Lee P Butler

Leaves

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Leaves

Part 1: As I stared out the window, snapshot images of a time I’ve tried to forget flashed in my mind with frightening lucidity and the chills summoned by those thoughts danced across my skin like feathery fingers. The wind blew through the screen on the opened window and the chill my body felt shook my bones. I held myself as I sat shivering on the edge of the bed and felt neither safer nor warmer.

I know my story will sound strange and even unbelievable to most, that's why I decided it was best to put it into writing and by doing so would give it some semblance of validity even if for no other reason than for my own reassurance. I can’t allow the subjugation the events of this story have caused me during my life to continue any longer and from the moment I start putting it into words I will purge myself of the mental and emotional torture it has caused me.

Most of all I want everyone to know the truth, not the misguided, yet well intentioned myth that was created to hide what really happened. I hope to fulfill that desire before I leave this world.

So I’m starting the endeavor with pen in hand, the only pen I've ever been allowed in the institution. It is a pen they gave me because I wouldn’t talk and they hoped that I’d use it to reassure them that the damage they thought was done to my mind was not permanent or all consuming. I've held the secret that I am truly sane and coherent inside myself and to the dust bunnies that reside under my bed. Keeping that secret was paramount for my survival all these years.

I will not state my age because its' relevance to this story is not of consequence and it is my privilege to divulge such information at my own choosing. I haven't lost my sense of humor, by the way.

Since I've kept the pen as the sole necessity of relating my story, I've laid out the crisp white sheet that adorned my bed this morning; appearing like magic as they always have while I bathe, smoothly across the floor. I lay on it, with the dust bunnies staring on, and write as stealthily as I possibly can to finish this before the sun goes down, because I will not be found out from under that sheet on the bed after nightfall.

I was four years old when I first discovered that there was a problem in our back yard. I never had enjoyed going outside, especially without shoes, from the time my parents learned I could walk by myself. They repeatedly tried to get me to walk in the green grass of the lawn, but despite their insistence, my reluctance grew even stronger. The sensation of those grass blades against the tender skin of my feet threw my neural sensors into a frenzy and I would not accept that there was anything natural in that situation. Never go against your gut feeling. Never!

As time passed and a more educated reasoning kicked in, I knew that there was no way my parents would let me get away with never going outside, so wearing shoes, I finally made the jump from reluctant baby to apprehensive toddler. With the shoes I became bolder, and with time I lost my inhibitions and a daily play outside became a welcome visitor.

Then on my fourth birthday, those feelings I'd had years earlier finally showed themselves as the monster I had known they were in the beginning.

It was a warm day in the early spring, beams of sunlight shone through the branches of the trees in serrated bands that warmed the skin and gave the impression it was warmer than it really was. Some of my early childhood friends were there. We were playing some kiddy game, I don't remember which one exactly, it was one of those where you run after one another with the wild abandon that only children have.

As we ran and squealed, I began to chase and was quickly catching up to little Petey Goins when suddenly and for no apparent reason, he tripped. Losing his balance as he stumbled, his forward motion pushed him uncontrollably into a big sweet gum tree that grew in the yard just outside the back porch.

I stopped just short of tripping over him and slid to my knees beside him while everyone else came running to see what had happened. We circled around him, looking down, wondering why he not only wasn't moving but why he lay in such an odd position.

I yelled for my mother and moments later she was there, moving kids out of the way, then she picked up little Petey and ran with him towards the house. We followed her into the house only to be rushed out shortly there after.

I hadn't said anything, but I saw what had happened. When my father came out of the house he questioned me about the incident, but eventually he just sat on the steps shaking his head. I could not make him believe that the tree had reached out and tripped him. My father hugged me and cried while he reassured me that everything would be all right and not to worry.

He never told me that little Petey was dead. His little neck broken.

I sat on our screened in porch and watched that tree most afternoons after that day. I could still hear the 'sticks under foot' sound his neck made as his head hit the tree trunk, his body twisting uncontrollably and how he resembled a wet dish rag in my mother’s arms as she carried him to the house.

