by Peter Wood
Mike hated the tree. Its roots buckled the driveway, forcing Mike to park on the street. Long scraggly branches scraped the roof of Mike’s house, prying up shingles. He despised raking and bagging endless leaves and acorns every fall.
But spiting his neighbor made Mike leave the tree alone. Roy, who lived next door, nagged Mike far too often to cut it down. Spite might have been why Dad had ignored Mom’s pleas to chop the tree into firewood. Dad had survived Mom and now the tree had outlasted Dad.
Mike slammed the door to his Dad’s battered pick up. It was almost time for the late news and he had a long night of legal writing ahead of him. Mike grabbed the bulging court file and a typical dinner—a fast food burger and fries—off the front seat.
He stuffed a fistful of fries in his mouth as he cradled the file for the legal brief that was due in two days. Since Susan kicked him out and he moved into Dad’s crumbling home, Mike had little time for anything but work.
Roy’s fat tabby hissed at him from atop the lawnmower as Mike dared to enter his own garage. The cat meowed in outrage and raced outside. Lord only knew what corner it had used as a litter box. Roy didn’t care about whatever mischief his pet caused. He told Mike he’d take care of the cat when Mike took care of the tree.
The frayed elastic holding in the files gave way and papers fluttered out. “Damn it!” Mike muttered. Hundreds of pages of contradictory federal statutes in microscopic type spread out on the grimy garage floor.
As he paced about for a moment to work off his frustration he noticed another box of Dad’s clap trap on a cluttered work bench. Mike had started to sort through Dad’s endless stuff several times since the divorce, but had quickly gotten overwhelmed. Dad was a pack rat. Mike had enough to do trying to please the suits at Holbrook, Holbrook, Holbrook and Holbrook without categorizing the results of a lifetime of Dad’s hoarding.
But tonight the box called to him. Whatever was in there had to me more interesting than spending the next eight or nine or ten hours analyzing the effect of a sewage right-of-way through a private chemical landfill.
Mike rooted through the water stained wooden box. More random junk. A Conway Twitty eight-track tape, still wrapped in cellophane, that Dad had probably picked up at some truck stop, an unopened box of Trotsky Tidbits cereal, some worthless contraption that promised to make wine bottles into wine glasses by cutting off the necks. He could almost hear Mom lecturing Dad to throw the trash away.
He picked up a dusty brown glass bottle. Liquid sloshed.
A yellowed label read: DR. FIDEL’S GARDEN ELIXIR. Apply a small amount to the bark of any vegetation. Wait five minutes. Move without uprooting. A MODERN MIRACLE! Read complete directions thoroughly before using. Do not over apply! Patent Pending.
Mike was not surprised the bottle was unopened. Dad had never transformed a single wine bottle into a glass either. Mike tore off the cracked plastic, grabbed a flashlight, and walked outside to a young dogwood, about four feet tall. With great effort he unscrewed the bottle top. A thin film adhered to a metal wire loop, the sort used for soap bubbles. Mike blew the film onto the tree.
The dogwood quivered. He pushed the tree and it glided several inches away while somehow staying rooted in the ground, as if it were floating on water. He nudged it again. This time it easily moved several feet. Movement became harder and soon the tree stopped.
He heard Roy prattling about his kitchen. Roy kept odd hours since he lost his job at the dog food plant. Mike hoped his neighbor would stay inside and spare him from more whining about the oak tree. But, what if Mike could move the tree away from the property line? That would shut Roy up.
Mike walked over to the oak tree and blew a thin film on the bark. He heard a nearly imperceptible shake to the trunk.
Mike tried to push the tree away from Roy’s property. Nothing happened. He leaned into it, bracing his feet on Roy’s driveway. He grunted and strained. It was like riding a bike through wet cement, but the tree moved slowly. With grueling force Mike maybe shoved it a couple of inches away from the property line.
He applied more elixir. Still, at best he could only push the tree an inch or two. “Damn it!” He shook up the bottle and flung all the remaining elixir on the tree. Thick globs dribbled down the bark, making long tentacled streaks.
The stubborn tree wouldn’t move more than half a foot.
Crap, it was late. He shuffled into the garage and reassembled the file.
Then he heard a loud rumbling behind him.
Mike rushed out to the front yard. The tree’s skeletal branches scratched the roof, flicking shards of shingles into the air.
Mike gasped. “What the hell?”
