I had nightmares about the place for weeks. Every time, it was exactly the same. I stood before a large oak tree, alone, in a vast field of dead grass. Roots from the tree wove in and out of the dirt, far from their source, twisting in unnatural ways. Its many branches swooped and curled in all directions; hanging from each, a different dead thing. Half of a cat, the head of a dog, a leg from a man; a part from almost every living thing I could think of swung on the vines of this monstrously grotesque pillar of death.
At the trunk’s base, there was a tall, menacing archway carved into the wood. Flowing into it, leaking upward out of the ground, a river of blood, in the darkest shade of red imaginable. Standing on either side of the tree were two black creatures that, to an extent, resembled great dire wolves, each with three eyes and six legs. They spoke but one word; Kahyesh.
Every time I woke from this nightmare, I would find myself drenched in sweat. With the wetness came panic and an immense feeling of paranoia. I felt as though I was being called to this place; like it had sunk its teeth in and injected me with poison, leaving me vulnerable and weak. It started deeply affecting my day to day life, making it impossible to function normally. I ate less and less. General hygiene became a struggle, until after the first week. That’s when I stopped washing all together. After many missed calls from work, I finally received notice that my employment had been terminated. All I did at this point was stay in my apartment, curtains drawn, lights out, sitting in front of a TV that only played static. It was all I could bring myself to do.
My landlord often knocked at my door and asked if I was alright. I never replied. Eventually, an officer came by with the same query. When I didn’t answer, he and my landlord forced their way in. To them, the sight must have been shocking. A full-grown man in his thirties, sitting on his couch in front of endless static, naked and curled up with a pillow, rocking back and forth, only uttering the one strange word spoken by the wolves in my nightmare.
An EMT was with the officer. Both men tried to pull the pillow I had been gripping for weeks out of my hands. The medic said something about a “total mental breakdown,” but they didn’t see it. That place. Those creatures. That tree and everything that hung from its branches. They didn’t feel what I felt in the nightmare. The gravity of it. How real I knew it was. I had been poisoned by its imagery. Invaded by its smells and feel. I had seen Hell, and nothing would convince me otherwise.
After being brought to the hospital and seeing a crisis councilor- to whom I said nothing- I was loaded up into an ambulance on a gurney and wrapped in a warm blanket, my arms and legs cuffed to restrain me. I had yet to say anything since leaving my apartment. I saw no point. Obviously, I would be written off as crazy. I began to believe that I very well might have been.
Riding along, having been awake for over eight days straight at this point, I felt my eyes getting heavy. The struggle to remain awake was furious, but I couldn’t let myself slip into the sweet oblivion of sleep. There was no way I would allow myself to go back to that wicked place. Its devilish sight was far too haunting.
The sky outside of the ambulance grew darker. The sun had dipped beneath the horizon of trees, far outside the city limits. The facility I was being brought to was a couple towns over, so the trip would be a long one. Not many cars were on the road the whole way there. This made distracting myself from sleep all the more challenging. The driver was talking to the EMT sitting in the back with me, making sure I didn’t try to hurt myself. Nothing worth remembering, but I found myself tuned in to their conversation, nonetheless. It kept my brain occupied enough to keep from losing consciousness.
Twenty minutes later and I saw the off-ramp of our exit fly by through the glass of the ambulance’s rear doors. The EMT put a hand on my cuffed arm. I looked at him. He gazed into my eyes. I made the mistake of accepting his calm expression and allowing myself to sigh. In the brief moment my eyes were closed, I felt something prick my neck. Shock rushed through my body. I had been injected with something. My eyelids grew heavier. It must have been a sedative.
No. I can’t sleep. I just can’t. It was clear now, that I had no say in the matter.
I came to, still lying on the gurney, but the cuffs were gone, along with the ambulance and medics. Lost in a dark forest, scared and alone, I sat up. Nothing made a sound. Not even the leaves on the trees; the air perfectly still. The sedative must have been strong, because when I tried to get off the gurney, I fell and landed face-first in the dirt. The ground was cold and unforgiving. Once my balance returned, I wandered off in a direction I felt might lead me back to the road – not that I had any real idea of which direction was better than the other. They all looked the same.
