I promised to give you all the story behind the book Earth Legend. Sorry it took so long. Life got in the way and I honestly forgot until a wonderful follower of this blog reminded me of my promise! So here it is:
THE TREE THING
This short story was first published by the Jackpine Writers Bloc in volume 5 of The Talking Stick. It’s reproduced here with their consent and I bless them for that and everything they do to help writers. It was the inspiration for my novel Earth Legend. The Olmstead family, the main characters of this and other stories, are descendants of Ceres, goddess of the harvest. They are botanists, farmers and anything else that helps plants grow on Earth, knowing that, even as they help humanity, they will be hunted as witches if their gifts are made public.
In Earth Legend, Elle Olmstead stows away on the spaceship Destiny in order to keep the plants alive that keep the colonists alive. She’s caught and thrown in jail where she can no longer communicate with the plants so soon, they start dying and the fate of the colonists hangs in the balance. What to do? Tell everyone how she can save them and be hanged as a witch? Or let everyone die?
I hope you enjoy this story about a different member of the Olmstead family as much as I enjoyed writing it and I hope you also enjoy following the exploits of that other member of this special family, Elle Olmstead, in Earth Legend.
My uncle took the message when he called. “He’s coming over. He wants to see you.”
“I don’t want to see him.” I tossed my head. It was fall and the leaves were turning. “He dumped me.”
“Well I didn’t know that. You two seemed to be serious so I took the message. You’ll have to tell him yourself because he didn’t leave his number.”
“When is he coming? Not that I’ll talk to him when he gets here.”
Uncle looked at me, sighed, shook his head, then gazed out the window and diplomatically changed the subject. “It’s a gorgeous autumn. The colors are spectacular.”
“He dumped me in the autumn. A year ago today, to be exact.”
Uncle edged towards the door. “It was a poor autumn last year. Not much color because a big wind blew the leaves away just as they peaked.”
“I remember. The wind was awful. It felt like ice.”
“This year might be different. Should be different. Could be.” He slipped through the open door and I followed him outside. He disappeared into the greenhouse and I went to the driveway to wait.
He arrived too soon, before I had my defenses in place, slamming the car door, striding towards me with hands outstretched and taking my hands in his. That is, he tried to, but I stuffed mine deep into my pockets as he said, “I’ve missed you.” I sniffed and held back coolly as he added, “I’m sorry.”
An apology didn’t cut it with me. Then he said, “I can’t live without you.”
The thing is, his eyes were dark with unhappiness and he’d lost weight, both good signs. I removed my hands from my pockets and let them wander near his but not close enough for our hands to touch as I said coolly, “You dumped me.”
His eyes met mine and I knew it was hard for him to talk with me while I was staring at him as if I was about to use him for a doormat, but he swallowed and said, “I was scared.”
“Of commitment?” Uncle was right about one thing. We’d been getting pretty serious.
“Not of commitment. Of the tree thing.”
The tree thing? That was why he left? Really?
But, as we stood there, I remembered. It was what we’d been talking about that last day while making plans for our trip to admire the autumn colors. I’d been trying to explain the tree thing. Evidently I hadn’t done a good job because after while he’d cleared his throat and asked, “Have you ever considered seeing a shrink?”
“Well, I’ve met some tree huggers in my life but you’re way beyond normal, even for them.”
“I like trees. It’s how my family makes a living.”
“Your family has a tree farm. You told me about it.”
“We have a nursery too.”
He’d held up a hand. “Okay, okay. But honestly, when we get home from this trip…” He’d rubbed the back of his neck. “I mean, if we take this trip, then when we return…” Then he’d looked away and I knew he thought I was crazy and my world fell apart.
“You said you like trees. You said you wanted this trip.”
“I do, but you’re…” He’d rubbed his neck again.
That was when I’d panicked. “Can I show you?”
But I didn’t show him. Instead, he left and the wind blew all the trees bare in just one day and I cried until I dried up like a prune. Now he was back and wanted to start all over again, which I did too, maybe, only I wouldn’t admit it in a million years.
He cleared his throat. “We were good together. We can be good again.”
The sun filtered through the canopy of scarlet and gold and red. I examined the excellent colors absently while I tried to decide whether we had a future together. Finally, I said, cautiously, “We should talk.” A year late but talk was safe. “I know a place. A hill.”
We walked without talking. Somewhere along the way one of his hands found mine and I didn’t pull away but I kept a wary distance between us until we reached the top of the hill, with the autumn trees spread out below. He took one look and his jaw dropped. “It’s breathtaking.”
