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Rated: 18+ · Fiction · Cultural · #2158476
A little girl has an affinity for plant life, and the plants respond. A wood witch?
Deep in the Maine woods sits a small town of around five-thousand individuals. Somewhat of a closed community, it doesn't particularly welcome strangers -- especially tourists. Local families have, in most part, been there over a half-dozen generations. If you or I would move in, we'd be accepted but not included in the intricacies of a complex social network where your status might be determined by your great-grandparent's actions.

John and Trina Evans were finding that out. John, a retired accountant, ignored village politics, being more interested in a lifelong dream of a quiet retirement deep in rural America. To that end, they had spent their savings on a thirty-acre tract several miles outside of town.

Their dream culminated in a large six-room log cabin deep inside their new property. It was a fairly isolated patch of overgrown forest that for some reason locals had allowed to return to nature, alone among miles of wheat and corn fields.

On initial inspection, in the company of a land agent, John had found the remains of various homes, overgrown with mature trees and vines at one corner of his property, along with one half-acre of cleared space containing square holes, half-caved in.

"This used to be an archaeological dig," Mr Twinker from the realty company told him. "Don't worry, they finished long ago and aren't interested any longer. It's not classed as a historical site and you're free to do with it as you wish."

The large modern log cabin seemed to be a recent addition, set in a cleared space among otherwise primeval nature. The realty company had made needed repairs and connected some of the utilities such as electricity and even city water, though they were to still use a septic tank left by the last owners. It had been inspected and judged as functional. In other terms, an inside toilet.

A moving van had managed to traverse a driveway of packed dirt covered by stone and had left for a long trip back to the city. The last of the day before and present morning had been spent in moving furniture around and making lists of needed supplies.

Finally, though, the couple had free time to study the outside of their new home.

"I tried out the beauty parlor in town," Trina said, relaxing in a lawn chair on the back porch while listening to birds chirping in nearby trees. "They were friendly enough but not being included in casual talk was annoying. One lady talked about her chocolate chip cookie recipe. When I tried to give advice about using real butter instead of oleo, I was ignored. Simply ignored."

"It takes time, dear. Remember, you're not back home. We have to make new friends here."

She sighed. "I know. But at least they could have looked at me. I was simply ignored."

"The same with me at the hardware store. When I went to the counter, there were three guys talking. They didn't make room for me, just let me stand for minutes before the clerk deigned to notice."

The two sat in silence for a minute, lost in their own thoughts.

"We'll need to plow this yard up and reseed it with real grass," John observed. "That may be a problem. Who knows how deep those roots are?"

"And some of the oldest trees are falling down, honey." Trina observed. "Especially that big one behind the house. Someday, mark my words, a storm will bring it crashing down on our roof," Trina told her husband, pointing at a huge elm seen from the porch.

The tree, fifty or sixty feet high and ten-feet thick at the base, was leaning dangerously toward their home.

He and wife had chosen the place at least partially because it was so isolated. It stood in a cleared space in the middle of a small forest. He loved the isolation, the house being positioned two acres into the woods at the end of a long winding crushed-stone driveway -- invisible from the nearest road, County Road # 163.

He sighed. "I'll check it out, see what I can do."

A week later, after settling in, he went to town and bought a large chainsaw. Taking the heavy tool outside and filling it with fuel, according to directions, he tried it out on a small tree that might threaten his electric line.

John found the saw cut through that spruce as though it were made of butter, throwing chips out in a dense cloud. He first cut a chunk out of the back, a foot from the ground, in order to guide it when it fell. In a few minutes, the small tree dropped where he wanted, with no problem. He left it lie until later, to cut up for kindling wood.

Checking over the much larger elm, though, showed he would have serious problems. It was, as his wife said, leaning toward and almost over the house. The task didn't seem impossible to him, but beyond his expertise. Walking around the obstacle, he noted that someone had obviously, at some time or other, attempted to doctor the tree.

