The Genetically Mutant Tree
Dirt flew everywhere as Lewis and I ran for our lives. We heard a roar as the overgrown apricot tree ran after us. We knew exactly what had happened… but we weren't sure as to specifically why the tree was angry at us and not somebody else. It wasn't our fault we got the project, or that we had worked where we did.
"Run!" Lewis cried, jumping the wire fence that edged the property.
"Fence!" I yelled back.
We knew the fence didn't slow it down. Clods of dirt hit us as the whole tree, roots and all, leapt over the fence. We heard snarling and spitting sounds as it slowly and surely closed the distance between us.
"There!" I shouted, pointing to the rickety old cabin that was getting close. We both knew it was the only structure on the property. The owner, Old Man Marley, loved living simple on his vast property and hated dealing with kids. That was all right by us kids; we hated him back.
But this was kind of an emergency, and we needed shelter right away.
Lewis and I barged right in, not bothering to knock. Thankfully the tree stopped outside and didn't come in as well, but we could still hear it snarling outside like some kind of rabid dog.
"What are you rotten kids doing in here?" Marley demanded angrily, still wearing his striped pajamas. Definitely not something I wanted to see this morning. Marley stopped in his tracks in the kitchen and asked, "What in the blue blazes is that growling sound?"
"My stomach," Lewis lied.
"Our stomachs," I corrected. The sound was too loud to be one stomach.
Marley peered at us suspiciously. "What, didn't eat breakfast or something?" he asked.
"No, sir, it was a very irresponsible decision on our parts," Lewis said.
"We are regretting our actions very much," I added for effect.
"You better be, 'cause I ain't feeding you brats," Marley snapped, taking a nearby plate of banana bread and pulling it possessively closer to himself, as though he thought we were going to steal it from him. "Now why are you on my property?"
Lewis and I looked at each other. We really weren't ready to explain that one to him. I mean, how do you tell an eighty-five year old man that you were conducting science experiments for school and were hiding on his property because you didn't want anyone stealing your ideas? Or how do you tell him that you accidentally spilled your chemical formulas into the soil near his favorite apricot tree making it came to life, and now it wants to kill you for some unknown reason?
Yeah, I don't know how to explain all that either.
The tree outside growled loudly again. I could see its silhouette against the closed kitchen curtains, moving slowly with a rocking gait.
"We were walking down the street, and decided to race each other in the fields, but then we remembered that it was your property, so we came down here to ask for your permission," Lewis quickly answered.
"Yeah, so may we please have your permission to race through your fields?" I asked.
"No!" Marley shouted at us. At the same time however, the tree smacked its branches against the window, making a rattling sound. Thankfully, Marley was indifferent to the noise; between his shouting and his bad hearing, I don't think he heard it at all.
"Can I borrow a chainsaw?" Lewis asked with a straight face. Both Marley and I stared at him in surprise, but I could see where he was going with that train of thought.
"What, so you can chop my house down? No!" Marley shouted. "Now get on out of here, you're disturbing my morning!"
Normally we'd be happy to oblige and leave promptly. But we still remembered the murderous tree outside, lurking, waiting, hoping for Marley to toss us out so that it could kill us. I could see that its shadow was pacing the area outside between the kitchen window and the front door, ready to pounce the second we step foot outside the rickety sanctuary.
"I forgot to mention," I began slowly as the lie began to form in my head, "that today is Elderly Citizen Appreciation Day. So we are here to, uh, appreciate everything you've done for the community and help you out if necessary."
He had never done anything to help the community. We knew that. He knew that. "Why don't you tramps get on out of here and go appreciate someone else?" he snapped as though he thought we were mocking him. Which in a way I suppose we were.
"Sure you don't have a chainsaw?" Lewis asked as Marley began to advance on us. We slowly began to back up away from the enraged man.
"Am I sure that I want my house to live to see tomorrow?" Marley hissed, pulling out a wicked looking shotgun from behind the counter. Just what we needed and just what we couldn't get without losing something critical. Then again, this confirmed the rumor that he did shoot trespassers. I glanced at Lewis, trying to get an idea of his current thought process. But this was Lewis, the guy who claimed to have a toxic dump in his basement.
But he just put his hands up in surrender. "Okay Marley, you win. We're leaving," he said in a pacifying tone… and then his hand shot out and grabbed a handful of Marley's breakfast banana bread and shot out of the house two seconds later. Not wanting to be the only available target board, I ran out after him.
