A few months ago, I was biking home from work. It was a particularly rough day at work that day, a Friday night at one of the most popular bars in town. I’m no bartender, just a barback, but the crowd was particularly rowdy and left me exhausted for my five-mile bike home at three in the morning. As I got closer to my home, I slowed down and turned onto my street, taking a wide left turn.
As I straightened out, I noticed a tree underneath a streetlight. It wasn’t a tree that I recognized, although I imagine most trees aren’t very recognizable. But this tree in particular caught my eye because sitting right in a V halfway up the tree was a man, both hands grabbing the trunk to his sides. He smiled languidly at me as he swung his legs back and forth, tapping the tree with the heels of his feet. I wondered what he was doing sitting in that tree this late at night, but I rode right past him as he smiled at me.
I got back home and chained my bike to the porch, went upstairs to my room and collapsed onto my bed. I fell asleep immediately.
I’m normally a terrible sleeper, so it didn’t surprise me when I woke up an hour later. I noticed my curtains swinging in the moonlight, the wind from outside rushing in through the open window. I didn’t remember if I left the window open before I went to work, but I decided to close the window so bugs wouldn’t get in. I jumped back, startled as I grabbed the top of the window to close it. The man was sitting in the tree about ten yards from my window, facing me directly, smiling. You know the weirdest fucking thing? I don’t have any trees in my yard.
I rubbed my eyes and opened them again to look out the window. I had a clear view of the house across the street from me, no tree to block it. I’ve hallucinated before from sleeping pills, but I was so tired that night that I forgot to take any. Maybe it was still affecting me since I’d taken them for so long. I stood for a while until my heart slowed down, then went back to bed.
A few weeks went by and I didn’t see the man again, or the tree. I forgot about him entirely, putting it off as another hallucination from my sleeping pills. That is, until one night I went back to my window to close the curtains before going to bed and I saw him again. I fucking screamed when I saw him, sitting right in that little V just like before, smiling at me. I rubbed my eyes again, but neither he nor the tree disappeared like last time. I sat breathing, trying to calm down, but I couldn’t take my eyes off of him. He just sat there with that fucking grin on his face. He looked much, much skinnier than when I saw him last, his cheekbones protruding as if he hadn’t eaten in weeks. That’s when he waved at me.
I opened my window. “Do I know you?”
He stopped waving and nodded, smiling at me the entire time.
“How do I know you?”
He motioned for me to come over, his smile growing ever so slightly. I was determined to figure out who he was, so I closed my window and walked outside. I walked to the base of the tree and looked up. He was looking down at me, smiling, waving me to climb up. “Just tell me who you are.” He just continued to wave me up. Fucking hell.
I grabbed the lowest branch and continued to climb up. He was a good twenty feet up, and I wasn’t much of a climber. When I was about halfway up, he stood up in his V and turned to climb further up the tree. “Wait!” He disappeared into the branches, a few leaves falling down toward me. I finally reached the V a few minutes later and stood, looking up to find him. After a few minutes of searching and yelling, nothing moved from up above. I couldn’t see anything other than leaves and branches up above, the closest branch nearly fifteen feet or so up the tree. Tired and confused, I sat down in the V. Who the hell was he?
I sat confused for another few minutes, looking up every now and then to try and find him. Nothing. I considered climbing back down and going to bed, cutting my losses. It was nice up here, though. The wind was blowing slightly, cooling me down from the climb up. I looked down and smiled. After months and months of stress and life, I finally felt relaxed.
Before I knew it, I could feel the warm rays of the sun falling on my face. It felt incredible.
Jake, one of my best friends, pulled into my driveway and saw me sitting in the tree. He got out of the car and yelled up to me, “The hell are you doing up there, man? And when did you get such a big tree?” I smiled at him, feeling no need to respond. It was so serene up here. He walked over to the base of the tree and looked up at me. I just smiled back at him. “Get down from there man, the game starts soon.” Game? I had no interest in watching any sports. I liked it up here. After a few minutes of him yelling at me, he finally gave up, got in his car and drove off. I smiled as I watched him drive away.
I stayed up there for a few weeks. It was funny, I didn’t even feel hungry anymore. Being here in this tree was the happiest I’ve ever felt. Jake would come back every now and then to try to get me out, but it always ended with him driving off, frustrated. I wish he could feel how happy I was to be here. So the next time I saw him, I waved him up.
“Dude, you’ve been up there for weeks. You look like you haven’t eaten at all.” He was right. I hadn’t eaten anything since I climbed up. I didn’t care though, I wasn’t hungry. I waved him up to join me. “Quit fucking smiling, man. You’re creeping me out.” I waved him up again, swinging my legs. He was a good friend, and good friends try to make each other happy.
“Oh for fuck sake,” he said, and began to climb up. Finally, he could be as happy as I was.
That’s when I heard rustling from above, the branches cracking and leaves rustling. I looked up and saw the man from weeks before, reaching out toward me, waving me up. His skin was tight on his bones, his eyes protruding from the sockets. He lost some of his hair, and whatever of it was left stuck to his forehead. His fingers looked like they were pure bone, and his nails extended out even further.
And his smile. He looked so happy. His lips curled back so far I could see all of his teeth. And at that moment, with all of my heart, I wanted to be as happy as he was. I stood up and climbed the tree, hugging it as I clawed my way up, smiling in anticipation.
When I finally made it up to the top, he was gone. But I didn’t care. I was so happy to be up here. I was even happier than when I was sitting down below. I looked back to Jake who just made it to the V. He was yelling up at me. A few times he looked right at me, but I could tell he couldn’t see me. After a few minutes of yelling he sat down, putting one arm on each side of the V.
And he smiled.