I flung a gauntlet before him. “It was breathtaking last year too. Then you left.”
He accepted the challenge. “We wouldn’t have made that trip even if I hadn’t left.” His arms wrapped cautiously around me and I should have shoved him away… I’m not stupid, but I didn’t… and suddenly I was warm even through both of our jackets and the world was right and I wondered when, if ever, I’d acquire some willpower and why I was such a wimp where he was concerned. “The wind finished off the fall leaves so a trip to admire the colors would have been wasted. Remember?”
He nuzzled my neck while I gazed across the multicolored world spread out for our enjoyment, determined not to let him know he’d won so easily. And that it was time for him to learn a few things about me. “You broke my heart. That’s why the wind came. If you hadn’t left, the autumn would have been lovely.”
He laughed lightly, trying hard to hide the fact that he was unsure of himself or of whether I’d renew our relationship and I felt a twinge of satisfaction that I wasn’t the only one having a tough time of it. But he was also remembering why he’d left. The tree thing. “I remember you saying something about autumn and your family. That was when I told you that you should see a shrink.” He laughed to take the string out of his words. “Did you? See a shrink?”
That did it!
I pushed his arms away and stepped to the crest of the hill. “Look!”
I raised my hands, palms up. “Watch!”
His head tipped back, watching… and the wind began to blow, softly and far away at first, where the earth curved, and we could see leaves rising to the sky. “See who I am! What I am! See what I can do!”
He shrugged. “The wind is blowing. Big deal.”
“It’s the tree thing, Stupid! Watch and learn!”
“A coincidence.” He shoved his hands into his pockets hard but I could tell that it was all he could do to keep from running back to his car as fast as he could run to get out of there, but he didn’t because he’d come to patch things up between us and he was going to stay until we were together again or he knew it was hopeless, no matter how many leaves floated towards us through the lovely autumn sky. So he stayed and he couldn’t avoid seeing what I do.
About time, too.
He didn’t believe, not fully, not immediately, but reality was definitely nibbling along the edge of his consciousness and his feet remained planted firmly on the soil of that hilltop, which meant this reunion had possibilities. The future stretched ahead, tantalizingly full.
“I’ll make it lovely for you. For us.” I lifted my eyes to his, glorying in the uncertainty that I was about to make disappear. “Because you’re here and autumn is my favorite season, my favorite project, and because I’m happy today.” Then I raised my arms for the second time and the wind became a slight, capricious breeze, arranging red and gold and scarlet leaves across the sky. “I’m good at arrangements. Do you like it?”
He touched me carefully. I whirled in a circle, arms outstretched. “I don’t break.”
“Of course not.” His voice was hoarse.
“I told you we make our living with trees. And we make autumn.” He swallowed. “This year I promised to do autumn solo. To make up for that awful wind last year that I just couldn’t help making because you dumped me and I was so unhappy.”
“The wind and the leaves are getting closer.” He shivered, seeing the approaching leaves from a corner of his eye, wishing he didn’t believe, that he didn’t know. But at last, he did.
I touched his shoulders. “I told you not to worry.” He started and then forced himself to relax. I stood on tiptoe and brushed his lips with mine. He was freezing and he was terrified. “It’s been a whole year. I think a little privacy would be nice, don’t you?”
The leaves reached us and became a multicolored wall shutting out the world. He drew back. Then he took a deep breath, tested his voice a bit, and then when he was sure he could speak, said, “You should have given that demonstration a year ago. I should have seen what you do.”
“You see now.”
He stared at me as if expecting me to float into the sky and do somersaults. I smiled gently, put a finger on his lips, and asked him a question. “Did you know that leaves are as soft as a featherbed when first they fall?”
He watched apprehensively as I dropped the finger and waved it lightly. The wall of swirling autumn leaves dissolved, the leaves dropping to the ground and arranging themselves into a huge pile. Then I giggled while I waited for him to follow my train of thought.
“Soft?” He considered me carefully as his beliefs about life and magic changed completely, and then he eyed the pile. “Featherbeds are great,” he finally said slowly. “I remember playing on one when I was a kid.” I waited patiently, happily. “And we have been apart for a long time.” His voice lost its uncertainty and his gaze on me was hungry as was mine on him and I didn’t try to hide it. “A very long time. A whole year.”
So I showed him how soft the leaves were and we settled the tree thing once and for all.