Sean O’Neill

The July Editor's Pick Writer is Sean O'Neill

Please feel free to email Sean at: seanfp.oneill@gmail.com


by Sean O’Neill

As she meandered down the wide winding trails of the redwood forest, Janice spoke to avoid another word out of Davidson’s utterly droll mouth. “They’re not trees,” she said. “They’re skyscrapers.”

Davidson was a few paces behind her. “Huh?”

“You called them trees. Look at them.” She drove her finger pointed hand straight up in air.

The redwoods loomed over them both like wooden obelisks, and in truth their size and the density of the wood reminded her more of the claustrophobic closeness of downtown Chicago than of any sort of peaceful or natural serenity of Northern California. Even the shade—drawn by the long stately shadows cast over the forest floor—reminded her of the perpetual grey under which her Illinois city seemed to exist and its corresponding days-long depression.

He scoffed and walked further down the trail. “They’re trees, hun.”

“Let’s stop for a minute,” she said. She sat back on her haunches and squirted a stream of water warmed by the day’s hike down her throat. He huffed. 

“We’ve barely walked at all.” 

“It’s been miles.” 

“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity and you’re going to miss it!” 

“Is that what you tell your clients?” 

He glared at her. She looked away, though the corners of her sheepish smirk were still visible. 

He could be a charmer when he wanted to be, but as of late, it seemed that he rarely wanted to be. 

The trouble began just a few months into their relationship. He was rich, and she was from the South Side. The first time she stepped into Davidson’s condo, she expected to see the place covered in plastic so she wouldn’t rub poor all over the furniture. But it wasn’t, and Davidson had been a perfect gentleman that night. He mixed them drinks and had dinner catered in and while they sat on his eggshell couch drinking cocktails, him an old-fashioned and her a martini, he had caressed the hair behind her ear and then took her head in his hand and kissed her. She had never felt so loved and cared for in her life. Love is just a drug like any other. You can spend a lifetime chasing that first, perfect high.

His iPhone rang. “Hank! Buddy, how the hell are….” He paced from one side of the trail to the other, eight feet at most. The pacing was a tell Janice had come to recognize. That’s how she knew the client was important and she should shhhhhhh.

She leaned back into a tree whose width was as wide as the dividing wall between her kitchen and her living room, measuring her severe disappointment in the redwood forest. She didn’t know what she had expected coming out here and perhaps it would have been wiser to expect nothing. At that point she knew only that living in Chicago as the arm candy of one of the many overpaid traders who thought themselves a Blue Diamond was sucking the lifeblood from her veins. She had to get out.

From where she sat, the density of the forest was overpowering, and one could be forgiven for thinking it untouched serenity. From the air, large swaths of forest cut and cleared and left barren like battlefields stripped of value remaining only the occasional carcass left lonely to rot. The irony was palpable, as Davidson spoke on the phone and discussed the value of things that were not his, while enjoying a vacation to a land he would have happily sold for profit to the highest bidder. Hell, he may have been selling it right now.

A cool zephyr drifted in the gaps between the trees carrying sweet scents of milkmaids and buttercups that swelled in her nostrils. She watched the way sunrays fell from holes in the tree tops like Disney spotlights on to the furiously fluttering body of a woodpecker, small and streaked with brown and salt and pepper, zipping about the massive body of a redwood. It was missing Cinderella’s dress but was otherwise as enchanting as anything she could have hoped.

That’s what I came here for, she thought. Magic. 

The woodpecker found its perch on a branch and was raising its head to drill, for sap or grubs or whatever else it might find. An aura had befallen the forest that was sharply in contrast to the jungle thicket she felt earlier. An energy palpitated in the air, at once the trees seemed electrified and viscerally alive. Sparks ran rivulets through the slivers of bark adorning their trunks, and through the cucullate leaves that decorate their branches.

Birds sang louder. Milkmaids wept sweeter scents. The woodpecker plunged its beak into the body of the tree, and an ancient groan exhaled from somewhere nearby.

She turned her head, first to the left, then the right. There was nothing obvious. Then the groan came again, this time deeper and with a noticeable echoing hollow, like someone had knocked on a door or swung a two-by-four against a house.

From where she was the tree seemed to be spinning. No, it must have been her moving. Her shirt was bunching at her back.


She yelped, jumping to her feet as the tree against which she leaned accelerated its own spins from a slow crawl to a carousel on steroids. The tree turned in place at a considerable pace. She looked up. So were the others. Not every tree but every third or fourth, all turning in place like carousels.

