Its a bad day and it keeps getting worse...
The Tree Spirit
The day had not started out well. After waking up twenty minutes late, falling into the laundry basket, and finding no clean clothes or aspirin Julie gave up. There was no point in pretending that the day could turn out at all well. Not when she had a splitting headache and was wearing a Christmas sweater (it was April) and a skirt from her Aunt Myrtle. Not when Jake was for once ready for the bus before her and would not let her forget it. Not when Jake was her brother period. It wasn’t fair really, that he should be granted all the good looking, graceful, athletic genes in the family while she made due with…with… well with this pounding in her head she couldn’t decide what she had made due with, nothing probably.
Her day hadn’t gotten any better by third period. So far she had endured endless teasing from her friends (oddly, not about her sweater, which they claimed was ‘anti-establishment’), two pop quizzes, eight more wilted tomato plants in the greenhouse (“If only I’d inherited Dad’s green thumb!”) and an ever worsening headache. The teacher droned on: “Starfish, as you would call them, have the ability to regenerate themselves. This has caused problems in places where they did not realize this. Anglers would chop them up to get rid of them and instead they would multiply. Now can anyone tell me what their order is?” Mrs. Hartman’s voice was like sandpaper rubbing against cement and her content was worse. The words filtered through her head and echoed loudly against her skull. The brightly colored posters on the classroom walls swirled and swayed, their colors brightening and then dimming. It felt to Julie as though someone was flicking a light switch on and off, on and off. Now her actual vision was starting to go, things were getting darker. Even during the times when she could see, things didn’t seem quite right; the room was supposed to be in focus, wasn’t it? And why was everything swaying so? Julie’s thoughts were slow and sluggish, in spite of their desperation they were not getting anywhere; or doing anything for that matter. Perhaps… perhaps she should go home… right after the lecture. Yes that was it; she would stay and takes notes. Then go to the office and have her mother pick her up. Getting up Julie headed to the pencil sharpener; unluckily for her this was when brain gave up, and with a sigh, she passed out. It took a moment for the class to take in what had happened to her. Had Julie really passed out? However once it registered there was instant pandemonium. “Mrs. Hartman, Mrs. Hartman! Julie is ill!” “Hey, a girl just fell over in the back.” “What is wrong with her?” “Anorexia!” “Drugs?” “She’s over worked.” Harold, one of the bigger boys, picked her up and headed out to the office. Mrs. Hartman had not exactly given permission— she was too busy controlling the class— but it had to be done. She couldn’t very well stay in the back of the class.
The school nurse hadn’t actually handled the situation much better. After all unconscious students didn’t often appear in the infirmary. After it became apparent that she wasn’t waking up any time soon an ambulance was called. Then it occurred to the nurse that her parents should be contacted, but no one answered the phone, so her emergency contact was called. They, too, were away. “What should be done? Clearly she couldn’t go to the hospital alone, should Claire (the nurse) go?” No, it was decided, “What if other students had this illness? It wouldn’t do them any good if she was gone.” Looking on Julie’s school file, Clair found that Julie had a brother, Jacob, who was eighteen. Yes, he could go with her. And so, Jacob Welling was called to the office.
Jake’s day hadn’t actually started out any better then Julie’s. His mother had chewed him out for shorting out the power and screwing up every one’s alarm clocks. “If it hadn’t,” she told him sternly, “been for that damn cat I would have gotten up late. Like your sister!” Julie had not been any better: female problems, he supposed. A little kid threw up on his shoes while he rode the bus (his own car, his parents said, was a waste of money. Jake thought ruining his shoes by way of puke was worse; sadly his parents were unsympathetic). He thought perhaps the day’s evil had peaked on the bus, but no, Jake found his girlfriend making out in the greenhouse second period, with the third string quarter back! Now his little sister was sick. Despite all his teasing and jokes he really did care about her, even if she had worn a dweeby Christmas sweater to school today. “And of course,” he reasoned, “she could have been worse, she could have been like Ben’s younger sister, who routinely stole their parents’ beer and then blamed it on Ben. In fact Julie was pretty okay.”
