Tree – New Horror from B.D. Scott
A young man works to gain his independence but his mother sends a plant and short circuits his plans. He thinks he’s dreaming the whole scenario. Is he?
Today’s Saturday, daytime shines through my windows, casting shadows. Here in small town Aurora, Indiana nothing unusual happens on any given day, except for today.
I should be up and around and doing my thing.
I can’t say why I’m not. Not yet.
There is a story I must tell about yesterday. It’s important.
Something is bound to make sense if I say it all out loud, one way or the other. I can’t figure out exactly why everything happened up to now.
Yesterday was a rare day off for me. What was a twenty-year old guy like me to do? Well, if it were up to my mother, I would have been visiting her for the whole bloody day. You know the kind of parent I talk about. The one who never sees enough of you and complains during the whole visit about the same goddamn issue.
She rants in the same way every time. I can just hear her now.
“Toby, if you care at all, you should call in on your mother ~ often! What’s wrong with you?”
She gives me the willies.
Now, the crazy thing about yesterday is that it is odd and scary at the same time. You can judge my claim all you want later.
I’m stuck here. So listen in.
See that fucking tree on my windowsill? That one. Stupid thing.
It’s the only supposed gift Ma ever gave me besides life itself. She doesn’t let me forget how difficult pushing me out into the world was for her, or the amount of time it took. Or about how dad chose to see me in my fresh shat diaper as proof I entered this life. Only then would he offer a quick grunt and leave again for another three months, Ma says.
He’d do this yearly for twenty years. I remember how chunks of his time away varied in length, sometimes growing to eleven months at a time. When I hit eighteen, he arrived home. He grunted louder than usual when he saw my high school graduation picture. He never called me by name. I never asked what he did all those years. The house, power and food for were enough and without worry.
Ma and I hung out sometimes after school and such. Our bond was strange. She always talked about plants ~all kinds, in fact. Always talking how some grow together and others just had to be apart. I dunno what she meant but she kept saying how we’re of the same plant variety. In my late teens I would take off during her rant. I knew she continued her theory but I never paid any mind.
I had to find something to do in town. Come on, I’m a guy. You understand me, right?
Ma is fine most of the time but her plant theories always were sort of “out there.” Complaining about such things with friends was out. Talking about shit from home in public meant you were disrespectful. I needed to talk about other crap, I guess. So I did.
Somehow the need to vent made me some friends. Sitting next to a beer buddy on a weekend was typical. One weekend was particularly odd. Would you believe a guy who knew a guy got me a piss poor delivery job? And after I said I graduated Healcrod High School?
Here’s how that happened.
On that Friday around 11:30PM, this guy with pieces of his lunch stuck in his beard hairs slapped me a hundred dollar bill after his tenth whiskey shot. He told me under his alcohol odor I’m hired for a delivery job. On the next day, another guy sold me a van for the same hundred bucks. Afterwards, the same guy said I could drive the thing for my new job.
How did he learn about my new job? A fricken hundred bucks, a van and a job in one weekend; I mean, who hands a kid all this?
Maybe he was a friend of my dad doing him a favor congratulating me about my graduation or something.
I didn’t wonder for very long because I saw the opportunity to leave home and Ma.
I took the job, delivering shit. Soon my savings started to add up, fast. I moved out quicker than a Lamborghini running on high-octane fuel with a blonde in the front seat.
I bet you’re wondering about what all this has to do with yesterday.
Before I connect the dots, I must explain this job a bit.
As I said before, I deliver packages for a living.
Central office sits in town between the post office and the coffee shack. The front door sports a “delivery only” sign as its business mark. A fading phone number underneath the sign gives the door a sloppy look.
Boss man decides where I go depending on the order destination and package size. Can’t take more than fifty pounds per pack, he says. If I hurt myself, he’s out of business and I’m out of a job because I’m the crew. He won’t hire anyone without a high school diploma. That’s me. Pretty much everyone I graduated with left town. Talk about job security.
Every two weeks a piece of paper with pithy numbers gets cashed at Bank One on Wilson and 3rd street. Boss man says not to take tips because he has a reputation to protect. No one gives a shit as I can tell. If that’s what boss man thinks, I won’t rock the boat. Little does he know every now and then, a five-dollar note finds my pockets. He’s none the wiser. And it’s not like I’m going to skip town from a few tips per week.
Here’s what I mean.