Davidson was still on the phone, oblivious.

“Davidson!” she called. “Davidson!”

He continued to ignore her until the ground beneath their feet began to quake. Davidson held the phone away from his face for a moment, then spoke, “I’ll call you back.”

Dirty and disheveled ends of roots reached through the ground like zombie hands clawing for freedom. Janice screamed. She looked over at Davidson, who was staring blankly at the trees, seemingly unable to move; unable to cope with anything outside of his own idea of reality. He was frozen, mouth agape; looking remarkably like a mouse standing before a hungry cougar. It would be the last time she saw Davidson with his feet on the ground.

Roots as long and thick as the centuries snaked through the ground towards free air, uncoiling and lifting their massive bodies high up into the air. A hail of dirt, beetles and other subterranean vermin assailed them.

A branch, as large by itself as any of the trees of Jackson Park back home, and as dexterous as a snake, and as dexterous as a snake, reached through the spiraling mass of mud-brown and emerald green and scooped Davidson like a toddler from the ground, cradling him in its thicket of leaves. He hollered and shouted and called for help but all her tries to return his shouts died pitifully in her throat.

The tree lifted Davidson high until he was no more than a speck in the clearest blue sky Janice had ever seen. The thought was absurd. Her boyfriend was a hostage held miles in the sky by an animated tree and the thing that struck her the most was the majesty of the sky. It was though, unlike she had ever seen in Chicago.

She nearly had to stifle a laugh until another branch, cleaned of leaves and sharpened at the end, reached through the thicket and angled towards Davidson. It lurched forward and plunged its point through his stomach and out his back then lifting him up as if to display him. The way a hunter might display his prized kill. The branch rattled and Davidson split free and into two distinct pieces- one of his torso, arms, and head and the other his legs.

Janice screamed. Long, aberrant screams which descended quickly into hoarse gasps and cries of no discernable pattern as she watched the two halves of her boyfriend tumble from the sky and disappear far from view.

The trees began to concinnate, moving as one mobile forest. They pulled themselves along the ground using their roots as an octopus uses its tentacles. Where they traveled, the ground turned and pitted.

Janice ceased screaming. She was, as Davidson had been, frozen by fear. Fear, and absurdly, acceptance. If she was to die she hoped only for it to be quick. 

A tentacle reached for her. It coiled about her torso like a clunky constrictor finding its meal. She quivered, closing her eyes, waiting for the moment she felt that sucker punch of impalement and the weightlessness of falling. The branch slithered up her body to her scalp.

She braced for death. It did not come.

The branch touched her head, her face, her breasts, her arms and legs. It felt more curious than threatening, as if it didn’t know quite what to make of her. It lifted her close—she could see every groove and divot in the bark.

From somewhere above, a sudden puff of pollen rained, turning her pale skin the color of mustard. It took only a moment, but then she was calm. She had forgotten all about the horrible end to her former boyfriend. The branch set her down on her feet, rejoining its herd, and soon she was watching from a distance as the forest collective moved away leaving her alone and frazzled, but otherwise unharmed, along the great redwood trail.


The town of Farland, California had only one sheriff, one deputy, and one park ranger to manage itself with and that was just fine. It was a small town, and the people of Farland had no desire for tourist dollars. They were a logging town.

Mackey liked being the sheriff of Farland; loved it, in fact. When the redwoods moved, forcing the sun’s radiant shafts between the holes and patches in its cover of leaves, there was not a better man to take charge of the situation in Farland than Mackey. In his mind, anyway.

On the day the trees arrived in town, Mackey was struggling not to drown in his own puddle of drool as he slept away the previous night’s imbibements, face down on his desk.

Lodson was the park ranger and the first to see the trees. He was cooped up contentedly in his cabin five miles outside of town and just off the main trail, sipping coffee and watching sitcom reruns on his laptop and thinking about the couple who had stopped in just a few hours earlier on their way down the trail. They were the only ones to come through this week, and that was just fine.

His first thought as the ripples materialized in his coffee and the tremors crept up the walls was, earthquake?

But no, not an earthquake. Farland was on the fault, and Lodson has been here his whole life. He knew an earthquake, and the consistency of these tremors weren’t the same.

He watched out the window as the forest groaned and crepitated and the distant treetops parted as if by some great bore, only to be filled with the shamrock green of more tops of trees. He reached for his radio, when the quaking stopped.

