Notes: The characters aren't mine and this nonsense is! The idea has been forming ever since I saw the prompt New Jersey Vegetable Monster at Paranormal25 on Livejournal. I decided to try to get it written now that Halloween is almost upon us. It's not meant to be taken that seriously, so sit back and enjoy the ride. Many thanks to Kaze for plot help!
Autor quietly turned a page of his book. Miracle of miracles, it was actually silent in the library today. There were no students talking loudly or giggling or doing any of the other things that made his temper bend and break.
Of course, that meant the peace would have to be shattered.
He jumped a mile. "Be quiet!" he snapped in Ahiru's general direction as he half-turned to look at the approaching girl. He loved her, but really, she knew better than to run into the library yelling at the top of her lungs!
"Sorry!" Ahiru squealed, running up to him. "But have you heard the really creepy stories going around the school today?"
Autor sighed. "No, I can't say that I have," he said, leaning back in the chair while giving an impatient push to his glasses. "Strange stories always circulate at this time of year. For some reason, other teenagers seem to take delight in scaring themselves."
Ahiru slid into the chair next to his. "I wonder why," she frowned. "I don't like being scared!"
"Who knows," Autor hmphed. "Maybe it's the adrenaline rush." He closed the book. "I assume you're going to tell me what's being said."
Ahiru leaned on the table. "Lilie says that last night two students were fishing at the lake," she said.
"That certainly sounds innocuous enough," Autor said dryly. "Am I also to assume this has nothing to do with the development project being considered down there?"
"Yeah, but it gets creepy!" Ahiru exclaimed. "They heard something moving in the woods. They thought it was just an animal at first, but then they heard this really weird grunting and grumping and it sounded like something big was walking around. So they went over to see. And a giant tree came out and chased them back to the gates!"
Autor stared at her in disbelief as she all but wailed the last sentence. "Please tell me no one actually believes that happened," he said, too in shock to warn her about lowering her voice.
"They do," Ahiru moaned. "They said it had a thick trunk and it was walking on its roots and it had a mouth and it was awful!"
"Are you sure they didn't sneak a bit of their parents' liquor?" Autor said.
Ahiru blinked. "Well, they didn't say they did . . ." she said slowly.
"It isn't exactly the sort of thing they would want to admit, particularly under these circumstances," Autor said. "Or perhaps they made it all up just to get attention."
"They really act scared!" Ahiru said. "I heard them talking at lunch. They're calling it the Kinkan Vegetable Monster."
Autor snorted. "Oh, that's preposterous," he said. "Trees, and vegetables, do not and have never had the ability to pull up their roots and walk." He stood, taking up his book. "There was only ever one reported case of anything resembling a 'vegetable monster'. And would you like to take a guess on what kind of person reported it?"
Ahiru shook her head. "No idea."
"A drunk," Autor said. "He claimed he saw a giant stalk of broccoli walking through the New Jersey Pine Barrens in the United States. No one else ever saw such a thing. Obviously it was a hallucination from his stupor."
Ahiru swallowed hard. "What if it wasn't?" she said in a small voice. "Maybe they didn't believe him because he was a drunk, but that doesn't mean he couldn't have really seen something that time."
Autor let out a big sigh. "Alright," he said. "I'll prove to you that there is no such thing as the Kinkan Vegetable Monster. Tonight we'll go to the woods and see if it appears."
Ahiru's mouth dropped open. "Eh? But what if it does?" she exclaimed in horror. She leapt to her feet, the chair legs scraping the floor behind her.
"It goes to show how convinced I am that it won't," Autor said. "I wouldn't take you anyplace where I actually believed a dangerous creature would attack us."
Ahiru moaned. "How about we just agree to disagree or whatever and that can be the end of it?" she said.
"Nothing will happen," Autor said. "Unless someone's put together an elaborate hoax."
She looked up with a hopeful start. "What if they're making a movie?" she exclaimed.
Autor raised an eyebrow. "Highly unlikely," he said. "We would have heard something about it. The townspeople would make a big deal of it."
Ahiru's shoulders slumped. "Yeah, that's true."
