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faced with the difficult question—which one. I tick through the usual
criteria—fullness, tightly attached needles, correct height. Beyond that the
trouble begins for me when I consider needle length, color, tightness of
slowly pass down the row, hoping one tree chooses me. Those I don’t give a full
inspection slyly begin to stretch their postures more erect before I turn
completely away. If I pause to admire one, branches brush past the backs of my
legs until I turn around and give that tree a careful look.
voices in foreign languages—hurried bits of anxious dialog that quiet as I grow
taller but cannot reach up to his neighbors, so I lean in and whisper, “If you
talk to me, I’ll take you home.”
over the tiny spruce until finally a gentle tinkling begins deep inside at its
trunk, radiating to the tips of the boughs at my side. I caress the singing
branch, then wave an arm to the shop owner.
Leaf Tales is a series of original ten-sentence short stories by
Marsha A. Moore, relating to photos/scenes that resonate with her. Read more
Tea Leaf Tales archived in Marsha’s
Mercantile of Tea Leaf Tales.
from Chapter One: Winter Began
concerning the loss of your grandmother, Flora Esmeralda Freestone. She was
much loved and well-respected in our community.
ownership of her property on 10510 East Lost Branch Run passes to you. This
transfer has been filed in our office. At the request of High Priest Logan
Dennehy, all council members have voted to reinstate you as a member of Coon
Hollow Coven after your absence of twenty years.
Coven being your birthplace, a majority indicated the lapsed time was
sufficient cause to withhold transfer of Ms. Freestone’s ceremonial standing to
you, which customarily would accompany a property transference to blood kin of
adult age. For explanation of how you may attain ceremonial approval in your
name, please visit the council office at 50013 Owls Tail Creek Road.
describing the expected dress and personal property code of our coven, which
adheres to the time period in which the coven was founded in 1935. This is to
best protect our witchcraft traditions.
fixed on the words that acknowledged her as the property owner. She’d never
lived alone. First her mom, then a roommate and finally Doug. Esme’s shoulders
straightened and chest lifted with strength and independence at the thought of
owning her own place. But, why wasn’t she approved for ceremonial status? Her
hands gripped the edge of the table, knuckles whitening, and her heart raced.
It’s not fair. I won’t be accepted as a healer. Only children not yet graduated
from the coven’s secondary school were kept from participating fully in
ceremonies. Esme loved learning the ways of a hedge witch and helped Gram every
summer from grade school through college. Fascinated with tending Gram’s
plants, Esme even studied botany in college.
company she worked for had already accepted her request to work offsite and
study mystic plants…at the stipulation she be reduced to part-time. She needed
work here as a healer to supplement her income. She’d assumed incorrectly that
her experience with Gram and college studies would’ve qualified her as an
accepted healer. Her standing in the coven would be important to patrons, all
except Gram’s closest friends who knew Esme well. An attempt at independence
seemed bound to fail before she started.
to the name used in the letter’s greeting. She hadn’t seen her full name in
print for decades. It didn’t even appear on her birth certificate, which
labeled her as Rebecca E. Underhill, one of the many things her mother insisted
upon. Mother wanted nothing to do with the coven or witchcraft and said,
“Esmeralda sounds too much like a witch. No need to encourage the darkness
out.” Grudgingly, she accepted her own mother’s middle name for her child to
uphold custom. Esme never understood Mother’s view since Gram was
well-respected for her kind and gentle strength by all who knew her.
Indianapolis friends, she was Becky. Only her mother addressed her as Rebecca.
But inside, she was Esme. Gram had always called her that, or Esmeray in
carefree moments. Her middle name suited the mystic inside Esme, something Gram
must have known. If only Esme could use Gram’s last name Freestone. Underhill
felt like a lead weight.
letter aside and paced the length of the rag runner through the small kitchen.
