Bud, the young man who bought Ray’s old house, wasn’t interested in its history. Or its plants, trees or the wild creatures that played and foraged nightly in its backyard. Ray had loved all these things, but Bud bought the house after Ray’s untimely passing because it was cheap and had plenty of room to party.
A week or so after he’d moved in, loud music coming out of the back windows was scaring off the wild things, and beer cans and cigarette butts were mounting at the base of the oak that had stood for 300 years in what was now Bud’s backyard.
One night, Bud was having his seventh or eighth Bud and grinding out butts under the oak, when around the corner of the tree walked a semi-transparent man. He was tall, excruciatingly thin, and had a long skinny neck from which protruded a knobbly head with a sparse row of hair fringing its baldness. The face was cadaverous and had a bristling moustache.
“Dude,” said the man. “You’re trashing the place. Ain’t right.”
Bud wasn’t scared. He knew he’d had a few, and like Ebenezer Scrooge, was disposed to think the man was likely a piece of undigested Slim Jim. “Who’re you?” he asked blearily.
“Ray,” said the man. “And I’m telling you, man, quit trashing the place.”
“Aren’t you dead?” asked Bud.
“Technically, yeah,” said Ray. “But I’ve been asked to give you a warning. You got seven days to knock it off.”
“Or what?” said Bud, now pissed off. “It’s my place now. Get lost, man.” And he stumbled away into the house.
Ray looked up at the oak, placed a translucent hand on it, and shrugged. “Tried, dude,” he said, and disappeared. An acorn fell from the oak onto the place where Bud had been standing.
For the next six nights Bud partied even heartier under the oak. The mound of beer cans and butts grew ever higher and the hidden wild things wrinkled their noses at the reek. But each night, as he wove his way back to the house, another acorn fell on the same site.
On the seventh night, a Saturday, Bud had his buds over and they had themselves a time. It was very late when the last of them drove off the front lawn. Bud threw his final can onto the pile and stepped woozily toward the house—just as a final acorn fell. His foot slipped forward on the rolling pile of nuts and he fell backwards, hard. His skull cracked on a huge protruding oak root and he lay still, staring sightlessly up into the tree.
Ray stood there, leaning one hand against the oak. “Gave him the usual warning,” he murmured. The great oak’s crown bent slightly, almost like it was nodding, “Yep.”
Ray looked up into the tree. His transparent sides were shaking and he was chuckling. Then his hand passed right into the oak and then, so did the rest of him.
And if you had been there, you would have seen the oak’s branches shaking—almost like it was laughing.