"Come back here you vagrants! Police! Thieves!" Marley roared out in our wake as we dived for cover. I yelped as the rifle went off, the bullet barely missing us.
"Come on out and get it old man!" Lewis shouted as he scrambled to his feet, ready to meet the problem head on. Instead of Marley's cry, there was a thunderous roar as the tree, which was actually on the opposite side of the cabin, realized that we were within its leafed grasp. There was a loud scrabbling sound as the tree climbed onto the cabin roof, bent on murder. I looked at Lewis, to see if he was afraid of imminent death, but he looked unusually determined. The bread crumbs fell lifelessly from his fist. "Come on old man, come and get it," Lewis whispered to himself, but whether he meant Marley or the tree I didn't know.
"Rawwer!" the tree roared as it jumped off the roof as though it was trying to fly. I decided to abandon Lewis at that point, and ran for cover behind the half-damaged shed attached to the cabin.
"Ahhh! It's killing me!" Lewis screamed as the tree landed on him. There was a loud fwump as the tree landed on him, sending leaves and twigs everywhere. I covered my mouth, too afraid of what was going to happen next to scream and attract unwanted attention. Lewis was writhing and screaming underneath the tree, only making a bigger mess.
"Christ," Marley breathed once he finally made it out of the house. He stared at Lewis moaning and then snapped, "Get up boy, that thing isn't killing you."
Lewis stopped. The tree lay lifeless on top of him, and I cautiously stepped out from behind the shed. Whimpering, Lewis scrabbled to get out, and he jumped away from it as though it was still alive and out to get us. The three of us stared at it for another moment, and then Lewis cautiously poked it with the toe of his sneaker. "Is it… dead?" he asked, surprised.
"No duh, boy. It ain't planted, so of course it's gonna die," Marley said, and I could've sworn I heard a note of sorrow in his tone. "Poor thing," he said, slowly kneeling and patting the trunk lovingly.
"'Poor thing'? That thing tried to kill us!" Lewis spat, and I nodded eagerly.
"Yeah, sure, whatever," Marley said, putting the rifle on the ground and examining the trunk. "Now you're just making stuff up."
"Um, Mr. Marley sir? That tree really was trying to kill us," I said as Marley continued to examine the trunk.
"Ya know this tree looks awfully familiar…" Marley observed as though he hadn't heard us.
"Uh-oh. Ready to run for your life again?" Lewis whispered to me, and I nodded discreetly. The pair of us began to slowly back up as Marley somehow turned the trunk over. There was a sharp intake of breath when he found the bread crumbs, and then the whole area seemed to grow silent as he found his initials on the tree, identifying it as the precious tree.
"Hey boy. Want to find out if there's an afterlife?" he growled, reaching for the rifle again.
"Heh, no thank you, sir," Lewis said.
"We are quite happy with the, uh, current life," I added, backing up to keep pace with Lewis.
"Toooooo baaaaad," Marley growled, slowly reaching for the rifle as he slowly stood up. I estimated that we did have a reasonable chance of outrunning the gun with Marley's current speed if we started running now. I didn't know for sure. I wasn't good at math.
Lewis on the other hand was. "Bye. Nice knowing you," Lewis said to me before turning around and hightailing it out of there. I screamed briefly at Marley before tearing after him.
We didn't stop until we were hidden on the other side of town from Marley. Marley shot at us three times, and we just ducked to avoid them. I was thankful that Marley's aim was lousy, but I was pretty sure that if that bluebird came back to life to speak on the matter, it would not be thankful at all.
I socked Lewis once we got to safety. "What was that for?" he yelled, rubbing his nose.
"That's for being a gentleman and ditching me," I snapped.
"Sorry, I guess I forgot to say 'it's every man for himself' before running," he said, running a finger underneath his nose to check for nonexistent blood.
"Why did you run anyway?" I asked, my curiosity getting the better of me.
"Think about it. If someone told you that your son got killed by a mutant apricot tree, would you believe them? Or would you believe them if they said your son got shot by a psychotic isolated neighbor?" Lewis asked.
"Good point," I finally said.
"I don't know what happened with the tree though. We both knew that it was alive and out to kill us, but it was like any other ordinary tree when Marley came out and found me," Lewis said. "Maybe it's really dead. Maybe the chemicals killed it." He stood up and announced, "Ladies and gentlemen, the psychopathic apricot is dead! Ding dong the tree is dead. The wicked tree. Da da da daaa. Ding dong the wicked tree is deaaaaad!"
I would find out later that night that, well, the tree wasn't as dead as we thought.