There was what looked like a rather large cement plug on one side near the base, darkened by years of exposure to the elements. The filling was two-feet in diameter and six high, rough and shoddy-looking as though the tree had been sick at some point and a chunk cut out of its living flesh. That, John thought, could be a real problem. Who knows how deep the repair goes, or how hard the substance?

"I'd better hire a professional," he mumbled to himself, storing the saw in a nearby shed and going back into the house.

***

"We can handle it, Mr. Evans," Peter Sells, of "Acme Tree Surgeons" told him. "We'll cut it from the top down, a section at a time. When we get down to that patch, we can handle it easily." He grinned. "Not a problem at all. By the way, do you want us to cut it up into firewood? That's another of our services."

"Na. That's okay. Just get it down and I'll see if I can cut it myself. I have my own saw."

"A lot of work for an amateur. Call us later if you need help. You want us to get at the job? I can do it next week if you want?"

"Guess you better, get it out of the way. It's been standing there for hundreds of years and the house has been here since the seventies, but the thought still scares my wife. Sort of a Damaculies syndrome."

"You mean the sword of Damocles, the king that ruled with a blade hanging over his head by a thread?" Peter asked. "I wouldn't worry too much. Although mostly dead, the tree looks sturdy enough. Whoever done it seems to have known what they were doing. It's a very old patch and hasn't killed the tree yet."

***

The next Wednesday, John and Trina watched from their rear patio as the tree service began their task. The men seemed professional and worked quickly. Every half-hour or so, a chunk of trunk or huge limb would fall, crashing to the ground to be towed to a pile away from the house. By the noon break, the tree was so low that they couldn't see it from their viewpoint.

After the large truck, loaded down with workers, left for their lunch break, the two walked over to see what was left.

At that point, the trunk was only ten-feet tall, no longer imposing. Seven to ten-foot lengths of trunk lay in a neat pile near the forest. They must have used their truck to pull them around, John thought. The sections certainly didn't fall that way. He remembered a compact but powerful looking power-hoist on the back of the truck, somewhat like an auto wrecker's.

"Maybe we should just leave it like that?" Trina asked.

"We paid for them to level it. Might as well let them, dear."

"I was thinking. I wonder if they can cut it down to, say, three feet from the ground and even across the top? We could polish the stump and use it as a sort of outdoor table. Maybe pour a concrete surface around it? What you think? Sort of a patio?"

He shrugged. "It wouldn't hurt to ask."

When the workers came back, John was told they didn't have the equipment for such a cut. That they had to take the remainder out in sections, and carefully. Much of the work would be done manually, with axes, because the large plug could wreck their saws. There was no guarantee as to what the surface would look like. The plug would probably extend below the three-foot table level.

The couple stayed around to watch the final phase.

At one point, the truck was backed up. First, a chainsaw and axes were used to clear a couple of feet of the plug, then a chain wrapped around the top of the filling and tightened. The truck revved up as it pulled, finally jerking the plug out to slide along the ground.

Something rolled out of the cavity, bumping against Trina's foot. She looked down and shrieked.

It was a petrified human head, long white hair streaming out along the ground in its wake.

Trina fainted.

"What the hell!" John exclaimed. Reaching down, he reached to pick it up, then changed his mind. "What the flaming hell," he repeated.

"We better report this to the sheriff," Peter Sells said, shaking his head. "Damn. This has never happened before." He nudged the back of the head with a toe of his work shoes. "I'll do it. You don't have a telephone yet. We'll check back here tomorrow and, hopefully, finish this up."

John nodding, they left for town. An hour later, Trina revived, they were sitting in the living room when Sheriff Adams knocked.

"I found the rest of the body inside the tree, Mr Evans. Looks old'ern the hills to me. Nothing I have to be concerned with. No suspects at this late date." He laughed. "I'll send some guys from the university to dig it out and carry it away. Hopefully this place won't be declared a historical site. Christ, that last one on your land was a humdinger. We had to pull security on it for years to keep the kids out."

***

Abigail Parsons's parents knew she was different, even as a small child.