Autor sighed. "Anyway, on the off-chance that those students actually saw something, I want to find out what it was. If it's some sort of a prank, it isn't funny." He turned, heading for the door.
Ahiru blinked. "Where are you going?" she called, hurrying after him.
"To find those students," Autor said without looking back. "I want to ask them some questions."
Autor was not that impressed with what he learned from the students. Their firsthand story was much the same as what Ahiru had already told him. They did seem genuinely frightened by their experience, but Autor was not willing to altogether abandon the idea that they could be acting. Until he had a better idea of what was going on, they were suspects too.
And so, that evening he, Ahiru, and Fakir arrived at the lake outside the city gates. The night was chilled, and coupled with the gray sky and the mist that was drifting over the water, Ahiru found herself shaking.
"I never saw anything weird here when I was a duck!" she said. "Why are creepy things coming now?"
"I wouldn't be surprised if nothing comes now, either," Autor said.
Fakir grunted, shoving his hands in his pockets. "This is a waste of time," he growled. "There's no sense in us being out here."
"And yet you decided to come along," Autor said.
Fakir made an annoyed sound, as he often did when someone pointed something out that he did not see fit to properly acknowledge. Autor was amused.
Something echoed through the nearby trees. Ahiru sprang into the air, her eyes wide in alarm. "What was that?" she wailed.
"Just an owl," Fakir said matter-of-factly.
"It didn't sound like an owl!" Ahiru retorted. "I was a bird; I should know what an owl sounds like!"
"You're merely letting your imagination run away with you," Autor said. He took a step forward, shining his flashlight over the water and to the trees on the other side. "Everything looks normal," he reported.
He continued walking towards the trees. "If such a creature was roaming around, there should be footprints," he mused.
"We're not actually going in the woods, are we?" Ahiru cried.
"It was supposed to have come to the edge of the woods and even beyond," Autor said. He flashed the beam over the grass. "I don't see any indication that something extraordinarily large stampeded through here."
"Then it's probably just like you said," Fakir said. "They made it up to get attention. Or maybe they were hallucinating."
"Most likely," Autor agreed. "But there's still the slight possibility that . . ."
A low growl from the woods interrupted his sentence. All three teens froze, looking towards the dark and forbidding area just ahead.
"It's there!" Ahiru hissed. She trembled, her knees violently knocking.
"Something's there," Autor said. "Maybe the joke's on us tonight." He stepped forward in determination. "Who are you?" he called.
Silence, followed by an ominous rustling of leaves.
"There's no wind!" Ahiru exclaimed. "It's the tree coming closer!"
"Or some practical jokers in costume," Fakir frowned. "This is still a colossal waste of time."
"You don't have to stay if you don't want to, Fakir," Autor smirked.
But even he looked stunned when the ground shook in the next moment. Ahiru yelped, pitching forward into Fakir. As she straightened the tremors came again, in a slightly different direction.
"It's walking!" she cried. "It's going to chase us back to town now!"
Autor pushed up his glasses as he tried to regain his balance. "Maybe," he said, "if we let it." He was no longer certain what it was. The heavy quaking certainly seemed indicative of a weighty being. An earthquake would not feel like this, as though it were coming in a perfectly set pattern.
But what bewildered him was, What kind of being could have been awakened in the woods and why was it around now? He had never heard of such a thing in all of Kinkan's history. Of course, for decades, even centuries, hardly anyone had ever ventured outside of town at all due to Drosselmeyer's careful manipulation. And now that the townspeople were finally free of that curse, they were still getting used to living normal lives again. Maybe there were still mysteries outside of the town proper that they did not know the answers to. And maybe this was one of them.
The whatever-it-was was closer now. Autor took several steps back, his heart gathering speed. What was going to emerge from the camouflage provided by the thick flora and the night mists?
Fakir snatched his arm. "If what's coming out of there really is a walking tree, did you ever think that maybe we shouldn't provoke it?" he growled.
"If those students told the truth, they didn't provoke it," Autor retorted. "They were minding their own business. And we haven't provoked it, either. We, or at any rate I, just want answers. If what's coming out of there really is a walking tree, don't you think we deserve to know what its problem is? It shouldn't be bothering us!"