There are times I deliver to the suburbs a few miles out and I get to see how they live. Green lawns and half size homes with at least two bedrooms each sit within cluster fuck circles. Not much else to take in except for the kids who wave at me
Can’t stand the little candy stealers. I suspect they do that sort of thing. I dunno. I’m not much for kids you can say. Maybe that explains my half interest in sex. I mean, it’s good and all. The lonely mothers who pull on my trousers don’t seem to give a flying wad about any consequences. I walk away hoping my little swimmers don’t make another candy stealer, if you know what I mean. And my girlfriend shouldn’t know what happens with my extra cash. Can’t set off any warning signs.
I guess it’s all about the size of the tip (pun intended).
As for my girl, have I told you about her? Well, she’s a short brunette even though I have a thing for blondes. Go figure. Anyway, she and I are sort of “on and off.” I’m not sure which one of us decides this arrangement, but everything works out, I suppose. I haven’t seen her in a while. Maybe she left town.
Back to explaining my job.
As for the rest of my daily route, tossing packages to folks in my town isn’t anything special. My typical delivery size never gets over a thirty count. Everything from letter size packages to the near small dog size boxes leave my hands. Questions pop up about our service from time to time. I land up shrugging and handing them a ragged business card, followed by a prompt door slam.
There’s not even a thankful grunt from the old folks. Not that I care much. There are other thankless jobs in the world. Why make mine an exception?
The nine to six routine fits Monday through Friday most weeks. Now, about yesterday ~ it was an off day because the boss man had something important to do, he said.So I slept in, which was unusual. Must’ve worked my willy too hard two days back inside Mrs. Robinson or whatever her name was. Or maybe that forty-five pound package delivery on Thursday tweaked something in my back. Can’t tell boss man. Anyhow, I scratched my johnson and checked for red skin disruptions. Gotta make sure I didn’t catch anything.
“Looking good. No more action for a bit. Sorry old boy,” I claim, snapping my drawers against my stomach.
I chuckle and grab Corn Flakes from the top of the fridge and pour day old milk in the bowl. I hope the milk was a day old. I don’t remember when I bought it. Those damn flakes never hold their crunch. Dumb box label promising this and that. I mean who cares about thirty grams of carbs in one serving. The bowl spilled over and boy was I ready to dig in with one huge mouthful. At this point my phone rings.
“Did you receive my delivery?”
“What?” I answered, spraying the phone with small chew chunks.
“I sent you a tree plant. Do you have it?”
I grabbed a paper towel and wiped up my small mess trailing down my T-shirt.
“No, Ma. Remember what I do for a living? I’m the delivery guy! Why would I deliver to myself? I live in an apartment, not a tree farm.”
“Don’t you take that tone with me, young man. Where have you been?”
“I visited you last week.”
The remaining corn flakes in my mouth lodged in my throat and I tried not to choke. Ma kept ranting in my ear about our bond and how I must show up more often. I guess dad was on another long sabbatical or something.
She didn’t have a clue how close to death I was with food going down the wrong pipe.
A knock on the door disrupted everything and a small chunk of my breakfast flew from my mouth.
I placed the phone down. Ma was still yelling from the receiver. I went to shake hands with whoever knocked because he just saved my life.
I opened the door ready to thank the guy.
A small package sat on the door threshold instead.
I picked up the phone. Her rant continued.
She hardly took a breath.
There was a pause and it was longer than usual.
“Your return address is right there,” I said, tapping the box and hoping she wouldn’t pick up on my disrespectful tone.
“Good,” was all she said and hung up.
I couldn’t figure out for the life of me how she knew what my address was. I never told her. I suppose she called a neighbor who I never met.
I peeled the box open, or sliced it, rather, with a steak knife.
It was a freaking plant.
She called it a tree, I think.
It was a plant though, with short dry branches and around eleven inches tall.
I wasn’t sure whether to toss it or water it. So, I placed it on my windowsill and gave it a hard stare.
I couldn’t pin down why a package from an unknown delivery guy gave me something from Ma. She’s likely mad that I live apart from her and wanted me to have a dead plant, er, tree. Or my boss is sleeping with her and they’re plotting against me somehow. Yeah, he’s pranking me with a delivery for the hell of it. Right. Or maybe my girlfriend got involved.
Despite this weirdness, Friday was still mine even though this lousy plant arrived. I grabbed a jacket with every intention to please my thirst for the day, tipping a few with my bud, Al. It was better than risking my life with cereal during a crazy phone call from Ma. She might call again. Who knows what could happen.
