The People in the Trees

A Short Story, in Honor of Halloween.  Fiction or Non-Fiction?

Teacher’s Pet

Everyone always said that I was the quiet child.  For that reason alone, it was not uncommon for me to be dubbed as the “teacher’s pet” of the classroom.  I was well-behaved and I only spoke when spoken to.  This was a highly appreciated trait by elementary educators, and being soft-spoken only became an issue when I was asked to read, out-loud, to the class.  The teachers believed my demeanor was surely a result of good parenting, but I knew of a few other reason too.  Reasons I would never speak of.  After hearing my story, you may understand why.

I grew up in a small town in southern Indiana that most people have never even heard of.  It was a town that primarily consisted of fields and a lot of bare, desolate, open space.  This town had only one convenient store, which was marked by a single, red flashing light.  It was the kind of town that people only passed through when traveling to larger towns; When traveling to towns marked by bigger dots on the map.

I spent my days after school playing with the neighborhood kids or with my siblings. We would ride our bikes, build forts in the woods, catch Gardner snakes to scare each other, and trap lightning bugs in jars.  Basically, we spent our time doing many of the things that kids in the country usually do.  The location did not matter to us back then though.  Things were great and childhood was fun.  Then one summer, our grandmother came to live with us from overseas.  That was the summer that changed everything.

There she was; A petite, Asian woman, with slivers of silver hair, peaking through the edges of a matted brown wig that was failing to do its job. That was my grandmother, with her luggage in tow.  A feisty, fire-cracker of a woman, with the advantageous deception that was her aging body to veil her.  Nonetheless, she had arrived. And, that is when it all began.

Be Very Quiet

As the sun was setting one evening, I can remember riding my bicycle as fast as I could to get home before dark.  Sunset was the time of day I feared the most.  That is when I would hear her speak to them.  Grandmother was hanging clothes on the clothesline to dry when I arrived.  I parked my bike against the shed and began to walk toward her.

“Sssh,” she said.  “You have to be very quiet so you don’t wake them.”

“Who, grandma?”, I asked.

“The people in the trees.  They are asleep in the trees right now and we will anger them if we awaken them before dark,” she responded.

“Who is sleeping in the trees? I can’t see them grandma”, I said with a giggle.

“You are waking them up!, she exclaimed with a whisper.  “Just hurry and go inside”, she said.

I started heading for the house when I heard her start talking again.

“Oh, it’s just me”, she said.  “I’m just finishing up here, I’m sorry and I’ll be on my way now.  Everything is fine”, she reassured them as she scurried, frantically, toward the house with her empty basket.

The next day I bombarded my mother with questions about what had happened.  I wanted to know whether grandma was joking or being serious, and if she was serious, I wanted to know who she was speaking to in the trees.

“Oh, they are just spirits,” my mom said.  “Your grandma can tell if they are bad or good and can speak to them.  You don’t have to worry about it,” she concluded.

Empty House

As the weeks passed, the stranger things got.  It started with noises, like the sound of a door opening and closing.  We shrugged it off until, one day, we heard the door open and close and a then a voice. It was my dad’s voice.

“Rose?”, he asked.  And again, “Rose!”, he shouted.

“Yea, Jeff.  I’m in the room folding clothes. Come in here,” she shouted back.

After a few minutes of silence she walked out to the living room to look for him.  No one was there. The house was empty.  She opened the door, stepped out into the driveway and discovered that his car was not there either.

“That’s weird”, she said with a bewildered look on her face.  I could have sworn I heard your dad calling my name.  I’m going to page him to see where he’s at”, she decided. “Maybe he’s playing jokes on me.”

Dad called back when he received the page and explained to my mother that he was still out-of-town working and that he, most definitely, had not been home since that morning.

“I must be hearing things”, she said with a confused look.  Then she walked back to finish her household duties.

My dad had a two-hour commute to work back then, so it was not likely that he would make a special trip home just to prank her on his lunch break.

