's 2019 Horror Write-off:

syrup runs red

Submitted by M.A.W (email)


Not many second graders required a full time tutor, but I did. Thankfully my mom interviewed all seven people who had applied for the job and chose the one that was the most qualified. Cheryl Yoder was a former teacher who had enjoyed her years working with students and was a child at heart, she sweetly smiled at me when we first met and spoke gently. Each day she arrived in my classroom, greeted me with a silly joke, and helped me organize my markers and papers. When I looked lonely she found a friend of mine and a kickball for us to pass the otherwise uneventful canterbury recess with. Not only was I comfortable with these changes in my school life, but my classmates were drawn to her as well. My normally torturous school days seemed to go by easier with her guiding my education and interactions. This worked so well in fact that this continued into eighth grade. In fifth grade she was given her own science room in the lower school to teach classes of her own, this took place in the basement which was full of animals and cages as well as many other scientific instruments and curiosities. At the end of eighth grade i was invited to her farm for a day. The Mrs. Yoder i met in the gravel drive was a sightly different person than a had seen at school. As we toured the farm i witnessed this curious second side to Mrs. Yoder. At school she wore her hair in a neat bun. Here at the barn an old baseball cap was put over a hastily made rust colored ponytail. Instead of the clean uniform we all had to wear at the school she wore instead a well worn pair of coveralls and a flannel,her sun baked face had obviusly seen some hard work before i i noticed this she seemed to slide in and out of view. Emulation 2. On a sunny day behind an old red fence door. The raucous chickens and hens bawked their concern as I walked through the farmyard. A large tortoiseshell cat rubbed against my legs and let out an “eyh” when I pet her and seemed to stick with me as i ventured further i saw a goat who narrowed its eyes at me as though it didnt trust me. The same could be said of a few bullfrogs who didnt hop away. They just sat there. The tortoiseshell cat who i later found out was named Piper had lad me to the front porch of the yoder’s house. Piper down in the sun for a while, when she got up, i followed her she ended up at a small pond. I wondered why she would go to a pond of all places and so close to the waters edge. I watched as she swiped the water with her paw i thought she was just batting at her reflection but i saw something silver impaled on her sharp claw, a minnow! She had skewed a minnow on her claws and began to eat soon she swiped another one and promptly bit the head off of it she turned and shot me a warning look, as if telling me to back off but i was fascinated and could not stop watching. Blood and pond water mixed and slid off the shiny tail of the minnow as it disappeared into the hungry feline’s mouth. I tried to walk away from the morbid sight but could only take a few steps. I continued to watch as the primal hunter gathered its meal,ending others lives. Emulation 3  suddenly i heard a voice saying softly “she likes to catch things” i turned around and saw mrs. Yoder watching the cat as well “come see the others” she said while leading me to a large sun spot near a gaggle of assorted cats laid or crouched i then heard a sound as piper seemingly appeared behind me. The dead fish had piled up around piper and mrs. yoder cackled with delight looking at the writhing pile her eyes drifted slowly to the trees.

They werent ordinary trees. They were different they seemed to contort their branches reaching to any living thing as though they were trying to grab it. They seemed to lean into mrs.yoder as she lifted the lifeless carcasses of the dead fish, walking among the trees, the branches were grabbing like hands at the basket in the shadows, an ominous creaking whispered through the wind. It sounded like a stomach growling. These were a woods full of special old trees they were known for producing the sweet stick red, crimson sap that the yoder’s had produced into syrup and had for generations. The syrup was like ambrosia and was out of this world. Unnatural in its flavor unlike any other syrup. The red sticky liquid pulses over the pancakes as it pours. It seems to pulse out of the jug maybe this is a trick of the eye. This famous syrup is only found at this special farm the sap patch.

