Updated: Nov 17, 2020
I have an unhealthy quantity of ideas crashing around in my head. Everything from contemporary romance to off-world science fiction tends to play bumper cars up there until I filter those ideas through a keyboard. Consequently, my writing folder is packed with novel starts (36 at last count).
Maybe they'll grow up into healthy, happy novels someday. Maybe they'll die in a massive, unrecoverable computer crash. But it seems silly not to share any of them... So, each month, I'm posting a chapter from a different concept. If you like it (or want me to burn the laptop I wrote it on), you can let me know! (Or not. I'm not really a pressure kind of person).
Right. Excuse me while I open the vault. (coughs) Oo. It’s dusty in here.
Ah, this is the one!
This month's dip into the concept archives is a psychological trip into romance and murder... and really, isn't that what we all want in life? In this story, which I've been calling Spins the Dreamcatcher, Remy finds herself trying to help Logan, a guy that is catatonic for no discernible reason other than potential trauma related to the death of his little sister. As Remy gets to know him in the landscape of his mind, she catches a feelings fastball which is definitely a professional no-no. This inconvenient situation is overshadowed when she begins to suspect the death of Logan's sister might not have been an accident....
But that's not what's happening in this scene. In this scene... we'll be climbing a tree.
SPINS THE DREAMCATCHER - CHAPTER FOUR
We’re in uncharted territory now. That. What I just did? Don’t do that. You get to know them. They don’t get to know you. It’s counterproductive. It’s dangerous. But what was I supposed to do? So much time wasted already, and the longer this takes, the longer I have to cram my life into the spaces between my responsibilities. I had to try something.
The psychs are not going to approve. Dr. Greaves is going to be pissed.
I know the route we’re taking through the forest. In fact, I’ve ridden my bike here with some friends as a shortcut from my public high school to the private one, Villa Mercia, for a football game. That’s where Logan goes to school. He might have been in the stands with me that night. It was just the one time that I was out here, but I remember thinking how pretty the trees looked in the amber sunset. Now the leaves are a deep red against the white tree bark, and they rustle and hiss under the shifting pressure of the storm that never seems to come. Breaks in the canopy expose us to the churning purple sky.
On both sides of us, golden eyes are watching from behind fallen trees and the folds between the rolling forest crests.
The land slopes sharply upward, and we turn off the path to ascend a rocky rise. We’ve gotten very high, very quickly. “Are we close?” I ask.
“Do you have somewhere to be?” says Logan over his shoulder.
I would cross my arms if I didn’t need them for climbing. I’m supposed to be the difficult one.
When the slope begins to flatten, we enter the company of a massive tree. In fact, it might be the largest tree I’ve ever seen. The trunk is half the width of a narrow ranch home. Great gnarled boughs float overhead like the limbs of an elderly ballerina. Her arms are covered in a thick patchwork of crimson, amber, and gold. We trudge through the carpet of leaves, careful not to let our feet catch on the roots jutting up across the entire hilltop.
“She’s actually eleven or twelve trees all grown together,” says Logan. “The exact number is a sore spot between me and Jenna.”
“It’s beautiful,” I say.
“Her name is Margaret.”
“Well, she looks Irish.”
“That’s pretty specific.”
“And so Jenna and I searched Irish girl names, and Margaret was the only one that seemed venerable but still applicable to our culture.”
“Do you want to climb?” he says boisterously.
I take a step back. “Oh, I don’t know.”
“Come on!” he says, running toward the tree, somehow missing all of the roots. “That’s like, the only reason to come up here!”
Looking up at Margaret disappearing into the darkness of her own foliage, I call back, “Can we think of any other reasons?” But I head toward the base of the tree anyway.
When I catch up with Logan, he’s standing at a knobby opening in the trunk. Looking up and in, I can see the corrugations that mark the original trees inside a mouth that seems like it is almost large enough to allow us access to the twisting interior. Purple-gray light filters down upon Margaret’s mossy tongue.
“Do you just… climb up in there?” I ask.
“Well, that would just be rude,” he says. He clears his throat. “Hey Margaret! How you doing today?”
The hiss starts low and blends with the creaking of the boughs. Above us, the tree leans forward. A sound that I can only describe as a groaning sigh emanates from the bark, the grain, the rings. The tree twists.
“Oh, we’re fine,” says Logan, winking at me. “Would you mind if we did a bit of climbing today?”
Another twist and a bend. The tree nods, and the mouth in the trunk opens just slightly to admit us. Logan grins at me and shoves the toes of his shoes against the weathered dents and knobs as he climbs up toward the mouth.
“Your mind is fascinating,” I say.
“What was that?” says Logan as he slips inside.
“I said this is disconcerting.” I grab the laddery parts of the trunk and follow him up. “I hate heights.”
“I hate tight spaces,” he says, reaching out from the mossy nest to take my hand and pull me in. “But look at me anyway.” The interior of the tree is tight to be sure, but only for the inside of a tree. Otherwise, it’s downright roomy.
“If you think this is bad, you should see my bedroom,” I say, brushing my hands on my jeans.
“And when will I have that pleasure?” he asks. I can feel him watching me.
The purple light floats down on us, and I look straight up to see the original trees branching out. He’s right, though, as they twist and warp upward, their origins are unclear. I only count ten trunks.
“Shall we?” he asks.
“How high are we going?”
“As high as we want.”
“What if I’m happy right here?”
