Author’s Note: This piece has been edited and now appears in “Angel Songs, 20 Christmas Short Stories and Poems, plus Recipes” by Dona Watson. Click here for more info.
Getting a prompt like “Green” at Christmas is a writer’s delight. So many possibilities! After giving it some thought, one character came to mind and wouldn’t leave. And so the story was born.
I hope you enjoy it!
by D.L. Watson
“I’m gonna look over here, Mom!”
I pushed my way through a couple of close-growing pine trees, neither one a good selection for the Erikson family’s Christmas tree. Mom was looking for one that was 7 to 8 feet tall, perfect round and bushy. These were 6 feet with flat sides.
I loved it up here on the mountainside Christmas tree farm. The air was clean and the pines smelled great. And now that I was 15, Mom had finally relented and let me go off on my own private search. In truth, though, I think part of the reason was because she had her hands full corralling the twins that day. At 7 years old, they could be a handful sometimes. As I pressed on up the hill, the chatter of their annoying young voices faded away.
Plucking a couple of brown pine needles off my sleeve, I paused and took stock of where I was. Up here it was quieter and the pines were older and thicker. Kind of like a refuge. As I looked around, one particular tree caught my eye. Maybe this was the one. I started to walk a circle around it and as I did, I heard a rustle in the brush and saw a couple of branches farther on swaying a tiny bit. Stories came to mind of Dad’s adventures hunting in the backwoods and I really, really hoped there was not a bear behind that tree. I shuddered as I got an image of me running, screaming like a girl, down the side of the mountain, dodging pine trees, a big, gnarly grizzly hot on my tail. My family would never let me live that down. Not to mention how terrifying that would be.
So I stopped and peeked around a bushy Noble fir about 12 feet away. I heard another rustle and I froze, my heart picking up a few extra beats per minute. 1-bu-duh-bum, 2-bu-duh-bum, 3-bu-duh-bum… It felt like my heart was going to beat its way right out of my chest. After several silent moments, I tentatively stepped forward–and the branches swayed again. Maybe it was just the tree farmer, right?
“H-Hello? Is anyone there?” Just then the most amazing thing happened. A girl’s face peeked around the edge of the tree. But not just any face. Hers was green, several shades lighter than the pine needles. When our eyes met, she pulled back, leaving nothing behind but waving tree branches.
I stood there in awe for just a moment, but then decided I couldn’t let this opportunity get away. Whatever she was, she couldn’t be human, and she certainly didn’t look dangerous.
I started after her and when I got around the pine, all I saw were the branches of the next tree, waving where she had passed through. I plunged after her, heading uphill, following the trail of moving branches that marked her passage. Even though I was on the high school track team, I started to grow short on breath in the thin mountain air. I hoped I’d catch up to her before I got a stitch in my side and ran out of air. Somewhere along the way, we left the tree farm and entered the older growth of the natural forest.
As I burst through a passage between two trees, I stumbled out into a little clearing maybe 20 feet across. In the center grew a trio of perfectly shaped pines, the largest about 7 or 8 feet tall. My mom would die for that tree. It would look great in the front room. But that’s as far as I got.
The girl peeked around the largest tree and slowly stepped halfway out from behind it, the fingers and palm of one hand grazing the ends of the branches. She didn’t have any hair that I could see and her ears drew back into fine points. Where a person’s hair would normally be, a patch of darker green covered her head like a cap with thin tendrils of color extending onto her face. The darker portions on her cheeks shone iridescent green and lavender. Her clothes, a lighter shade of green, consisted of stretchy, form-fitting pants with a tunic top tied closed with a strip of the same fabric.
“Who are you?” I asked softly, afraid I’d scare her off if I talked too loudly.
“I’m Ereditha. Who are you?” Her voice was breathy but she didn’t seem winded from our chase. At least she wasn’t wheezing and gasping for air like I was.
“Toby. My name is Toby.”
For several seconds we just stared at each other, uncertain what to say in the awkward silence. I tried to catch my breath and to think of something. Anything. If I kept her talking, maybe she wouldn’t disappear again. After all, how many times do you get to talk to a green girl in the forest?
“Are-are you a fairy?”
“I suppose your people might think so, but my people are what would translate into your language as ‘tree-tenders.’”