Keeping this in mind it is no wonder Jake ran as he did to the nurse’s office to collect Julie. He arrived just as the ambulance came screaming up to the school. He saw her laid out on a stretcher, pale and fragile. Something in him woke up, this was his sister. His apprehension before had been vague and unspecified. As he saw Julie being carefully put in the ambulance his worry clarified and sharpened. She was not the sort to simply pass out, in years before she had always been disgustingly healthy, he’d seen her sick perhaps twice in his life. “What if she had cancer? What if she had to go through chemo and lost hair and got really sick? What if there was a giant tumor in her brain and she fell into a comma and never woke up?”
While Jake was heading down his deep strain of troubled thoughts, one of the paramedics asked him something. “Huh?” Jake asked “Yeah, sure.” A smile grew on the paramedic’s face.
“Thanks kid, we’ll call you in a while.” Then the jerk loaded up his sister and drove screaming off. Standing in the parking lot Jake was left with two thoughts in his head. One: just what had he agreed to? The second thought was this: ambulances weren’t normally white with green and purple iridescent spots were they? Once Jake had these thoughts sorted out, he was left in something of a conundrum. He thought to himself “I can either borrow Red’s car and drive to mom’s office and confess what happened, or I can borrow Red’s car and try to chase down that green and purple ambulance.” Jake tried to envision what his parents reaction would be if he told them he lost Julie:
“Hi, Mom. Dad.” Jake looked up into his parents faces; he felt about two feet tall.
“Jake” They looked down at him from their impossibly tall stance.
“I know I was supposed to go with Julie to the hospital, but I got distracted and agreed to something (I don’t know what) and let these dudes driving a shiny green and purple ambulance leave with her. Now I don’t know where she is.” Though it didn’t seem possible Jake shrunk even further…
“We disown you forever.” The words boomed and echoed into the living room. They tossed him and all his worldly possessions (except his Queen CDs Dad wanted those) on to the street. There he slept on the subway, ate at the soup kitchen, and panhandled for money. He met a cute street musician who died of a drug overdose leaving him broken hearted…
Jake brought himself back to reality. No. Jake was not going to let that scene play out in real life. That left him with one option, borrow Red’s car and chase the ambulance. Jake rolled his eyes, just when he thought his day couldn’t get any worse…
Mrs. Welling (Janet) was having a rather hard time of it. She awoke to the noise of Muffin purring in her ear. If Muffin was a normal cat this might have been a pleasant way to wake up. Most people would consider it better at least, then an alarm clock going off in their ear. Most people had never heard Muffin purr. It was comparable to putting gravel in a blender. “KRRRGRRRKPRR”
“Muffin, stop. Stop.” Then she rolled over and looked at her alarm clock, it looked back at her and blinked 3:29 3:29 3:29. Her first thought was “Good. I have another three hours until I have to be up.” Her next thought was more confused, “This clock doesn’t normally blink, not unless…” Janet sat straight up in bed. “Jake must have shorted out the power last night.” She rushed to the bathroom where she knew they had a battery powered clock. It read 6:15; Janet gave a deep sigh, there was no point in going back to bed. She might as well get an early shower. When the water ran cold five minutes in to her shower, Jan groaned, rinsed the soap out of her hair and headed for the kitchen. Conditioner was really needed if she was going to comb it through properly but… screw it. Hot tea was more important right now.
Twenty minutes later Jan was digging through her wardrobe trying to find something to wear. Cursing the creator of Mondays and wishing them a fate comparable to what her morning had been like so far she tried to find something, anything. Finally she took out an age old pants suit she had owned before she’d even had children, when she was a teenager. It was hot pink. It was made of velour. There was a silver stripe running down the leg. The word ‘Angel’ was written in rhinestones on the seat of the pants. Her tasteless aunt had given it to her twenty years ago. It was probably the tackiest, ugliest outfit ever made… And, aside from the ugliness (if one could manage that) she looked pretty good.
