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Trees and Trials
“So, how about you?” Clara questioned hopefully.
A pastel-colored piece of paper hung limp in my hand like a dead, floppy animal. It was covered in illegible scrawls surrounding two huge, overcolored words: “Nature Club”. Overall, it was something a five-year-old with too many crayons would draw. “I dunno, Clara…”
Clara’s unusually happy face flipped down into a drooping frown. “C’mon, please? Why not? We really need just a couple more members.” I glanced at the sign-up sheet Clara was practically shoving down my throat. As expected, the usual dorks had put down their names, but some okay kids had, too. All girls, to no surprise. Clara’s words ran through my head again, “Why not?”
“You swear this won’t wreak havoc to my social life?” I asked skeptically.
Clara’s face brightened to its usual goodie-goodie-ness at my interest. “Of course! We just go outside for some of our classes, and maybe take some time to enjoy nature on the weekends. No obligation, you can sign up worry-free!”
Looking at Clara’s ever-so-hopeful face, I simply couldn’t say no. “Okay, fine”, I replied begrudgingly, but with a smile. Truthfully, I actually really wanted to join. I loved the outdoors, but hey, I had an image to keep up.
Tyler, my boyfriend, groaned loudly next to me. I gave him a sharp elbow in the stomach before Clara noticed his rudeness. Clara squealed, “Great! Today, 3rd hour, just tell your teacher you’re in Nature Club. Come right outside by the big willow tree. Unless you have a test or something impor-”
“Nope. I’ll see you there!” I rushed away, quickly leaving Clara and her little Nature Club stand with Tyler in tow. Arriving in English class, I dumped him in a desk next to me. “What is with you, Tyler? Couldn’t you be nice for a yoctosecond of your big-headed life?” I scolded.
“Sorry, Jessie, but you know how I feel about-” Tyler dropped to a whisper as Clara walked in, “her.”
“Who, Clara?” I exclaimed. “Sure, she’s a little less than normal, but maybe if you weren’t always such a jerk, you’d see that she’s really sweet. And I am looking forward to 3rd hour today.”
“C’mon, Jess, you don’t want to hang out with nitwits like her. Here“, he plotted, “you say you’re going to this Nature Club thing 3rd hour, me and you find a janitor’s closet somewhere, and we can-”
“No, Tyler!” I snapped when the teacher strutted into the room. “I’m going and I would appreciate it if you joined me.”
“Forget it”, said Tyler as he left for his seat. I glared at him, but he didn’t spare me another glance. His silence spoke volumes as he coldly stared ahead. The rest of English slipped by, along with 2nd hour, with not a word spoken between us.
3rd hour physics came around, and I couldn’t say I wasn’t excited. My physics teacher was pretty cross when I told her I was ditching. Heck, Mrs. Hart, my physics teacher, was always angry at me for something. Clara must have some amazing reputation among the teachers, because the moment I mentioned I was going to her club, Mrs. Hart shut right up.
I didn’t know whether I should bring anything for Nature Club, so I just grabbed a binder on a whim and rushed outside. As every student finds out on their first day at our school, there’s this mammoth willow tree that stands sentinel on the school’s border. Even though it’s a huge, old tree, it was planted not too long ago. I remember, just a few years ago, seeing this brand new tree on the way to school. I figure the city must’ve planted it there for the school to look nicer, though how they transplanted that giant, I’ll never understand. Clara and ten other people were circled around it when I arrived.
“And Jessica makes twelve!” I heard Clara announce as I took my space in the circle. “Gee, just one more person and we’d have thirteen.” Clara sighed wistfully.
“Well, I tried getting Tyler, but-”
“No need to explain, Jessie, at least you tried”, Clara consoled. “But still, one more person…” I agreed with her. There was even a perfect little gap in the circle where our hypothetical thirteenth person would sit.
“Anyway, I apologize for not telling you earlier, but you needn’t bring anything to our little meeting. I have a notebook and pencil, so I’ll be our official recorder. Now, I bring this meeting to order…”
“So, how was Hopelessly Geeky Anonymous?” Tyler sneered.