“A tree-tender, like in the Lord of the Rings?” As soon as I said that, I mentally slapped my forehead. She probably wouldn’t have any idea what that was.
Sure enough, a puzzled look crossed her forehead. “I do not know of any tree-tenders who serve lords with rings.”
I shook my head. “Never mind.” Then I thought of the Christmas trees down the hill. “Are you the one who trims the Christmas trees?” I always thought the tree farmer did that.
She shook her head. “I do not trim those trees. One of your kind does. He plants those and seems to do well all by himself. He does not need our help.”
“Do you tend these?” I gestured to the trio between us. As nice as the tree farmer’s trees were, these were way nicer.
She nodded and nipped off the tip of one branch with her forefinger and thumb then ran her hand along the ends as if judging the straight angle by touch. “These are my favorites. I tend them often.”
A troubled look crossed her brow. “I see your people come every year and take the farmer’s best trees. You will not take my trees will you?”
I shook my head and, palms out, waved my hands in denial. “No, I would never do that.” At that moment, there was nothing I would do to upset such a delicate creature as she. “Does it upset you that we cut down the farmer’s trees?”
“No. Those are not my trees. I only tend the trees I plant. The farmer plants those and so they are his. But why do you take his trees?” She tipped her head to one side inquisitively.
“Well,” I tried to think of how to say this so it would make sense to the tree-tender. “We buy them from him for Christmas.”
“And what do you do with them?”
“We take them home and put them in our houses.”
She shrank back in surprise. “But they will die. Why do you put dying trees in your houses? Would it not be better to at least take them with their roots and plant them somewhere?”
I took a deep breath and looked up at the sky, trying to remember the story I had heard years ago of why we started decorating trees but I drew up short. “I’m not sure exactly where the custom started, but we do it now to celebrate Christmas.”
“What is ‘Christmas’?”
“It’s a holiday where once a year we celebrate the birth of Jesus.”
Ereditha’s eyes brightened. “Oh! I have heard of this Jesus. My people say the Almighty One sent him to save your people because you disobeyed him.”
I snorted. “Yeah. You could say that. But…what about you? Don’t your people serve God?”
Her eyes grew wide in surprise. “Of course we do! We trim the trees for him. There is no one else to do it.”
“But you don’t believe Christ died for your sins?” This was beginning to get very confusing.
She shrugged her shoulders. “There is no need. We never disobeyed and gave up our calling like your people did.”
She had me there. I felt like a deflated balloon and looked down, toeing the carpet of pine needles covering the forest floor. I had no answer for that.
Ereditha stepped forward and placed her fingertips on my forearm. “But there is hope for your people, right?”
I grinned a bittersweet smile and looked up into her violet eyes. “Yeah, there’s hope. That’s why we celebrate Jesus’ birth. He promised to help us and one day things will be right again.”
She nodded with a big smile. “That is good. I thought there would be hope. I know the Almighty One is gracious.”
Curiosity got the best of me and I had to ask, “How do you know that?”
“He walks with us,” she said rather matter-of-factly.
Woah. What a thought. I had felt a sense of calm peace before from time to time, like in church during worship service, but to walk with him freely like Adam and Eve had? Wow.
Ereditha glanced over her shoulder. “I’d better go. The elders frown on those who talk to your people. They don’t trust you.”
“And with good reason,” I agreed. I held out my hand. “Ereditha, it was a pleasure to meet you.”
She looked at my hand for a moment, then gently placed her cool, smooth fingertips on mine and nodded graciously.
“And you as well, Toby. May the Almighty One be with you.”
I grinned as she disappeared among the trees like a whisper. I turned back and shook my head as I tromped down the hill toward the tree farm. I would take the secret of Ereditha and her people to my grave. No one would disturb them if I could help it. After all, they didn’t need our help. They already had Someone to look after them.
This story is part of a Writing Challenge I have undertaken to write something every day in the month of December on a pre-selected list of topics. Photographer Jacqueline Ashford is keeping pace with me on the same list of topics, her with a camera and me with a keyboard. You can see Jacqueline’s gorgeous photos here. We’re having way too much fun with this mutual challenge. (You can see the list of topics here.)
Tomorrow’s Topic: A Beautiful Sight
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Image at the top courtesy of: By Tedder (Own work) [CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons)