The tree leads to another mystery
Susan awoke the next morning and found herself in a strange room. Where am I? she thought. Then the events of the previous day came back to her and she remembered where she was, in her grandparents' house and in her mother’s old room.
Susan looked at the clock. 7:45, I’m late, she thought. She quickly got out of bed and dressed. She washed up in the washroom and headed down stairs.
“Where have you been, sleepy head?” Brad seemed in better spirits this morning. It was unusual for him to be up so early in the morning, but with no TV to watch, he must have gone to bed earlier than he usually did.
“Morning, Brad.” Susan got a bowl and some cereal. “Is Grandma up yet?”
“Good morning, Susan.” Grandma walked into the room wearing a heavy pink robe and a pair of pink slippers. “I was just getting the paper.” She removed a newspaper from under her arm and set it on the table.
“Morning, Grandma.” Susan gave her grandmother a hug. “Grandpa's not up yet, is he?”
“I think he’s awake. He should be down shortly.” Grandma put a kettle on the stove.
“I should be leaving soon. Tell Grandpa goodbye for me. I’ll be back for my stuff later.”
“Why are you in such a hurry?” Grandma looked at her granddaughter with one raised eyebrow and then turned to Brad. “Didn’t you say that the school bus wouldn’t be here until 8:30?”
“I’m not taking the bus.” Susan looked to Brad for support. “I always walk to school.”
“Do you think it’s safe to walk to school by yourself? After what happened yesterday, I would think you would be afraid to go alone.”
“I guess.” Susan looked down at her sneakers. “I hate riding on the bus. It’s so crowded and smelly. Please let me walk to school.”
“Well, okay,” Grandma wrinkled her brow, “But at least take Brad with you.”
“What? No way.” Brad put his spoon down. “I’m not walking all the way to school.”
“It’s okay, Grandma. I’ll be fine.” Susan put on her navy blue sweater and grabbed her backpack. “I’ll see you later. Remember to say goodbye to Grandpa for me.” And before anyone could stop her, she was out the door.
Susan hurried through town. Her grandmother had been right about one thing; she was a little scared of walking alone. She went down a back street to the wharf and found the entrance to the dike trail. She would have to pass through the new construction site, but she hoped that no one had started working yet.
When she got to the site, she realized she was out of luck. Several workmen were already busy around the site. Susan also saw that this side of the construction area was fenced in. She would either have to climb over the fence or go around. It must have rained during the night, because the soil had turned to mud.
Susan looked down at the hole in her sneaker. I guess I’ll have to go over, she thought. She looked to see if any of the workers were looking her way and then quickly climbed over the fence. Made of a wire mesh connected to metal poles, the fence was only meant to be a temporary barrier, and it trembled under her weight.
Her heart was racing as she hit the ground, and she used the burst of energy to run across the grounds. She made it to the other side without being spotted. There were only a few workers this morning and they were all busy on one project or another.
Susan saw the old oak tree just as she had left it. Tired from her short sprint, she decided to rest a minute against the broad trunk. As her hand touched the hard bark, a jolt of electricity shot up her arm and she passed out.
As she lay there, Susan imagined that she saw the tree transform into a huge beast. It looked like a saber-toothed tiger with large fangs and bright orange fur. The creature was as big as an elephant and she could feel the earth tremble beneath her as it walked about.
As she watched the monstrous cat circle her, she noticed that it had a large, fluffy curled tail. It seemed to Susan that this was a deceptively cute feature to be part of such a monstrosity.
Her heart beat faster as the creature moved closer with each revolution. But she also noticed that it seemed to be getting smaller and less frightening with each pass. Soon it was the size of a horse, then a large dog, and then a small one. By the time it was only a few feet away from her, it looked like a small, fluffy, orange housecat.
Susan was puzzled and relieved by this new transformation and bent down to pet this cute little creature. Suddenly, the cat let out a mighty roar and jumped at her. She could feel the claws dig into her chest and the hot breath on her face as she fell backward to the ground.
She awoke to hear a roar coming from behind her. But this roar had a more mechanical sound to it. She turned her head toward the sound and saw a large mound of dirt moving toward her. Jumping to her feet, Susan quickly moved just as the spot where she had been laying was covered in dirt and gravel.
The bulldozer backed up and pushed another load of gravel around the new parking lot. Susan hid among the branches of the fallen oak tree for a few minutes, trying to catch her breath.
Was that really just a dream? she thought. It felt so real. As Susan began to recover, she noticed a stinging in her chest, almost as if she had been stabbed with several needles. She bent over to brush the dirt off her black jogging pants and gasped in surprise. On her chest was an unmistakable pattern of claw marks. Had the cat been real?
Susan began to look around the area. She was about ready to give up on her silly notion when she saw it. Off in the distance she could just make out an orange curly tail sticking up out of the grass. Slowly she moved toward the tail. Is that the orange cat of my dream, she thought, or is it just a puffy fern? As she got closer, she could hear scratching. The cat, and it was a cat, was scratching at the earth. It seemed to sense Susan getting closer and suddenly bolted, disappearing into the distance.
Susan looked at the spot where the strange cat had been digging and saw the glint of something shining in the morning sun. She reached down and picked up a long silver chain. In the middle of the chain was a medallion made of silver. Set in the medallion were several green and brown stones arranged in the shape of an oak tree. The end links of the chain were bent, as if someone had pulled the chain off without first unclasping it. Susan pushed the ends together and placed the necklace around her neck. It was a little long for her, and the medallion hung down by her breastbone. She looked at the stones a moment and wondered it they were valuable gems or just worthless glass. She then tucked it out of the way beneath her sweater.
She looked around the field a minute, wondering what she should do next. Wait a minute, she thought, I’m going to be late for school. She began running as fast as she could. She had just reached the bridge at the entrance to the dike trail when she heard the bell ringing in the distance.
Continued in "The Tree on the Dike - chapter 7"