Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Guest Writer: Leviathan

The God Tree

As a kid, my brother Danny had a little too much faith in legends, and he always ended up devising his own meaning out of them. He was the kind of kid who would believe that dubious little shepherd boy every time he heard him crying wolf. And who would never for all of his life’s worth suspect that trickster in sheepskin clothing of lying. Probably because when it came to big bad wolves chasing scared little tykes down in the deep forest, Danny had his own share of cries, and tears to shed. Because, in his story, the wolf was real and because, unlike the shepherd boy, Danny would always fail to get back in town in the nick of time, no matter how hard he tried to run away from the snarling beast on all fours, chasing Danny down with his bloodshot eyes never leaving him.

In the end, Danny always ended up dying, no matter how hard he tried. But he always came back, if only to die better. In short, Danny should have died for good so many times in the whole of his life. But he continued to show up around us, wounded and healed, like a worn out dream that we could never shrug off from our lives for good.

A lot about my brother Danny was make-believe, or so I thought back then. And one of the earliest legends in his life, the one that I think he believed in the most and which had the greatest effect on him, was that old Oak Tree in the town’s old Central Park.

Danny even had a name for that ancient tree; he called it the God Tree. Though it wasn’t because Danny thought the God Tree represented God in a way or something, but because he believed it to be a good tree.

For me it was all too puzzling back then, because why call that tree a God when there ain’t no God in it. I wondered, and especially with that tree probably being at the fag end of its life, dying out a little more with each day that went by.

In those days, we were just a couple of small town kids who would every now and then, on the way home from school, hunker down on the bench and look at the God Tree for as long as we could afford to without getting into trouble with our parents back home. And it didn’t take much kid-sense on my part to figure out that mother wouldn’t like Danny’s favorite God Tree one bit; because as a human being my mother has missed out on a lot of qualities, including that of imagination; which is why I believe Danny had never been able to forgive her for the rest of his life, though I don’t really blame him for that.

Because Danny was a magnet to weirdness, a force inside of him driving him towards all forms of craziness that he could reach out to in this world. It was as if he could look beyond the exterior of every person he ever came across, searching for a little bit of craziness inside of him or her that he could relate to, and feed on. It was almost as if Danny needed it for his own self to stay alive, and gladly there was enough of that craziness around the place he grew up in, in order to make a living.

And when he found none of that in his mother, he spent most of his childhood and the grown up days running away from her, aggrieved and disappointed.

In those days we spent most of our afternoons at the old Central Park, on our usual bench, which looked awfully rusty and made a creaking sound from the hinges gone loose, and with little Danny tucked up, staring up at his favorite God Tree that he saw standing a few yards from the bench, while I would take my place next to him, waiting for us to get home.

I remember the first time when I asked him. “Why do you call it the God Tree”?

“Why?” Danny wondered. “I dunno, maybe because it’s so old looking, and quiet. Or could be because most people fail to notice it, they walk all around it, and never even realize how close they are to it, to something special, not even for once, which is amazing to see. But I am not sure, though I do like watching this tree a lot, probably because it is a good one.”

“What’s so good about this one?” I asked.

“Because it feels good to be watching it,” Danny said and took a pause, now looking back at me. Then, looking somber. “And because Grandpa loved it too, when he was a kid. He believed it wasn’t from this world, he knew it to be special. But then he grew up, and the love thing stopped, which was sad. Because he had a lot of faith in that tree, and in the place it came from. He used to believe in those things so strongly that he probably was responsible for making them happen.”

“What do you mean”? I asked. “Grandpa made them happen? You mean he made those places and the trees up, that they weren’t real?”

“Something like that,” Danny replied. “But it’s not like they aren’t real. It’s like he made them to be what they are. He made them real enough with what he believed in. But sometimes I think he had a little too much of it, the believing stuff that is. And it wore him out eventually.”

“Why?” I asked. “What happened?”

“I guess it was because Grandpa finally decided to grow up.” Danny spoke, his eyes distant as if in deep thought. “I’m not sure, because it’s all so complicated. But it could be because when you grow up, you tend to lose faith in trees and all”.

I remembered the sad old figure of Grandpa, stuck in a wheel chair day in and out. Not moving, but watching all with his eyes open, not missing a thing. Only refusing to talk, or move. Just like what mom had told us, that Grandpa was gonna stay the way he was, and we’d better not say a nasty word while around him, because he was listening. And because mom said that’s all you can do when you grow old, you stop moving and start listening. Picking up on things you have missed out when young.

“Even in good ones like the God Tree?” I asked.

“Yes,” Danny replied. “Even the ones which are good. Or maybe especially in the ones that are good. I … I think so. But I am not too sure.”

“Do all grown ups end up like Grandpa?” I asked. “Surely not all of them lose faith like Grandpa did.”

“I believe they do,” Danny said. “But I guess it happens all too slowly, so much so that they don’t get to realize it at first.”

