Estimated reading time — 12 minutes
I found a tree in my backyard. I know that sounds silly. Like, how exactly does one “find” a tree in their backyard? How wouldn’t they know it was there? It does sound strange, but I promise you that’s exactly what happened. Little did I know at the time, the discovery of this tree would go on to greatly shape my reality for the ensuing months.
I live on an acre and a half of land, in a particularly arboreous area of West Virginia. So, the random addition of another tree was probably something that would have gone largely unnoticed, but I noticed. Not because I knew my property like the back of my hand, or anything like that. It was more so that the tree had a striking appearance, not like any tree I had ever seen before. For starters, it wasn’t an overly tall tree; I would guess no more than about 20, maybe 25 feet high. It had an excessively thick trunk, with gnarled roots, and long winding branches, that stuck out more sideways than up, with adorning foliage akin to that of a willow, and the tree was of a deeply ashen hue.
I woke up the morning up January 14th, 2020, to see it standing amidst the other, frost covered, leaf-barren trees that took up residence on my property. It certainly stuck out like a sore thumb. Not knowing what else to do, I placed a call to the Department of Natural Resources, figured it couldn’t hurt, and if anyone could tell me anything about this tree, it would be them. The lady on the other end of the phone sounded rather confused as to my query about the mysterious tree in my backyard. Almost as if she thought I was some sort of prankster who was just pullin’ her leg for a laugh. I assured her I was serious, and that it was in fact not a joke. She put me on hold for about ten minutes before returning and letting me know that they would send somebody out to look at the tree within the next three days, or so. I thanked her and hung up.
I spent a decent portion of the day staring out at the tree, trying to make sense of its sudden presence. Trees of that size and stature usually take decades upon decades to reach this degree of maturation, but here we had a tree that seemed to sprout up overnight.
That night, and for several nights thereafter, I would hear a howling tempestuous wind coming from the east, that was sometimes accompanied by resonant, nondescript phonations. At first it was a bit tough to sleep through, but I got used to it rather quick.
Three days later, a man named Russ, who worked for the DNR, came to my house to inspect the tree. He asked me where the tree was, and I showed him to the backyard, and pointed it out. He pulled out a pen and a clipboard and walked up to the tree. He walked around the tree several times, writing stuff down on his clipboard intermittently, and snapping a few pictures here and there, before asking me if we could talk inside. I agreed, and we went inside. He explained to me that after cataloging all the attributes of the tree, it didn’t seem to match up with any species of tree that he was familiar with, or that should, or would be growing in these parts. He admitted that he was at a loss. He then asked me how it got there, to which I told him I wasn’t sure, and that it had just kinda showed up there, three days earlier. He looked up at me with a raised eyebrow and went back to writing on his clipboard. He followed up that question with several questions about my mental health history, as well as my relationship with alcohol, and drugs. I didn’t really care too much for that part. While I was known to enjoy a drink or two on occasion, especially a good bourbon, my drinking had never gotten to the point that I wouldn’t notice something as blatantly obvious as a tree suddenly growing in my yard. After that portion, Russ concluded his report, letting me know that he would be in touch. Before he left, I asked him what would happen next. He said that he would submit his findings to geologists, and arborists, to see what they could make of it. He then said that there was a possibility that they may want to harvest the tree, and study it for scientific purposes, given its peculiar origins, and that they may be willing to pay handsomely for the opportunity to do so. That part sure sounded good to me. On that, he bid me adieu, and made his way to the front door, where I let him out. I then watched as he got into his van and drove away.
The next couple of weeks went by as normal, save for the occasional strange noises at night. Meanwhile, the tree just stood there, looming over my backyard.
One Wednesday, as I was cooking that evening’s meal, a knock came at my door. I went over to see who it possibly could have been. When I opened the door, I was greeted by two men in matching suits. They flashed their badges and told me that they were with the FBI, and that they had gotten wind of a mysterious tree in my backyard. I confirmed their suspicions and told them the whole story pertaining to the tree. They stood there, ever unflinching, as I regaled them of the mysterious tree. After I got done telling them the story, they thanked me for my time, and made their way towards their car. Before they could leave, however, I asked them what it was that they were concerned with. They told me that the abrupt appearance of an unidentifiable tree had come up on their radar as something that could potentially be a matter of national security. I asked what that meant, to which they told me not to worry, that it was under control, and to have a nice day. After that exchange, they got into their car, and sped away. Not knowing what to make of that discourse, I just headed back inside to finish making my gumbo.
A little over a half an hour after the FBI agents left, there came yet another knock on my door. Who could it be this time? I thought to myself. I got up from eating supper and went to see who it was. I opened the door to see my ornery neighbor Bill, flanked by his equally unpleasant wife, Carol, standing there. They ran a farm just next door.
“What can I do far ya, Bill?” I asked.
“I noticed several government entities been stoppin’ by your residence, what you got goin’ on here, Reginald?”
