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Fiction Urban Fantasy Romance

        Jack, a farmboy with unruly blonde curls, runs towards the boundary of the planting field. By summertime, his trips to the back lot, the spot he has chosen, will have formed a walking path amidst the tall, sun-reaching corn plants. But now, in April of 1944, the field is ploughed and ready for planting. Jack imagines he is floating in the air, and looking down, the furrowed ground might look like rich brown soil drapery covering a hidden window. What would he see if he pulled open the curtains? A view to the underworld? Would his newly admitted uncle peer up?  Still bloodied and wearing his uniform? Jack quickens his pace, holding the burlap bag that he carries closer to his chest. He is agile, his sinewy body inherited from his father and honed from the farm chores that have now included the work his uncle used to do. His school teacher, Miss Shore, has convinced his father that he shouldn’t miss school. So Jack gets up two hours earlier to tackle his and Uncle Frank’s jobs.    

              When he finally reaches the spot, that he knows, on  a cloudless day , is sunny. But today is overcast and the over-satiated clouds hover. He has already prepared the ground – a hole, its bottom a mixture of earth and compost.  He must hurry, so the boy lifts an Elm seedling its root ball safely cradled in soil, out of the burlap.  It is a project that he and Frank’s mourning fiancée, Eileen endeavoured. With all their heart, they hope it will flourish and grow into a splendid tree, always in memory of Uncle Frank/Eileen’s Frank.

When the new tree is firmly planted, he wonders if Uncle Frank can touch its newborn, thready roots. “Uncle Frank. Miss Shore… I mean Eileen wants you to have this tree. I promised her I would look after it for you.” 

Fulfilling his promise to Eileen, he sings a few lines of their song. “I’ll be seeing you, in all the old familiar places… that this heart of mine embraces...” It’s as far as he remembers the words, but in his mind, the tune continues with the vision of Eileen and Frank slow-dancing. He presses his lips tightly and just as he picks up the empty burlap bag and starts heading back home, the sky opens up with a downpour. He quite enjoys getting soaked and as he trots back towards the farmhouse, he whistles the tune, ‘I’ll Be Seeing You’.

******************

Jack, both a widower and orphan inherited the farm, but his interests lie in teaching, not farming. A local farmer rents 100 acres to plant corn. And Jack has turned a part of his property into a park that surrounds the Elm tree.  Elm Park. He has taken care of Frank’s tree making sure it stayed healthy by pruning it each spring.   It is a tree in solitude, a beacon of love, and perhaps that is why it has grown so healthy and proud and free of disease. The rest of the farmland has been turned into a subdivision of houses on large lots. Jack still lives in the farmhouse with his ten year old son, Peter.  

It’s 1969. His neighbour’s daughter, Tracy is a school buddy Peter’s. The boy has a secret crush on her, but she is too much a tomboy to notice.   He pretends to tease her by pulling at her ponytail – he really just wants to feel her silky hair. In the middle of the park, the majestic Elm tree is a meeting place for Peter, Tracy and her best friend, Susie. The climb up onto the lowest branch, which is long and sturdy, and share Tootsie Rolls, Sweet Maries and urban myths. Peter has a doozy of a story.

“This tree has a name. Frank. My dad planted Frank when he was ten.” 

Tracy gives the trunk a gentle brush. “Hi Frank.” In twenty years, it has grown 30 feet. 

Tracy recalls Miss Shore, their teacher telling them about the horrific Dutch Elm Disease that has killed off so many Elms. Miss Shore was attacked by a disease too. Polio, that has rendered her crippled and in a wheelchair. 

Peter continues his story. “It’s a sacred tree. There are no others around it. Nothing else will grow near it.”

Susie, the smart ass says, “What about grass.” Peter ignores her.

“ It’s a spirit tree. On the night of a full moon, this tree turns into a soldier who died in WWII.”

Both girls’ synchronized retort: “No way.”

“Yes way. I should know because that man is my Uncle Frank. Dad and this witch who was in love with Uncle Frank put a magic spell on the tree when it was just a sapling. Dad has looked after it all these years.”

“What about the witch?”

“Well, she got really sick and when the moon was full, she came here one night to die.” Peter decides he must be right when he adds, “She couldn’t walk anymore, so she flew on a broomstick.”

With an added element of surprise, he tugs on Tracy’s ponytail. She bleats, “You’re giving me goosebumps.”   

Susie says, “So she just died? What about her broomstick?”  

Peter is pumped by his audience. To distract his thought of wanting to kiss Tracy, he looks up into the crown of the tree. The budding branches look like long, crooked fingers wearing little jewels. He continues the story, with added embellishment. “Well, the ground suddenly turned into a huge glass window. The witch looked down and saw Uncle Frank who reached up to her with both hands. His hands turned into roots, and he broke through the glass and grabbed the witch and pulled her down. Now they both live in the underworld.”   

Tracy finds this horror story eerily romantic. She decides to believe it’s true. She imagines herself being the witch and she fantasizes that Peter is the soldier. And Susie? Well, she’s the broomstick. 

