The Power of Wood
Copyright © 2014 by Michael Litzky
Sally saw Lavinia watching her with concern. “You saw something, didn’t you?”
That hauntingly familiar scream had cut off so suddenly that it seemed to echo through the forest. As Sally straightened from her defensive crouch, she saw the tall heavyset man quickly wheeling the old mid-western woman away from the display they’d been looking at, murmuring, “Shhh. C’est bon, grand-mère.”
A French man with a mid-western grandma, she thought, distractedly. Another story I’ll never know.
She still felt an absurd sense of loss that she couldn’t see the little fairy now that her eyes were open. Unless the sun on the whirling dust motes was a little brighter in one particular spot?
“I heard something, heard that, that fucking scream again,” she said, and realized there was an actual lump in her throat. In a tiny voice she said, “But I thought I saw, I almost saw the little fairy from my dre-he-heamsss,” and was crying quietly in Lavinia’s arms. Lavinia stroked her hair, kissed her wet cheeks. How I’ve changed, she realized. The old Sally Yan would have been horrified to break down in tears over something like this.
“Babe, babe, it’s okay, shhh, it’s okay.” How sweet, how incredibly sweet to be held while you cried. Oh, I’m so lucky to have this.
Lavinia went on, “Hey, I’m a vampire. I took you flying again just a couple of days ago. You think I’m gonna have any trouble believing you saw a fairy?”
“I didn’t really see anything,” she said with bittersweet sorrow. “Just, when my eyes were closed and I was asking to come in, oh I saw her so clearly with my eyes closed.”
She finished crying. Lavinia held her loosely; she leaned back in her arms and looked up at Lavinia’s eyes, those amazing deep blue violet eyes. “You didn’t see anything?” she confirmed.
“No, kid, sorry. But you did. She was there. I believe you.”
“I love you,” Sally whispered to the beloved face before her, and to the little fairy who might be just at the edge of sight. “Come on, let’s find a tree for you to hug.”
There was certainly no shortage of trees. Across the plaza from the display rings, a forest giant stood just on the other side of wooden fencing which was polished smooth and even a bit sticky. Walking up to the tree, they could see that some of the rusty-looking bark had pulled away from the hard shiny wood beneath.
Just before she could say, “Hey, try hugging this one here,” a couple of young men talking in either German or Dutch came up behind them and Sally felt her face turn red. She leaned with elaborate nonchalance against the railing and waited for them to pass.
But Lavinia, unconcerned, reached out a hand, molded it to the folds of soft fraying red bark where redwood needles had collected. She cocked her head as if listening, a movement so like the little fairy’s that Sally’s heart leapt.
It came to Sally that the little face had looked like Lavinia’s! But as she thought about it, the small face had also looked Chinese, like a picture she had seen only once of her mother as a girl. And she could also swear that she’d seen green, glittering eyes, like Cinnamon’s (oh, that sweet cat!) so long ago. Had she actually just realized anything?
Lavinia leaned forward, put her ear against the trunk. “There’s something. It’s faint…” She listened while Sally’s thoughts raced. “Naw, too faint. Let’s find another one, one not right up against a fence.”
They passed tree after tree until the boardwalk ended and an asphalt trail went on. A side trail climbed steeply up a set of steps to their right. A sign called it the Ocean View trail, explaining that there actually was no ocean view until you’d climbed a couple of miles.
About fifty feet ahead an enormous redwood actually extended its roots under the asphalt and made it ripple. There was no fence. They would walk right up and hug it. But as they got near, they saw the two young men, talking to a ranger in an electric cart. Sally’s face burned red again.
Then she realized the young men were asking, as if it were the most natural thing in the world, “Say, is zere a place ve can actually hug a tree?”
And the ranger answered with good humor, “You can hug ‘em anywhere you like, long as you don’t leave the trail. I’d cross the river at the bridge just back there? There are trees you can actually walk inside.” Lavinia gave Sally a nudge and a wink and turned to walk back to the bridge.
As Sally turned to follow, a ghostly face gleamed from the tree behind the ranger.
Heart pounding, she turned back and looked closer.
Some of the roots were above ground, flowing from the tree’s base like a knobby wooden river. One large bulge in a patch of sun had a pair of holes like eyes, one glaring hollowly, the other half closed in a contemplative wink. Below them, two slits in a brown circle seemed to be an skeletal nose. For an instant, the illusion was perfect of a vampire-like face emerging from the living wood. But when she stepped forward to look closer, the perspective shifted and the illusion was gone. She shivered.
Lavinia was halfway across the bridge waiting for her, standing in shade. Sally hurried and caught up with her.
On the other side of the river, Sally soon saw that the trees had been touched too much. The bark up to the height that a stretched hand could reach was lighter in color and smoother than the bark anywhere else on the trees. Lavinia laid a hand on tree after tree and her face crinkled, like someone trying to catch whispered words in a noisy room.
“These trees all see too many people,” she finally announced. “They’ve been loved and spat on and laughed at and hated and hacked at with pen knives and hugged. Babe, come on, let’s find us a tree or two that doesn’t get touched so much.”
“That side trail, steep with no view of the ocean…?”
“Just what I was thinking.”
Less than a hundred feet up the side trail, they left behind all trace of other people. Lavinia brushed her hand along trunks they passed, murmuring, “Clearer, a little clearer. What is it, though?”
After the initial stairway, the Ocean View trail wasn’t steep at all. It meandered through a hillside forest and around an elbow where a tiny stream passed underneath. Sally realized how happy she was walking hand in hand with Lavinia, whose face was both rapturous and confused. When Sally touched any of the sturdy old trees and felt their bark cool under her fingertips, she only got a sense of great age and quiet, slow thinking.
At last, Lavinia turned and walked off the trail. She scampered (and Sally struggled) up a steep slope littered with thick beds of fallen needles and springing boughs. Sally reminded herself that she didn’t need to be jealous of the easy way Lavinia almost ran while she panted and sweated. But she was about to call, “Time out, babe, jeez!” when they emerged in a sloping circle of ancient giants.
Sally put her hands on her knees and gasped. But Lavinia, eyes shining, walked up to the biggest of the forest giants. She hesitated, like a child about to open a birthday gift which might be the thing she’d been craving for weeks but would probably be just socks or pajamas.
Then she flung her arms wide, embraced that mighty trunk, rubbed her cheek against it, made a tiny sound of happiness. Sally saw her eyes become huge.
“You got it that time?” Sally asked, when Lavinia said nothing further.
Lavinia turned to her slowly, mouth open.
A splinter of wood, just large enough to be visible, was jammed into her left index finger.
Is it only wood that can kill you? And is it any specific kind of wood? Oak, ash, cherry, redwood, mahogany? And is it only through the heart? What happens if a vampire gets a brain injury from wood? What happens if you get a splinter?
As Sally scrambled through nightmarishly shifting forest litter, Lavinia crumpled slowly to the ground.
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