The screen door flew open as the young blond-haired boy burst out carrying a pile of toys nestled against his chest. He made his way to the edge of the property near the forest and dropped them on the ground, sending a toy ball rolling past the trees and into the woods. He didn’t think much of it for he was too busy placing his toy cars side-by-side to get them ready for the grand prix. He picked up a small twig and held it like a microphone.
“Ladies and gentleman, boys and girls, welcome to the North American circuit, home of the finest racers and the fastest cars. Please, if you haven’t already, place your bets on the car you think will beat them all. Captain Hurley is the favored pick. Did ya see his performance last week, Jack? Oh I sure did, Tommy. Who could miss such a grand performance of speed and endurance? Right you are, Jack.”
Tommy pulled some grass out of the ground where the track would be. After a fair amount of tugging and pulling, he pressed his hands against the ground to smooth it out.
“The drivers have taken their places,” Tommy said. “Wait, Jack, where’s Crazy Charles? Your guess is as good as mine, Tommy.”
Tommy did a quick scan of the yard around him.
“He’s gotta be around here somewhere. Crazy Charles never bails right before a race!”
Tommy grabbed a toy car that was hidden under a small pile of grass.
“No worries, ladies and gentleman. Crazy Charles is pulling to the starting line right now. Drivers, start your engines!”
Making his best efforts at imitating the sounds of a growling engine, Tommy blew forth a shower of spit from the wild vibration of his lips. He then started counting down from 10. Tommy set the faux microphone down and focused his hands on the shiny die-cast metal cars before him.
More engine noises, more spit.
When suddenly, the small toy ball he lost earlier rolled into his makeshift arena. Tommy fixed a confused look on the object, staring at it as if it were some foreign artifact. He then looked up and into the forest looking for whoever it was that rolled him the ball. There was no one that he could see, just the same old trees standing as still as statues.
That’s when he heard it. Someone was calling his name.
“Tommy,” it said. “Tommy, come here.”
Curious, Tommy slowly rose to his feet, gripping one of the toy cars in his left hand.
“Come here, Tommy I’m not going to hurt you,” it said.
Without saying a word, Tommy slowly walked to the forest’s edge. “Who is it?”
The voice was neither male nor female. It was almost like a combination of both. Like an overlapped monotone voice of a man and woman.
“A friend?” Tommy asked.
“Well, then come out. Let me see you.”
“I’m right here, Tommy. I’m right in front of you.”
Tommy took a single step back looking up and down, left and right. “Stop it, this isn’t funny.” His voice began to tremble. “Come out and show me who you are.”
“Foolish boy,” said the voice as one of the trees began to twist and turn like a towel being wrung dry.
In awe, Tommy watched as the tree in front of him became animated, stretching its branches out on all sides as if emerging from a deep slumber. The sounds of creaking lumber echoed through the forest, leaves sprinkled the ground while lush vegetation seemed to sprout along the trees exterior, starting near its roots and spiraling up to its apex. A few birds called out and flew from the forest annoyed by the sudden disturbance.
Tommy swallowed. “Are you… Are you my friend?”
“Yes, dear boy. That’s what I’ve been telling you all along, have I not?” The tree let out a final sigh that produced a sound beyond description. As if the tree were expelling its impurities while consuming the energy around it.
Tommy took a step closer, closely examining the patterns in the bark, captivated by its maze-like quality. After several seconds of admiring this grand tree, Tommy said, “Do you have a name?”
The tree laughed a long, echoed laugh that seemed distant yet genuine.
“Of course I have a name. Call me Crusoe.”
“Crusoe,” Tommy said. “Nice to meet you, Crusoe.”
The branches of the tree lowered, almost as if the tree were attempting some bizarre type of bow.
“And what about me?” came a sharp, high-pitched voice.
Tommy jumped. The voice had come from right next to him and he immediately noticed a second tree, equally as exquisite and enamored with the jewels of nature.
“What are you called, Mr. tree?” said Tommy.
“Mister tree? I am no mister!”
Tommy apologized. “You’re a lady?”
“Of course! Just look at my vibrant leaves, my delicate branches that reach far and wide, observe the curves in my trunk and the beautiful flowers that sprout from my bark.”
“I didn’t know there were girl trees,” Tommy said.
“That’s absurd!” the tree cried.
Tommy tucked his chin into his chest, slightly embarrassed. A small, thin branch stretched out to Tommy’s face, stroking it softly. “It’s alright, Tommy. I’m not mad at you,” she said. “Chin up, young man.”
Tommy looked up at the tree. “What are you called?”
“Lisanne. And don’t call me Liz for short.”
“I won’t, don’t worry,” Tommy said. He watched as the growth on the trees began to move like waves running towards the shore. The leaves became afflicted with bright shades of blue, red, purple, black, and gold in an endless illusory cycle.
