The Fosters – Philip’s Treehouse
By Matthew Bryant
By Matthew Bryant
Max leaned his head over the edge of the top bunk. “Hey Philip. You awake?” There was no response from the dark sheets below. “Philip. Hey Philip!” Still silence.
Rifling through his sheets, Max found his sock monkey, one of the few possessions from his life before foster care that he still carried with him. He gripped tightly to one of the legs in his small hand, hung over the ledge and swung fiercely at where he believed his brother’s head to be.
“Hey Philip! You awake?”
The sheets stirred and the silhouette of a head popped up, quickly greeted by hands rubbing across it before turning to look at the red digital letters of an alarm clock across the room. “Christ, Max. It’s nearly eleven. Go to sleep.”
“I can’t! I’m too hyper. Can you tell me a story?”
Philip ran his palms over his face and through his hair before gently massaging his throbbing shoulders. A full day of pushing a mower had awarded him nearly $50, a large sum for a 14 year old. Unfortunately, most of it would end up going to family expenses, the rest would be set aside for buying school clothes and supplies. “No. Go to sleep.” He plopped his head back on the warm pillow and closed his eyes.
“Please! You tell the best stories.”
Philip groaned. “There once was a boy who wouldn’t sleep. His brother fed him to wolves. The end.”
There was a brief pause from above before Max protested again. “That story sucked. I want a real story!”
An audible breath filled the air. “Fine. What kind of story would you like?”
Philip could almost hear the mischievous grin from his brother. “Tell me a story about magic.”
He let out a puff of air as his mind began searching for an acceptable story. “Alright, I got one.”
It had taken months to put the treehouse together. The Wilhite’s were more strict than the usual folks I got dumped with, so everything had to be done while they were asleep. Broken boards and old nails were pilfered from the upcoming housing subdivision only a few blocks down. It wouldn’t be long before all of the woods were bought up and I’d have no place left to hide.
It was my favorite place in the world. The one place I found freedom. The place I was most at peace. The tree I’d chosen was a good ways into the woods. It meant hauling my building supplies further, but it was on the other side of a long, winding creek. The only way across was a worn old wooden bridge several yards across. I used to joke that there was a troll who lived under the bridge that would eat up children if they didn’t bring its favorite snack – Swedish Fish.
This kept most of the other kids at bay unless I’d invited them out, always keeping a supply handy to toss over for show. We’d had many a good time in those woods playing tag, hide-and-go-seek or gambling for nickels and dimes in the treehouse while tossing back sodas or homemade lemonade.
When I was by myself I’d play pirates and bury stolen treasure, or soldiers in search of Charlie. That night I was just relaxing from a long day of scavenging for copper to sell. My meager stash was just a few pounds of stripped wires I’d found scattered at some unfinished houses, the longest being only four-inches.
The coyotes were exceptionally busy that night, howling and yipping at a moon so bright it lit the town on fire, dimming even the city lights on the horizon. I was laying on an old futon mattress I’d snatched from a dumpster and flipping through a stolen magazine, grateful for the illumination and no need to waste the batteries in my electric lantern.
It was getting late and the Wilhite’s had a nasty habit of making me go to school, so I stashed my copper in my hiding place, an old badger den at the base of the tree, and made my way back through the woods.
I was nearly to the bridge when a coyote came barreling straight towards me, making me jump near out of my skin. It stopped and stared wide-eyed at me as if to say, “Run you crazy fool!” then took off again, rushing past me and deeper into the woods.
It was a few minutes before I could unlock my legs and begin moving again. My senses were on edge. Something about the way the air smelled wasn’t right. A mixture between moss and rotten fish. I moved cautiously, looking left and right at the dark shadows cast by the trees, always so familiar before, but somehow seeming more sinister tonight.
I let out a sigh of relief when I spied the bridge, but only for a moment. There, wading in the creek, was a large, hulking figure. It turned to look at me. One eye was sealed shut in a permanent wink, but the other glowed a bright yellow like a firefly caught in tar.
Its skin was course and covered in warts. A thick hand rose out of the water, bits of river-grass dangling from its knuckles. “You!” it called in a deep voice. I didn’t have to look around. I was completely alone with the beast. “Where are my fish?”
I had come out alone that night and had completely forgotten to bring any with me. I could still see the bag resting on my nightstand at home, propped up against my lamp.
“I forgot the fish tonight. I’ll pay double next time,” I called back in a quivery voice.
“You’ll pay me now!” it screamed. Much to my horror, its lumbering form began moving through the creek towards me.
I took off like a grasshopper tied to a bottle-rocket, tearing blindly back into the woods. My mind too frozen with fear to plan anything beyond escape, I rushed this way and that, hoping to lose him in confusion.
For such a large thing, it was surprisingly quick and managed to match my pace. I was nearly out of breath when a bright white light appeared in front of me. With no better options, I rushed towards it with all the strength my legs could muster.
As I approached it, I realized it was hovering in the air right next to the tree I’d built my house in. It was a tiny lady, the most beautiful I’d ever seen as far as tiny ladies go. In retrospect, I almost wish I was four inches tall and could’ve run away with her and made miniscule babies together. But back to the point.
“Philip,” she called in a voice as sweet as twinkies. “You must be brave. The only thing that can hurt a troll is copper.”
“You want me to pelt it with wire?”
She smiled at me, shaking her head sadly. “You must believe, Philip. Reach your hand into the hole.”
I looked up to see the troll gaining on me, could feel the ground shaking with each trembling step, could feel the heat of his one eye bearing down on me. With no other options, I thrust my hand into the hole, wrapping it around something cool and smooth.
When I pulled my hand out, I found that I was holding the oak-wood grip of a long knife. The sheen off the blade was almost golden. Not having time to admire it further, I bit the blade between my teeth and began scaling the ladder I’d nailed into the tree.
“My fish or your flesh!” called the troll, now only yards away.
I reached the tree house and looked out the window, only just now realizing that I was eye-level with the beast.
“Believe!” called the fairy from below.
With a sharp pain in my heart and absolute terror fueling every part of my body, I climbed out on the window sill and faced the troll. Just as he began to swipe at me, I pulled the dagger from my teeth and leapt towards him as far as I could.
With two hands tightly gripping the hilt, I slammed the blade of the knife into his one good eye.
It screamed and shook violently, tossing me clear twenty feet until I hit a tree and passed out.