Fifteen minutes after that Jan was back, wincing as the burn on her leg started to tingle and digging through the dirty clothes laundry for something acceptable. It shouldn’t be that hard, her standards were a good deal lower at the moment. A second cup of hot tea was lovely, but not when it was all over the hideous pink pants suit. Poking her head in her daughter’s room she found Julie still undressed.
“Julie! The bus leaves in twenty minutes! You’re alarm didn’t go off did it?” her daughter gave a helpless no. When Janet checked in on her daughter a few moments later she found Julie sitting in her laundry basket, arms and legs parallel to each other. She was wiggling and making some sort of squeaking noise. Janet turned back around. She didn’t want to know.
Things didn’t get better once the children left. How could they when she had five people’s worth of laundry to do? It was her day off too. Most women did something decadent on their days off, like watch soap operas or read novels or take bubble baths. If they were really good, they did more then one at once. “Not me,” Janet thought dully. “I do laundry.” At nine-thirty her mother called. Janet pretended she wasn’t home; it didn’t work.
“Jannie! Jannie! Pick up the phone; don’t you want to talk to your own mother? When are you and Will going to come out and visit?” Finally the machine cut the harpy off and Janet closed her eyes. There was only one way she was going to get any work done today apparently. She unplugged the phone. Peace at last.
Mr. Welling smiled. The sun was shining; there was a breeze on the air. Life was good.
Julie blinked; two heads of swirly blue hair filled her vision. She saw two pairs of pale gold eyes and two identical snub noses. It was the identical grins that got to her though. “Great,” she thought, “I’m seeing double.” And then she passed out again.
“You think she passed out ‘cos of us?”
“Naw, probably the transformation.” The two men looked at each other and grinned their identical grins.
When Julie awoke again, there was just one paramedic standing over her. With a great concentration of effort she sat up and looked around. She was surprised to see not the school nurse’s office or some stale hospital room but a… garden? She was sitting on a pile of dirt, around her flowers ran riot. With one cursory look around her she saw half a dozen tall trees, one pond (complete with waterfall), and live faun. Julie found she couldn’t decide whether the place was man made or not. It seemed too organized for nature and not planned enough for man. Then Julie realized she was moving, or rather, the ‘garden’ was moving. Once that knowledge was planted in her brain she found she could see other things. A stretcher lying by her hand, doors in between the trees. Windows. Windows showing the highway.
It was at this point that she decided to panic. Fear started to build up, starting in her middle and moving outward. Her heart beat faster and her lungs pumped harder. She opened her mouth to scream and found that she couldn’t, she tried to run and found herself stationary. She might have killed herself by sheer panic if the blue haired men hadn’t decided to reappear.
“No worries love, your brother’s bringing help. Once your dad comes with a suitable surrogate you’ll be right as rain.” He had an improbable brittish accent and his cotton-candy hair seemed singularly inappropriate and unnatural in the outdoor setting. It was this detail that Julie’s brain fixed upon. The whole thing was preposterous. A moving garden? Blue haired Englishmen? She must be dreaming; that was the only logical explanation. With this detail settled Julie went back to sleep.
The trouble with high speed chases is that the other vehicle in question must visible for it to be possible. This occurred to Jake as he left his high school parking lot and hit his first intersection. As he sat at the light, he looked from the right to the left, which way? Which way? He flipped his left turn signal on: tick tock tick tock. Then he switched to the right: tick tock tick tock. This would be easier if he knew where the ambulance was headed. “Probably not to the hospital, unless children’s hospital ambulances were painted bright colors for fun… Perhaps I should go to the docks if they were going to sell her into white slavery, or maybe the train station; the air port?” Finally the light turned green and Jake had to decide. He closed his eyes and followed his heart. Left it was. Jake found himself heading into a residential area, he passed neat tidy houses with white picket fences and swing sets in the back yard. Two mothers were sitting in lawn chairs, gossiping as they watched their children. Jake looked at the brunette, she looked a little like Julie. Taking that as his next sign he turned right at the next fork in the road, the woman had been to the right of her friend.
