If the Creature Arrives

Woman wearing mask sits on the end of dock, holding a lantern, and looking into a lake
By Kamil Rybarski/Pexels.com

Today’s story is based on MindLoveMisery’s Menagerie Photo Challenge #362, using the above photo as inspiration…


If the Creature Arrives
by Dave Williams

The scene could’ve been in a fairy tale, even though Harriet knew that wasn’t the host’s intention. Asher Griffin aimed instead for a scene in an Edgar Allan Poe story.

That was how Owen had described an over-the-top Asher Griffin party fo Harriet. Growing up with parents who loved to entertain, Asher appeared to have caught the bug. His parties weren’t held at the Griffin mansion, however. Once or twice a year, Asher rented a beautiful venue and threw a party in such themes as Venetian masquerade, Victorian gothic, and Great Gatsby.

Tonight was Harriet’s first time at one of the soirees, and she now believed Owen’s stories about Asher. The two men had met in college and swiftly became great friends. Owen didn’t belong in the wealthy arena of the Griffins, but his quirky sense of humor and his love of discussing literature more than sports meshed well with Asher.

Harriet had been introduced to Owen’s friend over dinner in a seafood restaurant, where she had enjoyed his boyish attractiveness and his enthusiasm to learn about her. She had assumed he would be stuck up and unleash comments like “Oh my goodness, the Côte d’Azur is delish!” She was glad her prediction had been off the mark.

After that night, Harriet had told some of her friends about the experience. They had suggested she should’ve ditched Owen in favor of Asher. The choice was akin to the woman’s version of Betty or Veronica, and a sizable percentage of the men to whom the friends had posed the choice had picked Veronica for the family bank account.

Except that Harriet had been dating Owen for ten months and she was too smitten to cast him aside for a rich man who made a good first impression. A man who might’ve had undiscovered hang-ups. Besides, Harriet didn’t match Asher’s type. According to Owen, Asher tended to date women who also came from wealthy families, and they zipped off to luxurious locales at the drop of a hat.

Here was a locale made more dream-like by the strings of fairy lights swooping from tree to tree in the spacious patio between a house and lake. The large house could’ve belonged to a tycoon during the Gilded Age of the 1920s. If so, this party would’ve likely fit with the parties of old: pretty little lights, glow of lanterns, well-dressed guests, waiters carrying silver trays of hors d’oeuvre and strolling amid the crowd.

Harriet thought the party’s masquerade theme added a bit of mystery. She would not have known the other guests without their masks. This was a societal circle in which she did not fly. Yet it was delish to fly in the circle for a night.

A series of tinking sounds calmed conversations and caused the guests to turn toward Asher standing on an ornate metal chair and tapping his cocktail glass with a spoon.

“Wonderful to see all of you tonight,” Asher said. “Thank you for making the long journey from the city.” (Long was subjective; the journey from city to lake had taken a few hours’ drive.) “I chose this place because the view is quite lovely.”

The host extended a hand to the lake, as if welcoming a special guest. The tiny lights were reflected on the lake’s surface, still and soft in dusk’s light. The trees ringing the lake and the few other houses were also soft in the dwindling sunlight of late summer.

Asher continued, “But that’s not the only reason I chose it. There’s a story about this lake. You see, folks around here say a creature lives in there.”

Murmuring came among the guests, and one gentleman said, “You realize we’re not in Scotland, don’t you?”

Asher laughed. “Come now, Reggie. I haven’t had that much to drink. Not yet, anyway.” As laughter from the guests faded, Asher said, “But Reggie’s right. We’re not in Scotland. Is this creature related to Nessie? I don’t know. But the locals say the creature comes out at night, under the cover of darkness. Easier to hunt that way. They call it Mugrik.”

“Just a myth!” another gentleman said.

The pessimistic statement brightened Asher’s face. “Maybe it is. But what if it’s not? What if we get to see this amazing thing? Wouldn’t that be fantastic?”

While some in the crowd gave encouraging comments, most guests downplayed the idea, calling it preposterous.