"Have you noticed how she seems to be attracted to plants?" her father mentioned to her mother. "The way those bushes reach out to clutch at her when she walks by? It's unnatural."

Indeed, unnatural or not, the Parsons' crop always seemed to be the best in the colony. Even during the year 1689, when their neighbors suffered a drought, Jeb Parsons grew a bumper crop of corn and beans, a great help in feeding their neighbors.

Little Abbie spent most of her time in the fields, tenderly nurturing the plants with water, cuddling and even talking to them as though they were human. They seemed to respond, growing huge flowers and vegetables.

Jeb and her mother, Jane, couldn't help but notice and even fear the child's powers.

"Never, never, let anyone know, honey," they cautioned the child. "Some people wouldn't understand. They would consider you a wood witch."

In those days, and that place, there was no organized schooling. Her parents, though not reclusive, kept her on the farm as much as possible. They tried to hide her very existence from most of the colony.

The girl's best friend seemed to be one particular elm tree. At the time Abbie was born, the tree had been ill, limbs drooping and sickly looking. The ends of its branches were mostly dead and worms cavorted in its bark. About the time the child could walk, she found that tree and befriended it. Within a year it was well, growing tall and proud. Even as a teenager, the elm tree was her favorite. She'd sit under it for hours at a time while reading the few books her religion would allow, basically religious.

In the year 1704, word came to their village of hundreds of witches being found there in Maine, Massachusetts, and as far away as Virginia. There were meetings of the village elders, their purpose to ferret out any such evil creatures in their area before they could take hold. One known type was the "wood witch." To the colonists, there was no such thing as a "good" mutation.

Of course, supposed deeds of local witchcraft were discussed. The elders, including Preacher Edmonds, talked about such things as cows giving sour milk, a cat birthing thirteen kittens, and crops failing seemingly at random.

"And what about the Parsons?" Alfred Johns, an seventy-year-old retired miller, asked.

"What about them?" Preacher Edmonds asked.

"As long as I've known them, they've never had a bad crop, even back in '89."

"Jeb and Jane come to church regularly. I can vouch for that."

"And their daughter? Has anyone here seen their daughter?" Johns asked.

"They have no daughter," Edmonds said.

"They do have one," Johns told the group. "Two-three years ago, I was out that way, and saw a little girl in the fields, hoeing."

"Maybe they have a slave or a niece?" from another elder.

"They have neither. It's a daughter, looks just like Jeb," Johns insisted.

"Even so, she couldn't be a witch. They've had no troubles or I would have known," Preacher Edmonds said.

"But, if there is a daughter, why doesn't Jane bring her to church? You tell me that?" Johns asked. "And maybe she's responsible for bad luck on other farms, not her own?"

"And maybe you're full of manure?" another elder replied. They all laughed, except Alfred Johns.

Before long, with no witches found, the meeting adjourned. But once Alfred had a presentiment he wasn't the type of man to let it lie quietly to die on the vine. Wherever he could cadge a free drink, he spread the word about his suspicions.

The next year was a drought, and the one after that. Villagers began praying to their god while looking for explanations. Meanwhile, Jeb and Jane freely fed the village from a bountiful harvest. Alfred grew more certain, and actually acquired listeners.

Eventually a small mob was formed, mostly from lazy slackers, but the elders talked them out of a witch hunt.

Having plenty of free time, Alfred Johns used it to spy on little Abbie, gathering evidence of her affinity with plant life. He saw bushes bend to embrace the tyke when there was no wind, how she coddled them, and was convinced she was a wood witch, wreaking evil on her neighbors.

His persistence eventually led to a few other men going with him to spy on the farm. They saw the same things, even the large elm tree moving its smaller branches to shelter Abbie from the sun as it moved across the heavens, and were convinced of the child's evil nature.

Another mob was formed without the elders knowing, gathering one day right after sunrise. Everyone knew you couldn't catch a witch at night. They would simply turn into bats and fly away.

Armed with sticks, hoes, and rakes, they stormed the Parsons' farm, bent on supposed vengeance.