I watched the tree so that it wouldn't be able to do anything else without me knowing about it. As uneventful days passed, I did begin to question what I thought had happened, but I never lost that gut feeling that something wasn't right and I awoke many nights, startled from my dreams at the feeling of grass blades against the bottom of my feet.

A few years passed and nothing obvious or mischievous happened. But as I neared the age of eight, things began to drastically change or I simply became more aware of the world around me. Then the next horrific event in the tragedy of my life happened.

Petey's death was no longer an everyday remembrance. Life had returned to its regular normalcy even as changes evolved around us. I had a new little brother and my parents were busily adding on another room to the house for him. The smells of paint and wall paper glue filled the hallway and second story rooms. I was running up and down the stairs, tagging my grandmother downstairs, then tagging my grandfather upstairs.

I tagged my grandfather for the umpteenth time, turned and ran to the head of the stairs where I intended to transcend and tag my grandmother once again when I heard the sound of breaking glass at the end of the upstairs hallway. Skidding to a stop, I quickly turned to look in the direction of the noise and was struck with a gut wrenching terror at the sight of a huge limb from the sweet gum tree wrapping its' small branches around my grandfather's midsection.

He gapped at me with eyes that shouted a silence loud enough to shatter glass. His body was slowly sliding backwards towards the window, even as he fought diligently to free himself of the limb. I ran to him, screaming at the top of my lungs, and only reached the window as the tree pulled him through.

I watched as he fell helplessly to the ground below and to this day I haven’t been able to suppress the memory of his death while retaining the sight of his lovely face as I watched his lips slowly form the words 'I love you', before his body landed violently against the hard soil at the base of that sweet gum tree.

No one ever believed me when I told them what really happened. They all thought the trauma I supposedly experienced when little Petey died had forever warped my view of death.

But I knew.

I knew what had really happened both times and I will always know.

Time went by and I watched and listened for any sign that something else may happen. It was two years before the next event that directly affected me and I was totally caught off guard when it happened.

The two prior instances had involved the sweet gum tree outside my house, so I'd focused all my energy and attention on that tree. I watched it, looking for any sign of movement, any sign of the evil I knew existed within it. Yet, I had watched to no avail.

One afternoon in late October, Connie Jenkins and I were walking home from school, one of the few times I had told my mother not to pick me up. We crossed the downtown playground, passing the slide, then the swings, kicking up sand behind us as we walked without a care in the world, clutching our school books to our chests. Once we reached the grassy field that lay just beyond that sandy area we stopped and admired the thick blanket of colorful leaves that lay beneath a broad Sycamore tree.

(Continued...)

Part 2: Fear quickly gripped me as I felt a noticeable change in the atmosphere around us. The air was suddenly cold and seemed heavy, like moistened morning air thick with dew and a slight wind began to move my hair. Then I felt movements under my feet and I instantly knew what was happening.

Connie obviously didn't feel the weird, snaky movements under her feet as I had, because instead of turning and quickly running back to the sandy area of the playground, she stood still. I stopped running when I realized she was not beside me, turned and knew all was lost. Thick green tendrils of grass had encircled her feet, holding her in place. She was twisting her body, trying desperately to pull her feet free of the grass, while she still held the books to her chest.

Then it happened. I felt the wind grow stronger around us as it started as a slight breeze that gently moved the naked branches of the Sycamore tree, then grew in intensity until sand blew in waves and stung my face as the tiny pellets bombarded my body like swarming gnats on a hot summer evening. I cowered and fell into a ball on the sandy playground, hiding my face in my arms like a turtle in its' shell.

The screams of my friend Connie brought my head up. Squinting to see in spite of the sandstorm, I saw the leaves that we had admired only moments before, being lifted in an expansive cycling whirlwind around Connie. Her feet immobilized, she couldn't run, and through the cycling wall of leaves I could see her body twitching as her muscles involuntarily tried to save her.

Gradually, the wall of cycling leaves closed around Connie. The leaves squeezed tighter as a Boa constrictor does on the body of its prey. As the leaves neared her body, Connie's shouts became inaudible. Then what was already a horrible sight became more horrific.

The leaves closed to the point of contact on Connie's body. I saw them hit her face first. Small paper cuts formed on her forehead and cheeks, her lips and chin. The leaves were opening her skin as if they were a bevy of razor blades, slicing everything they touched. Blood began to flow in small rivulets that were quickly picked up by the cycling leaves, then hair mixed in, then bits of clothing...paper...more blood...more clothing. In a matter of seconds, Connie's clothing was torn from her in shreds and that left nothing to protect the bare skin of the rest of her body from the fury of the leaves sharp edges.

The leaves tore at her flesh like hungry piranha in the Amazon river. Cuts opened in multitudes, pouring blood copiously into the swirling mass around her. In minutes that seemed like days, what was left of her body convulsed in death shakes amid the wall of leaves that had blanketed the ground in bright fall colors of yellow, orange, and brown, but had turned a grim crimson from the mixture of blood and viscera that had only moments before been my friend Connie.

I began to vomit when I saw her intestines unravel and circle her body like a lasso. After my retching eased and I felt some semblance of stability within myself, I looked to where Connie's mutilated corpse lay in a lifeless heap. The wind had died and the environment around me was suddenly calm. I stood and ran to her, but there was nothing I could do. I turned, and ran home to get help.

My dreams are still haunted by the sight of my friend's lifeless body as the medics zipped shut the death bag enshrouding her. Even though she was no longer visibly recognizable because there was little more left of her but a pile of bones, shredded viscera, and blood, I knew it was her because even in death she held her books to her chest.

Yet no one would believe me.

Oh, there was an uproar in the community to find the fiendish killer who could commit such and outrageous crime, but as adults I suppose they had some sort of mental mechanism that would not allow them to believe an evil such as that existed in the plants and foliage of our town.

Of course, it was just the insane ranting of a crazy kid who wouldn’t accept that such a ludicrous notion just wasn’t possible in the real world. So they labeled me a trouble maker because I wouldn't help them by giving them a true description of the ‘real’ monster.

I finally decided it was best that I just keep my frigging mouth shut and retain what I knew in my head. My parents sent me to counseling sessions where the doctor put me in trances that were supposed to help me forget the things I had seen in my few years of life, so I could start sleeping at night again and while he was at it he could simply probe my mind for any information he could get on the ‘real’ perpetrator.

I think he finally wound up crazier than they think I am. Life can be funny that way, sometimes.

Anyway, my life continued as the lives of others decayed around the town. Many more incidents happened over the span of three years. Some of which were true and others that were nothing more than tall tales made up by people who wanted to create a monster so they wouldn’t have to deal with the reality of what was truly happening around them. But as far as I've ever known only one other person knew and accepted the truth.

My little brother Tommy.

He was the best little brother a person could ever hope to have. I've cried many tears for him after his death and I dream of the day I can once again hold his tiny body close to me and place my lips against the top of his head. As I sit here and write of him I can smell the scent of the baby shampoo that I always inhaled as I kissed him.

From as far back as I can remember, he always hated flowers. It was something that my parents saw as strange, but not me. I knew he was a smart little guy. I knew he felt the evil in the plants and I always did my best to keep flowers away from him. That was until the day he died.

He was playing outside in the front yard that afternoon when I got home from school. I messed his hair as he ran gleefully past me and I continued into the house. I smiled to myself at the sounds of his childish laughter as I lay my books on my desk and started changing my clothes for the evening.

As I started to pull my shirt over my head, my smile turned to horror as the sound of Tommy screaming came through the screen on my bedroom window.

I jumped from my seat, ran to the window, and looked out frantically trying to find from where his screams were coming. I saw him running down the sidewalk, then cutting quickly around a line of hedge bushes in old lady Berman's yard. Three feet behind him were some of the older neighborhood kids chasing him with arms outstretched in front of them holding fists full of pansies.

My horror turned to panic and I bolted from my room with the hope that I could catch them before another tragedy happened. Oh God, why couldn't I run faster. I called out to my mother as I streaked through the house and almost knocked the screen door from the hinges. I jumped the steps and ran across the yard screaming out Tommy's name. My heart felt as though it would burst from my chest. The terror knotted my stomach as I ran because I knew at the end of the hedge row at the back of old lady Berman's yard was a large, well tended... flower bed.