“We’ll have to wait and see,” Asher said. “Most likely, it’ll show up after midnight. And if it does show up, we can run into the mansion. We’ll be perfectly safe there. But in the meantime, please take a gondola ride while you can. The rides stop promptly at eleven o’clock.”

As the host stepped down from the chair, the guests returned to conversing in groups clustered around the patio.

Harriet thought Asher’s phrase “perfectly safe” was wrong. No such place existed. The risk of something bad happening always loomed over you. People were struck by lightning. People died in house fires. Granted, the risk was low of those events — but they did happen.

“You seriously think he believes in this thing?” Harriet asked.

Owen chuckled and said, “He really could. He’s mentioned it to me before. The Mugrik. Weird name. But it doesn’t really matter if he believes in it. He wants it to be true. He wants to see it with all these people around, all these witnesses. He wants to throw a party that nobody forgets.”

“I’m not going to forget this,” Harriet said. “It’s beautiful.”

“But the monster adds a nice touch, doesn’t it?”

Harriet had to agree.

The creature also added a conversation starter, one beyond the standards: What do you do for a living? How do you know Asher? Where are you from?

At times, Owen wasn’t by Harriet’s side, as he went to order more drinks or headed inside the house for the restroom. Harriet wasn’t very comfortable in a crowd of strangers, but the cocktails helped ease her mild anxiety. Everyone she talked with was polite, some even cheery. The other guests seemed to know each other (at least somewhat), and they were quick to fill silences during conversations with Harriet.

She and Owen joined the line on the dock. They watched the three gondolas glide along the shoreline. The wait wasn’t long for the dating couple to have a turn in a boat.

When the gondola departed the dock, Harriet said, “Why aren’t the boats going to the middle of the lake?”

“It gets too deep for our poles,” said the gondolier, a woman dressed in black-and-white striped shirt. “We could go farther than this, but we’ve been asked to stay close to the shore.”

Harriet guessed Asher had been behind that instruction, to give guests the idea that the lake’s center was too dangerous. A probable ruse. A lantern hung from the boat’s prow, its light dancing on the water. She imagined a beast’s head breaking the water’s surface, rising high above them, the long neck stretching. A silly idea. Harriet leaned against Owen and gave into the romance of the sliding boat.

Back on land, as the evening progressed, Harriet hoped the monster would appear and she hoped it wouldn’t. Its arrival would’ve been thrilling. She would’ve tried to snap a photo, record a video with her phone. She and Owen would’ve gone into the house, out the front door, to their car in the parking area, and driven off. Surely, they were faster than the older guests. A calculation from horror movies: the slowest of the fleeing mob was killed/eaten first.

But escape wasn’t guaranteed. She and Owen could’ve been in the car, and the monster could’ve breathed fire and roasted them — if the beast had such a power.

Harriet didn’t want the creature to stomp out of the lake simply because it would’ve ruined the luxurious time she was having. She inwardly laughed at herself for imagining the creature.

Guests said good-byes and left in small groups, and eventually half of the original crowd remained. Then a third. Then a fourth. They claimed to be ready to stay until sunrise. Then they would head to their hotels, their bed-and-breakfasts, and get some sleep. They could arrange for another night’s stay if checkout time was too early. Or slip the maid some cash to come later for cleaning the room.

As for the lake house, Asher had rented it until noon. Some of the catering staff left, and the remaining ones replenished the coffee urns and trays of desserts.

Owen switched from drinking wine to coffee before Harriet did. She was relieved. A few of the previous men she had dated would’ve continued swallowing booze — especially free and high quality — for as long as liquor bottles were available. She liked to think her taste in men had matured along with herself. She saw no need to drink tonight until she stumbled about.

Harriet also liked that Owen was game to stay at the party. The atmosphere was pleasant by the two fire pits. Harriet now felt the guests were friends from long ago rather than people she had met tonight. They kidded each other, they talked of other times they had stayed up through the night, like when they were kids and it was a grand adventure to see how the world looked when they would’ve typically been asleep. The magic of those times.

