12 Jan “We Knew Something was Wrong When the Trees Began to Move” – Creepypasta
The circumstances that led to my family fleeing Czechoslovakia in 1954 are always misunderstood. People believe it was because of the increasingly despotic nature of the communist regime, or the student protests happening in Prague, or because of the food shortages that had plagued the country since the end of the Second World War. However, none of these reasons accounted for my grandmother’s rapid departure, mostly because their effects were limited in her isolated village on the north-eastern frontier. Rather, it was because the trees began to move.
It’s a story that doesn’t really leave my family—it’s one of those strange, old tales that aren’t worth telling guests or friends, largely because they wouldn’t be believed. Nevertheless, it isn’t something we shy away from, nor is it some great secret. I’ll repeat the story exactly as my grandmother told it to my mother, and how she later told it to me.
I was twelve years old when the trees began to move. I don’t mean move as in sway or bend, I mean they moved. It was on the last day of September and me and my little brother were walking back from the schoolhouse along the dirt road that led into the village. That track of land was and had always been lined with poplars, and on a windy day you could see them gently swaying back and forth, their tall forms happily waving in the breeze. We were chatting in the way that children do, watching our shoes stirring up the dust from the ground when I looked up to see that in front of us a poplar stood in the middle of the road.
It was about thirty meters ahead of us, and identical to the rest, just planted squarely in the centre of the path. The banal sight of a tall tree lightly rocking in the quiet wind was set against the fact that we knew this road, we walked it every day, and there most certainly wasn’t, nor had there ever been, a poplar in the middle of it. We ceased talking immediately and cautiously approached. The tree’s yellowing leaves were rustling pleasantly, and its sturdy, middle-aged trunk was planted firmly in the ground. Around the base were clumps of turf, where long strands of grass clung to the earth as if they had always been attached to that particular spot on the well travelled route.
The avenue had an even number of trees on each side, but adjacent to the rogue popular there was an unoccupied space. Between the poplar’s former neighbours was a small patch of dirt, untouched by grass or weeds. We spent no time speculating on how exactly the tree moved as it did, we simply set off down the road towards the village to fetch someone.
Only with great reluctance did our father get out of his armchair, extinguish his pipe, and amble down the path after a long day in the harvest fields. Nevertheless, when he saw the tree, he too went stock still and stared at it for a good minute or so before he told me to fetch Brabec, the aged village constable. When I returned with the old man, my father had started circling the tree, looking it every inch up and down. Within an hour or so, half the village had gathered around the impossible poplar.
‘Perhaps it was a strong wind.’ suggested Brabec.
‘You ever see a tree blown over like that? Standing up pitch perfect?’ asked Karla, the baker’s wife, ‘No, it’s youngsters playing a joke.’
‘I’d like to see you hoist a grown poplar out of the ground and get it planted into the road, roots and all,’ said my father.
I asked Father Klinsky what he thought it was, but he just pulled on his beard and shook his head. Eventually, it was just accepted as some inexplicable natural oddity. Two young foresters cut it down, and Brabec told everyone to go off home. While the poplar was mentioned over dinner, the subject was largely avoided. Nevertheless, I couldn’t stop thinking about it as I went to bed that night.
The morning brought further excitement. A farm labourer on his way to work found a large beech in the middle of a grain field. Someone soon found the patch of earth where the tree had originated, some twenty metres away. It was just standing there, surrounded by neat rows of crops. That day, the first of October, was marked by a second occurrence, this being that a second poplar was found out of place around midday. This one was in the cattle field that bounded the road, leaving another empty space in the avenue.
Again, old Brabec was called, and again no cause could be established. Our local Party member was called, and he, along with a dozen or so villagers stood around the transported trees scratching their heads. He said that it was odd, but surely not unheard of, that there were plenty of odd natural phenomena that had a logical explanation. He said that since the trees were hardly doing much harm, he saw no reason to report it further.
The next day, he discovered an oak going right through the middle of his barn. It had moved some hundred metres from where it had stood on the hill overlooking the village. Eventually, the Party man, Loutka, decided to convene the village committee, and that evening it was deliberated that an inspector should be sent for. He called the central office in Ostrava, and the very next morning, a young man in a smart blue uniform and spectacles arrived in a shiny VB police car.
