The Recollection of Trees
by Sadie Francis Skyheart
Genre: YA Paranormal Fantasy
Iona Dickinson doesn't know she's a witch...until she unknowingly makes a deadly wish that reopens a 300-year-old curse on her family. Torn between conflicting beliefs of family and friends, Iona must risk losing all of them as she gains self-acceptance in The Recollection of Trees.
First published by Bibbety Bobbety Books, LLC 2019 Copyright © 2019 by Sadie Francis Skyheart
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, scanning, or otherwise without written permission from the publisher. It is illegal to copy this book, post it to a website, or distribute it by any other means without permission.
This novel is entirely a work of fiction. The names, characters and incidents portrayed in it are the work of the author's imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or localities is entirely coincidental.
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For the brave hearts who choose life closer to their edge, free from the numb illusion of “normal”.
The moon draws her to the willow tree, Connects her to an ancient power.
A desperate wish will set her free, Spellbound by the witching hour.
-Sadie Francis Skyheart
I couldn’t take it anymore. Every nerve in my body anticipated the slightest movement in the hallway. I could hear a TV audience clapping in the distance, which meant my stepfather Richard was probably sleeping in front of the television downstairs. He usually slept like a saint after one of our fights. I’d had enough. Mom cried every day since she lost the baby. I folded laundry and made dinner every day. I loaded the dishwasher every evening. She barely got out of bed for two months. I even raked the leaves because Richard sure wasn’t going to do any of it. She never asked if I had homework. My first term report card posted and she didn’t notice I had straight A’s. I guess the miscarriage did something to her—it was like she couldn’t be a mother anymore. She unplugged from everything and everyone. Once, she left canned soup on the stove so long it set off the smoke alarm. The soup pot was so scorched I had to throw it out. And another time she left ice cream melting in the cereal cupboard. I understood her grief even though I resented it at times. As awful as her withdrawal from life was, I could’ve lived with it. I’d mothered her before. The problem was her husband. Richard hated not being the center of Mom’s world and without her codependent attention, his temper became dangerous. He took his frustration out on me. I was the thorn in my stepfather’s side, the proof that Mom once loved another man. Richard had always resented her first love, as if her life should’ve started the moment he came into it. Her first love was Rowan Dickinson, my elusive father.
“Mom?” I whispered, but there was no answer. I pictured her there, asleep in the tub with the water running. It felt inevitable that one day soon she would fade completely from my grasp. I caught my breath—what if she’d slipped beneath the surface? I imagined her gone from me in the way I feared more and more lately. I opened the bathroom door and breathed a sigh of relief. Just another bath she’d started and abandoned. I tiptoed across the tiles to shut off the water just as it reached the edge of the tub. I left the stopper in the drain and turned to check the bathroom mirror. The damage was pretty bad this time. A thumb-sized bruise was forming on my cheek where Richard had squeezed my face when he was yelling. My eyes were still red and puffy from crying, making them seem greener than usual. I would be able to hide most of it with makeup, except for my swollen lip. I reached up to take down my ponytail, wincing at the pain in abdomen. I lifted up my t-shirt to check my ribs. A bruise was already forming a couple of inches above the waistband of my pajama pants. I’d have to wear my hair down for a few days to hide the scratches on the side of my neck. But I couldn’t let it happen again. The back of my neck prickled. Lightning flashed outside. In the mirror, a cloaked woman moved along the wall behind me. I gasped and spun around. No one was there. My breath became quick and shallow. I splashed water on my face to calm my racing heart. Downstairs, the TV audience laughed again. I dried my face and hung up the towel. Thunder rumbled in the distance. I set my jaw and went to check on mom. Her bedroom door was ajar. She snored lightly in a small pile of used tissues, exhausted from crying next to the empty crib. I held my breath even though it hurt my ribs, and crept past her room toward the stairs. I took my time down the stairs, careful to avoid the creaky spots in the wooden floorboards. There was no way for me to get to the hall closet without being seen, so I slipped out the back door without my jacket or shoes. I stood on the back porch for a moment, letting the damp October air clear my thoughts. Under the reddish full moon, the house cast a long shadow across the lawn. My socks dampened as I crossed the grass to the old willow tree at the edge of our yard. I parted the long branches and stepped into my sacred space. It was the only place on earth where I felt calm. No shaky hands. No panicky feelings. No pounding heart or racing thoughts. No anxiety. No fear. I rubbed my hands up and down my bare arms to keep from shivering. Lightning flashed overhead, followed by a low rumble of distant thunder. The wind picked up, rippling the leaves around me. I exhaled, letting out a shallow breath. Inside the safety of the willow, my tears flowed, dotting my long night shirt. I’d cried so many times under my tree that I sometimes wondered if it was my tears that made its branches weep. Crying hurt my bruised ribs and swollen lip.