Harriet picked up a lantern and walked with Owen to the dock. To the end. They gazed into the dark water. Gazed across it, and were unable to see the opposite shore. Gazed at the stars seeming to envy the fairy lights still lit.

“If that thing actually exists and comes up,” Owen said, “we’re goners for sure.”

She grabbed his hand and squeezed. “So be it.”

The night had transitioned from a Poe-inspired party to It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. Harriet found enjoyment in both stages, as did Owen. A good sign for their future.


copyright © 2021 Dave Williams

Spreading Darkness

Image of man with animals growing from the top of his head: rhino, monkey, lizard, octopus
by Yuuki Morita

When I saw the above image in Mindlovemisery’s Menagerie Prompt #360, I felt a strong urge to write a story. That’s probably from my enjoyment of weird fiction. The image strikes me as having an H.P. Lovecraft-kind of vibe.

Here’s my story…


Spreading Darkness
by Dave Williams

Everyone has darkness in them. Inside us is the capacity for cruelty and kindness. It’s up to us to choose which we act with, in our hundreds of interactions every day.

These nuggets of wisdom were said to Collin Ebersole on a cloudy Thursday afternoon by his mental health therapist: Lucas Snelling, a man who had managed to keep slim in his mid-forties. No “dad bod” here. Perhaps part of Lucas’s attempt to appeal to clients was a fit body/fit mind approach. Not that either came easily. Both needed habitual attention. You exercised, you meditated. If this guy could do those, you could too.

In the beginning of this particular session at Lucas’s office, Collin Ebersole had told of visions he began having recently. Collin had said, “They come anytime. While I’m at work, while I’m walking to work or from work. When I’m at home. There’s no particular pattern. None that I can tell, at least.”

“And what are these … visions?” Lucas Snelling had asked, his face showing no emotion. Open to whatever came next.

“Lots of things,” Collin had said. “Wolves roaming the halls at the office. Their mouths open, showing fangs, dripping spit. And rats swarming out of sewer drains. Large ones, nasty-looking things. Octopuses — or is it octopi? whatever, either way — they’re reaching out of the doors of office buildings and stores. I see them. I actually see them. But then I blink a bunch of times, and they’re gone. It looks normal where those things had just been.”

Lucas had tilted his head a little to the side. Perhaps a practiced movement to attempt to appear thoughtful. Lucas had asked if Collin had been watching horror movies. Collin had not. How about horror TV shows? Collin had not. Reading horror books? Collin had not. Purposefully thinking of horrific events? Collin had not.

“This is curious,” Lucas had said. “Do you have an idea why your thoughts are dark this week?”

“That’s just it,” Collin had said. “I don’t have dark thoughts. These visions pop up out of nowhere. I’ll be standing at an intersection, thinking about what to make for dinner, and bam, I’ll see monkeys with red eyes, and they’re on the tops of cars, hopping from car to car.”

Then Lucas had dropped those nuggets of wisdom about darkness. As if gleaned from a self-help book chock full of quotations from famous people — Gandhi, Mother Teresa, and the like — and soothing illustrations. Collin said he was aware of the capacity in all of us. We can follow a path trod by Martin Luther King, Jr., or a path trod by a killer.

Lucas unfolded his crossed legs, so both feet were placed on the gray carpet. He asked, “What path do you think you’re on?”

“Neither,” Collin said “I’m not a saint, and I’m not a maniac. I’m somewhere in the middle.”

“As is everyone. Nobody’s completely a saint or a maniac. There are many complexities.”

Collin nodded, appreciating the observation — which, he thought, came to anyone who grew out of the youthful need for every movie and TV show and book to have a “bad guy” and a “good guy.” Reality was much more muddled.

“Something different did happen to me, though,” Collin said.

Collin described the events of the past Saturday. His friend Trish had invited him to a dinner party hosted by another of her friends, a woman named Willa Magness. Collin wasn’t keen on going, as he didn’t know this Willa Magness and felt anxiety in going to social functions at the homes of people he didn’t know. That was one of his jumbled anxieties. Trish knew of Collin’s social anxiety. She tried to put him at ease by saying Willa Magness was very friendly. Ms. Magness was a wonderful host who enjoyed meeting new people and asking their stances on a variety of topics. Not that Ms. Magness would interrogate guests. Simply that she was more the type to ask questions than the type to talk your ear off about the exotic trips she had taken and the meals she had eaten at ultra-expensive restaurants.

