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Authors: Todd McCaffrey

The One Tree of Luna

BOOK: The One Tree of Luna
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Front Cover

 

The One Tree of Luna
and Other Stories
Todd McCaffrey

Dedication

For my parents:

Horace Wright Johnson

Anne Inez McCaffrey

Introduction

Here's a collection of seven strange short stories which span the realm from science fiction to fantasy and beyond. Some of these stories have been published before, some have never found a proper home but all of them, I believe, are worthy of a read.  

Tree
and
The One Tree of Luna
are examples of science fantasy.  
Tree
 might possibly even be an example of
magical realism
. 
The One Tree of Luna
is the sequel to
Tree
.

Tribute
is an example of science fiction and appeared originally in
Liftport - The Space Elevator: Opening Space to Everyone
.  It was republished in
Baen's Universe
.

Robin Redbreast
is an example of science fiction but with a sardonic, bitter twist as is
Why I Shot My Car
.  
Robin Redbreast
 first appeared in
When the Villain Comes Homes
 while
Why I Shot My Car
 appeared in
Albedo One
, under the title,
Best Evidence.

Men!
is something in the nature of a humorous fairy tale.

Finally,
Stone the Crows
, which was written in the front window of the
Mysterious Galaxy
 bookstore in a challenge with author/actor Amber Benson to write a short story in a half hour, is something altogether different.
 
It
could
be called a fantasy or a magical realism story or  just as easily it could be considered a fable.

Tree

 

I wrote
Tree
in 1995.

It's a story of how we can change our opinions over time.

 

Dad was the gardener, not me. At least, back then. Outside you could see his craft: he did not dominate the yard with his work; there was plenty of space to play — he liked to play — but where he worked, the places he planted, they would catch your eyes, hold you in a reverence.

Me? I was into stars and spaceships, chemistry and physics. The nearest I got to gardening was climbing trees. I never climbed my tree — it was too small.

He had planted my tree the day Mom found out she was pregnant.

“This tree is my gift to Nature for its gift of my child,” he had said, using words his father had used before him. “Let it grow to provide the air he breathes, let him grow to provide the care it needs.”

It was a special tree, always carefully tended and fenced off from dogs. It was only after he died that I found out how special it really was.

I told him that he should not have used the pesticide, no matter what Mr. Jackson said. But Dad had done Mr. Jackson's gardens for years and I had wanted a telescope for my birthday. When Dad started coughing, Mom and I both told him to go to the doctor. He would not listen. He got some herb tea from downtown. By the time we took him to hospital it was too late to cure him.

The last thing Dad had said to me was to look after Mom. I did the best I could, but it is hard when you are only nine and you have to go to school every day.

The last of April, when I got home from school, Mom looked worse than ever. Her eyes were all red-rimmed and she'd been crying. She would not talk to me when I got home, making dinner in the microwave and leaving as soon as she could. I could tell that she had not written a word all day.

When we finally went to bed, I couldn't sleep.

“I promised I'll look after Mom and I will, but, please, can I have someone to look after
me?
” I begged the dark. Outside the wind shook the branches, rustled the flowers in
the garden, blew the grass on the lawn. A cool gust blew through the curtains and whirled
around the room like a giant's sigh.

 

My room was on the second floor, in the back corner of the house. I had two big windows, one on the side of the house facing east, the other in the back facing south. Unless I pulled the shades, I always woke with sunrise. I woke that morning to the sun and the sound of giggles. Both were coming in from the window to the east.

When I looked out the window, I saw a red-haired boy in the flowers just beyond my tree.

“Hey!” I called. He looked up and came forward. I flushed when I saw that he had no clothes on. “Where are your clothes?”

“Clothes?” His voice was piping, sort of like a piccolo. He cocked his head to one side and shaded his eyes with a hand. “What are those?”

I could not illustrate because, even though it was only May, it was already too hot to wear anything to bed at night. His skin was pale, whereas mine bore the color of my Japanese father. In fact, only in the freckles across my nose and shoulders, my fine hair, and the shape of my face did I resemble my Irish mother. This boy, red-haired, blue-eyed, fair-skinned, freckled lightly as though he rarely saw the sun, looked more like a child of my mother.

The boy gave up looking at me, shook his head and rushed back into the flower garden. “Get out of there!” I shrieked at him.

“Why?” He responded. There was no challenge in his voice, just pure curiosity. I heaved a sigh but it was no answer for him and he turned back.

