4. The Hendersonville Tree

I think it’s apparent to anyone who has had a cat that cats saunter easily between here and the hereafter and back again. Many live cats disappear outdoors and appear days later in a closet that hasn’t been opened in weeks, their ability to walk through walls already well mastered before they shake loose of their skin.

Once they have passed on, again, it is nothing for them to slip back here and be seen, regularly, even by people who never knew them in life, napping in a favorite sunbeam or sitting in the window.

Even the most rational people have been known to settle into bed and feel the weight of a cat on the blankets near their feet, even if they have never owned a cat.

Dogs, on the other hand, though well-known for noticing the dead, tend not to spend too much time while living bothering with them. Dead dogs, being easily distracted, tend to only haunt the kitchen, if they bother with haunting anywhere. Many people report hearing the clinking of nails on linoleum or the soft silvery click of a license on a collar in the kitchen long after a dog has passed on.

Dogs don’t really feel regret, other than about not getting that one piece of steak they really wanted, and so they aren’t often ghosts. They die and things catch their attention and they are off after a new scent or a movement in the bush and, by the time they think to circle back home, there you are, dead yourself.

Sometimes a dog will haunt with you. They are loyal that way.

But I can’t help but wonder about other things. Does every living thing have the ability to haunt once it’s dead? Is there such a thing as a ghost chicken?

I admit, I laugh at the thought of a ghost chicken. But then you hear stories about how a momma chicken will throw her whole body over a brood of chicks to protect them from owls, even if it might mean her own death. And you wonder–is there something about even a chicken that might linger?

But what about a ghost jellyfish? Or a phantom amoeba? A haunting mushroom?

Some things are impossible to imagine.

I would have never thought of a ghostly tree, even though there’s something very person-y, though utterly inhuman, about the trees in my yard, always looking like mad scientist about to convene out by the creek.

But I’ve heard of just such a case up in Hendersonville, in a subdivision just off New Shackle Island Road, which I will leave unnamed, so that they are not inundated with looky-loos. Before the subdivision was built, there was an ancient oak standing in a field. Four people joining hands could barely stretch around it.  It was in terrible shape. Parts were dead and parts were dying. Twice, during one spring, huge branches broke off and crashed to the ground with such force people nearby called the police, thinking the noise was some kind of explosion.

Still, it was something to see, ancient and wild, thick with leaves that often seemed to move as much with the memory of old breezes as with anything you could feel under it.

Sadly, though understandably, once it was obvious that the field was destined for houses, the tree was chopped down.

That does not stop the tree from casting shadows on the houses near where it once stood. I have been in a back bedroom, looked out a south-facing window onto a sunny back yard, and I have seen that there is no sunlight in that bedroom, as if something still blocks the light. I have heard there’s a kitchen in which you could even make out the dappled shapes of the shadows of leaves on the floor in front of the patio door. The builder, free of charge, put a tree right in front of the patio doors, so that it is now not so apparent that those shadows have nothing to make them.

And I can’t explain it. They say there are two types of ghosts. Some are actual sentient beings, who either can’t or won’t move on. Others, they say, are like memories, held in a place by means we don’t yet understand, which play out like old movies, when the conditions are right.

Who knows which the Hendersonville tree is? Either it remembers that it was once alive or that place remembers it. It’s hard to know how much of a difference there is between either scenario.

13 thoughts on “4. The Hendersonville Tree

  1. Oooh…nicely creepy. I like the ghost tree idea. There’s nothing at all menacing about the way it’s described, and yet I get a little shiver from “no sunlight in that bedroom,” and “the shadows of leaves on the floor.”

  2. I like the ghost tree idea, too. I mean, I really do wonder how “alive” you have to have been to be able to haunt after you’re dead.

  3. This is one of the ones I read aloud by the fire while camping this weekend. It’s a great combo of truth (how cats slip in and out of this dimension), creepiness and funniness. :)

  4. The first time I read the first sentence of this story I audibly gasped – the cadence and the simple truth that cats are sometimes otherworldly.

    I laughed afterward because you simply nailed it – the thing about cats. They’re their own little spirits.

  5. This is a very simple observation but the stuff about dogs in this one cracks me up, probably because it rings so true.

  6. Aw. thanks, you guys. I’m glad it struck the right note of funny and creepy and beautiful. It was a hard one to get the tone right on and I wasn’t sure if I’d pulled it off.

  7. I love this one, too! It made me think about Doug Hofstadter’s book _I Am a Strange Loop_, which talks about how we are all sort of these repeated patterns in people’s lives, and even when we die, those patterns live on in the people around us. It’s a little overly-cognitive-sciency, but I liked it. Could it be when the last person who remembers that tree being there dies that the last ghostly shadows it casts will die out too?

  8. We were trying to decide on Friday where, exactly, the mind is and whether it is contained by the boundaries of the body (and, if so, how we decide where the boundaries of the body are) and, if you could have a kind of group-level mind–like how your mom knows when you need a phone call from another state. And, if so, if merely the loss of your body isn’t really enough to be the loss of you, if it does, indeed, take the people who interacted with you dying off to finally kill you off.

    I don’t know.

    But I’m convinced that in 100 years or 200 years, there’s going to be stuff that we think of as supernatural that they laugh about being all “But, if they recognized this evidence all around them, how could they not have understood the science behind it?”

  9. first, i have to confess that i just discovered your existence last week. second, i’m blogstalking. you’re an amzing storyteller. your ghost stories are the kind of ghost story i’m always searching for. in every ghost story i hear, i don’t care about what i does to the lights or the kitchen cabinets. i always want to know what made the ghost stick around in the first place. i’m an amateur history buff, but mostly because it helps me understand ghosts better. so, when i read this, it reminded me of a ghost story back home. i grew up on the south shore of massachusetts, a place that is rife with ghosts that no one pays attention to until they start affecting the property value. there’s a story in plymouth about the blue blinds house. an old woman lived there with her cat, and there was a large, old tree on the side of the house. the cat was buried beneath the large tree, as was her owner years later. apparently the owner still makes her presence known in the house. but the cat’s been seen in the tree, in the street, and in the basements of surrounding shops in the area. i heard this story on a lantern tour when i was in high school, and a few years ago when i took my wife there, we stopped in a store next to the blue blinds house. it was one of those new-agey, crystals-and-incense shops, which i tend to avoid. but there was something in the window that caught my wife’s eye so we went in. i asked the woman behind the counter if she knew about the story of the house next door and she said, “i don’t know about the legend, but i almost trip over the cat once a day.”

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