's 2019 Horror Write-off:

Behind / They Fold

Submitted by Benevolentwanderer

It was sometime in January, the year after I returned home to my childhood house with a Bachelor's degree and no direction. The weather had been neither particularly pleasant nor particularly dreadful, blending together under the indistinct clouds to a diffuse, bright grey, and I had been feeling cooped up in the wake of weeks of nothing but travel and people and ruckus, so, as I had been in the habit of doing since I was quite young, I slithered into comfortable, well-worn clothes and went to avail myself of the public path system.

Preserving the illusion of a natural wilderness, the paths followed the wooded tracts between streets just such that none of the houses would be visible from them, hidden behind once carefully-sculpted humps in some farmer's field and left to go wild. The two domains wove together fractally, reaching starfish-arms out into the curves of the other, an illusion of wilderness maintained only through exquisite cultivation. As a child, I had been easily fooled. It had seemed a deep and mystical wildland, untouched by man - for all that, with the leaves off the trees, a keen eye could easily catch snatches of daisy yellow siding from the path, if it knew where to look.

Despite an all-encompassing cloud cover, the day was pleasantly bright. I followed a route so familiar I could trust my feet to track it without supervision, leaving me to contently mull over whatever I so desired without so much as thinking over my surroundings. That day, I'd amused myself by considering the ages of the trees, the rough textures of their bark washed silver under the January sun - the Earth is actually closer to it then, you know - and how, as I walked along my track, the trees seemed to shift over top of each other like cutouts in a storybook, parallel stripes of tree/not-tree in all their varied widths, fading away into snatches of leaf-littered hillside somewhere far behind.

And then I saw something. Not parallel. And moving, ever so slightly, the wrong way.

I might have dismissed it as a fallen tree, if not for the slight movement. Like a diagonal trunk, silver and wrinkled like bark, but - for a heartbeat, instead of falling away behind my walking pace, it twitched forward. I froze.

I traced my eyes over the snatches of it that I could see between the trees, interpolated a form. Spotted another diagonal trunk that seemed to meet the first one, and then - a little further, a twin to that assembly. Almost like a massive arm, but backwards. Frantic, I scanned. How big was it? Did its back brush the cool bellies of the clouds? I couldn't quite catch sight through the trees, caught in place with fear as I was.

Before I could make any more sense of it, the thing shifted again, and my gaze locked in place. A single eye, improbably huge and amber, staring back at me. Not impartially. But... beyond me, in some way. Not just bigger than me, but greater than me. I was beheld. It held. One second, two seconds, three seconds. Then, with an elderly creak, a motion of limbs drawing back, and -

If I hadn't seen, I would never have realized it was anything other than one more tree.

For all that I've scanned those same forests month after month and season after season I have never seen such a thing again. But I do wonder... How many have I walked past over the years, hidden behind plain sights?