It’s my fault. It was because of me. I’m sorry, I’m so sorry.
Just tell me again what happened. We've been through it before, but let’s just start from the beginning.
And right in the middle is this old, dead tree, this creepy tree with twisty dark dead arms going in all directions. You can climb it and see the whole field.
How did it all start?
Allison wanted to play that day. She hadn’t wanted to play in a million years, but that day she said she was bored of what she was reading. I was so psyched. I hated her not playing. She’s one of those people that when she’s around, suddenly whatever stupid thing you were doing seems so cool and hilarious and great. I’ve known her since kindergarten, and she was always so cool like that.
But now we’re 11, and, whatever. She doesn’t play with us so much any more. But this day she was bored of what she was reading, and she came out to play war with me and Tom, like we used to.
It was one against all, no teams, and right away she grabbed the best spot, which is this mound by the dead tree. We didn’t even flip for it—she just ran over and called it, and when I said “So not fair,” she only laughed.
So I was sort of mad about that. She didn’t play with us for six months, and then she grabs the best position, just like she always did, like she could just come back and do that. And she called being America in the war.
That made you angry.
Well not like angry, but just kind of mad. Anyway, so I took the second best place, a higher mound, but not near the tree. And Tom took the edge of the woods—which is actually pretty good, except you have to keep running so far back and forth. Tom’s a good runner, though.
I still don’t understand how she—
It was me, I did it. I mean—but not on purpose that it would end so bad! I was only just playing a trick on her, because of being a little mad.
The thing about that mound that makes it so perfect, besides being by the dead oak, is that there’s this hole in it, so you can crawl inside. Well, I guess you guys know that now.
We used to play that it was the opening of a cave, when were kids, even though really the hole doesn’t go back very far. Still, when you’re inside, no one can get at you. It’s the best spot for war.
My trick was that I waited in the weeds on my stomach, until I saw her crawl into the hole. I know her, she always does that first, she loves it in there. Then I waved Tom over, and did that motion of “Be super quiet.”
And then me and Tom moved this big rock in front of the opening, so that she couldn’t get out. We weren’t trying to hurt her, I swear we weren’t. We left a crack for air and everything. We just wanted to scare her—or I did. I wanted to get her back.
Anyway. That rock was heavy, we had to lean on it and push with our legs. But the ground slants down toward the mound, so at the last second it just rolled into place perfectly, like it wanted to go there. Allison’s strong, but we knew there was no way she could roll it out herself, especially from on her stomach inside the cave.
How long did you leave her there?
We were just going to leave her for a minute, I swear, just to scare her, just to get her back for taking the best place and calling being America and never wanting to play anymore. But she got so mad when she realized—she started yelling at us, using pretty bad words. So then we couldn’t let her out right away, or it would be like we gave in.
It was kind of hot that day, so we just leaned against the rock and waited for a breeze, and waited for her to stop yelling.
And did she stop?
She didn’t stop exactly. It was more like . . . the yelling changed. Because at first she was mad, but then she got suddenly so quiet, it was more like she was talking to herself. I thought it might be a trick she was playing back on us. I put my ear up to the crack to listen. And I could hear her voice, like arguing. I heard her say “Stop it, don’t,” a couple of times. I thought she was totally messing with us.
But also, it was sort of working. I did start to feel really creeped out.
And then all of a sudden she started screaming. And it didn’t sound like a trick kind of screaming, it sounded real.
Like something was hurting her? Was she in pain?
I don’t know. Maybe. But more like she was really, really scared. She sounded so scared that it scared us. We started pushing at the boulder. But it was a lot harder now. It had rolled down so easy, but moving it up—and plus she was screaming these terrible screams, screaming for us to move the rock. And we were yelling “We’re are, we’re trying, we’re trying, just wait!”
What happened then?
Then she stopped screaming. And it was so weirdly quiet, but me and Tom kept talking to her, saying “Almost, Ally, we almost got it,” like that. And finally we pushed the stupid boulder out of the way.
And she wasn’t there.
And there’s no way she could not be there. We’ve all been in that tiny cave a million times, since we were little. Back then we could at least fit two of us at a time, but we can’t even do that any more—the rock narrows down to nothing. I mean where could she go?
But she was gone. Both of us stuck our heads in to be sure. And I said, “Do you think it’s like a trick? Is she tricking us?” But Tom didn’t answer. He looked like he was going to throw up. He said, “I’m gonna get someone,” and took off running. He’s fast.
