Sam Cook

          Every house I have ever lived in has been destroyed. It’s eerie when I really stop to think about it. I could drive you through my home town and never once find a place I’ve ever called home. There are strange new buildings where my old abodes once stood, and they look bizarre and out of place to me. It’s as though all tangible proof of my past, my memories, has been removed from the face of the earth. Sometimes, in my more paranoid moments, I speculate if some force -nature, the government, God- could be behind these coincidences in a conspiracy to remove all proof I’ve even existed. A bright yellow house in a shady residential neighborhood had the record of my height from birth to the age of eight inscribed on a doorframe. That knowledge was lost in a fire just a week after we moved out. I used to bike past the strange new house at least once a week and always felt a shiver as I passed; even though only one house has changed, the entire neighborhood felt somehow alien to me. The apartment building I lived in until I was ten has now been replaced by a strip mall. No matter how many times I pass it I always have to look twice, just to be sure it really isn’t there anymore. That apartment held my first work of art, a scribbled drawing in the corner of a closet. I was the only one who knew of its existence before the place was demolished. After the apartment there were two houses just down the street from each other. The first was too large for only Dad and me. The year after we left it was demolished to clear space for two smaller, more compact housing units. I hadn’t left any part of myself in that particular house, yet whenever I left for the bus stop I couldn’t help but turn and stare at the two new houses, crammed into an uncomfortable lot, and remember my old second story room, where I once had a perfect view of the entire neighborhood.

        There had been a hill behind that house, and on that hill a tree. To strangers passing through Milford, it was something to stop the car and stare at. To us, however, the tree was just an everyday feature of our town, and worth no more notice than the great bridge which spanned the bay, or the old, surely haunted, Obadiah house which glared down on us from a nearby hill.

        It was easily the largest tree in Milford. It had been the highest point in town until the bridge was built. It was a great tangly thing, I was never sure of its species, whose branches seemed thick enough to be the trunks of many trees. This tangle of branches wound their way upward to a great bush of leaves which mushroomed over the neighborhood below. Our bus stop was located beneath it, beside the place where my former house had stood, and it provided the other kids and me with protection from harsh weather. The thick branches blocked out sun, snow, wind and rain almost completely. But the tree did not stop with this forest of branches. Somewhere in that leafy mass another seed had sprouted and grown. The parasitic trunk stretched above the leaves, crowning the great tree with a sort of spire.

        The tree is gone today. The hill it stood on was flattened and replaced by four squat houses that sit a little too close together and whose windows seem to glare at passersby. Like all my houses, there is no sign that it ever existed, and, like the houses, with its passing yet another landmark of my past dissolves behind me.

        I first noticed the tree standing at the bus stop, listening to my friend Garret talk. It was a common activity of mine, listening. I seemed to do it whenever Garret was surrounded by others. When we met in my driveway each morning, alone, we shared an equal part of the conversation. We traded stories and comments equally, each contributing something to the conversation. It was when we arrived at the stop, with the other kids, that this equilibrium was disturbed. Garret seemed to swell with words while I began to fall silent, as though someone had stuck a cork in my mouth. A circle would form around Garret and Lark, a girl from our neighborhood who was almost as noisy as Garret, and I would eventually stop speaking all together.  Slowly, I would drift to the edge of the circle, where I could look and listen to my heart’s content and allow myself to be forgotten.

I suppose out of the entire group I just had the least to say. Garret always had an interesting story for almost any situation, which he took great delight in telling in elaborate detail. Sometimes I wondered if he stayed up at night and thought of new stories to tell, just so he could be the center of attention. Lark was just as loud as Garret, and she always seemed to have a story to top his. They were very fond of getting into arguments that threatened to wake the neighbors. Anne, another neighborhood girl, was to Lark the way I was to Garret. From a distance I would see them talking, and Anne’s mouth would be moving, shifting, even smiling, but the moment they reached our group she would clam up and let herself drift away. Unlike me, however, Anne had interesting stories. Lark would shout at everyone to shut up and bring Anne to the center so she could have the spot light. Peter and Avery were two older boys who also shared our stop. Peter played sports and I didn’t know him very well, and Avery was supposed to have advanced to middle school last year, but hadn’t. They weren’t as loud as Garret, but they got their words in. Peter was soft spoken, but when he did speak everyone usually quieted down to listen. Avery was forever informing us how ‘juvenile’ we were while slouching on the edge of the circle.

