Friday, May 13, 2016

Free Fic Friday: The Lovers' Tree

There was no telling how old the tree was. It had been growing at the far end of the Brown family's field for generations. Tall and broad, its canopy shielded a somewhat grassy area and also a section of stream that flowed past. The trunk of the tree grew so thick that even two men hugging tightly from each side could not touch fingertips in an attempt to circle its girth. The tree itself was some sort of oak, although no one could agree on what type exactly. Even experts shrugged at trying to categorize it, and the tree tentatively held its own designation.

But aside from its height and width, and its massive canopy, and incredible age and beauty, the reason for the tree's fame came from its blessings.

The legend was older than anyone could remember, and certainly no one agreed on precisely how it came to be known, but the tree was famous throughout the entire county for knowing a good match.

Lovers came from far and near to sit hopefully on the ground beneath the branches and wait to see if something would fall from the tree. A leaf, a branch, perhaps even an acorn.

If the tree bestowed something upon the couple, their union would last the test of time.

The Brown family had the records to prove it.

And if nothing fell, then the couple had to take their chances. More likely than not, they would part ways.


"There it is. See it?" In the bright moonlight, Ned pointed to the shadowy edge of the field. In the early spring, nothing yet grew so tall as to obscure the sightlines.

"How can I miss it? It's a giant tree." Greg followed after Ned down the winding path that led along the edge of the field toward the tree.

"I told you it was still here."

"Yes, and you told me all sorts of ridiculous stories about it."

"They aren't ridiculous," Ned insisted. "They're true. That's why we're here."

"Yeah. In the middle of the night." Greg closed his eyes in frustration, misjudged his footing, and stumbled.

Ned pedaled backward and caught his arm. "Careful," he said. "Lots of shadows."

"Because it is the middle of the night!" Greg responded. "We could have done this during the day, but you wouldn't dare."

Ned stopped walking. In the moonlight, his face looked drained of vitality. "I know," he said. "I was just afraid...."

"It's fine," Greg said. "Midnight is fine. It doesn't matter to the tree when we show up, right? So it doesn't matter to us. And everyone else can keep their nosey noses out of it."

He pushed Ned forward, sorry he'd brought it up. It was a sore spot for him, because he wanted Ned to be proud of their relationship, but he certainly understood the reluctance to make a public stand. And this tree thing was just a lark, anyway. A symbol. An urban legend. Things fell out of trees randomly all the time. Greg had no doubt that the prophecies were self-fulfilling. If you believed the tree blessed your union, then you worked extra hard to make it work. If the tree didn't drop an acorn in your lap, then you harbored doubts and went looking elsewhere as soon as there was a problem.

"Now what?" Greg asked when they finally reached the tree.

"We touch the trunk and then go sit down."

"That's it? No magic words?"

"That's it," said Ned.

"Let's do it, then." Greg strode over to the trunk and put his hand against the rough bark. He waited until Ned had also touched the trunk before pulling away.

"Let's sit about halfway out, where the branches are thickest," Ned said.

Greg followed him and they sat down on the ground, which was mostly hard packed dirt with some hard-scrabble grass in patches here and there. They sat facing each other.

"How long do we need to wait?" Greg asked.

"I don't know exactly," Ned said. He looked up. "A few minutes, I guess."

They sat there for several minutes. Then they sat for a few more.

"You know, this tree isn't always right," Greg said. "It's just a superstition."

"I know. Maybe. I don't know." Ned shook his head. "It was a stupid idea, anyway."

Greg leaned forward and put his hand out to touch Ned's knee. "We don't need a tree to tell us we love--" The moment Greg's fingers touched Ned a terrible tearing sound ripped through the tree. An enormous branch dropped ten feet behind where Ned sat, thumping the ground with its weight and heft.

Ned and Greg scrambled away.

"You okay?" Greg asked.

"Fine. You?"

"Except for my heart just now jumping out of my chest, yeah, sure."

"Someone's going to hear that," Ned said, looking wild-eyed. "We need to go."

Greg clasped Ned's hand and they sprinted for the path.


"Nell?" Ambrose Brown trudged out of bed and up to the viewing belvedere that topped the roof. He'd heard a distant sound that had woken him and found the other half of the bed empty. "Nell?"

"Up here," she called back. She had the binoculars up to her eyes, but offered them when Ambrose made it to the top of the ladder. "Take a look."

Ambrose focused the lenses and looked. With the full moon, the landscape was bright enough to see most everything very clearly. "It's Ned Geldon. And some other young man." He scanned toward the stream. "And there's a full branch broken off the tree. You don't see that very often."

"These young couples think they can sneak in and won't get into the book," Nell said.

Ambrose pulled the binoculars away and watched Nell finish her entry into the leather-bound journal she kept up in the belvedere.

"Not with you on watch," Ambrose said. "Now come back to bed."

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