The Cherry Tree - Chap 2
I woke up on my side, leaning uncomfortably against the spindly branches of the cherry tree. A hand went to my head and I groaned. At this point I had already eaten several cherries, possibly into the double digits. Still, nothing looked like home. It seemed with almost every shift the atmosphere grew less normal. In one the air had been poisonous, I had hardly had the chance to eat the fruit before choking. In another, the ground had been replaced with a strange, shifting sand. It only took a couple minutes to realize massive bodies were moving under the ground, reshaping the sand constantly. In a different one, the trees lifted from the ground as soon as I was there, as if disturbed by my presence, flittering off in a kind of swarm.
More vividly, I recalled the places I had a chance to stay longer. This had gone on for hours now, my stomach growled and my muscles ached. I would take any chance I had to eat or rest. After consuming the flesh of another cherry I found myself not in the forest, but rather, the rolling hills of a plain. Long, wispy grass brushed across my legs in waves with the wind. I was surrounded by a herd of some kind of animal too. The animals came up to my waist, and had silky, hanging fur, white as snow. They reminded me of sheep, but as soon as one turned lazily to face me, I knew this was not an animal that existed in my dimension. A voice caught my attention from the hill above, an indistinguishable figure waving its arms and shouting in my direction. It looked like a shepherd, and was ostensibly announcing I was not welcome in their fields.
Another dimension appeared like a miraculous garden. The cherry tree, for once, was not alone, surrounded by brilliant spiraling vines and eye-catching blossoms. The arrangements of flora spiralling outwards from my position made me wonder if the area was actively maintained and tended to. Surely someone or something had to upkeep such a colorful and breathtaking landscape. The thought weighed on my mind, but was not binding as I took in the sprawling waves of visual entanglement. Whatever was responsible for this place was not present now, and hopefully wouldn’t mind my exploring. After all, places like this were meant to be seen, and surely something around would bear an edible fruit or growth otherwise.
I knew that eating strange fruit had gotten me here in the first place, no irony was lost there, but the groan of my stomach pushed the will for caution from my mind. I gazed around myself at the countless leaves and petals, sighing comfortably. Everything was something to stare at, to a degree of being distracting. Several times I came to senses, realizing I had been standing with my eyes pinned to a flower for what must have been minutes. As I circled back, the phenomenon happened more, my willpower to turn away diminishing with every gorgeous bloom I saw. In the end, I awoke with a start, realizing I was shivering. I had been staring at an orange flower resembling a lily for possibly hours, and the sky had grown dark overhead. I made my way back to the cherry tree in a rush, afraid of not coming to the next time a flower caught my eye.
One dimension I had explored was immediately set apart from the rest, appearing around me as an expansive, futuristic cityscape. The cherry tree was alone once more, surrounded by glass and signs in a language I couldn’t decipher. The characters of the words were unlike anything I had ever seen, connecting with one another and often forming spirals or circles of varying sizes. I was inside of a building that reminded me of a museum, a few other artifacts encased securely in glass rising from the floor or hanging from the ceiling. Much of the outer walls were glass as well, allowing me to see outside and take in the curving, gleaming towers of shining metal and various architecturally-daring glass partitions.
I was worried initially about the protective glass around the tree itself, but figured that maybe this was a chance to find some help, or at least something to eat. Looking outside I hadn’t seen any people, or other lifeforms, but I had seen some kind of glossy gondola cars running along the underside of rails around the city. Looking around my current floor in the museum, I couldn’t seem to find anyone else around. It was oddly quiet, and the sound of my footsteps reverberated around the spacious halls for anything around to hear clearly. The floor was much larger than I would have first guessed, and I must have wandered for a couple hours before finally finding something. I was taking care to explore around each corner and down every hallway, but what I found saw me before I saw it.
I was halfway down a fairly short hallway when I heard a faint buzzing sound. At the same time, the lights shut off and changed to dimmer, green coloration. If I had to guess the museum had closed. Next I heard some kind of announcement. The voice in the microphone sounded automated, but I couldn’t have guessed what it was saying. I began walking back to the cherry tree, feeling I had overstayed my welcome. As I left the hallway and entered back into a larger exhibition room, I heard the voice in the speakers again. It repeated whatever it had said the first time, but ended its message with a different sound. Maybe it was talking about different sections of the museum closing. I picked up the pace, jogging into another hallway before hearing the voice on the speaker again. The same robotic message, ending in a different sound.
It was becoming clearer now the announcement was made only after I had moved to somewhere different. Was it addressing me? I thought I heard a faint whirring sound and changed my jog to a run. Running through two different rooms I could hear whatever was making the mechanical sounds getting closer, and the announcement sounding again each time. I was being tracked, I was almost sure of it. I ran down the hall I was sure led back to the room I had started in, when suddenly a large, metallic vehicle appeared behind me. A headlight shined down the hall at me, and I could make out unfathomable mechanisms beneath the front dome of the vehicle, spinning in the darkness and sliding over the museum floor. The voice above buzzed into the microphone again and the vehicle began sliding down the hall at an alarming speed.
I screamed and ran back into the first room I remembered, relieved to find the cherry tree still encased where I had last recalled it. The voice again buzzed above me and the smooth vehicle barreled into the room, spinning and releasing smaller contraptions that zipped along the floor. One approached me in the dark, and I could just make out the glint of green as spinning blades were poised in front of the contraption. I lept to the side, stepping back from the cherry tree, and as the contraption swiveled to face me I shoved it back with everything I could muster. The spinning machine toppled backwards and crashed through the glass. I quickly stepped through the shattered frame and grasped the fruit of the tree, taking a bite before anything else could reach me.
