By Rebekah Postupak
Written for Finish That Thought
“Watch out for that tree!”
I must have heard that a thousand times growing up. Funny, as integrated a town as ours was, you’d think we’d have put that sort of talk long behind us. But no.
“Go back to kindergarten, bark brains.”
“Make like a tree and leaf!”
“Hey, sap-head, your roots are showing.”
A few teachers intervened half-heartedly on the dryad’s behalf. Most, however, feigned deafness, and let the bullies rule the classroom as bullies have done since the dawn of time. Truth be told, we all felt a bit unsettled by her presence at times: the dark earthiness of her voice (the rare times she spoke); her languid gait – she seemed to move through the floor rather than on top of it; and the way her thick brown hair crawled across her shoulders even with classroom windows shut tight.
One summer a few of the older kids made a game of trying to find her tree, captained by two or three of the stronger vampires and the were-dragon, for whom trees of all kinds meant nothing but kindling. But our woods were wild and deep. No matter how feverishly the hunters searched, they inevitably came back disappointed and angry, dragging soulless but bruised saplings behind them.
“You shouldn’t have done that,” said the dryad quietly.
The hunters blanched a bit at that, but after a few days passed and nothing happened, they laughed it off and resumed their searches. It eventually turned into a regular village party of sorts, with a big barbecue to kick the hunt off each time. One of the grannies (a crazy-eyed phoenix whose burning day was waaay past due) even embroidered and sold t-shirts for the event. A picture of grinning logs on a bonfire sat just above the boldfaced words: “All Fired Up.”
The dryad watched all of this silently, even as the pile of saplings the hunters brought back grew.
A lot of the rest of us were watching, too, in disgust.
“It’s just not right, what they’re doing,” I told my parents over dinner one night. “Some of my friends’ parents are talking about moving.”
“It isn’t right,” my mother agreed. “A lot of us feel that way. She’s a dryad, for pete’s sake, not a gryphon or medusa or somebody who might accidentally burn down the sweets shop.”
“I wish somebody would do something,” I grumbled. “What if they find her tree?”
But nobody ever did anything.
And they did find her tree.
Or so we assumed, since one day the hunting party didn’t return. Some people looked around town for the dryad to ask her about it, but she seemed to have vanished too.
“That’s what happens to meddlers,” said my father. “You remember that. Keep your nose clean, you’ll do fine. Let trouble-makers take care of themselves.”
End of story, we thought.
Except it turns out the dryad had been warning all of us.
We really should have watched out for that tree.
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