A few day later, on a full-moon night, she and Pete decide to sneak out to the park to be witness to the supernatural event.  She is fully dressed, ready to go when her alarm clock set for 12:00 am rings (muffled because it is tucked under a pillow).  She pulls her jacket and shoes out from under the bed. The best option is to sneak out of the house, via the sliding doors in the den. Once outside, she looks up at her father’s window, to make sure the light is still off. The air is chilly and she buttons up her jacket. She wonders if her mother is looking down from heaven and wagging her finger at her. 

Peter has been waiting at the end of her driveway, beside a large spruce. Even though she knows this, she is still startled when he steps out. She tells him, “Susie chickened out. I promised we’d tell her if we see the ghosts.”

 As they approach the park, Tracy asks, “What if Frank and the witch catch us spying?”

              “They’re ghosts. Ghosts can’t hurt you.”

              They trudge through the damp grass towards the tree, when suddenly they see movement. Someone, definitely a woman, is sitting there, partially hidden by the tree trunk. Tracy squeaks, “It’s the witch.” 

Peter is dumbfounded and frozen on the spot. He had embellished the urban myth to impress Tracy. But it might actually be true.   Tracy suddenly clasps her hand over his. “Come on,” and she drags him onward.

The figure by the tree, who sits in a wheelchair, sees them. Her face is lit by the moonlight. “Tracy. Peter.   What brings you out tonight?”

  Tracy gasps with relief, although she is a bit deflated, to realize that the woman is their teacher, Miss Shore.  “Are you here to see the ghosts too?”

Eileen Shore, brushes a tear from her cheek. “Yes, but I’m sure there’s only one ghost.” 

She likes to fantasize that Frank appears, just so she can see him again.   Miss Shore tells them the true story of her dear Frank, who died in the war and how his nephew came to plant the Elm.  Peter whispers into Tracy’s ear, “Miss Shore is the witch.” Tracy nods and refocuses her attention on her teacher, seeing her in a new light, as if she were a film star. They share company with the Witch. After awhile, the April night chill sends them on their way home. Peter pushes the wheelchair to Miss Shore’s house and the two adventurers continue on. They decide to secretly call Miss Shore ‘The Witch’ from now on.   Peter walks Tracy to the sliding glass door, and charged with the WWII bittersweet story, they kiss.

******************

              Tracy, seated in front of the mirror, smoothes her white gown and watches in amusement as her maid of honour, and self-appointed hairdresser, Susan, fusses with her hair. Tracy squeaks as hairclips suddenly become tiny daggers and hairspray becomes invisible, sticky fingers.  Tracy’s flaxen hair is soft and silky. “Like wheat”, her fiancée Peter says. But it refuses to stay put without maximized hair products.   “Susie, I think you’re more nervous about this wedding than I am.” 

She wishes her mother could be here. In the last days, before her mom died, between struggling breaths, she whispered, “It’s the one thing, I regret the most – that I can’t be there to watch my daughter get married. I will be with you in spirit.” She remembers those last words. She looks so much like her mother did, that she pretends that her reflection is her mother, in spirit. She reaches out and touches the glass, to which the image responds in kind.  “Too bad mom can’t break through this window,” she says. Susan recalls the urban myth of the Elm tree and smiles affectionately.

              The wedding takes place on a Wednesday evening, so that Peter and Tracy can be married under the full moon and under Frank’s Elm tree.  Only a few friends and family are invited. Both fathers, widowers, Jack and Tracy’s father, sit in the front row.  There is a spot at the end of the row for Miss Shore, but she has not arrived yet. Tracy and Peter stand before the white-haired minister, under the Elm tree. The wedding vows cannot be said until The Witch is present, after all, it was her that must have cast a love spell on them.  She finally arrives, waves her hand apologetically and so as not to hold up the wedding any further, sits in her wheelchair behind the last row. She is beautiful in her powder blue satin dress and sweet smile.   The minister clears his throat as he starts to read from the bible.  But Tracy’s head starts to spin; inside her head, a tune drowns out the minister’s administering. She recognizes it – “I’ll Be Seeing You.” Her ears are ringing. Her high-heeled shoes slip in the grass and Peter catches her, just as she looks down. Instead of grass, they are standing on a large glass window. She utters, “We’re standing on glass.” Peter agrees. “Yes it’s grass, silly.” Only she can is tuned into the window spoken of in Peter’s story. Through it, she sees the tree’s vigorous root system spreading out and then the face of a man looking up at her. He is handsome and proud in his soldier’s uniform. Tracy pulls away from Peter and yells, “Stop!” Poor Peter interprets this as Tracy changing her mind, that she wants to jilt him. He cries, “No.” 

Tracy reassures him. “Oh Peter, Frank is here. We need to get Miss Shore up here.” She shouts frantically, to her father-in-law to be. “Please! Eileen needs to be here.”

Without any questions, Jack rises and rushes towards Miss Shore. He wheels her up to the altar under the Elm. He pats his son on the shoulder and returns to his seat. Eileen Shore is stunned, until she looks down and realizes they are planted on a glass window. The image of Frank appears, just as he was, the last time she saw him. He smiles shyly, as a groom would do, and suddenly she is so filled with joy that she feels that she will burst into crystal confetti. She leans down, but cannot quite touch Frank’s reached out hand. Peter understands that something supernatural is happening. He gently takes hold of Tracy’s hand and nods to the minister.  “I think both brides are ready to get married.”

******************

April 23, 2021 22:04

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