The pain made it all too easy to summon my anger. I let the rage fill me, releasing it in a torrent of half-choked words punctuated by sobs. “I…h-h-hate h-him. I wish he would just leave. I wish he would get in the car and never come back!” Lightning streaked the sky. A crack of thunder broke overhead. Startled, I threw my arms around the dewy tree trunk. Warm reprieve pulsed from deep inside the tree, filling every part of me. Soothing. Promising me something I didn’t understand. I didn’t know it yet, but there was no turning back.
I weave my way through the chaotic Harmony High School parking lot, past students dressed for Friday night activities. It’s already an unusually warm October weekend. My eyes can’t take the blinding daylight. I unzip my backpack to dig out a pair of dark sunglasses. I’m not normal, so I try hard to be invisible—head down, drab long-sleeved shirt, and heavy black combat boots—yet somehow, the very act of trying to hide in my own shadow seems to draw attention. A hair stylist once told me I’d be “alluring in a dark and exotic way” if I dressed more like a girl. I still don’t know how to take that. A few heads turn as I walk past. Ashlynn and the other cheerleaders whisper to each other. A couple of football players try for a better look at the weird girl. I shy away from all of them, desperate to disappear. I’m desperate to get into the car and be safe and unseen. Dyllan waves at me from behind the wheel of his yellow hatchback. He checks his dark hair in the rear view mirror, then puts on a pair of mirrored sunglasses. He opens the door and fans it back and forth. It’s hot and he’s miserable, so I step up the pace. “Heads up!” someone yells. A stray foot-bag smacks into my nose, launching my sunglasses from my face. The shock of the sun in my eyes blinds me. I fall against the hood of a sedan and the contents of my unzipped backpack spill onto the pavement. I steady myself with one hand and pinch my nose with the other. Thankfully, it’s not bleeding. I have a long history of bloody noses. I’m scrambling after a lipstick tube before it rolls under the car when Jasen Booker skateboards over to retrieve the foot-bag. He’s cute, but he’s one of The Jerx. A tousle of thick, copper hair falls in his eyes. “Are you okay?” he asks, grabbing the foot-bag. His dark eyes convey genuine concern. There’s no malice or teasing in his gaze, which makes it worse. Such concern is something I don’t know how to receive. I can feel my face redden. I try to wave him away. “I don’t need rescuing.” My words come out too angry. I can’t take it back. I wish I could. He doesn’t leave and I feel stupid bending over in front of him. I catch the lipstick and toss it into my bag. Jasen reaches under the sedan for my sunglasses. The frame is bent and one of the lenses is popped out. He hands me the two pieces. It’s a peace offering. “Here. Sorry, man.” “How chivalrous.” The bitter words escape on their own, and I shrink as I hear them. I snatch the pieces of my sunglasses and dump them into my bag. Jasen steps back, hands up in the air. “Hey, I was just trying to help.” “Well, I wouldn’t need your help if you’d be more careful.” “Whatever,” Jasen dismisses my bad mood. Dyllan is standing halfway out of the driver’s side, watching me. My heart skips into my throat. I force myself to appear pleasant and aloof. I wave at Dyllan, deliberately ignoring Jasen. I step past him between two parked cars, glimpsing my fallen paperback copy of Romeo & Juliet on the pavement. I reach for the book. A vintage hearse brakes hard to avoid hitting me. I jump back. He stops short of running over Romeo & Juliet. I can feel Dyllan’s eyes on me. Anyone who wasn’t already watching me after the foot-bag hit me in the face is now gawking. I wait and then pointedly wave the hearse on. I’m pissed and I’m not risking that again. The hearse doesn’t move. The driver’s window lowers. His dark blue eyes are lined in black. I can’t tell if he’s stoned or wearing too much makeup. Maybe that’s the point. “Watch where you’re going, Girl. I almost flattened you. What do you have? A death wish?” He opens his door and bends to pick up my book at the same moment I reach for it. Our fingertips brush and a bluish spark pricks me. “Ow!” I recoil from the static electricity. I’m twice as angry now. “You’re the one driving a freaking death-mobile like some kind of bat out of hell! Pedestrians have the right of way, you creep.” This time, I don’t cringe at the words coming out of my mouth. He smiles