Frustration wound her along a circular track through the sitting room, to her
closet-sized guest room, and back. The space was too small to work answers out
of her tangled mind. On the second pass, she sank onto the goose down comforter
of Gram’s iron bed. Billowing fluff sheltered her from the problems. Gram’s
linens, scented with homegrown lavender and rose sleep liniment, comforted Esme
and tugged on her eyelids.
eyes open and pushed herself up and off the bed. Hiding wasn’t the way to begin
this fresh start in life. She’d done enough kowtowing to stronger wills,
letting Doug and her mother run over her. At the back door, she paused long
enough to grab a rain parka and pulled it on as she strode outside.
Dove, zipped alongside with a sharp meow, slipping out before the door closed.
Esme smiled, grateful the tomcat kept Gram company during her illness. She’ doted
on the smoky blue stray that happened into her garden one early fall afternoon
and never left. Gram swore he was an omen and chose his name ‘cause of his
white-winged breast patch. She used to say, “One day soon my spirit will fly on
those outspread wings, and together Dove and me we’ll roam the wooded hills.”
Gram loved those hills. Thinking about the hills drew Esme to gather Dove and
peppered down, adding more layers to the spiky crystalline grass blades. A
breeze blew at Esme’s back. She allowed the wind to guide her toward the woods
behind the cabin. At the trailhead, ice coating the bittersweet vine berries
glistened the same shade of blue she’d rubbed from Dove’s coat. Alert to the
strange color, she followed a line of branches dangling sky blue icicles, each
one more fanciful and richer in hue than the last. A beautiful play of light,
ranging from cerulean to ultramarine. Even worth the chill at her ankles, which
were bare in her cropped jeans.
paused to marvel at the colored icicles, Dove pawed them and then dodged when
and deeper in the forest, the ice pelted heavier, and Esme reached for the hood
of her raincoat. Strands of hair fell forward, woven with frozen ultramarine
threads. The same purplish tint coated twigs along the path. Light from the sky
reached this far into the woods since all but the oak trees had lost their
leaves. The unusual color couldn’t be caused by light refraction. She’d never
seen any rain, sleet, or snow like this, not even in the Hollow. Grammy had
taught her a little about omens. Was this a sign?
along the trail, sliding at times and spotting richer and deeper shades of
purple and red-violets. At the far side of the woodlot, iris-hued spider webs
clung to berry brambles. She gasped at the beauty. Tempted to touch, she
extended a hand but at the last instant resisted.
echoed from the adjoining property ahead.
hand back and scanned for some god of nature angry at her ruinous attempt.
Grappling for Dove, Esme crouched behind a thicket.
single hiss, then clung to her leg.
a big middle-aged man, both tall and wide, staggered behind a shed, dragging a
long, clumsy load wrapped and tied into a blanket. His balding head snapped in
her direction, eyes wide and face blanched gray-white. “Who’s there?” His
booming voice sliced the delicate webs from their branches. Crimson freezing
rain assaulted both trail and yard.
afraid to move and attract his attention. Her heart, drumming against her ribs,
threatened to give her away. She wanted to run home. But if the colored ice
omen was meant for her, she needed to stay and learn its meaning. Could the man
see the omen?
cover must’ve fooled Baldy. He resumed lugging the limp bundle, and didn’t seem
affected by the magical ice.
tangle of branches, Esme studied him.
shirt clung to his round belly. Blood-red ice coated his load, tracing the
outline of a human body. Smaller than his, probably a female. Was she dead? Of
natural causes? Or had he murdered her? The thought wrapped around Esme’s
breath and trapped it deep in her lungs. Her legs twitched. Gaze riveted on
Baldy, she positioned to bolt from potential danger.
body into a depression Esme couldn’t see.
one side, bracing herself with a hand on the ground.
like a freshly dug grave, Baldy grunted as he shoveled and kicked dirt and
large rocks. Clumps of red clung to long strands of his comb-over, now hanging
along one ear. Was it ice or real blood?
closer, and Gram’s voice from years ago spoke in Esme’s mind. “Blood ice is
stained with revenge.”
dripped from the man’s eyes and fell from grimacing jowls. The face of a demon