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Dark Tales from Gent's Pens

88_ym_thetreehouse_hlyon.jpg
Art by Hillary Lyon 2021

The Treehouse

Andrew Davie

                                               


         
I should have been here for the funeral,” Jasper said. 

          It came out like a whisper like he was in confessional looking for absolution, but the sound echoed throughout the clearing, nonetheless. Jasper stopped, shut his eyes, and took a deep breath. They were almost to Ichabog.” He could wait until they were settled before broaching the subject again.

          Ichabog” was the name Ray finally settled on for the deer stand. He had originally wanted to call it The Suck,” Marine slang for bad conditions since the place got flooded frequently but went with something a little different in the end.

Jasper continued until he emerged from the path and into the clearing. 

          He enjoyed hunting, but he wouldnt have labeled himself a hunter; not like Ray. If they didnt get something by the end of the day, it would bother Ray. Jasper was just happy to crack a few beers and call it a win regardless. 

          Jasper took in the surroundings. The water had risen a few inches, but the giant willow tree was still there a few feet from the waters edge. Something behind the tree glinted in the sunlight. Unsure of what it was, Jasper took a couple of steps forward. It was a shovel buried in a fresh mound of dirt next to a hold. The thoughts didnt process, and confusion spread over Jaspers face. 

          Ray?” Jasper said and turned around. 

          Ray stood in the clearing twenty feet away with his rifle aimed directly at Jasper. 


                                                         
***

          Ray saw the bewildered look on Jaspers face. Jasper still hadnt gotten it. Ray wanted to put the rest of his plan into action, but somehow seeing the confusion in Jaspers face prevented him from doing so. He needed Jasper to understand. So, Ray would wait to pull the trigger until Jaspers eyes widened, and his mouth contorted, as it finally dawned on him.

          Everything had been planned meticulously; digging the hole, showing Jasper all of the things in his past, leaving out the hospital bills, and making sure Sarahs photo had been in plain view. Ray knew that if he put any more pressure on the trigger, the firing pin would ignite, and the bullet would leave the muzzle. It would hit Jasper in the stomach. The projectile might not kill him, but it would send him to the ground in a flood of pain.

          Jasper still looked puzzled, but by now, rage had threatened to overtake Ray. The muscles in Rays finger tightened by a fraction; almost at the breaking point. Thats when it finally happened. Jaspers face changed, but he was no longer looking at Ray. He stared over Rays shoulder toward the water. Jaspers face had gone white. Ray heard water splash behind him, and he turned his head. 

          An alligator was heading directly toward them. 

          Ray knew how fast they were in the water, but they were deceptively quick on land. They were territorial. However, this one kept moving. Both men took off for the tree. Jasper struggled, but made it up to one of the middle branches. Ray had tried to sling his rifle over his shoulder, but the strap got tangled, and he had to ditch it. He had an easier time climbing, and soon the alligator was too far away to strike. 

          Instead, once the animal had reached the base of the tree, it did a slow revolution before it walked back to the waters edge and slid effortlessly back into the murky depths.

 

                                                          ***

          Ray grabbed a cup from the cabinet, some green tea, and poured the water. He placed the cup on a tray along with some apple sauce and headed toward the stairs. Sarah had been home from the hospital for about a week, and Ray had waited on her night and day. He didnt mind. It was just nice to have her back, even if it pained him to see her this way.

          It had become too difficult for her to speak over the last few days. Jasper reached over and took her hand and held it gently in his own. He could feel the bones in her fingers trying to squeeze his. He placed his other hand under the pillow beneath her head and helped her to sit up. She sipped the tea, and he spooned some apple sauce into her mouth. Afterward, he picked up the book on the nightstand and began reading from where hed left off the previous day. When he saw her eyes begin to drift again, he closed the book without making a sound and exited the room. 

          Initially, the doctor told him that her prognosis looked hopeful, but things got worse exponentially. The only thing left to do was to make her as comfortable as possible. Ray placed the dishes in the sink. He watched the sunset for a moment out the kitchen window, grabbed a beer, and took a long pull of it. Then he cried. Not a lot; he didnt have much left, but some days he just got overwhelmed.

