Estimated reading time — 8 minutes
Farm work was foreign to me, but I needed the money. I was having trouble finding a job since the move to Georgia, and a friend of a friend had mentioned an old estate in the country run by some old woman that their aunt knew. A few strings were pulled and I was to help the old woman with any work that was needed. After working mostly clerical office jobs in the North, I must concede that I did have a slight aversion to outdoor labor, and Georgia in the summer didn’t quell this aversion; it was brutally hot, and the air and plants were teeming with insects.
The night before my first day, I received a call from the friend of a friend’s aunt, with whom I had never spoken. She was pleasant enough on the phone, but did mention that the old farm woman had been acting peculiar in the last few weeks. She attributed the behaviour to old age and only mentioned it so that I wouldn’t be disconcerted upon meeting the old woman. The call seemed out of place to me as I had never spoken to this lady; was the old woman so far gone as to require prior warning?
When I arrived at the farm it was apparent that little care went into upkeep, and, by my estimation, the grass and weeds were overgrown by weeks. I poked into the dusty garage area and was startled by an old woman standing at the rear of the room. She was obviously waiting for me, and my entrance triggered a sort of slow, shambling gait toward me. As she grew closer, I noticed a marbled, mossy glaze over her eyes. I voiced a greeting that went unreturned.
The woman spoke very little, but when she instructed me to pick figs for her, she spoke as if she was uncomfortable with her own vocal ability, and her volume and tone wavered inconsistently. This was odd, I thought, but was reminded of the phone call from the previous night.
I had never picked figs before, and the woman silently showed me how to pick the ripened ones from the bushy,dome shaped tree. She left me to tend to other farm matters, and I was alone, picking figs in the blistering heat; a bucket in my left hand, and a straw hat on my head to keep some of the sun at bay.
My right hand reached in between large leaves and pinched figs by the stem. The very ripe ones would come detached with ease while the lesser took more twisting and turning to snap off. There was no way to pick these without having your body and face inches from leaves and branches. More often than not, the figs would bleed a sticky, milky liquid from their stem which would ooze onto my fingers. It was beginning to attract different kinds of flies to my skin. That, combined with the noisy crickets and hoppers was enough to drive anyone mad. The alternating stutter of their screeching wings was so obvious, and when you’re alone, it can drown out your thoughts.
My left arm grew tired of holding the bucket as it filled with plump figs. The sun penetrated my thin cotton shirt, and I could feel sweat beads running down my back and legs. I could lick my lips and taste salt on my mustache. Sweat beads are indistinguishable from the light tickle an insect creates when it scurries up your limbs. How could I know whether or not a fire ant, or spider wasn’t there? I found it best to swat at every tingle.
Despite the annoying bugs, I continued to pick figs, but my bucket didn’t seem to be filling, and the minutes passed like days; slow and methodical. I wasn’t sure if the heat was making me delirious, or if I was just tired of picking figs, but I began to feel uneasy, and unstable. The world behind me fizzled,and I felt like the fig tree, the bugs, and I, were the only creatures to exist. Each fig, bleeding its milk onto my fingers as I picked it, and each branch, shuddering in pain and with rancor when it lost its fig. That’s impossible, I thought, the tree cannot feel when a fig has been severed and stolen from it.
The inferno in the sky baked my arms and neck. My thoughts wandered as I watched my forearms cook in the sun. My face contorted reflexively to a little green fly biting my other hand. I slapped my hand but the fly escaped. I was not sure how long I had been standing, staring at my arm, but I turned my head to look for the next cluster of figs to pick. The inside of the tree’s dome was dark. Somehow the blinding sunlight didn’t penetrate the canopy. The crickets and grasshoppers were still screaming; screaming for what? Why were they always screaming? For moments I felt as though I was being screamed at; a portentous wail. Little tiny legs and bodies would unnervingly scuttle past my peripheral vision when I tried to focus.
I turned around to gain some perspective, but the sun stabbed my eyes and forced me to shield them until I felt a prick on my ankle. I slapped the spot on my leg, and lifted my pants but did not see a culprit. As I squatted, bent over, I slowly lifted my gaze to the fig tree. Inches from my face, in between two leaves and on a branch, was an arachnid: Opiliones, the daddy longlegs. It sat facing me, and I gazed for what seemed like minutes. What is it doing? Why is it sitting so still in the same spot? I studied it, the way it suspended from those hair-thin legs.; It’s body, a small control room for the entire entity. What an odd creature, I thought, until I caught glimpse of its eyes; pitch black, unmoving, and unwavering onyx. Were those black beads looking back at me? That isn’t that ridiculous, I thought. It would be an evolutionary blunder for a creature so small to not recognize possible large, predatory mammals. But the way it stared back at me made me feel uneasy. It’s just a spider, I reasoned, it doesn’t have a consciousness, though I felt insignificant comparatively. I am six feet tall and you are mere inches, I thought, attempting to express my dominance telepathically. My confidence was a facade, though, and the spider saw through me. Every twitch in my face, every micro-expression I expressed, the spider recorded and noted. I am imperfect. I am faltering and insecure. The spider watches me with supremacy, and assuredness: an abettor for the tree.