A Foggy Mist

Weeks had passed and then I saw it.  I was standing outside of the bathroom door, waiting anxiously for whomever was using it, to finish.  I couldn’t stand it anymore.

“Knock, Knock? I really need to go!,” I said.

“I’ll be done in a minute,” my dad replied.

As I waited, I looked up and noticed a cloudy, fog-type mist floating above me against the ceiling of the hallway.  This cloud of foggy mist didn’t drift away and disperse, it just hovered above me.  I had no idea where it was coming from.  As I watched it in a curious state of awe, my brother came out of his room and opened up the bathroom door.

“What are you doing!?,” I yelled. “Dad’s in there!”

“No he is not, it’s empty”, he said.

I stepped in with him, took a look around, and learned that my brother was right.  There was no one in the bathroom.  It was empty.  Maybe I was hearing things.  Not only hearing them, but seeing them too.

Bad Spirits

“This house is no good.  There are bad spirits here. It’s no good.  I don’t like it!”, my grandmother hollered, defiantly, as she spoke to my mother. “You will see,” she exclaimed.  “I have to get out of here.”

I had walked in on this conversation when coming in from playing outdoors, and continued to eavesdrop from the end of the hallway. I was curious to hear more, but my grandmother stormed off to pack a suitcase and left.  She took off walking down the road.  The long country road that basically, led to no where.  My mom, so furious, did try to stop her either.

The house we lived in was very old and had been used as the town’s Doctor’s office several years ago.  My grandmother said it was likely that many had died there, and that their were too many spirits in that house.  She said that some of those spirits did not want us there.  That is why she left.

The Cross

I was at school when I first heard the news.  A staff member came around to gather me and my siblings from class and lead us to the administrative office, where my other grandparents were waiting.  This was quite a surprise as we loved seeing our grandparents, but they had concerned looks on their faces.

“Grandma! Grandpa!,” we exclaimed all at once.  “What are you doing here?”

“Well, we are taking you all home with us”, my grandmother said as she ushered us to the car.

“Why? Why are we leaving school early and why aren’t we going home”, I asked.

“Well, she said.  You kids no longer have a home, so you are coming to stay with me.  There was a fire and your house burned down today”, she explained carefully.

We didn’t believe her.  We giggled in disbelief and kept tormenting her for the truth.  She decided to drive us by there on the way to her place.  She parked across from our house.  We could see it ourselves now.  What once was our home had shape-shifted into jagged blocks of blackened bricks and smoking, hot, embers of wood. The fire-fighters were still there trying to keep the fire from spreading to any neighboring homes.  As for our home, the home that we had that very morning before leaving for school, it was too late for that home.  Our family dog was in the home and did not survive.

After everything had settled we went back to the pile of rubble to look around for anything that may have been able to with-stand the fire.  Above the front door, we had a wooden cross that bared Jesus, nailed to the cross.  It was there, in the rubble, unscathed.  It is the only thing that did not burn.  We still have that cross today.

The inspectors and fire-fighters never figured out why the house caught fire.  My grandmother said that the bad spirits wanted us out of there.  I guess they got what they wanted in the end, and I never forgot what else she said.
Stay quiet so the people in the trees don’t wake up.  They will be very angry if you wake them.

Happy Halloween!

Interesting People

Have you ever noticed that when certain people start drinking booze, they let it all out?  It could just be that I have some aura about me that makes people, drunk people, feel like they can tell me anything, because this happens to me ALL the time.  I am an open-minded, friendly person and what other people do or how they choose to live typically, does not bother me, but there are some things I believe a person should keep to themselves.  I say this because I have heard so many crazy, personal and overly detailed, intimate stories from complete strangers in bars that it almost makes me feel like I should start a show called, “Bar Stories – Drunks and the Untold Truths you did not ask to hear.”