But I didn’t believe him, like I never believed most of what Danny said or did back then or later, even when we were much older. The world around me was full of evidence that everything Danny said was not true. Because I remember that mother always went to church, even when she grew old, old enough to just drop flat on her face and die out. Because you don’t need an excuse to die once you are old enough.

But even when old, mother didn’t lose her faith. With or without imagination, she never missed a Sunday congregation, not that I could remember. Something must have driven her to do what she did. And it could only be faith.

Danny continued. “They don’t really see it happening, for a while anyway. Losing faith is a bit like what you’ve seen in the movies. A guy getting shot in noisy background music, and for a while he wouldn’t have it figured, till someone points it out to him, and that’s how he ends up dying. He wouldn’t have if he hadn’t been told he was shot.”

“Why do you think that happens?” I asked.

“Why?” Danny gave me that you-are-so-dumb look of his. The kind of look I hated, because it made me feel small. “It’s because the background’s too noisy.”

“But that’s all in the movies,” I protested. “It’s all made up.”

“Now don’t start talking like grown ups, Jimmy,” Danny scolded me. “Movies are real! How many times have I told you that?”

“No, they are not.” I didn’t want to believe him. “Movies get shot by a camera, with a bunch of people pretending to be somebody else.”

A curve of a smile appeared on Danny’s face. It was a smile of satisfaction. “Yes, they do. Because that’s what grownups do, when they stop believing in the God Tree. They go around pretending to be somebody else.”

I looked away and didn’t say a word for the rest of the afternoon. Not because I had nothing else to say, but because it was almost as if we spoke in different languages, and no matter how long we would argue, me and Danny, we would never make any sense to each other.

Couple of months after that afternoon, Grandpa passed away. And when he did, Danny locked himself up in his room and cried for three days.

When I went to him upstairs, followed by my mother, and asked if he was all right, that’s when we found out the real reason behind his prolonged grief.

“The God Tree,” Danny sobbed. “It’s gone too.”

“What do you mean, gone?” I asked.

“It’s gone. Somebody took it,” Danny said. “Somebody took it as soon as Grandpa passed away. Or maybe Grandpa took it with him. I’m not sure. Maybe he thought he would need it where he went.”

Mother looked puzzled. “What God Tree, Danny?”

“The God Tree,” Danny shrilled. “That old one in the park, mommy.”

Mother looked puzzled and looked my way. I shrugged and said. “He’s referring to that old Oak Tree in the central park. He thinks it’s gone, since Grandpa has died.”

A look of understanding dawned on mother’s face. I felt relieved. She looked back at Danny, now allowing herself a smile. The smile that said, oh I should have known, Danny.

And her voice, firm as always, remained neutral as she spoke. “Danny, you listen to me now, and listen well. Don’t make me repeat it, son. There ain’t no Oak Tree in that central park, Danny. You listenin’? That park’s been there since the day I first went to school, and there ain’t ever been an Oak Tree in that place.”

I saw my brother shrinking, becoming smaller with each word thrown at him. Getting small enough to fit into that invisible shell he would carve out for himself whenever forced to face the convincing lies and the deceitful attempts that the rest of the world brought against him, hoping to deprive Danny of his faith, hoping to lead him astray like the rest of the lost souls Danny saw around him and pitied.

Danny didn’t say a word to mother that day, and he never once mentioned to her about the God Tree. But in secret he remained true to his faith, staying firm to his sense of otherworldliness against the raw hardcore reality of the world, against the raging wolf chasing him down in the woods.

© Leviathan 2010

Leviathan, a recent NaNoWriMo winner, writes out of love for all things that await us in the dark. He writes to serve the demons that haunt us all. His favorite quote is (here paraphrased from Nietsche), “When you look into the abyss, the abyss also looks into you.”
You can read some of his short stories and serialized fiction on his blog at http://moresulphurthanclay.blogspot.com/

4 comments:

  1. With every piece that you give us to read about Danny he becomes more real and a deeper, more rounded character. I like too the character of Jimmy who is far more sympathetic, more patient than many older brothers. Well done Lev for making this so real.

    ReplyDelete
  2. A great line: wounded and healed, like a worn out dream that we could never shrug off from our lives for good.
    My phone rang and I asked the person to hold on so I could read the last line. Not sure after reading this if it's fact or fiction. But, it is worth reading.

    ReplyDelete
  3. The first four paragraphs are some of the strongest I've read in this story, and I look forward to seeing how it all unwinds. I'm particularly curious about "In the end, Danny always ended up dying, no matter how hard he tried. But he always came back, if only to die better."

    --Kristine from 6S

    ReplyDelete
  4. I truly enjoyed reading about these characters of the type I've missed since my days of overindulgence in the works of Stephen King. I know Lev is also a great fan of the modern Poe, and he must be hard at work on this novel because I haven't heard much from him in the last few weeks since NaNoWriMo finished.
    I'm hoping we hear more in the coming year.

    ReplyDelete

MDJB at GoodReads

Michael D. Brown's books on Goodreads Bastille Day reviews: 2 ratings: 3 (avg rating 5.00...