rob reached into his truck’s toolbox and pulled out a flashlight. He headed back to the cellar, hoping to find a saw he could use to cut the tree limb so he could remove it. His truck was damaged, but it still looked drivable. And he still wanted to get away.

After rummaging through tools in the cellar, Rob noticed a large cabinet. He opened it, hoping to find something useful. Instead, he found a collection of newspaper clippings, taped along the cabinet walls, even on the inside surface of its doors.

His curiosity piqued, Rob read the headlines. Every one talked about an old bank heist from the 1970s. He knew the story. Everyone in the area did. Two masked men hit a bank just a few towns over from where he grew up. They made off with nearly five million dollars. A bank guard was killed in the robbery, but the criminals were never found.

Why would that old guy care so much about an old robbery? Rob wondered. At first he thought the man in the farmhouse might have been an officer involved in the case. But then something on the bottom shelf caught his eye. Cash. The corner of a single bill stuck out from under the shelf. The cabinet had a false bottom.

Rob cleared the lower shelf and pried it up, revealing a stash of more money than he’d seen in his lifetime. It all fell into place. The old guy in the house wasn’t a cop who worked on the old robbery case. He was one of the guys who pulled it off.

Rob dumped the contents of an old toolbox and stuffed the cash in it. He went back to the workbench and found the saw he was looking for. He made his way out of the cellar and put the toolbox in his truck. Then he went back to the house and peered in the window.

“Good,” said Rob, noticing that the old man was still asleep, or worse, in his chair. If that roaring wind didn’t wake him, nothing would. Rob didn’t want to draw attention to himself as he tried to free his truck.

He made quick work of the log, cutting it in half so he could push each piece of the limb off the sides of his truck’s bed. He then got into the cab and continued driving, knowing he had a decision to make. Would he keep the money? Or would he turn it in?

As tempting as it was to keep all that cash, he didn’t want to risk being caught with it. So he drove two towns over, where the heist happened all those years ago. He set the toolbox on the front desk and asked to speak with whomever was in charge.

“You’re one lucky guy,” said the town’s sheriff after Rob told him the story and told him where he could find the rest of the evidence. “Not only might you have solved the biggest crime in these parts for decades, but it sounds like you barely skirted the storm. And you know, if this all pans out, you’ll be entitled to the reward. The bank’s still offering a hundred grand for any lead that brings those bandits to justice.”

A hundred grand, Rob repeated to himself in his head. It’s not five million bucks, or even whatever cut was still in that cellar. But it’ll be a hell of a start to a new life.

Death by Chocolate

“That chocolate’s going to kill you some day.”

I still hear Betty’s words every time I reach for some. I’m not worried. I’m much healthier than my nag of a boss ever was.

They do say chocolate can be good for the heart. Maybe she should have enjoyed more while she still could.

Betty was right. Chocolate can kill. It must have shocked her in those final moments to realize she would become its victim — or of the rat poison it contained.

She should have kept her hands off my stash, and finally given me that raise.