My room, as I said, had two windows. The south one conveniently had a tree branch growing near it and I had long ago mastered the art of tree climbing. I pulled on some jeans, jumped up to the back window and dove out to the tree. I let go as soon as I caught the branch, diving up and forward to the waiting rope below. The rope and I swung around into the garden; I let go, landing on all fours.

The boy had watched the whole thing and was staring at me gape-jawed when I turned to him. “How did you do that?”

“Your Mom's going to kill you if she catches you out here without any clothes.” I told him. “How old are you?”

“How old are you?” He retorted.

“I'm nine.” I said. “Now how old are you?”

He didn't answer, turning to face my tree instead. “How old is the tree?”

I looked at it and noticed that the fence around it was knocked down. I went over to it. “Did you do this?”

“She didn't like it.” The boy told me. “How old is the tree?”

“Dad planted her nine months before I was born.”

“Then I am nine months older than you.”

I didn't know what to make of that. “Your Mom's gonna kill you when she catches you.”

He cocked his head at me, looked at my tree. “Why would she do that?”

I snorted and waved my hand at him. “You're not wearing any clothes!”

He frowned. “Clothes?” He looked to the tree. “What are clothes?”

I plucked at my jeans. “These.” I told him. “Geez, don't you know what clothes are?”

He shook his head. I couldn't figure it out. “Are you homeless?” I asked him.

“Homeless?”

“Don't you have a home?” I pointed to my house. “Where do you sleep at night?”

He shrugged. “Here.”

“C'mon.” I grabbed an arm and tugged him after me. “If my mom catches you like this she'll freak.”

Up in my room I threw some clothes at him: underwear, a shirt, some jeans. I got dressed properly myself, blushing uncomfortably as he scrutinized me. “What?”

“I was just watching how you put them on.” The boy responded. Awkwardly he imitated me.

I made a face. “You've never worn clothes before?”

“Jimmy? Are you up?” My mother called from downstairs.

“Yeah, Mom!”

“I heard voices.”

“I've got a friend.” I told her, glancing shyly at the boy. He smiled back at me. The clothes hung awkwardly on him, like a cage around a tiger.

“Oh! What's his name?”

“What's your name?” I asked him for the first time.

He dug a toe in the carpet, looking nervous. Finally he pointed at a twisted shape growing in the garden. “What's that called?”

I looked. “It's a Joshua Tree.”

He brightened. “My name's Joshua.”

“He says his name is Joshua!” I yelled down the stairs. To him, I said: “Are you hungry?”

“So many questions,” he muttered to himself. “I didn't think it was going to be so hard.” I gave him a look. He explained, “My mother said that you were unhappy, she sent me to play with you.” He pursed his lips, gestured at his clothes, adding, “I didn't think it was going to be so hard.”

“Your mother?”

“Yeah.” He pointed to my tree growing tall in the garden. “There.”

“Jimmy! Josh! Breakfast!”

He gave me another look. “My name's Jimmy,” I explained, adding when he still looked curious:
“Josh — that's short for Joshua.”

“Oh.”

“Just like Jimmy is short for James.” I continued. “My real name is James Takeshi Ki.” He
looked very confused, so I guessed: “Your real name is Joshua Tree, isn't it?”

Josh accepted that eagerly.

Mom's eyes were bright and full of questions when we got to the kitchen. She had made pancakes and bacon for breakfast. Josh watched me carefully before he picked up knife and fork to dig into the pancakes.

“Butter?” Mom offered him. He took it. I took a slice and rubbed it on my pancakes. Enlightened, Josh copied me.

Mom gave me a look. I shook my head, begging her not to ask. When we finished breakfast I ran up to get my bag, telling Josh he could wait downstairs. My mother followed me up.

“He's wearing your clothes,” she said flatly.

“He didn't have any,” I told her.

“None?” She was shocked. I told her how I found him, finishing, “He says that the tree is his mother and — she asked him to come play with me.”

“Jimmy —” Mom began slowly. I held up a hand. “I'm not making it up, honest!” I told her
about last night, about my wish and the wind's sigh.

A shriek from downstairs interrupted us. We both tore down the stairs to find Josh shivering in terror and pointing miserably at my school books.

“They're dead,” he cried, staring at each of us in turn. “They're all dead!”

“What? What?”

He pointed at the pages. “The leaves! The trees, they're all dead!”

“It's paper, Josh —” My Mom began reassuringly.

