By Jake Kale
My journey has reached its conclusion. I stand at the end of the gravel pathway, deep within the dark grove at the heart of the old golf course, the derelict barn behind me, the stinking, putrid pond visible through the bushes ahead and to my right, my gaze raised and centered on the tall oak tree that still stands in front of me.
There is no sign of the treehouse.
* * *
My recall of what happened after I ran from the Fields is disjointed and hazy. I know I made it to Abbeyville, and I sat crying in the road until a kindly old woman stopped to ask what was wrong. She couldn’t get any sense out of me—hardly surprising, really—and the police were called. If I remember rightly they had to identify me by checking with the local schools because I’d left my schoolbooks at home and had nothing on me with my name on it. I was delivered back into the arms of my frantic mother later that afternoon.
The police immediately began a full-scale search for my missing friends, centering on the Fields but extending all the way up to Sunset Hill. Unfortunately I was of no use whatsoever. I’d been so badly scared I couldn’t talk, and I didn’t speak a word until almost a month later. Even then I couldn’t bring myself to tell the patient WPC what I’d seen, what had really happened to my friends—I thought they’d lock me away in the nuthouse. The police continued their investigation as best they could, and a suspect was even questioned, a drunk who frequently dossed in the Fields and who was suspected of being a flasher. But the police had little evidence to begin with, and nothing that pointed directly to him. Just days after being released the drunk turned up dead, his brutalized liver having finally given out on him. With his death the investigation stalled, and was quietly wound down.
No trace of Henry Eallis, Ricky Northcott or Ian Farmer was ever found.
I never went back to Kenlis Middle School, and within weeks my Mum had finagled the exchange with the family in Arrowhead. How she managed it given the circumstances I don’t know. Her bosses at Rosewoods Supermarket were very understanding. They owned several other supermarkets in Cranford and found a place for Mum at the one in the town centre. I know she was sad to leave Kingsland as my grandparents lived just round the corner from us, which had come in very handy when I was at lower school, but she knew I’d never feel safe there so off we went.
At Arrowhead we struggled to rebuild our lives. Mum acclimatised herself to the daily drive into town, while I started receiving counselling. My recovery was arduous, but one side effect of the trauma I’d experienced was that for a while I didn’t eat, so I began to lose weight. I started at Arrowhead Middle School the following year, and school life was not easy by any stretch, especially when my fellow students found out who I was. At one stage things got so bad we considered leaving Cranford altogether, but luckily I made some new friends and slowly my life improved. I bucked my ideas up and concentrated on my schoolwork, concentrated on beating my weight problem and started building a life for myself, and as the years slipped away I tried to forget about Kingsland, I tried to forget about what happened, and I tried to forget that I’d ever known Henry Eallis, Ricky Northcott and Ian Farmer.
For the better part of the last sixteen years, I was successful.
The trigger that brought it all back and prompted my return to the Fields occurred a little over a month ago. I got in from work to find my girlfriend waiting for in what can only be described as a state of cautious and barely contained jubilation. Before I got the chance to open my mouth she broke down, and amidst the teary babbling I just made out the word, “pregnant.” I’ll tell you in full candour that that was the single happiest moment of my entire damn life! The weeks since then have been a blur. The baby is due February next year, and we’re getting married next Saturday. I would have preferred to wait and actually plan everything properly, and I even suggested a Christmas wedding, but Charlie wants to do it before her bump begins to show.
The other night we were discussing baby names, and Charlie suggested “Henry” for a boy and “Ellie” if it’s a girl. She knows about my past—or at least she knows what I’ve told her—and she knew that the anniversary was coming up. She thought that’s what I’d want, but just hearing our future child mentioned in the same breath as my old friend, and the hint of a connection between them made me extremely uneasy. So I declined Charlie’s suggestion, but I didn’t tell her why. I didn’t tell her because I’ve never told anyone, and I never will. And I certainly don’t want my child to ever know about the evil lurking within the Kingsland Fields. But in order to be certain of that I knew I had to confront it.
That’s why I’ve come here today, on the sixteenth anniversary of my friends’ deaths, to lay the past to rest for good. But I can’t do that because there’s nothing here. The treehouse is gone, it’s as if it was never here, and now I can’t be sure that it ever was. So I’m left to wonder about those last few moments between the deaths of my friends and my terror-stricken run to Abbeyville, when I realized there was no way I could outrun the thing from the treehouse, so I stopped and dove into the bushes near the barn, the very bushes I’m staring at right now, and waited.
And saw movement coming from inside the shadowy doorway, and a figure emerge and start to climb down the rope ladder to the base of the tree and stand right were I’d been just a few seconds before. And I watched as the figure started walking away from the tree and towards my hiding place, and I sat rigid, my mouth tightly closed, only my eyes moving as they followed what looked like a large man in a grubby brown shirt moving up the path and stopping just a few feet from the bushes where I waited to die. He was looking away from me so I couldn’t see his face, just a patchy covering of coarse black hair on the back of his head, and I realized he hadn’t seen me. I waited a little longer and the figure moved away, vanishing around the other side of the barn, and once I was satisfied he was gone I began my senseless, terrified run through the Fields to Abbeyville, certain that he, no, it would spot me, the muscles in my arms and legs pushed to breaking point, my lungs heaving loudly, but not loudly enough to drown out the still fresh memory of the screams of my friends, and the throaty clicking sound I heard when those four glistening black mandibles opened, their hooked ends poking out from the side of that monstrous thing’s head.
The Treehouse by Jake Kale is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.