The children of Dove Creek had a rhyme, “This side of the tree you’ll find me, walk over there I do not dare.” It was a rhyme older than any current resident and the origin was far from understood.
But the words carried great weight.
As children aged, they began to realize that each and every home in the town backed up to a tree line. Every building; from the clinic to the school, had a property line ending with a tree line. There was one road out of town, and it too was lined with trees on either side.
The rhyme chanted on the playground took on new meaning when the trees became a noticed oddity. Towns on television or books were not surrounded by trees. Dove Creek was. With the words of the rhyme ringing through their minds, the trees became a boundary none crossed. Rumors ran that those that did indeed dare to cross the tree line never returned.
The ingrained fear of the tree line never left. From their first day to their last day, Dove Creek citizens stayed far from the trees that circled their town.
For some, the balance of fear and curiosity of the trees was a hard to perfect. One such citizen trying to find that perfect balance was Arrie Tomp. Arrie spent his days attached to a waste disposal truck, hanging on the side of the vehicle and watching the tree line zip by in a continued green blur. He grew up singing the rhyme and fearing the trees, but as he stepped farther and farther away from the complacency of his uneventful childhood, he started to ask why? Why were the trees so feared?
On Tuesday afternoons, Arrie’s route took him to a dead end road where the pavement touched the tree line. The trees were thick at this road, much thicker than those found in his own backyard or at the truck depot. Branches started from the base of the trunk and sprouted out every few inches after that. Leaves were different on these trees too. In a town with only three paint colors on buildings; strange leaves stand out.
Arrie hatched a plan to take a closer look at this section of trees. It was conceived late Monday night, so he was not sure it was actually a ‘plan’ so much as a ‘ask the driver to stop for a sec’ idea.
Tuesday arrived and the afternoon could not come soon enough.
Cans from the last house on the dead end were emptied. Arrie went into action. “Hang a minute, Mike,” Arrie shouted to the driver.
“Whatever,” Mike replied. Mike was a man of few words; even fewer polite words.
Arrie walked to the trees. His pulse raced, surprising himself. The sun was low in the sky, another day in Dove Creek was coming to an end.
Wind whistled through the leaves as Arrie pushed them out of the way. His hand brushed away only a single layer. “If we’ve been scared of more trees this whole time,” he muttered. Another layer went away. Then another and another.
Then the layers ended. Arrie saw what awaited on other side of the tree line. He found himself stepping backward against his own intention.
He could hardly believe his eye and after a moment found the ability to speak.