Matilda’s Secret. Short Story.

College is done with now for the summer, and I expected I would be much more productive. Though in saying that it’s not like I go to college that often anyway.  I still thought that’s great, summer, freedom, all the time to work on writing and the like and while I have written stuff (quite a lot of stuff really, when you think about it because of the three short stories a week schedule I’ve been keeping) I haven’t made any headway into some other projects I want to get finished, hopefully by the end of this month.

Overall though, I am kinda proud of myself for keeping up this schedule. Three short stories a week might not seem like many at first, but it adds up quickly, I almost have 40 short stories posted up here, in only three or so months. It’s 12 a month, 144 a year, not including any extra content/posts I do.

As I am going to compile every 20 short stories into an ebook, when you think about it, thats about 7 books a year, or about one ever month and a half. Which in my opinion, is good going.

Anyway, my little ramble is over, on with the show!

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Matilda’s Secret

She stared at the thunderclouds, looking from the safety and warmth of the house, a single tear slipped from her eye and slowly ran down her cheek as rain began to hit the window. Lightning snaked across the sky, briefly illuminating the darkness. A figure stood underneath a desolate tree, the rains intensity increased, it shivered, then retreated to the trunk of the tree.

Jane sat on the couch before the fire, watching the flames intently, trying to hear over the snaps and pops of the flaming wood.
She stood up suddenly, the blanket that was wrapped around her fell to the floor, forgotten. Shadows swayed on the walls, giving the few portraits brief moments of life, their eyes glowing with hate. She slowly sunk back into the chair, scolding herself, the noises were only the wooden floors and stairs creaking as the wood expanded and contracted, the house was settling, that’s all. She picked up her book and began to read, she stopped, then retrieved the blanket, and wrapping it around herself, Jane tried to immerse herself in the books world.

Her concentration was briefly interrupted as a shutter banged in the wind, she laughed to herself, the thought reached her lips “how cliché” she listened once more, somehow she found it soothing, like a giant’s heartbeat.

Her book now lay beside her, she was too nervous to concentrate, where was Andy? He should have been back by now. She disliked being alone in this house. They had recently bought it and she still had not managed to get used to the sounds. In their old house, she could tell the difference between a floorboard creaking by itself or someone walking around. She shivered despite the warmth and brushed her long brown hair behind her ear, she smiled as she heard the crunch of tires on gravel.

The woman stood on the third floor, looking out of the window, awaiting its return, it always returned. Her eyes had an eerie coldness, she had learned long ago how to control her emotions, not to let them show. A bolt of lightening struck a tree, the rain stopped and the clouds cleared, the tree was now full of vibrant life, unusual flowers stood out among the green leaves. A lake nearby reflected the perfect blue of the sky. Two children ran and played, a man and woman stood nearby, watching and smiling. One of the children, a little girl with long black hair ran up to the tree. She crawled into the trunk, she giggled, a perfect hiding place.

The girl screamed, the man and woman ran towards the tree. Blood poured from the hole in the trunk, which was slowly closing. The bark seemed browner, the leaves and flowers gaining brilliant colours, the entire tree looked radiant, the branches swayed nonchalantly in the breeze, as a woman wailed and a man beat the tree with his fists trying to widen the hole. The little boy continued to play, oblivious.
The woman at the window shuddered, the scene faded and once more rain fell, the lake disappeared, in its place a small pond, but still the tree stood, still watching, still waiting. She remembered the day her grandchild had disappeared inside that tree. It seemed that in every generation of her family, one child must die. She herself had lost a brother and a child. Turning away from the window and her painful memories, she went back to her bed. The cushions were piled high around her, giving her support. Her long, grey hair was spread outwards. Sighing she sunk into their softness, closed her eyes and began to sleep.

“What took you so long?” “I had to stay a bit late, is everything ok?” “Yeah, it’s just this house is creepy.” “You’ll get used to it, I loved this place as a kid, but there were more people here then. I understand why you’d be freaked out here.” “Well, it’s not just the house. It’s her as well.” “I know, but we discussed this already, she refuses to move into a home. We’ll look after her until she needs more specialised care, then we will find somewhere nice for her to go. It won’t be that long. A few months, a year max. Besides, she’ll probably get sick of us looking after her. There’s not much she can do by herself and she never liked being waited on” they embraced one another, “Ok, but try to get home earlier, I don’t like being alone here.” he rubbed her back slowly, he’d already taken all his vacation days for the move and he was hesitant to use any sick days, just in case. As they separated, he reassured himself that in a few days, Jane would be settled in. He walked around the living room, turning on a few lights “It probably didn’t help that you were sitting in almost complete darkness.” Together they made dinner and, after eating, Andy filled a tray with food and brought it upstairs.