Ahiru was fixated on the spot from which the footsteps were coming, her blue eyes wide and horrified. "If it comes out without people doing anything to it, do you think it might come into the town?" she quavered.
"That's possible too," Autor said. "Don't you see? We need to know what's going on!"
In the next moment a long and almost bony arm stretched out of the night, swiping at him too fast and too hard to allow for escape. He cried out as he was thrown to the grass by the force of the blow.
Ahiru screamed, running forward to crash on her knees next to his wounded body. Both his jacket and his shirt had been torn by the spindly fingers, which had then left several cruel and raw marks on his left upper arm. "Autor!" she sobbed, laying her hand on his shoulder. "Autor, are you okay? Say something!"
He opened his eyes, hissing in pain. "I'm not badly hurt," he said.
But the thing was coming closer. Fakir ran out in front of them, pulling his sword out of its sheath. "Who are you?" he demanded. "Autor didn't do anything to you. What right do you have to go knocking him down?"
Glowing yellow-green eyes glowered at all of them from their embedded position in a thick tree trunk. It raised the same arm it had used to harm Autor, a roar tearing from what could only be a mouth as it swung at Fakir. The boy held his ground, slicing his sword into the limb. As chunks of bark flew in all directions, the creature roared again.
Autor pushed himself off the grass on his uninjured arm while holding the other close to his body. "What do you want?" he cried.
The tree monster was in no mood to talk—if it even understood the language to begin with. It thrust out a huge foot made of roots, aiming to kick Fakir to the ground. He dove out of the way, bringing his blade against the roots in the process. It bellowed, swiping at him with its uninjured arm.
Autor stumbled to his feet, Ahiru leaping up alongside him. "We have to help him!" she cried, watching in helpless horror as Fakir struggled to leap and dodge from the onslaught.
Autor took in the scene for only a moment. "Help me make a couple of torches," he directed, bending to gather loose twigs from the ground.
Ahiru looked at him in surprise. "Are we going to throw them at it?" she asked even as she moved to assist.
"Possibly," Autor said. "At least we're going to try to intimidate it with them. If it's really a tree, as it looks, fire is the last thing it will want to see."
With the twigs collected, Autor pulled a pack of matches out of his pocket and struck one against the package. The flame appeared, and he wasted no time in applying it to the sticks they had selected to use. Raising his own, he charged at the menace.
Ahiru followed suit, her hands shaking slightly before steadying. She did not want to hurt the monster, but she was certainly not going to let it hurt Fakir.
"You leave Fakir alone!" she wailed.
The tree being was so intent on the fight that it did not pay any attention to her or Autor. Again it struck out at Fakir, who was clearly beginning to wear down as it continually tried to attack with arms and legs all at once.
Autor thrust his torch directly at it. The flames caught hold, lapping at the tree trunk body. Ahiru swallowed hard but followed his example, throwing her own torch.
Now the creature was forced to divert its energy elsewhere. It roared, raising its arms to the sky before pawing in vain at the flames. It ran forward, past the stunned Fakir and towards the lake.
The impact sent water soaring in all directions. Fakir shielded himself from the worst of it, bringing an arm up to his face. "What's going on?" he yelled in confusion.
"We had to save you, Fakir!" Ahiru exclaimed. "That was the only thing either of us could think of!"
"I'm not complaining," Fakir said. He looked to the lake, still clutching his sword in his hands. "But what's it going to do now?"
The monster moved slowly across the lake, with only its top, leafy branches and its eyes above the surface. Autor stayed ready with his matches in hand, ready to deal it another blow if it tried to come after them again.
"You've never bothered the humans here before, to our knowledge," he said. "Why have you started now?"
The thing glared at him, its eyes lamplights of contempt and anger.
Ahiru suddenly gasped. "Wait!" she said. "You don't think maybe it's because of that development thing about cutting down some of the trees around the lake, do you?"
The tree rose further out of the water with a rumbling cry.
"If it understood you, it may have just said Yes," Autor said in amazement.
"There were people wandering around the lake yesterday morning," Fakir remembered. "They were talking about how many trees should be cut down."
"But the townspeople don't want any of them to go!" Ahiru said. She looked back to the tree. "They're having a meeting tomorrow to talk about it."
