When I was a little boy I lived in a tiny two-bedroom house with my parents and four siblings. One night my brother and I were standing at the front window staring outside as it rained. This was a strangely quiet moment for the two of us, despite the lightning and thunder. We just stood there, mesmerized by the patter of the raindrops against the cold glass, drawn to the troubled sky. The greatest part of our attention, however, was focused on the tree.
There was only one tree in our front yard, a cruel-looking rotted thing that never had any leaves. This particular night the wind had whipped it into a horrible frenzy, its spindly black branches raging against the storm as though it resented every stinging drop of rain. Wordlessly we stood, just far enough away from the glass to keep from fogging it. All at once, a terrific streak of lighting lit up the sky, and in the branches, staring down at me-at us-was a deformed creature the likes of which
I’d never seen. Now, all of these realizations came at the same time: 1) It was solid. 2) It stood on two feet, on one particular branch, at one particular part of the tree. 3) It knew we were there. 4) My brother saw it too. 5) I was, simultaneously, seeing it through my own eyes and my brother’s eyes, and it was not the same! To me, the thing appeared to be a grotesque caricature of a farmer-a flattened-down, deformed cartoon farmer wearing a flannel shirt, overalls, and a head-splitting grin, holding a metal pitchfork at his right side.
At the same time, I was aware that what my brother saw in the very same space at the very same time, was a similarly deformed caricature of a skeleton, with thick bones and empty eye-sockets. The lightning flickered and blinked out, and in the fraction of a second it took to get used to the dim glow of the far-off clouds that back-lit the tree, it became clear there was no longer anything there. When one receives a shock that is so tremendous that it surpasses tears-like a spectacular blow to the head, or the unexpected snapping of a bone-there is only the wait. The wait until the violence washes over you. Will you feel pain? Will you lose consciousness? There is only the wait. My head filled with heavy rushing blood that battered the insides of my eardrums. In an excruciatingly slow movement I turned to my brother at my side, my eyes leaving the tree and traveling in an arc that cut across the fence, the porch posts, the window frame, the wall, and finally his face. In his eyes was reflected all the fullness of my experience. We didn’t say a thing to each other. There was no need. I was only six or seven. In the years that followed I have seen nothing remotely like the thing in the tree. My father eventually cut the tree down. Why, I don’t know–we never did tell him.
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