Nothing made sense anymore, these were definitely entirely separate dimensions with only random things in common, as Keith had said. It was the only explanation for the things I had seen. And here I was, lying beneath the yellow sky to catch my breath. This one seemed fairly normal at least. In each dimension I came to, time seemed to restart at the moment I first bit the fruit, a little before the sun set on the woods of Clowerfield, Washington. I struggled to my feet, dusting myself off. I couldn’t count the times I’d nearly died, maybe Keith had been right to stay where he thought he could survive. I shook my head again. I just couldn’t accept that fate yet, there had to be a way home through all of this.
A massive shadow darkened the sky, filling me with dread. I looked up to see an aircraft, miles away at least, but approaching fast. It flew low over the forest, casting its shadow far ahead of it. I saw something under the aircraft open, just barely making out little black dots before the shockwave of several blasts shook the ground beneath me. Fire blossomed in the nest of dead trees on the horizon and I knew it was time to leave, plucking another cherry from the bush. My stomach rumbled. I did not want to eat this, but it was my only hope of eating a real meal again, even if that hope was drying up. I crossed my fingers and bit into the fruit, shuddering.
Only once had I managed to swallow the sour flesh of the fruit, but it hadn’t made a difference. This time I couldn’t get the taste out of my mouth quick enough, spitting the red goo on the ground. The ground was dark. I looked around, and then up. Everything was dark, save for the sky, a bloody shade of red. This dimension felt different somehow. I couldn’t quite make out the feeling, but it reminded me of before, the feeling in my mind. It felt again like I was close to something I wanted to find, but I still couldn’t be sure if the feeling could be trusted. I turned back to the cherry tree in the hopes of getting an answer, and instead saw something I never could have imagined.
Standing on the other side of the little, dark cherry tree was a towering, alien mass. It stood on six legs, thin near the bottom, and bloated near the top, where its joints connected inconceivably with muscle. It was merely a silhouette, but its presence was overwhelming. The trees stood stagnant in the stale air, but somehow seemed to cower away from the shape at the same time. It stood well above the treetops, Thick, clicking fins of its outer shell brushed the trees as they vibrated and chattered. Its undercarriage seemed to undulate of its own accord. Its head, I can only describe what I saw, painted in a pure black against the screaming red of the sky above. Its head was long, with flowering sections rising up on either side of its face. As the shadow bent down to feed, the bulb of its cranium split into serrated ribbons that each would joggle and wave. Even up its neck, its anatomy broke apart into tentacle-like divisions.
The sections of its mouth turned and twisted silently before closing around the cherry tree. It ripped the wiry tree from the ground without effort, snapping it up unceremoniously. A scream of protest lodged in my throat, emerging as a choked sob. I dropped to my knees on the ground. The vacuum of this dimension seemed to stifle every sound, and it was painfully quiet except for the overpowering clicking and eating sounds of the creature above.
It was my turn next, and I didn’t even notice its maw encircling my body until it was too late. I was yanked up from the ground in a painful clutch around my torso, shouting and crying silently into the dark void engulfing me. I could feel the remnants of the cherry tree in the dark, humid maw, dripping with goo not unlike the black sludge I had seen before. I felt the familiar instinct to search faintly in my mind, before my lower half was separated from the rest of me. Unstoppable, indescribable teeth and jaw muscles cleaved through my body, splitting and ripping it apart. The air froze in my chest and everything seemed to invert, my sense of reality being torn away with my limbs. I clawed at the flesh of the maw around me as it consumed, searching, feeling for something. I couldn’t think what, only grasping the half-mashed fruit of the cherry tree and bringing it to my mouth. I had found a cherry, and bit through the skin as my arms were cleaved away from my shoulders. Things began to fade again, the black sludge sloshing over my face, and I couldn’t tell if this was the feeling of death. Darkness.
I awoke on a bed surrounded by railings and machines, screens above my head, and an IV tube inserted into my arm. Tears welled in my eyes as I frantically began to look around the room, shouting for someone, anyone. Someone noticed, and in moments my family burst into the room, crowding the bed as a couple of nurses urged them not to over-excite me. My mom and dad leaned over me, crying like I was and holding my hands. I saw Alice, the real Alice, my sister, at the end of the bed looking worried. Beside her, holding her hand and reaching out to me was Julia. They weren’t crying for the same reasons I was crying, but I was just happy to see my family and my friend again.
I had to stay in the hospital for a little while after I woke up. I had apparently entered a catatonic state while out in the woods behind my house, and it was a fortune that Julia was with me to get help as soon as possible. Apparently I’d been out for nearly an entire day. My skin had begun to darken as well, which the doctors worried was a sign of not recovering. Once I was awake however, the darkness seemed to fade, draining from my skin and teeth until they were back to normal.
After that, I was on my way back to the house, riding in the backseat with my sister. She looked at me with her own special look, for things she found curious. She said I seemed different, and asked if I was alright. I felt different, after what I had seen, but I assured her I was alright. I had escaped. No more little changes unnerving me, no more horrifying creatures stalking the landscape. I couldn’t have been happier to finally arrive back home. Once inside my parents ushered me upstairs to rest, saying they “didn’t want to take any chances”. I wasn’t sure what that meant, but knew they were doing their best to care for me. They set me up in bed, leaned against a pillow with my phone and favorite books. On the way out, my mom turned on the space heater, and told me to call if I needed anything. I nodded and gave her a smile, raising my phone to text Julia. I was thinking of how to talk about what I had seen, when I noticed something, ever so slight. The room was quiet. Didn’t my space heater used to tick?