slowly, the book in his hand. He raises one amused eyebrow and hands it over. “Well then, by all means.” He tips his gray plaid fedora, revealing a dark, messy pompadour. “You first, M’Lady.” I snatch my book from him and drop it into my bag, rolling my eyes. He flounces back into the driver’s seat and slams the door. “M’Lady? Really? Are you pretending to have manners now, Pig?” I can’t stand his air of superiority. What an arrogant smirk. His grin fades to a scowl. As I cross in front of the hearse, he revs the engine. I stop to glare at him. He lets off on the gas and I take my sweet time crossing to Dyllan’s car. Dyllan gets back into the driver’s side as I toss my bookbag on the floor and flop into the front seat. I slam the door. My fingertips still sting a bit from the static electricity. “Apparently I can’t cross a parking lot without risking my life. First I’m smacked in the face with a bean bag and—can you believe that guy in the hearse?” I fume. “I mean, who drives a freaking hearse?” “Oh, it’s that new guy from up north. Total weirdo.” Dyllan answers me as if it was a real question. “I guess he killed at swim team tryouts though.” “Killed? Really?” I smirk. “Ha! You slay me,” he impersonates a late-night TV host. I roll my eyes.“I seriously loathe everyone at this stupid high school.” “Everyone?” Dyllan teases me. Normally he can make me laugh. Not today. “You know what I mean. Not you.” I click my seat belt. “What a jerk.” “Speaking of Jerx—Jasen Booker talked to you?” Dyllan wants a report on every word, but I’m not up for it. “Woohoo. The king of the daredevils talked to me.” I sarcastically celebrate. I have to compliment the shift from jerk to Jerx though. “However, expert level segue.” “I thought so,” Dyllan smiles. He tries the ignition, but the engine sputters and coughs. It’s a minor miracle when it catches. Apparently today isn’t one of its better days. Dyllan turns the key again. “C’mon, start.” The car sputters to life on the third try. Dyllan’s face lights up. “Trusty ol’ Yellow Submarine!” He’s beaming. He’s so happy, I feel the hard edges soften. “Rusty is more like it.” The corners of my mouth turn up. “Or crusty,” I love insulting his old car. Not that I really mean it. “Hey—The Sub might not be pretty but at least I’ve got wheels,” he smirks. He’s right. Without it, where would I be? Stuck riding the bus with awful Ashlynn Buckley. He fans himself. “Whew. It definitely doesn’t feel like October. Sorry the AC’s still broken.” Dyllan presses the window buttons, but one of the back ones sticks halfway. “Seriously?” he groans. He presses again, but the window won’t budge. Dyllan swears in Arabic under his breath. I wipe my forehead with my sleeve. “What’s with the long sleeves, Iona?” Dyllan asks. “It’s pushing 90 degrees.” He waits for me to answer but I don’t. “Is that why you canceled last night? You were supposed to bring a creature movie.” “Creature feature.” He knows why. I know that he knows why, and I’m not discussing it. “I’d like to break his legs.” Dyllan grits his teeth as he shifts the car into Reverse. “Can we talk about anything else?” I know he means well, but it makes me feel helpless. Dilly and I became best friends in elementary school. He made sure I wasn’t picked last for teams in gym and always sat next to me on the bus. We traded lunches—his hummus and tabbouleh for my boring PB & J—and I helped him with his homework. We started to drift apart when Dilly made it onto the varsity basketball team freshman year. After he led the team to the state finals, practically every girl in school developed a crush on him, and things just got a little weird between us. Still, he’s been a loyal friend through all of Mom’s bad relationships. “Watch out! Don’t hit The Jerx!” I yell. Dyllan brakes as several boys skateboard behind us toward the infamous Voodoo Van—a white van spray painted with Dia de los Muertos style skulls and punk band names. Dyllan waves out the window. “Sorry, Jasen!” Jasen Booker coasts past with a thumbs up. He grins, thoroughly nonplussed. His copper hair catches the sun like a scene from a movie. “Dilly, you almost paralyzed my future husband!” I joke. “Oh, when’s the wedding?” Dyllan laughs. He takes it slow out of the parking space. I laugh too, until I remember I don’t want to go home alone. Especially after last night. Dyllan puts The Sub into Drive and it lurches forward, leaving puffs of black smoke as we exit the school parking lot. Dark clouds are forming in the distance in the direction of