A swift debate inside Collin’s brain ended by agreeing to go to the dinner party. The experience would meet the suggestion by Lucas Snelling for Collin to “try stretching himself in small steps.”

On Saturday evening, when the car-service driver parked before the Magness estate, driver had whistled and said, “Man, I’ve got to get a friend like this.”

Indeed, Ms. Magness was very friendly and obviously wealthy. The fenced estate was large, as was the house, and it was tastefully decorated with antiques whose glossy wood shone in light from wall sconces.

Ms. Magness was graceful and welcoming. A widower in her sixties, her age was double the ages of Collin and Trish. The other guests looked to be around the same age as them. Six people attended the dinner party, which Collin was thankful for, since crowded parties made his anxiety worse. His medications had helped dull the anxiety a bit. Also helpful was the deep-breathing exercise Lucas had taught him.

Dinner came in five courses, each announced by one of the two black-jacketed waiters. Words from the descriptions seemed to float above the plates put on the table before every guest. Foie gras, carpaccio of tuna, herb crusted, loin of rabbit, morel stuffed, gingered pears. Collin felt he had strolled into a fantasy lived only by the rich.

All the guests were cordial, as if the food and environment caused them to be on their best manners. Collin sipped the silken wine that gave him a lovely sensation.

After dinner, the party shifted to a short tour of the house’s main level, nice to walk after sitting for a spell, then Ms. Magness led them through opened French doors to the back yard. Two fire pits were aflame. Glasses of scotch were waiting on a table. Chairs were arranged in an oval around the fire pits.

Each guest took a scotch and a seat. Ms. Magness said she enjoyed wrapping up parties while sitting outside if the weather was pleasant. The fresh air was therapeutic, and sitting near fire connected with something ancient within us.

“I’m wondering what all of you think of a view I’ve had for some time,” Ms. Magness said. “I happen to believe in other worlds. Back in the olden days, people thought the separation between us and the fairy world became thinner on certain days of the year. The winter and summer solstice were such days. But I believe that could happen on any day. The separations can be thinner, and openings can pop up. Portals, if you will. Then we could see strange creatures. Or people and animals that shouldn’t be there. What do all of you think of that?”

Trish was the first guest to reply, and she talked of having doubts about other worlds, how she believed them as a kid, then thought they were simply children’s stories when she was in middle school. But odd happenings caused her to change her mind.

Other guests volunteered information of sensations of being watched while they were alone at home. Or feeling a presence of someone. Or seeing movement out of the corner of their eye, then turning around and seeing nothing moving there. Every one of the five guests stated they believed in the possibilities of things existing outside our normal range of perception.

As the guests spoke, Ms Magness listened with clear interest. She took sips of scotch. Frequently, she performed an unusual gesture. Collin found it unusual, something not seen during his ordinary conversations. Ms. Magness held the scotch in her left hand. Her right elbow was on the arm rest, her right forearm sticking up, and her fingers would lower. First the pinky, then ring finger, then each finger in succession. Up and down the fingers went. Collin thought her fingers were mimicking a spider’s walk. Up and down, her fingers moved in a fan-like fashion. During the conversation, in which Collin contributed, his focus kept returning to the hostess’s mesmerizing finger motions.

Collin did not tell Lucas Snelling about the finger motions. Rather, as he told the story of Saturday evening, Collin reenacted the same motions, his right elbow on the armrest of the gray couch, his fingers walking. Lucas Snelling’s eyes shifted from Collin’s eyes to his fingers and back. Observing all.

“And how do you think the dinner party affected you?” Lucas said.

“There are creatures out there,” Collin said. “Things only some of us can see. I was worried about them when I started seeing them. But now I look forward to them.”

