An eco horror tale of a man just doing his job… until the unthinkable happens…

It was a long, sultry day.  Hot and humid, sweat-inducing balminess engulfed Jarred as he pressed on.  All of these trees had to go to make way for the new development.  He didn’t care what was being built, a road or something, just that the world had to make way for progress and he was tasked with getting it ready.

Another spray-painted X.  Another tree slated for demolition.

Why bother anyway?  They knew all the trees were going to be removed.  Why was it necessary to mark them first?  It’d make more sense and be so much more efficient to just bulldoze the swath and be done with it.  Oh well, it was a job anyway…  Jarred surveyed the scene, wiping his hand over his sweat-soaked brow bandana.  So many trees done already, so many more trees destined for removal.  Better get back to it then.

Another spray painted X.  Another tree slated for demolition.

But all of the tree-hugger eco-activists were very clear that no extra trees should be doomed to destruction.  It had taken too much time to run off the squatters.  The resulting work required more precision than just a blanket approach.  So here Jarred was tagging the trees unfortunate enough to grow between the guidelines.

Another spray painted X.  Another tree slated for demolition.

After the accident, the squatters had fled.  Some of the crew said that the ghost of the tree-hugger who died still lurked in these parts.  The mediation and legal discourse that followed had been nightmare enough, though most of the workers weren’t subject to that and Jarred was pretty new to the team.  Best not to get wrapped up in such drama and just do the work.

Another spray painted X.  Another tree slated for demolition.

Jarred knew the ghost stories, but every site had them.  There were the Native American graveyard warnings, the magnetic field extraplanar myths, the swallowing land environmental hazard stories…  Whatever.  He’d heard it all, and none of it ever made any difference.  You just did what you had to and moved along to the next site.  That was all that mattered.

Another spray painted X.  Another tree slated for demolition.

But wait, that tree he just passed… Jarred was certain he had tagged it.  Yet there it was, clean as day.  Was he slipping?  He surveyed the others.  A sea of bright red X marks stared back at him, bereft of one. It was a just another tree, like all of its brethren.  He raised his spray can and gestured swiftly.

Another spray painted X.  Another tree slated for demolition.

He stood there a moment.  The X that Jarred had just painted began to disappear, as if the heat was causing it to evaporate away into the atmosphere.  He could almost see it radiate red smoke as it vanished.  He aimed the spray can at it, slower and more deliberately this time.  His arm arced as a jet of paint misted over the surface of the bark.

Another spray painted X.  Another tree slated for demolition.

Something about the tree itself began to feel ominous, as if another presence stirred.  The paint began smoking off of the bark surface more rapidly, seemingly smoldering.  The red mist began to surround Jarred and the world went hazy.  Everything around him started to dissipate to steam.    The heat was otherworldly and he raised his hand, spray can in tow.  He let loose.

Another spray painted X…

The red smoke thickened all around him and engulfed Jarred completely.  The tree and construction site faded away completely.  The spray can itself vanished in a cloud of red smoke.  He watched his own hand fade into red and smolder away, followed by his arm and shirtsleeve.  He felt nothing.  He looked down at his legs and feet to see them evaporate before his world went completely red.  It absorbed him wholly before dissipating to nothingness.  The world disappeared around him like pinpoints of red light, leaving him in a black void.

A jarring X appeared within and of the surface of the tree where he had stood just moments before.

It was never determined what happened to Jarred.  A search party yielded nothing.  But the work had to continue.  The interstate had been delayed too long already. 

Devon finished spray painting the trees, passing over the ones that had already been painted.  He didn’t consciously notice that one was seemingly carved and reabsorbed instead of being painted, it just blurred into the sea of X marks as he continued on, intentionally unaware.  He’d heard the ghost stories.  Best not to get wrapped up in such drama and just do one’s job…

eco horror carved X reabsorbed into tree bark
X as carved and reabsorbed into tree bark

Eco horror X marking the spot is all that remains, and not for long…

Portrait of myself with dark makeup and crow skull headdress, backlit by the sun.

Jennifer Weigel is a regular contributor at Haunted MTL. You can check out more of her work on her website here.