by Donald Reich
The drops of rain came down like a torrent against the window. The rushing sound like a snare drum counting down, varying as the belts of rain subside and roar. Carleton sat on his favorite chair, a firm green armchair with a floral pattern. The floral pattern was an eyesore but the chair was so comfortable. In his periods of wakefulness, he would confine himself to the chair, resting in its firm caress. The chair faced the window from which he could watch the long dark road in the distance. To his left was the fireplace, it never burned very hot, Nilec would not allow it. She was fearful of the harm which could come to her children in his home. To his right, within his reach, was one of Nilec’s children. She stood two feet tall in a pot with dark soil around her roots. Her branches reached out like hands towards his chair. He would frequently put a mason jar with homemade hooch in her grasp. He could feel her imagining the taste and burn running down her trunk. He had begun to call her Helen, after his first wife, the only one he ever loved. Helen loved him with every fiber of her being. Helen was the first child of Nilec, her sapling had sprung shortly after his offering.
“Helen, how many times have I told you how much I love you?” asked Carleton. He stared her up and down longingly, remembering the curves of her body and the smell of her perfume. Her lingering touch seemed to rest on his heart even after the last one hundred and fifty years.
“Many times, dear, when you sleep it escapes from your lips with every breath.” He could hear her voice in his mind. A secret they both hid from Nilec. For if Nilec ever knew their love continued to burn like fire, she would end Helen’s life. A life he had stolen, for his own selfish gain.
He rose up from the chair and grabbed his watering pail. Four times a day he must water Nilec’s children. Each one a soul, taken by Carleton at the behest of Nilec. A task which confronted him with his guilt concerning their deaths. He always tried to start with a different child every day, their branches reaching forth, beckoning for water. His farmhouse used to be a very spacious and inviting place.
“I think Timothy has waited the whole year to be first. Fitting you should be chosen on your birthday,” said Carleton. He bent down and lightly grasped his son’s leaves. A loving gesture, the only present he could afford his son. He bent the pail ever so slightly, rushing the water out of the spout and into his pot. “I love you, son.”
The weight of the air turned dark and unholy. The moon lost its light and left the glow of the fire in the house. “Nilec is coming,” said Helen. “Her mind is afire with jealousy.”
“Let her come,” said Carleton.
The door seemed to groan inward as Nilec approached. Her dark hand turned the knob as it screamed against her unnatural, perverse touch. The closer she grew to achieving her full strength, the bolder she had become. The door opened slowly as the visage of Helen entered. “Carleton, my love,” said Nilec. “Why have you neglected me? My children can survive for a few days without water. I need another heart.”
“I have run out of children and wives to supply the hearts,” said Carleton. His eyes looking downward in submission. “I cannot find another wife of suitable ancestry. The women of this generation of childbearing age are self-absorbed and more concerned with having careers.” A half-truth in all honesty.
“The fruit of our labor is almost in fruition,” said Nilec. Her dark, sultry eyes tore into his heart. “I saved your life all those years ago. The least you can do is fulfill your end of the bargain. You wanted to live forever, all I ask for is hearts of British descent.”
His mother had saved his life by begging Nilec to grant him a long life as they faced starvation. Nilec is the guardian of the forest which surrounded his family farm. His family had been secluded from the Protestant religion of the earliest settlers from Europe. Nilec granted them food and shelter as they built their home. She had just been a large basswood tree in those days. As the years past, Nilec had begun to have a corporeal being as the number of hearts in her roots grew. During the Revolutionary War, the British had burnt down a large portion of her forest. Her hatred would be eternal for those of British ancestry. A British heart being the toll was her way of revenge.
“Why must you assume Helen’s form?” Carleton asked.
“Her body excites you. Her smile makes you long for me.”
“You torture me!”
Her eyes grew furious at his accusation. “I love you. How could I torture you?” Nilec said.
“How could I not be tortured? My soul is so corrupt, new life dies under my feet as I walk,” said Carleton. “You want to become my Helen. You will never be my Helen!”
“I will be your Helen. She is a part of me just like she is in your heart,” Nilec said. She moved toward his chair. Her eyes rested on Helen as she stood near her. “I have brought every aspect of Helen into my almost complete body.” Her clothes fell away to reveal Helen’s nude body as she ran her hands down it. Inciting his body to action.
He moved toward her as he longed for her body but Helen’s voice stopped him cold. “No, Carleton!”
“What is this?” said Nilec. “Your wife is dead. Just like the others and all of your children! Buried to give me a body for my perfection. You married those women, killed them and their children… for me!”
The tears streamed freely from his eyes as the moment had finally come. He and Helen had spent the last few weeks finding a way to end this. “I have spent the last one hundred and twenty years living with their souls in my home. You turned them into plants as you absorbed their hearts. It was not enough to have me take their lives, I also had to water them and hear them grow. They did not lose their humanity until you finished with them,” said Carleton.
Nilec reached out and grabbed Helen’s branches. “Find me a heart or I kill your wife,” said Nilec.
“No. I must let her go,” said Carleton.
Nilec screamed as she tore Helen’s roots out of her pot. “Do it, Carleton!” was audible as she was cast into the fire.
“I love you, Helen,” said Carleton.
“Love will not save you, Carleton,” said Nilec. She sat in his favorite chair, naked and beckoning him. “You will be mine.”
He looked her up and down as the visage of Helen fell away from Nilec like a shell. She had ended her possession of Helen’s soul by throwing her into the fire. A vague silhouette was all that remained as Nilec struggled to recover from the loss of vitality. Carleton seized upon her paralysis and begun tearing his children out of their pots while flinging them into the fire.
“What are you doing, my love?” said Nilec. Her form faltering as even more vitality drained from her with every burning root.
“Setting my family free.”
“Stop, we could be free together.”
“I am free,” said Carleton. He had run out of her children and had one last life to take. He reached down and grabbed a can of gasoline he kept under the sink. The cool liquid running over his face and body, ensuring his death. The frail form of Nilec was withering away. He grabbed her and embraced her as the fire engulfed the house.
Bio: I was born in Rodchester, MI. I lived there until the age of 14 until my parents moved our family to FL. We bounced around a little bit during the first year but finally settled in North Port,FL. I attended North Port High School and an alumni of their Thespian Program. I joined the Army after high school and stayed in for four years. After my term, I moved back to North Port to go back to college which is where I am now. I will be graduating this semester and moving on to USF, where I will be attaining my Social Science Secondary Education Degree.