          He went back upstairs in another half an hour, administered her pills, and changed her bedpan. Finally, he tucked her in for the evening. When he was almost at the doorway, he heard her speak. Her voice was weak and strained. 

          Jasper.”

 

                                                          ***

          Do you want to play with those odds?” Ray asked without a hint of irony in his voice. 

          That bad?” Jasper asked. He hadnt thought his plan of making a run for it was far-fetched, but Rays response had given him doubts. The alligator had returned and was sunning itself in between the tree and the water. It was smaller than it first appeared to be, but it was still sizable at about five and a half to six feet. 

          This one’s aggressive. Alligators are territorial by nature. They mark off a spot and thats it. Theyll defend it to the death, but once youre out of their territory they leave you alone. They dont migrate unless theyre finding a separate place to die.”

          Jaspers eyes lit up with a faint glint of hope. 

          Even if that were true,” Ray continued, It might take days.” 

          Shit,” Jasper said. 

          This one is different,” Ray added. The respectful tone had caught Jasper off guard. 

          So, what do we do?” Jasper said. 

          Go for the rifle,” Ray said and shifted his position which revealed the handle of a knife on an ankle holster. 

          What about that?” Jasper said and pointed to the blade. 

          Do you want to try to stab an alligator?”

Jasper didnt say anything. 

          What do we do now?” Jasper said finally. 

          Im thinking,” Ray said. 

Jasper let his eyes drift back from the alligator. 

          Why?” Jasper said and jutted his chin toward the hole and shovel. 

          You should have been here before the funeral,” Ray said. 

          I already told you—” Jasper began to say. 

          What?” Ray said produced something from his pocket and threw it at Jasper. He caught it; a piece of balled up paper. He unfolded it. A photograph; worn and yellowed, but Jasper had remembered the day it was taken. Jasper was maybe ten, standing in the backyard with his twin younger siblings whod just joined them. 

          What could be more important than family?” Ray added. 

          Adopted family,” Jasper said. 

 

                                                          ***

          Ray couldn’t take it anymore.

          Even though she hadn’t seen him in over a year, forget about the fact she’d been sick, Sarah’s last words had been Jasper’s name. Ray was already up with the knife in his hand. Whether Jasper understood or not was irrelevant. Ray negotiated all of the branches like hed been living in the treetops his whole life. The knife disappeared between Jaspers ribs, and Jasper let out a groan as the wind had been knocked out of him. Ray held his brother for another moment and watched the light leave his eyes. Even though Jasper had been their only natural child, their parents had loved all of them. Before Ray could reflect on what had transpired, how things had soured, he glanced down at the alligator and let the body fall. 

          Here you go,” he said. 

          Ray could always return and fill the hole another time. 

Andrew Davie has worked in theater, finance, and education. He taught English in Macau on a Fulbright Grant and has survived a ruptured brain aneurysm and subarachnoid hemorrhage. He has published short stories at various places, crime fiction novellas with All Due Respect, Close to the Bone, Alien Buddha Press, and a memoir. His other work can be found in links on his website https://andrew-davie.com/


Hillary Lyon is an illustrator for horror/sci-fi and pulp fiction websites and magazines. She is also founder and senior editor for the independent poetry publisher, Subsynchronous Press. An SFPA Rhysling Award nominated poet, her poems have appeared in journals such as Eternal Haunted Summer, Jellyfish Whispers, Scfifaikuest, Illya’s Honey, and Red River Review, as well as numerous anthologies. Her short stories have appeared recently in Night to Dawn, Yellow Mama, Black Petals, Sirens Call, and Tales from the Moonlit Path, among others, as well as in numerous horror anthologies such as Night in New Orleans: Bizarre Beats from the Big EasyThuggish Itch: Viva Las Vegas, and White Noise & Ouija Boards. She appeared, briefly, as the uncredited "all-American Mom with baby" in Purple Cactus Media’s 2007 Arizona indie-film, "Vote for Zombie." Having lived in France, Brazil, Canada, and several states in the US, she now resides in southern Arizona.  https://hillarylyon.wordpress.com/

In Association with Black Petals & Fossil Publications 2021