THE BEACH TREE
Henry’s footsteps slowed as he crossed the boundary between scrubby grass and gritty sand. During the three years he’d lived at the beach house, all sorts of flotsam had washed up onto the beach.
But never a tree.
It looked as though it had been torn from the ground by a storm, then left here to rot. But the tree hadn’t been here yesterday … or the day before. He kept a protective eye over this stretch of sand and water, knew every inch of it like the network of lines on the palm of his hand.
The tree hadn’t been here twelve hours ago.
The trunk was bone-white, and brittle and hollowed with age. But Henry could remember how it’d looked in the light of the full moon: upright and unbreakable, soaring like a megalith from the near-white sand. He’d closed the curtains, trying to block out the image. But it had remained seared onto his inner vision, tormenting him through the hours of darkness and the twists and turns of his dreams.
Fear paralysed him where he stood. It’s just a tree, you old fool, he told himself. There must be a rational explanation for it.
Steam crept from the clefts in the bark. The vapour wound through the naked branches, their white fingers seeming to claw at him. The thickening smoke smelled of sulphur, making Henry queasy.
Tiny particles, black and shiny, burst from the hidden centre of the tree, heading toward Henry like a swarm of miniature insects. Moving at great speed on near-invisible wings, the creatures were completely silent.
Inside his mind, a genderless, expressionless voice said, “Please, just relax. This will not hurt.”
Henry fumbled with his mobile phone, pecked out 999 with quivering fingers. “Help!” he cried, his voice fading as the steam crept into his mouth and invaded his lungs. “I think we’ve been invaded by alie -”
The emergency operator asked Henry three times to repeat himself, to give his location. But she heard nothing else from the hysterical voice, and noted her computer of yet another hoax call. It looked like it might be a busy night.
Words © Joanna Gawn