our neighborhood. “Do you still need help studying for the French test? Maybe we can stop at Babcia’s for some paczkis on the way to my house?” Dyllan shakes his head. “I’m sorry. Not ‘til Sunday, Habibte. We’re leaving right after the game tonight. Heading to Dearborn for my cousin Sam’s wedding tomorrow.” “Oh gawd,” I wave my hand. “Nothing like a big Lebanese wedding.” In truth, I envy his big, boisterous family. “Which ‘cousin Sam’ is getting married? Hassan, Hussein, or Sameer?” “Guess again,” Dyllan chuckles. “Samshad.” The Sub sputters at a stop sign and threatens to die. Dyllan slips the gear shift into Park and guns the gas. A large black cloud comes from the back of the car and floats away behind us. I cough and wave imaginary smog away from my face. “Nice.” Dyllan shakes his head. “I was gonna ask you to be my date to the wedding, Habibte, but since you’re hatin’ on The Sub—” “Oh yeah, I’m sure Dr. Shahloub would love that.” I rub my temples. Dyllan’s mother is very traditional. I’m sure she expects him to marry a nice Lebanese girl. The sun pierces through the dark clouds. I shield my eyes. Dyllan removes his sunglasses and hands them to me. For a moment, I get lost in his golden eyes. I grab his sunglasses and put them on before he notices. He misreads my look. “What? My mom likes you.” I poke him in the shoulder. “Since when?” “She likes when you help me study,” he insists, “and my dad adores you.” Dyllan smiles at me, shifting back into Drive. “I guess it’s prom, then.” “Oh please? I’ve always wanted to go to the ball.” I flutter my eyelashes. I do my best to hide that I secretly yearn to go anywhere remotely romantic with him. The sun disappears behind the dark clouds. My phone dings. It’s a text from my mother. Mom | 3:01 p.m. | Prison called Richard in for a double shift. I’m dropping him off then running errands. Please start dinner by 5:30. Great. So Dyllan’s got family stuff to do all weekend and after his basketball game I’ll be stuck at home. “Sounds like a normal Friday,” I groan. Outside, rain starts hitting the roof of the car. I glance out, wondering if it’s going to cool things off. “Aww, Habibte, I’m sure there’s a noir flick with your name on it.” Dyllan smiles, trying to console me. For a moment, I can’t think about what he’s saying, I’m caught in the text. I sit back in the car seat and sigh. I’ll start dinner but I’m going to make something I like. Dyllan signals and turns The Sub onto my street. By the time we reach the first mailbox, he’s got the windshield wipers on the highest speed. Thunder rumbles overhead and the dark purple sky opens up. I can’t help feeling like the storm is only hanging over my house.
The weather siren begins wailing as we park in the driveway. The branches of my willow tree wave against the ominous sky. The rain smells strange. Is it sulfur? We hurry out of Dyllan’s car under a torrential downpour. I find myself stopping to lift my face up toward it. It feels like…reverence. “Habibte, what’re you doing? Yalla!” Dyllan pulls at my arm. “Hurry!” I shake my head. I’m getting wet. Why am I just standing here? I run for the house. We throw ourselves through the door, drenched to the bone and dripping everywhere. “It came out of nowhere!” Dyllan’s eyes are wide, but I feel strangely exhilarated. We drop our backpacks by the door and rush through the kitchen toward the stairs. A handwritten note in Mom’s slanted cursive is stuck to the refrigerator. I snatch it and follow Dyllan down the stairs to the laundry room. I grab a couple of clean towels from the pile I folded this morning. We dry off as much as we can and sit on the braided area rug in front of the washer and dryer. I’m breathless and shivering. Dyllan pretends to be unfazed, but I can see goosebumps on his arms and his face has gone pale. The wind howls, kicking up debris at the house. A crash of thunder startles me. The power flickers. I bend my head, trying to read Mom’s note. Clothes are in the dryer. Please make meatloaf & potatoes so there will be leftovers for Richard’s lunch tomorrow. “Seriously? Why do we always only eat what he likes?” I complain. Dyllan shrugs, his thumbs tapping out a quick text to his mom. I crumple the note and throw it across the room. Secretly I’m hopeful. She started the laundry and that might mean she’s done sleeping all the time. “Aw, crap!” he shakes his phone. “No connection. The towers must be down. My mom’s gonna freak.” Dyllan drops his phone into his lap when his message won’t send. “Ugh. Is there