“Come on, Remy. I know you’re not that boring.” He leans forward to a trunk sloped like a ramp and scrambles up to where it bows like a hammock. The bark along his path has been worn smooth.
Don’t die. It’s not a rule exactly. They don’t know what happens if one of us dies during a dreamtrip. It’s never happened, as far as anyone in the research group knows. Still, it’s not recommended, and I can feel my heart pounding, wherever it is.
My feet slips a few times and Logan calls down. “Speed is your friend. Take a step back and go for it.”
In a moment, I’m up where Logan was, and he is higher still. Up we go, the boughs getting smaller, but always there’s another nearby to serve as a platform.
“Have you ever gone to the top?” I ask.
“Can’t remember,” he says, jumping across a wide gap. “Stop!”
My hand inches from a knob, halfway up to a new bough, I freeze.
“Margaret is ticklish there,” he says. “Found that out the hard way. Come over here.”
I step back down and turn. Between us and straight down, the ground is smooth with leaves. Thirty feet? Forty? It’s far, I know that.
“No way,” I say.
“If Jenna can make it, you can make it,” he says. “Your legs are longer.” Then he laughs. “I recommend you keep your eyes open, though.”
“I’m trying!” I shout through my teeth.
A moment’s courage is all it takes, and Logan has collected my arms in his. He smells like day-worn Old Spice and boy. “Doing great,” he says with a grin.
“I’m glad one of us thinks so,” I say. “My PTSD is kicking in.”
He barks a laugh over his shoulder and then hauls himself up to the next branch. “Yes the horrors of tree-climbing.”
“Hey,” I say, “I’m not devaluing your traumas.”
“Well they beat the hell out of tree-climbing!”
Finally! “So like, what are we talking about?” I ask. “Did a bat get into your bedroom? Wait, I know! A clown gave you soggy popcorn.”
“Oh, it’s way better than that.”
“I’ll be the judge,” I say.
Up and up and up.
Logan says, “My dad used to treat patients with mental illnesses. I don’t mean depression or the easy shit. I mean full sociopathic schizophrenics with like, eight personalities, at least two of which claim to be the devil.”
“How many devils are there?” I ask.
He pauses, two branches above me. “You really want to get into that right now?”
“Shelving it for later,” I say, trying to find the next best place to put my foot.
“For whatever reason, I’m with him one day when he’s got some business at Shady Lane.”
“Is that the place out near 90 that looks like an English manor?”
“That’s an assisted living place,” he says. “Silver something. No, Shady Lane looks like that.”
He points through a break in Margaret’s foliage, and rising from the forest canopy is a cathedral-like structure with a pair of gothic spires wrapped in blackened ironwork. Shadows move haltingly across the glowing windows. I’ve seen it before, up on a hill near Marlow Park, but the real thing is squat. The towers rise only a story above the main entrance, and the building is actually kind of modern. But the stone façade is on the mark.
Logan says, “While Dad was talking to people, I was playing with a wind-up train on this toy table, kind of out of the way near the door. I remember this man opening the door and peaking his head through. He would smile and say ‘I see you’ and close the door. Then he would open it and do it again. After a bit, she stopped, and I decided to go look for her. Dad says he found me screaming in a closet on the other side of the building. It was in an area where the truly anxious patients are made to sit quietly and watch calming video, but I had them so worked up that half of the ward was in an uproar by the time my dad got there.”
“Oh God,” I say.
Logan stops his climb, and his eyes seem to lose focus. “One of the patients was a lady with yellow teeth and straw hair. She was in the closet with me, holding me down. I remember kicking and her petting my hair and trying to shush me. Dad says she did it to keep me safe, but it was dark, and she smelled like soup, and… to this day, even the thought of bland broth makes me skittish.”
“You were how old?” I ask.
“I dunno. Five, or maybe four?”
“And how long were you gone?”
“Probably twenty minutes or so.”
“Twenty,” I say, straddling the air between two branches. I lean back against the bough. “For twenty minutes, your dad had no idea you were missing.”
“My dad isn’t going to win any parent-of-the-year awards,” says Logan. “Let’s talk about something else. What kind of music are you into?”
We go on like that, talking and climbing, and in due time, I notice my voice is warbling. Here in Margaret’s leafy heights, everything sways. Logan leans into the wind tethered to the tree by one foot and one hand. With his other hand, he points off into the distance.
“Look at that,” he says. “Isn’t that worth it?”
I can hear the wind before I can feel it, and as Margaret bends to the force of the gust, my arms clamp around the nearest branch like a vise.
“Uh,” says Logan, frozen. “We need to head down. You need to go down, now.”
“That’s sounds great in theory,” I say. “Actually, getting down may prove more challenging.”
“Now,” says Logan. “You have to go down now.”
“Do you hear that?” I ask. There’s a rhythm rising from beneath the howling wind.
“Remy!” he shouts, slipping down from the branch above mine. “Go!”
I would scramble if I could, but that doesn’t seem like the right verb when I’m swinging my foot in search of purchase. When I finally shift my weight onto something solid, Logan is on top of me.
The beating gets louder.
“What is it?” I yell as Logan’s arms wrap my waist.
“No time!” he shouts in my ear.
He starts clawing at my fingers. “What are you doing?” I shriek.
“Saving our asses!”
My nails snag painfully against the bark and Logan yanks us from the tree. And we fall.
Thanks for reading! And remember, I read ALL the comments, so if you have something to say, don't keep it bottled up. You'll just end up like Logan.