Due to the darkness, I kept bumping into trees. Limp branches snapped beneath my bare feet, and I could feel the cuts on my face from scraping up against the bark. I was afraid. Terribly afraid. But I never called out for help. I began to feel this… pull. Like the gravity of a star slowly catching a drifting planet and tugging it into its orbit. I followed this invisible tug through the woods; around bushes and trees, past rocks and a small stream. It was like I could feel the world around me. As if this mass whose gravity I drifted closer to was guiding me like a parent leading a child. I felt warm and safe, though I knew there was no reason I should. It took some time to realize what was actually happening, but by then, it was too late.
I entered a large clearing in the woods. The moon was full and bright, high up in the night sky. It had always been daytime in my nightmares of this place, never night. I saw the glowing eyes of the beasts on either side of the tree. It too glowed, reflecting the moonlight to an unnatural degree. A river of blood flowed through the field and moved up into the trunk, sparkling in the twilight.
I pinched myself just to be sure. I wasn’t asleep this time. This was real.
The creatures spoke that familiar word- Kayhesh– and I felt the need to look, once more, at all of the dead things hanging from the tree’s branches. A pair of bloodied human eyes met mine. It was hard not to vomit.
One of the six-legged wolves approached me and spoke without moving its mouth.
“Come, child. Enter the river and flow into the great tree. Become the fruit it bears; a dead, lifeless thing. End the torment. Relieve yourself of your stress, and sleep. Sleep eternal in these hallow woods.”
The creature’s whispers in my mind took control. I approached the sparkling blood river and stepped in. I laid back and began slowly drifting up to the tree’s dark hollow.
“Soon, all will end, and you will be his. You shall grow from his branches.” Spoke the other creature as I floated closer to the tree. “Sleeeep.”
My eyes began to shut as I neared the hollow’s threshold. I felt light fade and my breathing became slow. Life was leaving me with a feeling of peace. The nightmares were over. I felt I could sleep now. All would be okay.
I may have already been dead at this point, or perhaps just on the precipice, but something took hold of my shoulders and dragged me back out of the tree, up out of the river of blood, and onto the grass. I heard the wolf creatures growl. It was a sound so horrid, it shook me to my bones. Then, a whining. Like a dog in pain. I turned my head. One of the creatures lay dead-decapitated- on the ground. Blood squirt from the stump of its neck, pooling on the grass and flowing into the river of blood. A moment passed and the other creature dropped with a thud next to the first.
I noticed an immense pain emanating from my waist. Upon inspection, I saw that the entire lower half of my body had been torn off, perhaps devoured by the tree. I was covered in blood, both from the river and myself. The grass beneath my back became soaked in it. Someone stood over me, but my vision was too blurry to make out their features. They held something in their hand that gave off a green, flashing light. It was the last thing I saw before losing consciousness.
When I awoke, I was being carried through a hallway with dim lights. I was screaming. I looked down to see a bloodied stretcher. My legs were gone, and I was writhing in pain. I squirmed so much, I’m pretty sure I fell off the gurney at one point. My eyes rolled back as another sedative was injected into my neck. I saw a sign above wooden double doors that read Curious Cases Ward. They carefully placed me on an operating table. A doctor put a breathing apparatus over my face as I faded.
Is it all over? I thought to myself. Or is something even more wicked to come? I had no further strength to ponder my questions. Now, there was only sleep. Restless, unwanted sleep.
The outlook was grim, but the doctors patched me up. With the medicine administered to me here, I no longer dream. In effect, I’ve been cured. They’re even regrowing my limbs; something I never would have thought possible. I can only imagine the nightmare will now present itself to other wayward souls, craving their flesh. Don’t let it consume yours like it did mine.
So please, if you ever dream of this tree, DO NOT go near it. You’ll thank me later.