a weather radio down here so we can find out what’s going on?” I stand up to flick on the radio on the metal utility shelf next to the washer. “…until further notice. Repeat. Please be advised that the National Weather Service issued a tornado warning at 3:04 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time for central and southeast Michigan, due to multiple reports of funnel clouds in the area. Expect heavy rain and wind up to sixty miles per hour, as well as damaging hail. Anyone in the listening area should seek shelter immediately, in a basement or facing away from windows. Repeat.Seek shelter immediately.” “We need to sit over there by the wall, away from the windows,” Dyllan points. His hand is shaking. He’s really rattled. For some reason I’m not. I open the storm box to get a blanket, then sit on the floor facing the corner with my back to the windows. He scoots across the rug next to me until our knees are touching. My heart skips a little bit with Dyllan so close to me. He’s always been my best friend. Lately I’ve been wanting more. I look at him, but don’t know what to say—and the weather siren starts blaring again. Big drops of rain splatter against the basement windows as the sky darkens to purplish green. Lightning fills the room with blinding white for a moment. Thunder shakes the house. “The storm is right on top of us!” Dyllan shouts over the downpour. A thick tree root smashes through one of the basement windows, scattering shards of glass towards us. Dyllan crowds me under the blanket. Sticks and leaves swirl around us. The lights flicker off, then back on. He begins singing a Lebanese lullaby to try to keep us calm, but I can only see his lips moving. He is drowned out by the roaring wind. Lightning flashes. Pieces of a neighbor’s grill tumble in through the broken window. A metal spatula spins past the tree root, nearly missing Dyllan’s face. “Keep your head covered!” I shout. My heart feels like it’s going to leap out of my throat. With the blanket pulled over our heads, sweat drips off my forehead. My wet hair sticks to my cheeks. Cold rain comes in sideways through the broken window, soaking through the blanket, and my clothes. Lightning flashes again, followed by another clap of thunder. We can’t hold on. The wind rips the blanket from our fingers, sucking it across the room into the tree roots. Dyllan grips me in terror, shouting something into the wind, but the storm is a freight train, barreling through the basement. Chunks of icy hail pelt us and bounce across the floor. A gust of wind topples the utility shelf to the floor, barely missing us. A stain remover stick rolls along the floor and a flurry of dryer sheets whips around us. The laundry chute slams shut above our heads. I shriek. Socks scatter around with leaves and twigs. Dirt and plaster sting my skin. I bury my face in my hands, trying to protect my eyes. Debris slams into us for several minutes. Something shatters against the wall above our heads. Dyllan and I both scream. Pieces of plastic, wood, and glass rain down on us. Something metal lands next to Dyllan. I stare at it a long time, trying to figure out what it is—the hour hand from the wall clock. Then, as if someone pulls the plug, the wind ceases. The sky clears. Heavenly rays of sun shine through the broken window, casting a twisted, exaggerated shadow of the tree root across the basement wall. The emergency siren increases to full volume again, then down to a low growl before fading completely. My muscles ache as I unclench my arms and legs. I struggle to stand, pulling Dyllan up next to me. The basement is in total, surreal disarray. I notice a small cut on Dyllan’s cheek. “Dyllan, you’re bleeding!” my voice comes out as a whimper. “It’s nothing. Just a little scrape,” Dyllan tries to smile. We check each other over for injuries. The violent storm has rearranged his brown waves into crazy, lopsided cotton candy. He presses a blue baby-sized sock to his cheek to stop the bleeding. One of the baby shower gifts Mom never got to use. I almost say something but stop myself. Mom won’t miss it. She has a dozen more. From somewhere under the utility shelf and smashed storage containers, the muffled radio announces the tornado warning has been downgraded to a severe thunderstorm warning. I step over a pile of holiday decorations and camping gear. My bare foot squishes onto a water-logged sweatshirt. “Gross.” I cringe. “Is someone grilling something?” Dyllan sniffs the air. I smell it too, smoke in the