At the time, Abbie was working in a cornfield near her elm friend. She became frightened as she saw all those angry men running around their property, yelling and running into and out of the cabin. Some of them spied the child and ran toward her through waist-high corn.

She saw her father run out of a smoking house to struggle with the invaders, only to be struck from behind by the blade of his own ax which had been resting in a stump. Her mother suffered the same fate as she crouched over her husband to succor him.

Not knowing what to do or where to go, she ran toward her friend, the elm tree. Crying loudly, Abbie backed against sun-warmed tree bark, knees quivering in unsuppressed horror. In response, the tree swept its lower branches down to protect her, causing the angry invaders to pause at the sight.

As they watched, unbelieving, the tree trunk itself opened wide, the youngster falling into its depths. The trunk snapped closed almost completely, leaving only a long wide ten-inch deep indentation.

For entire minutes, the frightened townspeople stood around, afraid of the tree, its branches still waving and reaching for them.

Finally, one of the mob had an idea. He went back to the barn and found a barrel of cement powder, then mixed it with loose stones and creek water. Among ever diminishing moans and pleas from within the tree, they sealed up the indentation to keep the wood witch inside.

Waiting until morning to be certain, the killers returned to their small village, congratulating themselves along the way. After all, they had killed a real witch ... a wood witch, no less.

On returning, they couldn't wait to tell Preacher Edmonds who, horrified by the violence, left the next week for Boston, never to return. Since no other preacher would accept the mission, the church sunk into disrepair and eventually burned to the ground.

The next few years brought additional hardship to the dozen families still comprising the colony. Three years in a row, locusts descended on ripening wheat and corn. A cow gave birth to a three-legged calf and Mrs Simpson's child was stillborn. A snowstorm in August froze their fields into a winter wonderland. A brown bear came out of nowhere to kill three children. One by one, frightened families left for better climes.

In a final effort, remaining villagers, remembering the fecundity of the abandoned Parsons' farm, moved there and built new homes. It did no good. That land also remained fallow.

In the course of time -- maybe because of that witch hunt along with guilt from killing Abbie's parents -- the colony failed, leaving homes to deteriorate in the weather, land to return to nature and with no written records left behind - only evil rumors.

Years became centuries, abandoned buildings turning to dust blowing in the wind as though the colony never existed, only a few stone foundations remaining. Nearby townspeople habitually shunned the area, although in time the reason was forgotten.

***

"I can't get over her condition," Doctor Simpson said, sipping coffee. "According to tree rings, she's been encrypted in there for at least three-hundred years. There shouldn't be anything but a skeleton, if even that. Her flesh is dessicated, dried into a leathery condition but still complete. Even the bugs didn't touch her. They ate her clothing, if she had any, but not the body itself."

"I can't understand it either, Jack," Jane Tompkins, his assistant, answered. "X-rays show all internal organs in good condition, no apparent cause of death."

"Even the flesh on her fingers is complete. If she'd been sealed in alive, I'd think she'd have at least attempted to claw her way out. And there are no such indications on the inside of the plug, either."

"She could have been poisoned first? We couldn't cut into the body for an autopsy.

"We tried, but none of our standard saws worked and it wasn't felt important enough for digging up or buying diamond-cutters. We managed to drill into internal organs. Again, they were dried but no poisons found.

"We've got enough financial problems right now without spending all of it on that one corpse. And those special interest groups were making a stink about reburying her," Doctor Simpson explained.

"Well, it's over now. The activists buried the body today. They raised money for a funeral and she's under the ground by now. Guess we'll never know that story, and it would have been a good one."

***

Abigail was, indeed, under the ground -- the cold nonliving ground. Her head, placed carefully onto the stem of a neck, gradually merged with the body. Rain and ground-water slowly softened dehydrated flesh, seeping in through pressed lips to reinvigorate internal organs.

In time, a finger moved. A single hesitant heartbeat tried and failed to warm her. Weeks later, it tried again, eventually working to pump vital fluids.