Tom brought his parents to the location of the occurrence, correct? And they called us.
Yeah, I guess. I don’t know.
Tom went to get adults. And what did you do?
I went in. I know it sounds stupid. But I still thought she might be tricking us back.
I went in, I crawled in on my stomach, and—and it was different. It was really different. Where the cave used to end, it didn’t end any more. It got taller and wider, instead of smaller and tighter. And it went down, and down and down.
This is the part that’s difficult for us to believe. Because we sent someone in—
And the cave doesn’t go back more than a few feet. After that, it’s solid rock.
OK. I know. That’s what it always was before. But I don’t know what else to say. That day, it kept going, and it went down. And I went down with it, to find Allison.
The walls and ceiling and floor were all dirt. I could see that, because there was this cold pale light, like moonlight. Only there wasn’t any moon, because I was underground, so I don’t know where that light came from.
And things were growing from the dirt of the walls and floor and ceiling. All around me, on all sides of me, were these little green stems, and they were sort of gently waving and twisting in the air, and reaching for me, like grabbing at my shirt and pants. It was disgusting. It was the most disgusting thing I ever felt. But I kept walking, and they ripped out of the walls and floors while I walked, but I kept walking down.
And then the passage got wider, and taller. And—I don’t know why I looked up, I must have heard something? I don’t know. But for some reason I looked up, and I saw what I thought for a minute was a tree hanging down. I thought it was that old dead tree, but hanging upside down.
Then I saw that it was roots. It was the roots of that dead oak, and I was underneath them now.
And then—this is the bad part.
Okay. It’s okay.
And then I saw something tangled up in the roots, that wasn’t roots at all. Up above me, pulled up tight against the earth, something was wrapped up in the viny roots like a moth in a spider’s web. And it was Allison. It was Allison, and she was—I know this sounds dumb, but it was like she was becoming part of the tree. Like the tree was absorbing her. These long snaky roots, all green and dark, wrapped around her, under her arms, around her neck, around her legs. Her mouth was open and—
You can stop if you like. Here’s a tissue.
No, listen, please just listen. Her mouth was open. And this long, snaky root was growing out of her mouth.
All right. Calm down. Just take a minute and calm down.
That wasn’t the worst part, though! The worst part was that she didn’t look dead. She should have been dead, but she looked alive. Her eyes moved, I swear they did. The rest of her all wrapped and cocooned in those roots and vines, and her mouth—but her eyes moved, and they looked at me. And the look in her eye, the way her eyes were, I can’t sleep because my brain keeps thinking about it, and—
Your parents should have a doctor prescribe some medications for that.
I can’t sleep because I ran. I didn’t stay and try to save her. I saw her eyes looking at me, and I got so scared, and I ran. I ran back up that long steep dirt passage, and the little green vines grabbed at me, and I just ran.
I know I already told you guys all this. And I know you don’t believe me.
I wouldn’t say—
Stop, wait, just stop. I came here because I have to tell you one other thing.
My parents basically won’t let me out of the house since this happened. But last night really late, I sneaked out of the house. Or I guess it was early this morning. I just went out the window, I had to go back, I thought I might try . . . . Anyway. When I got to the field it was just being dawn, that gray light and all. But someone had filled up the cave entrance with cement.
We did that. It was a public safety issue.
It’s horrible you did that. I wish you’d let me in one more time. I wish so hard that you would. But I guess you won't.
No. We won't.
I freaked out when I saw that it was blocked. I just sat down hard against that horrible tree. And then I saw something.
This is the thing, this is the main thing I wanted to say. That tree, that dead tree—it has little buds on it now. Every creepy twisty black finger of every creepy dead black branch, they all have these tiny curling greeny-gold leaves now.
That tree was dead. That tree was dead for years, since I was in like first grade, it hasn’t had a single leaf.
Now that tree is full of leaves, all those different colors of green. Now that tree is alive again. And I know it’s her. It’s Allison. That tree ate Allison, to make it alive again. Only she isn’t dead. She’s still alive down there, because her being alive is making the tree alive. And I think she’s going to stay alive, as long as the tree is alive. And you filled the hole up with cement, so she can’t ever get out, and we have to do something, we have to dig that tree up, or blow it up, or burn it down, we have to, if you don't do it I'll do it myself, we have to—
Calm down, son. Just calm—can I get some help here? Will someone call his parents again, please? Calm down, would you—Steve, turn that off.