I was out with a friend at a bar in Indianapolis some time ago.  It was a nice day, so we sat outside at a patio table to have a few drinks as we talked. Seated at the table next to us were two older men and one young man.  They looked rough and their clothes were ragged and dirty.  At some point, the oldest man of the group chimed in our conversation by commenting on something my friend had said to me.  The next thing I know, he is telling us his entire life-story, in a nutshell.

His name was Gary, he was in his early 60’s, the man with him was his younger brother, and the youngest man at the table, was their nephew.  They had a home reconstruction business with a crew that consisted of the three of them, and they had just gotten off work.  Gary, who looked older than his years, had hair of gray with random patches of dark throughout.  His face, like worn-out leather, was rough and tethered with wrinkles.  He looked as though he had worked hard all his life and had never had a break.   “I been having serious health issues sweetheart, and I don’t expect to live much longer”, he said. He did not care about anything anymore; He did not care about what anyone knew about him; He did not care about what anyone thought of him, and after hearing a few things about him, maybe he never did.

Gary told us how, in the 1970’s, he got to where he needed to be by  hitch-hiking all the time and how that was not uncommon back then.  A man driving a semi-truck stopped to give him a lift once, and after the teenage Gary climbed in, he noticed that the truck driver was not wearing pants.

“He thought he was going to do something, but I took out my knife, held it up to his face and said there ain’t nothing gonna happen.  You take me where I need to go and that’s that you son-of-a-bitch”, Gary said with mad rage.

The look on Gary’s face was terrifying.  I could see the hatred and fear in his eyes as he spoke of that memory.  It was as if all the feelings he had of that actual moment of his history had re-birthed, and he was feeling what he had felt then, all over again, as he spoke of it.  He covered the ill-feelings he had of this memory with a sense of pride in the fact that he was never afraid to stand up for himself; to fight to the death; to survive.

He concluded with another example of how he would never allow anyone to hurt him or those he loves. “A man tried to dis-respect my old lady once,” he said.  “I pulled out my deer-knife and gutted that bastard.  I ripped his belly clean open.”

Why?, I wondered.  What would compel this man to tell me these things?  I still have no clue why people choose to tell me their stories and secrets.  Maybe it’s because when most people would have ignored or walked away, I always sat still and listened.  I doubt I will ever really know.

It’s not that I mind having stories told to me.  I actually enjoy talking to random people at times because I find it interesting.  There are a variety of personalities out there.  People from all walks of life, social classes, and generations can be found in certain places all at once, and the bar is usually one of them.  I am just amazed at how personal people can be with complete strangers.  There are Gary’s stories of slashing a person’s stomach open and “doing time” and then, there are those who will actually pull out there cell phones and show you indecent pictures or videos of their beloved.  I actually had that happen to me last Saturday.  I made a suggestion to this guy that he should have more respect for his wife, who obviously trusted him enough to have taken those photos and videos of her on his cell phone.  He left shortly after that. Hopefully, he has some sense to keep that to himself the next time he goes out, but I doubt it.

People do what they do and people say what they say.  Life would be boring without diversity and even though things can get a little creepy at times,  I am glad we are not all the same.

80’s Halloween Flashback

It is night.  The kids are in bed so I tiptoed down the stairs to get some “me time” in.  I would like to make a habit of this, but to be completely honest with you, sometimes I am just too darn tired.  I put my 5-year-old daughter to bed while my love puts our 1-year-old to bed and I end up passing out while I’m trying to snuggle her to sleep on most nights.  There is almost nothing cozier to me than a warm bed with one or both of my children in it.  I could snuggle with them all day if they would let me, but I must say, I am glad they are asleep and I am getting some time to myself tonight.

It has been so cold here in Indiana lately and it seems to have come out of no where.  I began to, unknowingly, feel like the warmth was going to last all year and it had not occurred to me that it was actually late October until this serious chill took over the land.  It was only then that I realized that this was pretty typical weather for this late in the season.  Besides, it almost, in a weird way, seems like it would be breaking a tradition if it were not freezing by Halloween because this is Indiana and we can not seem to get away with having decent trick-or-treating weather very often. Bizarre weather changes are becoming the norm here.

