A short cautionary tale
Amos fought the urge to look up as he passed under the branches of the suicide tree.
He’d never liked walking under that tree, not for as long as he could remember. And now the kid would be up there, like every afternoon this week, nestling in the twisting branches as if that were the safest place in the world.
Amos wasn’t sure if the kid couldn’t speak, or if he wouldn’t, or if he was just too stupid to have anything to say. He lived on the same block as Amos, in the run-down house on the corner, the one the kid and his thin, unsmiling father had moved to the previous summer.
There were rumors about what had happened to the kid’s mother: one of the girls at school had heard she was in the nuthouse; Amos’ friend Stitch theorized that she was being kept prisoner up in the attic and that’s why the kid wouldn’t talk. The kid’s dad, Mr. Tadeo, discouraged overtures from the neighbors with a flinty stare and spoke no more than was necessary. The kid didn’t say anything at all.
Amos ignored him all summer. But now that school had started, the kid was in three of Amos’ classes. Because the kid’s first name was Matt, Stitch and Jake and CJ gave Amos crap about being stuck in classes with “Mute Tardo”, although they mostly called the kid Dummy. Worse, the kid rode the same bus as Amos, got off at the same stop, and loped eagerly along the same block with his ungainly shuffle as though he had somewhere important to be. And now he had taken to climbing the suicide tree.
That’s what the neighborhood kids called the huge oak that overshadowed the small wood frame house where Amos and his mom lived, the front walk rumpled by its ancient roots. The story went that the tree had a voice that drove mad those who heard it on windy nights, commanding them to climb the tree, sending them higher and higher into its treacherous branches until they slipped and fell to their deaths.
Amos’ mother had told him to stay out of the big oak, one command he was relieved to obey. It was true that during a big storm, its limbs whipped violently, the outer branches scraping against Amos’s bedroom window, and the whole tree creaked as if foretelling impending ruin. The suicide tree was another reason for not inviting…