distance. Not a barbecue though. Something else. Like burning leaves. I frown. “How can you think of food right now?” I pick my way across the room in the dim light that comes through the window. The stairs are blocked by debris. It takes us close to thirty minutes to dig our way out. As we push the last tree branch to the side, a different kind of siren draws closer. Emergency lights pulse outside the window, and a pair of heavy boots tromp past. “Iona, that’s not a grill. I think the house is on fire!” Dyllan scrambles up the muddy stairs. I follow close behind him, terrified of what might be happening upstairs. The smoke grows worse with each step. I can barely breathe when I reach the kitchen. “Oh thank god, it’s next door,” Dyllan announces. “You can see better in here, Iona.” He’s already in the living room. I join him. I’m unprepared for the sight. Horror chokes me. All the neighbors are standing around my willow tree, split in two by a lightning strike. Orange flames lick at the splintered wood. The heart of the tree is fully exposed and pulsing red, as though something terrible has taken up residence within it. Mr. Kerrigan is spraying the flames with his garden hose when a second fire truck roars into our driveway. “No! Not my willow!” I scream. I fling the back door open and run across the lawn toward the burning tree. “Iona, No!” Dyllan runs after me, begging me to stop with each step. “Get away from there!” shouts a firefighter, as I rush past her. I dodge her outstretched arm. “Not my tree!” Mrs. Schlenker’s oak tree has been uprooted and dropped next to our house. I hurdle over the oak and sprint around the gaping hole where it stood for generations. The top of my willow lies ablaze in Mr. Kerrigan’s yard, twenty feet from the smoldering trunk. Blackened leaves are strewn across the lawn. My safe place has been destroyed. The firefighters run a hose down the driveway to our charred and crackling hedges, working to keep the fire from spreading to Mrs. Schlenker’s back porch. I can’t go any further. The heat of the fire pushes me back. I fall to my knees and dig my fingernails into the singed, wet ground. “No! No! No! Not willow. Not willow. Not my willow!” I rock back and forth, dizzy with grief. Dyllan tries to pull me out of the way, but I won’t let him. I’m shaking so hard that I feel sick. I push him away so he won’t see me puke in the grass. My hands tremble as I move my hair from my face. A police cruiser quietly turns into the driveway. No siren. No flashing lights. The only sound I hear is my heartbeat. My wish came true, just not how I intended.
The hospital waiting area is strewn with mud and leaves, tracked in with dozens of emergency responders, patients, and concerned family members. I can’t stop shivering. My jeans are caked in mud. I don’t recognize the rubber-soled socks on my feet. “Where are my shoes?” I ask Dyllan. He’s scrolling the news on his phone. He turns toward me, expressionless. “I dunno. You must’ve left them at home. They think it was an F-3.” He looks back at his phone. His shirt is plastered with mud. There’s a small leaf in his hair and a butterfly bandage on his cheek but I don’t remember anyone helping him. The police officer is sitting with us until Paw-Paw or Dyllan’s dad get here. She offered to get us something from the vending machines, but neither of us feel like eating. The automatic doors to the ER open but no one enters. A familiar, wiry, white-haired woman stands outside, dragging a last puff of a cigarette. The doors close and reopen. She wedges her walker in the door and tosses the cigarette. She leans on the walker and steps toward the check-in desk. I recognize her when she exhales a cloud of smoke. “Oh god. What’s she doing here?” The man at the desk waves the smoke from his face. Dyllan looks up from his phone, frowning. “Oh no. Is that—” “Yeah. Richard’s mother.” The last time I saw her, she accused me of stealing a pack of cigarettes from her purse in front of all the church ladies. “The one who got drunk at the baby shower?” he whispers. “The one and only.” I don’t bother whispering. I despise Dort Browne almost as much as I hate her son. My real grandmothers are both deceased, gone before I was born. The nurse points toward me. Dort coughs until her face is red. He runs around the desk to help, but Dort stops him. She pushes her walker toward us, but doesn’t acknowledge me. The police officer stands to speak to her. Dort removes her I.D. from her purse. The officer glances at the I.D. and