Dendrophobia

Sis cradled the receiver of the phone between her left shoulder and her cheek. Michael was droning on at the other end, chattering reassurances and it’ll-be-alrights and so on, but Sis could do nothing to stop the anxiety. Her thumb was starting to bleed from lack of fingernail and abundance of biting.

“Sissy, remember: they’re all cut down. Ain’t nothin’ there gonna hurt you. It’s a new house, is all. You don’t know its sounds yet.”

“It just-It just seems like ever’ time I turn around I hear ’em creaking in the wind.”

“I need to send Beaux over?”

“No!” She winced at her own emphasis in the quiet of the kitchen. “No. I’ll be alright.” She was lying, but having to put up with Beaux didn’t make the outlook for the evening any better. Anything out there in the dark was preferable to dealing with Beaux. “You’re right, I’m being silly. I’m sorry to’ve bothered y’all so late.”

“You know I don’t mind at all, Sis. You just call me up if you’re needin’ me again, a’ight?”

“Yeah, Mikey. I’ll do that. Love you, bye.” She hung the receiver back on its wall mount and winced when the wrinkled tip of her thumb brushed against the beige plastic. “Goddamn, I gotta stop doing that.”

She walked to the small kitchen sink and turned on the cold tap. There was a groaning in the floorboards and then a stream of rusty water belched from the faucet. When it ran clear she stuck her bleeding thumb into the stream and stared out into the darkness that lay beyond the kitchen window. Even if it hadn’t been a new moon out, Sis reflected it’d be just as dark what with all the cloud cover.

This was the worst time of year for her, when the autumn storms came rolling in from east. The temperature and humidity changed so fast she was always liable to get a head cold or ear infection. When her thumb had gone numb from the cold she turned off the tap and dried her hand with the red-checkered dishtowel. It stank of mildew, but the washer wasn’t hooked up yet, and she hadn’t been to the store to pick up any paper towels.

The sight of a limb, long and gnarled, stopped her breathing. Its twisted brown fingers stroked the windowpane. It looked like a gentle caress, backhanded and slow, squeaking down the fly-spotted glass. Sis was transfixed. Her eyes grew wider as more and more weathered digits began to scratch at the glass. The bile rose in her throat.

The shattering of the big bay window in the living room helped her to find her feet. Arms flung around her head she ran toward the cellar door. The old wood had swollen from the damp and was stuck. Panic granted the strength to send it slamming open. It was just enough to get the fattened wood to grind closed again as well.

Sis was down the darkened stairway in three bounds and a short fall that ended with her face down in the dirt with a twisted ankle. She scrabbled across the floor and wrenched herself upright against the wall. Her breath was coming in ragged gasps as she limped into the only lit corner and huddled next to the useless washer and dryer.

Upstairs was all shattering glass and overturning furniture. Moans that sounded like injured and angry wind dragged across the floor overhead. At the top of the stairs the door was shuddering from frenzied blows. Sis could only cover her head with her hands and weep. She tried screaming when the door finally splintered and burst open, but only managed a sort of choked sob. They came in twos and threes down the steps, slithering and dry as old bone.

They snaked into the light, papery and knotted, flailing in their search for her. A growing stain spread out on the dirt floor beneath her, steaming in the cold. She rocked back and forth, eyes frozen open, muttering around her bloody thumb.

“Just a branch on the window. Just the wind in the trees. Branch on the window. Wind in the trees.”

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