The old lady tied the last knot to the sole remaining tree with fraying rope and waited patiently. The salt and sand was already streaked on her calves, bruises lining the sun-spotted skin, and her toes curled as the cold water began to cover them in pulsing waves.
The hardest part was not this, nor was it the drenching rains and whipping winds that would somehow drive the encroaching waves over her again and again. Neither was it the painful creaking of her joints as her fingers worked the knots free once the storm had passed. The glaring sun emerged to make her tongue large and dry in her throat.
She stood and looked at the changed landscape, seeing instead of the shoreline in front of her a large stand of trees, instead of barren land stretching behind her, rows and rows of houses. She might have heard voices, a laugh exchanged between Bierectional and Just Omar, talk of aching calves and blistering feet between Deadbeat, Hello Titties, and Miss Delivery.
The years could not even erase the memories of Circle Jerk and Raspukin dashing off into the distance, flour dropping in puffs as the path they would take was slowly revealed. Mere minutes later, The Perfect Woman scrambled down the slope, scent of freshly turned dirt rising behind him, Just Pete and Just Katy following soon after.
It was Just Doesn’t Get It who first shivered at the atmosphere around them, but he shrugged and dashed on as Eat My Pussy passed him, with Gingervitis close on his heels. The check left them flummoxed for a moment, and it was that confusion that drew a small number into the copse of trees.
One And Done stepped back as a rotten sickly sweet scent filled the air, but Three Fingers was already tumbling in behind him. The grove echoed with each footstep, dying leaves magnifying their presence instead of concealing, and one by one they followed each other in. Except for her. What impulse drove Cuming Mutha to hoarsely cry “Run!” could not be defined, but the howls that followed them kept all eyes forward as they dashed away down city streets. She dashed alongside, watching but not understanding.
“Metal gates, metal gates,” Dickweed muttered to himself, ancestral superstition pounding at his temples in the hour of need. But crossing the bridge, Stinky Floss felt the suffocation of their doom grab her throat harder, Big Cock Chains pulling her by the arm onwards when she stumbled.
Chief Nerds muttered a prayer and Can’t Finish dashed past Orville Redencocker as they forced their way through a path strewn with garbage. There Little John felt the anger rising behind them as it echoed in his soul, and he shoved by them both, knocking Skid Mark over in his haste.
Then suddenly they were back amongst the trees once more, and Hand Pump was there with a reassuring grin, Muff Daddy nodding to them one by one as they came as if chased by a storm. Tuna on Top was sharing a joke with Pap Smear, while String Cheese and Ms. Cummings compared notes on their environs.
She sweated and panted and caught her breath, confused at the terror that had rapidly faded from them all. Backside Banger patted her on the back, she nodded at the others as they strolled back through the trees.
Tall, dark, they stood as sentinels in the fading light, and even when they trudged up the slope back to the street she felt that she had not quite left them.
The beer flowed, and she tugged on her coat and shivered. The hares pulled out delicious looking cheeses, candied nuts, and dried fruits, a feast fit for a king. She lingered, drawing closer and closer, until at last she had but one bite.
The sweets became ash in her mouth, and the nuts maggots in her hand. She dropped them, looking as she watched her friends happily swallow the worms writing in their mouths as long, dark vines crept upwards from the ground around their legs.
What enters the grove is mine forever, it said to her.
She choked and could smell her own bile rising as the movements around her stilled.
“But I didn’t go!” she screamed.
What worth are they to you, it asked.
“I…” She could not answer. A tear rolled down one cheek. “Please don’t.”
The hardest part was that though they were now gone, she had remained, as she always would. The decision she could not make was made for her, and not to her liking.