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When I was a kid, we had these unreachable, giant pine trees sitting down a long embankment behind my house. I say they were ‘unreachable’ only because my parents would repeatedly warn me not to approach the hill to get a closer look.

It's not like it was a particularly steep hill looking back, but to my child sensibilities there was still an element of danger to the approach, especially because mom and dad told me no without much elaboration. Obviously I could’ve been seriously hurt if I lost my footing, but I rarely had any reason to visit that area unless I was taking the trash out to the small gravel path where we kept our garbage bins.

There’s a rather unpleasant association I have with that old place now. I’ve since moved out, being in my thirties, but every now and then I try to run my brain back to that age where things seemed just ‘off’. You know what I mean? That thing where as a kid, you’re dead certain about the little things coinciding with each other, but because it was so long ago, there’s no way to empirically prove it. There were a lot of little things that contributed to that unpleasantness, but the primary element was the trees.

I don’t have any specific memories from that house by now, but I do remember the pines. I remember looking at them from my bedroom window at night, elevated just slightly above ground floor so I was more so on a second floor. I could see down the embankment, so that the forest below was just barely able to peek out. I’d see the trees swaying in the night breeze, black giants contrasting against a dark blue sky. I’d fixate on two specific trees, ones that were slightly shorter than the rest of their siblings.

Maybe it was my kid brain overthinking, maybe it was the effect of staring for too long at shadows with nebulous outlines. But in my mind’s eye I could see them swaying in the opposite directions of the other trees, often asynchronously. Sometimes they’d stand completely still even during turbulent storms. It didn’t make much sense to me but in a small way, my kid mind rationalized it as myself simply not understanding all the complexities of wind physics and nature working in tandem. But the excuses of not understanding would rapidly give way to doubt; after all, if I didn’t understand why they do what they do, would that not justify my delusion?

And in my head, for some insane reason, I felt like they were watching me as they danced sleepily. In the same way a kid peeks out from barely open crescent eyes to fool their parents, but in a patently obvious way that might make the parents aware the kid was awake. Almost like an inside joke, I suppose.

They were watching me. They were pretending to not be alive, to simply be trees in the only way a tree can be. But they knew I was watching, and that's why they danced the way they did when it was only me awake at ten pm, a time I should’ve been long asleep by. In my perception, they could only know I was awake if they saw me open the blinders, so I’d push my iris as closely as possible to the tiny little gap where the blinder string pushed through, so that there was no perceivable way for them to know I was watching them back. But perception is in itself a curse of sorts. All you have to do is be aware of something for it to be in your radius of knowledge. And in that sense, it becomes aware of YOU in return.

It only went downhill after my blinders became damaged from my repeated and more frantically curious observations. Due to my bending them to look out the window, either while watching my dad come home from work or the former nighttime ritual, one blinder eventually bent far enough it snapped off. So now my window had, in itself, a doorway for the unsettling trees to progress into my room and my mind. And once this came to pass, more and more strange things began to occur both inside the house and around the property.

One event involved my study of the grass leading up the hill where the trash cans lay. I noticed swirling patterns that prior had not been there, a sort of snaking motion that led away from the forest below. It was so obvious a change it was impossible not to notice, but still, I had no way to confirm since I had no way to compare the prior texture. No evidence, no proof.

The trees continued their motions even on spring days where the world desired to stand still with eyes closed to the sun. A certain dampness began to settle into the foundations of my home - another small thing to overlook as a child, due to my parents motioning to not concern myself. But nights spent listening through the walls informed me that the house’s stability was becoming an issue. The ground beneath was apparently built on less-than-stable material when we’d first moved in, and now years later, we were beginning to see a very gradual but inevitable shift towards the hillside. We would have to move out within a year or two.

Another night, something awful clawed its way out of my imagination. Our house was small, more of a tube with three sections - the living room where the entrance lay, a kitchen with some space for the table, a hallway with stairs leading to the basement, and then my room at the very end. My bed was positioned in such a way that I could basically look all the way down to the living room, oftentimes with the door open for some bizarre reason I’ll never understand. Ambient lighting from outside was minimal in the area we lived in, so as a result, the living room was often pitch black past the portal. And I would stare into this area sometimes, remembering what my mom told me about staring at something too long without thinking. Idle eyes, and all that.

Many times I’d begin to see movement, the silhouette of a man silently making his way towards me as I lay there paralyzed until closing my eyes. Of course, he never got any closer, but I could very well see his bulky figure assuredly stepping through the portal to reach my room. My being aware of him was enough to bring him to life. But this one night was different. I heard the house creaking and settling in the breeze of the landscape. Something was worming its way in.

And again, I watched and waited for the shadow man to make his approach. He took a lot longer to appear this time, and when he did, the stress of my recent overthinking began to stretch the apparition to its logical extremes.

