It wasn’t a tree house, in Gillette Wyoming, it was a stilt house. The cottonwoods we’d planted were fast-growing but brittle. They’d never hold it. My father (a banker) had built the getaway for me in the garage while he drank canned beer. It even had shingles. Swaying around above our dusty garden that smelled of chives and lanolin and tomato vines, the structure floated on four-by-four posts sunk into the garden, like a harvestmen spider who’d lost a fight. Each time I climbed the ladder and poked my head in it felt lonely but perfect. I’d swing open the hinged plank windows to catalogue insect life. Dried flies and wasps. I’d sweep the corpses down the trapdoor with the whisk-broom I’d once stuck out of the rear window of my aunt’s Datsun in a wild animal park for an ostrich to bite. I’d bolt the door, peer back at our house, then the opposite direction; over the fence and down the red, gravel alley. What I needed was a sleepover and although Mom (a schoolteacher) had gamely spent a night above the garden on the plywood floor with me, I wanted the coolest kid I knew for company. I shut the windows, and turned on a flashlight, and planned out the ghost stories I’d tell, then turned the knob on my walkie-talkie until I got CB traffic: truckers on the interstate. I toggled the button, talked to them like Burt Reynolds did—learned new cuss words directed at me, then practiced them.
From our deck, I could hit the light-green water tank on our hill with my slingshot. It gave a satisfying, long twang… legend had it a dead cat was in there; each missile I sent, a homage to his wet bones and fur… did he float or sink? At dark, I’d take the binoculars out; watch the drive-in movie down across the highway, imagining the dialogue but mostly hoping to see breasts, or even just one. Sometimes I would: well worth the mosquito-bites.
The cool kid’s parents forced him to come over. Here’s how cool: he would take his dad’s machines apart to make go-carts, then race them down our hill. He was smart and dangerous; he already knew all the words the truckers did and about Lamborghinis and other exotics. One summer night he trudged along behind me past the rows of carrots and onions growing in sheep shit, up the ladder. I bolted the trapdoor, ready to try out my stories. I was younger. He was bored and went to sleep. I woke past midnight, my nose pouring blood. I’d crocodile-rolled into a wall, and took off my shirt to soak it up. In the dark I couldn’t see how much I’d lost, but I’d flailed about some: gore covered the walls—the floor, too. I opened the trapdoor and crept down the ladder. Mom heard me come into the house and got the bleeding stopped and made me sleep on the couch.
I’d learned something important: the power of suggestion… when my friend awoke and I was missing—trapdoor open—my red liquids smeared liberally, he’d assumed I was murdered! He ran home and woke up his parents to report it. No— Mom said into the receiver. —Bradley’s not dead. No… not missing either; he’s right here on the couch, looking at me. It was the best night ever.
Two years later I typed up little business cards and took them door to door. I mowed lawns and painted a fence and pulled weeds to save money for the horse I’d never buy. While digging holes in a lady’s back yard to plant rose bushes, my post-hole-digger clanked metal. A pistol! An old one, rusty—and buried. Why? Not a common revolver like we had at home, a semi-automatic—sleek and pitted and murderous—the obvious tool of a homicidal maniac. No one cared but me.
I spent twenty years as a nurse, trying to keep people’s blood where it should be, mostly with success, before the urge to write became overwhelming. I’ve had a love of things macabre my whole life.
I still wonder where that pistol came from.