        Of our group the only Cayson rivaled me for silence. He was another spectator, but unlike me, he seemed perfectly happy where he was. His bright eyes followed the speakers, and his mouth was often split into a wide grin whenever Garret was telling one of his funny stories. Cayson was quiet, and he liked it. His eyes never left the circle to look for the oncoming bus, he never showed any signs of dissatisfaction at being left out of the group. In fact, in Cayson’s case, his silence gave him popularity. The others called attention to it daily. Garret even had half the kids in our grade believing he was actually mute. I would have believed it myself if I hadn’t heard Cayson speak on several occasions. For Cayson, silence was a key to celebrity. For me, silence just meant I had nothing to say. Nobody seemed to notice I was at least as quiet as Anne or Cayson, if not more so.

        Garret always seemed to know more about whatever we were talking about, he always had a more interesting story to tell, there was nothing I could have added to the conversation by speaking. Sometimes he would start a story about something the two of us had done, and for a moment they turned to look at me, and I could feel the urge to speak rising, felt the bottled up words swell up within me. The longer Garret told his tale the smaller my part became until I was just another observer. I might have gone through the same events as Garret, but I had obviously not experienced it the same way. So I remained silent and I drifted, until I might as well not have been at the stop at all.

        Not being able to take part in conversations, I found myself left in the position of observer. I noticed when one of Garret’s jokes made Anne uncomfortable, I noticed when Avery was about to cut in with one of his snide comments, I was also always the first to notice when the bus was arriving, so, as a result, I was always the first to sit down. I would go and move to an empty seat and watch, heart sinking, as all of my friends filed in after me and found seats together leaving me the only one seated alone.

        It was on account of my knack for noticing things that the whole business with the tree started. Garret was in the center of the circle, as usual, telling a loud rambling story about the time he’d almost set his house on fire, a motif that recurred in many of his stories, when I first noticed the mark sprayed at the bottom of the tree. It was red, red like the flames Garret had almost unleashed upon his house, and it certainly hadn’t been there before. I spoke without realizing it, and to my surprise the circle shifted, turned, then began to wander toward me, surrounding me, leaving Garret to falter as his audience vanished.

We gathered in a semicircle before the symbol, a bright garish ‘X’. Its purpose was only too clear. The tree, the largest in the county, was doomed.  Immediately everybody began to complain. The tree was a land mark, our protection, our friend; they had no right to cut it down!

“They can’t do this!” Lark exclaimed, stamping her foot.

“Half these houses are empty,” Peter agreed, “there’s no point in building more.”

“What babies,” Avery drawled, “listen, if the city council wants the tree down then it’s coming down. Things change, kids, hate to break it to you but that’s the way life is.”

Garret, whose story had been lost in the uproar, was eyeing the conversation with what I could tell was a calculating eye. I knew what he was going to say before he opened his mouth.

“Well that settles it. I’m going to climb that tree before they cut it down. I’ve always wanted to and now I’m going to have to.”

        In that instant all the attention turned sharply back toward Garret. I stood where I was as the circle reformed and gazed at the branches that wound crazily above my head. I had the urge to climb the tree right there, in front of Garret and everybody. But the bus arrived and my conviction swiftly died. Still, I pondered, why shouldn’t I climb it? Wouldn’t it be nice to do something interesting, just once?

        “You’re insane,” Lark declared, on the bus. “You can’t climb that tree. It’s impossible, it’s too big.”

        “You’ll see,” Garret said. “I’m not afraid of climbing trees, am I?”

