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by Shari L. Klase
Doug flew to the tree. The feeling when he was in the midst of the branches was almost an epiphany; a realization that he truly belonged somewhere to something. That discovery wasn’t in the least bit constraining. Instead, it freed him. “Come on, Ash. Let’s head for our tree fort,” Doug called out, almost out of breath as he made a beeline for his most favorite place in the entire world.
“Me first,” Ash yelled out as he pushed Doug out of the way and raced ahead. Ash grabbed hold of the trunk roughly and pulled himself up into the canopy.
“You better get out of that tree. You know I’m President. That means I’m first.” It was Doug’s tree. That naturally meant he was president.
“I don’t care,” Ash said. “I’ll climb the stupid tree first if I want to.” Just like that Ash crashed to the ground. He lay there crumpled, the tree hovering arrogantly above him.
There was no reason for it. Ash was a great tree climber. In fact, he’d climbed this tree many times before. Just a freak accident. Accidents happen every day. Ash broke his leg, and they didn’t play together as much after that and, of course, never in the tree fort. It was the end of an era. Still, it didn’t change Doug’s affinity for the tree.
Now here he was years later at his special hideaway with Aspen. Doug pulled Aspen closer to him. He folded his arms around her and pressed his lips against hers. She shivered. But it wasn’t a reaction to the kiss. It was the creepy feeling that had come over her as they stood underneath the tree. The tree shook and its leaves and branches rustled malevolently, or so it seemed to her.
“Why did you bring me here, Doug? I don’t like this place.”
Doug frowned. “It’s my favorite spot. It always has been. I built tree forts here when I was a kid. This tree has seen me through some of the best times of my life and the worst, too.”
“Oh, so you’re a tree hugger.” Aspen laughed. “I knew you were one of those wackos that think that trees are like people.”
“This coming from someone that talks to a cat named Willykims.”
“Well, a cat is alive.”
“And my tree isn’t?”
“Oh, so now it’s your tree.” She punched him playfully. But at that instant something slashed violently at her face. Her hand flew up and she felt a nasty cut. “Oww, why did you do that, Doug? I was only kidding.”
“Do what? I didn’t do anything.”
“C’mon, that’s not funny. You smacked me on the face because I was teasing you about the tree.”
Doug was irritated. “That’s stupid.”
“Oh, so now I’m stupid.” Aspen whirled around and pushed herself against the tree. It seemed to vibrate unsteadily. She stumbled a bit.
“Not you. You’re not stupid. But you think I’d hit you because you insulted my tree?”
“Insulted? This is crazy. I don’t even want to talk about it anymore. It doesn’t like me.”
Doug rolled his eyes while at the same time he turned her body to face his. “Now who’s crazy? You think my tree doesn’t like you.”
“Will you quit saying ‘my tree’? You’re giving me the spooks.” Aspen backed up and tripped over a tree root. She fell backwards and tumbled to the ground. “Ouch.”
Doug bent down and grabbed her arm. “Here. Let me help you up.”
“See? Look what it did to me.” She showed him her skinned elbow.
“Really, Aspen? You’re actually going to blame the tree, because you’re clumsy?”
Aspen stumbled to her feet, glaring at him. “Okay, I’m done here. I hope you and your tree friend have a great day together.”
“Aspen!” Doug called, exasperated. But she had stormed off. He didn’t feel like running after her. What was wrong with her anyway? Getting all uptight about a tree. He looked up at it. It was magnificent. Shining leaves fanned out protectively over his head. He always felt a certain kinship with this tree, like it was his safety net.
Doug turned around. Aspen was just being petty. Girls were always trying to assert their dominance. He slid down against the tree and sat resting his back against it. A feeling of peace and tranquility enveloped him. He often nodded off just like this.
“I’m in love with you.” Doug startled and stood. Had he heard somebody say that or was it a dream?
“Aspen?” he called out. The leaves swooshed savagely but there was no wind. Aspen was nowhere to be seen.
“Do you love me?” The words lingered, whisper-like in the air. Doug took a few steps away from the tree. “Don’t go,” the voice pleaded. Branches, fat with leaves, closed around him, encircling him gently but tightly. “You don’t need her. You need me.”
“Who are you?” Doug asked.
“You know who I am. You’ve always known.” A leaf blade played around his forehead, soothingly.“I can offer you what you’ve always wanted.”
“I’m not sure what that is.”
He knew it was true. Leafy vines intertwined with his arms. There was no escape. A perfumed aroma from the tree’s blossoms overwhelmed him. Constricting and contracting, the tree clasped Doug to its bosom until at last they were at one.
Shari L Klase lives in a beautiful Susquehanna River town which is a tree city. She loves trees. She has one of her own and almost considers it as a member of her family. She has written many stories with trees playing a crucial part in the story, including “Tree of Life” that she wrote previously for the Photo Flare Contest.