PREVIOUS NEXT FIRST The Ghost At The Top of The Tree.

The Ghost At The Top of The Tree.

Long ago, in a time when emperors still ruled the world,
the borders of five great empires met
very close to a big tall pine tree that grew in the loveliest,
most peaceful corner of a beautiful forest.

The animals of the Beautiful Forest had never feared people,
since practically no one ever ventured near the Big Tall Pine Tree:

The Five Emperors of The World did not like each other,
trusted each other even less, and
no one wished to be found standing in their way
if ever there was any trouble between them.

As far back as anyone could remember
there had always been peace
among the Five Emperors of The World. But then,
early one morning, after his breakfast, the Red Emperor
happen to walk by the Big Tall Pine Tree.

The spies the other four emperors had placed in
the Red Emperor's lands sent word to them right away
that the Red Emperor was walking near their borders;
and all at once all four of them rushed to the Beautiful Forest
to try to sneak up on the Red Emperor
and learn what he might be up to (and then
what all the other emperors were up to as well,
once every one of them discovered that all
the other emperors were also there).

The Red Emperor had only been
out for an innocent little walk after breakfast.

He stayed near the borders of the other
emperors' lands for a very short time.

But that was time enough for the Red Emperor to
find the Beautiful Forest such a wonderful place
that he made up his mind to return there from then on
after every one of his future meals.

Ah, but because none of the other emperors trusted
the Red Emperor, none of them was willing to take the chance
that he wasn't up to something sneaky out there.

So from that moment on
they too were forced to walk the Beautiful Forest
every time the Red Emperor went walking out there
by the Big Tall Pine Tree.

Naturally, when the spies working for the Red Emperor
inside the other emperors' lands told him
the other emperors were also walking the Beautiful Forest,
the Red Emperor himself could no longer just
simply take innocent walks by the Big Tall Pine Tree
after his meals, but like all the other emperors, from then on
he too was forced to walk the Beautiful Forest
with the very serious intention of also trying to find out
what it was that seemed to be going on out there!

Before long none of the five emperors seemed to be able to
stay away from the Beautiful Forest longer than for
the small amount of time it took them to go home,
eat, and then make their way back.

  * * *

For weeks and weeks, then on into months
and months without any end in sight, every day
the Five Emperors of The World could be found prowling
the Beautiful Forest near the Big Tall Pine Tree,
convinced they would catch their neighbors
doing something sneaky out there.

Over and over, time and time again... they would
try to sneak up on each other as close as they could.

But no matter how hard they tried to avoid being spotted,
time and time again, over and over, every one of them was
very quickly spotted by one or more of the other emperors,
since their richly bedecked imperial robes,
bristling with rare colorful feathers and precious furs,
were forever giving them away
as soon as they came anywhere near the Big Tall Pine Tree.

Once discovered, each of the emperors would
stretch his arms, yawn (as if he didn't mind at all
having been spotted), and return home
--Unfortunately always to come right back there
after the very next meal.

In a way it was funny
the way each spotted emperor would glance up at the foliage
as soon as he was spotted by the others, and pretended
he had only been out there on some innocent
little walk after his meal.

But harmless as it might have seemed,
indeed even silly, the emperors' shenanigans quickly became
downright unhealthy to the wild animals that made their homes
in the Beautiful Forest:

Day after day after day, just as
the wild animals of the Beautiful Forest were getting used to
the peace and quiet that followed the emperors' returning to
their homes... along they would come slinking and prowling about
again like robbers, or, worst of all, so much like hunters
that the wild animals of the Beautiful Forest could never be sure
what it was they really had in mind to do out there!

Nothing kept the emperors away either:

Not Spring's ever so generous showers,
not Summer's stingiest bouts of stingiest heat,
not all of Autumn's heaps and heaps of fallen leaves,
and not even Winter's most teeth-shattering blankets of snow:

Day after day after day
without fail the Five Emperors of The World
were to be found dancing their odd little dance of distrust
around the Big Tall Pine Tree...

First trying to sneak up unseen on each other
(as if it were possible for emperors in full regalia
to slip by the woods like indian braves).

Then, after every last one of them was spotted,
the whole bunch of them returning to their homes
as if their little drama had been of no importance whatever--

Which it might not have been, really, except that
it made the wild animals of the Beautiful Forest so nervous
that finally few of them could carry on
with their normal lives... normally!