An arm emerged from the earth, clearing space as dirty long white hair emerged into sunlight, startling a bunny rabbit digging for roots around bushes. Lungs drew in air, even as long-unseeing eyes flashed open. The other arm emerged like a bony spider. By dawn, Abigail the wood witch was free, disappearing into a wooded area behind the cemetery. Unerringly, gathering strength from the December woodland, she made her way home.

***

On the western edge of town stood a small house surrounded by fields of corn and soybeans. Inside, two old ladies sat over glasses of iced tea, the instant type.

"Heavens, Edna," one spoke, glancing out a window, "I don't know what to do. That garden is going all to hell and I can't do anything about it." She appeared close to tears. In prior years, her garden had been both pride and joy. "Blood pressure, you know. I can't bend down, or even crouch for very long before falling over."

"Tell me about it, honey. Those times done been here ... and gone. The only thing saving me is a power-chair. Simply walking to the toilet's a painful chore with this arthritis."

"I asked Preacher Feltcher. He said he'd try to find a volunteer to help around the house, but how can I ever pay, even a teenager?"

That night, a three-hundred-year-old teenager happened to pass by on her way home. Acutely aware of her nakedness, certainly not condoned by biblical passages, she stayed to shadows, trying to avoid the many barking dogs she passed.

Spotting a shed half-hidden by darker moonlit shadows, she tentatively approached. Inside, a row of dusty dirty outer clothing hung on wooden pegs. "Uhhhh, aaaaa, ah ah," the girl mumbled through barely-functioning vocal cords.

Finding a pair of bib overalls that fit and a torn raincoat, she looked around to find footwear. Her feet were tender from the grave. Being deeply religious, she searched a so far partially-reinvigorated mind for a way to pay for the clothing. Of course Abigail had no gold or brass coins with her.

"Ahhhh, gii." She spotted a nearby garden overgrown with weeds, though she could sense other plant life yearning to emerge. They were desperate, pressed down by thick roots and uncaring rough stalks unwilling to share even a smidgen of sunlight with others. For hours, the girl crawled along ill-kept rows, digging with still-tender fingers at dried clods. At times, her digits killed and shriveled, at times caressed and encouraged enhanced growth. Although she loved the weeds in their own right, she couldn't ignore tortured dimly-heard cries of their victims. Some plants willingly shared space, others not.

By the time the sun rose over the horizon, the garden sprouted with tall flowers. Leftover tomato seeds from the year before bloomed though out of season. A small patch of long-forgotten corn stalks rose, tentatively, toward the heavens. The wood witch had returned.

Later, there were reports of a strange woman seen walking down county road #163, though no one seemed to give an accurate description and she wasn't found.

"I dunno, guys," farmer Joseph Diamond told his cronies. "Kinda skinny, looked like a bum to me. What I noticed mostly was that white face. Like a whitewashed doll, it was." He giggled. "An she kinda staggered. Must'a been drunk. Meb'be one'a those hippies from at house on Juniper street?"

Even as she walked, Abigail's strength increased, skin taking on a more human-like tinge. Life force as given and reinvigorated by the sun flowed into her body, giving strength and renewing long-dormant mental facilities.

Eventually, she arrived home, surprised by the lush growth of forest sitting by itself among surrounding fields of grain and beans. Well within the thirty wooded acres stood her family's ten. Before, it had been cleared and planted by her father's sweat, then deified by his blood. She instinctively knew it as her home.

Abbie moved through towering trees now bent forward in welcome, lower branches reaching down to caress her shoulders and head, even as bushes reached out, threatening to entangle legs only recently recovered enough to walk straight. Smiling, emitting an aura of love and care, she made her way down dimly-remembered lanes toward her best friend - the elm.

As the returning wood witch spied only a rough-surfaced stump where her elm had stood, a loud cry, more a hoot, escaped quivering lips. Then, then her eyes lit on a huge pile of logs lying nearby.

