The Bottle Tree by Elecia (she/her)
Content warning: domestic violence, homophobia
I am certain the man that lives below us killed his girlfriend. I’m so sure. Esme heard that she went to stay with her parents, but I don’t believe it. Why? Well, last Tuesday after sundown, I curled as usual in my window chair blank staring into our garden. The electricity is out again. A little wisp thought in my mind about candles and torches to drown out the arguing from downstairs. I always hear them shouting, again and again, and often when Esme is at work I look at the apple tree and think about witch lights until she comes home.
This time though: a wail in the darkness and a deep thud. The kind of thud that echoes ‘something bad has happened here’. The heavy-object-connecting-with-flesh kind. Afterwards, silence. And after the silence, a door slamming shut.
I rooted down until Esme came back, and relayed the details in a wide-eyed whisper. Suzie, she said. Her fingers soft on my cheek. He hasn’t killed her.
Esme went to check anyway, because she was worried he’d beaten her (again) and wasn’t sure if calling the police would help (it didn’t last time). I tried to make her take the kitchen knife, the big one, but she just kissed my head and went downstairs. Much later, after she had come back quiet with her mouth set in a tight line, she told me that he answered the door in pyjamas, sleep ruffled and annoyed. He spat at her that she was a nosy, lesbian slut and that if Esme really wanted to sleep with his girlfriend so badly she would have to wait because she had gone to her parents. I suspect that Esme’s version of what happened doesn’t contain half the profanities and cusses as what he really said. So. There it is.
The next day, I tried to remember what the girlfriend looked like. I wasn’t sure. I always saw her with this apple juice in a glass bottle, so I made moon eyes at Esme and a pretend big frown until she laughed and picked me up a crate on the way home from work. I’m lucky, really, to have Esme. The last time I tried to leave the apartment, I made it as far as the front door of the building but I saw someone outside who stared and stared and I couldn’t move until they went away. That was… two months ago. Maybe.
I thought that maybe he had eaten her. The last time I saw him, I was getting the post, moving against the wall all flat and stretched out. He came in the front door with this plastic bag just dripping blood and, oh, the smell. The air in the corridor fouled with meat-stench and he strode in as proud as if he’d cut down the animal himself. Maybe he did. He saw me in the corridor, all spider-stuck to the wall, clutching a heap of letters in one shivering hand and the other bunched into a tight fist with a key jutting out. He stared. I stared. The silence ate me. He took his keys out of his pocket and went into his flat, watching me the whole time.
Is eating human flesh different to animal flesh?
Sitting in my window chair, with apple juice bottles lined up in a row, I watched him go into our garden with a big spade. The garden is a patch of yellow grass and a rickety wooden table covered in spilling ash trays and cigarette burns. There is a soil patch at the end where the apple tree grows. We tried to grow herbs and flowers there, Esme and I, but they all withered away, bowing towards the ground like solemn mourners at a plant funeral. The apple tree has a short, thick trunk and spindly branches that arch towards the ground. It seems as if apples are constantly growing, pulling at the branches, leaving rotten carcasses littered on the floor. I bit into one of the apples once, and it was sour. I had a slow and creeping panic where I dreamed up worms and ants crawling from the apple core and falling in waves out of my mouth and nose.
That didn’t really happen though. Only a bitter aftertaste.
The complete story ‘The Bottle Tree’ by Elecia is featured in our 2019 Zine. Elecia writes small stories of every day horror, often including themes such as nature and death, and usually playing with supernatural or paranormal elements. She spends her spare time watching spooky movies and skating with Suffolk Roller Derby. Elecia also writes articles for the Out For Blood blog, so keep an eye out for her work on our website. We interviewed Elecia about her short story below.
What were your inspirations behind this piece?
‘The Bottle Tree’ grew from two of my favourite short stories – ‘The Apple Tree’ by Daphne du Maurier and ‘The Glass Bottle Trick’ by Nalo Hopkinson. They are both excellently crafted pieces about husbands with a secret, and the women who suffer at their hands. I wanted to create something with a similar idea, and that’s how this piece began.
What was your process when creating this piece?
I think of a lot of ideas, but really struggle finishing any stories! I wrote the first part of this story really quickly, but the ending kept changing because I couldn’t decide what form the girlfriend’s revenge would take.. I won’t say any spoilers for those who haven’t read the full story! My favourite way to build a full story is sharing ideas and bits of writing with my friends. They are always incredibly supportive.
What’s your favourite horror movie?
What a difficult question! My favourite horror movies are ones that have a woman, gender queer or femme lead. I love supernatural or otherworldly horror. Also films with a lot of dark spaces and quiet, tense moments. Alien is probably my ultimate favourite, but I also really like The Witch and Hereditary.
Thanks Elecia! We’ll be sharing more from our 2019 zine soon… We hope you feel inspired to create some spooky submissions for our 2020 zine! We’re looking for submissions on the theme ‘queer horror’ emailed to us at email@example.com. Deadline for 2020 submissions is June 30th.