So it was that one snowy Winter's morning
the edgy wild animals of the Beautiful Forest
at last called for a Great Gathering
at which to try to figure out exactly what it was
the Five Emperors of The World were really after
out there--prowling like that!

Most important of all, the animals of the Beautiful Forest
wished to know how they might make the emperors stay away
for good (so they could go back to living their lives
in the same peace and quiet that had existed
all across their Beautiful Forest
since before there had even been people on earth).

  * * *

Off they all went then to their Great Gathering,
leaving the woods without any wild animals
for the first time since the beginning of the world
--All except, that is, all went except for one
very forgetful little squirrel (who couldn't always remember
that his name was Catskill):

He had wanted to go too, naturally, but he didn't
because when it came to it
Catskill, that Very Forgetful Little Squirrel,
just couldn't remember where The Great Gathering was
being held, or, after a moment or two of thinking about this,
why it was being held, in fact (nor that a gathering
was even being held at all
... after thinking about it a little bit longer).

His memory was a bit squirrely.
And because the other wild animals of the Beautiful Forest
didn't believe Catskill had the brains to contribute much,
well, when he did not show up,
Catskill wasn't missed much, either.

Now, Catskill might not have remembered exactly what it was
that had to be done (or who was supposed to do it, either),
but he did seem to recall that there had been some talk
about some ONE 'somewhere out there'
having the duty to do some 'thing'
about... one thing or another.

This ONE fact soon had him thinking:
"What if I am the ONE who is supposed to do 'this'
... whatever it is that is one's duty to do?"

After all... Catskill did seem to be about the ONE (and only)
wild animal left in the Beautiful Forest.
And, not really being able to remember... much,
well then, maybe it was so!

Although he soon also couldn't remember
what he had been talking to himself about just now,
Catskill decided to put together a great big load of nuts
and go forth into the Beautiful Forest
(which happened to be very marvelously dusted with snow
at that time of the year), to see what he could do about
... whatever it was he was going out there to do something about
(he would certainly do his best to remember on the way there).

  * * *

Not really knowing where he was headed,
or why he was heading there,
the Very Forgetful Little Squirrel wandered about
the Beautiful Forest for a while (here and there).

Then he climbed the Big Tall Pine Tree
--as soon as he bumped into it
... it was smack in his way out there anyway:

"Too much thinking!" he was thinking,
climbing the Big Tall Pine Tree
(because his head was smarting):
"Too much thinking and not enough doing!"

Sitting atop the highest tip of the Big Tall Pine Tree
he could climb to, Catskill waited and waited (and waited),
knowing only that sooner or later things always
seemed to turn up at the places they did.

To pass the time, he munched away
at the great big load of nuts he had brought with him.

For a long, long time too, because
he happened to have climbed up there
while the Five Emperors of The World
were away themselves (eating).

In time, however, as they always did,
the emperors again showed up. Just as,
by coincidence, the Very Forgetful Little Squirrel's
once great big load of nuts had dwindled to
exactly only five of them.

"Now, let me see," said Catskill to himself,
the minute he saw the Five Emperors of The World
creeping about below (clumsily, as was also
usual with them): "Let me see... what was it
that I came up here to do?"

He studied the five emperors (who by then
were trying to sneak up on each other).

"Five emperors below," he counted them:
"One, Two, Three, Four, Five
--Why does the number five remind me
of... something?"

He counted the five little nuts he still had left
just as the Five Emperors of The World
were beginning to spot each other
(also quite usual with them).

Counting those five nuts over and over
(in addition to the five emperors prowling about below),
Catskill thought and thought:

Somewhere deep in his forgetful little brain
there seemed to be some connection
between: "Five emperors... five nuts!"

Don't worry, he finally got it
--Although not entirely right off, just only
as the (by now) spotted emperors
were pretty much getting ready to leave.

Laughing at himself,
Catskill was about to celebrate his getting it
(by eating those very same last five nuts)
when it suddenly dawned on him that some ONE
was supposed to do some 'thing' about
those pesky emperors prowling about down there:

Oh, yes: "Five emperors, five nuts!"
a voice spoke inside his head: "Remember?"

Indeed he did (now).

It meant that --he-- was going to have to,
"Do something about the emperors!
Do something about the emperors!"

Which he indeed did
--Without giving the matter any further thought,
Catskill immediately dropped every one of his five little nuts
on the heads of every one
of the Five Emperors of The World!

It was no great loss, really
(by now he had already eaten enough nuts
to last him a week or more):

But, "Plop! Plop! Plop! Plop! Plop!"
plopped each of the five little nuts
upon each of the heads
of the Five Emperors of The World.