For a moment, everything was still. Then a dark, oaky mass of writhing tentacles reached out from the forest, continuing for an impossible amount of time before the body of the thing broke through the line and the forest itself crawled forward. Lodson was still holding his coffee when he saw it, the ensuing shock resulting in a shirt soaked in hot musty coffee and burnt nipples. He stalked outside to see the forest animation live.

More trees were pulling their roots from the primeval ground and writhing forward to freedom. A wooden tentacle, long and mechanical, wrapped itself around his midsection and lifted Lodson from his feet until the tallest branches were eye level.

In a desperate final act of honor that would be remembered by no one, Lodson screamed frantically into his radio so that the one on the other side, the one clipped to Mackey’s shoulder, squawked just as frantically but not enough to wake the sleeping sheriff. Then the tentacle tossed Lodson away like a missed shot at the wastebasket. The radio stopped squawking, and Mackey continued to sleep his hangover away.


Janice made her way back to the car that had taken her and Davidson to the forest. She drove back to Farland. The town, once as vibrant and bustling as an anthill in the forest, had been beaten to rubble.

The trees had come and gone and left their own marks of carnage carved into the trunk of the town. She wondered where they went. And if she would see them again.

To Janice, Farland looked like the bombed-out cities she saw in those dreadful war documentaries Davidson liked to watch. The people looked the same too, staggering like zombies with stares just as lifeless. The only difference seemed to be if this were 1945 Berlin then the tops of their heads and arms would be covered in ash and debris. Instead it was splinters, sawdust and leaves.

Instead, bodies were torn apart. Bodies split apart, ripped apart, bodies with stakes still protruding from their open heads and abdomens. No one was spared. The carnage was indiscriminate. A man knelt quivering over the torn body of a woman, his wife or girlfriend, who still gurgled her death cries between coughs of blood. It looked muddy and tinged with earthy brown, like she was coughing up bark instead of blood. Maybe she was.

An acrid blend of iron and century’s old dirt and decayed moss scented the town. Janice gagged, fighting the urge to vomit. The urge won. She doubled over and emptied the contents of her stomach, and then some, right on to a pair of knee-high boots that were aimed at her and attached to a man in a uniform. The man looked turned over twice and smelled of sweat and booze. His eyes were sunken like they’d hit an iceberg on his way out the door, his beige cop’s uniform disheveled and stained. He extended his hand.

“I’m Sheriff Mackey,” he said looking down at his Campbell’s chunky covered boots. “Looks like I’m going to need a new pair.”

He cleaned his shoes under a street side spigot.


We should call the army!” yelled a voice from the crowd. 

We should grab our guns and take care of this ourselves!” said another voice, this one deeply masculine and laced with vinegar.

Someone had the good enough sense to ask, “Where were you, Mackey?”

Janice listened quietly to the squabble from the back row of pews. Mackey had gathered the townspeople—the surviving ones—for a meeting.

The town’s medical infrastructure was stressed, but Janice did not require much help in the way of recovery. She received a smattering of bandages for her few cuts and scrapes, a set of new clothes to change into, and a strong cup of coffee with an even stronger drizzle of whiskey to aid her mental discomfiture. Overall though, she was fine. More than fine. She felt invigorated. As energized as she felt in forest just moments before the awakening.


That was good. Apt, really. She knew she was witnessing something spectacular, not horrific in the slighted. She was witnessing an awakening. Participating too. Was she now the same girl she had been as she wandered into the forest this morning, holding hands with a man who had at the time been the center of her world but now felt alien? Certainly not. The trees had awoken, and with them, so had she. She was a participant in a great awakening. Her blood pumped heavy swells and her skin flushed bright with a lustful wanton. More, she thought.

She came back to the present.

“I was coordinating our defenses and planning our retaliation,” Mackey was saying. He was fast to change the subject before the obvious holes in his Swiss-story could be fingered and widened. They received no aid from the state or federal government, and in return were left to their devices as they had always been. Farland was a solitary blip of red in the deep blue ocean. It was not difficult to sell the denizens on yet another plan of self-reliance.

“We’ll commandeer every vehicle of size in town,” said Mackey, “as well as every able-bodied man. A few of the disabled too. Get every gun available, especially the large caliber. Everything you have. No one will be in trouble if what you have is,” he paused to glance from side to side, so that everyone knew what he meant, “less than legal.” A skirting of the state’s notoriously strict gun laws was just another part of Farland’s proudly independent history.

