The barren, tan corn stalks behind her snapped in the cold evening breeze, the only sound louder than the dry, fiery red leaves swirling around her tiny, shivering bare feet. She’d lost her bearings again and she hoped the dinner bell would ring soon. A gray tree with endless arms and fingers, devoid of any remaining foliage, loomed before her. She gazed at the odd markings on the trunk, which appeared to outline a hand-cut door of sorts. And, as she stared, it opened…

(Stories need only touch on this topic in some way to qualify.)


She opened her brown eyes again and instantly regretted it. The walls were still a faded blue, and the dirty window beside her offered no sunshine or warmth. An older man in a white medical coat sat in front of her frail form. Claire was sure that his bifocals and silver hair made his patients feel safe, but she wasn’t as convinced.

“Can you answer my question, Claire? I need to hear again what happened that night. Can you tell me?”

Claire shivered. For two weeks, she’d recounted the same story countless times to doctors and police officers. She kept closing her eyes, hoping it would all disappear, yet each time she opened her eyes, reality glared back at her.

“I know you’ve told the story before,” he offered. “I just need to hear it one more time. Please.”

After a long moment of silence, Claire sighed heavily. Her voice quivered and she nervously tucked her dark, chestnut hair behind her ears.

“Paul was my mom’s boyfriend. He was…a bad man. He’d hit her, you know? And when she wasn’t around, he’d hit me too.”

The doctor pulled out a small yellow notepad and scribbled for a moment. Claire eyed the notepad skeptically, but continued, “I pleaded with God to come and save me, and my mom. Nothing ever changed. And then one night, Paul forced himself on me. He…”

Tears began to pour down Claire’s pale cheeks. The doctor reached into his pocket and pulled out a handkerchief. He held it out to her, far enough away that she wouldn’t feel threatened by his closeness.

“I had to get help,” she whispered as she took the handkerchief. Through tears, she looked up at the doctor’s face, and pleaded, “I had to. My mom didn’t see or understand, and God wasn’t helping.”

Claire pulled her feet on to her chair, and wrapped her long, boney arms around her legs. “I don’t know how it happened or where it came from, but a demon helped me.”

It wasn’t uncommon for the doctor to hear stories of demons. Little impressed or alarmed him now after twenty years as a psychiatrist. Pushing his bifocals up on his large nose, the doctor calmly asked, “What do you mean by a demon, Claire?”

Again, the small teenager shivered. She dropped her arms to her sides, and placed her tiny bare feet back on the tile floor. When she looked up at the doctor again, her eyes were still rimmed with tears. “It was small things at first. I started having dizzy spells, moments when I couldn’t remember where I was. The night it happened, I’d been hiding out in the cornfield behind our house. I did that a lot on nights my mom worked late. Whenever mom would come home, she’d call for me. And I knew it was safe to go in.

“But that night, I was outside waiting and I got cold. I remember how loud the barren corn was. The breeze made them knock against each other, and the leaves blowing around on the ground were so red they made the ground look like it was on fire. It was unnerving. I decided to go inside because I felt scared and cold. As I headed inside, I remember feeling a little confused, like I didn’t have my bearings. I knew I was in the corn; that it stretched out around me. I knew I was hoping my mom would call me to dinner soon. That’s when I saw it.

“A giant gray tree that I’d never seen before was in front of me. It didn’t have any leaves, and there were strange markings on it, and an outline that looked like a door. When I got closer, the small door opened, and light poured out. A deep voice said it was going to help me.”

Claire held out her palm to the doctor. She traced a thin pink wound below her fingers. “He gave me this and said as long as I had it, he’d always find me and help me when I needed him. That’s the last thing I remember.”

The doctor frowned. “You don’t remember walking into the house and finding Paul dead? When you were found, you had his blood on you, Claire.”

Looking down at her palm, Claire shook her head. “The last thing I remember is that voice…and no one believes me.”
Nodding, the doctor scribbled one last thing on his note pad before looking down at his watch. “Well, Claire, I think it’s best that until you fully remember, you remain with us here at Riverview Mental Hospital. Not because I don’t believe you, but because we need time for you to understand what really happened.”

Before he finished talking, Claire was on her feet. “Please don’t make me stay here!” she exclaimed. “I don’t like it here!”

Without looking at her, the doctor stood, “It’s just for a little while. I suggest you get a little comfortable, okay? I have another appointment, but we’ll discuss this more tomorrow.” The door made a loud click as it shut that caused Claire to flinch. Claire knew she needed a plan to leave. Staying in the cold hospital was making her claustrophobic. She paced nervously in front of the window a few times before she saw it.

Outside, in the stone courtyard below was the gray tree with endless arms and odd markings on the trunk. She traced the thin wound on her palm that seemed to be radiating heat. “I need help,” she whispered.

The outline of the small door opened.