By George Brown
Unlike my previous stories about the old oak tree in Half Acre Woods, which were mostly true, this story is entirely 100 percent true. And so I ask you to trust and bear with me, as this (I’m pretty sure) will be the last old oak tree story I shall ever tell, even though there are many more that could be told.
On a gray day in May of 2004, for reasons difficult to put into words, I decided to embark on a drive-by pilgrimage to the 17 places my family called home before I fled the scene at age 16. Seventeen may seem like a large number, but had I stayed with my parents until age 18, my pilgrimage would have included 4 more stops.
It was mid-afternoon when I pulled to the side of the road at stop #9, the farmhouse adjacent to Half Acre Woods. I could immediately see that this property had been forsaken long ago. Someone still held deed to it, but mostly it now belonged to Mother Nature. The old farmhouse, now windowless and draped in wild grapevines, was still standing but leaned precariously to one side, and the three-seat outhouse built by my stepdad had collapsed into its hole.
I didn’t intend to stop for more than a minute or two, but as I scanned the yard my eyes fell upon the shadowy entrance to Half Acre Woods. Nearly 50 years had passed since the summer my brother, sister, and I had built a tree house in the old oak tree, and I suddenly had an uncontrollable urge to see if it was still there.
Grabbing my backpack from the backseat of the car, I waded through the weeds to the edge of the woods. Access to the well-worn path we had so often used was overgrown with honeysuckle and weeds of every sort, including a healthy crop of poison ivy, but with a rush of adrenalin coursing through my veins I hacked my way through and entered the woods. I had no expectation that the old oak tree would still be standing and even if it were that it would still be cradling our crudely built tree house, but I had to see.
The woods were both deeper and darker than I remembered, no doubt the natural result of nearly fifty years of undisturbed growth. The dense canopy had to a large degree prevented the emergence of new undergrowth making it easy to find my way along the path to the old oak tree, which I happily discovered was still standing, and now more massive and majestic than ever.
I immediately noticed that the ladder of boards my brother, sister, and I had haphazardly nailed to the tree was gone, replaced by a heavy rope with large knots tied at about two foot intervals. Peculiarly, it appeared to be new, and a tug confirmed that it was secure. “Who would have done this?” I wondered.
I hadn’t climbed a rope since high school gym class but using the knots as hand and foot grips monkey style I was able to reach the limb that held the rope with relative ease. Pausing to catch my breath I looked up through the branches and was amazed to see the bottom of the tree house, the sighting of which multiplied my excitement tenfold. After taking another deep breath I began my ascent.
When I reached the tree house I discovered that someone had labored long and hard to expand it, actually to rebuild it, to two or three times its original size. In fact, the only thing that looked original was the trap door. As I reached to push it open, someone, or some thing, lifted the door from inside, startling me so badly I almost lost my grip and plummeted to the ground.
It was a man’s voice, deep and gravelly. He reached a burly hand down and helped me into the tree house.
“Thank you,” I said, standing up. As our eyes met a soft grin appeared through the heavy beard that almost covered his entire face. I half smiled back.
“Names Satch,” he said. “What’s yours?”
“George, George Brown,” I answered. “When I was a boy we lived in the old farmhouse for awhile. My Brother, sister, and I built this tree house, or I should say the one that use to be here.”
And then I added, “I sure didn’t expect to find anyone here.”
Satch offered no response but motioned toward a couple of stump seats by the window, then he turned and walked toward them. He stood every bit of six feet and had to stoop a little to clear the ceiling of the tree house. He was clad in well-worn blue jeans and a plaid flannel shirt and the exposed part of his body, which included his shoeless feet, were covered with a mixture of dirt and thick hair.
Satch sat down and gazed out the window. Standing to one side, I used the opportunity to glance around the room. It was empty except for an old sleeping bag and pillow in one corner and a pile of backpacks in the opposite corner. A row of hiking boots lined the wall beside the backpacks, and on the wall just above the hiking boots were six pencil sketched pictures of men’s faces that looked like an artist’s crude rendition of missing persons. Suddenly, something didn’t feel right. An uneasy feeling with a new surge of adrenalin hit me like a bucket of ice water.
Anticipating my question Satch calmly said, “They’re pictures of hikers who’ve passed this way over the years.”
The uneasy feeling that had come over me a moment before turned to trembling fear and a cold, almost paralyzing chill came over me; and for good reason. As I turned to look at Satch, he leaped toward me arms outstretched to push me out the window. I fell backward just barely avoiding his burly hands and watched as he went tumbling out the window. I listened as he crashed and bounced off limbs for what seemed like a minute or more before finally hitting the ground with a giant thud.
I slumped down on the stump Satch had offered me a few moments earlier. I was trembling and my heart was pounding so hard I thought I might have a heart attack and fall out the window myself. When I finally managed to recover I glanced over at my backpack still sitting by the trapdoor and realized how close I had come to being another pencil sketch on Satch’s wall, with my backpack added to the pile of backpacks in the corner.
By the time I felt composed enough to descend to the ground it was almost dark. It was only then that I noticed six small crosses in a row on the backside of the old oak tree, and there in the midst of the crosses lay Satch’s crumpled body.
I dug a shallow grave as best as I could with a couple of sharp rocks and placed Satch’s body in it. Looking around I found two sticks to fashion a cross and used a piece of vine to make a large S, which I attached to the cross.
Needless to say, my pilgrimage was over. During the long drive home I pondered whether to report my findings, finally deciding to do so by placing an anonymous call to the sheriff’s office the next day. I don’t know if the sheriff believed my story or if an investigation was ever conducted, but in my own heart I know I came mighty close to being killed and buried by Sasquatch that day, but had the good fortune of burying him instead.
George Brown is a freelance writer. He lives in Jackson Township.