Underground Monsters

Darren dared me to do it. We were sitting on the porch—Mom didn’t want us to go out into the yard until we knew what had happened—eating apples and talking about the holes.

We’d just gotten up and walked outside to put our bikes away like our Mom had asked when we noticed. Overnight, every single tree had been replaced by a hole in the ground. A perfect pile of leaves circled each hole. Not just in our yard but as far as we could see. The day before, there had been a forest—like a real one with a name—that blocked our view. But we could see everything now. The town, the lake, the school. Not to mention the blinking walls of our neighbors’ houses. I imagined them blushing from the sudden exposure.

“You think it was a machine?” I asked him.

He scanned the horizon. “An army of ’em.”

“No. Couldn’t be. We’d have woke up. Well, you and Mom would have for sure.”

“Maybe the government has developed stealth tractors.”

Shivers jangled my spine. I’d never thought of stealth tractors before. What else was the government doing that I’d never thought of?

“Naw.” I shrugged off my fear. “It was a monster. A picky one who doesn’t like roughage. And they’re going to find it and ask it to spit the trees back out.” I didn’t know who “they” were. I hoped Darren wouldn’t notice.

“That makes no sense, Arnold. We’d have heard breathing or crunching or footsteps or something”

“Makes as much sense as an army of tractors.”

Darren stuck his tongue out at that. He finished his apple and spit the seeds at me. I ran from him and sat on the stairs. A few minutes later, Darren sat next to me. First, we watched the stick figures of neighbors come out of their houses and survey what had happened. Then we watched the birds, frantically gathering on the ground or flying from the eaves of one house to another. I got scared again thinking about what was all missing.

“Gotta be a monster. It ate up all the squirrels and chipmunks, too,” I told Darren.

“All right, smartie. If it’s a monster, it’ll be hungry again, won’t it?”

“Not for a while, I think.”

“Well, but it will, and we’re gonna need to feed it or it will eat our houses, too.”

“Never thought of that.”

“So you gotta distract it by moving these chairs out into the yard.” He pointed to the four Adirondacks sitting back up on the porch. “I dare you.”

We eyed each other for a moment before I took the dare. I was thinking Mom usually wants us in the yard instead of playing video games so she couldn’t get too mad at me. While I was pushing the second chair down the stairs, Darren went inside to watch the news. It didn’t take long for me to move them, heavy as they were. When I was done, I joined Darren on the couch. Trees were gone everywhere. The newscasters were interviewing scientists who all had their theories, some blaming corporations, others blaming environmentalists, but it was clear it was all filler. They knew as much as we did. Our phone rang constantly: neighbors calling to compare notes.

The chairs stayed in the yard, untouched. I’d check them through the front windows every hour or so. I couldn’t rescue them because Mom grounded me for putting them out there in the first place. She still wouldn’t let us out of the house; everyone was afraid the ground was diseased. And Darren wouldn’t rescue them because he said they proved he was the smarter brother.

On the morning of the fourth day, I saw that the chairs had been stacked on top of each other, that the legs of one were growing into the armrests of another. Branches bushy with leaves had sprouted from the planks. Seedlings in their casings shaped like music notes dangled in the breeze. We ran inside to tell Mom. Darren made a point to tell her that moving the chairs was his idea. But she didn’t ground him.

By the end of the day, chairs, dressers, desks, and ottomans decorated every front yard in town. People had even pre-stacked them, though Mom told them we hadn’t done it that way and it had still worked.

Photo by Mikes Photos from Pexels

Early draft.

One Tree, One Month

I snapped a picture of this tree on my way to work almost every day to show its slow preparations for winter.