The Trees Swallow People: Part 3
Reporting at the Garda station proved depressingly tedious. I went, expecting to be met with derision and light mockery or perhaps aggression for wasting their time. It proved to be neither, but still a regretful experience for two officers.
I made sure Diva had enough food and water before I left. I couldn’t leave the back door open for her, so I decided to accept whatever mess I would find when I returned. Already I wasn’t hopeful for a brisk in-out job. I walked down the Rye hill, through Squirrel Wood, and turned at the traffic junction for the station. I pushed my weight against the heavy glass and metal doors, entering a drab interior where the light was doing a lot of the heavy lifting.
I stood in front of a reception desk behind a window. I expected a buzzer of some kind but decided to tap the glass since I could hear movement behind a divider on the other side. The noise momentarily stopped before resuming. I tried craning my head to see around the divider before knocking again. I got back a shout to wait. So I did. What I waiting for came around to the desk minutes later; a shout, slim man, stretched out by dripping wrinkles on his face, most like early fifties. He asked the first of many questions that day; what? I said I was a concerned citizen, I’ve noticed strange happenings in the woods, and I believe it’s connected to the disappearances.
His pale, tired eyes stayed on me all throughout the silence. Whether bored or stunned, I’ll never know. He simply got up, vanished behind the divider again, and reappeared by a secured door to the side. I was brought inside to a room to give my statement. He performed his vanishing act once again, but I wasn’t alone for long as in entered a detective Murphy and a detective McGrath. They sat in front of me, began recording, introduced themselves, and began. I say began because it seemed as though they had been raring to go for some time, like hungry spiders pouncing on flies snagged in their web.
Who are you? Where are you from? What’s your history? Ever been arrested? Who are your family? They started off normal enough, if a little invasive, but soon became stranger. How did you see them? What woods? Why tell us? Are you involved in a group? Are there others like you? Why are people going missing? Why are they doing this? This last one surprised me, as though I had something to do with this. Maybe, I entertained, I was the first lead they had, and thus the closest thing to an authority on the matter they had. If that was the case, my good will in coming was being worn.
No matter how often I answered, in however many ways there are to phrase a response, they went on the same questions, again and again. Even the tone shifted. The formal, bored official sounding questions gave way to rolled eyes, exhausted huffs, and glances of annoyance to each other. I was feeling impatient myself, tempted to ask may I leave when, whether through boredom or frustration, I was asked if I was willing to show them the woods.
We took the normal route myself and Diva would come; straight ahead, turn right, left by the old monastery, right at the car park, and through the hap in between the trees. I was able to strike up a friendly conversation with Murphy about Diva. He had a yorkie as well. McGrath stayed quiet, watching us. Maybe they were playing me; good cop, bad cop.
I pointed the woods out as they came into view. Even though a threatening wind stroked the blades of grass on the pitch, it had no effect on the spindly trees in the distance. We made our way to them, but I knew myself I didn’t want to go the full way after what happened to that girl. I stopped half-way, expecting them to continue on without me, but McGrath gave an order to move. I knew there that I was a person of interest through no fault other than I was the only lead they had. Shocked initially, I allowed myself to be carried away by the order.
We came to the edge of the field, just at the bevel into the trench that met the paddock wall. Both Murphy and McGrath surveyed the trees, wondering aloud if they could close off the park. I thought the same as McGrath; she shot the idea down. The park had multiple entry points and stretched to Lucan, spanning over Kildare and Dublin. Murphy was just about to respond when it happened.
Flickers in our peripherals, along with the sudden swell of rustling, dragged our attention from the trees, turning in time to see them whip past us. A stampede of people sprinting across the field and narrowly missing us, like white water surging around rocks. It happened so quickly, I only caught glimpses of their blurred features. Men, women, young, old, White, Black, Asian, slim, well fed. They all formed a tidal wave of rushing bodies in the hundreds. The quiet mid-week park had been transformed into a gushing path of souls. Murphy was like me, shielding himself behind his arms, making himself as small as possible. McGrath, attempting to stop someone, had lunged to grab an arm, only to be knocked over, curling up into a ball on the ground as they leapt over her. As with the others before them, the sea of people vanished over the wall, gone forever.
It ended abruptly as it began. No stragglers. The shushing absence fell upon the field, awing the three of us. It took a moment for the breeze to return. I faced Murphy and McGrath as they composed themselves. McGrath just got up and raced for the woods herself. Had she not called to Murphy for them to follow the horde, I would have believed she too had fallen prey to whatever madness was seeping into our helpless minds. Up and over they went, and that was it. No thud upon landing. No slap of rushing feet upon damp leaves. No heavy breath. They were gone, like the others.
I waited, straining to hear something. Even as the tinnitus from the stampede continued to ring in my skull, I was sure I was not deaf, as I still heard the white noise of distance cars along the motorway, muffled screams of joy from the playground further into the park, and the slowly swelling gust. I heard nothing from within the woods. An hour or so had elapsed. At some point, the station would wonder why the detectives hadn’t returned. I reasoned I should return to the station, using the walk to figure out the best way to explain what had happened without sounding crazy. But first, I thought, I should go home and check Diva has enough good and water. I knew, even then, I would be gone for some time.