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Are those Tree Branches?

I’ve been sitting here for three hours now. Just watching. Waiting to see if the misplaced and frankly strange fears hanging around my head like ghosts, hissing in my ears, will prove true. That what I’m seeing is not just something someone can say is explainable. Logical and unimportant.

There is a crater in the ground surrounded by crumpled grass with a barren tree next to it across the street. Lining the crater’s edge are several neon-orange pilons, and within the crater is a large dark pile of skinny tree branches. Or at least, that’s what I think they are. They have to be tree branches, don’t they? What else can they be?

And yet the longer I stare, the less sure I am of that assessment. Rising from within the ring of pilons, those hundreds of dark twisted slips of bark look far too much like skeletal hands rising from the earth. I am sure they were merely tree branches waiting to be taken away, but at this distance — yes. They look very much like hands rising from below reaching for… something. Freedom maybe. Or perhaps, something even more sinister.

I’d come to sit by to my window, three hours prior, just to look out into the world. To admire the last of the falling colorful leaves before the coming frost and frigid winds stole the last of those beautiful colors away. I did this often all year round, looking out into the world from my little window.

Then I looked across the street, I looked down, perhaps to see if there were people about in the cool evening, and then I saw it. That crater filled with tree branches, surrounded by pilons predicted the word Warning. Danger ahead. Be cautious.

I found myself puzzled after that thought. Wondering why someone would need to keep people away from a measly pile of branches? For safety reasons, I told myself. And then I couldn’t help but wonder what harm could there be? Posed with an obstacle that could be clearly see and easily avoided, people would surely adjust their course around said obstruction? What need was there for a warning? What was the danger in a pile of branches? Why did something so visible need to be surrounded by even more noticeable neon orange pilons?

Thinking back, that should have been the end of my window watching. Confronted with such a question, I normally would have turned to ask the question of my parents, whom I knew were downstairs, or possibly my computer. Normally, I would have done these things, except —

Except I couldn’t help but focus so intently on the fact that there were no vehicles or crew around to take away the branches.

There were, in fact, no souls around. No squirrels travelled the trees and powerlines, no birds flew by my window. Even though I knew the workers could be just taking care of a different load or more important task — and I knew my parents and siblings were just downstairs — I couldn’t help the sliver of fear that crept up my spine. I couldn’t help but feel so alone. As if there existed only me, my window, and the creepy looking pile of branches.

The longer I stared and wondered, the more the shadows crept in, causing the pile to grow even more sinister in appearance. The longer the world outside my window remained quiet and still, the louder my ridiculous fears began to grow.

They’re just tree branches, I told myself. Mildly embarrassed that I had even considered otherwise, that I had immediately jumped to something so ridiculous and impossible. They could not be hands, even if the resembled them. They were just a thick pile of tree branches. A pile that seemed to shift, to twist and reach higher into the air — reaching for m perhaps? Or something else —

Out from the corner came a fluffy dog. All at once, the suffocating fear fell from my shoulders like a rush of water. I smiled, far to happy to watch the little dog trot down the road. I knew the dog, he belonged to a friend of my mother’s down the street. It liked to wander about on it’s own sometimes, but it always returned home, and it was friendly, so no one minded. There was life out there, life approaching the pile of branches. Life that stopped and sniffed at the pile. For a moment, I held my breath, but when nothing happened, I relaxed.

I laughed to myself, shaking my head, shoulders trembling as I rubbed my tired eyes. Of course nothing would happen. It was just a pile of branches outside. Once again my imagination had gotten the better of me.

A bark sounded. Then another. A third —

I dropped my hands as the third bark cut off suddenly. I whipped my head up, and saw nothing but that pile. No dog. No other animal, person or vehicle. The world was silent once more. I pressed my face to the glass, searching as far as I could from the window without opening it. I could not find the dog. It could not have disappeared so suddenly, and there was no one — no person, no car, no animal.

I blinked, holding my breath. Then, I slowly slipped from my window seat, eyes locked on that pile, grabbed the curtains, and shut out the world. I breathed, feeling cold, my nerves tingling. As if I had been standing out there, staring into that pit, as if I had stepped just a touch too close and —

The phantom feeling of those sharp looking branches brushing against my skin had me running down the stairs. I didn’t tell my parents what I had seen. I told them some story I’d made up on the fly that, while embarrassing, did not include skeletal hands or small fluffy dogs. And while the pile was gone the next morning as I walked to school, the ground unchanged aside from the flattened grass, I never forgot that moment.

I told myself I had imagined it. Even when missing dog posters popped up. Even when the dog was never found, not alive or dead. What I had seen couldn’t have been real, right? There was no such thing as a group of skeletal hands that resembled tree branches that moved on their own. Right?

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