hands it back. “Are you the one who called me about my son, Richard Browne?” “Yes, Ma’am. Your granddaughter has been through quite an ordeal, so I stayed with her until you got here.” Dort leans forward on her walker for sympathy. “I appreciate it, Ma’am. Thank you.” The officer lowers her voice. “I thought it would be best coming from you.” Dort’s face wrinkles like a prune. “Well, I don’t know anything. Just what you told me. My son was in an accident.” “Oh. Well, I’m so sorry to tell you this, but the car accident was pretty serious.” Dort sighs, exasperated. “How serious?” She glares over at me for a moment, then turns back to the officer. “Well, it seems they hydroplaned on a sharp curve and their car rolled over a guard rail into a tree.” The officer’s mouth tightens. She’s trying not to upset us. Dyllan’s hand goes to his mouth. I’m starting to feel like I can’t breathe. Where is Paw-Paw? Grandma Browne blinks. “They hit a tree?” “Yes, Ma’am. After they hit the guard rail.” The officer nods her head. The nurse from the desk approaches. His face is serious. He clears his throat. “I assume you’re the grandparent?” “I—” I try to stop what’s coming. I don’t want to hear it until Paw-Paw is here. “—Yessir. I’m the grandparent.” She shows her I.D. to him. “Dort Browne.” I roll my eyes. If she’s my grandparent, then I’m the Queen of Scotland. “Okay, Mrs. Browne. I’m Kobey. Can all of you follow me please?” He wants us to go to a private room. This is what happened the night Mom lost the baby. I still can’t believe she didn’t press charges against stupid Richard. Dort scowls at me. “Let’s go, Missy. You heard him.” The officer and nurse exchange sad looks. The officer, Dort, Dyllan, and I follow the nurse into a small room adjacent to the ER waiting area. There are three cozy sofas and a couple of overstuffed chairs. Everyone sits except Dort, who has to catch her breath after walking the short distance. “Okay, I’m going to need all of you to take a deep breath…” Nurse Kobey cautions us. “C’mon. No need to sugar coat things,” Dort heaves. “How bad is it?” Dyllan is wide-eyed and slack-jawed. I can’t feel my legs. “Well, I’m afraid Richard was struck by a tree and—” “—Is he dead?” Dort interrupts the nurse. The nurse looks to the police officer. The officer’s face is somber. “I’m so sorry. He died instantly.” Dort’s voice shakes. “Oh my god.” I gasp. “What?” Dyllan shakes his head. My eyes fill with tears. “Richard is…dead?” The officer kneels in front of me. She hands me a tissue. Dort Browne wobbles, then collapses onto the sofa behind her. Her walker tips over. “That’s it. I’m alone in this world. My husband and my boy have been taken from me.” “Are you okay?” Nurse Kobey plays into Dort’s victim act. “Do you need some water?” Dort soaks up the attention. “Oh no. No. I’ll be fine. I’ve survived all my life. Thank you.” Nurse Kobey turns back to me. “Your mother is in surgery.” Sobs fight to escape my throat like I’m being strangled. I can’t form words. Dyllan sniffles. “Surgery?” “Yes. Rebecca sustained multiple fractures to her right leg and pelvis. She was conscious at the scene. She’s in very capable hands. Dr. Shahloub is an excellent surgeon. “Ya ‘iilhi—my mom?” Dyllan starts to cry. “Oh my god, Mommy!” He grabs my hand. I struggle for every breath. “Oh—Dr. Shahloub is your mom?” Kobey smiles briefly at Dilly, then turns back to me, somber. “I’m so sorry.” He looks to Dort. Dort shakes her head. He places the walker upright within her reach. “You can all stay in here. I’ll let you know when she’s out of surgery, but it may be several hours. Please help yourselves to the snacks and water.” The nurse exits, avoiding Dort’s eye contact. Dort twists her bitter face at the officer. “You can go, too.” The officer glances at the different colored bruises on my arm. I don’t know how or when my sleeve was torn. “Iona, is there anything you need to talk to me about? Are you safe at home?” she asks. For the first time in almost five years, I can answer honestly. “Yes. I’m safe.” She hands me a card with phone numbers on it. “Please call me if you need anything, okay?” I know what she’s telling me. I nod. Dort tries to put a stop to anyone else getting sympathy. “Yes, Ma’am, she’ll be fine.” She glares at Dort, then exits. I grasp the card, stunned. “He’s dead? Dead. Really dead?” My eyes fill again. Dyllan buries his face in his hands. “This is a nightmare.” Dort wipes at her eyes, then stands. “I’m going outside. I need a cigarette.” She never returns.