I tried to stand and focus on the task at hand, picking figs. My eyes shifted at every scurry in my periphery. My legs felt sore, and my heart raced. I Approached the back side of the fig tree which was hidden in the shade of a large maple, but I felt little relief from the sun. Each little green fly, like a tiny hypodermic needle, sucking blood at my expense.
I hadn’t noticed until this moment, but the leaves of the fig tree all appeared to be facing me, like one of those paintings with the eyes that follow your every move. Why was it so dark inside the dome? The leaves were menacing sentinels. Cosmic, judgmental extremities analyzing my being; tallying up the number of fruits I have stolen without asking. I don’t need permission, I contemplated; man is ruler of this world. You will make more figs in a weeks time, and be plentiful throughout your life, fig tree. As the thought crossed my mind, a large june bug dinged against my forehead and startled me. The crickets were now a deafening howl; a siren, calling to lost sailors.
I heard a rustling shuffle in the grass and turned to see the old woman, roughly ten meters away, dragging her feet and making her way toward the house. Her hands and face were muddy, and she seemed to smile at me as she passed by. But something about her smile had an ulterior expression. Her eyes… Her mouth smiled, but her eyes bore through me; examining. What was I thinking – It seemed like an ordinary, polite smile from an, albeit, senile old woman. But why was it so unnerving?
The moment was short lived when I was forced to switch my sight to my left shoulder: a small green fly, biting me. It was biting my shoulder and staring into my eyes when I turned. I pinched the fly and flicked my fingers to dispatch it; its life taken in milliseconds. The screeching crickets and grasshoppers increased in decibels to become an unbearable shrill, as though metal forks were dragged along porcelain china. I slowly turned my head toward the inside of the tree.
Darkness loomed inside the dome; a black abyss. My ears rang with the cacophonous insect symphony. I dared not blink. The tree knew… It knew me. It wasn’t just the tree; it was all plant life. The tree spoke for all vegetation. They fought and clawed upward toward the sun. their purpose was war and survival, and their means were any. In my mind, I pleaded: it’s just figs… Only food for us… I haven’t violated you.
My peripheral vision caught an unsightly horror. I turned my head and met the gaze of a spider. This couldn’t be the same spider, I thought, I was on the other side of the tree. It’s legs were perched on an emerald leaf. My eyes could not move. I could not look away. It stared into my pupils. The ancient wisdom of a thousand Gods watched me through its eyes like a hunter sees an unsuspecting doe through their scope. I scratched and raked at my oppressively itchy arms. The heat made my sweaty skin sticky and irritated, but I dared not oppose the spider. The fig tree commanded the flies to bite my skin. The spider was its rifle scope. The tree was choreographing the entire dark dance. I am the spider. I am the tree. I am nothing. This is dread and terror. Its figs are precious seed, and I am a villain.
My mind spun and spun, and my eyes fixated. My entire body felt a pressure building; heat and pressure like a thick boiling ooze filling the inside of my abdomen and flowing through my veins until my brain eventually pops. The spider watched, and surveyed. I am imperfect. I am insecure.
Spiraling conical darkness eroded my vision until it burst into a watery, fish-eyed perception. I felt inhuman.
I was paralyzed by what I saw thereafter. My legs quivered; all of them. I was looking at a thin man. A mustachioed man wearing a straw hat, with what can only be described as evil in his eyes, glared at me. I was looking at myself! What am I standing on? The ground felt too lofty, like a green ribbon attached to a post. All of my legs scrambled and my body bobbed, like a fig on a thin branch. How is this possible? I am the spider. A twisted grin on the man’s unblinking face appeared and his hand reached out toward me. I tried to run, but my eight limbs were clumsy, and I was petrified by what I saw; the man’s eyes had the same mossy glaze the old woman’s had. His fingers pressed on my entire body until I felt different again.
I can’t really describe what I saw next, because it isn’t that I saw, in the traditional sense of vision via eyeballs. But I perceived a marbling swirl of light. I could feel the air, as if a chain link fence could feel a light breeze gently push through it. I could not move; my body felt composed of stone… or wood. I could feel them all over me; the insects.
My God, I thought, I’ve become the tree.
The hordes of insects were Crawling, squirming, and tickling my extremities; making homes in my nooks and crannies, and slithering around my roots. How is this possible, I cried; how have we switched places? What kind of dark magic did this tree harness? I felt my figs being forcibly removed by something; like having a bandaid or cuticle slowly ripped off. I lamented, what kind of twisted justice is this? My branches bled. This is the waking nightmare; the verdant wraith.
Credit To – SnakesAgain