And, "Hey! Hey! Hey! Hey! Hey!"
went all of them, one after the other one,
as every one of Catskill's five little nuts
struck the top of each of their big ole heads
head on!

  * * *

"It came from up there!"
said the Green Emperor right away
pointing angrily at the highest point
atop the Big Tall Pine Tree (while he scratched
his very, very sore head).

None of the other four emperors could really see
the little squirrel (up there that high),
or anything else for that matter
other than perhaps a few smudges of the cottony snow
covering the treetop's green pine needles.

Nevertheless: "That's where it came from all right!"
the Blue Emperor immediately agreed with
the Green Emperor (although the Blue Emperor was really
pointing more at the sky than at the treetop itself).

"It must have been something falling out of the blue!"
the Blue Emperor assured the others.

"No!" the White Emperor suddenly
wanted it perfectly understood:
"It must have been something
slipping on all that snow up there!"
For the White Emperor really believed that he knew more
about snow (and what happened in and around it)
than any emperor there.

However, "You are all wrong!"
Now spoke the Black Emperor: "I myself saw
'something' dark and sinister moving up there
just now very, very clearly!"

Well, 'something' like a little squirrel pushing apart
the snow-covered pine needles up there
to have a better look, perhaps, at
what they were all up to below--?

In any case, maybe the Black Emperor had only caught a glimpse
of the dark moist tree bark behind those green pine needles
and cottony white snow--Along with a couple of pine cones,
certainly, for now it also looked to him as if:

"Two huge dark eyes are very definitely up there
looking down at us here below!"

All the emperors were properly shocked
at this very frightening development, of course.

But the Red Emperor was also pretty sure that
he himself had glimpsed a ghostly 'something'
atop the Big Tall Pine Tree
--And he was even more certain still that he
was the only emperor there
who knew exactly what the ghost
at the top of the tree really looked like:

"There is something eerily reddish up there,"
he assured the other four emperors,
so sincerely that he was visibly shaking,
having caught sight (maybe) of
the Very Forgetful Little Squirrel's reddish tail:

"Something eerily reddish is definitely
at the bottom of this sinister plot against us!"

"How can you be so blind?" the Green Emperor now
turned on him angrily (stunned to discover that not one
of the other four emperors could see
what was so obvious to him),
and he pointed to where the tip of the Big Tall Pine Tree
broke through the cottony smudges of snow
as if the treetop itself were making a point of
pointing out the absolutely green greenness of
the 'thing' up there (to anyone with eyes).

  * * *

Frankly, Catskill didn't know what to make of any of this
--All their spooky talk soon had him looking about himself
to make sure that he was alone up there!

(Thankfully, he was.)

But to the Green Emperor clearly it all meant that
something other-worldly (greenish) was definitely up
--up there.

"Gracious!" thought Catskill,
settling into a more comfortable position
from which to get a load of
all the nonsense going on below.

And that tiny movement right there of Catskill's
was more than enough to instantly convince the Black Emperor
that he had just seen a flash of dark sinister evil 'something'
up there behind the green pine needles
and snowy white smudges covering them (even if,
unknown to him, it was very probably
just the dark moist tree bark underneath).

But the Five Emperors of The World
were all very properly impressed
as the Black Emperor cried out:

"Look! Look! It is a ghoulish black ghost
at the top of the tree!"

  * * *

It was pointless to look, of course:
Whatever was up there
was up there (and they were all down below):

"Nonsense!" said the White Emperor:
"There's nothing up there
except the same white ghost as always!
It must be a white ghost
--Ghosts only come in white!"

"You can't really see it, can you?"
The Red Emperor chided the White Emperor
(after hearing this): "You just have this silly thought in your head
that all ghosts should be white and that's the only reason
the ghost at the top of the tree looks white to you
--Now, admit it!"

The White Emperor would admit no such thing:
The way the White Emperor saw it, he could
very eerily and plainly see ghostly snowy motions up there
as the treetop shuddered and shook
with every chilly breeze!

"Look again, both of you--all of you!"
the Blue Emperor interrupted the quarrel
between the Red and the White Emperors:
"Look at the long, long shadows and streaks of blue!"