        I didn’t answer and nobody noticed. I was still pondering the idea of climbing the tree myself.

        “You idiot, that’s not a climbing tree,” Avery scoffed, “you know what happened to the last moron who thought he could climb that tree? Don’t you remember little Billy Haggardy?”

        “No,” Garret shrugged, “who was he?”

        It couldn’t be that hard. There were plenty of branches to grab. It wasn’t as though it was just one straight trunk without anything to hold onto.

        “Well he was a stupid kid, a lot like you, actually, who went to school with my older brother. They were playing a game and somebody dared him to climb the tree for a joke. Well, Billy didn’t take it as a joke. He decided he was going to climb the tree and show them all it could be done. They all warned him, they all told him it was a stupid thing to do, they all said that once you got up you couldn’t get down, that a fall from that height would kill him. Well, the stupid kid just laughs and climbs anyway.”

        “What happened?” Peter asked.

        But what would it look like if I just ran and climbed the tree Garret said he wanted to climb? I would appear arrogant, or maybe even a little jealous. Everyone would think I was just doing it to show off. Wasn’t I, though, a little?

        “Well, I have to admit, the kid could climb. He climbed and he climbed until he reached those branches, and he turns around to grin at the kids on the ground and my brother shouted up to him, he said ‘alright, Billy, we believe you, you climbed it, now come back down!’ but Billy Haggardy never had much sense. He shouts something they can’t hear and keeps climbing. He went up and disappeared into the branches of that tree and never came out. My brother and his friends, they waited at the base of that tree for hours and hours. But he never came down. Nobody ever saw little Billy Haggardy again.”

        Perhaps I wouldn’t do it when everyone was watching. Maybe I would just do it on my own, just to prove I could. My mind buzzed with plans and strategies, pondering the best time to attempt to climb the giant tree.

        “I think your brother’s a liar,” Lark declared.

        “What did they think happened to him?” Peter asked.

        Avery shrugged. “Well some people say he got lost up there and couldn’t get down. There aren’t any ladders that could reach high enough, so they couldn’t search for him. He probably starved to death. There are those who say he fell, which I doubt, they’d have found a body. Finally, not many people know this, but just a few weeks earlier a live chimpanzee escaped from the Springfield zoo. Well, they say he was last seen entering Milford. I don’t think it takes a genius to see where the monkey would have tried to hide. My guess? Little Billy got on the wrong side of the escaped monkey. You know, now that you mention it, someone did mention finding a disembodied arm somewhere near the tree.”

        “You’re full of crap,” Lark said.

        “Well just wait,” Avery said, “You’ll see for yourself when this idiot tries to climb. Don’t say I didn’t warn you, though. You’ll never be able to make it, that tree is way too big for you.”

        All during school the only thing Garret would talk about was his plan to climb the tree. He whispered to Lark about it constantly during class, completely oblivious to the secret notes I was trying to send him. During lunch I emerged from the food line to see him surrounded by a crowd of kids, who were all listening to his plans for the climb. I attempted to catch his eye to see if he would clear a space for me, but he was too intent on his story. Instead I moved further down the table and sat with Cayson, whose admiring eyes never left Garret. On the bus ride home he Peter and I sat close together and talked about previous tree climbing experiences. I initially tried to listen, I even thought about sharing my own story, but there never seemed an appropriate break in the conversation, and soon I was staring out the window again, watching the wires on the Milford Bay Bridge whip past the school bus.

        The moment we left the bus, Garret seemed to notice me for the first time today.

        “I wonder if I should bring a lunch,” he said, “It might take a while to climb, I could use some refreshment when I’m halfway up.”

        “Yeah,” I said, “Sounds good.”

        “Let’s head to my place,” he said, “we can draw up plans.”

        “No,” I shook my head, “I want to get that homework done tonight, get it out of the way.”

        “Come on,” Garret said, “we have all week.”

        “No,” I said, “I really don’t think so.”

        As I walked up my driveway, I think Garret finally realized I was a little irritated with him.