Tyler and I were walking home. We lived close to each other, so seeing each other on the way home was inevitable. Tyler hadn’t been talking to me at school, but I guess our vow of silence was now officially broken.
“It’s actually very enjoyable”, I stated, “We’re going to try and organize a schoolwide nature walk in the spring, and we’re also going boating down the river this Saturday to take pictures of wildlife. Oh, and we’re all going to bring a nature poem to the next meeting to read aloud. But I can see why you wouldn’t like it, it’s a little too civilized and friendly for you.”
“So you’re saying I’m not…” Tyler started to argue, but cut himself off. “Ok Jess, I know I’m not the classiest guy around, but when we first started dating, you didn’t mind. Ever since you started hanging out with that-, I mean, with Clara-” he corrected himself at my disapproving growl, “you’ve been so different. What’s up, babe?”
“Look, Tyler, you used to accept me for me, inner dorkiness and all, but since you started bashing on this club I’m in, it feels like you’re bashing on me.”
“No it’s not like that…” Tyler trailed off and looked aimlessly around, trying to find the right words. “It’s not that I don’t like you because you’re in Nature Club, it’s just that…that Nature Club’s all you talk about now. It’s like your life. When was the last time we did something?”
Of course, I couldn’t see my own eyes, but I’m pretty sure they glinted with the spark of an idea just then.
“Fine”, I answered, “I’ll go somewhere with you. But first you have to go somewhere with me.” I raised my eyebrows and shot Tyler a wicked grin. Tyler went from desperate to ecstatic to horrified in that last minute.
The next meeting of Nature Club was during lunch. I told Clara the morning before to expect a thirteenth person at the meeting. She recognized the mischievous smirk on my face and asked, “No Jessie, you didn’t! You…you did? You got Tyler?”
I nodded once. A similar smirk climbed onto Clara’s face. “Perfect“, she purred. “We’ll finally had a boy. We’re doing something special today, and it will go much better with a boy. By the way, you know that poem you showed me yesterday?” Since we had been planning to read our poems at today’s meeting, and I always had been a little self-conscious about my writing, I showed my poem to Clara beforehand. “Well, make sure to bring it. It’s very good.” Clara turned around and practically skipped to her class.
At lunch, Tyler plopped down next to me. “Okay, I’m ready for Nature Club.”
“Good“, I broke out into a large beaming smile. “Remember, in exchange for doing this, we’ll go to that Italian place tonight.”
“Mmm…you know I love that Italian place. It was where we had our first kiss, wasn’t it?” Tyler reminisced in a deep voice with a knowing smile. He started to lean in for a kiss, but I playfully pushed him away.
“Naughty Tyler! No kisses for you until after you do what you promised. Come on.” I couldn’t help but smile as I tugged his ear and led him outside. Clara and the rest of the club were sitting a little ways away from the willow tree, waiting for us.
“Sorry for being late. Why aren’t we at out usual meeting spot by the willow tree?” I wondered. Tyler settled down next to me, looking around disgustedly like he was surrounded by snotty kindergartners.
Clara shrugged innocently. “Trying something new, that’s all. And, Jessie, thanks again for getting us our thirteenth member. Now the circle is complete.” Tyler turned and looked at me weirdly, but I just shoved his shoulder. “Jessie, did you bring that poem?”
I pulled out a crumbled piece of paper from my pocket. “Yup.”
“Great. Tyler, would you please move to the center of the circle while Jessie reads her poem. I want to initiate our new member properly.” I’ll admit, this was a little odd, but Tyler dutifully moved to the middle of the circle as I unfolded my poem.
“Oh, Jessie, I just loved your poem!” Clara interrupted just as I cleared my throat. “Your words are absolutely…spellbinding.”
I grinned, then started my poem.
The disease of humans upon the earth
Put Nature in dismay.
Every animal thinks, “What if
Those nasty humans just…went away?”
After this first stanza, I realized everyone in the circle had joined hands. This seemed considerably strange, but what the heck? I grabbed the hand of the girl next to me and kept reading the poem in my other hand.
Every animal fled to the Mother
And cried to her in sadness.
“Let’s be rid of these dreadful people
Who only bring us badness!”