The other kids knew it too, that was why they were chasing Tommy in that direction. He didn't know about the flower bed because I had kept him from it. Protecting him. I faced a harsh reality that day. Protecting him from the evil was the wrong thing to do, because it allowed the enemy to lie and wait for an opportunity to strike. If anything happened and Tommy got hurt, it would be my fault.

I hurdled the hedge row at the midway point into old lady Berman's yard and darted towards the group of kids who had been chasing Tommy, but were now standing in a crowd at the edge of the flower bed. I pushed the ones who stood in my way violently to the side as I broke through the group.

My stomach lurched into my throat when I saw Tommy laying in the back edge of the flower bed. I stomped through the soft soil and fell heavily to the ground beside Tommy's prostrate body. His legs were kicking violently and his hands were desperately pulling at the stems of plants which were tightening around his throat. The look in his eyes told me he wasn't breathing, so I began to furiously pull at the roots of the flowers, slinging plants and dirt into the air around us.

I pulled at the plants until my fingers began to cramp and bleed around the nails, but I couldn't stop the things from squeezing the life out of Tommy. Plants and dirt were still going into the air when Mama got there and pulled me up by my shoulders. Tears streaked my face and felt like burning trails of acid as it ran down my cheeks. I knew Tommy was dead when I saw the blue tint of his face and neck and the burst blood vessels of his protruding eyes. I fell to his side and held him against me while Mama held us both.

I don't remember very much about what happened directly after that, but I do remember the lights from the ambulance flash lighting the area around us.

The doctors told my mother and father that Tommy had an allergic reaction to the flowers which had closed off his air passageway and he'd asphyxiated.

But just as before, I knew the truth.

Sitting in the hospital waiting room I realized the only one who could stop the evil was me. I'd seen the last death I was going to without doing something about it. I decided right then, that night would be the end of it all, one way or another.

(continued...)

Finale.. Part 3: While my mother and father talked to the doctor, I slipped out past them. Once I was in the parking lot and a safe distance from the hospital, I took off running for home.

I didn't know a lot about what was happening or why, but I did know what was doing it and I thought I knew where it was originating from. Over time the deaths had eventually spread to the rest of the neighborhood, but it had all started in one place. That was something of which I was almost certain.

The sweet gum tree in our back yard.

That tree was the heart of the evil and I had learned one thing from all those old scary movies that were broadcast late Friday nights. To destroy evil you had to destroy it’s heart.

I stopped at the edge of our front lawn and leaned on my knees as I gasped for air. As my lungs struggled for oxygen, I scanned the area around the house to the sweet gum tree. Everything seemed pretty calm, but I could feel the evil stirring like static electricity in the air. Somehow, it knew my intentions.

I ran towards the shed at the opposite side of the house as the sweet gum tree. As I crossed the yard my feet got caught on something, causing me to fall.

Struggling to get up, I realized that my shoes were entangled by grass blades the same way Connie's had been on the playground. I was only five feet away from the shed and knew I could make it if I could just break free of the grass blades. I pulled my feet towards me as hard as I could, but the blades held fast, so I tried another tactic.

I pulled my feet out of my shoes!

I quickly began scrambling towards the shed and once I found my balance, jumped to my feet and ran to the shed. My dad always kept a screwdriver in the latch that held the two swinging doors together, so I pulled at it to get the door open. My nervousness and the feeling of the grass blades groping at my feet made that simple task nearly impossible. I shook the doors violently as I lost my patience with the screwdriver. The grass was on my feet when the screwdriver pulled free of the latch.

I threw my body forward into the musty building, fell on the dirt floor, and rolled away from the creeping grass. I was at eye level with the stuff and for a few moments I watched through the dusty haze as it wiggled and slithered like thousands of tiny snakes toward the building.

I shivered silently, then noticed something strange. The grass had stopped creeping forward and was writhing in front of the building as though it could not enter.

