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The Leaves Told Her So

The leaves told her so


Estimated reading time — 6 minutes

Charlotte woke early in the morning on April 25th, 1678. She rose from bed, brushed her usual mess of blonde hair, and put on her favorite red dress and matching red shoes. She had always loved the beauty of the color red, the vivid hue of roses and red cardinal flowers that grew wild in the forests around her home, so she always made sure her outfit contained the color red somewhere within it.

As she passed the kitchen, her mother told her that the chickens had been fed, so instead she had the task of collecting tonight’s firewood. Charlotte grimaced; she disliked collecting firewood, as the forest always gave her a bad feeling. Even though she knew the forest was filled with life, it was still too quiet, too dark, too eerie. There would be no arguing with her mother, however. She sighed and retrieved the basket that she used to carry sticks, then started down the winding path that would lead her into the silence of the trees. As the path grew narrower and less discernable and wound further and further away from the comfort of her home, she eventually found herself lost deep in the wilderness, shrouded by the darkness of the trees that pressed upon her. Charlotte panicked and began to run through the forest, becoming more lost and scared with every turn; weeping, she called out over and over, pleading for help that never came.

Morning turned to afternoon, afternoon turned to evening. She wandered the forest as the day wore on, confused and alone, until she tripped over a root at the foot of a large tree and fell to the ground. As she arose from the bed of soft green moss upon which she had fallen, she looked up at the tree in irritation. Even in the deepening gloom, she immediately noticed this tree was not like other trees. This tree was odd; tall, warped, and crooked, with a shape almost like that of a person. It had long twisting branches that looked like arms, and little twigs where fingers would be; the lower trunk was split in two, as though the tree might be able to walk forward at any moment on bark-covered legs. Although it was winter, it was the only tree with leaves still on its branches, but even the leaves themselves were peculiar: they were blue. Unusual, yes, but something about this tree made Charlotte feel pleasant – secure, safe. Loved. She could’ve sworn she heard a soft voice inside her head speaking to her, whispering secrets directly into her ear that only she could know.

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Time passed as Charlotte sat listening to the tree; it felt like minutes but it must have been much longer, for when she heard the crackling of twigs behind her and felt her mother’s familiar warm touch on her shoulder, it was fully dark and she could see stars overhead, winking at her through the blue leaves – leaves that now looked black. Charlotte’s mother scolded her for wandering off the path, and quickly took her home to light the fire with the little wood they had left.

That night, Charlotte dreamed of the tree. She dreamt of the tree oozing blood out of the small cracks of the bark. The sky above it turned the same shade of scarlet as the blood, and she heard hundreds of voices, weeping in pure sorrow. The moss around the base of the tree was now black, shriveled, and dead. Lightning forked through the blood-red sky and struck the tree, igniting it in flames; the cries turned to screams of absolute agony. The morning clucking of the chickens awoke Charlotte from her nightmare and brought her back to reality. As she lay in bed mulling over the disturbing dream, she realized that she was not feeling fear, but something different and surprising: peace. She was not afraid of the tree; she loved the tree.

As the days went on, her love for the tree grew, as did a new loathing for her mother. Her mother felt Charlotte was obsessed with the tree, and it made Charlotte quite angry. Her mother didn’t understand the connection she had with the tree. She never even bothered to ask about the tree, or seek it out in the forest again to see it for herself. Charlotte thought that if saw the tree in all of its incredible beauty and had the chance to hear the secrets the tree held, her mother would then understand. Would know.
Charlotte’s mother remained worried, however, growing increasingly upset with Charlotte’s mentions of and tributes to the tree – particularly her drawings of it, which were many. Charlotte scribbled crude sketches of the tree on every surface she could find, drawing not only its inky blue leaves but also strange, runic symbols on its base. At times she drew animals like squirrels and rabbits, but these creatures would always be on their backs as if dead, or in sacrifice, with those strange symbols on their stomachs. Charlotte had also been neglecting her duties and even purposely disobeying her mother: she no longer retrieved wood for the house, didn’t feed the chickens, never cleaned up after herself, and was rude and disrespectful to her mother. There was now only one important thing in Charlotte’s life, only one that deserved her attention: the tree.

Thirteen days after discovering the tree in the forest, Charlotte had a terrible argument with her mother. She’d had enough with the tree, she said, how Charlotte spent more time with the tree than with her own family. Her mother went on about how she was so focused on the tree that she barely got anything done in the house, her hair and clothes were a mess, they had hardly any firewood, and they were near to running out of food. The tree was unhealthy, her mother said, and it was making Charlotte unhealthy as well; she had a mind to gather some villagers and take an axe to it for once and all.

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Charlotte stormed from the house in a fury and raced down the path leading to the forest. Her mother called to her to come back, but to no avail; Charlotte reached the end of the path and disappeared. Smothering her anger and frustration, her mother went to the smokehouse to check for any last bit of meat for supper. When she opened the door, a horrible rancid smell hit her nostrils immediately. She gagged, covered her mouth, and went inside. A single large stone had been pried from the floor. As she got closer to the stone, the smell got worse. Her mother peered into the hole where the stone had been and saw an array of dead animals, rabbits and squirrels mostly, placed side by side. Her mother stood shocked and unmoving as she took in the macabre tableau. She noted that many tree roots had begun to grow over, under, and into the animals. All the animals had odd runes like those in Charlotte’s drawings carved onto their stomachs, blood dried into their fur.

A chilly breeze of winter nipped lightly at Charlotte’s face, ruffling the folds of her bright red dress and mussing strands of her beautiful blonde hair. She heard the tree calling to her, and followed the sound of its voice in her head. As she wandered through the forest, a bramble from a nearby bush tore a piece from her dress, but she didn’t care – the tree was calling. After what seemed an eternity she finally found the tree, its blue leaves rattling in the wind. Charlotte sat down and settled into the blackened moss at its base, listening to the new secrets it had to tell: her mother hated her; the villagers were evil; they were going to hurt her. It told her things that had to be true. Soon there were other voices as well; Charlotte thought she heard them yelling her name, but those were very far away and the tree was so, so close. She pressed her body into the trunk of the tree to hear it more clearly; her fingers subconsciously traced the carvings around the base while she listened. As it spoke, the bark oozed a runny and metallic-smelling sap; it was sticky and strangely warm.

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By late afternoon, Charlotte had still not returned from the forest. Her mother, worried, rallied the villagers in a search party – clouds were gathering, a storm was coming, and Charlotte needed to be found. The search party spent long hours scouring the forest, desperately calling out for Charlotte and looking for any sign – of her, or the odd tree with blue leaves. There was a brief moment of hope when a villager found a strip of fabric from Charlotte’s red dress dangling from a bush, but after that, nothing. The search continued, and the hope faded.

As the sun dropped onto the horizon, they heard an ear-piercing scream – the villagers rushed in the direction from which it came, expecting to find Charlotte afraid and likely injured, but instead they only found the blue-leafed tree, alone and desolate. They searched all around the tree, but there was no trace of Charlotte. They looked and looked and looked, but with nary a sign, until one of the villagers standing underneath the tree felt a small drop of water land on his nose. Rain, he thought. The storm is upon us. He wiped the drop from his nose; his fingers came away red. He looked up and saw the same red liquid dripping from a single leaf above him. He put his hand over his mouth in shock: the leaves of the tree were no longer blue. Above him was a canopy of scarlet. The leaves had turned blood red.

Credit: BirdInAWell

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