At the pub, a newscast blared about dramatic goings on in the world and I tuned it all out. I thought to go and visit Ma. But I was sure my appreciation would start another argument. That’s because well, let’s face it, I wasn’t thankful for a dead looking tree plant.
When six o’clock rolled around I had to call it a day. Had to sleep off the alcohol buzz. Today was payday I remembered and I didn’t get that paper with pithy numbers on it. I got bills to pay. And since boss man allowed a day off on payday, I’m going to work tomorrow. I don’t give a shit. He owes me!
With Saturday’s plan hanging in my head, I walked home bumping into light poles along the way. I swore up and down the sidewalk was moving by itself the entire way home.
My apartment door opened after my elbows smashed it.
Somehow I found my bed and collapsed, my head turned toward the windowsill.
The dead tree grew? How? It had only been there for a full afternoon. Kinda scary. But then again I’m drunk and probably seeing things.
Darkness covered me with swirls of fading light. It all sucked me into that familiar falling sensation before sleeping. When I woke up, I started talking to you.
You wanted a better story?
It’s still Saturday morning as I describe this long story to you.
Dammit, my hangover seems to be lingering.
My eyes are dry, too dry to open.
My neck seems stiff. Can’t move it.
My arms and legs won’t budge.
What the hell?
Somehow I hear my mother’s voice. Hear her?
I suppose you don’t.
The stillness of my body feels odd, like it’s held by something, but not quite. Her soothing voice becomes a soft hum, just like when I was a kid. I’d be sad about dad coming home and leaving us again. Ma would cuddle me and hold me until I grew tired of my own tears. There was nothing to say until Ma started talking about plants.
Why am I thinking about this crap? I have to get up. I have to get paid. Boss man owes me for two weeks of work.
Somehow I turn my head but it hurts.
Something in my side vision just moved.
“Who’s there? Ma?”
My brain revolts at the thought. I know I heard her voice but I could be dreaming. She never asked where I live. She didn’t care, except for sending me that ugly tree. How did she find out my address?
It’s a small town. Everybody talks. That’s gotta be the reason.
Still, all she wanted was me to visit her, longer and longer each time. She’d been protesting my independence since the day I left.
In the corner of my room, something moved again. Gotta see what it is.
Why can’t I fucking move my arms and legs?
My neck refuses to allow my head to rise up. A dark shadow hovers over me.
“Awake now?” a voice asks.
“It’s been a week since you visited and now you forget what your mother’s voice sounds like. I’m disappointed in you.”
“What? I didn’t leave home today, for anything.”
“That’s right, Toby.”
“Why can’t I move, Ma. How did you find me?”
“Isn’t it a nice day? Makes for proper visit time for a mother and son. You know I never go anywhere these days. Except for today.”
She didn’t say when she got her two hundred seventy pounds here.
“Then you can visit more often, Ma. Now, can you tell me what is holding me down?”
“Oh, that’s an idea. How about this instead? Stop talking to the ceiling and talk to me!”
Her words stopped me cold.
I’m talking to the ceiling? What’s wrong with my eyes? I can’t open them.
I try to give another effort to move my body. Sharp pinching scattered on my skin. I felt it especially around my arms, legs, joints, feet, hands and midsection.
Worse yet, my throat and neck registered deep puncture sensations. I swear I am bleeding.
“Toby, remember what I said before you’d leave to be with your friends at the pub? You always took off when I was in mid-explanation, never bothering to respect your mother’s finishing thoughts. Miraculously, you stayed home long enough yesterday to receive my package.”
My eyes remained swelled shut and a deep sense of doom started inside the pit of my stomach.
“We’re of the same plant variety…”
She paused for effect.
“…wherever you go, we must remain bonded. No matter what. Cuz, your dad never hangs around. You’re all I have.”
Now Ma never calls because she says she likes it here, with me.
She mentions how the branches of her tree plant on the windowsill have grown. When my eyes can open a little I see branches bust out of my windows, along the walls, furniture, and floor.
When my eyes do open fully, I can make out how the longest of the hard, thorny arms from the tree wrap around me and hold me down. They’re not from the tree though.
They’re from Ma.
Looks like I’ll never interrupt another thing Ma says about plants, ever again.
Bill D. Bistak, Author, Producer of Bestshorthorrorstories.com & Founder of Friedrich Imagines, Ltd. a media production company