“Really? So they don’t bother you in anyway?”

“Why would they?” Collin said. “I’m lucky to see them. I wish more people could see them. It’s special. It’s like I’m in a club that most people don’t know about.”

“And why tell me if it doesn’t bother you?” Lucas said.

“Because I hope you’ll start seeing them too.”

End


copyright © 2021 Dave Williams

Tree Made Into Flesh

Photo of a woman in a lavender dress, and tree branches with human hands at their ends are grabbing her.
by Brooke Shaden

I’m trying another photo prompt, this one from MindLoveMisery’s Menagerie. Thank you for hosting the prompt.

The photo immediately made me think of fairy tales, of Little Red Riding Hood running through a forest. Instead of going down that path, though, I wanted to try something different. A tree who wants to become a person. Pinocchio with roots rather than strings.

As I started writing, the story’s idea flourished. And the story grew much more than I anticipated. So it’s a bit on the long side. It’s not exactly flash fiction. I hope you enjoy it…


Tree Made Into Flesh

The eldest in the grove of druids heard the tree’s wish as he strolled the woods. Years of meditation had gifted Aelfraed — and a handful of other druids — with the ability to hear trees. But only when the trees spoke loudly enough. Their murmurings were never heard by humans.

This afternoon, a tree directed its voice to Aelfraed: I wish to become a person.

Startled, Aelfraed stood still and tried to figure out which tree had communicated.

Tis me, an oak said.

Why? Aelfraed projected his thought to the particular oak. Why not remain a tree?

I wish to move. Really move. The wind plays with me, and I can move my branches when I concentrate hard. I want more. I walk to walk and run and jump and dance. I want to see other places.

Aelfraed couldn’t remember hearing or reading about such a request from a tree. His heart’s sympathy shone toward the tree, yet his mind chose caution. He thought, I cannot give you an answer right away. I must mull on this dilemma. I don’t know if it can be done.

It can, the oak said. Stories have been passed down of trees becoming people. The druids made a magic to transform them. The tree-people were spotted by other trees who knew they weren’t real humans. Word spread of the journeys of the tree-people.

But that could be legend, Aelfraed thought. Made-up stories of old.

It was real, the oak said. Much more has passed in the lands than you humans know of and can even imagine.

Aelfraed nodded slowly. I will think it over and ask the others for advice.

Don’t waste your time, another tree said. It’s a foolish wish.

Stay a tree, yet another tree said to the oak. You are lucky to be one. Humans live the lives of twigs. We are of sturdier stuff.

I don’t expect you to understand, the oak said. I’ve been wanting it for years, and finally have expressed my desire.

Rather than continue his afternoon ramble, Aelfraed returned to the home of the druids — a circle created by several small cabins and a large dwelling, all log-walled, the trees of which had been prayed over for three days before felling for construction. The circle was centered by fruit trees and a garden of vegetables and herbs.

As Aelfraed called out to his fellow druids for a meeting, they stopped their tasks to assemble in the large dwelling’s main room. The elder spoke of his experience in the woods. The other druids listened with growing wonder, and flicked glances at each other. When Aelfraed finished relaying the tale, the fellows gave their opinions.

“We can’t offer assistance to this tree,” said a druid with long, gray hair. “It goes against nature.”

“Aye, that it does,” said one with an especially bushy beard.

“If we did it,” another druid said, “other trees could want the same treatment. Think of the consequences. The forest would lose trees.”

The long gray-haired druid (which, truth be told, described several of the gentlemen) said, “That would be a tragedy. And all the extra people walking about would need extra resources. More food, more houses.”

“That would throw the world off balance,” said the one who always had foul breath, no matter how many mint leaves he chewed.

Aelfraed said, “But that wouldn’t happen if we agreed to help the oak and stopped there. We could refuse other trees if they asked for the same metamorphosis.”

Many druids chirped their agreement with the elder’s statement.

“Why can’t the oak wait?” said a druid. “When it passes on — which will hopefully be years hence, God and Goddess willing — it will go to the Otherworld. It can move about there. Perhaps it will be reborn as a human.”