The creature just looked at her now. If it was wearing an expression, it was something akin to suspicion and skepticism.
"It's true," Autor said, deciding that at this point it could not hurt to pursue this angle. It was the only thing that had captured the thing's attention in a non-violent manner.
"But the people here last night weren't part of the project to cut the trees down," Fakir said. "They were just here to relax."
Ahiru nodded. "They shouldn't have been attacked!" she said. "And you shouldn't have gone after Autor and Fakir!" She stepped closer to the lake's edge. "Please, won't you go back in the woods without hurting anyone else? The trees aren't going to be cut down; I'm sure of it!"
The tree growled low. It moved to the nearest bank, beginning to pull itself onto the grass.
"I'll come back and tell you what happens in the meeting," Ahiru offered. "It'll be all over town!" She looked at it pleadingly. "I love the trees; I don't want anything to happen to them. I didn't want to hurt you, either, but I couldn't let you hurt Fakir."
Again the thing grunted. For a moment it regarded Ahiru and the boys searchingly, as if attempting to determine the truthfulness of the story it was being told. Then, still watching them, it began to move back towards the woods. Soon it had vanished completely into the darkness.
Ahiru's shoulders slumped. "Thank goodness," she breathed.
Autor shook his head. "You really do have the ability to charm almost anything," he said.
Ahiru blushed and looked to him as he gingerly held his left arm. "We need to get back," she said firmly. "Your arm might get infected if it's not cleaned right away!"
"I'll be alright," Autor said. He was frowning as he studied the area where the being had gone. "But you're right; we need to get back. I have to do some research."
"Eh?" Ahiru stared at him in surprise, while Fakir raised an eyebrow. "What research? What's going on?"
"I've been thinking," Autor said. "That creature looks somewhat familiar. Doesn't it put you in mind of anything?"
Fakir grunted. "Like what? It's not like tree monsters are exactly common in this world."
"No," Autor said, and his eyes glittered with excitement. "But what about in another world? A world at least surely you are familiar with."
Fakir stared at him blankly for a long moment. Abruptly his eyes opened wide in realization. "You don't mean . . ."
"I mean exactly that—I am reminded of Ents," Autor said.
Ahiru blinked. "What's an Ent?" she said, bewildered.
Fakir shook his head. "We'll talk about it on the way back," he said. Glancing to Autor he said, "So what you're saying is that we might have Ents here? How?"
"That's what we need to find out," Autor said. "First and foremost, I'm going to do some research to try to determine whether Tolkien had the Story-Spinning power. Can you imagine the possible consequences if he did? Hobbits, Dwarves, and Elves might actually come into existence. The Dark Lord Sauron might decide to conquer Earth. The entire War of the Ring could spill out into this world!"
"I can't believe we're having this conversation," Fakir muttered.
"A few hours ago, I wouldn't have either," Autor remarked.
Ahiru glared at them both in frustration. "If all of these things might happen, I think I should know what they all are!" she exclaimed. "They sound scary!"
Both boys turned to look at her. Then Fakir sighed, running a hand into his hair.
"Okay," he said. "We'll tell you about it. But it'll probably take a long time to go over everything."
"I'd recommend reading the books," Autor said. "You might find them exciting enough to conquer even your short attention span."
"Well, tell me about them so I'll know if I want to try!" Ahiru retorted.
Fakir shoved his hands in his pockets. "I don't even know where to start," he said. "There's the other book too, the one that comes first."
"The Hobbit," Autor said. "It isn't necessary to read it first, as most everything important is explained in The Lord of the Rings. But a good starting place for your exposition would be when Bilbo finds the Ring."
"What about when the wizard comes to get him in the first place?" Fakir said.
Ahiru looked back and forth between them. "I'm already confused," she mumbled. "You lost me somewhere around 'Hobbit.'"
"Then the first thing to do is to explain what a Hobbit is," Autor said.
As they continued towards the gates, still talking, none of them noticed the yellow-green eyes that watched their progress from the darkened woods. When they passed into the boundaries of the town, the eyes blinked out of view and the mysterious creature withdrew deeper into its habitat, not to be discovered unless it willed it so.