Then came the androgynous, monotone voice, “It’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance,” Crusoe said with an outstretched branch. Tommy hesitated before gripping the end of it when dozens of skinny branches wrapped around his hand like hundreds of cold worms.
“Hey!” Tommy said. “What’re you doing? Stop that!”
His requests were ignored as more and more braches snaked around his wrist and forearm growing tighter and tighter like a pumped up blood pressure cuff.
“Please,” Tommy said. “You’re hurting me, Crusoe.”
The serpent-like branches shrank back into the larger branches. “I’m sorry, Tommy. I didn’t mean to hurt you.”
Tommy flinched as he rubbed the tender spot. “It’s alright.”
“Good. Because I really am your friend and don’t mean to cause you pain,” Crusoe said.
“Of course you’re my friend. I’m just really confused,” Tommy said.
“Confused?” Lisanne said. “How so?”
Tommy, staring up at the fluorescent leaves, said, “I didn’t know trees could talk in real life.”
“They can’t” said Lisanne.
“But… you’re talking to me right now. And I know I’m not dreaming because I remember waking up and eating a big bowl of fruity crisps before I watched cartoons. Then I grabbed my toy cars and toy bouncy and came out here to play. And then I heard someone trying to talk to me and here I am now.” Tommy said.
“We know you aren’t dreaming,” Lisanne said.
Tommy scratched his head. “So, if trees can’t talk in real life and you’re talking to me right now and I’m not having a dream then how is this happening?”
“You have a very powerful imagination,” Crusoe said. “An incredibly powerful imagination.”
“Really?” Tommy said. “Does that mean you and Lisanne are my imaginary friends?”
“Yes. We are your imaginary bestfriends,” Crusoe said. “And there are hundreds and hundreds of us in the forest waiting to be your friend.”
“But there’s no way I could become friends with hundreds and hundreds of you!” Tommy said.
“Why not?” Lisanne asked.
“Because I’m just a kid and I don’t know how to be friends with trees.”
Crusoe and Lisanne let out their respective crude laughs.
“We can help you with that,” Lisanne said. “So far you’re doing just fine.”
“You would impress every tree in this forest,” Crusoe said. “We don’t ever get to talk to humans because they don’t know how to listen. We try all the time like I did with you earlier.”
A large smile grew across Tommy’s face, his blue eyes gleaming with excitement. “OK, I’ll be friends with all of you and I will meet every tree in this whole forest. Maybe I could even build a tree house with you!”
At that moment, the two trees let out a deep bellow, their leaves rapidly falling to the ground as the branches turned black and quickly retracted into the tree like measuring tape. The once luscious growth wilted and died, the bark appearing to grow thorns the size of large swords, all while a noxious black liquid oozed from every pore of the tree, polluting the ground beneath it.
This startled Tommy so much that he stumbled and fell on his back. Tears fell down his face yet his throat was unable to produce the slightest whimper. He could only watch as the trees went through their demonic transformation, silent tears streaking his rosy cheeks. “You guys… What’s going on? Stop it, please. You’re scaring me,”
Crusoe let out a long sigh that caused the air around him to spring forth in every direction, flapping through Tommy’s clothes and frilling his hair.
“An even better idea is snatching up all your little human friends and chopping them up into little pieces. Then, we could stack them on your head, Tommy,” Crusoe snapped.
“That wouldn’t be as fun as butchering his mom and dad and making a little fort for Tommy to play in.” Lisanne hissed. “But we both know humans start to smell after a while and they get real messy when you cut them up.”
“No!” Tommy said. The silent tears now sang notes of despair. “No, no, no, no. Please, Crusoe. Stop, Lisanne. I didn’t mean what I said. Please stop this. I take it all back, I take it all back!”
The trees laughed their wicked laughs once again. And as quickly as they made their transformation, they went back to the magnificence they displayed earlier. The branches emerged from the trees like a rolling red carpet, the leaves springing up just as rapidly and shining bright as ever. The flowers and growth crawled up the trees once again, the thorns disappeared and the mysterious black liquid melted into the ground.
“Very well then,” Crusoe said. “Human houses would be no fun anyways.”
Tommy was still on his back, hiding his face in his hands as he wept relentlessly, struggling to breathe through the gripping terror.
“Stop crying, Tommy,” Lisanne said.
Tommy continued to cry.
“I said stop crying!”
“Lisanne,” Crusoe said. “We’ve obviously scared the boy. Tommy, we didn’t mean to scare you as much as we did. What you said made us angry, but we didn’t intend to terrify you. We were only trying to illustrate the sheer madness of your statement.”
Tommy slowly let down his hands, his eyes bloodshot and slightly swollen. “That was the scariest thing I have ever seen. That was scarier than all of my bad dreams put together.”
“Fear makes you stronger. Don’t be so afraid of the darkness, Tommy.” Lisanne said softly. “We want you to be our friend. Please, Tommy, come with us and be our friend forever.”