Mrs. yoder seemed to disappear in the thick brush.   I lost sight of her and panicked as the trees grabbed around me. When i fianlly caught up with her, Mrs Yoder’s basket of fish was empty.  She carried in her other hand a bucket of unrefined crimson sap that needed to be boiled. It seemed to glow in the bucket even though it was dim in the woods.  We walked to where the sap was boiled into delicious syrup. It was a small cabin which housed the main boiler. A large, metal tub with a small fire under it. The steam and smoke went out of a chimney pipe to the outside.  A thermometer bobbed up and down in the fast congealing sap. It was getting to a boil and starting to redden. Steam was wafting off. The sweet smell was absolute heaven. She dumped the contents of the bucket into the boiler and the sweet smell strengthened.  This should take a while”, mrs. Yoder said. So we walked out into the woods. The trees seemed to get more and more mangled and reached further and further towards us both, their gnarled “arms” reaching for our throats as we walked by. Almost as if they were pleading with us for something, almost as if they were hungry. Hungry for more of what Mrs. Yoder gave them earlier. They looked as if with each passing tree they were getting madder and more desperate for food. The trees suddenly stopped encroaching on us when we reached a clearing. They seemed to back off as if the clearing was some place where they weren’t supposed to go. A frog chirping as it hopped away seemed to halt my train of thought, it was a leopard frog which caught my eye as it jumped away. There was other, more friendly life here. In the clearing I caught sight of piper and figured she had followed us, just as i turned my head, she had vanished and so had Mrs. yoder, so i walked alone through the foreboding forest of gnarled trees as their branches seemed to scraped my arms and face. I came upon some trees that were more “tame” as they seemed to be subdued by the sap tapping spigots that were draining them of their sap, buckets hung off of some of the spigots with coagulated sap caked around both the bucket and the spigot. The trees seemed to beckon for mercy as I walked past, they seemed to be begging for something unobtainable. Just as I passed the row of drained trees I ended up right where began walking, the boiling room. I entered and found Mrs.Yoder there as if she had never left “come turn the gas down” and showed me where the propane controls and pilot light for the boiler was, so i went turned the valve, it creaked and screamed as I turned it. The red sweet liquid became more viscous and thick as the flames died down beneath it. I had a distinct sense of unease as the syrup was poured into a series of small bottles which were then put into a sort of bottle holder. I lugged the largest of the bottles back to main porch area. Where Mrs.yoder explained maple sugar making to me and brought out a table and a small array of boiling instruments some of which were from the science room, others were antique and made of tin or pewter, a small alcohol lamp was placed under the main syrup container. The lamp was lit and the syrup was poured into a series into a series of containers, some of which were glass until it came to a stop at a small plate where it condensed into a hard candy which was ground up into maple sugar of a strange color and delicious taste. It tasted heavenly in anything you put it into, almost addictively so. I was curious about its strange hue though, i questioned Mrs. Yoder to which she hurriedly answered “its red maple a, special subspecies that had been in my family for generations.”. I wasn’t sure if i had heard of red maple having red syrup, but i could have forgot, I mean that is a Matthew thing to do. Mrs. Yoder was explaining to me that one of the trees was going to be cut down because it was dying and it would pollute the soil around it if it died there, and asked me if i minded coming back and cutting it down, i said it would be fine. We then went back to talking about how the trees ended up in her family, she told me that the oldest Yoder relative had found a strange living seed and planted it, but it required fertilizer but they only had organic compost, meaning anything dead or rotting, so he used the compost and the first tree grew into the largest tree on the entire property and all of its seeds are the trees i see before me today, she told me that the secret of the success of these trees was that they needed organic matter. I knew that some plants needed organic matter, like flytraps and pitcher plants but those were carnivorous and actively trapped prey, these were red maples they were trees they photosynthesized. They could draw nutrients from whatever was buried near it almost like a fungus. Mrs.Yoder could tell that i was thinking about how this “secret” worked and told me it just did and not to think about it too much. That it was just a thing that worked and that if it works don’t question it this didn’t seem like something Mrs.Yoder would say normally, she always questioned everything, she was a science teacher and that’s what they do. Questions started popping up in my head. I looked at a trees that seemed to whisper “shhh” to me and a cat brushed past my legs signaling for silence as well. I looked around and things seemed to return to the state they were back when i first arrived, piper catching minnows, frogs staring at me, the goat slightly judging me for something. Things seemed “normal” all of a sudden, or as normal as things could be at this place. The cats seemed to look at me and my mom when she arrived and i was happy for her when she went aww to the cats and the goat which seemed change their attitude towards my mom. We left and scheduled a time for me to come back to remove one of the drained dying trees . i had a relatively normal week afterwards, until i went back to the Yoder house to remove the tree. I gathered my tools and went back through the brush and bramble which seemed to be even more closely packed as if they knew what i was going to do and they had to stop me from advancing  to the clearing. The path seemed lengthen and wind to try to deter me from removing the tree. I saw more woodland creatures then before, frogs, a large spider on a tree, a little fox, something in the corner of my eye which i couldnt identify. The brambles suddenly became more sharp and scraped me even more, sometimes drawing blood, i took my brush clearing tool and slashed through the brush with ease which seemed to cause the whole forest to shake and move around, making all sorts of noises and creaking around with almost a human voice moaning to “GO AWAaaay” this forest seemed to have some sort of disdain for me and wanted me as far away as possible. I reached the lines of trees and the boiler room which meant i was getting closer to the tree i was supposed to remove. The forest was losing interest in fighting or confusing me with twists and turns, as the path seemed to straight out and the thorns and sharp branches seemed back away as if they were scared of me or just had respect for my sense of direction in a large wooded area. I finally reached the tree which seemed to sigh and prepared the starting hatchet to make a divet where i could begin to cut with a bigger axe. I began cutting and made a sizeable dent when began to realize this tree had an odd texture on the inside, it was made of...meat, it had a spine and that sap was quite possibly blood. I shuddered and began to realize why they were being fed compost. They. Were. Alive. Alive and bleeding dry, the one i cut down was bleeding out, the “sap” was forming puddles of crimson on the ground, I braced myself as I had a job to do, so I took my Stihl mini boss chainsaw and hacked into the remaining limbs of the tree. It cut through the soft bark and into the “meat” of the tree like butter, the steam coming off the saw bar smelled heavenly it was enough for me to turn off the saw and just smell the sweet nectar pouring and pulsing out of the tree, until I came to my senses and pulled the starter cord and the saw growled to life, almost craving more tree to satiate its whirling teeth. I got back to work only pausing to pour water on the blade to cool the metal and wash the crimson sap and pinkish wood pulp off the jagged metal teeth, as I kept working i heard the other trees letting out a mourning creak as if telling me to stop, I did not heed their warning and kept carving, I took a long break to rest my arms and ears from the roaring motor. The scene in front of me was something to behold, piles of pinkish “wood” pulp all congealing and leaking crimson sap, trees splattered with sap flung from my wood working tools. I hung the pieces of sap dripping wood up to drip into a bucket, “it’s best not to waste any bit of these trees” echoed in my mind, I had never heard this phrase before and it seemed to appear and disappear in an instant, I watched the sap drip into the bucket, some drops were crystalizing into little red candies which i popped into my mouth, they were delicious. I stacked the wood into a bundle and watched the pieces stop dripping sap, it seemed to turn grey over the course of the few hours I spent stripping bark and shaving “wood” into kindling and making a cookfire for my reward of genuine Yoder pancakes with their famously delicious crimson syrup, i didn’t even care where it came from anymore, I wanted some more than anything at the time.