That same morning, two ashes and a birch were found in the cherry orchard. The inspector was quickly shown the sites of the moving trees, as well as the poplar stump that lay in the middle of the road. He took several photographs and kicked about the dirt in the places where the trees had vanished from.
However, upon hearing Brabec’s explanation, and the testimonies of half a dozen villagers, myself included, he smiled and coughed and asked if we were not mistaken as to the location of the trees, and that it was not unusual to account the natural movement of the soil and the changing landscape to bizarre occurrences.
This was adamantly rebuked, not only by the constable but by Loutka as well.
‘But what of the poplar in the road, comrade?’ asked old Brabec.
‘Simply a prankster, no doubt. These are flimsy trees, you know. I shouldn’t think you’d need more than a bit of digging to uproot it. The only trouble there is finding the guilty party, I imagine that local knowledge is good enough to lead to a likely suspect.’
‘What did I tell you? It was only youngsters!’ said Karla.
‘And the oak in the barn?’ the Loutka interjected.
The inspector furrowed his brow and cleaned his spectacles.
‘A more complicated matter, certainly, but not one that defies explanation. What the perpetrator did there is move in a trunk, which isn’t such a hard thing to do through barn doors, and then attach a few branches with wood glue. The barn seems to be reasonably old. I don’t suppose it was very difficult to saw through the roof to get the boughs through.’
‘That would have taken hours, comrade! Not to mention the noise,’ said Brabec.
‘Then the conclusion is obvious!’ the inspector cried, ‘There is more than one culprit, constable.’
With that, he retired to his lodgings, for having spent the large part of the day marching around fields, it was beginning to get late. He instructed Brabec to begin looking into delinquent youths in the area, and ordered that no further requests be sent, for it was a waste of the state’s time and energy, which he noted to Loutka would be appearing on his record.
With that, we all went to bed, not very enthused about the results of the inspector’s assessment. This changed in the morning, when half the village was awoken by the scream of a milkmaid. She had set out for work in the early morning when she saw a strange shape in the distance. Upon a closer look, she found to her horror that a beech was standing in the middle of a cow, the poor creature having been rent apart by the trunk.
The inspector was hurriedly called for, and when he caught sight of it, he vomited into a milk bucket. Having calmed his nerves with a glass of bitters, Brabec led him to the road, where two more poplars had supplanted themselves elsewhere.
‘But it’s impossible!’ he said, ‘I saw them! I saw them yesterday, they were there, right there!’
‘I know, sir,’ Brabec said, ‘It’s been going on for days.’
The inspector became very pale, stared at the trees for several minutes. Eventually, he secluded himself in the committee hall and set about processing the photographs had taken so as to collate evidence that he only yesterday had declared impossible.
Meanwhile, I went to see Father Klinsky at the small dirty-white church that stood at the far end of the village. The priest was avoiding the inspector. He had only returned from prison five years ago, and he had very little time for Party men. I found him in the vestry, making a large pile of hymnals for the next service. This would have been done by the sacristan had he not been conscripted last summer. He saw me by the door, and bade me sit down if I wanted to talk.
‘Was it God, Father?’ I asked.
‘God? We can chalk it up to whoever, little one, but that doesn’t make it so.’
‘Why not, Father?’
He sighed, and rapped his fingers on the back of a pew.
‘Who has known the mind of the Lord? Who has been his counselor?’ he said after a minute.
‘I don’t know, Father, but could this be a kind of test?’
The tired priest shook his head. His face appeared deep in thought, and he looked up at the round window above as if looking for inspiration.
‘Perhaps, but the world isn’t that simple, little one.’
I returned home for supper where my father asked me why I hadn’t been to school. I told him nobody had, that everyone was staying in the village while the inspector was here. My mother scolded me and asked where I had been. Upon hearing I had been to see the priest, she struck me over the head.
‘You should no better!’ she said.
‘What we do on Sundays is well and good, but you must stay away from Father Klinsky until the inspector’s away,’ my father said.
That night I went to sleep wondering who had moved the trees, and whether it was God or the unmanageable teenagers from the farm up the road. In the end I don’t suppose it mattered. Day broke again, and the inspector rose with his uniform unbuttoned, and strode out around the village perimeter. He was followed by Loutka, who took note of six or seven spots where new trees had begun to shift. After an hour, the inspector wearily sat himself down on the pavement outside the committee hall.
‘I’m finished,’ he murmured, ‘The Central Committee will never stand for this.’