        “Hey, you ok man?” he called up to me. “You’re going to watch me climb, right?”

        “Of course Garret,” I said, forcing my voice to sound excited, “Someone has to try to catch you when you fall.”

        Garret laughed and I closed the door.

        “Is that you?” Dad asked, peering from the back room. “Could you and Garret perhaps play at his house? I need quiet, this week’s subjects just aren’t coming.”

        “Garret isn’t with me,” I said, “and I have homework to do anyway, ok Dad?”

        He nodded and disappeared into his study, and I got out my Social Studies book. I did all the easy questions without thought, but could only stare at the essay questions blankly. Normally I would have been able to dash of an answer really quickly, but this time the answers didn’t want to come. I found myself flipping back through the pages, looking at pictures of the early explorers arriving at America. The pictures showed them in tiny boats, looking up at enormous, pillar like trees which rose above them. These trees were nothing compared to the one which towered over Milford, but there were so many of them, their branches all seemed to form a sort of leafy roof above the shadowed ground. They reminded me of the stone columns I had seen illustrated in my book on mythology. In one of the boats I saw a little man standing up, his arms outstretched in wonder at this new world. He would be Garret, I decided, standing and posing while, behind him, several ink blot men worked to row the boat. I looked among them and found a man whose face was blocked by another man’s shoulder. He would be me, I decided. I looked back to the trees and suddenly my conviction strengthened again.

Garret and I had often climbed on the lower branches of the tree, it wouldn’t be too difficult to get to the top. There was no reason for Garret to treat it like some sort of grave quest he might not survive. I thought about Garret, he was probably out wandering the neighborhood with Cayson. He probably didn’t even miss my presence. I wondered if he was attempting to climb the tree already. Several times I went to the front door and peered down the street, looking for a crowd of people at the base of the tree.

When dad finally emerged from his study with his cartoons ready to be sent to the paper, I was still staring at my book, my essays still unwritten. It appeared as though I hadn’t done any work at all. But I had thought enough to write several essays, if Garret or climbing trees were the topics being taught. I had also decided I would climb the tree. Tonight, after my dad fell asleep, I would sneak out and head for the top.

I didn’t need to worry about falling asleep. I was so nervous my mind wouldn’t let me rest easy even if I had wanted to. I waited until ten o’clock before sneaking outside. It was fairly early for dad to be in bed, but this had been a drawing day. He was always exhausted after drawing a week’s worth of Milford Manny, the cartoon character he drew for the paper. After ten I slowly crept out of bed, got dressed, and snuck to the back door. The moon was hidden behind clouds, but the pale glow of the street lamps gave me plenty of light to see by. As I walked down the empty streets my mind wandered to Garret and I wondered if I shouldn’t wake him up for this. Maybe we could climb the tree together. But I thought of him telling the story the next day, recounting his daring mid night climb, and knew I would simply become invisible again. So I went on and arrived at the base of the tree alone. Looking up, I saw the street lamps play along the bottom most branches. I thought about Avery’s story, and could easily imagine those branches housing something as large as a chimpanzee. My mind still dwelling on doubts, I began to climb.

I stood on a low lying crooked branch and reached up for the next one with my arms. Pulling myself up, I thought of how far I could get before a fall from the tree would kill me. I moved my foot to stand on a stump which had once been a branch, and gripped one side of a forking branch with each of my hands. Bracing them against the tree I walked up the trunk and pulled myself to the higher branch. What if the climb took so long everybody woke up before I got back down? Maybe I would prefer it if I had fallen to my death. Branch by branch I took to climbing the tree like a warped spiral staircase, wrapping my way around the tree as I went. Several times I paused to sit in conveniently shaped branches. I would feel the early autumn wind whip past my face and stare at the lamp posts below and tell myself that this was further than I’d ever climbed before, surely I could go down now. Nobody would know I had climbed the tree anyway, nobody would need to know I hadn’t made it to the top. Every time I thought of this I would stand up and continue climbing regardless.