For a moment I was baffled by the phenomenon because the floor of the shed was dirt, so the grass should have been able to follow me inside, yet there seemed to be some force that wouldn’t allow it to go any farther. I quickly pushed the thought away, because it was giving me the time I needed to collect what I came for.

Shaking the repulsion away, I jumped up and began looking for the things I would need to accomplish my task. First, I found the red gas can in which my father stored the gas for his lawn mower, then I found the large wooden matches he used to light the grill before our cookouts.

With these items in hand, I walked to the opening of the building to assess the situation and mentally adjust my plan of attack as I hoped it would play out for me.

I had to get to the tree to pour the gasoline on it and start the fire. That was the gist of my plan. Every other bridge would have to be crossed as I approached them. Burning that tree would be our salvation or the death of us all.

I unscrewed the lid from the container of gas.

After sucking in a large gulp of air, I held it to calm my nerves, then exhaled as I ran towards the tree. My feet seemed as heavy as lead as I ran and of course the almost full can of gas and my sock feet weren't helping much either.

Each step took all the energy I could muster, but I ran like I'd never run again. Thirty feet from the tree something hard and sturdy hit my right ankle and I fell forward. I dropped the can and hit the ground hard on my right side.

I knew I was dead. I quickly began to scramble to regain my footing without bothering to see what had grabbed my leg. Shuffling my feet and pulling with my hands, I got to my knees, then was up and grabbed the gas can which had over turned and spilled some of it’s contents on the grass beside where I had fallen.

That's when I noticed the grass was receding from the spot of spilled gas. It couldn't stand having the liquid on it or even touching the ground where the gas and been absorbed. That was why it hadn’t entered the shed after me. Years of my father working on motors in the shed had saturated the area and turned the dirt black from contamination. A new idea suddenly sprang to my mind.

I began to pour a thick stream of the volatile liquid in a trail at my feet as I walked to the tree. It was like Moses parting the Red sea. A dirt path peeled open before and behind me. My attention was riveted to the path I was forming and didn't see the large limb until it was too late to stop it from sweeping down and slapping me in the left side, knocking me from my feet. I fell heavily on my back and the gas can landed on my stomach, spilling its contents all over my clothing. The matches flew from my hand, landed in the path I had created, and scattered from the box that contained them.

The gasoline fumes stung my eyes, causing them to water and blurred my vision. I pushed the can off my body and balanced it on its bottom. Most of it’s contents were gone and I had not reached the tree yet, though I was right underneath it’s branches. I scanned the area as a deafening noise filled the air around me. The booming thunder sounded eerily similar to evil laughter.

I cursed under my breath and jumped to my feet, collecting my bearings I looked all around me and noticed for the first time how the bushes and shrubbery were moving in a waving motion, like the grain fields in the Mid-West you see in commercials. It was as if the plants had come to life and were cheering for one of us. The evil laughter told me who that was.

I grabbed the can and slung gas from it onto the tree, taking the precaution to leave enough to get me back to the building. When I finished, I turned and ran down the path to the matches. I heard the crunching of leaves behind me and knew I had only seconds to escape the hand of death that was closing in on me quickly, so I threw the can to the side because I would never make it back if I kept it.

When I reached the spot where the matches had spilled I scooped up as many matches as I could grab in one swoop with my right hand and the box with my left, all without stopping.

Ten feet from the building, the path turned into the snaky grass. It was a good thing I had taken track in school. At the end of the trail I leaped forward in the manner of a long jumper. Landing five or so feet from the opening of the building, I never lost my stride, but did lose my balance and fell forward as the force of the jump carried me in that direction. I slid head first into the dirty floor of the shed as I skidded across the grass bringing torn and broken pieces of the stuff in with me.

I rolled quickly to face the opening of the building and realized that the distance to the path was to far away to even hope to throw a match and it stay lit. My heart sank as I listened to the thunderous roaring of the laughter and I began to pray.

Then two things happened.

First, the wind outside picked up suddenly, causing the plants to swirl in exaggerated motions, as if their limbs were being stretched the way they do in the midst of a hurricane. It seemed they were throwing a victory party for themselves because they had won the battle.