Loutka, determined on a resolution to the new crisis, called for a meeting, abandoning the inspector to his wallowing. After several hours of deliberation, the eight members marched up the hill towards the church, where the priest was mending the fence around the graveyard.
‘Now tell us straight, Klinsky. Did you organize all this?’ demanded Loutka.
‘You really think that a question worth asking?’ the Father said.
‘You priests are all the same. You’re the same as the last one, and same as the next one. You’ve been undermining the Party and this commune from the start, and we won’t stand for it.’
‘Men don’t move trees, Loutka, you damned fool.’
This would have gone on further had a second group led by Karla, the baker’s wife, not met the committee on the hill.
‘The lot of you should clear off!’ she cried, ‘What the hell do you think he’s got to do with it?’
She pointed accusatory fingers at several of the Catholic committee men.
‘And you! Turning on the Father like that. The shame!’
‘This is committee business, Karla,’ Loutka said, although several in his company had begun to shift their feet. Brabec arrived shortly after, and the two groups reluctantly dispersed.
Eventually, it was agreed that an expert should be gotten in, and so the inspector was persuaded to call his boss in Ostrava to request a scientist from the capital. In the meanwhile, a dozen men, led by Loutka, cut down every single displaced tree in and around the village. That afternoon they burned them in the village square, and the bonfire wasn’t extinguished until late in the evening. The following day, a botanist from the university in Prague arrived on the train, much to the enthusiasm of everyone. He was an older man in tweed carrying a large briefcase and clipboard.
He immediately asked to speak with the inspector, who showed him the developed photographs he had taken on his arrival. The botanist examined them carefully before asking to be shown the sites. First he was taken to the first poplar stump. Armed with a ruler and measuring tape, he set about marking and evaluating the site. Once finished writing in a red notebook, he cordoned off a small square around the stump, and another around where the tree had stood. He then began to dig at the patch of earth on the roadside with a small trowel for a good half hour.
‘Most intriguing,’ he said finally, ‘No underground structures at all, no roots, just earth. It has all been transplanted here,’ and then pointed towards the stump.
‘Yes comrade, nobody here has seen anything like it.’
He repeated this exercise with every stump in the proximity of the village, but stopped once he reached the beech that killed the cow. While the dead animal had been removed, the tree had stayed in place, for everyone was afraid to go near it. He withdrew a hacksaw from his case, and began to cut into the tree. Only a few seconds in, a spurt of blood came pouring from the trunk, much to the horror of everyone except the botanist.
‘Extraordinary,’ he murmured, ‘Absolutely extraordinary.’
As he continued, he discovered that the tree hadn’t punched a hole in the cow, but rather, the trunk and the beast’s midsection had fused. Apart from the botanist, nobody dared to touch the trunk. After an hour of examination, he turned to speak to the gathered crowd.
‘This kind of phenomenon is, as far as I’m aware, completely unknown to science. It will undoubtedly require further investigation, but most importantly, I must observe the manner of the transportation as soon as possible. Has a tree ever shifted during daylight?’
Brabec solemnly shook his head.
‘Then it must be tonight,’ said the botanist with gleaming eyes.
Throughout the rest of the day, the whole village set about placing wooden posts at precise intervals, exactly to the botanist’s specifications. Loutka had started carrying his pistol around the village, overseeing the project, while the defeated inspector watched them from his window. By the evening, a square mile or so was marked out, and as many lamps as could be found were hung from the stakes. When there were no more lamps, the poles were covered in kerosene soaked rags and lit aflame. That night, my family huddled around the window as we watched the botanist at work. He conscripted a number of villagers to watch a certain quadrant, so that the movement of the trees could be readily calculated.
It was a long night, and some time after my parents had gone to bed, I snuck out of the cottage with my little brother to watch the goings on. Although everyone guarding the poles looked wracked with anxiety, the botanist, who stood at the centre of the main avenue, watched the poplars with wide-eyed enthusiasm. He never budged from his position. His only movements were his darting eyes, which continuously scanned the dimly lit area. After an hour of watching him, he suddenly twitched.
‘There! Did you hear it?’ he cried to the nearest watcher.
‘No, sir,’ they responded, and everything fell stock still, as if the night itself was listening. After only about a minute had passed, a slow and quiet creak could be heard from the direction of the main road.