I remember taking my daughter out in the neighborhood last year.  It was so cold that her little hands were bright red and felt like ice.  I kept switching sides as I walked beside her to warm her hands in mine, between knocking on the doors of homes.  After walking a few blocks I finally convinced her to walk toward home so we could go in for a bit and warm up.  She had only about half a bucket of candy at that point and I had fully intended on taking her back out, but once she felt the warmth of our home she ended up telling me she just wanted to stay in and eat her candy because it was too cold outside.  I was actually quite shocked, but satisfied with her choice.  I really did not want to go back out in that cold either!

While having dinner tonight we were discussing which, of all the costumes we have ever worn, was our favorite.  My daughter immediately named off two Disney characters that she had never dressed up in costume as before for Halloween.  I do not think she fully understood the question.  We laughed it off.  Then it was my turn to answer and I started thinking back on all the costumes I had worn on Halloween as a child and concluded with the answer of, I’m just not sure.  This then brought up a conversation I had with a friend at my mom’s house a week or so ago regarding the Halloween costumes we used to wear.  I realized some things after this recollection that I had not thought of before and it was quite humorous.

I grew up with three sisters and 1 brother and my family never really had a whole lot of extra money, especially when we were small children.  My mother stayed home to raise us and until my dad landed the job he still has today, he struggled and worked random odd jobs to support us.  I remember how we all got so excited about Halloween and we would be shouting out all the names of characters we wanted to be, but I do not recall ever being dressed up in costume as any of them.

Here is what I do remember.  One year, my mom dressed my youngest sister up as a big baby.  She sewed a bonnet and giant cloth diaper out of fabric, went to the store and bought a huge safety-pin to keep the fabric diaper on her, made her carry around a giant bottle that was actually a piggy bank, stuck a pacifier in her mouth, said she was a big baby, and voila, that was her costume that year.  Mom still says, in delight, that my sister won the school costume contest because of the originality and creativity of that costume.  The prize was a couple of silver dollars.

Another year I remember my brother wanted a scary costume, most likely a Freddy Cougar or a Jason mask.  Instead, what does mom do?  She takes a cardboard box, flips it over so it’s bottom side up and covers it with a big black trash bag.  She then tapes a paper plate to the center of the box, cuts a hole out of the center of the plate, takes fake blood to drizzle it on the plate that is taped to the box and tells my brother to stick his head through the hole.  Guess what he was?  A bloody head on a plate and the cardboard box with the trash bag over it was the dinner table.  To make it more convincing she taped a fork and knife next to his head on a plate.  He wanted a scary costume and that’s what he got! I do remember some of the neighbors giving us odd looks as we trick-or-treated that night. And looking back, I suppose that was a really gory and bizarre thing to see an elementary-aged child roaming through the neighborhood in on Halloween.  I mean, my brother had to have only been in 2nd or 3rd grade.

I wanted to be something beautiful one year.  I asked for a princess costume or something.  My mom said she would sew me a dress, but I don’t think she ended up having the right fabric or time because I never ended up getting a princess dress.  Do you want to know what I got to be that year instead?  Well, I was told to slip on a purple leotard and purple tights.  Then, my mom and older sister blew up a bazillion purple balloons.  After all that, they poured out a bazillion safety pins from a canister and pinned the bazillion purple balloons to my purple leotard.  I lifted my arms up and held them in the air as they did the front side and turned around for them as they did the back.  When they were through, I could not sit down and I could not comfortably rest my arms at my side either.  To top it off, my mom had sewn a green hat that looked like a stem and strapped it to my head with an elastic band.  I was a grape that year.  A walking purple mess of pins and balloons.