He was misshapen this time. Lopsided like the fist of a god pressed him into a clay putty nonsense shape. Instead of the obviously shimmering, hallucinatory outline I’d become familiar with, he was lined with squirming, wriggling lines. Black enough to have no discernable details, but material enough to display the sheen of some shiny, hairy, perhaps viscous material.

It watched me for what felt like eons that night before stumbling out of view. I saw his bulbous head peak back into the door frame for a second, showing some tenuous understanding of the mutual observation that was taking place. And as my heart froze into a block of ice, the shadow man melted into little black worms and scurried into the darkness.

After we moved out prematurely due to a prominent black mold issue, the years passed in a faded blur. As with all childhood nightmares, the details I felt were “real” enough to ask my parents about were dismissed with notions of “Oh, that didn’t happen.” Or “You probably just imagined it, you always had an active mind, kiddo.” It would have to suffice until recently, after memories of the incident drove my curiosity to its breaking point. As an adult, you have the power to strip your nightmares bare, and as an accomplished writer, I desired to farm some inspiration for future works.

I found the old address and drove out to it one afternoon. The ambiguously rural cul-de-sac was still there, untainted by time or the pale blue noon sun. Still green and luscious as the day we left. And unsurprisingly, the house was gone. The foundation had long since been paved over with cement and overgrown with various weeds and sticker brush. It was amazing seeing just how tiny that little shithole was, but I was also grateful we’d had it at all.

Feeling myself tense up, I crept towards the fabled hill I’d never before had access to. By my own authority I strode to the edge and gazed across the forest top, and trailed my way down to where those two trees once stood.

It defies all logic, what I saw down there. The way I’d heard my parents describing the structural decay definitely implied that the house would be a crumpled mess by the time we left. Even a child could be sure of it. And yet, down where the nightmare trees of my childhood stood waving in anticipation for my return, there was my house. Nestled between them like some strange face resting chin down at the tree line entrance. It looked pretty much the same, just positioned downward at about 30 to 40 meters on the incline which was not as steep as I remembered, so that I could see a bit of the roof as well. In fact, I was acutely aware of just how close the trees were and I felt my gut sink. The hollow windows blinked back at me.

I stood there for ages as a gentle breeze began to settle in, feeling a lot like how I felt during those sleepless nights when the shadow man tried creeping into my room. Except this time when I closed my eyes, it didn’t go away. The house, the trees, the strangely snaking grass path, it was all still there and very real.

And even worse, as I stared out into the wyrd knoll that lay at the bottom of the hill, I realized that much of it stood out in startling contrast to its surroundings. The trees, my house, and even a patch of the sky behind the tree line were somehow more saturated, more fuzzy than the objects and space adjacent. I can’t describe it well enough - it was like someone had painted a blurry image of that scene OVER my own vision along where I was looking. I bobbed my head frantically, trying to discern what exactly was the change taking place.

I stepped down the hill, inching closer to the playfully teasing trees. And then my house began to wave back, shimmying like a tree. The clouds in the sky above the tree line squirmed in place, their white puffs turning inward into centipedal spirals. And as I inspected closer and closer, it was with dawning horror that I recognized the shape of the thing I was looking at in my fragmented understanding of reality.

The trees, the house, the ground, and even the sky were all made with that same wriggling, teasing, malignant shape the shadow man had turned into that one night ages ago. Like an infection, a growth, it had spread to its surroundings in a two dimensional facsimile of the area I’d grown to know. Maybe it was my perception that fed it, or maybe it had been feeding on something else. Maybe we had escaped just in time. As I came within ten feet - a gut-churning distance knowing what I know now - I tried to peek past the tree line, desperate to dispel my feverish delusions with one last feeble attempt.

Beyond the spot where the visual aberration ended, was a wall of writhing parasites extending into the forest some unknown distance back. Black, vile little creatures that changed color the closer to the vantage point perspective they came. They perfectly mimicked every point of color, every leafy detail, every brick and every panel of the house, even the flat blue color of the sky and the white of the clouds many meters high.

This whole location was just a giant parasitic mimic, with the two original trees as the focal point. They knew I was there, and that's why they stood waiting and watching for as long as they did. They waited for me to come back so that I could continue feeding them with attention. I left not too long after, my stomach tied into knots as I avoided the rearview mirror.

Even now in the safety of my apartment, I never tend to stare for very long at any given spot for too long. No moving shadows hold my attention, no ambiguous shapes on the horizon give me intrigue. All I desire is to quell the worming sensation that occasionally erupts from my brain, lest it grow into a writhing alien that consumes my vision and dreams.

Based on several childhood daymares.

Written by William See
Content is available under CC BY-SA