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The Tragedy of Peter Tree
The road, unbeknownst to most of the town, continued on past the old house and wound into the woods beyond. No one knew where it led because no one was brave enough to follow it. In fact, no one was brave enough to go within a few hundred feet of the house. Its peeling white paint hung in sharp crumbling flakes like a disease. There was no postbox—no letters or packages to be delivered. The doorbell was never rung (the mechanism was broken anyway), and certainly no busy stream of dinner guests banging in and out of the door. The door itself, being hardly ever used, was little more than a testament to its own uselessness. It hung rusty, stuck at some strange sideways angle, screen windows open to all weather.
The house stood tall and alone at the edge of the town. At night it hummed alive and glowed with yellow light. In the daytime it closed its dark lids to the sun. Most figured that the house was uninhabited; that it functioned on its own, a single sentient creature in the throes of some strange, otherworldly existence.
But, in fact, a solitary young man lived there. His name was Peter Tree.
Peter Tree was a writer. This offered some explanation of his utter eccentricity, but no one seemed entirely comforted by this. He sat for days at his window, looking out towards the forest. In the winter months he sat in his cold house, at his cold window, hands numb to the keys of his typewriter. No one knew the nature of his writing, if they knew of it at all. And since no one bothered to ask, most assumed the worst.
Only occasionally was Peter Tree actually seen. He made a few trips to the village grocery, trudging silently there and then silently back with an armful of brown paper bags. His mere presence was enough to set the little community talking for weeks; wearing out the white coils of phones in kitchens and living rooms across the town.
We saw him out again, Muriel… yes, of course I’m talking about PETER… Yes, I worry too… it’s only a matter of time before…
Truly, Peter Tree did not care. How else could he have lived the way he did? It wasn’t as if he was oblivious to their whispers. He rather enjoyed his infamy. His life was his own to live in whatever eccentric way he pleased—and he made sure of that.
Peter knew that if the townspeople had dared to continue past his house, deep into the trees, and follow the strange trail to its very end, they would encounter The Lake. It was, in reality, only a basin of dark water between high outcroppings of stone. But it was deep, deep enough so even tall Peter Tree could not stand touching the bottom- not even shakily on tiptoe.
The Lake was where Peter Tree met Alice.
It was a warm summer day, the kind on which anything could happen. The wind shifted dappling shadows over the forest floor. Peter Tree watched from his window. But the glass was thick and dirty, and not even the bright sunlight could sink through. Peter Tree made up his mind to go outside.
So he made his way to the lake with his typewriter under his arm, carrying a paper bag of paper and ink and a tomato sandwich for lunch. He sat with the typewriter on his lap, and began clicking away.
Once there was
Today there is
Peter felt especially inspired today.
At noon Peter looked up and reached for his sandwich, only to find that he was not alone. Midway through his first bite he wondered vaguely how she could have escaped his notice entirely. She stood balanced on her red bicycle at the very edge of The Lake, looking alternately down into the water and inquisitively up at Peter Tree.
“HI!” She called over to him.
He smiled awkwardly, still hunched over his sandwich.
She hopped off her bike, laying it gingerly down against a pine. Precariously she wound her way around the lake on bare feet, closer to where Peter Tree sat next to his typewriter. She was very tall and very plain, with long dust-brown hair and wide, dust-brown eyes.
“I’m Alice- Oh, are you writing something?” Her eyes fell on his typewriter.
Peter Tree pulled the sheet from his typewriter and handed it to her. She scanned the page.
Today there is something about the air and I think that today something wonderful will
She scratched her cheek absentmindedly and held the paper out in front of her. “I like it a lot. Where are you going with it?”
Peter Tree thought that he knew.
June turned to July and then July to August, in the usual way of seasons. Peter Tree visited The Lake more often, typewriter and tomato sandwich in hand. Every day that Peter was there, Alice was there. She read his writing, and he quietly listened to her suggestions. He began to bring two tomato sandwiches instead of one, which she ate without complaint as she perused his latest work. He wandered into the town more often now—so often that his presence became decidedly normal.
And then, one day in October, Peter Tree sat all day by the lake, waiting. But Alice didn’t come. He waited every day for a week, then a month. But Peter Tree was left all alone.
He no longer went into town. The whispers began to fly again; out came the phones on their worn cords, and the vicious talk of that strange man down by the edge of the forest.
Yes, that one. PETER TREE.
It was a bitter November day, the kind on which the world falls silent. The air burned his lungs as Peter Tree stepped out onto his porch. The stiff old door fell angrily shut behind him. He felt absently in his pocket for the match. He twisted it between his fingers a few times before he removed it and struck it on the side of the porch.
Carefully he placed the match under the door and watched as the flames slowly began to eat away at the wood. They crawled slowly at first, up the doorframe, then running along the edge of the porch.
He felt no remorse as he walked away from that crumbling white house for the last time, with his typewriter under his arm. He did not stop walking until he came to The Lake.
Standing precariously balanced at the edge of the dark water, Peter Tree took the rope out of his pocket. He wound it tightly around his typewriter and tied the other end close to his wrist.
And Peter Tree jumped into The Lake.
The old man rips a page out of his typewriter. That hadn’t been how it happened at all. He smiles. Through the open window he watches the summer sky fade from cloudless blue to deep purple. Fireflies shimmer in the darkness at the edge of the trees.
The crunch of bicycle tires on gravel means that she is home from the town. Peter Tree closes his eyes and he can still see the day she came back.
He throws the paper carelessly to the side and begins to write