Spirit of Wood
By Tom Doolan
Trey ran. He ran like his life depended on it. And that’s because it did. He knew it was dumb to be out on the street this late, but the time had gotten away from him at Jason’s house. Their game ran past his curfew, and so he had bolted for home.
But right now, the trouble he would face from his mom was nothing compared to what he would face if the three older kids who were chasing him managed to catch him. He had a good lead on them, but they were much taller, and were closing the gap. Trey turned on a dime into a narrow alley, hoping to lose them. The alley was dark, and he was navigating mainly by hopes and prayers. But those proved futile, as he came up to a dead end.
His breathing became even more erratic as the twelve-year old kid from the south side of Chicago searched for some kind of exit, his feet shuffling madly through a pile of paper and refuse. Then he stopped. A light was shining on him, and he turned into the glare of a flashlight. He could now hear over his own panicked breathing the hungry breaths and vile cackles of the four gang members who stood before him, blocking his only exit from the alley.
Trey’s heart sank and he fought the urge to cry.
“What’s the matter little boy? You lost or somethin’?” The voice came from the right of the flashlight.
“It ain’t nice to walk on our turf without permission. You gots ta show some respect!”
“Just leave me alone!” Trey gave up and the tears began to flow now. This brought a new round of laughter, and a shadowy form emerged from the left of the flashlight.
“Oh, sure. You pay your fine, and we’ll leave you alone.”
“I ain’t got no money…” Trey pleaded.
“Oh.” A menacing pause. “That’s too bad.” The form of the older boy was right before him now, and just as he stepped in front of the light, Trey felt painful crack to the side of his head. His vision swam, and he toppled like a felled tree. He was dimly aware that his backpack was being ripped from his body, and the boys were cackling evilly as they rummaged through his game books and dice.
“Fucking geek. He ain’t got nothin’ worth shit in here.”
“I dunno, man. I hear those cards go for some cash.”
“Well, we’ll take em’ then.” The sound of shuffling feet getting closer worried Trey, who opened his eyes to find the older kid who had hit him standing over him. “Too bad you’re broke, kid. Cuz now we gotta take the balance in blood.” With that Trey felt a swift kick to his ribs, and his world exploded in a breathless flash of pain and light. He wanted to cry even more, but he couldn’t breathe. All he could do was try to tense for the next kick.
But it never came.
The air was vibrating, that much he could feel, even as his breath started coming back. Then a horrible shriek pierced the night, and he opened his eyes again. The boy who had kicked him was hanging in the air by his foot. Trey gasped slightly, his ribs still sore, his breath still shallow.
The other two boys stood transfixed. The one with the flashlight was waving it around wildly, both of them shrieking.
“What the fuck, JJ!”
“Oh shit! Get me down…aaaggh!!”
JJ’s scream was joined by the other two as they all finally saw what had him. Trey scrambled back against the wall, the site before him more frightening than the prospect of a beating a few moments before.
The creature that stood between Trey and the other boys was nothing more than a pile of trash and refuse come to life. Stray paper and boxes and cartons of all make and design coalesced into a man-shaped form, stooped and menacing. The head was a mass of swirling newspaper, punctuated by two, glowing green eyes the size of apples. They glared at the boy in the creatures’ grasp, even as a mouth-like hole below the eyes opened, issuing forth a piercing hiss, like that of a punctured tire, but with a sinister screech underlying it.
Friendship and the “family” if gang-life was strong, but for the two boys on the ground, it was not strong enough to withstand the terror they felt, and as one they screamed and ran from the alley, leaving JJ to the mercies of whatever this thing was. Trey wanted to run too, but there was something in him that was drawn to the beast. And it must have sensed it in him, because that awful face turned toward him, and loomed close. Their eyes met, and JJ’s screams and babbling were ignored as two spirits communicated. For a moment, Trey knew what it knew. It felt his anger and hatred at JJ, which rivaled his fear of the creature. Their minds spoke, and as one they looked at the wriggling form in the creature’s grasp, and suddenly Trey wasn’t afraid.
The creature pulled JJ towards its eyes, and the orbs began to glow brilliantly. A trail of vapor issued from JJ’s mouth, cutting off his screams, his eyes bulging. The vapor became a steady stream, and Trey became aware of a sound, not unlike crumpling cardboard. In the dim light of the creatures eyes, he could see JJ’s body begin to whither, even as the creature’s own form began to expand.
Through all of this, Trey was mesmerized. He had no fear that he would suffer the same fate as JJ. A small voice in his mind was repulsed by what he saw, but it was quickly hushed by a presence of supreme anger and rage he felt growing within him.
As JJ’s body continued to shrivel, Trey became aware that his pains had subsided. In fact, the wound on his head felt as only a memory, and he could breath deep and easy. It was then that he noticed that his feet were surrounded by the trails of trash, connecting him to the creature. And he knew what was happening.
At this realization, the creature’s eyes dimmed to a dull glow once more, and he dropped the now quite dead body of JJ. Trey was only passively aware of the body hitting the ground, his whole mind being focused on that of the creature before him. Once more, it stooped, and the pair locked gazes.
In Trey’s mind, he saw and felt what this creature was and is. He felt elation and peace as images of a pristine forest hosted figures in brightly painted colors danced about in celebration. But then, the images faded, and with that came the sensations of cold, longing and betrayal. Once worshipped and revered, the onslaught of man and his machines corrupted the spirit of the wood, twisting and churning it to pulp. Now the spirit was bitter, spiteful…and mournful. A great sadness lay beneath the veneer of rage and frustration.
Suddenly Trey understood. What was once the process of nature to give life from death, had become abut a shade of that purpose. Now, it sought to bring death, so that it could give life. Even as this realization dawned on him, the boy noticed the wall behind him was covered with ivy and fungus. The creature was existing here, in this alley, because it was safe. Like so many corners of this city, people rarely came here. It was the closest thing to solitude the spirit could find.
He looked once more at the body of JJ.
“Now they know.” He whispered. “JJ’s friends will tell people about you. They’ll come to see, and you will never be left alone again.”
A moaning sound issued from the maw, and the eyes flared in alarm.
“What if…” Trey looked at the creature. “What if you could be rid of them all first? I know where they live. It’s an abandoned warehouse. You could live there when you were done.”
The spirit hesitated. It read Trey’s intentions, and it’s naturally peaceful soul was repulsed. But then it extended a papery appendage to touch the scar on the boy’s forehead where JJ had struck him, and suddenly the eyes flared again. A feeling of agreement and purpose washed over the boy, and he allowed himself to be lifted bodily, secure that this thing would never harm him, or let him be harmed.
The hour was late, and none were on the streets save for a few drunks who would not believe that they saw a shambling mound of paper carrying a young boy down the street. Not even when they heard the news of a gang of terrified kids who told wild tales of a creature in their warehouse the next day. When the police investigated, all they found was an empty warehouse, covered in moss and ivy.