I slapped down another pair of jacks onto the musty wooden floorboards once again. A cool autumn breeze whizzed through my oversized hoodie like spears, causing my skin to prickle. “And another win for the third time,” I boasted to my best friend, Brady. He stared at the two playing cards, baffled. After a moment, he frisbeed the remaining cards within his hands across the dusty ground towards me. Another gust of wind suddenly howled through the cracks of the boards, nearly picking up one of the staggered cards along in its fury. Slamming down a muddied Nike sneaker to secure the loose card, I slid it back into the pile with the others “Hey, man, what the hell? You didn’t have to do that,” I remarked, irritated.
Brady’s short built legs suddenly maneuvered into a squat position as he stood up in an attempt to stretch. Though, his efforts appeared to be rather useless under the roof of a three-foot tall treehouse. Fully erect, his back was hunched over in a 45-degree angle. He peered out of the glassless window into the deserted woodland. “Whatever, dude. I’m sick of playing cards,” he muttered.
“Ok,” I vexed, beginning my quest of 52-card pick up. “What should we do now, while we wait?” Brady continued to stare off into the gray distance as if he were in a trance. “You were the one who wanted to come here. How long do we have to wait for this thing to happen anyway?” I had doubts about this so-called fairy tale treehouse that Brady had dragged me to on my Sunday off. Just as on other countless occasions, he had manipulated me to go on another crazy adventure with him. This time, he wanted to explore some shack as a pit stop while on our weekend run, neglecting to tell me any of his intentions until we reached the destination. It was a brisk autumn day with no sign of a single ray of sunshine peering through the thick stone clouds. When he first proposed that we run in the woods, naturally, I wasn’t too keen on the idea. I didn’t want to run in the shade any more than necessary, especially when the temperature was going to dip into the forties today.
Brady was the mastermind of sweet talking his way into almost anything though and he managed to entice me by promising that there would be a “hidden gem” up in the secluded area. He wouldn’t go into detail as to what this “gem” was. Just like any other person would, I thought he was actually referring to some sort of treasure. As in, the stuff we could make some serious cash off of. Ironically, he led me into this crusty old treehouse that looked like a hermit’s crack house. It was a “hidden gem” alright. Definitely no sign that any human had come across the treehouse, or area for that matter, in a while. The trail had become overgrown with vines and shrubs, reaching a height of waist level. At that point, I saw no use of continuing our leisurely cross-country run. My joggers had become caked in the green residue of the Earth. After stopping, we then proceeded to hike for what I guessed to be about another mile until we approached the abandoned shack high up in a crooked tree.
“This is what you brought me out here for?” I demanded; a bit disappointed. The wooden structure rested between two enormous branches of an old leafless oak tree. Its roof sunk into a concave shape as if it were sneering. Moss had completely engulfed one of the sides of its boxy frame. Small uneven planks of rotting wood were nailed along the trunk of the tree. They curled in a crooked path up towards the mouth of the menacing fort. “I’m not going up into that thing,” I protested. “It looks like it’ll collapse at any given minute! And who knows what’s living up there.”
That’s when Brady began to stage his suave convincing act. “Doug, this isn’t just any old treehouse. There’s a reason it’s been abandoned and that this place is off-limits to the public.”
“What?” I grilled, surprised. “Terrific…so we’re trespassing now? Wow, that’s just great, Brady,” I started to go off on one of my notorious anxious rants. As I turned to start backtracking the way we had come he grabbed my slender arm roughly, spinning me back to face him.
“Ok, yes we might be trespassing. But before you start to panic, it’s for good reason,” he admitted, continuing with his convincing performance. I was always the logical one but every now and then I would let him push me out of my comfort zone. His crazy ideas are generally what led us into epic adventures. Getting into trouble with the law, however, was where I drew the line. Yet, for some reason or another, this afternoon I decided to hear him out. Crossing my arms over my chest, I glared at him, waiting for an explanation.
“What’s the good reason?” I pouted.
“You’re going to think I’m making this up…but you know that school Halloween project we had to do. The one about researching our town’s legends?” Of course, I knew what he was talking about. I was more shocked to the fact that he had actually completed the assignment.
“Yeah,” I shrugged. “I did mine on a witch hunt back in the 1600s.”
“You would do something like that, history geek,” Brady smirked, giving me a playful shove. I ducked out from under his muscular arms and adjusted my glasses. Just as I always would in an effort to avoid going off on a tangent and sticking to the business at hand. “Anyways, I was really trying to find a legend in this boring town that would bring some uniqueness to my report. You know, some spunk. I didn’t want to do it on some boring history garbage.”
I let out a chuckle, “That’s how legends are made, dummy. Historical people fabricate a story and then it’s passed down from generation to generation.”
