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Authors Note: I am not the only person to have seen the Tree People. Many meth addicts have observed them, and they are a well-documented hallucinatory phenomenon common to users of this drug. In the past, following previous encounters, I have researched them on the internet and was stunned to discover the similarity of experience from one user to another. I once saw a one-hour documentary about two Midwestern teenagers who, high on crystal meth, wound up lost in a snowstorm, completely disoriented. Their ordeal was captured on several rambling, confused cell phone calls the couple made to 911. The teenage girl, her voice panicked, pleaded with the operator to send help.
“There are lots of Mexicans and African Americans….and they’re all dressed up in these cult outfits!” she wailed.
“They’re taking the cars and hiding them in the trees!”
“Hiding what in the trees?” asked the confused operator.
“There are hundreds of them! Two hundred!” the teenage girl shrieked. The couple, in the throes of the drug, were unable to provide accurate information to pinpoint their location, and soon froze to death after setting out on foot to evade the Tree People.
In the past, having come down from the drug, I have tried to convince myself that I had hallucinated every terrifying thing. However, I haven’t always been able to shake fully the feeling that what I have seen – these tree people – are real. A small part of me believes that the drug has lifted some sort of veil between the physical realm and the spiritual one, and that what I am seeing, the same thing so many other meth addicts have seen, is truly and terrifyingly authentic.
I have not seem them yet, but I know they’re out there. I can feel them. I quickly retrieve the meth pipe and butane torch from the bedside table drawer and take another deep hit. I exhale a voluminous cloud, place the paraphernalia back in the drawer, and quickly move to the other window on the north side of the bedroom. I yank the yellow curtains open, no longer cautious about being seen, knowing I’ve already been located, knowing they are already on to the scent and are closing ranks around the small house. As expected, a regiment of the Tree People stands flanking the carport roof directly in front of the house. This time, they have cleverly intertwined themselves in the branches of the huge cypress trees that line the driveway, their bodies contorted as they seek to disguise themselves within the twisting branches. I meet the menacing gaze of one of them for a brief moment, drop the curtain and begin pacing the room, beginning to sweat even as cold fear sweeps across me.
Adrenaline courses through my body and my thoughts switch to survival mode. Though no direct communication has been established, somehow, telepathically perhaps, the people in the trees have made it known that their intent, this time, is not simply to frighten me back to a psych ward. This time, they intend to finish this game of cat and mouse once and for all. My anxiety level is already elevator-ing up, up, up, when I remember Patrick and my visiting mother and sister in the other room, on the other side of this locked door, completely oblivious to the danger that now surrounds all of us. Another message arrives, fully formed, in my brain: They intend to kill everyone in the house except me, knowing that by leaving me alive, and high on meth, I will surely be held accountable for their murders. Having this much of the drug in my system would render fully incredible any claims of innocence. This new information hits me hard and quick, cutting through the thick tweaker haze and eradicating any indecisiveness.
There is a small, heavily wooded canyon opposite our house, and several months ago I had discovered a small, secluded area that was perfect for smoking my pipe whenever Patrick was home and I did not want my current binge to be discovered. The last time I walked there, about a week ago, I had stumbled upon an ancient, rusted machete that had been left behind, perhaps by one of the city park workers who periodically move through the canyon doing brush clearance. I had taken it home, feeling certain that some unseen force had guided me to it, for reasons that at the time were unclear.
I now retrieve the machete from under the bed where I had hidden it, it’s purpose now rendered obvious, and open the bedroom door, moving quickly into the living room, brandishing the rusty blade.
It is less dark in the living room than in the bedroom, and as conversation suddenly stops and all three faces turn to meet my wild-eyed gaze, I can see their eyes and mouths comically pop wide as they register the 18-inch blade I’m waving above my head.
“They’re out there,” I say, trying to keep my voice steady, trying not to panic them, but desperately praying they will, this time..for once... cooperate.
Patrick rises to his feet. His initial angry reaction is quickly replaced by concern, and he tries to coax me into putting the machete down, but I ignore him and move quickly past him, yanking closed the drapes in the living room, and then those in the dining room.
My mother and sister have no experience with the Tree People, nor have they witnessed any of my epic panic attacks they’ve brought on. They have been safely four hundred miles away during previous encounters, and they sit, mouths slightly agape, stunned. Patrick, however, has been through this before, and his concern is rapidly shifting back again to anger.
