Friday, March 23, 2012

Clay Tuesday: Roots in the Grave

Roots in the Grave (The Case of the Canopy of Flaming Hands)
A Clay Tuesday Short
It was a drastically dull evening with the clouds eating up all traces of star- or moonlight, a travesty that struck deep in the chords of Rachel’s nature-loving soul. The evening air was warm and dry, filled with the taste of a prolonged death. Being around ghosts as often as she was, she felt comfortable assuming she knew what death tasted like in the air.
Rachel was in the process of making her way back to the creepy little house on the creepy little hill, only she was infuriatingly lost and in need of a great deal of guidance. The house had brought them to the outskirts of a little town in Colorado three days prior, and for the entirety of those three days she and Kristjan had been getting lost trying to find the supernatural disturbance that required their attention. Nobody in the sleepy little town of Rent that either of them had talked to knew a thing about any local legend, any strange disappearances, or any odd people that had recently moved to town. Instead Rachel received a few cat calls and a local priest, who was oddly youthful in appearance, told her that women shouldn’t wear pants on a Sunday to which Rachel replied that it was in fact a Tuesday. He then re-introduced himself and made the exact same comment. His short term memory must have been awful. Three hours later, when she passed by his church a second time, he told her she was going to hell for showing so much skin and then called her ‘Delilah.’ Whether he was comparing her to the biblical figure or not, she had no clue, but she would make sure to avoid Samson.
            Some days Rachel wondered if introducing herself as Dr. Moomaw would get her more respect from people, but in a town like Rent, Colorado adding a fancy title to one’s name was no way to get that respect. Respect had to be earned, and Rachel knew that from the little town she and Adam grew up in. Their father had only a high school education, but he earned the trust and respect of everyone he came in contact with by being a hard worker. Rachel was starting to think that at the rate they were going, she would be in Rent long enough to earn that kind of respect.
            Then she thought about Adam, her little brother. He hated the family work and had declared his plans to go to college in one of the Carolinas—Rachel couldn’t remember which one. She didn’t care. Adam was already gone, leaving her behind with Kristjan. She was without family.
            Frustrated, the woman with the sweet southern voice shoved aside dead tree branch after dead tree branch, searching for her way back home. The further along the path she went the more melancholy the trees looked. Instead of bursting with florid leaves and a speckling of blossoms Adam would fawn over, the trees were bare and void of any significant life. She hadn’t even heard the familiar buzzing of insects so common to that time of year. Rachel paused on the path, moonlight breaking from the clouds catching her eye—the fragile beam of white light shone briefly on one glowing red spot not more than 200 yards away.
            She sprinted to where the light pointed, branches scraping against her skin leaving long ruby marks on her arms. She was desperate to find the red glow, to see what needed to be fixed. She came to a halt when she arrived in a clearing, in the middle of which was a very old and very large tree. It was majestic looking, whimsical even, and was the only thing blooming with bright blossoms. But what caught Rachel’s fancy were the small objects dangling loosely down from the branches. As she drew nearer her eyes began to better focus thanks to the low glow emanating from the objects in question. She could make out the shapes clearly.
            They were hands. Hands were hanging from the tree.
            Rachel reached up to touch one of the hands but withdrew her finger millimeters from the glowing red appendage. After a brief hesitation she held the hand. The life of a little boy, who professionally played piano, a prodigy, flashed before her eyes. His birth, the first song he played by ear, his first concert, his last; all leading to a premature death from consumption. She let go and grasped another hand and the full life of an old man who once had plans to leave Rent but had stayed for the woman he adored momentarily replaced her vision. The woman, a blonde who looked vaguely similar to Rachel in the fact that she was blonde and also a woman, was a vixen named Delilah. She did this several more times until she felt she could no longer handle channeling the memories; the older the hand she held, the fuzzier the memories were as though the soul trapped in it was fading into nothingness. It dawned on Rachel that that was exactly what was going on. Souls were trapped inside the hands, being fed on by either the tree or by something else entirely.
            The sole female resident of the creepy little house on a hill tried to walk quickly to the trunk of the eerie tree, but everything felt slowed down. She walked step, by step. By step. By step… By painful step. Her breathing reverberated in her skull. The hands twitched in an achingly slow motion, and even ones with newer souls that grasped at her for help were moving at a fourth the speed they had been moving at before she walked towards the trunk.
Rachel imagined that anyone who had ever died in Rent, Colorado had their soul trapped right there in one of the thousands of dangling hands, helpless, in need of rescue.
Finally, in what took hours in her mind but was actually only a minute, she made it to the trunk, where time felt more or less normal than it had been arriving there. She paced around it, brushing the gnarled tree as she went along. The more time she spent going around the circumference, the more she saw that it was not one tree originally, but multiple trees grown together. How had she not seen this monstrous plant from town?
            Rachel stopped several yards away from a rouge light on the opposite end of the tree. She stepped slowly, inching her way until she could make out what it was. The source of the rough glow was the priest from earlier, who was melded into the large trunk of the tree. Rachel lowered her eyebrows and daintily brought the fingers of her hand to her lips to form her common thinking posture. It made sense, somehow. The priest was oddly youthful in appearance, yes, but had the attitude of an old, nearly senile man. Rachel’s father had once told her a story about magicians like these who were able to keep themselves young by slowly feeding on souls. However, while their bodies remained young their minds were still susceptible and aged. The priest was greedy, Rachel decided, living much longer than he should have, afraid of death. She couldn’t save Yeates from Wallace, but she could save the souls trapped in the hands hanging from the tree. While the priest was attached to the tree he was feeding he was vulnerable.
            Little blue lights flashed into existence, slowly at first. They were soft little fireflies that belonged to Rachel, were a part of her, protected her, did her bidding. They latched on to the tree, setting it ablaze in flames of reds and yellows that danced and licked the dank sky. The priest’s eyes shot awake and his distorted voice shrieked blasphemes at Rachel, but he couldn’t free himself from the tree, hard as he tried.

The strings holding the hands singed into nothingness. The hands vanished as the souls were set free. And Rachel stood there in front of the blazing tree and burning man, remorseless. Before long there was silence—the only thing that remained by Rachel’s side were her fireflies flickering fearlessly in the moonlight breaking through the gray clouds and the ash that dusted the ground.

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