The second thing that happened was I thought of a way to ignite the path to the tree. They had started their party too soon.

I quickly searched the room for an old croquet ball from the set my Grandpa and I used play with in the back yard years earlier. After knocking stuff from shelves and pushing things around on the work bench in frantic disarray, I finally found the set under the work bench in the back.

I pulled one of the balls from the box and laid it on the bench while I tore the gasoline soaked shirt off my body and wrapped the ball with it, tying the sleeves together to hold it in place. Then I carried it to the door and laid it on the ground at my feet. I smiled at the tree as I lit a match on the side of the box and dropped it on the ball.

The ball end was quickly immersed in flames. I grabbed it up by the sleeves and swung it in a vertical circle beside me. I smiled as I released the make shift sling shot and watched it sail through the air in a high arc, then descend like a comet toward the tree. It hit the side of the tree and fell to the path at it’s base.

The ground instantly burst into flames and lit a trail that followed a line up to the tree. It ignited in an explosion of fire and created a gigantic 'whoosh' that was amazingly loud and grew ever louder as the wind that was swirling in torrents around the behemoth fed the blaze.

The fire on the tree grew in intensity and height quickly. In seconds it had engulfed the top of the tree, reducing once robust leaves into blackened cinders. I began to see some sort of liquid ooze from the bark and run down the side of the tree in thick, bright orange, burning trails of pseudo lava.

The loud thunderous laughing turned into a high, eardrum-piercing shriek and as I covered my ears, cowering in pain, I saw our neighbors running down the sidewalk to our house.

Then just as suddenly as it had started, the loud squeal ended.

Gradually regaining my equilibrium, I slowly stood back up and stared at the blaze, enraptured by it’s brilliance. Amid the sound of sirens in the distance, our neighbors stood on the sidewalk wearing their house coats and robes, watching the inferno burning in our back yard equivalent to a nuclear meltdown and the child standing in the opening of the shed, laughing wildly.

What seemed like hours later, paramedics wrapped me in a blanket after they took off the rest of my gasoline soaked clothing and got me in the ambulance. But I would not let them leave until I knew for sure the tree had burned to the point that the evil within it was destroyed.

The fire fighters tried diligently to put out the fire, but the harder they worked to extinguish the flame the more their efforts became futile, because as I had earlier tried to tell them it was not just wood that was burning, but the heart of evil. It took an amazingly short amount of time for the tree to burn until there was little more than a charred stump left behind.

As the doors of the ambulance closed and it’s warm inside engulfed me, I knew the terror that had wrecked our community was over. It was something I could feel deep inside. It was a lightening of the air around us. Something you could just sense.

That's why, after all these years, I’ve realized the need to write this down...to document what had happened so long ago when I burned down that tree and thought I'd put an end to the evil that lived in the plants that grew around us. The knowledge of what was really going on and the event of that night were the things that caused my parents to put me in this place. They hoped that it would cure me of the crazy ravings I had succumbed to. Something they have never been able to do.

The problem is I can no longer keep my silence, because as I had during my childhood, I can once again feel the evil stirring. I did not end it after all. It just went into a state of hibernation and now that hiatus is over.

I have already read two stories of children dying in strange, but explainable, accidents close together involving vegetation. I will not be able to stop it this time. I'm too old and they will not let me out of this place especially once they learn I am coherent.

Besides, the evil will be after me. It won’t take the chance that I may or may not know it's growing again and that evil will not let me live to defeat it once more.

I beg of whomever finds this story to not dismiss it as the ramblings of a crazy person. Please, please do what you can to get the story out and do what you can to stop this thing, as I did years ago. Stop it before it takes the ones you love!

I have to finish here. I can hear the scratching of a limb on my window and the wicked giggling sound of rustling leaves. They have found me. I doubt I will live to see the sun rise in the morning.

The window just shattered behind me, but I will not let it see the fear I feel inside while I listen to the wood scrape against wood as the limb reaches in the room for me.

Please do what you can to stop the evil. Stop it before it's too la

Copyright 2016 Lee P Butler. All Rights Reserved.