“Put the machete down,” he says, adopting his “let’s reason” voice.
“Who’s out there?” my sister asks, and she sounds nervous.
“No one is out there,” Patrick says to her, perhaps a little too sharply.
We’ve been through this before, of course, and it has become clear to me over time that Patrick is utterly incapable of seeing the People in the Trees. Clearly they are hiding from him, keeping their existence known only to me, in an attempt to discredit my sanity. If only he would look a little harder he would see, I am certain of this. His anger and frustration at my inability to stay clean have stripped him of any vestige of his former, super-patient self.
Theresa, my sister, looks from Patrick’s tense face to my sweaty one, and rises from the couch and strides to the living room window, pulls the curtain open and stares outside, making absolutely no attempt to hide herself from the eyes of the tree people, who have now quietly congregated in the small garden adjacent to the front window.
“There’s no one there”, she says decisively, turning her gaze to me, still standing, vulnerable, in front of the window. Over her shoulder, through the glass, a tall, menacing figure that was once merely a pine tree glares directly at me. I rush the window, grabbing her by the shoulder and pushing her aside roughly, simultaneously yanking the curtains closed.
“Get down, you fucking dumbass!” I screech at her, and her face registers shock more than offense. I have never yelled at my sister like this, and she is first stunned, then angry.
“Hey!” she retorts, barely achieving the tone of indignation she must have been trying to convey.
“They’re everywhere,” I screech, waving my arms and the machete and feeling like a demented Gladys Kravitz dealing with a trio of obtuse Abners.
“Just because you can’t see them doesn’t mean they’re not there!” I continue, and though I hear how illogical the words sound, I’m utterly convinced of their truth.
I am terrified, and I do not know what to do next. I cannot let them hurt my family, cannot let them hurt my dear, sweet Patrick. I am frustrated, knowing that we are doomed, knowing that my family will be killed, that I will be sent to prison, decimated by grief, and certain that every single person who has witnessed my steady decline into addiction will hold me responsible.
Patrick continues trying to reason with me, adopting a softer tone. My mother joins him, and I retreat to the hallway, sink to the floor, still holding the machete. I tune them out, trying to think of a way out of this.
The idea crystallizes suddenly, and I am certain I have found a way to save my family. I must sacrifice myself. There is no time to ponder the logic of this decision, or even fully consider it’s potential effectiveness. I bolt to my feet and stride quickly and purposefully across the house, past Patrick, Theresa and my mother who sit huddled together, still looking stunned and nervous.
I reach the sliding glass door, unlock it and stride out into the rapidly darkening yard, waving the rusty blade in the air.
“Where are you going?” I hear my mother call, her voice wildly uneven.
I ignore her, and move forward towards the swimming pool, stopping at its edge and slowly turning around in a slow circle. The yard is a veritable jungle of vegetation, lined with thick hedges, fruit trees and overgrown brush. The tree people line the yard, resplendent in their green finery, surrounding me on three sides, glaring, judging, mocking, hating.
“Come on! Take me!” I yell, a methed-up version of Father Karras from The Exorcist, glaring back into their eyes, daring them. My fright has turned fully to anger now.
They make no move, and I continue to gesture at them with the big knife, sharp-pointed jabs as I turn slowly, making deliberate eye contact.
I single out three females, cleverly disguised as tall, wild sunflowers growing above the gazebo, and head in their direction. The wind shifts slightly, and they begin to dance, almost mockingly, undulating back and forth slowly, their eyes fixed on mine.
Suddenly, anger overwhelms me, and I rush to the side of the house and drag out a small aluminum folding ladder. I pull it to the gazebo, open it and clamber up on to its roof. The structure is very old, and it sways slightly as I move towards the phantom sunflowers, swinging the machete and swearing loudly. They are out of reach, too far up the hillside for me to attack, and I eventually give up, turning around and surveying the yard once again from my perch.
My sister and my mother have come out onto the patio, and begin asking me to come down. I refuse, and demand that they get back into the house for their own protection. Finally, tears running down both of their faces, they do.
After half an hour of pacing on the roof, I hear a commotion inside the house: dogs barking wildly mixed with the voices of strangers. I freeze momentarily, fearing that the invasion has begun. I swing myself down from the gazebo like an insane gymnast, almost impaling myself with the giant knife, and head toward the sliding glass door.
I open it, step inside, and see that the police have arrived.