‘There it is again! You must have heard it!’
The botanist was joined by Loutka, who nodded in recognition, his hand on the holster of his gun.
‘It must be beyond the line of sight, wait here,’ he ordered.
Picking up a heavy flashlight and his briefcase, the botanist headed off down the road. We watched the bright shaft of light, the only marker of his movement, bobbing along the track, jerking in pace with his steps. Suddenly it fixed on one position, and we observed with anticipation, waiting for him to announce his discovery. But he said nothing. We heard nothing. The light was still and distant and some ways up the road. After five minutes Loutka cried out to him but was met with no reply.
Nobody dared move from their place. The whole village was shrouded in silence. Finally, Father Klinsky came down the church road and hoarsely asked the Party man what had happened. Loutka, frozen in terror, said nothing, so Klinsky grabbed a lamp dangling from a post and followed the botanist’s path towards the light. A minute later, he cried out for help. Three or four men shuffled out of position and followed him to the place where the botanist had stopped. Calls were quickly made for everyone to go back indoors. The huddled group remained by the flashlight for a minute before swiftly coming back towards us. The priest caught me and my brother in the bushes by our cottage, and quickly ushered us inside. We saw nothing more until the morning.
When I arose, I ran out to find Brabec and the Father looking towards a distant poplar. I cautiously approached, and as I did so, I noticed that the botanist’s flashlight was lying next to the tree. Brabec was holding something in his hand, something bound in a bloody cloth. The old constable withdrew a penknife and gingerly cut into the bark of the tree. Immediately it started flowing red.
That evening a meeting was called. Fear marked the faces of all those assembled there. It was made known that the botanist had disappeared but that his hand had been recovered near a shifted tree. One question that pervaded the room, which was packed with everyone in the village, but nobody wished to speak. Eventually, Loutka stood up.
‘Unfortunately, there seems to be no route of action to take. What are we to do? Twice we have reached out and twice we have been left with only more questions about our predicament.’
‘What would you have us do then?’ asked Karla, ‘Just wait for it all to end? Until our houses are turned to forest?’
Loutka said nothing, he just looked at the ground.
‘We have to make the call. The botanist is dead and we must report it,’ Brabec said.
‘No,’ said Loutka,‘If we report it, it’s over. They’ll wipe this place off the map, tape it off, clear it of all of us.’
‘If we don’t call someone we’re finished,’ Karla replied.
‘It’ll be the same regardless.’
‘For God’s sake, a man is dead, Loutka,’ snapped the aged constable.
‘And we’ll be too if you don’t keep your damn mouths shut! You think the Party will believe us? Trees don’t walk, they don’t move, and they don’t murder. Either one person in this room is responsible or we all are.’
At that, the hall erupted with noise as arguments began, blame being spread to every imaginable corner. Brabec made a feeble attempt to get everyone to calm down, but the commotion continued until Father Klinsky, in his booming voice, bade all to be silent.
‘In passing judgement on one another you condemn yourselves! These happenings are certainly bizarre, but they’re like the scientist said: natural events. No man or woman can bear responsibility for what has happened and we can pass no blame upon anyone gathered here tonight. We cannot go on like this, we must report it to the authorities.’
‘Who are you to say?’ cried Loutka. ‘You think because you’re a holy fool you can tell the rest of us what to do and avoid accountability? Listen comrades, this man has taught us that what’s going here is natural all while preaching his superstitious nonsense . We all know you’re a hypocrite, Klinsky. It’s him more than anyone else that has tried to frame this a freak accident—I say it betrays his own deceit!’
Murmurs began to arise from certain parts of the hall, the committee members all looking towards the Father. Loutka pointed an accusing finger at the priest.
‘Why is it that no trees come near your church, Father? What is it about that ground that keeps them at bay? Perhaps they don’t move on their own at all, perhaps it’s what you’re having us believe to undermine the authority of the Party!’
‘Don’t be stupid, Loutka,’ Karla said, ‘We all heard what the botanist had to say.’
‘And look where that got him! And I say it will be the same for the rest of us, comrades, unless we teach this Bible thumper a lesson!’
‘This is madness,’ interrupted Brabec, ‘If you won’t make the call, I will,’ and with that, he headed for the door.
Shouts arose from one half of the hall, and a committee member flung a book in the constable’s direction. Loutka dashed from the podium to block his way.