“It's made from trees,” I reminded her in hushed tones. She turned to stare at me, then back at Josh. Incredulity warred with belief but lost the battle against a mother's instincts. She cradled Josh into her arms, stroking his red hair, rocking back and forth, and crooning to him soothingly.

When he quieted, she looked at me. “Jimmy, grab your books.” She made a decision, and said, “We're going to introduce ourselves to your mother, Josh.” Josh brightened visibly.

Outside, in the bright sunlight and walking barefoot on the cool grass, Josh grew merry and scampered away from us towards my tree. I wanted to rush off after him but Mom's manner held me back to a docile walk.

“Here she is, here she is!” he cried gladly as he ran up to the tree. He extended a hand toward it, wrapped it around the trunk and
melded
it into the bark like a droplet of water. Then his whole body seemed to soak right into the tree and he was gone.

“Wow!” I said. “Oh, my God!” Mom said.

“See?” Josh said, emerging again from the tree. “I told my mother about all the dead leaves and tree bone.” His tone was questioning, one hand still rested
in
the tree.

My Mom pulled the schoolbook from my hand flicked open some pages. “We call them books, Josh,” she explained. “We write things on the leaves — we call those pages — and also we put in pictures. See?” She pointed out a picture of a tall pine. Josh gasped in amazement and looked up at her with bright shiny eyes. “Books are things we cherish. We keep all our knowledge in them.”

“My mother says that I should learn this knowledge.” Josh told her in a puzzled tone.

I groaned, “All Moms say that!” My mother smiled and tussled my hair. Of Josh, she asked, “Why does she want you to learn?”

Josh turned to my tree to address the question. The answer disturbed him. “She says that I cannot tell you yet.”

Now my mother, as I might have hinted, was Irish. Not of Irish descent — Irish. That she took all this so easily is due in part to the charm of the land she grew up in — it is far easier to believe in Dryads if the country of your youth looks a likely place for them to live. Also, I think it was easier for the two of us because it came at a time when we both desperately needed miracles. Joshua was my tree's response to that need.

So it did not surprise me when my mother said: “Well, if it's got to be a secret then let it
be.” She looked at Josh. “Tell your mother that I shall arrange for you to go to school with
Jimmy.”

I still do not know precisely how she did it but Josh was enrolled in my school and in my
class that very day. I did overhear remarks about mildewed papers and “the Auld Country”. In
a class which had been just the day before pointing at me and sniggering because my Daddy
was dead, I suddenly had not only a friend but a whole tribe of friends. Josh was immensely
popular with everyone.

He slept up in my room and we shared clothes. Mom forced him into wearing shoes but he refused to wear socks and he always had his shoes off at recess. Mom and I taught him to read and, once he learned, he slurped books the way grass drinks water.

He was a regular boy in every way: he got dirty; figured out ways with me to avoid baths; loved to look at the stars; thought chemistry was neat; and always jumped out the window to the big tree. We built a tree house together after Josh asked his Mom if it was okay and I asked mine. We were incredibly happy.

But as May drew to an end, my mother got increasingly anxious. Josh noticed it first and we both tried everything we could to help her and make her happier. There was nothing we could do: it was grown up stuff and out of our control.

School was just about over for the summer when Josh and I came home one day to find Mom crying.

“What is it?” I asked her, standing beside her chair and rubbing her shoulder worriedly.

“We can't keep the house!”

“What? Why not?” I asked. Josh looked confused; I signaled him ‘later' with a chopping
gesture.

She glanced up at me bleary-eyed. “I can't make the payments.” She shook her head. “There's
just not enough money. We'll have to sell.”

“Where will we live?” I cried.

She put an arm on my shoulder to comfort
me
. “We can rent a place somewhere.”

“What about Josh?”

“I can't go without my mother!”

Josh got upset whenever he was too far from his mother. My Mom explained that a Dryad had to live near its tree. I was not so sure, so Josh and I had done some experiments: it seemed that he could go further away from my tree as time went on. Or as he became more human, for I had learned one part of the secret my tree had told Josh: that after a time he could become a real human just like me.

“We can take her with us!” I exclaimed, excited to have found a solution to at least one of our problems. Josh told his mother and she agreed to come with us: one night, on her orders, the three of us carefully dug her up out of the ground. Her roots were all curled tight in around her trunk, I don't know how she did it.

That settled my biggest worry. We found a new place to live in another state. Mom made so much money from the sale of our house that we could buy a brand new one in the other state.

BOOK: The One Tree of Luna
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