The buckled driveway cracked like ice. The pavement split and the tree rose up on thick spidery roots. It bobbed towards the street, stopped and lumbered into the mess of dandelions, poke weed, and knee-high crabgrass that was Mike’s back yard.
The power line that serviced both houses did not stop the monstrous plant. Sparks flew as the tree dragged the line. The wire lassoed around a massive hairy root and broke with a loud snap.
Both houses went dark. The tree vanished into the shadows. Crackling and snapping sounds came from the back yard. Then silence.
Roy’s screen door slammed. Wearing jeans and a Road Kill Festival Sweatshirt, Roy burst outside, brandishing a flashlight in one hand and a half-finished Pabst Blue Ribbon in the other. “What in God’s green Earth happened out here?”
Mike heard a loud screech from the back yard. Roy’s cat raced out of the darkness like the devil himself was after it. Its tail, all puffed up, stood erect. It skidded to a stop in front of the hole before fleeing behind Roy’s bushes.
Mike thought of telling the truth, but doubted Roy would believe him. “I had the tree taken out.”
Roy took a swig of beer. “At night?”
Mike wondered if the tree was still moving in the backyard. He shined the flashlight into the dark.
The path the tree took was not hard to find. The oak stood in the corner of the yard, furrowed earth around it. It looked like it had always been there.
Roy scratched his unshaven chin. “Looks like they just tore it out of the ground, boss man. Who the hell does that? Where’d you find these guys?”
“You know those people who come by the house and offer to clean out the gutters?”
Roy finished the beer and tossed it in the tree crater. “Always figured that was a scam.”
Roy’s eyes narrowed. “Some drifter comes by your house and asks to clean out the gutters and then tells you, by the way we also tear out trees by the roots?”
Roy walked around the hole. He kicked at a shingle. “Them boys sure made a mess of things. Looks like a government job.”
“Yep.” And Mike started to laugh. “I think it might be some kind of community service program or something. The guys were probably on probation,” Mike said. It was a stupid, nonsensical comment, but he laughed like he was a drunken college student. Back before bills and ex-wives and work.
Roy joined in. If the laughter slackened, they just had to look at each other and it started up again.
At last the laughter died away. And the two neighbors stared at each other.
“Okay, so what are these drifters on probation going to do with a hundred foot tall oak tree?” Roy asked.
Mike wiped a tear from his eye. “That’s the best part. They planted it in the back yard.” He shined the light on the oak tree.
“You can’t plant a tree that big,” Roy said.
“Do you think it just walked back there?” Mike asked.
Roy breathed out slowly. “Look, boss man, I’m sorry. I didn’t really want the tree to fall. It’s been a crappy day.” He laughed. “A crappy year since I got laid off. Canning dog food was the best job I ever had.”
“Sorry to hear it,” Mike said.
Roy pulled out a mobile phone. “Better call the power company.” When he finished dialing, he put the phone back in his pocket. “I’m real sorry about your Dad. I always liked him.”
“Thanks,” Mike said. He wondered how long it would take the power company to fix the line. He hoped it would take all night. He didn’t want to do the brief.
He walked into the garage and picked up the legal file. He marched to the tree crater and tossed in the file. If a tree could move itself to a better place, he ought to be able to find a better job. Or maybe he’d just take some time off.
“What was that?” Roy asked.
“Just some trash,” Mike said. He pointed to his porch. “Want to have a beer? My Dad used to brew his own. Might have a bottle or two sitting around.”
Roy smiled. “Sure. Why not?”
Mike noticed a wet stain on the pavement. Then a dandelion twinkle-toed across the driveway on spindly roots. It’s frizzy white afro swayed in the breeze.
“Weeds are gettin’ pretty bad, boss man,” Roy said.
Mike sighed. “Yep.” He wondered if any more of the elixir had drizzled to the ground. “Have a seat. Have I got a story to tell you.”
Pete is a lawyer in Raleigh, North Carolina where he lives with his patient wife and moody cat. He is proud to have his third story published by Ray Gun Revival after “Sea Monkeys” and “Future Imperfect.” He loves just about everything about the South and believes many of his stories can be characterized as “Southern Fried Science Fiction,” a term he hopes he coined. He grew up in Ottawa where he spent far too many hours reading Vonnegut and Bradbury and watching reruns of the greatest science fiction show ever, the original Star Trek.