“Seriously,” Ruby said to her BFF Krystal, “What are we doing out here?”
“Having fun,” Krystal said as she pulled Ruby by the arm toward the large crowd of gathered young people.
Ruby pulled her friend close and whispered, “It doesn’t seem like a lot of fun. It sounds boring.”
“You, Ruby, darlin’, never had enough fun as a child. So, we’re going to do something different and fun. I think you’ll like it. Besides, you need to get out more. When was the last time you had a date?”
“Six months,” Ruby sighed, “When you-know-who dumped me.”
“This is exactly why you need to get out and do something different, meet different people, get your mind off that no-good-for-nothing ex of yours.”
“Let’s go back. I’m just not into this,” Ruby complained.
“Shhh, shhh, she’s starting. I’ve heard this storyteller before. She’s good.”
They sat down cross-legged on the meadowy ground. The sky was a bright blue against a backdrop of a massive forest.
An older woman in Bohemian-style garb stood and lifted her arms to the sky. She dropped her arms and pulled her full skirt outward before twirling around in a circle. She placed an index finger to her mouth and began to talk in exaggerated tones:
There is a legend of which I speak that few know of. The forest right behind us is full of magical happenings. I am about to tell the tale of an enchanted tree inhabited by small ones. Pixie-like people . . .
Ruby placed the back of her hand to her forehead and feigned a collapse. “Oh, the drama.”
Krystal glared at her, “Be quiet. It’s a story. Shhh . . . just listen,” she scolded.
Ruby scanned the crowd. Her gaze stopped at a handsome dark-haired man to their left. He seemed as bored as she did. Just at that moment he turned to look at her. Wow she thought. She smiled a shy smile at him. He held his closed fist above his ear, tilted his head and stuck out his tongue. He mouthed the words “Kill me now.” Ruby chuckled.
Ruby returned her attention to the speaker.
. . . this sprite of love is said to inhabit the enchanted tree of true love. For the lucky few who search for and find favor with the sprite of love, it will cause the tree to reveal its power for bringing together true lovers. Only a fortunate few are bestowed the gift of the tree of true love.
The speaker closed her eyes, brought her hands artfully up to just below her chin, and bowed her head to the crowd before walking off.
“I think I missed part of the story,” Ruby said, “Tell me about the tree of true love.”
“See, I told you that you’d like this,” Krystal said, “No one knows where the tree is but it is large and the base of it opens up into a heart shape when your true love appears. Then, it closes up again so only those called to it will find it.”
A strange sensation of warmth moved throughout Ruby’s body, and she felt a strong compulsion.
She turned to Krystal, “I have to use the restroom. I’ll be right back.”
She quickly got up. “It’s more like an outhouse, over there,” Krystal called after her.
Ruby found a row of latrines and stood studying them for a moment. Why did she say that? She didn’t need the facilities. She walked around behind them and found a dirt path, leading into the woods. Before she could stop herself, she was on the path walking toward the trees.
She had been walking in the woods for about 30 minutes when she saw an enormous tree with an opening in its base. The opening was shaped like a heart. With lush green flora in its interior.
“Whoa,” came a voice behind her. A male voice.
She turned to see the same man she had seen earlier who she had locked eyes with. He smiled broadly, “Never seen anything like that before.”
“I don’t know why the storyteller said it was hard to find. This path brought me right here.”
“Me too. Hi,” the man said, holding out his hand in handshake gesture, “I’m Rory.”
“Ruby,” she said shaking his hand. “So, you decided to come look for it too, huh?”
“Yes,” Rory said, “I got this really weird feeling like I needed to find it. Can’t say why, but I’m glad I did.” He smiled broadly at Ruby.
Ruby could’ve stayed forever in the company of that smile, but she remembered how long she had been away. “I need to get back to my friend. She will be wondering what happened to me.”
“May I join you on your walk back?” Rory responded quickly to her.
“I’d love the company. Please join me.”
They started down the path. They hadn’t gotten 10 feet when they heard a whooshing sound. Like wind, but more distinct. They both turned back toward the sound.
In the place where the opening had been was a solid tree trunk. No hint of scar or blemish. They turned back toward one another, eyes wide, mouths open.
“Did you see that?” Rory said.
“Am I seeing things?” Ruby responded to his question with her own.
They both looked back at the large tree. It stood, tall and magnificent, no sign of the heart-shaped opening.
“I think I want to get away from here,” Ruby said, grabbing for Rory’s hands, “That is just too weird.”
“I’m sure there is a plausible explanation,” Rory said, taking her hand with both of his.
“Yes . . . a plausible . . . explanation. I’m sure.”
“Maybe we should just keep this to ourselves,” he said.
“Yes, definitely,” she said as they hurried down the path and out of the forest. The forest with a surreal tree in its midst. Maybe, if the legend was really true, she thought, they might tell their grandchildren one day.
Copyright 2023, Monica Nelson