The Pareidolia Effect
Woodford, New South Wales
Tamotsu Furuta first saw the man in the tree as he chatted on his mobile phone, while gazing absently from his back porch, across to his neighbour’s house. The man in the tree was not a physical human being, but the outline of a man’s head displayed by the various branches and leaves, and Tamotsu couldn’t believe the image was so strong in detail that the hair, eyes, nose, mouth and teeth, appeared to delineate a representation of a man, grinning menacingly into the distance.
Tamotsu took a photo with his phone for future reference. Unable to concentrate on his friend’s conversation, he made an excuse to hang up, and moved swiftly to his computer to download the picture onto his desktop. Within minutes he had put the photo up on Facebook, and sat waiting patiently for his friends to reply, as to whether they too saw the image of the strange man.
After an hour, he managed to get some replies in the affirmative, and a similar amount in the negative; some telling him to give up his hallucinatory drugs. Tamotsu’s wife, Haruko, said she couldn’t see anything, and begged him to stop worrying about it as it was probably a trick of the light, as it faded into dusk.
Tamotsu couldn’t sleep that night, and wild nightmares tortured his mind as he drifted in and out of sleep. One dream had the tree come to life, marching towards his house, the branches crashing into, and breaking the windows, as a huge wind roared above the roof.
All the next day Tamotsu kept glancing at the tree from his seat, as a constant breeze tossed the tree’s leaves into a frenzy until near twilight, when the breeze calmed down, and he again saw the terrible apparition of the man’s head appear among the branches. After becoming very drunk on sake, Tamotsu decided he should ring his old friend, Atsuto Kamiya, a psychologist, who once told him that as a friend, he couldn’t see him professionally in his rooms, but if the need arose that Tamotsu felt he needed mental help, he could offer him advise on who would be the better psychologist for his purpose.
‘Atsuto? This is Tamotsu. Sorry to disturb you, but you said you could help me if I needed it. My mind is very unbalanced at the moment and I appear to be seeing a hideous man’s face in a tree.’
‘So why is the man in the tree?’
Tamotsu explained that the man was only perceived by him within the foliage, but that it was a powerful image that was troubling him deeply.
‘I think what you are suffering from my friend is what is known as *pareidolia. It’s nothing to worry about and it can’t hurt you. I don’t think you need to see a psychologist. Your mind is triggered by stimulus that plays tricks and you are imagining images that is perceived by you as real and important. I’m sure in a few days you will cease to see it. Did you see animals or faces as a child on the patterns on curtains or walls, while you were lying in bed as a child?’
Tamotsu recalled his worried mother rushing into his bedroom to comfort him as a child when he screamed that a monster was lurking among the drapes on the window.
‘I did—I remember it well. So it is my imagination?’
‘Yes my old friend. Even Leonardo da Vinci spoke of it. Find something to take your mind off it, and try not to look at the tree.’
Tamotsu thanked Atsuto and decided he would read some of the books he had neglected, and leave the vision in the tree to gaze with its sinister eyes undisturbed.
For a few days he sat and read his books and when he found himself lifting his gaze towards the direction of the tree, he would swiftly blink his eyes sharply and look away. However the very next evening, after feeling he had conquered his fear of the apparition, he steadily faced the tree and was relieved the image was no more. Glancing down to his book he read a few paragraphs, happy that his nemesis had vanished, then laughed and looked up again, only to see the image of the man was stronger than ever; while the face appeared to be laughing wildly.
Tamotsu ran screaming to Haruko, who sat long into the night with her frantic husband’s head on her lap, as she rocked him gently, until he fell into a fitful sleep.
For the next few days Haruko was worried for her husband, as he drank more sake than ever and lay mumbling, near exhaustion on his bed; insisting that the man in the tree was coming for him, and soon he would be no longer of this Earth. Haruko smiled, as a possible solution had flowed into her mind and she decided then resolutely, to put it into motion.
Walking to her neighbour’s house she knocked on the door and told her about her husband’s dilemma concerning the tree, asking whether it would worry her if the tree could be cut down.
‘Oh Haruko. I hate that tree. It has no flowers, and has leaves all year, which blocks out the Sun, and my vegetable garden could be so much larger without it. The very old man in the village used to come and sit under it, but he is too old now to venture here. By all means, I am too old, and my dear husband is no more, but Tomatsu can cut it down if he wishes.’
Haruko waited for Tamotsu to recover from his drunkenness and told him of her idea, and how their neighbour agreed that the tree could be destroyed. Haruko and Tomatsu decided that the very next morning, the evil tree would be cut down.
Sitting, sipping only a little sake that evening, Tamotsu smiled as the image of the man appeared in the twilight among the branches and leaves. No longer afraid of the apparition, he raised his glass in a toast to its farewell, and relaxed with his feet up on the table as Haruko brought their evening meal out onto the porch. At last her husband would soon return to his old self. As the darkness fell and the image disappeared, Tamotsu moved inside the house, and after a long hot bath, listening to his favourite music, he silently moved into the bedroom, and took Haruko by surprise with his vigorous lovemaking.