Balancing the tray in one hand, he knocked on the door and waited a moment before entering. Old habits were resurfacing. She was lying in bed, as she had been for the last few days when he entered. In the low lamplight she looked emaciated, her cheeks hollow, her eyes sinking back into her skull. Her face seemed to be nothing but bumpy crags and crevice. As she sat up, he carefully placed the tray across her lap, “Is there anything you need or want Aunt Matilda?” “No Andy, I am fine thank you.” She smiled at him, though the smile was grateful, it was a little unnerving, she still had her original teeth, but they were crooked and stained brown. “Are you sure there’s nothing I can get you?” “Yes, thank you. You’re a good boy Andy.” He smiled, “Well, remember if you need anything there’s the monitors, just let us know.” He left her to eat, she didn’t like people watching her eat.

Slowly she ate the food he had brought her. She wasn’t entirely sure what it was, food all tasted the same to her, had for the last twenty years or so. But that didn’t surprise her. Not anymore. Andy and Jane had moved in to look after her, like before. Soon it would happen again and everything would be fine.

Jane had asked Andy, before they moved in, exactly how old she was and Andy answered her honestly, he didn’t know. She had always been old. She was old when he was a child and had seemed just as old then as she was now. If he had to guess, he would say she was around 90 and just hadn’t aged very well at all. She was the spinster sister of his grandmother and had so far, outlived everyone else in the family, including his own parents.

By day Jane would explore the land around the house, though she wasn’t too fond of the pond, or the old, gnarled tree that had grown nearby, she found herself drawn to it, inexplicably so. Its bark looked so old, it was pitted and pockmarked. There were even a few old, healed wounds where it looked like someone had tried to cut it down. Some days, when it was warm enough, she would sit against the tree, just sit and watch. The wind moved it and sometimes it felt like the tree was shuddering. There was a peculiar hole in the trunk, not especially large, but much larger, and deeper than it seemed. The outside of the hole was puckered and scarred.

As winter cleared way for spring, the tree began to liven up. Jane had thought it was dead until the day she saw tiny, budding leaves along its branches, and, as each day passed, it seemed to fill more and more with life. She wasn’t sure of what the tree was, but it did not concern her too much. She had grown to love the house, even the pond and the tree. It really was a great place. The pond looked picturesque, especially now that the tree was blooming, and bloom it did, with magnificent flowers she had never seen before. Occasionally she considered trying to find what kind of tree it was, so she could plant more, but really, one was more striking, alone by the pond.

Time passed, as it does, at a seemingly lazy pace. Aunt Matilda, forever old, continued to live with them, and, they accepted that without fuss. It would happen eventually, it would just take a little longer than they thought. But they strove to make her last few years in the house enjoyable. Everything was perfect, and, soon Jane became pregnant. Both Jane and Andy were thrilled, as was Matilda, though her happiness seemed slightly muted and Jane could have sworn she saw a look of sadness flash across her face when they told her the news. It didn’t really surprise Jane, that look. After all, Matilda probably wanted children of her own.

As the months went by, she found herself sitting outside against the tree more often. Andy had suggested putting in a bench for her, but really, she liked the tree. It seemed to welcome her as she lay against it, making room and supporting her. As she came closer to her due date, the tree began to unnerve her. She was certain now that it shuddered when she lay against it. Every time the branches swaying, just a little bit, as if in greeting. It was Autumn again and the tree began its yearly shedding. The leaves and flowers would die and come back next year, more beautiful because of their absence.

Matilda watched Jane from the window, knowing what was going to happen. As it had always happened.

It seemed that, as the branches became bare, it lost its spell over her and finally, Jane wanted the tree cut down. She discussed it with Andy, who didn’t really care one way or the other, telling him that a row of cherry blossoms would be much nicer than the old, dying tree.

The day they came to cut the tree down, Matilda watched from her room. She watched as they began their first cuts, then their momentary pause as they looked at the tree’s sap. It was thick and red, similar to blood. She wasn’t worried, they had tried to cut down the tree before without success. Axes could not damage it. She felt a thin thread of unease when the chainsaws buzz filled the air. unseen by the gardeners, the figure watched, pacing back and forth nervously.

Their saws cut through the tree with ease. First, they cut away the branches, as each one fell, she could feel some of her long, greying hair fall out until it was pooled around her on the floor, her head completely bald. The figure was trying to attack the men, its firsts merely swinging through them. As they cut at the trunk, she could feel it, inside her. Something happening to her heart. As the tree finally fell, so did she. The tree, now dead, could receive no more sacrifices. That had been their deal, all that time ago. The tree would share life with her, but to do so, it needed to consume life. One in a generation would need to die. The deal had been made almost two hundred years ago. But as the tree finally fell, Matilda was glad it was over, finally over.

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About Alan James Keogh

I am a 24 year old writer who somehow tricked U.C.D. into giving me not only a degree in English and Classical studies, but an Hons Masters in Creative Writing too. Visit my blog where I post short stories twice a week (Monday and Wednesday) and an installment of a serialised novel on Fridays. I did consider writing this in the third person, as though it was written by someone else, but Alan is not comfortable writing in the third person as it seems kinda creepy and unbalanced so Alan decided it was probably best to write in the first person. He hopes it went well for him.
This entry was posted in Fantasy, Horror, Short Stories, Suspense. Bookmark the permalink.

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