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That’s me, there next to the bench. No not the guy getting up and throwing his newspaper in the…ON THE GROUND! PICK IT UP! Never mind. I forget, he couldn’t hear me…not yet. That’s better.
You didn’t see a cop writing a citation for littering? No matter, he did. Where was I? Oh yes, see that guy picking up the newspaper and throwing it in the trash bin the way a responsible citizen should, that’s not me. I’m the tree next to him. Not in the tree, just the tree. Yes tree, that really big tree with the low spreading branches, the kind kids like to climb. That’s me. Actually the whole park is me, more or less, but that tree, that’s the main me, the me that started the park.
Now notice that young man in the olive park service jumper holding the rake. That’s me too, the me most people see, but that’s just a projection of sorts, useful for official interactions with the city. He’s…I’m solid enough near the park where I have lot of roots. Further away he…I’m just light and shadow, a hollow illusion. Far enough away, I’m only a voice behind you, or a whisper in your dreams.
I can see that you remember your dreams. That little voice that drew you through the gray shadows; that led you here through the hissing static of TV screens behind doors to rooms that don’t exist, and through windows that fly open at the touch of moonlight. That was me. Remember what you did in the dream. You wrote on a little scrap of paper and pressed it into the bark of that tree…of me. Do you recall? A word, a single word, crumpled and squeezed into the ridges of my bark. You remember. You have the very paper in your hand, crushed in your white knuckled fist.
What does it say? That’s right, “Help.” Now press it in, just like the dream. You can go home now. I’ll be in touch.
Back again so soon? Well, to business then. I think you will approve of some of the new landscaping we have done down by the pond, at the end of the hedge hiding the maintenance shed. Go ahead, I’ll keep you company.
Me? Not much to tell, not really…okay, maybe a little. I’m not really a tree…or at least I wasn’t always. I was born, if that’s the word for it, out there in the stars. This is the kind of thing that happens to my kind when we get old, or ill, or hunted to exhaustion for reasons there do not exist words in your world to articulate. One can get stuck like this for a very long time, and out there life moves on and one is forgotten for a while. I fell here tumbling off the butt end of a solar flare, and when I came too I was this…or in this; it’s complicated. Let us just say I have small tolerance for the rapacious and predatory. No worries; your world is safe for the time being. It was a good way to end a career, as you might call it, glorious even. Let me show you.
No survivors, none, not as we were. You have an expression, “dog eat dog.” Sometimes it comes to that even among my kind. I came too a hundred and seventy years ago when a settler decided to tack up a shanty against my trunk. He had bad dreams and relocated a little further away. Before I knew it a town had grown up around me. It wanted to grow up over me, but those plans, shall we say…changed.
That is when I became the town’s hanging tree, and this little patch of ground began to be called Grim Park. Fifteen men have swung by their necks from my branches. Eleven deserved it. One almost deserved it. One deserved worse. One was innocent, but he had a fair trial, and one lived to tell the tale. That last one was a lynching, mob justice, an ugly night. Three different ropes broke five straight times.
The man they wanted dead managed to live another year, but it was too much to see his face every day, him knowing their faces and what they had done and how they had failed. They eventually just shot him and brought his body right here where we...or rather you are standing. They left him as a warning. But they did not leave either, not for a long while, and when they did leave, it was mostly as lumber. The original framing and sides of the maintenance shed were made from them. You don’t believe me do you?
I kept their stumps alive, but they felt what it was like to be cut down by the slow steady rhythm of a buck saw. And when they grew back from their stumps they were trimmed hard, so they would look presentable. Still, a hundred years is enough, so I undid what I had done, letting them go in two year intervals. For ten years like clockwork one of those over-pruned trees died and some demented old man would be found sitting by the pond without a stitch. Those men did tell some mighty strange but very entertaining stories to those who would listen. God rest their souls.
That’s when they first begin to call the pond over there the Bear Pool. It was originally spelled B-A-R-E. But after the zoo came in for a few years and old Grump’s cage was built nearby…well times and references change. So much changes so fast, flowers, trees…people.
Yes, I make new additions to the park all the time. Like right here…see at the end of the hedges, that little tree. Look there imbedded in the bark of that drooping limb…you can barely see it now…that glint of gold, that setting. Recognize the ring? I thought you would. Do you want it? You’ve earned it. There are some pruning shears in the shed. No? Well needless to say, that little problem you needed help with has been resolved. Odds are you will not see that ring again for at least the next fifteen years. But don’t worry. Time changes people. It really does.
micheledutcher - laurabeaz: Great creepy story. Like a demented version of "The Giving Tree." The beginning gripped me and your pacing was good and pulled me along. I loved the phrase about "a voice behind you or a whisper in your dreams." The back story was fascinating. I might have appreciated a little more exposition and explanation of the ending but overall this is an excellent story.
micheledutcher - This story is creepy! I love the details: 15 men have swung, 11 deserved it..Love the gold reference...Really ODD!
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