This is my third attempt to write to you. Not that I’m expecting a reply or for you to receive this, but I read somewhere that setting things out on paper can help create closure so; here I am. It’s funny really, I went years without thinking about what happened, but then business brought me up to London and the new sat-nav took me right through our old haunts.
I got a call from one of my associates; something had come up and they had put the meeting on hold. It was the height of summer and I was tired, sweaty and more than a little emotionally compromised. I was in no fit state to endure two hours of following the sat-nav’s insane directions back to Bristol.
I booked into a hotel in the village over from where we grew up and spent the rest of the day wandering familiar streets. Do you remember that old quarry behind the hedge? The first time we went there we must have been about nine. We spent forever wandering the village trying to find somewhere suitable to be our (as you put it) ‘special secret hideaway’. It was then that we ran into the cat.
He looked at us with those emerald eyes that almost seemed to glow in the shadows cast by the quarries steep walls. He turned away from us and made his way through the foliage turning his head to mew at us softly. You gave me that evil face-splitting grin that always went with one of your ideas. You motioned for me to follow and set off after the cat’s retreating back and, not wanting to be left alone, I followed you.
Sometimes I wonder what would’ve happened if I had stopped you from following The cat and talked you into returning to the village with me, but I know that I couldn’t have talked you into coming back with me if I had gone back. So we followed the cat, through the overgrown forest, me lagging slightly behind as I got caught in the tangled brambles and, eventually, we reached the house.
We were drunk on adventure and newfound freedom as we cautiously approached the house, you leading the way of course, as we climbed the steps up to the cottage. I swore that I saw a shadow dart out from behind the trees but, when I looked back, there was nothing but sunlight and trees. The main challenge, of course, was getting into the cottage as the door, despite having rotted enough to have fallen off of its hinges, it was still made of heavy oak and more than a challenge for two nine-year-olds to move, but we were eventually able to maneuver it out of the doorframe.
I remember how unsettling the cottage was, not in any way that was obvious at a glance. Ways like how none of the walls seemed to line up properly or the strange little shrine in the corner of one room that was decorated with writhing tentacles, I was too nervous to investigate and I don’t think that you even noticed it.
At the other end of the hallway opposite to the door, we saw a silhouette. It was human shaped but the joints in its body seemed to be in the wrong places and it moved in a jerky unnatural way. You didn’t notice it until you heard me yelp as you were examining one of the strange paintings on the wall, it vaguely resembled the form of a woman but everything about the picture sent it careening headfirst into the uncanny valley. It lumbered towards us one of its hands, long fingers with too many joints outstretched towards us we ran in a blind panic.
We burst out into the warm summer sunlight I remember doubling over and panting while you sat back on a mossy bank. When you have recovered your breath you gestured for me to follow you back into the house, at first I just wanted to go back home and never returned to the quarry but somehow you talked me round into following you back to the house (you always did know what to say to bring me round to your point of view). So we went back I trailed slightly behind, though I doubt that you would have noticed.
The second time we entered the house it was different not in any way that was immediately noticeable but subtle things like the angels of the corners of the rooms having shifted or the fact that the floor now gently undulated more like something living, and maybe this is just my mind playing tricks on me but the grain of the wood was a dark brownish red, almost the colour of old blood and was patterned more like muscle and sinew than pine. But we continued through the house, the dim light warping our shadows as they followed us deeper.
We wandered the house for far longer than the apparent size of its exterior would have suggested was possible. the rooms were strange and warped filled with items completely alien to us and our admittedly limited understanding of human culture at the time, though having done some light digging in the two decades since would suggest to me that there are no known human cultures living or extinct that could have possibly created these artefacts.
I believe that the strangest room was the room with the heart tree. The ceiling of this room was broken in allowing spire light to spill in, however, there floors and ceilings of the two rooms above which was unusual since from the outside I could have sworn the shack was only a single story high though I never passed comment on it and you didn’t seem to notice.
The floorboards gave way to soil covered in a light smattering of woodland flowers and grass. You seemed fascinated by this room and murmured under your breath something about how beautiful it was. I won’t deny that it was beautiful but in a dangerous and otherworldly way like many predatory animals are considered beautiful.
And at the centre of this surreal little meadow in the middle of an old abandoned house was the heart tree it was about two stories tall its leaves reaching up into the room above with a wide crown of branches all a deep claret red colour and dripping with something that from a distance could have been mistaken for amber. I stepped forward my curiosity allows me to forget my cautiousness and reached out for the tree placing. It was strangely warm to my touch and far softer having the same texture as flesh than the of wood I pulled my hand away in revulsion and felt as it came away tacky, my palm covered with a dark red smear. curiously I sniffed my palm and smelled the unmistakable metallic smell of blood.
as we wandered back to the village the shadows got longer and the light faded from a clear crisp summer blue to the rich golden of dusk
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