The Tree of Life Part Two

Barney crept out from under the old log cabin as he heard the tyres scrunching on the dirt track heading towards him. After recovering his breath, he’d managed to drag himself back to the cabin but unable to make the three steps up on to the decking surrounding it. There was a dog flap in the door built especially for Barney, but he couldn’t muster the strength to reach it and so had found shelter as best as he could. He came out to meet Kate’s parents, excited and relieved to see them. He tried to wag his tail but it sent shots of pain through his body making him whine. His head hung low, he padded over to them slowly as they pulled up and got out of the car.
Graham got out, adjusted his Caterpillar cap, and like a gentlemen walked around the other side of the car to get the door for his wife, Heather.
“Hey Barney, come here boy. How ya doing? You having fun in those woods eh?” called Graham.
Heather was out of the vehicle now and instantly saw there was something wrong with the dog. “I think he’s hurt or something, Graham. He’s usually jumping like a kangaroo. Go take a look at him.”
Graham could see a flash of white and red on the dogs side as he drew closer. 
“Katie, it’s mum and dad. We’re here,” shouted Heather.
“You were right. He’s busted a rib by the looks of it. He needs a vet. Where’s Katie?” said Graham.
“Katie honey, where are you?” called Heather taking the steps up to the cabin.
She tried the door and it was open like she expected. She shouted for Katie while she set her handbag down and wandered from room to room on the ground floor, searching for her daughter. Graham examined the dog a little closer. He was covered in mud, and dried blood had congealed on the rib sticking out of his side. Barney seemed quite happy despite his injury and only snarled once when Graham touched a bit too close to the affected area, but within seconds he was wagging his tail again.
“Yeah it’s definitely a vet job, and an expensive one too,” shouted Graham. “Where’s Katie? That dog very rarely leaves her side.”
Katie’s mum called up the stairs but there was still no answer. The old wooden stairs groaned their disproval as she ascended them. Having had no reply she thought she would find her daughter asleep in one of the rooms. She checked the five bedrooms along with all the bathrooms but the cabin was empty.
“She must be out in the woods. Maybe she’s hurt?” said Heather to Graham who was now stood at the front door. “I mean how did Barney get hurt? I’m getting quite worried. It’s very odd.”
“I’m worried too. I’ll go check the woods and around the lake. Put Barney in the car and get him to the vets. The poor thing must be in agony,” replied Graham. 
“Ok, call me when you find her. Here Barney. In the car boy.”
Barney cocked his head to one side and with a woof ran off towards the woods.
“Barney! Get back here! Barney!” ordered Graham.
Barney stopped at the edge of the woods, waited for a few seconds, barked, then trotted into the woods. Graham and Heather ran as fast as a couple in their sixties could, and followed the injured labrador into the woodland. Barney ran ahead, growling and whining, stopping every now and then for Katie’s parents to catch up, then he’d set off again. He led them to the large tree and Graham instantly spotted the trainer lay on the ground. 
“That looks like one of Katie’s. I don’t like this,” said Heather.
“Katie? Katie? Where are you?” shouted Graham. He walked over to the trainer as Heather walked around the tree. He bent down to retrieve the sneaker and a small vine shot out from the base of the tree and wound itself around his wrist. Another soon followed attaching to his ankle.
“Hey! What the hell? Heather help!” yelled Graham.
Heather went to his aid as Barney barked and growled but wouldn’t go near them. Heather made it to Graham just as he was hoisted up into the air by his ankle, his favourite cap falling into the leaves. Heather grabbed his hands, and screaming, tried to pull him back down. 
“Run back to the house and get a saw or anything!” 
Thicker vines and small branches appeared and grabbed hold of Heather and even more around Graham. Now Heather was lifted upwards, and the vines and branches wrapped them both up like a spider entrapping its prey. Barney jumped up, barking but kept his distance, still reeling and remembering his last encounter here just a short while ago.

There was a strange crunching and screeching noise again, as the bark peeled back, exposing the white of its innards. Heather and Graham were screaming hysterically but there voices were dampened by the tight vines. It wouldn’t have mattered anyway. There was no one around for miles. No one would hear them. No one would come to help. The tree drew them towards its body and slowly pushed them into its trunk before drawing its bark back over. Barney continued barking and backed off as vines crept towards him. He turned and ran and barely escaped as a smaller branch whipped him across his spine. He collapsed to the muddy forest floor and managed to drag himself out of reach of the creeping vines and branches. He lay there panting and yelping for the time it took him to recover, then he staggered back towards the log cabin. He dragged himself along, attempting to reach the safety under the decking, but collapsed exhausted just short of it. The trail of blood that led from the woods to where Barney’s frail and battered body lay started to run, as the heavens opened, and the heavy rain lashed down and eventually washed it away.

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