by Mark Poe

The next morning, the addiction tree had grown to almost six feet tall and the buds were already beginning to show signs of opening. I took the chainsaw and broke the morning silence with the grinding of the chain. Two cuts and I had a two-foot section of the trunk that Cherokee had requested.

There was no way of knowing what I was walking into or the time involved, but I could tell by the anger and urgency of his voice that I would not be questioning him. Arrangements had been made with my mother for the girls to stay with her, so, after dropping them off, I drove the old gravel road that paralleled the St. Francis River and pulled the truck up to the gate on the edge of Cherokee’s property.  The morning sun had just cleared the horizon and was beginning to burn the dew from the grass and send out a light heat wave of air, making breathing a chore. My jeans were wet from walking through the knee-high weeds and the dust had already begun to cake on them. The occasional mosquito would flit around in front of my eyes like a stage diva on the red carpet before making its way to sing in my ear.

After finally reaching the edge of the woods, the shade of the canopy of age-old Tupelo and Cypress made the heat from the early sun somewhat bearable. I could never imagine living in this heat with no electricity, but Cherokee always said it was better than living shoulder-to-shoulder with wickedness. I guess there really are no limits as to what a person can adjust to with the proper motivation and will. I was about to learn a very real lesson in that very subject, as I walked the woods’ trail up to the clearing, by the bough-covered cabin that was his home. It was hard to distinguish between the sweat that had begun to run down my face, my back and through the hairs in my legs from the countless flying and crawling critters that were attempting to invade my personal space. With all that was going on with my marriage and the common struggles of everyday life – and, now, this stupid tree – my patience was worn thin.

“Come on Cherokee, let’s get on with this show. Tired of the heat already.”

“Calm down, young ‘un. This won’t take long at all. Have a seat on that stump and listen carefully. I’m going to ask you straight questions and I want straight answers. Don’t him-haw or choke on bullshit. We ain’t got the time. Main question is simple. You want this crap to stop?”

“You know I do.”

“You willing to handle it the only way you can make it stop?”

“Yes, I am. I don’t want to have to worry about my girls dealing with this crap.”

“Then, give me the limb you brought. This won’t be as easy for you as it would me, but it has to be you in this situation. You can kill the tree only by the killing of the root.”

“Not a problem. I can go home and dig down to the root and I’ll tear it out piece by piece, until it’s all gone.”

“You missed the point. Remember what this grew from. It doesn’t grow from an actual root, it grows from the pills. It is fed by the addiction. You have to kill Johnny Appleseed. He’s the root. Whoever is dealing these pills is the root.”

“But, how do I know who that is? I have suspicions, but it could be a bunch of folks. Is there a way to be sure I get the right one? I’m not sure I can do something like this, unless I’m sure it’s the right one.”

“Is there anyone that hangs around more than normal? Someone you may or may not know, but you all of a sudden see them everywhere? Anyone that’s approached you or challenged you to try to get in your head? Anyone picking a fight?”

“No, closest thing I’ve had to any of that was punching a guy that was picking pills off the tree when I came home the other day. Everyone else scattered like ashes in a high wind but him. He turned and cussed me.”

“Well, I would say he made himself a prime target to be your dealer. If he’s not, chances are he needs killing anyway. We will work this part of the tree down to a super sharp, skin-splitting sliver and this will be the key to unlock the chains on your life.”

I walked back out of the river bottoms with what was once a piece of wood and would now be considered a weapon by any front. The thoughts of what I was looking at doing both terrified me and made the anger in my spirit from this come skin-side out seeking retribution. Seriously I was just hoping that I would pull in the driveway and the whole existence would become a family friendly sit-com from the 80’s. Unfortunately, not the case. My yard looked like free commodity day at the local community center. There were some on the shoulders, picking up high just to get high. Thinking if they would work this hard to get clean there wouldn’t be a problem to begin with. At the slamming of the door, they began scattering into the open fields like rats when the light switch was turned on. They hid in ditches; they laid in the rows of the young cotton. All but one. The one that I was hoping had suddenly floated off the Earth and disappeared forever. He nonchalantly glanced over his shoulder and went back to gathering. In my heart, I knew I would never be able to kill someone. Just wasn’t in me. And then he spoke.

“How bout you take your punk-ass on inside and take care of that wife of yours? You can even pick a few of these and take to her. I’m sure she’s ready for another mix. Her magic carpet is probably starting to flutter down. Go on boy, leave me be. That sucker-punch caught me by surprise last time, but it won’t happen again.”

Instantly I was within arm’s reach and the surrounding landscape became blurry. The haze of the afternoon sun caused it all to be dreamlike. The only absolute focus was on the spot between the two ribs that I would thrust this wooden blade into. It sank smoothly and solidly up to the hilt of the stake. There was only a grunt from the root. I had wrapped my free arm around his throat and held him, as the life drained from the open wound.  When the battle of the living body was taken over by the loss to gravity, I laid him slowly to the ground and watched his face become void of light. The blood poured around the trunk and into the dirt. It was visible first from the tip-top, as the limbs started turning a dull, dead brown like a sudden freeze had stripped all color and life from it. Once the dying had reached the bottom of the trunk, the tree twisted as if melting and fell across the body. I stood breathless and shaking at what had just occurred. I felt the presence of someone and turned in time to see Cherokee with a can of gas.

“It’s o.k., son; it’s over, now. The root is dead and the addiction tree can now be killed. You grab a shovel, while I start a fire.”

We stood in silence, as the last of the tree burned to a glowing pile of ash, making sure the stake was burned with it all. Tree, buds, root and all became nothing more than a pile of ash. Cherokee instructed me to dig a hole and bury it all in the same spot where the addiction tree had sprouted. I saw Cherokee walking out of my yard and head off down the gravel road, as I stamped the fresh dirt as solid as if done by a hard rain. As I turned to put away the shovel, I noticed Laci Lee standing in the yard, crying. I went to her and she held me as strong as her depleted arms would allow. She held on with her heart; she used her love to hold tight. I just held her against my chest and she spoke the words that made the day complete.

“I can’t do this anymore. Can you get me some help? I don’t ever want another pill. I want my family. Please? Help me live again.”

And it would be done. The addiction had died that day.