This neighbor hood was a little less clean cut then the last. Weeds grew tall in the front yard, some were flowering in a bright display of color. Jake supposed they could be planted on purpose, “But” he thought as he looked at yet another jungle-like yard “it looks so disorganized. Dad wouldn’t like it.” The further he drove into the funny little neighborhood the stranger things got. The houses had started out being made of average things like stucco and clap board and bricks, but the building materials seemed to get more esoteric the further he drove. He passed a cottage made of pink quartz and another that looked like amethysts. Kitty corner to the pink house there was a log castle. Complete with mote and draw bridge. In the yard of a tall stone tower (Jake couldn’t believe it was really a house) there was a small blue haired boy surrounded by dragonflies. Literal dragonflies. They had sharp claws and scales and were breathing puffs of orange smoke. The blue haired boy smiled and pointed to the right. Jake’s brain exploded in his head. “Welcome to the Twilight Zone. Right it is, I guess.” As he turned right he found himself on Main Street, by the old movie theatre and the café he and his friends went to. Everything seemed in order but Jake was careful not to look too close or too long. “Normal. Everything is normal.”
It occurred to Jake as he sat glumly in traffic that his ‘adventure’ was more like putting popcorn in the burn barrel then anything else. “You think” he thought “that you’ll see an explosion of white fluffy kernels that burn in the same instance. What you get is a lot of plastic and aluminum covered things that don’t do anything and a few dim pops that echo sadly from the bottom of the barrel.” He was worried too, how was he supposed to save Julie if he couldn’t even avoid traffic at 11 A.M. It wasn’t exactly rush hour here. The line of cars next to him started to move and that’s when he saw it: the purple ambulance! Now was the time for action! Now was the time for brave deeds! Now was the time to go forth and meet destiny! Jake had no idea what he was supposed to do.
“I need to get into the ambulance and get Julie.” He thought, and then something occurred to him. “Actually what I need to do is get into the cab and convince the driver to take her to an actual hospital. It won’t do Julie any good if I get her and then let us sit in traffic for an hour.” With this decision make Jake pulled the car over to the side of the road. Red would kill him, and he would probably get a parking ticket but he would deal with those things when they came. Maneuvering through the parked cars he reached the oddly colored ambulance. “Open up!”
To Jake’s immense surprise the ambulance door did open up. The blue haired paramedic looked at him. “What are you doing here? You were supposed to get your dad.” This wasn’t what Jake had expected.
“Oh.” Jake was at a loss.
A second blue haired paramedic arrived. “How far until our destination? She’s fading fast.”
“I can’t tell you. Her father has yet to be informed so I haven’t gotten a transmission yet.” Two pairs of eyes glared in Jake’s direction.
“Informed of what? I’m confused here. What is going on?”
“Informed of your sisters transformation of course. What else would be going on?”
Jake looked at the two men. “Transformation into what? I still don’t understand.”
Paramedic #1 looked panicked. “You mean you aren’t one of…”
The other paramedic cursed. Or at least, that’s what it sounded like to Jake.
“We need directions to your house. Now.” Both men looked serious.
Jake sighed. As if his day couldn’t get anymore complicated. Now these crazy people thought he should take them to his house. And craziest part of all was… he was going to do it. “What,” he wondered “is wrong with me?”
“Can I see Julie?”
“I’m not sure that’s a good idea kid.”
Jake gave a paint-removing glare. “I want to see my sister.”
The paramedic winced. “Fine, but when you pass out and we get lost, I’m blaming you.”