Dyllan refuses to leave me. I’ve grown intimate with the private waiting room. I know every noise. The way the light flickers over the kitchenette area. I could describe the worn patch of linoleum at my feet in minute detail. “There’s my Butterfly.” Paw-Paw appears in the doorway. I feel like I can breathe again. I leap into his arms, crying. He murmurs something soothing, but I don’t have the words to respond. “Sorry to interrupt,” the nurse’s expression is grave. I am expecting the worst. Nurse Kobey is worn out from the steady stream of trauma, but he does his best to sound hopeful. Mom is in a medically-induced coma. Things did not go as planned. She will need to stay for a long time. She has thirteen screws holding her leg together. She will need multiple surgeries if she hopes to walk again. Because she will be in recovery for hours, Paw-Paw insists we get some real food. We drive across town to our favorite brunch spot, Chugga-Chew’s. It’s an old train car converted into a 1950s diner. He usually takes me there when he’s visiting from Florida. We dodge downed trees and intersections without working traffic lights, but nothing prepares us for what’s next. “Oh no!” Paw-Paw can’t even pull into the parking lot. “It’s totally flattened!” “Holy crap. It’s a pile of toothpicks.” Dyllan gasps. My heart is broken. First my tree, now Chugga-Chews? Why are all my favorite places being destroyed? Paw-Paw thinks we better check on our house anyway, so we drop Dyllan at his house and return home. The side where the tree smashed in is blocked with police tape and orange cones. Our house looks like a crime scene. My crime scene. I am numb. Night has fallen and I should be tired, but I can’t face the idea of going up to my room. Paw-Paw says nothing when I sit on the couch scrolling through TV channels. The local news is full of stories about the storm. Chugga- Chew’s is a total loss. Collapsed roofs, downed power lines, numerous fallen trees, and a flipped semi-truck on I-94. They’re calling it a one in a million storm. My throat clenches and my stomach turns. I run to the bathroom. Paw-Paw follows, pulling my hair back out of my face. He murmurs soft words of reassurance, his rugged hand rubbing my back. He stays with me until I’m done then gets me a glass of water so I can rinse out my mouth. We sit up all night watching old movies. I stare at images on the screen without seeing them. Paw-Paw nods off in the flickering glow of Buster Keaton —the one where the frame of a building falls down on him but he remains standing in the window. That’s how I feel. Like the world came crashing down around me, yet somehow I’m still standing. I slip outside. The night is hot and humid. The backyard is still littered with debris. My bare feet squish into mud as I carefully approach my tree. The trunk is scorched. Someone hacked at it, tearing the wood apart. I picture them ripping the heart out of the fire, scattering ash and embers in wild desperation. The body of my willow has been dismembered. Violated. I cross my arms across my midriff, shivering as if the damage is to my own flesh. “I didn’t mean it.” I whisper the words to the sky, but there is a heaviness on my tongue. The truth is, I didn’t meant it that way. I didn’t consciously want Richard to die, but I’m glad he’s gone. I never meant to hurt Mom. What if she never walks again? What if she dies too? I wonder if deep down I wanted to punish her for disconnecting from me after the miscarriage. Why didn’t she protect me from him? Tears dampen my cheeks and I fall to my knees. I reach for a piece of scorched wood. I cradle it against my heart and beg the universe to bring my mother back to me. “Please. I didn’t mean it.” But the wood is cold and lifeless. It can no longer hear me. I throw it away from me. It rattles against what’s left of the neighbor’s twisted chain link fence. Behind me the door to the house opens, spilling warm light against the grass. Paw-Paw’s reassuring voice calls out to me. “Iona! The hospital called! They think she’s going to be alright!” I wait to feel relief. Instead, as I rise to stand amidst the ruin of the tree, I feel broken. Shattered. I don’t know how, but I know this is my fault. I am a monster. I know it is only a matter of time before I destroy us all.
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Sadie Francis Skyheart (1972- ) was born and raised in Michigan. She currently lives in the Chicago suburbs with her husband, two sons, two cats, and a coonhound. She is a dedicated Detroit Lions fan. She likes to write in lucky Halloween socks, often while listening to Thirty Seconds to Mars or Chloe Moriondo.
THE RECOLLECTION OF TREES debuted as the #1 New Release in Children's Scary Stories and Top 10 Bestselling Teen & YA Ghost Stories. She is currently completing the script for book's feature film adaptation, THE ACCIDENTAL WITCH. She is an associate producer of IN THE DEATHROOM (2020), an award-winning crime drama based on a short story by Stephen King.
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