“That’s just it though,” he continued. “This treehouse…has no history.”
Cocking an eyebrow, I speculated, “How?”
“There’s no record of it ever being built. Nobody in our town knows how it got here. And the wood used to build it…doesn’t rot. According to some of the research I did, scientists even used radioactive dating on the treehouse’s material to determine its exact age. They found that the material was over 7 million years old,” his expression remained solemn, with not even a quiver of a fake grimace beginning to grow in his cheeks.
“That’s impossible,” I retorted. “That’s like going back in time before the first human came into existence. How was this thing even built then? Or how is this tree still standing here?” Doubtfully, I was beginning to think either Brady was very good at telling spooky stories or that he simply did his research completely wrong.
“That’s the mystery, isn’t it?” he agreed, rhetorically. “But it gets weirder. The scientists…they couldn’t even identify what type of wood it was made out of. Samples had been taken to labs all around the country and nobody could identify the material that was used. And this tree. I know it looks like an oak…but apparently when the researchers also tested samples from the bark, its DNA didn’t match that of an oak.”
At this point, I had entirely convinced myself that he was making up the tale. I gave him props, though. He actually had found a random treehouse, which more closely resembled a serial killer retreat, to go along with his story. He had even managed to persuade me in trespassing on private property, though I attributed that “win” of his to my obliviousness. “Alright, very funny,” I surrendered. “You got me. Now let’s go. I don’t want to get caught out here. We could get fined or something.” I looked around the silent fall foliage cautiously like a deer on the watch for a hunter.
“Dude, seriously, I’m not making this up,” Brady held his right meaty hand up as if he were taking an oath. “I swear on my grave that it’s true!”
I nodded sarcastically, “Well then I really think you should check you’re grade on this report when we get back to school on Monday because there’s no way this is accurate. Did you check your resources?” I jeered.
“Yes!” He exclaimed, throwing his hands up peevishly. “I used resources from scientific journals. I’m not as dumb as you think I am.” Before I could defend myself and apologize, he placed a sincere hand on my shoulder and squeezed it. “Doug, please. I’m telling the truth. I didn’t even get to the creepiest part of all yet.” His eyes were trembling with excitement, like a grandparent about to reveal the climax of a really good story to their grandchild.
“What?” I stipulated, rocking backward uneasily. I rarely saw him look so serious.
“The treehouse is off limits for a reason. Children or people who have sat in the treehouse…they had wishes that would come true. But according to several of these accounts…some of the peoples’ wishes ended up being a curse,” he emphasized the last word dramatically. Then, he shrugged, lightening up his tone, “So, I figured, why don’t we test this legend out? What will come true for us…the wish or the curse?” He wavered his fingers in front of me as if he were playing the keys of an old organ.
Rolling my eyes, I crippled under his pleas, “How are you always getting me into these crazy adventures? Well, if you’re theory’s true, what do we have to do to get our wish granted?
How does it know what we wish for? And why do some people get curses instead of wishes?” Dozens of questions were circulating through my mind as I constantly searched for logic in the situation.
“Rumor has it, we have to carve the key word of our wish into the bark of the tree. Then we go up into the treehouse, whisper our desires into its walls, and wait for a sign,” he explained, drawing a small pocketknife from the pouch of his hoodie.
“Alright, so if I do this little ritual, how long do we have to wait? And what sort of sign are we looking for exactly?” I interrogated, still highly cynical of the entire charade.
Brady started to head over toward the treehouse and began to decipher the bark of the tree, searching for the perfect spot to begin fleshing out his wishful word. “I’m not sure. I guess it could be anything…like an omen if it’s a curse or a symbol, like a dove, if it’s a ‘wish granted’.” He began digging the blade into the mysterious bark of the large tree. After examining the tree more closely, I had to admit, it now seemed rather artificial. It was as if the bark were made of plastic, or rather, was almost like a hologram. Something was just off about the way the large oak tree was standing amongst the surrounding pine trees. Brady’s story had now seeped into my psyche and my eyes were starting to play tricks on me, I told myself. Letting out a long deep sigh, I rolled my eyes and decided to play along with his little experiment.
Three hours ago, we had completed the rituals and here we still were; bored in a damp treehouse, freezing our asses off. I wondered how long Brady would make me sit out here until he deemed the validity of some sort of signal from the world. My patience was running thin. Unlike him, I didn’t have much muscle or body fat to insulate me against the frigid wind chill. I was getting hungry, too. It was starting to approach the dinner hour and I could already smell the lasagna Mom was beginning to prepare back at home. At that thought, without sounding too impatient, I attempted to sway Brady. “See anything out there?”