“No one knows if spirits have a choice in the Otherworld for their next life,” said one who sported a braided beard.

Aelfraed said, “Choice or no, the oak could be reborn as a moving creature. Doesn’t have to be a human. Could be bird, bear, or bug. Any of those would answer the oak’s wish.”

“I hope to be reborn a bird,” one druid said.

Many others chirped their agreement with that hope.

The druids voted on the topic of the oak, and the overwhelming majority chose against helping it turn into a person. One of the two voters on the other side was Garrick, the youngest in the grove.

That night, Garrick waited until his roommates were snoring, then quietly left the cabin and went into the large home. To the small library. Lighting a candle, he searched the crowded shelves for a tome that might include the spell. After a few tries that didn’t offer the answer, a book offered it on a page topped with the title, Transmutation From Tree To Human. The lettering curled ornately on the capital letters. Garrick read the spell once with enthusiasm, realized he didn’t comprehend, then read it multiple times until he memorized the incantations.

Garrick wolfed down breakfast the next morning, amid gentle reprimands of others who said his stomach was sure to gurgle. He paid them no mind. He volunteered for the chore of collecting nuts, so he could head deep into the forest.

There, Garrick whispered, “Which one of you wants to become a person?”

He closed his eyes and concentrated on sounds. Bird song. Wind. Rustling on the ground, perhaps a squirrel or chipmunk. Garrick had been jealous of the elders who could hear trees, and he wondered how many years of contemplation were required for him to accomplish that goal. Now, though, he had to gain the ability if he was to carry out his want to help the oak. Garrick found nothing wrong with the oak’s wish. Let the tree have its dream before shifting to the Otherworld.

However, no tree’s answer alighted on Garrick’s ears — that he could detect. Possibly, the trees talked to him, yet he didn’t have the power to listen. He continued walking, asking the same question in his normal voice. Shouting would’ve spread his query farther, and would’ve raised the risk of another druid overhearing Garrick, then telling the others.

Still no answer came for several days in which Garrick searched the woods, repeating the question. He ventured into different parts of the forest. His mind said this was a fool’s quest, to give up and carry on with his life. But he argued back that he should keep trying.

One afternoon, Garrick’s mind took a break from its debate, and he thought of nothing in particular. The kind of entrancement one gets while giving oneself to the moment, not concerned with past nor future. When one is lured by the rhythms of striding legs and fresh-air inhalations.

Amid the forest’s typical music came something different for Garrick. Tis me, a voice said. The two words appeared in Garrick’s head. But he figured someone had uttered them out loud.

“What?” Garrick asked, turning around and looking for the speaker of the words.

Me, the voice said. I’m the tree who wants to become a person.

It worked! Garrick thought, then he said, “Which tree are you?”

Here. As branches rustled, Garrick kept turning until he saw the trembling branches.

“I can do it for you!”

You don’t have to speak aloud, the oak said. Think on what you want to say, and I can hear it.

I’ll try, Garrick thought. Can you hear this?

I can. So you know the spell?

I used to, Garrick thought. But I can’t remember all of it. I have to study the book again.

Please do, the oak said. And please bring clothes. I doubt my bark will turn into some manner of clothes if the spell works. I hope it works.

As do I. Good idea about clothes. I had not thought of that.

Garrick sneaked into the library again that night, more excited this time about opening the book and reading the transmutation spell. After reading, he closed his eyes and mentally repeated the incantations. Opened his eyes to check if he was correct. Since a few words were wrong, he did the eyes-closed test a few more times to ensure he knew the words. On the way back to his cabin, Garrick took a set of robes from the room of supplies.

The next day, right after breakfast, Garrick set off into the woods. The extra robes were secreted underneath the robes adorning him, so he looked as if his belly was fuller than usual. He followed the trail he had prepared the day before. Two small stones next to trees served as markers for the path he needed. He smiled at the lesson gleaned from a children’s story. The last marker was a circle of pebbles at the base of the oak, now seeming as a necklace to Garrick.

I’m glad to see you, the oak said. I worried that you wouldn’t come back.