That was all the Blue Emperor could see, really:
His sight was so fixed on high
that the bits of the sky constantly being shaped and reshaped
into all sorts of odd patterns by ever-shifting chunks of clouds
passing above the treetop made it look to him as if
it were not the sky that was shifting shapes up there
but some vast ghostly figure growing ever larger and larger
... as the treetop rustled about with even the tiniest movements
of the Very Forgetful Little Squirrel:

"It is definitely a blue monster looming above us up there!
Don't you see the blue ghost at the top of the tree?"
cried the Blue Emperor, very, very frightened:
"Why, it's as plain and as real as the day itself!"

Scary stuff indeed
--And there was a lot of blueness up there.
Only, suddenly the Red Emperor again caught a glimpse of
Catskill's reddish fur! And, to him it now had to be, "a red
ghost," at the top of the tree: "No doubt about that,"
(otherwise it could not possibly be a ghost at all).

"Why not?" the Green Emperor demanded to know.

"Because," the Red Emperor told him: "Because
if it is a real ghost up there
it will have to be as red as blood
(the color of Life and Death): Any other color means
that it is not a true ghost up there at all!"

"You're blind," was the Green Emperor's answer to that
(and he laughed at the Red Emperor):
The only thing he could not see was
how anybody could miss something as obvious
as the moving green ghost that he was looking at up there
... swinging the top of the Big Tall Pine Tree back and forth
(as Catskill fidgeted about
for a better look at them below):

"Why, I can even follow its rueful green eyes!"
said the Green Emperor shuddering
--every time a glint of sunlight flashed
off Catskill's wide-opened eyes: "Ah!!"

The other emperors also shuddered (in awe)
at each and every spark of sheer pure sunlight
that flashed off Catskill's wide-open eyes all right.

But every one of them was just as convinced
that those 'evil' sparks atop the Big Tall Pine Tree
were of colors very different than green--

Including even the Black Emperor,
who 'saw' the flashes of light bouncing off Catskill's eyes
as ghostly dark stars glistening in the daytime sky!

The Five Emperors covered their own eyes out of respect.

But they still looked (and, in fact, even more carefully now,
because now every one of them wished to see up there
... that the others were very much mistaken
about what they thought they were looking at).

  * * *

Yet no matter how hard the five emperors looked:

The White Emperor still couldn't imagine a ghost
coming in any other color than white.

The Black Emperor could 'very plainly' make out
the sinister dark ghost that was so obviously
concealed in the treetop, behind the pine needles
and the cottony smudges of snow.

The Green Emperor was absolutely sure that he was staring at
an ever-growing green ghost looming and moving massively
with even the tiniest breezes that trickled through
the top of the Big Tall Pine Tree.

Whenever the Blue Emperor raised his eyes
he always found himself staring at an endlessly flustering phantom
up there hanging between Life and Death
like some huge blue monster floating above them all
... a ghost made almost entirely of glimmering blue lights!

And even from as far away as he was,
the Red Emperor still swore he could smell
the deadly blood-red ghost at the top of the tree
threatening to kill them all!

  * * *

"How can a ghost be anything other than white?"
the White Emperor protested, amazed
that anyone could fail to see
a fact that was so very obvious to him.

"What a ghost ought to be," the Green Emperor
still insisted, "is not necessarily what a ghost is!"

"How, how can anything as blood-curdling
as that red, red ghost up there
be of any color other than red?" asked the Red Emperor:
"Red as blood!
Can't you just smell it even from down here?"

"How many ghosts have you smelled, pray tell?!"
asked the White Emperor,
making fun of the Red Emperor now.

"How many ghosts have you ever run across?"
the Blue Emperor asked the White Emperor,
making fun of him.

Only to hear the Black Emperor laughing at the two of them:
"How can a ghost not be as dark as midnight?"
For the Black Emperor was very, very certain that ghosts are
made of the darkest darkness of the Night!

"That might be so... at midnight!" The Green Emperor now
laughed at the Black Emperor: "But it is still daytime!"

"Yes!" added the Blue Emperor, laughing at all four of them:
"And now we can clearly see that a ghost in its true colors
is definitely blue!" (Of course.)

Still, "No matter what anyone thinks," said the Green Emperor,
not at all convinced: "The ghost at the top of the tree
looks green to me because he is green!"

"But a green ghost?" the Blue Emperor laughed
at the Green Emperor: "How silly can one get!"

"No sillier than a blue one gets!" the Green Emperor
shot back at him, no happier that he was being made fun of
than any of the other emperors.

"You're mad!" Said the Red Emperor next:
"You're all mad, mad, mad! Deep down, all real ghosts
must be red as blood
--That is the color that should show when ghosts walk the daytime,
exactly like that one above!"