Tommy’s face softened and his muscles started to relax. “Forever?” he questioned. “How long is that exactly?”
“However long forever is,” Lisanne said.
Crusoe said, “One thing you’re going to learn about the forest is that time is measured in more ways than one. We don’t have clocks or watches here. The trees never speak about time nor do we pay much attention to it. We can only know when we first emerge from the earth and see our first sunrise to the time our branches become brittle, our colorless leaves shiver and fall, and our exhausted bark collapses to the ground. We get to experience this world only once and during that time we see so many beautiful things. You can’t begin to imagine the splendor that exists in this world.”
Tommy’s eyebrows shot up like switchblades. He wiped away his tears and said, “What kind of things are you talking about?”
“I can’t quite tell you,” Crusoe said.
“Oh but why not!”
“It’s not something that can be understood through language. These things of unfathomable beauty and mystery you can only experience.”
“I want to experience it, Crusoe! Lisanne, please, you two need to show me how!”
“I don’t know if you’re ready for it, Tommy,” Lisanne said.
“I’m ready!” Tommy shot to his feet. “I want it! I want it so bad!”
Crusoe said, “This is a big deal, Tommy. Once you decide you want this, there’s no turning back.”
“Oh, Crusoe,” Tommy said through tears. “I’m certain I want this. I know with all my heart I want to see all that you have seen.”
Tommy walked up to Crusoe and softly placed a hand on his bark. “I want to be your friend forever.” He looked over to Lisanne. “I want to be friends with you and every tree in this forest and every tree in the whole world! I’ll be with you for as long as I can.”
“Say that you want it with all of your heart,” Crusoe said.
“I want it with all of my heart,”
“Say you want it with all of your soul.”
“I want it with all of my soul,” Tommy almost whispered.
“Ok, Crusoe. He truly wants this, he’s ready,” Lisanne said.
Crusoe agreed. “Tommy, it’s time for you to meet the other trees of the forest. It’s time for you to become one of us.”
Tommy took a couple steps back.
“Are you ready?” Lisanne said.
“Yes,” Tommy said.
“Then close your eyes.”
Tommy’s slowly lowered his eyelids. His world was dark, but he could feel the air changing. He could taste it, the metallic flavor of the air. The earth started to shake violently. He fell on his side but kept his eyes squeezed shut.”
“Keep your eyes closed,” Lisanne said. At least it sounded like her voice except a little deeper and harder to understand.
“I am!” Tommy said.
But Tommy could only keep them closed for so long. After several seconds he stole a peek and instantly wished he didn’t. The trees were turning into the nefarious creatures that haunted him earlier. Except, this time, Crusoe was slowly descending into the earth. Lisanne shot up into the sky above the clouds and not a moment later did every tree in the forest follow her lead, shooting up into the sky like thousands of loosed arrows. Tommy watched as flames shot up from the spot Crusoe once resided. The brilliant flames licked the air, searching for something to burn. Tommy was terrified. The fear crept over him like it did when he would fall in a dream. That brief moment you experience an ethereal terror of horrible, unexplainable suffering that paralyzes every muscle, freezes every bone, and electrifies every last nerve in your body.
It was like being tied at each limb, watching the horsemen ride off in every direction as the coiled ropes grow smaller and smaller, moments before reckoning.
Tommy shrank into the fetal position and placed his thumb in his mouth. From all around him thick black branches sprang up high enough to cast a shadow that consumed him in complete darkness. The branches looked to have deep scars spread like wicked tattoos all over their exterior where red liquid flowed like hundreds of tiny rivers. The monstrous branches then began to twist and weave together like rope before falling onto Tommy, forming a heinous sight to behold. The black branches meshed together into a single organism; rhythmically pulsating, its surface boasting patches of random growth like a demonic atlas.
Those hungry flames pounced on this organic spawn of the earth, consuming it like a feast to a starved man. As soon as these flames engulfed its prey, the structure sank back into the depths of the earth, leaving behind nothing but a single violet lotus standing all on its lonesome like an erected flag on a battlefield.
“Tommy,” Lisanne said. “Tommy, can you hear me?”
Tommy felt like he was being pulled up from the ocean floor, escaping a great pressure.
“Tommy, look! Hurry!” Lisanne said.
Instantly, Tommy felt weightless; every part of him instantly aware of every sound, every smell, and every thought to ever be conceived. He felt great power emanating all around him. He witnessed a sunrise that seemed imaginary. It’s magnificence striking enough to induce deep feelings of anguish and sorrow at the beauty not ever to exist through the eyes of mortal men. His sympathy would soon diminish, for it was irrelevant to Tommy.
“What do you see, Tommy?” asked Lisanne.
“I… I don’t know. I don’t know yet, Lisanne. I’m just afraid forever might not be long enough.