Stopping for a breath, I saw Clara, eyes tightly shut in concentration, soundlessly mouthing words. I almost stopped reading out of concern, but the poem seemed to carry me forward.
Mother, forceful as she was,
Hesitated, but at last
Rid the earth of nasty humans
In a single lovely blast
Tyler, who had been patiently sitting in the middle during the duration of the poem, gasped in surprise as his hands glowed green. By the last verse of that stanza, his entire body was glowing. He looked from me to Clara in shock.
The animals scampered away, satisfied
Only to find, to see
That every last disgusting human
Had morphed into a tree
At that last word, Tyler’s skin darkened to a chocolate brown and grew five times as thick. His hair seemed to explode in a fit of green, each hair stretching to the appearance of a leaf. The surprise in his eyes clearly announced his confusion, but he snapped out of it just long enough to shout, “Jessie, stop!”
It was too late for Tyler. The poem, or I should say, the spell had gone far enough to be unstoppable.
Mother stroked the humans trapped
In the trees she made them be,
Their only purpose to give to the earth
And live for eternity
Finally putting down the poem and taking a deep breath, I saw Tyler in his new form. He was a grand oak tree, incomprehensibly tall, and big enough around so each member could easily touch his trunk.
I don’t remember how long I sat there next to Tyler. I remember simply staring at him, then crying, shouting a little, and finally looking around to find that everyone else had left. I was both disgusted and relived about this.
The next day, Clara wasn’t at school. In my locker, I found a note that simply said, “It was for the best.” I tried venting my anger on some other Nature Club members, but they all swore they hadn’t known what Clara was up to, even the ones who utterly despised Tyler. We all agreed that we shouldn’t speak a word of what happened to Tyler to anyone else. Clara was dangerous, and we would be better off having no part in her twisted affairs.
One of the other members made a clever observation. “Remember the day the willow tree first appeared? That was the day after Clara for a detention.”
“But…I don’t remember a teacher being gone the next day”, I reasoned.
“Can you remember anything about the teacher who gave Clara detention?” The other member pressed. I tried recalling that day, and I did remember Clara coming into class late, but I couldn’t remember the teacher who apprehended her. I couldn’t even remember what the class was, of what time of day it was. The other member took the confusion and horror in my eyes as a ‘no’. “Neither can I.”
Despite his new form, I believe Tyler still has a lot of human in him. The days after the horrific incident, I realized he didn’t act like a normal tree. During the couple of days that followed the incident, he always seemed to be shaking or moving just slightly, like a child shivers with fear, even when there wasn’t the slightest wind. The first day I visited him after school, ignoring the strange looks my classmates gave me, he stopped quivering and settled down once I came near. I talked to him, about nothing in particular, hopefully easing his boredom. I swear, when I kissed him goodbye, I saw a tear of sap run down his trunk.
“I promised we would have an Italian dinner”, I whispered to Tyler, “So…enjoy.”
I sat a plate of spaghetti and a fork between us. “I know, it’s not much, but I couldn’t exactly walk here with a three-course meal, could I?” Instead of laughing at my lame joke, I cried, finally completely breaking down.
Maybe I imagined it, but I felt a comforting hand on my shoulder and heard the words, “It’s all right, Jess” from a voice I hadn’t heard in a while, but recognized all too well. That was when I decided that I had to do something.
I spread the word. I was surprised how few people even noticed the new gargantuan tree. Whenever I could, I tried showing people that this new tree could think and had a soul by having Tyler rain down certain numbers of leaves on command. I don’t know what I was trying to accomplish by telling people, I just knew that Tyler’s story had to be heard.
I had just started convincing people when Clara showed up. I remember breathlessly watching her striding through the school’s front doors purposefully, searching for me. Some teachers glanced at her, then stared at her with empty expressions. Every student Clara passed obtained the same blank expression, and I could tell even the people I had just convinced forgot everything about the tree named Tyler.
I remember gazing into Clara’s furious eyes, following her outside, then feeling an enormous sense of growth.
My tree stands outside the school, right next to the oak tree. Though we grew at different times, our branches are forever locked in an impossibly intricate embrace. Our trunks are right next to each other, both with self-induced engravings that, together, read:
J and T
Now we can be
For all eternity