Breaking down into unbidden tears, she threw herself onto what remained of her best friend, clutching bare wooden flesh with questing loving hands. "whoooooooom, wawhooooooooo."

Abigail felt emotions, including anger -- strange to her. Abbie was a wood witch, a creature loving nature and all its ramifications, not an avenger, not used to anger. Her nature was love of all things. Quickly, fleeting anger became resolve.

This was HER land, a bequest from her family. She would take care of it, and to hell with the rest of the world. It was HERS, and anyone objecting would be damned. Especially the townspeople who had killed her family. Although resolve took charge, that feeling of anger still simmered below its surface.

***

"What was that?" Trina asked, sitting up in bed. "I thought I heard a wolf?"

"Na. No wolves here in years. Too many people around," John replied, rolling over to go back to sleep.

"Don't you think you should at least check?"

"It'll wait till later. Go back to sleep."

After breakfast, John intended to start on his firewood by cutting up those felled trees. He'd rented a hydraulic log-splitter and a diesel wood chipper, along with a flatbed truck to carry them.

Stepping off the back porch, ready for a day's labor, he thought he saw a youngster dressed in a raincoat walking near that elm stump.

"Hey! You! What you think you're doing?"

As he walked that way, the apparition seemed to grow faint, merging with nearby brush. Shaking his head, John turned and reached for the chainsaw. Must be the morning mist? he decided. Time to get to work.

***

It took months of labor, a little at a time, for John to cut all his firewood. Once, when he'd have sworn it was half done, he found a new pile of logs stacked near his splitter. All he could figure was that one of his neighbors brought them during the night. Shrugging, he buckled down and added them to his stack of firewood, figuring he'd find out sooner or later. He never noticed a corresponding lack of dead trees on his own land.

Almost immediately, though, once-weak trees regained new life. Bushes became untangled in order for the branches to gather more sunlight. The woods around his home seemed to grow more lush, more healthy. The land began to look more like a park than a wild area.

The greatest change was the lack of insects around and in the house, itself. There were plenty of them in the forest but they avoided the clearing.

A little-known fact is that land accumulates life force from the sun. It expends it on all living things in close proximity. It's one of the many unseen and little-understood forces of nature.

In this case Abigail, having control over that life force, jealously used it on her own land, taking from nearby areas. Oh, the change wasn't immediate, all encompassing, or consistent. Many small grain fields were missed, others had built up a strong reserve of their own. But, over the space of a few years, the imbalance became evident. While her land blossomed, areas nearby fell sallow. It was especially evident in nearby fields. Crops began failing or were at least undernourished outside John's property.

Since Abigail didn't have any interest in nearby areas, she ignored the evidence. Maybe that disinterest was in part due to the killing hundreds of years in the past? If so, it wasn't a conscious effort on her part. The thought of revenge had been forced far down in her psyche. She only cared for those thirty acres she loved, which required sucking life force from many miles around.

She found a home between and under the roots of another tree, sleeping on the bare ground which invigorated her recently dead body. From there, she could hear and sense everything in her small kingdom - even inside the Evans' home.

As with all in that kingdom, she loved the Evans' and their attempt to improve the land. To that end, John had paid a landscaping company to bulldoze the remains of the archaeological dig into a hole they dug, then spread earth, grass and wildflower seeds on top. It had seemed to him to be an eyesore - as it did to Abigail.

One unexplainable point was a lone seedling that sprouted on top of the old elm stump. Not only that, but the way it seemed to grow every month. In only three years, it reached six feet tall. Both John and Abigail nourished it, her with her powers and he by watering it whenever he watered the new lawn.

One day, while resting on the stump, he noticed something shining on its surface. Funny, John thought, he hadn't seen it before. Using a pocket blade, he carefully pried the object out, finding it was a small silver crucifix.

"Honey. Look what I found in that old tree." He showed his wife. "It was shining there. I wonder if it worked its way out or something?"

"I don't know a thing about biology," Trina said, looking the object over. "Looks like writing on the back. I'll clean it up and we'll see what we've got."

