Here’s a thing about me as a writer. I don’t really write fiction, even though technically I concentrated in fiction writing as an undergrad. The “fiction” assignments I turned in were almost always stories from my life, where I just changed the names and a few details (sorry, Prof Russell). But maybe that’s all fiction really is any way. Lately though, I’ve been tired of writing non-fiction. I’m bored my own stories, so I’m trying to write proper fiction (with the help of Kiteley’s book 3 A.M. Epiphany). I’m even thinking of dipping my toes into a couple of real, structured genres (think steam punk or post-apocolyptic). The results are guaranteed to be disastrous but so much fun. Whenever I have something new, I’ll probably post it on here (on a Friday, of course, because of alliteration). So here’s one of my first attempts. I hope you enjoy it! Happy Fiction Friday!
The girl saw her first. She was walking to her piano lesson just like she did every Thursday: down the street, across the bridge, through the park with the big tree—and that’s where she stopped: to stare at the tree. Because there was a woman in there, or that’s what she would tell me later.
The girl stood staring at the young woman in the tree, and the woman stared back. They stayed for a couple of minutes like that and then the woman winked, startling the girl who jumped back and bumped into a boy, a classmate of hers. He had olive skin, dark hair, and dark eyes. He was an orphan who had been adopted by the young, unmarried town mayor.
“Oh I’m sorry!” she said, but the boy, who had turned towards the tree when the girl bumped him, didn’t seem to hear her. He was staring at the tree, his mouth agape.
“Do you see her too?” The girl cried, grabbing the boy’s arm.
“There’s a woman!” He said pointing.
“I know! What should we do?” They both stared at the woman. She was laughing and had her arms thrown up so they extended in and around the branches. She kept wiggling her fingers, which scared the birds away.
“I’m going to get my father,” the boy said, and ran off.
The girl stayed where she was, staring. The woman appeared to be doing jumping jacks but her arms kept getting caught in the branches. The girl was so mesmerized by the woman that she didn’t notice the crowd of people who had gathered around her, all staring at the tree.
“She winked at me,” someone said, and a few others murmured in agreement.
“Look what she’s doing with her hair!” A man cried.
The woman had begun to toss her hair up into the tree. She would fling a lock of hair, and it would ascend into a branch and then begin wrapping itself round until the ends finally caught on a leaf. She had divided her hair into seven locks and did this with each one until all her hair was above her and above us, wrapped in and around the tree branches. When she finished, she appeared to sigh with satisfaction.
The boy returned at that moment with his father, the mayor. The mayor stood staring, mouth open. And then the woman in the tree winked at him, waking him from his shock.
“Someone get the professor!” The mayor shouted. There was a mumbling through the crowd as to who would go, and finally the girl volunteered.
I was in my office when she found me. She explained everything in detail, every movement the woman had made and the way she looked. I nodded along, and then agreed to go with her and see for myself. There was, of course, no woman in the tree. I diagnosed the whole town with a kind of mass hysteria, which is now known as the Daphne Epidemic of 1848, a name I came up with myself. I studied the members of the town for the next few years. The town was quarantined, as this was seen as some kind of bacterial epidemic. But eventually the people of the town stopped seeing the woman. Or at least, lost interest in her. They walked by the tree as if nothing had ever happened, though occasionally they would glance at it as if to check if she was there.
There were several campaigns to chop down the tree, all stopped by the mayor. The tree had been there for centuries, and he believed it should be preserved, regardless of what it had come to now represent.
I went on to publish two books about the case, which earned me national recognition. The girl and the boy were married ten years after the epidemic. The wedding ceremony was held beneath the tree and the whole town was in attendance, including the mayor and his new wife, a tall woman with long brown hair and a great sense of humor.
There are rumors that the mayor’s new wife is, in fact, the woman in the tree. That the mayor fell in love with her and begged her to come out so he could marry her. And that when he slipped the engagement ring onto one of the leaves, she laughed and emerged from the tree as the woman we now see. These rumors are of course untrue. Though, I will say, when I first met the mayor’s wife, she winked at me.