Angela made her usual offering before climbing up into Veeren’s boughs overhead. She pricked her index finger with a needle and squeezed a few drops of blood into the hollow opening of the tree’s trunk. Sucking her fingertip, she waited until the tree flexed with a low grumble. With her offer accepted, Angela clamored up the branches of the tree and wrapping her arms around one of the bigger branches. “Hello, old friend…”
Veeren’s bark creaked and snapped until it split open revealing the humanoid ship inside the tree. A featureless face turned from side to side and leaned towards Angela. Long, spindly arms reached down towards Angela. “Greetings, old friend…” A formless voice spoke to Angela. “It has been so long.”
“Too long,” Angela rolled onto her back and looked up at the oaken entity leaning over her. Angela smiled and looked over Veeren’s smooth curved shoulder and up into the sky. She would spend hours here, staring up at the sky, hiding from the rest of the world, and while away the hours with her dearest friend.
Veeren and Angela had met by accident. A six-year-old Angela had climbed up the tree to hide from her older brother Martin and accidentally scraped her knee on her way up. A trickle of her blood had reached the Offering Hollow, waking Veeren for the first time in over a thousand years. Their first encounter had been terrifying and Angela had almost fallen out of the tree. Veeren caught her falling body in one of her lower branches, twisting her up in leaves to protect her. Angela opened her eyes in the leaf cocoon and saw the world approaching her and avoiding the big branches on the way down. Once Angela was safely on the ground, Veeren shied away and pulled her branches back up towards her trunk.
Angela wanted to run but watched as the tree creature looked down on her. The titanic entity looked shy, bashful even. When it was clear that Angela wouldn’t run, Veeren leaned down again and extended one of their branches to her. Angela took the offered branch, wrapping her fingers around the wooden appendage.
“Who are you?” A low, groaning voice asked her. Angela saw no lips or face to speak of, but the question rang clearly in her head as if the tree could speak to anyone who was brave enough to touch the extended hand.
“I’m…Angela. Angela Whitney…”
“Angela Whitney…” The voice mused over the word. “I am Veeren…”
“Nice to meet you,” Angela swallowed. “Are you going to hurt me?”
“No,” Veeren rumbled. “I have no desire to.”
“Can we be friends? I just moved here from Idaho and don’t have a lot of friends.”
Veeren rumbled for a bit, shuddering into their tree a little bit. “I suppose. What do you need from a friend?”
Almost every day since, Angela would climb up into Veeren’s large branches, cradled in the oaks thick branches. Angela told Veeren about the world beyond the woods with cars, houses, school, and music played through a pair of headphones that Angela would put on one of Veeren’s branches. Veeren taught Angela the language of deer, the nature of rain, and the names of all the trees in the woods.
Growing up, Angela spent as much time in the boughs of Veeren’s tree as she did spend in her room. Her seventh-grade biology project was about the life cycle of trees with details taken from Veeren’s own lifetime. Her English teacher commended her for a short story she’d written freshman year about the civil war through the perspective of a tree, but Angela didn’t tell her that the account had been non-fiction. She had taken pictures in her prom dress by Veeren’s roots and had climbed up into the tree’s branches for her senior photos. They enjoyed sunny days and talked about the other kids in Angela’s school and the few kind souls who came to visit Veeren over her lifetime. Today was not going to be a pleasant conversation.
“Today was your…” Veeren grumbled through the words, “graduation?”
“That’s right,” Angela said, twisting the ends of her graduation robe. She’d ducked away from all of the relatives that had come back to the house to celebrate. Her parents were used to Angela being in Veeren’s tree, even if they never knew why the tree was so special.
“You look no…different than this morning,” Veeren observed. Angela was never sure how Veeren saw the world, but it was a mystery of trees that Angela was comfortable not knowing.
“I don’t feel too different, but I also…do? It’s complicated.”
For as little as Veeren said, they were often correct when it came to big ideas. Veeren’s wood groaned as they shifted position, tilting their head and leaning towards Angela. “You are…troubled?”
“I’m going to leave soon, Veeren.”
“Will you be back…tomorrow?”
“No, Veeren, I’m leaving town. I have to go to school.”
“A different school. All the way up in Vermont.”
“Where is Vermont?”
“Far from here. I’ll be gone for most of the year.”
Veeren was quiet for a minute, flexing around in the wood of the tree. “You’re not coming to visit anymore, are you?”
“I’m gonna come back soon…”
“Then why say…goodbye? We never say goodbye.” Veeren shuddered a little and retreated slightly. “We always promise to see each other tomorrow.”
“Leave then!” The wooden being snarled. Veeren pulled back into the tree trunk and pulled their bark back around themself. “Leave like all the others!”
The bark nearly closed before Angela pushed her hand in between the two slabs of bark and pulled them open. “Don’t leave! I want to talk to you about this!”
“There’s nothing left to say…” Veeren closed up their bark. Angela barely got her fingers out of the way before the bark snapped shut.
“I’ll keep summoning you all day,” Angela said, calmly tapping on the bark. “As much blood as I can give…”
There was a moment of stillness before the bark started to crack open again, only enough for Veeren’s blank face would peer out at her.
“I wanted to say goodbye, properly,” Angela said, reaching in between the split in the bark. Veeren’s smooth, wooden hand reached out and Angela gripped the oaken fingers. “We knew that this was going to happen one day. I’d take you with me if I could, you know that. And I wanted to tell you before I was about to leave so we could say goodbye to each other for the next few weeks.”
Angela pulled lightly, coaxing Veeren out of the tree trunk. Veeren leaned further out until they were suspended over the branch Angela was laying on. Angela held her hand up and Veeren pressed their palms flat against it.
“It’ll just be for a few months and I’ll be back before winter break. I can help you root the squirrels out of your branches and I’ll be here all summer to read to you if you want?”
Veeren looked away, staring down at the ground for a moment. Veeren extended their reach down the ground, picking through a few loose acorns on the forest floor. After picking through the nuts, Veeren reared up again and met Angela on the high branch. Veeren stretched out their hand and passed off the acorn to Angela.
“Keep this with you in Vermont…” Veeren grumbled. “To remember me.”
“I’ll never forget you, Veeren,” Angela said. “I’ll be back before you know it. And there’s still years after I graduate college. It’ll be like I’m barely gone.”
“I will wait,” Veeren said. “I am…sorry.”
Angela hugged the big branch she was laying on. “I should go soon. Everyone is inside and it’d be bad to miss my own graduation party, but I’ll come back tomorrow between packing. I’ll bring some lunch and spend all afternoon up here.”
“You are a good friend,” Veeren retreated, slowly closing up their large tree trunk. “I thought that you leaving would change that. But we have grown too close together to ever truly be apart. Our roots will always be tangled. For that, I am glad.”
Veeren closed their wooden armor around themself and folded into the old tree. Angela flattened herself against the giant branch, hugging the oak.