They packed their trucks, Jeeps, and a few Hondas with as much gasoline and bullets as they could stuff into the trunks and back seats. Each one was manned by a driver and a gunner or two. There were three dozen or more vehicles in all. Janice insisted on riding along though she was strongly encouraged to remain in town with the rest of the women. She refused. She had been there for the beginning, she said. She would see it through to the end. That was what she told them anyway.

The caravan took to the PCH heading south in the same direction the trees were heading. There as another logging town sixty miles south of Farland called Belmont and the consensus was if the trees were headed anywhere, it would be there.

Mackey rode with Jonesy, the town’s deputy, who was eager for a chance to strike back at the trees. He nursed a poorly bandaged nub where his left hand once was. Janice rode in the back, on the driver’s side. Though it was a police vehicle it was not one outfitted to transport prisoners. There was no divider between the front seats and the back seats.

The caravan trundled down PCH led along by Mackey’s sirens. Janice watched through the open window as they passed through the redwood forest. She opened her mouth to taste the wind carried notes of wood and foliage that the tree horde left in their wake like breadcrumbs. She felt them in the air. With every rotation of the tires forward, Janice felt the weighted sense of wanton in her grow like an expanding ball of lead. Blood flushed her face and chest. Her heart palpitated into her throat like an Adam’s apple. The air felt cooler as they neared. Cooler and clearer.


Heading south, the trees felt their coming in the ground through miniscule vibrations echoed from their wheels and felt in the writhing masses of roots.

The caravan charged forward to greet the horde, their first words the stuttering crack of machine gun fire. The bullets were predictably ineffective. They cut through branches and launched tatters of leaves and splinters into the air but little else.

Turning, the trees advanced on the caravan, enduring a hailstorm of large caliber bullets. Mackey directed from behind a pair of large aviators in the passenger seat of the lead car. He anticipated the ineffectuality of the bullets; he had another plan in mind. He radioed to his troop. At his command the caravan split into two lines and began encircling the horde.

The trees launched their own hailstorm in return. A disembodied spear of sharp wood shot precipitately from somewhere in their tops.

The cloud of missiles was dark and looming, seeming to hang in the air for a moment—long enough to blot out the sun and plunge the valley into night—before raining death on the vehicles below. They pierced the softer topped cars with ease, impaling their occupiers through their eyes and mouths and the tops of their heads. The open-top Jeeps—there were more than a few—were even less trouble.

Mackey was unperturbed. Casualties, even a large number of them, was be expected. He signaled Jonesy who called to another grouping of trucks: the rear guard.

Janice observed this from the back, and looked out her window as an assembly of unseen hard-topped Jeeps and pickup trucks with oversized wheels appeared over the hills and joined the flock. The trucks rolled down their windows. A metallic tube poked out.

The trucks broke away and charged towards the trees’ flanks. Jonesy made another call, and the trucks spewed fire from flamethrowers that reached for ten yards or more. The trucks circumscribed the trees and the horde was stopped by a ring of fire eating up the grass.

The flames burned the dry grass beneath it for kindling. The ring’s perimeter thickened; its center shrunk. Soon the flames charred the writhing roots of the horde and lapped haughtily against the bark, setting the lower branches and leaves alight.

Janice screamed, audibly and with the shrill soprano of a banshee. She could almost feel the heat as though she herself was burning.

Mackey turned back expecting to see a rogue spear or other projectile having slammed through the side of the car, somehow unknown to him, and killed their passenger. Instead he saw what looked like a stick whittled down to a point swing through the air, whizzing by his face, and landing square into Jonesy’s throat.

Jonesy’s eyes sprang in shock, like he couldn’t believe what just happened. Then blood seeped through the wound running down his throat, stopping to pool in the notch between his collar bones, before continuing down the curves of his chest to turn his muddied white shirt a darker, rusted crimson.

Mackey followed the lines of the stake to the hand that was holding it. Janice’s hand.

He looked at her, astonished, too astonished to process the latest twist in a day full of scenarios for which there were no police codes. He saw her other hand fumbling about the door. Then the door was open, and Janice was galloping across the land towards the place where the trees were burning.

Janice’s screams had turned to tears but the closer she got to the trees, the faster the tears were cooked off her face. It was never supposed to go this far. She had seen the destructive power of the trees and knew well their fury. The humans were to die, her too if necessary.

But it had not gone that way, had it? She was not sorry for killing Jonesy, any more so than he was sorry for killing the trees. The forest was alive- alive! Could he not see that? Could he not give them the same dignity of life for which he himself expected?