At the beginning of the whole mess, when Jake had been called into the nurses station by the intercom he’d been a little worried, but truthfully he hadn’t thought his sister was that sick. Given her behavior that morning, he’d assumed that a) she was faking it or b) she had the flu. Or maybe c) she was having female problems. When he’d seen her all laid out on the stretcher, pale and limp he’d given in to more drastic worries: cancers and brain tumors. Now all of those worries seemed like nothing compared to true state of his sister. Her legs were covered in dirt, and she was green. Not the pale cheesy color people get when they’re nauseous that is often referred to as green. No, she was actually green. Grass green, the color of new leaves, it looked like a little kid had scribbled all over her with a crayon.
“Are you telling me,” said Paramedic # 1 “that you did not go through this? Or something like this?” A mute Jake shook his head. “Are you sure she’s your sister? Maybe she’s adopted? Or, are you adopted?”
Jake gave him an incredulous look. “What are you on about?”
“Well given that your sister is a tree (or perhaps bush) I would assume that you would be too if you two really had the same parents.”
“She’s reacting awfully strongly to that soil and sunlight. She’s got to be a full blood. And he does seem to be human. Maybe they found her. Or adopted him.”
“Yeah, that’s what I’m thinking. Probably they found her. After all, if they were one of us they’d have expected the transformation and we wouldn’t be in this mess.”
Jake, who had been numbly staring out the window finally found his voice and told them. “We’re here.”
Mrs. Welling’s day had been steadily improving. Then a polka doted ambulance showed up at her house. It really ruined her morning. The front door opened and her son wandered into the house followed closely by two young men. She looked them over: two identical men; men with shiny blue hair, bright gold eyes, and pale skin with golden freckles. Men who were tall and slim and fluid looking. They seemed to glide as they walked, feet hardly touching the ground. They had flawless , mischievous faces. They were good looking and they knew it. “Sea Nymphs then.” Thought Janet. Then she realized the implication of two paramedic sea nymphs in her home. “Oh. Dear. The transformation.” She turned to one of the sea nymphs “Is she very far along? We worried for a while, after puberty. But she wasn’t showing any signs. Jake hasn’t ever turned, we assumed it hadn’t been passed on. That my human genes cancelled his out.”
“Ah… mom?” Mrs. Welling took a breath and ignored him. He tried again and she shut her eyes. “I can only deal with one thing at a time Jake. You can have your crisis tomorrow.”
“Are you telling me,” asked the second sea nymph, “that she’s a half ‘n half?”
Mrs. Welling ignored him and picked up the telephone. “Honey, its happening. Yes, get down here. Well I don’t know where it is? I can’t do that anyway. Yes as soon as you can. YES! Jake. And sea nymphs dressed like paramedics…”
“We ARE paramedics!”
“Yes but…focus brother, focus!”
“Fine. I hate you.”
Janet looked between them and gave a frustrated sigh. Folk never did have much of an attention span. “Excuse me!”
One of them snapped to attention: “Right! We’d better unload her from the truck.”
The other huffed. “Yes. I don’t think there’s anything else we can do.”
“Mom! Hello! What’s going on?”
“Kid, help us get your sister. Where’s the site?”
“Jake. Show them the back yard!” Mrs. Welling watched as Jake and the sea nymph paramedics hauled Julie out of the ambulance; it was a messy and imprecise job that apparently required much moving of dirt, and, from the look of, swearing. A fourth man approached them as they gently took Julie out of the truck. He was a portly fellow with graying hair and mud on his shoes: Mrs. Welling’s Knight-In-Shining-Armor. As she spotted him, her body deflated and she gave a great sigh. Now that Willis was here, everything would be all right. She watched as her husband shooed her son indoors and followed Julie’s body to the backyard. Things would be okay now.
When Julie awoke she felt tired and sore and also dirty and wet. Julie had not yet even opened her eyes and she already found herself wishing she could go back to sleep. “Why must everything happen at once?”
Then she heard her father saying, “Up now Julie I know you’re awake. Your mother and I have something to tell you.”
“No.” She told him firmly. “I am still asleep. When I wake up I will be in science class, or possibly the nurses office. No where else will due.”
“Ehh…” Her father sounded bewildered. “Sorry love, I’m afraid I can’t manage that.” Julie opened her eyes and with a resigned sigh, and let her father pull her up. As she walked inside she gave herself a once over. It was worse then she thought: she was covered from head to toe in mud and tree sap and what looked suspiciously like drying blood.
Her mother met her at the door. “Julie, your father and I need to talk to—”
Julie cut her off. “No. I’m going to take a shower. You can talk at me later.” And that was the end of that conversation.
Ninety minutes later Julie was sitting stock still in front of her parents. “Let me get this straight: you,” she pointed to her father “are a tree. And you,” she pointed to her mother “are a human. You fell in love, and here I am: half a tree.”
“My dear,” Mrs. Welling said gently, “I think you’re oversimplifying things a bit.”
“No. I don’t care. That’s all I need to know.”
The furious fifteen year old left the room as her mother called out after her. “But darling, just think! You’ll live twice as long now, as long as your surrogate is safe.”
The back garden was quiet and peaceful. Julie wished it would rain. Around her the plants grew lush and full. In a moment of numb lucidity, she thought, “Dad always did have a green thumb, now I know why.” She sat, in the freshly laid dirt in the back corner where a small cheerful looking sapling was growing. She glared at the sapling. It stayed perky and cheerful, the leaves rustled a little in the wind. She glared some more.
“That’s not going to do anything you know.” A squeaky voice came from her right and when Julie looked she saw a small gray squirrel.
Her first thought was “What on earth is that?” but her second was “I don’t want to know. I know too much already. The more I know the harder it will be to forget.” She continued to glare at the plant.
“As I said, it won’t do you any good. It’s just like glaring at yourself in the mirror.” The squirrel continued “Now, if you glare at the huge tree in the middle of the garden there, that might actually make your father uncomfortable.” Without thinking Julie looked to the giant tree that had stood in their garden time out of mind.
“Well, it would depend on his sensitivity of course, but I imagine he would notice. Eventually.”
To her horror Julie found herself engaging in a conversation with the squirrel “I’m not following you. Why would glaring at the tree make him uncomfortable, and why is glaring at this tree like looking in a mirror?”
“Well because those trees are your surrogates of course.” When Julie gave the squirrel a blank look it continued, “You know; the essence of you that is tree. Your humanity is contained in your human body, and your… tree spirit, I suppose it would be in English, is contained in the tree. That is why you were ill today. Your human spirit and your tree spirit couldn’t live in the same body anymore and tree spirit was taking over.”
Julie closed her eyes and tried to process it all. She fainted in class because she had been turning into a tree. “As if my life couldn’t get any weirder.”
“He should be the one telling this, coward. You know I told your father to come clean ages ago, but did he listen? No, he did not. They never do” the squirrel added sadly. Julie was unsure what she was supposed to say to that. “I mean, take your brother Jake even his latent power will cause him trouble, it attracts others with power you know. And what if your power had come just a little later after you’d left home?” The squirrel shook its head and Julie closed her eyes. A talking, advice giving squirrel was just too much.
“All I wanted was to be normal, a regular girl. Now I’m a freakshow who talks to squirrels.”
The squirrel was apparently indigent. “What is wrong with talking squirrels?” Julie wanted to give it A Look, but that would require opening her eyes. “Well, I suppose if you weren’t used it… but still no reason you have to do anything about this information. You could pretend it never happened and just go on as you have been.”
“That’s a good point.”
“You’d never get to meet any of though. And that would be a shame, in my opinion.”
“The blue haired paramedics were cute.”
“Leagues older then you dear. Not local either. Now I know I do know a nice boy, about your age I think. Maybe a little older.” The squirrel added, mostly to herself, “Yes, Todd’s youngest might do for her.” At this point, Julie opened her eyes again. Talking squirrels were not that weird. Happened in Disney movies all time.
Julie gave a mischievous smile. “You don’t happen to know what’s wrong with my school greenhouse do you?”