Soon I found myself within the tangle of branches, almost like some creature inside a cage. I looked down and wondered if I would be able to found a route back to the ground. But there was no time to think, the leafy canopy was still above my head. As I went the wind began to pick up. Just as I passed the point where I was closer to the leaves above me than the grass beneath me I felt a cold drop of water slash me across the face. Was it supposed to rain tonight? I hadn’t bothered to check the weather. I could have cursed myself. Garret would have checked the weather, he always knew when it would rain or not. I remembered a day he had arrived with an umbrella, and everybody had scoffed at him. On the bus ride home, when the drizzle which had been going on and off all day turned into a downpour, nobody scoffed. Still I climbed. The tree was as good a protection from the rain as any umbrella, I told myself, and there was no way I was going to let a little rain stop me from climbing.

If there hadn’t been any wind I might not have had a problem, but as the rain swelled in strength, the wind seemed to get stronger as well, sending cold flecks into my face. The branches began to shift, rocking me back and forth precariously above the ground.

I reached the start of the leaves just as the wind began to howl. The branches were really thrashing now, almost as though the tree were trying to shake me from my perch. I was resolved to cling to the branch I stood at now until the storm stopped when I saw something out of place resting amid the branches before me. It was very dark, not much light filtered up here, but I could still see the twisting, snaky forms of many of the branches. What stood in front of me was not sinuous and thin, however, but large and bulky, almost square in shape. Squinting I began to edge towards it. It took a few moments to realize what it was, but when I did I immediately began to climb for it, struggling from branch to branch. High above the ground, somebody had managed to build a fort in the branches of the trees. It was made of long wooden planks and nestled snugly amid the branches of the trees, which twisted around it and held it firmly in place. I crawled inside and curled up in a corner, while, the wind began to howl. I could see the branches moving up and down outside the rectangular door frame, but somehow the fort remained perfectly still.

I wondered who had built it and silently thanked them. I had seen the tree many times without its leaves, and never, not once, spotted the fort among its branches. It made me wonder what else might be hiding up here. As the wind howled outside I shivered, and couldn’t help but berate myself. I was going to be lucky if this shelter didn’t fall from the branches. Garret was probably in his bed right now, dreaming peacefully of adventure. Why had I been so eager to climb this stupid tree anyway? It was all because I was jealous of Garret, no matter how I might try to deny it. Was this really easier than just trying to join a conversation? Why couldn’t I simply climb back down and let Garret have his stupid tree? I couldn’t understand why he made me so angry. When we were alone I liked Garret, he was the first best friend I had really had, and we had great times together.

I remembered the first time I had ever met Garret. We had only been in our new house for about a month. I was on our new couch, flipping through a book of Greek mythology Dad had gotten me for Christmas, when he knocked. I glanced up, saw him peering in through our front window, and immediately looked over my shoulder to call for Dad. But he was in his study, trying to come up with his weekly quota of gags for Milford Manny, and I knew he didn’t like to be disturbed during his brainstorming sessions. Garret knocked again, and waved to me, so I had little choice but to get up and answer the door.

I had seen Garret before this, but only from a distance.  He was a common sight wandering through our neighborhood or the halls of school. He had a large, threatening build and looked, in my opinion, like the sort of stereotypical bully who liked to steal lunch money from kids like me.

        “Hey, I’m Garret,” he said, before the door was even completely open. “I’d like to ask if I could please use your phone?” he spoke quickly, and the politeness didn’t suit him. I thought his parents must have ground it into him.

        “Yeah, sure,” I said, stepping aside. I showed him to the phone and soon he was engaged in a conversation with someone I assumed to be his parents.

        “Mom? Yeah, I was just wondering… oh, oh yeah… yeah don’t worry I turned it off. Yes ma’am… no ma’am… right, well, I’ll find something. No it’s all right, I understand. I love you too, ok bye,” he hung up the phone with a scowl.

        “Flat tire,” he said, “perfect. Old bread sticks and pudding cups for me tonight!”

