Out in the wilderness there's a tree. It's not that far from the city, but when you're under it, you can't see any man-made objects. No buildings, no bridges, no radio towers. They say there's a radio tower up on Moynihan Hill, but you wouldn't be able to tell that from under the tree.
I've heard people say that the ground around the tree is black, but they don't have it quite right. When you're around the tree, the whole world is black. It's as if everything tinted, all the colours sucked away. Butterflies look like they're made of asphalt and when they flap their wings leave behind trails of smoke. Everything is darker. You can stare straight at the sun for hours and never go blind.
Sometimes I go under this tree to think about new superheroes that people would enjoy.
Here's a good example: He's a superhero I call "The Coil". He wears gold, and has a silver coil embroidered on his chest. His ability is that he can wind himself up like a spring and jump a thousand feet in the air. But he's still human, and when he does it his bones crack and his organs audibly squish together and burst. The sound of him coiling up is gut-wrenching and terrible. It paralyzes criminals and makes them think about death.
They say the sequoia is the tallest tree on earth, but I am certain that this tree is taller. It is difficult to tell for sure — there's no point of reference around for miles — but I'm positive it's at least 500 feet tall. Maybe more when the wind hits it just right.
Sometimes when I think of superheroes, I think of the Questioner — although to be fair, he's technically more of an anti-hero. He accomplishes his various goals and tasks by asking pointed questions. "What do you think you're doing?" "Did you kill my wife?" "Are you aware of the fact that I am going to kill you?" Stuff like that. Sometimes when he is talking too fast he accidentally lets a statement slip out and has to retreat back to his secret lair underneath Staten Island. This is his one weakness.
Another superhero I like to think of is Mr. Zero. He doesn't actually have any superpowers. He's like Batman or Iron Man. He uses his intellect. So when he wants to catch a crook, he just goes up to him (or her) and draws a big zero on their face with permanent marker. This shames them and lowers their self-esteem. He doesn't need a costume or a mask either. After all, who would believe that mild mannered information technology supervisor Felix Brown is actually Mr. Zero? They wouldn't want to believe it even if they knew for sure.
One time I saw a girl out there under the tree, just sitting perfectly still and staring straight ahead. At first I thought she might be dead, but then I noticed she was breathing a little. She wasn't blinking, though. Her eyes never so much as flinched. She was just staring. She sat there and stared for as long as I was there, and then when I came back the next day she was gone.
One of my favourite superheroes is PUNISHMENT SURFER. His "hook" is that he's a surfer with a thirst for punishment. He is very serious all the time and his surfing abilities are second to none. I haven't worked out his back story but it involves a fire destroying a museum that he loved very much.
Sometimes I stop thinking about superheroes for a while and think about where the tree came from. It can't have grown there naturally. When you touch it, it feels worked. Like an artifact. Then after a while I give up trying to figure it out and go back to superheroes. It was in one of those moments that I came up with Captain Bird. He can speak to the birds. And not just speak to them, but actually persuade them. He can tell them to form amusing shapes overhead and confuse villains. Or he can instruct them all to leave a city at once, thereby filling his enemies with a distinct sense of unease. He can also fly, but only if he concentrates really hard on being a bird. So a good way to defeat him is to make him lose focus by turning on a television or playing loud music.
I've been dreaming about the tree more and more lately. At first it just showed up in the background of my dreams about superheroes. But now I dream about the tree for hours on end. Nothing happens in these dreams. The tree just sits there, and I watch it with my mind's eye.
Sometimes I think about the girl. Will I become just like her? Will I go to think under the tree one day and then never come back? I'm blinking a lot less than I used to. Maybe that's how it started with her. For a moment I am terrified. But then I go back to thinking about superheroes and everything is alright.
Oh what do you know? I just came up with one right now. His name is The Yeoman. I haven't thought up any back story for him yet though. I'll save that for the next time I'm under my thinking tree.
—Brendan Patrick Hennessy, 21 January 2009