This is the fourth part of my short story as a serial. Please go here for Part Three and links to the other parts.
‘The hell we do. Where’s your mother?’
‘In the woods, Daddy.’
‘Come on, then.’ Patrick climbed out of his side and hurried walked round to his daughter, hauling her door open.
Agnes climbed out. She looked at her father and took his hand. ‘This is wasting time but come on. I’ll show you the trees and then we must follow the men.’
Patrick froze. Where had she got that from? It sounded exactly like her mother. ‘Where’s your mother, Agnes?’
Agnes tugged him. ‘Come on, Daddy. We need to hurry.’
Still confused, he followed her into the gloom of the wood. After a few minutes they reached the clearing. Patrick blinked in the bright sunshine. The large fir Saz had seen an hour earlier was now the tallest tree around. The small fir Martin had spotted was easily 30 feet tall and at the edge of the clearing another oddly symmetrical fir tree had sprung up.
‘What are they?’ Patrick spoke, more to himself than his daughter. He felt a strong urge to touch the trunk of the tallest tree, the striations and folds that resembled bark only it clearly wasn’t. As he stepped forward, Agnes tugged his hand.
‘No daddy, we need to follow those men. Now. They know everything.’
Patrick took a deep breath and squatted so his face was level with his daughter’s. He noted her eyes, the way her pupils seemed enlarged and the somewhat distant expression on her face. Frowning he waved a hand close to her nose. Agnes didn’t move, didn’t so much as blink. More anxious now, if that were possible he clapped hard, almost brushing the tip of her nose. Still she didn’t blink.
‘Agnes, who am I?’
‘What’s my name?’
‘Patrick. Andrew. Colin. Novel.’ She spoke slowly, each word clearly separated from the last one. Patrick couldn’t shake the notion that it was as if someone was whispering in her ear, telling her what to say.
Agnes frowned, opening then closing her mouth. ‘She’s… we need to follow the men. They know everything.’
He stood up. ‘Who the hell are you? He spun round glaring at the trees, at the shadows where the clearing finished and the actual trees began.
No one replied. There was no sound. Not even a bird, or the wind in the branches. Slowly he walked around each of the strange firs, squinting up into the branches, trying to make out what they were and why they were there. He looked back to Agnes. She had shielded her eyes and stared up into the branches of the largest tree.
‘Agnes. You said, back by the car, you would show me the trees. Why?’
She didn’t look at him, didn’t take her eyes from where she stared but she raised her hand and pointed.
Feeling sick and not wanting to see what it was she pointed at he moved to her side. The sun was fierce, nearly at its zenith. It took him a moment to adjust, to follow her finger. He rubbed his eyes, and shaded them to get a better look. High up near the point where the branches began to fill out he saw a creasing in the bark, much like a face. He managed a laugh. ‘It’s just the bark, Agnes. It’s a funny shape but…’
Patrick Novel’s mind gave way, doing what nature has spent millennia hard-wiring into its circuits: in times of extreme shock it shuts down. As Patrick crumpled onto the soft carpet of pine needles, Agnes waved. The face-like bark high up in the tree winked for a second time.