        I nodded sympathetically and began to move toward the door. I was still rather intimidated by him, and wanted him to leave as soon as possible although, to be fair, he hadn’t seemed nearly as mean as I had anticipated. He was heading toward the door when he spotted my book.

        “Hey!” he said, pausing to stare at the picture, “that guy’s got it all wrong, where’s his middle head?” I turned to look at the water color picture and saw that it was open to a picture of Bellepheron stabbing his spear into the Chimera’s mouth.

        “What middle head?” I asked.

        “The goat’s head that grows on his back. The Chimera has three heads, a lions on front, a goats on its back, and a snakes on its tail.”

        “This book says it only has the head of the lion, the body of a goat and the tail of a snake.” I said.

        “What? That is so lame,” Garret said. Together we walked to the book and he began to flip through it.

        “I’ve heard it the other way too though,” I said, walking to stand beside him. “I think I prefer it with the three heads, it looks cooler.”

        “Ouch, that must have sucked, how’d you like to be him?” he laughed, showing me a picture of Odysseus and his men driving a burning stake into the Cyclops’s eye.

Soon Garret and I were sitting next to each other on the couch, flipping through the pictures and discussing ancient myths. We compared heroes, argued about which monster would win if the two were ever to get into a fight, and talked about which of the gods had the most useful powers. Garret, it turned out, was just as interested in things like mythology as I was. In fact, it turned out he was far more knowledgeable than I was. Every page seemed to bring another story to his mind. He told me about the his attempt to build his own Trojan horse, which he had given up after the head had fallen apart, and the time he had set up his own labyrinth in his basement, for the benefit of his dog.

After that Garret had come to my house nearly every day during the summer. We explored the old swamp, thought about breaking into the old Obadiah house, watched terrible old science fiction movies, and made secret forays into West Milford to spy on its residents. I felt I could tell him things I could tell nobody else, and I knew he trusted me as well. Still, I couldn’t help but hate him sometimes. I remembered once, last week, when he had been telling the others about a funny trick his dog could do. He had taken them all over to his house to see it, not even remembering he had agreed to hang out at my place that afternoon. He had shown up later, of course, full of stories about how the dog had almost bitten Lark, but I still couldn’t help feeling betrayed. I knew I had been welcome to come, I knew he hadn’t intended to insult me, but somehow the fact that he hadn’t actually asked me, that he never actually spoke to me when the others were around kept eating away at me. I couldn’t help but see whatever Garret did as a sort of obvious plea for attention.

 The moment the wind stopped, I resolved, I would turn around, climb down, and leave the tree. Perhaps while Garret was above me, where he couldn’t be heard, I could try to get to know the other kids myself. Maybe without Garret around I could work up the courage to tell a few stories myself. It would certainly be easier than getting to the top of this tree. With this thought in my mind I listened to the wind and waited for the branches outside to stop moving.

Eventually the storm did stop. I climbed out of the fort and looked through the wet branches to the ground below. The storm had been stronger than I’d guessed. One of the lamp posts below the tree had fallen. But it was over now, the tree no longer threatened to send me hurtling to my death, and I could climb down. I sat for a moment on the wet branch and tried to prepare myself for the descent, but somehow I couldn’t. The night was too still and the smell of the wetness after the storm was too appealing. I could climb now.

So I climbed. As I went higher I looked through the branches, at their twisting and turning paths only squirrels were light enough to run across. I thought about Avery’s story and wondered if that chimpanzee had built a nest up here. I wondered if it was swinging through the branches somewhere above or below me, its white fangs glistening in the night. I knew enough about chimpanzees to know he could easily rip me to pieces if he wanted to. The story had seemed silly back on the ground but up in the tree, where everything was so still and so strange, the idea of spotting a chimpanzee seemed far more natural than the jarring tone of the bell tower which told me it was now one o’clock in the morning.