Do not let me forget to include yet another one of mom’s specialty costumes.  She took a small, blue laundry basket, cut a hole out of the center of it, placed it over my little sister and then filled it with clothes.  She was a laundry basket that year.  That was her costume.  Oh, and my mom made sure no detail was left unscathed.  She took a few of the articles of clothing from the basket and draped them off the sides of the basket because you know, of course if you are going to be a basket of laundry for Halloween it better look completely convincing!  I think my sister won a silver dollar or two at school for that costume as well.

My mom was happily telling my friend about all this a week or so ago.  She was saying how creative all of our costumes always were and how we always won all the Halloween costume contests at school.  I thought to myself for a moment and responded with this,  “Mom, they probably felt sorry for us at school because our family was too poor to buy costumes.  Instead you sent us to the school costume contests in cardboard boxes covered in trash bags and laundry baskets while all the other kids had fancy, store-bought costumes of popular characters.  They probably picked us out of pity and because the prize was always a few silver dollars and they knew we could use the money.”

My mom began to laugh hysterically, and for those of you that have heard my mom laugh, you know it is very contagious.  The whole room was laughing after that.  What’s funny about it is that it was most likely the truth.  My parents did not want to spend a bunch of money on costumes for five children every year, nor did they likely even have the money to do so.  My mom had no shame or qualms with rigging up her own costume concoctions and we were too young to realize anything different.

There are reasons a child’s mind remains underdeveloped to the ways of the adult world for such a long duration of childhood, and there is no shame in being glad for that now!

Falling into Fall Fun!

Okay, so maybe the official first day of fall was on September 22nd, but for most of us here in Indiana, it isn’t fall until Mother Nature shows us it is.  The leaves here are just now starting to change in color.  We have four seasons here with very distinct weather changes, which some of us really love and some of us hate (because of the winter snow).  In my home, we absolutely love fall.  We love everything about it; the leaves changing colors, the pumpkin patches, Halloween festivities, warm apple cider on a cool day, Halloween costume parties, trick-or-treating, raking up all the colorful leaves that have fallen off trees into one HUGE pile and jumping around in it with the kids, opening every window in the house and snuggling up under the covers and decorating the house and lawn with everything that screams, “It’s Fall and WE love this season!”

As I was having my morning cup of coffee (with pumpkin pie flavored creamer), it occurred to me that today is, in fact, October 1st which made me then imagine all of the fun places and things we could do as a family this season.  There’s a park down south called, Hoosier National Park (an area also known as Brown County) and a small town near that called Nashville.  Nashville is filled with several blocks of simple, yet adorable shops filled with many things made locally and fall is usually this town’s busiest season for visitors.  It may not seem like much to some, but overall it has a quaint sense of charm.  There is a shop there that sells nuts, almost any nut you can think of, hot and fresh out of the oil and scooped into a brown paper bag for you to enjoy as you walk the streets.  There is also an ice cream shop that serves homemade ice cream and the pumpkin ice cream is the best thing since sliced bread there during this season.  Shops filled with handcrafted jewelry made by the locals are also popular there.  One year I purchased an Oak leaf necklace and when I say Oak leaf, I do mean that it was an actual leaf from an Oak tree that had been dipped in silver and made into a beautiful necklace.  The kids usually have a great time there, but it’s also a good place to go with your significant other as there are many scenic/romantic views in the state park and several local wineries to visit.  Pumpkin Patches and pumpkin carving is another fun thing we can look forward to this season.  This will be the first year our baby boy, Jackson, will be able to have a little fun with pumpkins and all the fall festivities.

Although the year is coming to an end, it is exciting to imagine all of the potential and time we still have left for making memories this year.  It’s funny how sometimes, you can look forward to making the memories, yet sometimes be so involved in the process and action of doing so, that you completely fail to remember to capture those memories in pictures.  Please remember to take pictures this year and during the entire holiday season (Don’t worry. I’m yelling this at myself)!

Happy Fall to All!