“I wouldn’t do that to you,” the young druid said, then realized his mistake and thought, Sorry. I’m not used to this way of talking.

It takes a while to get used to. Do you remember the spell?

I do, Garrick thought as he set the extra robes on the ground. Are you ready? Do you still want to become a woman?

After the oak answered both questions, Garrick drew in a deep breath and slowly let it out. He envisioned the spell book’s page, the careful writing. He spoke the words, focusing on the specific words for female, not wanting to make an error for the gender.

The oak blurred, as rainfall can blur the edges of things. Except now, only one tree was affected. The oak’s blurriness grew in intensity. Garrick watched in fascination as the branches, leaves, and trunk could no longer be distinguished. The blurry mass lowered in size. Its edges began to sharpen. A silhouette came into focus. Then details, then no more blurriness remained. There stood a woman. A handsome woman with brown hair. A nude woman.

“Sorry!” Garrick cried out, whapping his hand over his eyes, which had snapped shut. Two layers to block his vision.

The woman let out a guttural yowl, as if she was suddenly in pain. Garrick asked what caused her the pain, but she still yowled. Garrick braved a peek. The woman was bent over and clasping her head with both hands. She fell, landed on her side. Garrick looked at the ground and went to the robe bundle and placed it on the woman, who had thankfully stopped yelling.

“Put on the robe,” Garrick said, hoping her pain had ended, not that she was getting accustomed to it.

As the druid replaced his hand as blindfold, he heard the woman grunting and the sound of fabric rustling.

“How?” The voice was feminine, with its owner suffering a sore throat. The woman coughed, cleared her throat. “This … this is your talking?” Her voice had smoothed a bit.

“Aye,” Garrick said. “Are you hurt?”

“The trees. They shouted. Shouted I am stupid. Shouted I make a mistake.”

Garrick had not heard the other trees in his head, and he felt sorrow for the woman to endure the punishment. He said, “I’m sorry. Are they still shouting?”

“No. This talking feels strange. And the clothes. I do not know how to wear the clothes.”

“Look at how the robes fit on me.” He tugged the bottom of his robe. “Put this part over your head, then pull it down yourself. Move your arms into the sleeves.”

The woman’s grunts mixed with rustling fabric again. Finally, the woman said she had finished. Garrick released his self-given blinder. Enrobed, the woman stood as if she was drunk or on a frozen pond. She trembled, and her arms windmilled.

“May I hold your hand, so you won’t fall?” Garrick asked.

She consented. Since the woman looked so off balance, Garrick held her left shoulder and her right forearm. His grip helped steady her. Garrick walked slowly, telling the woman to put one foot in front of the other. When she got the hang of it and walked by herself, both of them cheered. She said she was tired, so they sat with their backs resting on trees. The woman said she wanted her name to be Clover. Her tree name was quite long, so she preferred something simpler.

Clover kept looking down at herself. Raising her hands and wiggling their fingers. Sliding her legs to extend them, bending her knees to slide them back. She placed a hand on her belly and said that part felt uncomfortable. Garrick, assuming she had a stomach ache, stood and gazed around to see if mint grew nearby. The idea dawned on him that Clover might be hungry. He offered that as a possible explanation.

“What is hungry?” Clover asked.

Garrick was stunned into silence. Clover looked as a woman, yet her mind was as a toddler about being human. Garrick had been focused on the spell and had spent no consideration to what might happen afterward. While Clover continued to rest, Garrick hunted for edible plants and returned with wood sorrel and chickweed. Clover had no problem with chewing her first meal as a human. The motion came automatically.

The druid took the mantle of responsibility to begin Clover’s education. As a tree, she had never needed to move for nourishment. It was delivered to her. Now she had to work for food. As they walked hand-in-hand, Garrick pointed out which plants could be eaten. They followed a stream’s sound and soon came upon it. Garrick demonstrated how, while kneeling, to scoop up the water and drink it. He told Clover that he had to get back to his home. He would visit her tomorrow. In the meantime, she shouldn’t stray far from the stream, as she required its refreshment. Clover promised, and said she remembered the safe plants to eat. They were already well known to her, from her tree years of witnessing the cycle of growth and death.