The higher I climbed the thinner the branches eventually became. Above me the clouds were parting to allow the moon to shine down, and I could see where I was going a little bit better. I could also gaze along the branches much further and see each of them to their end. It really looked like a different tree from up here. From below all the branches seemed to run together, as though they were one solid mass, but up here I could see each individual branch as a separate path, a different limb of the giant tree. I didn’t find the chimpanzee, but I did see, towards the top, an old rowboat which lay upside down supported by two branches. If I had been Garret I might have gone to investigate, but I wasn’t, and I had no curiosity beyond wondering how it had gotten there in the first place. Garret might have stopped to stare at the boat, and perhaps come up with some sort of story behind it, but I was focused on climbing, on going from one branch to another, and, finally, on reaching the top. It didn’t matter if Garret climbed the tree or not, I thought to myself. I wasn’t climbing it to beat him anymore, I was climbing it simply for the sake of climbing a tree. It was my own adventure, not his, and if he wanted to trumpet his victory and declare himself the king of climbing, well, that was his business. Me, I would take comfort in my own invisible victory. Maybe, I told myself, I would tell the others of this climb when Garret was already high in the tree.

The very top of the tree had been struck by lightning some time in its past. When I think back on it, the mere fact the tree hadn’t been struck again was some sort of miracle. It was in this gash in the tree where the smaller parasite had taken root, and I could see its roots spilling over the sides, circling the branches of the bigger tree like clinging ivy. First gripping the roots and secondly the branches of the giant tree’s commensal partner, I shimmied to the top of its narrow trunk.

I felt like I was on the mast of a ship which was sinking in a sea of leaves. Far beyond the edge of this sea I could see a scattering of lights both above and below me. The stars shone above Milford and, far below, Milford shone feebly back. Way in the distance I could see a faint glow I might have taken to be a sunrise, but which I knew was actually the city of Springfield. The top of the three suspension arches on the Milford Bay each shone red like torches and I could hear the sputter and see the dim headlights of an old truck limping its way back to West Milford.

For a moment I couldn’t think of Garret or mom and dad or even getting down from the tree. All I could think to do was sit and take in as many sensations as possible. I don’t know how long I sat there, drinking it all in, but I do know what disturbed my reverie.

I felt a flaw on the surface of the tree. At first I ignored it, but after my hand passed over the rough break in the bark a few times I couldn’t help but examine it. I had to squint to see in the faint moonlight. A straight line was cut diagonally along the trunk of the small tree. Peeping over the top of this line, as though it were a wall, was a carved figure with two clutching hands and a domed head with a bulbous, dangling nose and pin prick eyes. There was no name by the picture, no sign as to who its original carver had been. But the meaning was clear: someone had been here.

Something about the image broke the spell of the place. Someone had made the same quiet journey I had; all the perils I had faced had been faced before. I thought, wildly, about adding my own name under the drawing, but I knew I couldn’t. I hadn’t brought a knife, or anything else to carve with. Even if I could I knew my carving would be a lie. What would it matter anyway? The tree would be torn down soon, and any record of who carved it first would soon be lost. The boat, the fort, even the ghostly chimpanzee, if he existed, would soon be homeless, as would any other secrets the leaves the great tree hid. Once again, despite my best efforts, I had done something that would leave no mark, show no sign of its existence. The universe would not have changed one whit if I had simply stayed in bed.

I don’t remember the journey down the tree as well as I remembered the journey up. I don’t think it took nearly as long, perhaps because I was more focused on getting down without killing myself, and less with other things. I thought a little bit about Garret and his upcoming climb, but I no longer really begrudged him. Garret simply liked noise and attention, and I liked quiet and thought. No amount of secret tree climbing would make me as exciting as Garret. Maybe I was simply better off being an observer, and maybe that wasn’t such a bad thing. I was nearing the end of the branches now. No disaster would befall me before I touched the earth again. I would have time to sneak back into bed and get a few hours of sleep. Tomorrow would be Saturday, Garret’s climbing day. I had gone into the tree and come down again. Only tomorrow would tell if anything else had happened up there.

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