“Well, if you must know, a tree appeared in my backyard.” Little did I know, the utterance of that sentence would set something off in Bill, and would set in motion an unbelievable chain of events.
“A tree? What kinda tree?” He inquired.
“Well, that’s the thing, Bill, I’m not exactly sure, and on top of that I’m not entirely sure how it got there, either.”
“Been hittin’ the sauce a bit too hard there, eh, Reg?” He said, with a small chuckle.
“Not more than usual, now, I suggest you mind your own business.”
“What goes on in these parts is my business.” He retorted. “So, what’s so damn special about a tree?”
“Well, given that it’s currently unidentified, it may be extremely rare, or even one-of-a-kind, the guy from the DNR said it could be worth a bit of money. Now, if you would kindly show yourself off my porch.” At that, Bill’s ears perked up.
“Money, you say?” He said, before a sly grin grew across his face. “Well, I’ll be seein’ ya around, Reg.” He said, with a nod, before he and Carol made their egress off my front porch, and I went back inside to enjoy my evening, in peace.
As the months went by the tree remained largely unchanged. As spring wore on, and the leaves reappeared on the surrounding trees, the enigmatic tree stayed the same. It bore no fruit of any kind, and even stranger yet, was that as the birds returned from their winter haven down south, never would they perch on the tree. It was almost like the birds knew something about this tree that us humans didn’t.
Another strange thing that I noticed over the course of those so many months, was that the tree branches never moved. A stiff breeze couldn’t cause even the slightest sway. I would look out on some of the windier days and see all the other trees blowing in the harsh wind, their branches whipping back and forth, but not that tree. That tree stood firm, and motionless.
Aside from the strange goings on with the tree I’ve also had to deal with other such nuisances, recently. From time to time when I’d be outside doing chores, I would see Bill peering over the fence, just staring at the tree. Sometimes he would even be equipped with a pair of binoculars. No tellin’ what he was trying to glean from that. One night, after midnight, I even caught him trespassing on my property. He was just standing in front of the tree, staring up at it, unmoving and completely transfixed. I loaded my shotgun, went outside, and chased him away, yellin’ at him to git, and lettin’ him know that if I caught him on my property again that I wouldn’t hesitate to call the authorities. The crazy fool was off his rocker. He had seemingly become obsessed with the tree.
As strange as Bill had been acting, it was around early June that I encountered just about the oddest event yet, since the trees arrival. I was out chopping wood in the backyard, when I noticed a caterpillar making his way towards me, just inching along on the ground. I bent over to pick him up and move him to the garden. After placing the caterpillar in a bed of marigolds, I turned around to see what must have been hundreds of caterpillars coming towards me in what I imagine was about as hurried a fashion as caterpillars could go. They all made their way past me, into my garden and other shrubs. I may not know a whole lot about the migratory patterns of the common caterpillar, but it appeared to me that they were all inching away from that tree. I had never seen such a sight in all my life.
A couple days after the incident with the caterpillars, as I was sat on my couch, watching TV, there came a knock at my door. I turned the TV off, got up, and made my way towards the door. I opened it to see two people in white lab coats standing there. One was an older gentleman, with gray hair, black thick-rimmed glasses, and a very serious demeanor. Next to him was a younger lady, with shoulder-length light brown hair, and bright blue eyes.
“Can I help you folks?” I greeted them.
“Are you Reginald Walker III?” The man asked.
“Sure am, and who might you be?” I responded.
“My name is Dr. Ben Gosder, I’m from the Laramie-Ronson Research Institute, in Hialeah, Florida, and this is my research assistant, Gabby.”
“Hello,” Gabby said, in a chipper manner, with a smile and a wave.
“She’s a geology doctoral candidate at UC Santa Barbara. We’re here about your tree.”
Man, doesn’t anybody ever stop by just to say ‘hi,’ anymore? I laughed to myself.
“Sure,” I replied. “But how’d you hear about me?”
“We were contacted by the West Virginia Department of Natural Resources, we were then contracted to do research on the tree, per your approval.” He answered.
“Yeah!” Gabby interjected with an ardent tone of voice. “We believe we could be on the verge of a major scientific breakthrough with your tree.” She said.
“Well, that would sure be somethin’, wouldn’t it?” I replied.
“So, if we have your permission, would it be alright if we went back and examined the tree?” Doctor Gosder inquired.
“Be my guest.” I said.
“Great, we’ll be out of your hair as soon as possible.” He said, in an assuring manner, before dismissing himself, and heading to the backyard. I stayed inside and just got stuff done around the house, occasionally looking out to see how the scientists were doin’. They were out there for at least a couple hours, taking measurements, documenting their findings, and other such things. I didn’t see them leave, but eventually I looked out the back window and didn’t see them anymore. I hope they got what it was they were lookin’ for.
About a month later, I was out on the tractor when my phone began to ring. I pulled it out of my pocket and saw that I was getting a call from a number I didn’t recognize, but I answered anyway with a typical greeting.