‘If you report that death, then we’re all done for,’ he said, and withdrew his pistol from its holster.
‘We’re done for already.’
Loutka cocked his gun, and brought it to bear on Brabec. Pleas and condemnations arose from the nervous crowd.
‘Put it away, you damned fool,’ said Klinsky.
Loutka swivelled around, and aimed at the priest, anger building in his bloodshot eyes. Few had been sleeping recently, but Loutka least of all. The room ducked with every movement of his arm, his shaky movements revealing a patent terror.
‘There is a conspiracy here!’ he cried, ‘To undermine the Party and to undermine me!’
‘Put the gun down, man!’ said Karla.
‘Get back! Step away from the door!’
The committee members had fallen silent as everyone else rose in cries of indignation. Loutka’s thin body was pressed against the door, the pistol shook in his trembling hand. Brabec’s imposing form stood over him.
‘I am making the report, Loutka, and you won’t bloody stop me.’
The old man seized the door handle. Suddenly, the whole building seemed to shake with a deafening explosion. Brabec stumbled back, his hands clasped on his belly. A group of villagers rushed to the constable, grabbing him in their arms and scrambling to cover his wound with rags and handkerchiefs.
Loutka stood still, his face pale, his mouth open.
‘My God,’ he whispered.
‘What have you done?’ said Klinsky.
‘There is a conspiracy against the Party,’ began the broken man, ‘And against me!’’
The angry crowd surrounded him, and raising his gun once more he found he hadn’t the strength to fire it again and so fled into the square. His pistol clattered as it hit the cold stone floor. Klinsky quickly left to make the call while most of the villagers took off in pursuit of Loutka. In his flight he had grabbed one of the kerosene torches and had rushed up the hill towards the church.
Karla led the furious mob after him, and they met him in the graveyard that stood before the steeple. For a brief moment he turned to face them, and in the dim light all could see that he was consumed with fear. Turning the torch around, he flung it through the round window, shattering the stained glass. The post must have landed on the hymnals, for soon most of us could see the blaze. A few braved the door to smother it, but it spread around the old structure quicker than anyone could counter, and it was soon made clear that fetching water would be a futile effort.
Instead, the crowd seized and gagged the Party man, and carried him back to the village centre. While half the village had tended to the dying constable and the other had been apprehending his killer, none had been near enough to see a large yew tree transplant itself to the middle of the square. To this they marched the doomed man, for he had been condemned as soon as he fired his first and last shot. A length of rope was found, and although my father covered my eyes I could still hear Loutka’s muffled screams as he was hoisted up by a sturdy bough of the hanging tree.
By then, Klinsky had returned, and horrified, bade them stop immediately. Karla and the others shook their heads.
‘No, Father,’ she said, ‘Not all sins can be forgiven.’
Silently, he passed them by, and climbed the hill to see his church crumbling into ash. Some say the flames could be seen from miles away. He wept long into the night, and remained there until the morning, by which time Brabec had bled to death, and the sun had risen on a dozen new cherry trees.
Some time in the early hours, the inspector had emerged and retrieved Loutka’s abandoned firearm from the hall. He wandered into the woods and a few minutes later a second and final gunshot sent crows flying up into the crisp air.
Later that morning several trucks from the nearest military barracks arrived. Groups of officers spent a few hours surveying the area. They looked around at the strange mess of thickets that littered the landscape while their men smoked cigarettes and milled about the village. Only once an ambulance arrived an hour or so later did they cut down Loutka’s hanging body from the yew and place it next to those of the inspector and old Brabec.
Father Klinsky was dragged from the smoldering remains of his church and taken into the back of a black van, all the while muttering something about forgiveness. We didn’t hear of him again. Eventually, one of the soldiers kicked over an apple crate and called us to assemble. He told us very clinically that each family would be relocated elsewhere in the country and that if we told any living soul about what had gone on, we would face imprisonment. With that, we were given an hour to pack our lives into suitcases and were then driven to a holding camp.
My family was settled on the other side of the country in a town on the Austrian border. During the same week, my father decided that we had to leave. One night we took our things and made the dangerous crossing into the West. None of us ever saw our village again, but many decades later my mother had a run in with an old acquaintance of hers from the next town over, who told her that in the years following the evacuation, which was chalked up to forest fires, the government had built a large brick wall around the former settlement—to what end, she didn’t know.