She ran, yelled, shouted, and ran some more until reaching a wall of radiating heat so strong she could continue no further. She collapsed to her knees, sobbing the violent sobs of a woman forced to watch her beloved die. By then the flames engulfed the trees from roots to tops and their silent silhouettes were the last thing visible beneath the dense and flickering swath of inferno. She cried for them. Cried out for them. She bent her head to the ground with an open mouth to taste their remnants in all its earthy glory. While she ate, the trees burned. Silently. And beautifully.

Mackey dropped the cloth into Jonesy’s lap, heavily soaked with blood and of no help whatsoever- but he had known that. It was a desperate attempt to save Jonesy’s life but no amount of pressure can counter the destruction of a stake through the throat. He whispered a silent prayer for his deputy, and the closest thing to a friend he ever had.

“We got ‘em, Jonesy,” he said proudly. His grin stretched past his cheeks. Jonesy would have understood.

There was a shimmer in the aviators affixed to the dead man’s face. He stared, eyes narrowed, heartbeat accelerating. It was a reflection. Movement. A tree, far away. It was moving.

Mackey swiveled, his face contorted, to see for himself. All around him thousands of trees were uncoiling themselves from the ground and raising themselves up. How could that be, when he had been sure they were burned?

The horde had covered a dozen or so acres. It looked like miles. The trees were rising from their roots; born anew from the ground. The roots were yards long. They pulled themselves forward.

Miles of trees shook, quivered, and trembled like ruffled hairs as they grew from the ground. They circled the caravan. There was nowhere to go.

Mackey shouted into his radio, ordering his flame-bearers ahead to cut an escape path through the invaders.

A hail of missiles launched from the trees. They were like small Christmas trees, and hundreds strong. The sky turned black as the redwoods grew taller, and even though the deadly hail of bullets ripped the tops off of the trees, they continued to regenerate and grow, just like forests do in the wild when undisturbed.

The redwoods reached out branches and eviscerated the occupants of the remaining vehicles, leaving limbs outstretched through the windows with no bodies left. A discorporated hand lay lonely in the dirt, a smoldering cigarette still clutched between two fingers.

Panicked drivers drove like rats on the Titanic, desperate for escape. Several drove headfirst into the new horde and were consumed by the tentacles. Others tried to slip through the gaps. They were hoisted into the air and crushed between massive limbs or tossed violently back to earth and impaled. Mackey called the few remaining and formed a barricade of their vehicle, hiding with pistols and rifles to defend their Alamo.

Janice lay on her back, half buried, watching the scene unfold. A wild glee consumed her being. A whole new horde. A new birth. A new awakening. She felt death approaching, but she was not afraid.

A rogue flamethrower’s fire caught the trees and a blaze drove down the center horde like a jackrabbit alight. It was destructive but not enough so to cover even a sliver of acreage. The sky glowed a river of flame backset by towers of thick slate smoke and Janice felt deeply at peace.

Bullets cracked intermittently. Beside her, Mackey lay silent, his face concaved where a spear had entered and stopped halfway. One eye hung loosely from its tether. The other was gone completely.

Another volley of wooden spears materialized in the sky, fell, and the angry crack of gunfire ceased for good. It was silent now, only the deep crepitations of wildfire and the hum of writhing trees left to serenade the day’s final bleats.

Janice reached to her stomach. A pressure set in, her breath became shallow and laborious. Her hands felt wood, and warm rivulets of blood. Something grasped her ankle and crawled up her leg. Small splinters penetrated her skin.

The tentacle dragged her slowly and gently towards the forest, lifting her high into the air. It felt like hours but may only have been minutes. She stared at the sky ablaze, and the miles upon miles of tree and forest which were moving in every direction as far as she could see and then farther.

She felt their movements. Felt their lives. Their awakenings. They were awake, all of them, from coast to coast. City to city. Continent to continent. She would die—she had to, she was a human—but they were alive. And that was enough. She felt weightless, tumbling into dark hedges.

She thought, they’re not trees.

They’re not trees.

Sean ONeill is not nearly as accomplished as any of the writers he is so fortunate to have been published alongside but someday would like to be. You are currently reading his first published work, “In the Forest, Blood.”

He was raised in Chapel Hill, North Carolina and grew up on a volatile blend of Southern Gothic literature and 80s slasher movies, which more or less lead to the dramatic mess he is now. He currently lives in Raleigh, North Carolina with his wife who is far too patient, his son who is far too grown, and a dog that is the best.

You can find him on twitter here: