's 2019 Horror Write-off:

The Things Between the Aspens

Submitted by Centipedal

When I was a kid, my dad constantly took me hunting. Every month, we’d go out and kill some deer. He’d pat me on the back, give me a rifle, and load me up into his Ford, which would take us up into the mountains. We’d spend Saturday and Sunday up there freezing and hoping we could get one. Then, we’d go back home and he could go on ignoring me, pretending that those awful trips were enough to make him a “good dad.” 

He died last Saturday. Heart attack on the couch while watching some garbage news station. The funeral’s tomorrow, and as the only one of his kids who decided to go, I’m in charge of the eulogy. I was drawing blanks, so I decided to connect with the old asshole’s spirit by going up into the mountains one last time. Not to hunt, but to camp.

I have to admit, as much as I hate him and his trips, the mountains are beautiful. The crisp air. The chirping birds. And especially the aspens. The aspen groves make up over half the trees on a couple of these peaks, and in the fall they are absolutely gorgeous. It was winter, now, but that didn’t stop them from attaining a sort of quiet, regal splendor. Less vibrant glory, and more understated beauty. 

It was in these groves that we would camp out, and where I set my tent up now. I brought both of our old guns- not to kill anything, but just to complete the feel. I set up a foldable chair, and sat around. Looking, sometimes. Reading, others. Napping in between. But I was always relaxing. 

It was nice. Getting to chill out. To let all my worries sink away. It was like the opposite of those old trips with him. There was no pressure to tag a deer. No one was yelling at me to get my ass out of the tent. And there was certainly not the terror of thinking that a bear was going to smell the deer urine and get me. It really was nice.

I woke from one of my naps with a start. I had some odd dream where I was trapped in a labyrinth. It felt like it dragged on for days. Some of it carried over as I woke, and I found myself panicking a little bit. 

The aspens were dizzying, in an odd way. The contrast between the black and the white hurt my eyes. It was hard to distinguish between things. They all started to look the same. And, as the world bled into alternating strips of black and white, I saw them. The things.

They looked like people, but they weren’t breathing. They weren’t moving like a person would. More of a series of short, incredibly fluid movements punctuated by completely stopping. Most importantly, they continuously flickered between black and white. Like a light turning on and off a thousand times a second. My eyes began to hurt. 

They darted between the trees, vanishing into the stripes of black and white. There were at least ten of them, popping out of each tree like it was creating them. They weren’t, though. Not in the strips or behind them, but rather… unmade by them. Like they were shunted out of reality every time they touched one of the strips, only to be pulled back in at another. They weren’t consecutive, either. It was like the door gag from those old cartoons- they’d enter one and come out somewhere that should not have led there. Over and over and over again. 

I blinked a few times, and they were gone. And then, after a few more blinks, they were back. And then gone. And then back. I decided I wasn’t in a right state of mind and packed up my gear, with the things flitting in the corners of my eyes. I loaded everything into my car and drove out of the campsite. 

I passed by a black and white roadsign on the highway down. They danced between the numbers and the background like mad elves. The aspens, too. I saw one try to run from the woods into the highway, and I reflexively slammed on my brakes. It disappeared the moment it left the contrasting trees.

I endured several episodes like that as I made my way back to town. Upon making it home, I immediately went to bed. They were in my dreams, too, prancing with glee. When I woke up, I decided not to go to the doctor. Not the day before the funeral. Instead, I closed my eyes and walked around the house blind. They were still there, in the spots that appeared in the darkness. Not in as great detail as before, they were just silhouettes, but they were there. 

I slept fitfully and violently, seeing the shades of them in the pitch-black of the night and the blinding light of the morning. And then I managed to stagger my way to the car, which swerved over to the church, and then staggered through the doors. I managed to sit through the opening statements, and then walked up to the pew.

His body was lying there. He looked better than he did in life, to be honest. All the stress had been taken from his face. The anger lines, the wrinkles caused by years of drinking alcohol. All of it was gone. He was dressed better than I’d ever seen him, too. In a pinstriped suit. Black and white.

Black and white that fully emphasized them. Let me see all their nooks and crannies. The horrible, awful not-eyes that looked my way. One of them saw me. It noticed me. It and I locked eyes. 

I quickly looked away, out to the crowd. Then, I looked down at my paper, where my eulogy had been typed. It was hard to read it. The black words on the white paper made for a striking contrast, really. One that they danced between in their mad, stilted ballet. Quickly getting closer to me.

I hadn’t even gotten a word out when the hand reached out from the paper and wrapped itself around my head.