The next morning Tomatsu walked with head held high to his neighbour’s house, his sharp axe swinging from his hand, and after knocking on her door to tell him of his intentions, he stood in front of the tree, laughed and took the first swing of the axe, which bit deep into the tender bark. Tomatsu leant down close to the wound as the thick sap flowed—a blood red.
Was it his imagination, or did he hear a small gasp of pain from the tree when he struck the first blow? Shaking off this disruption he continued to chop enormous chunks of wood from the trunk. Looking up to the branches he laughed as he could imagine them soon crashing down in disarray, a look of consternation on his fearful tormentor, no longer resembling anything other than tree debris and firewood for his neighbour. A strong man, Tomatsu swung the axe as if he were in a wood chopping competition; determined to end the task as quickly as possible.
In her kitchen, Haruko put the finishing touches to Tomatsu’s favourite meal, knowing that he would be ravenous after his toil. From her neighbour’s yard she heard the first cracking of the broken trunk, and knew that Tomatsu would soon be home. She waited for the sound of the axe to stop, and when it did, and the cracking sound became continuous, she knew that the tree was falling. Wiping her hands on her apron she moved to the window to see Tomatsu standing stock still, the axe unmoving in his hand, as he stared upwards into the falling branches, transfixed and reluctant to move out of its way. Haruko screamed a warning.
‘Tomatsu! The tree is falling. Run my dear—quickly.’
Tomatsu turned towards her and to Haruko’s horror, the tree crashed down onto Tomatsu and he disappeared under the foliage.
The village of Shinjō was in mourning for their popular comrade for many months, and as the people gathered in the markets, they would all whisper of the horror that befell Tomatsu, and how no-one was willing to cut down a tree again, for fear of suffering Tomatsu’s fate.
For the mystery that sent shivers down their spines was how it could be possible that when the men of the village heard Haruko’s cries and went to the aid of their friend, as he tragically lay whimpering under the tree, they found that when they raised the trunk from his body, Tomatsu himself was found to be immersed deeply into the trunk of the tree.
Tomatsu’s body was half way inside the trunk with the rest of his body facing outwards, and it appeared that the tree was completely surrounding his skin—as if he were melded into it; unable to be parted from it. Unaware of his misfortune, Tomatsu continued to rant in a strange tongue as his forearms and hands, and his feet, danced, and wiggled, in an attempt to move his body from his entrapment.
While Haruku cried at his feet, the townsfolk gave him water, but they knew they couldn’t attempt to feed him as his rear was entombed within the tree’s trunk. After deliberation as to whether they should end his suffering, his close friend, Atsuto, decided he was in no pain and that Tomatsu’s end would be a matter of days, and they only gave him water for his thirst.
Perhaps it was the next morning, when people saw the tree bark was growing further around his body, as green sprouts sprang from his mouth, while wood bugs scuttled from his nose and ears, and strong green buds of vegetation began sprouting from his stomach and legs. Haruku cried out as she saw his finger tips sprouting buds of new foliage, and she then demanded the local doctor give Tomastsu a final needle; which resulted in a compassionate death of euthanasia.
As a few brave men chopped the tree surrounding their dear friend, from just above his head and below his feet to place him into a grave at the local cemetery, a very old man who people knew was well over a hundred years of age, was carried to the graveside by his sons on a litter. He shook his head and muttered: ‘Poor Tomatsu. I fear that what he had seen in the tree wasn’t a mirage. Our dear friend was a victim of the kodama’s curse. It was my responsibility to look after the kodama , but I grew too old. Poor kodama. It was hoping Tomatsu would be its new protector, not its executioner.’
When questioned, the old man said that the legend of the kodama, who were spirits that lived in some trees, in fact, were part of the tree, and were protected by various elders of the village. He had never told anyone of his duty toward the kodama for fear of ridicule. If anyone attempted to cut down a kodama tree or drew its bloody sap, they would be forever cursed.
Six months after Tomatsu was entombed, a small growth of vegetation, which quickly sprouted into a small tree, was seen growing on his grave. Not one person in the village attempted to cut the plant from the ground, and everyone knew that its growth was way beyond that of any normal vegetation. Within a year, the strange foliage grew as tall and as strong as the tree that Tomatsu had cut down, and many people shuddered if they glanced at the tree near twilight, as the outline of a face resembling Tomatsu appeared to gaze out from the foliage of the tree in the direction of his house, and at certain times of the year the old man on the litter, carried by his two sons, would spend an afternoon under its ominous shade.
*Pareidolia: is a emotional experience whereby people may see images of animals or human faces in clouds or other inanimate subjects, like curtains or foliage. The Man in the Moon is another example.
Bio: David tells us he was sitting in his back room reading one late afternoon he glanced out the window and saw a head of a man with wild hair and a beard. David took a photo and placed it on Facebook, only some of his friends saw it and many thought it looked evil, thus this tale.