"I've never heard such foolishness!" cried the White Emperor
as mad as boiling milk now: "All you need do
is open your eyes to see that all ghosts are white!"

But the Blue Emperor still saw nothing above him
except the sky itself: "Look at how huge it is!"
he cried to the others: "Only liars
would say the ghost at the top of the tree
is anything other than blue!"

"I have never been so insulted!" said the White Emperor
to the Blue Emperor (finally boiling over with anger):
"Only liars would insist that a white ghost is not white!"

  * * *

"Well," answered the Red Emperor to that,
not at all frightened by the White Emperor's anger:
"I have given my word that the ghost is red.
So anyone who says the ghost at the top of the tree is not red
is saying that I am a liar!"

"This means war!" cried the Green Emperor,
feeling a bit left out of the fight.

"Indeed!" agreed the Blue Emperor quickly enough,
also calling for, "War!"
(as easily as if he'd been calling his dog).

"War!" agreed the Black Emperor as well,
since he too now wanted nothing as much.

Then, "War!" cried the Red Emperor too.
And the White Emperor.
And then all five of them at once:

"War! War! War! War! War!" they all cried
with glee, every one of them already drawing up battle plans
in his head even as they were all filling their hearts with
more and more: "War! War! War! War! War!"

  * * *

"Oh, dear!" said Catskill, looking down on all this:
"I might have made things worse!"

Well, knowing he didn't have the brains to lay about
trying to think of what to do next, like some people,
Catskill jumped up and raced down the long, long trunk
of the Big Tall Pine Tree, bent on gathering up
the five nuts he had let go of earlier
(because those five nuts having started the fight
--Catskill believed the most logical way to put an end to it now
was... by the same exact way):

"I shall bring those five nuts up here again,
and again drop them down right on their heads!"
Catskill reasoned. And so down,
down the Big Tall Pine Tree he raced
to fetch them back up again...

Once on the ground
Catskill ran out about the feet of the Five Emperors of The World
--All of whom were as surprised to see him come
running down off the Big Tall Pine Tree
as if he really had been a ghost!

Then he quickly ran out and began gathering the nuts
from around the emperors' feet:

He even had to yell, "Pardon!" to the Blue Emperor,
for the Blue Emperor had been standing in the way
(although it all very probably sounded to the Blue Emperor
like so much squirrely gibberish).

Then back up and up the Big Tall Pine Tree raced Catskill again
(back up the same way he had come down,
only now carrying with him the five little nuts).

The five startled emperors watched Catskill
the Very Forgetful Little Squirrel do all this
in a dead, dead silence, just standing there frozen with horror
and shock (their mouths hanging open), dumbstruck
with embarrassment
to discover that the 'ghost' they had almost gone to war over
was nothing more than some silly squirrel: "Oh my!"

And then, "Plop! Plop! Plop! Plop! Plop!"
suddenly the five little nuts dropped again down on the heads
of the five emperors exactly as before.

"Hey! Hey! Hey! Hey! Hey!"
again went the Five Emperors of The World
as, one after the other one after the other one,
every one of the five little nuts fell right on top of
each of their five great big heads!

They weren't painful blows at all
(all were just little puny nuts, you know). And yet
they must have been awfully embarrassing little puny nuts
(to the Five Emperors of The World),
because as quickly as each little nut struck an imperial head
the nut-stricken emperor lowered his eyes
in shame and embarrassment,
and slinked away back to his own land
without saying a word at all
--and doing all he could (as he went)
not to have to look anyone in the eye.

  * * *

Now, some people say that silly antics as unwise as these
explain why there are so few emperors in the world today
--Who can say?

One thing's certain, I say... not a one of those five emperors
was ever again spotted around the Big Tall Pine Tree,
apparently unwilling to show his face anywhere near a place
where he had suffered such an embarrassment.

So the wild animals would have their Beautiful Forest
all to themselves again.

And, oh... round about a week later (just as soon
as Catskill was able to remember that
the reason he seemed to be the only wild animal in the Beautiful Forest
was that all the other wild animals were still away
attending their Great Gathering)...

That's when the Very Forgetful Little Squirrel, Catskill,
at last headed out there himself (naturally, only after
he was able to remember where the Great Gathering was being held)
... and he let everyone out there know
it was safe once again to return to their homes
in the loveliest and finally forever most peaceful corner
of their Beautiful Forest.