Murder Tree Returns
One of the few good things to come out of that pandemic year was the chance to reconnect with some of my old high school buddies. Decades had passed and several of us now had kids the same age we were when we all hanging out, dreaming of getting out and leaving our hometown far behind us.
The text chain was a real lifeline. Most of the others had been on it for a few years before they found me, and I got to catch up and see our wonderful diaspora from our Midwest origins across the whole of America: Seattle, San Diego, Houston, Chicago, Newark, DC, and elsewhere. I got to see pictures of places I’d normally never get to see.
Then, the first of October, Doug posted a picture and called it “MURDER TREE RETURNS” and all the others chimed in how great it looked this year and how it was always one of their favorite starts to the season. The tree was in the front yard, looked like some sort of conifer with greenery to the ground, stretching to a point in the top. It was lit with strings of lights, looked purplish, like a bruise, with deep beet red patches. Looking closer, I could make out what appeared to be bones for tree limbs, and parts that looked like hands, and feet, and … heads. There were definitely heads, propped among the flora, eyes closed, mouths open in a silent scream. Some were bare skulls, but one still had a face.
A face that looked familiar, from a long time ago.
I shot Doug a DM. That’s a cool tree, man. That one head kinda looks like Nick Bly.
A few hours later, Doug texted back: Yeah! Actually, it IS Nick.
No. I mean it’s him. Sonuvabitch rammed my car one Friday after a Homecoming game and drove off and never paid for how he fucked up my rear end. Finally found him in Dallas in 2017.
That’s hilarious, man. Love how you got the story going there.
Tree’s full of stories. Look at the top. The bone there, holding up the star, that’s Asleigh Moore. Bitch said she’d go to Junior prom with me. Stood me up. Now she’s standing up, for the MURDER TREE. Bwahahahahaha! [he added laughing emojis]
I have to admit, I still thought he might be joking. Kinda. This was really making me uncomfortable. I mean, how do you respond to something like this? So I wrote back: Dude, are you saying these are ACTUAL people you MURDERED? [and I added some emoji that I hoped would look like a quizzical face but I think it’s the one that looks like it’s shushing you. I’m not really good at this].
It was the next day when Doug texted back. Yes. That’s what I’m saying. Look down at the lower left part of the tree. There’s a rib cage. Let me know when you find it.
I found it. I think I did. I had to expand the picture but yes, it did look like a human rib cage. I texted a thumbs up emoji.
He texted back immediately: That’s Jerry Melua
I texted: Whos that?
Doug DUDE! You don’t remember?! You had written this fkn BEAUTIFUL poem to Tracie Gallagher cuz youd had a crush on her since 7th grade! Dude stole your poem wrote it in his handwriting and gave it to her and went out with her for the rest of the year. You don’t remember that?
Oh YEAH! [I now remembered] That guy was a total DICK!
You wouldn’t believe it. Just happened to run into him in Buffalo just before the pandemic hit. I remembered what he did to you. He had to go. That one’s for you, man. Hey you still writing?
I remember you were always writing. All the time. You loved writing about all kinds of shit. Hey, it’s cool if you write about this. Just make sure you change the names, OK?
It took me a long time to respond. I kept re-reading his message, trying to find if there was anything in there that should really make me scared. I was scared. Can’t deny. Still am. Kinda. But finally, I just texted back: Thanks, man!
He texted back a thumbs up and that emoji with the smiling face with sunglasses, which I take to mean “It’s cool.”
So, this story is dedicated to my buddy, Doug Graves. And for any law enforcement agency who is even thinking about trying to track down a serial killer, he does not – I repeat NOT – live in New Hampshire.
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