In the days afterward, Garrick plunged into the forest and walked to Clover whenever he had the opportunity. He brought her bread, which Clover always ate with fervor. Her confidence and ability in movement grew quickly. Clover laughed as she jumped, skipped, twirled. Showing off her new skills for Garrick. Her excitement was infectious, and Garrick could not help but laugh with her and clap for her progress.

An unexpected feeling bloomed within Garrick. An earnest love for Clover, brighter than what he had felt as a teenager for a few maidens in the village, before he left and became a druid. That ardor differed greatly from the adoration Garrick had for nature and the camaraderie for other druids.

While walking alone and lying in bed, Garrick entertained visions of running off with Clover, stopping at a village where he was a stranger, and starting a new life. Husband and wife. They’d have children. Every day, Garrick would feel the warm glow of Clover’s light. Each time, however, he got after himself. That was a selfish dream. Clover should experience the world beyond him. Let her roam without him. She deserved that.

And so, Garrick didn’t suggest joining Clover as her impatience strengthened to leave the forest. From him, she had learned about village life, what to be careful about when around other people. The lessons helped to prepare her.

Clover had one last request. More comfortable clothes than the druid’s robes. Garrick scorned himself for not thinking more than the kind of Eden he enjoyed with Clover now, and a variation on Eden they could have in a town.

“I will have a dress made for you,” Garrick said. “It will take days to get made, though.”

“It would be worth the wait,” Clover said. “And I’d like it to be lavender colored, please.”

Garrick went to the tailor in the nearest village, and they sorted out a trade. A dress in exchange for many deliveries of fruits, vegetables, herbs, roots, and leaves. Some, Garrick would steal from the druids’ garden. More, he would find in the woods. Plants for eating and plants as medicine. Garrick would have to work for a time after the dress was finished to pay off the debt. Yet he was willing to expend those efforts for Clover’s happiness.

Happy she was when Garrick brought the lavender dress to Clover and held it up. She called it beautiful and marveled over its softness. Far softer than the robes. Garrick turned to face the opposite direction as Clover changed clothes.

When Clover said she was done, he turned back around. Here was a princess from fairy tales. Also a wood fairy from those tales. A combination of magical creature and human. Garrick was at a loss for words, and even more astounded when Clover hugged him.

“Thank you for all you have done for me,” Clover said. “I shall never forget you.”

A storm lashed within the druid. Joy and love for this woman. Shame for his thoughts. The embrace was a sanctuary and temptation.

After a moment, Garrick broke the embrace and stepped backward, saying, “And I’ll never forget you. You should go now. Go and have adventures.”

Tears slid down Clover’s cheek, toward her wide grin. She nodded and began to walk.

Branches reached for Clover, the ends sticking into the bodice and sleeves of her dress. This time, Garrick heard the trees yelling: Stay here! You belong here! You are not one of them! You’ve had your fun, now make him turn you back into an oak! That is your proper life! You defile nature!

Shock held Garrick in place. As if he had become a tree.

But Clover didn’t need a dashing prince to save her. She spun, like in her bursts of dancing, and freed herself. She ran faster than Garrick had seen her run before. Other branches reached, but could not snag her. Seeing the rips in Clover’s dress angered Garrick. This was her first time wearing the lovely garment. Even though it could be mended, the dress would never look the same.

He would never be the same, either. The lavender dress diminished as Clover extended her distance from him. When the lavender spot disappeared, Garrick went home, burdened by a heavy heart.

Several days later, he followed the trail of pebbles leading to the stones that once encircled an oak tree. The circle’s middle was dirt. Garrick found a patch of clover and, with his hands, dug up clumps of it and replanted them inside the circle.

Frequently, Garrick returned to the growing clover with its necklace of stones. He sat by it and spoke of his wishes for Clover, for rich experiences and a life of wonder. The trees did not say anything to him.

End


copyright © 2021 Dave Williams