“Hello,” I said.
“Hi, Mr. Walker?” The voice on the other end said.
“Speaking,” I replied.
“Hi, Mr. Walker, this is Doctor Gosder from the Laramie-Ronson Institute, I was at your property about a four weeks ago, how are you doing this morning?”
“I’m well, how about yourself?”
“I’m doing just fine, I’m calling to tell you that after speaking to my superiors about my findings on your property, we are interested in moving forward with more extensive research proceedings, and are prepared to make you an offer for the rights to do further tests on the tree, tell me, are you sitting down right now?”
“Well, I’m currently on a tractor, so I am moving, but sitting nonetheless.” I joked.
That’s when he said that they were fixin’ to offer me $178,000 to harvest the tree, for the purposes of doing further research on it. I was stunned when I heard the amount of money they were offering me. I’m glad I didn’t fall of the tractor. I happily accepted their offer. He thanked me for my gracious gift to the scientific community and told me the check would be in the mail soon. I thanked him, and we hung up. So, while I was still very much so perplexed by the tree, it looked as though it was about to net me a pretty penny. I figured this was an occasion that called for a nice, smooth glass of bourbon.
With it being a small town and all, word travelled fast of my impending capital gain, and in no more than three days after getting the offer, lo and behold, it was front page news. There, plastered across the front page in bold lettering, where everyone across the county could see it, was the news of the sale. In what seemed like an attempt to shift the spotlight to himself, it appeared as though Bill had gone to the press as well, because two days after the initial report, I saw in the paper that he was trying to stake some sort of claim to my small fortune, claiming that he gave me the seeds that grew the mystery tree, and that that entitled him to a portion of the sum of money I was prepared to receive, an audacious and untrue claim, to say the least, but not unforeseen. It seems as though just about any time someone comes into a little bit of money, there’s bound to be those who try to get a piece of it, spinnin’ all sorts of craziness in their heads to justify their selfish, unfounded beliefs.
It was later that day that things came to a head. I was outside pulling weeds in my yard when I heard footsteps come up behind me.
“You don’t deserve all that money.” Said a voice in a snarl. I stood up and turned around only to be met with a bludgeoning force to my face. I fell to the ground immediately in severe pain. Seeing stars, I looked up to see Bill and Carol standing there. Bill was stood there with a crazed look in his eyes, and holding a chainsaw, that being what he appeared to have struck me with.
“No sir, you do not, my farm has been flounderin’ for years, and you just luck into some fancy tree, well I’m not havin’ none of that.” He hissed sharply. “If I can’t has the good fortune you got from this tree, then you can’t neither.”
With that, he and Carol left me, heading further back into my backyard. Still being woozy from the blow I took to the head there wasn’t much I could do. Bill and Carol made their way over to the tree. When they made it to the base of the tree Bill fired up the chainsaw. A palpable wave of dread washed over me, and I felt utterly helpless. Bill let out a primal holler, before ramming the chainsaw into the trunk of the tree. He sawed away for a few seconds before pulling the chainsaw away from the tree. It appeared as though he hadn’t even made a dent in the tree.
“What in the-“ He said aloud, with a degree of confusion in his voice, before going back to sawing at the trunk. Just then, a mighty stern gust of wind came, knocking Bill and Carol to the ground, and knocking the chainsaw out of Bill’s hands.
“What kinda Godforsaken tree is this!?” Bill exclaimed. “Well, I got somethin’ else for ya.” He said, with a wicked look on his face.
Getting himself up off the ground, Bill then pulled out a match, struck it, and slowly approached the tree.
“If I can’t cut ya down, I’ll burn ya down.” He cackled. He then continued in a hobbled shuffle towards the tree, holding the match out, but before he could set the tree alight, a branch swung down, striking Bill in the side of the head, and knocking him to the ground. As Bill sat back up, clearly shaken from the blow he had just taken to the head, the tree then plunged the tip of one of the branches directly into the top of Bill’s skull and lifted him up off the ground. He let out an unsettling grunt while jerking and twitching, as the color drained from his face and his body began to go limp. After about a minute, the tree retracted the branch, and Bill’s lifeless body crumbled to the ground in a heap. At that, Carol attempted to get up and run away, but stumbled. From the ground behind her came two sets of roots that wrapped around her legs as she tried to scurry away. I then watched as she was dragged, kicking, and screaming into the ground beneath the base of the tree. After that, I heard the same low bellowing sound that I heard the first few nights, which I could now only assume was coming from the tree, itself. I couldn’t believe what I had just witnessed.
After several more minutes, and after getting my wits about me, I got up, and collected myself. I went back inside and laid down on the couch. Figured some rest was certainly in order after all the night’s commotion.
On the morning of January 14th, 2020, I woke up to see a tree that I didn’t recognize, in my backyard, but now I’m starting to think that it may not be a tree.
Credit: Steven Allen
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