Short Story: The Trees

“I want to go where the trees are, to flee this place of no shadows. I don’t know how long I’ve been here, but something tells me I shouldn’t be.”

I put the diary aside and stared out across the moorland. I could empathise with whoever had written this entry on a foggy day like this. My car was a barely visible mass across the car park, almost erased in the pale mists that had swept in. There had been faint traceries on the horizon when I’d got here, taking a pause in my journey home. Now they were full-fledged and it felt as if I had been transported to some gothic limbo worthy of Heathcliff and Cathy.

The fog really was impressively thick. I stood up and walked away from the sturdily constructed bench. It stood near the edge of the gravel that comprised the parking area, facing out over the moor like a concrete and oak guardian of the border between civilisation and the wilds beyond.

Stepping over the edge felt strangely irrevocable. The gravel’s crunch was no longer a constant under my feet; the softness of moss-tangled grass like a deep plush carpet instead. I walked without any plan beyond wanting to just see what was out there.

I was confident I wouldn’t go far, just enough to hide the edge of the carpark. Turning straight back and following my footsteps would be enough.

The fog closed around me, cool against my skin like damp bandages grazing me softly. Somehow it got quieter too. I’d heard of quiet getting too loud but I was suddenly prepared to believe it. Even the sound of my feet on the moor faded away until all I could hear was my own heartbeat. Even the rustling of my clothing seemed to be washed away by the fog.

I waited there, in the bright featureless glow of the fog. I strained my hearing but my pulse drowned everything else out. There was nothing out there. No birds, no breeze, no traffic, no people, just me, alone on the moor.

It felt at once liberating and isolating. I felt a smile spread across my face, and then I heard a creak. It snapped me out of my reverie. It was the creak of wood, of branches. It couldn’t be, of course. There weren’t any trees on these moors. I’d driven through here dozens of times, seen the satnav scroll past as I followed the route. There were no trees, no woods, no forests here.

I cast around me, moving my head from side to side to identify where the sound was coming from. There was no breeze to account for the noise, to move branches with such vigour.

I heard it again, somewhere to my left. Curiosity won out, and I stepped towards it. A first, hesitant, step and then another, and another and another with increasing certainty. The trees – I was certain there were more than one now – had to be over here. I wasn’t lost, I had something to aim for, here where the mists hid all shadows and softened all edges.

I kept going. I knew I was lost now, here where the land had become a wide open featureless waste. I couldn’t tell if it was night or day any more. And yet, I couldn’t find the trees. It sounded like there was an avenue of them and yet no matter how I stumbled and looked and listened they seemed no nearer.

Somewhere along the way, I realised I had lost the diary. I considered looking forward, but giggled at the thought that someone else would find it and wonder at that simple cryptic paragraph that I at last understood. That I had pondered over ever since the local police had brought it to me for analysis since being found somewhere.

They’d said it was part of a missing persons case. I hadn’t realised that so was I.

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