Just as he turned to face me, shaking his head, something slammed into the side of the treehouse, rattling the entire frame. Bracing myself against two corners as if it were to collapse in on me, I yelped, “What the Hell was that?” Brady’s face had drained of all color. Intently, he peered back out of the small opening. Another slam against the side of the treehouse shuttered the moldy planks as if someone had fired a gun. I let out another startled curse.
Brady only momentarily jerked his head backward in reflex, then peered back out into the grey surroundings. “Dude, it’s a huge black crow. It’s pelting the tree house…and it’s taunting us,” he pointed a shaky finger out toward the pale orange light that was beginning to cast an eerie glow along the floorboards. I climbed to my feet unsteadily, shoving him out of the way. Hesitantly, I squinted out of the narrow slit to observe…not a crow…but a raven. Its screech radiated through the trees like sirens and it flapped its wings mockingly.
“I’ve never seen those here before,” was all I could contribute. I knew that these birds weren’t even native to our location.
Instantly, Brady’s imagination kicked in, “It’s an omen!” he confirmed, blue eyes darting nervously at me. I remained fixated on the strange ominous bird for a few moments longer, trying to distinguish if it really was a raven or not.
“Well, it’s a little strange,” I admitted. “I don’t think these birds are native to our territory. I think it’s a raven. It must be an invasive species--,” Brady suddenly cut me off with a blood curdling scream. It was a sound I’d thought he wasn’t even capable of producing. A loud splintering of wood shattered my eardrums as I spun around frantically in response. Disbelievingly, I gazed down the vacant hole in the middle of the moss-infested floor, overlooking Brady from 20 feet below. His beat red face winced up at me in agony. The mental part of me wanted to race down the slippery ladder as fast as I could to his aid, but the physical part of me remained frozen. I couldn’t muster up strength to tear my eyes away from the site that gave explanation for Brady’s gut-wrenching scream.
His land had forced both of his athletic legs to twist completely backward at the knee. Inverted, like an ostrich. I had a horrible feeling that, from the observation of his injuries, he would never be able to run the same way again. An unwelcome lurching sensation in my stomach gurgled, forcing me to heave. A spewing stream of yellow puke poured down toward my friend, just barely whizzing past his shoulder. To my surprise, he ignored it and instead, cried out in accusation, “Doug! What the hell did you wish for?” Baffled, I was rather offended that he hadn’t blamed such bad luck on a curse. I didn’t dare tell him what my wish, though, fearing that he’d jump to the conclusions, blaming me as the cause of his demise. “Answer me!” he bellowed in a shuddered roar.
An overwhelming cold and clamminess oozed over my skin like spiders scuttering out from under a closet. “I wished…that I’d be just as fast as you, just as athletic as you,” I stammered, a lump beginning to form in my throat. In a surge of emotional turmoil, I tumbled down the steep ladder ruts to his aid. That’s when I noticed something else very wrong. It wasn’t just the shock that had forced my legs into a temporary state of paralysis from a moment ago, but they were actually heavy to move. Glancing down in horror, I saw that my two limbs were nearly bursting the seams of my joggers. They had suddenly mutated into the legs of Hulk. Trying to keep focused on the bigger issue at hand, I continued down the rather artificial tree trunk. That’s when I caught site of my large…hairy arms.
Thick black fur was matted all over what used to be my pale and skinny forearms. Between the clumps of hair was something even more disturbing…large marble-sized warts. More fur and warts continued popping up out of my skin like an infectious weed. Focus, I told myself. Just need to get out of this tree. Then, a loud popping suddenly erupted out from under me and I lost grip of the treehouse steps. I plummeted to the ground where Brady. Except, I didn’t land like he did. Instead, I landed hard on my feet, forcing two craters into the Earth. Attempting to take a step forward, I was paralyzed abruptly as if invisible hands were pulling me into the ground. I tugged desperately at my quadriceps, trying to manually wrench them forward. They wouldn’t budge. What I thought to have been muscle at first glance, was something much harder. As I was gripping my limb, I noticed it didn’t feel like any sort of muscle, or flesh for that matter. It felt like rock-solid concrete. Horrified, I noticed a disturbing fresh shade of gray beginning to now settle in the pores of my skin. “Brady!” I choked out as my hands joined the rest of my body in becoming immobile. “What’s happening?”
His eyes no longer screamed out at me in pain but was replaced with a look of remorse. “I’m sorry, man. I wanted to be just as smart as you.”
“Why am I turning to stone?” I squeaked, throat beginning to close in on itself.
“I’ve turned you into a troll! No intelligence in a troll. Now…you’re in the sunlight. You’re turning to stone,” he confirmed my greatest concern. Immobile and speechless, I watched as my best friend was soon hauled out of the woods by an ambulance before sunset.