Head Tree

by Steven Lombardi

The plane's engine failure wasn't the worst thing that happened, nor were all the deaths that ensued in the crash. Philip got out without a scratch. It was a miracle. Luckiest guy in the world.

Being lost in the middle of the Amazon wasn't the worst thing that happened.

Running out of food and water wasn't the worst thing that happened, either.

Philip was sick of his situation and sick of himself, but he had no means of killing himself. His staying alive was far more unbearable than any plane crash, hunger or thirst. The tree bark was too slippery to climb, the branches were too brittle to bludgeon himself with, and he couldn't bring himself to starve to death. It was too hard, and there were too many juicy grape sized bugs around for him.

He had walked for what felt like days when he heard voices arguing. There were about a dozen of them, if Philip had to guess, all of English descent and all speaking with the same tone, pitch and mannerism.

Philip pushed through the thick vegetation and found a very large, very peculiar tree.

The bark was light gray. The tree's trunk was about three feet in diameter at the base. Flesh colored leaves grew out of the branches like thin little fingers. The tree's fruit, which grew from beneath the leave thickets, were heads. Human heads.

All of the heads were identical; thinning white hair, a sharp, well-groomed white beard and a mustache that curled at the tips. They all wore circular glasses and all of them were very upset.

"I think I heard something," one said.

"You didn't hear anything," said another.

"Well, I didn't hear anything, but I do see something," said a third.

"Heck to what you think you see," said a fourth, and from a fifth, "My word, I see it too. Hello there, young man."

All at once every head on the tree turned to stare at Philip.

"Jolly good! It's been years since I've had good company," said one of the fruit.

Philip was beyond amazed. Had he not been so depressed and fatigued, he would have screamed or ran away or even ran towards the tree. But, drained, he just stood staring at the tree, and politely waved at it.

"Hello. My name's Philip."

"My name is Theodore Henry Wilde the Fourth," said all of the heads simultaneously. "What brings you out to this accursed place?"

"My plane crashed."

"Ah! You must have Survivalism in your blood, eh? Good bones, too, from what I see. You're built very well," said one of the heads.

"Thank you," Philip said.

"Oh, don't thank him. He always butters people up so they like him more. He thinks you're quite awful, in fact," said another head.

"Don't put words in my mouth!" the other head said.

"Don't tell me what to do," said the other. The two began to argue, each acquiring allies in his argument, until the entire tree was screaming at itself.

"Um..." Philip said, and immediately the tree became quiet.

"Oh, where are our manners? Here we are arguing with ourselves while you stand there gawking. If you have nothing better to do, I can tell you a story to pass the time," a head said.

"I don't have anything better to do," Philip said bluntly. "To be honest, I'm trying to kill myself."

Half of the tree's head laughed, while the other half looked on with sympathy.

"Don't be silly!" said Theodore Henry Wilde, laughing.

"It's a cruel world," Theodore Henry Wilde sadly said.

"I died once, which segues us to story time, have you the time to hear it," said one head.

"Sure," Philip said.

"I want to tell the story," said an upset head.

"Well you can't, you always muck it up," said the head who brought up the story of death in the first place. To Philip, "I, like you, had a body once."

"You started the story off wrong," said the head who was upset that he couldn't tell the story.

"Oh, just shut it! As I was saying, I had a body once, and I took my body to far off places to experience things unlike the kind I found in London. I traveled the Nile, walked beside the Great Wall, lived amongst the Aborigines and scaled every mountain worthy enough to scale.

"I came to this terrible place with my brother-in-law and a business partner. We came to hunt...nothing in specific, really. We'd be happy with a zebra, or a monkey, although we secretly wanted a lion or an elephant.

"A week into our adventure, we came across elephant tracks and a large amount of blood. Scattered around the blood, chaotically mixed about as if they hunted the creature whilst on fire, were human tracks. My associates and I followed the human tracks, thinking it would be a good idea to speak with the hunters to learn their tactics."

"Big mistake," said another head.

"They looked at us like we were demons, but if you saw what they looked like, you would know who the true beasts were. They wore their kill's blood on their face, its entrails on their bodies. They used feathers and strips of dead skin as head ornaments. We didn't even get a word in before they attacked.

"I was the last one to run. Jonathan, my sister's husband, took off first. He was hit in the back of the neck with a dart and fell immediately. William was shot in the back of the leg with an arrow. He tried to run still, but they were on top of him in seconds, hacking away with their axes.

"I ran as fast as I could. Then I felt a prick on my behind."

"It was a dart," one of the heads interrupted.

"Yes. Shot in the behind, and then all was dark. They killed me while I was unconscious. How awful. I don't remember anything, if there was anything, after I died.

"Apparently they beheaded me, planted my head in a patch of verdant soil, and the result is what you see now: a Head Tree."

"I didn't know you could plant heads," Philip said.

"You can't, which is to say I can't either. But the things who did this to me-"


"-Right. The things that did this to us could do that and things far more heinous."

Two of the heads began whispering, stopping only to look Philip up and down. From one, "I see you have two arms as well as two hands. Very impressive. I was wondering if you could do us a favor?"

Some of the heads looked at the head that had just spoken with worry.

"It depends what the favor is," Philip said.

"If you could, please cut this tree down."

Half of the heads yelled their hurrahs while the other half screamed in fear.

"Don't do it!"

"Yes, do it! I can't stand this life anymore!"

"Kill us!"

"Let us live!"

The tree began to bicker with itself once again, this time more savagely. It said horrid things to itself, striking every emotion the many heads on the tree had. Philip could hardly bare to listen.

After a brutal round of taunts, the heads that wanted to live were too upset to want anything but death. All at once they sadly howled like lost pups to the moon.

Conflicted, Philip turned away from the tree and walked away. He walked due west, where he could hear the faintest sounds of a running river. He had learned from a guide that where there is a river, there is hope.

He took with him all of his guilt, his sorrow and his depression. He was elated.

"Good thing I only have one head," he thought as he saw the river in the distance. If there was one thing he learned from the Head Tree, it was that man was his own worst enemy.

BIO: Steven Lombardi is twenty two, resides in New York City and is mostly confused about pretty much everything.