"Maybe something we should give the sheriff, you think? It might have belonged to that poor girl in the tree."

"Over my dead body, you will. We're keeping the darn thing." She was adamant on that subject. Cleaning it with modern chemicals brought out the writing, actually scratching obviously made by a sharp object. It was hard to read, partially because of some of the letters being extended off the edge as if done by a rank amateur. Maybe that poor girl? Trina thought.

"It says 'Abigail', I can tell that much, and ... 'person' or 'parson', something like that," she told her husband. "We'll hang it over the fireplace. We can see it as we burn that old tree it was in."

The words filled Abbie with pride. Elm would like that, she knew, which must be why he gave it up to John. She realized that there were many forces in nature even she had no control of, such as her returning to semi-life. In that context, she could feel something - a personality? - stirring in the seedling on the stump, suspiciously reminding her of her old friend.

While satisfied with her lot, Abbie still remembered her childhood and wished she could be completely alive again. Although having powers, she missed being able to feel like a real living person. That thought was amplified whenever she felt the love between her two tenants.

***

Along with other creatures in the forest, John and Trina also seemed to reverse in age. In their sixties, they felt twenty years younger. With the resultant increase in energy came that of fading illnesses attributed to old age. John felt refreshed in the morning, limbs stiff no longer. Trina eventually felt strange stirrings in her tummy.

***

"I don't know how you did it," Doctor Johanson smiled, showing Trina a chart. "But you're pregnant." She shook her head. "And at age 65. We'll have to keep a constant watch, though. At your age it might well be stillborn or incomplete in some way."

As the baby developed normally, Abigail took to sleeping under the house so as to use her powers to help it along. She loved the fetus as much as the Evans' did. Strangely, even to her as she expended energy to keep it from being imperfect or premature, her own body seemed to lighten in substance. Eventually, she could dimly see sunlight through her own hand.

Abbie would spend more and more time with the seedling, also helping it mature and develop into a carbon copy of her old friend. Between her expending life force to the two of them, tree and fetus, she was often worn out, sleeping deeply in order to absorb more and more energy from the earth, only to pass it on to the two seedlings -- inadvertently leaving the rest of the land to its own nature.

***

"It's developing perfectly, Mrs. Evans. And the tests show a normal female developing," Doctor Johanson said, "Have you decided on a name for a girl? And don't say you'll name it after me. Half this damned town has done THAT already." She laughed.

"We've talked it over," Trina replied, feeling her tummy and enjoying motion within, "and think we'll name her Abigail."

"A grandmother's name or something?" the doctor asked.

Trina shook her head. "No. After a cross on our wall. An ancient name that we agree should be passed down over the generations. After someone who deserves to be remembered."

Unseen to her new family, when the new baby was brought home the old Abigail dissolved completely, turning to a roughly human-shaped coating of dust under the house as she heard the baby's first cry over her head.

The townspeople still weren't very friendly, but Trina didn't give a damn as she proudly wheeled baby Abbie down cracked sidewalks. A third person at the house seemed to erase a loneliness that had developed from the anti-social atmosphere downtown. It was three, rather than two, against five-thousand. That made all the difference. Maybe, she dared to think, it might increase to four ... or more?

***

"Ma," little Abbie asked, "who's the other Abigail? The one on the back of that cross?"

Trina grabbed her by the shoulders. "What have I told you about climbing around on that fireplace? You know better than that. You could crack your head if you fell off."

"Sorry, Ma. But who was it?"

"A lonely little girl from long, long ago, honey. Your father and me never knew her, but loved her just the same. Enough to name you after her."

"Anyway, Ma, I'm gonna go out and sit under my buddy, that little tree Daddy said was planted just for me." In a serious tone, "It's my special, special friend, you know?"

Later, while calling her family in to supper, Trina saw Abigail sitting under the young elm tree isolated on that stump. She'd swear immature limbs were caressing the little girl's face.

"Come and get it, John ... Abigail. Supper's getting cold."

The End.
Charlie

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