lb_lee: A pencil sketch of me drawing/writing in my sketchpad. (art)
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Hello, everyone!  This story was prompted by [livejournal.com profile] chordatesrock and [livejournal.com profile] ankewehner, who wanted more of the Tree That Wasn't settling in and a home with a tree, respectively, and it was sponsored by cloudiah!  It's a follow-up to The Tree That Wasn't, and a cross-over with A Cat's Eye View.  Happy homeathon, and enjoy!

How Does Your Garden Grow?

Really, it was Maria's own fault. She should've gotten things sorted out with the not-tree straight away. But it'd been late, and after a day at work, the existential agony of the tree's existence, and the dog attack, she'd wanted nothing but a long shower and bed. Surely the not-tree could take care of itself for one night.

Then she woke at four in the morning to a horrific yowling sound.

Oh no! The cat! The landlord's sister's cat! If the tree ate that--

Maria sat bolt upright in bed. She was lucky; her window was open for summer, giving her a clear (if silhouetted) view of the not-tree. She couldn't see the cat, but wailing meant alive. For now.

She pointed hard at the tree. “Don't. You. Dare.”

The tree sat frozen, its branches hunched awkwardly, as though caught in the middle of something, or ashamed.

They stared each other down for a while, though the window. Much as she wanted to, Maria didn't dare risk getting into her chair and going outside. She worried that if she took her eye off the tree for one second, it'd finish its business.

“Let it go,” she hissed, eyes narrowing.

The tree still didn't move, but from behind it came a much-disheveled, much-disgruntled black and white cat. It gave Maria a harried, horrified look, then streaked back home next door.

Straight into the arms of a round young woman in an oversized goldfish T-shirt. The landlord's sister.

Maria froze. The neighbor blinked at her and the tree, absently petting the shaking cat. The woman looked groggy and a little alarmed, but not as much as the situation seemed to warrant. Eventually her gaze settled on Maria again.

“Please don't let that happen again.”

“I won't.”

The woman squinted at the tree for a moment, then shrugged at Maria's expression.

“It's okay, she said finally. “I have a boyfriend on the astral plane.”

And she went back inside with the cat.

The moment she was gone, Maria pulled on her bathrobe, got in her chair, and went outside to give the tree a stern talking-to.

“The landlord's sister's cat? You can't eat that. My neighbors? You can't eat them either.” She wasn't even sure if eating was the right word, but good enough. “In fact, no people-eating period.”

The tree did nothing. Maria couldn't tell if it was ashamed or sulking, and she realized with frustration that she had no way of knowing just how much it understood. And how could it communicate with her if it wouldn't (couldn't?) move unless she wasn't looking at it?

She had taken this thing into her house. Wasn't it her responsibility to care for it? After all, she didn't know how it'd moved from the park to her front yard, but surely it took some energy. Maybe it was just hungry.

Only one way to find out.

“Okay, hold tight,” she said. “I'll be right back.”

Thank goodness for the company barbecue; her fridge was filled with leftover meat. She grabbed some sliced chicken, a little ground beef, a stray hot dog on the verge of expiration, gave each their own plates, and balanced it all on a tray across her lap. Then, revising her plan, she snatched a knife from the butcher block, cut all the meat into bite-size pieces, then took half of each kind and popped it into the microwave for thirty seconds.

She returned to the tree.

“This is for you,” she said, placing the plates in the garden. “You can eat this. I'm going to turn my back now so you can show me what you like, okay?”

She turned around for a minute or so. The only sound she heard was a quiet rattle of one plate against another—far removed from its attack on the cat and dog. But there was no hurry, no need for violence this time.

When she turned back around, all the plates were clean, and the tree's leaves seemed a more lustrous shade of red.

“Good!” she said.

Then she picked up the plates and went inside to fetch more.

...

Maria was drinking her morning coffee and reading the paper when she heard someone calling her. She came out to find the landlord's sister standing awkwardly at the gate—because going through meant passing near the not-tree, Maria realized.

Maria didn't know her neighbor that well. Besides the relationship to the landlady, all she knew about the woman was that she'd been committed at least once. (And apparently had a boyfriend on the astral plane.) The woman had never looked axe-crazy—just awkward and a little distracted most of the time. Now, she was shifting from foot to foot, shooting nervous glances at the tree (which seemed much better after devouring three pounds of meat).

“Um. Hi. Is it okay to...?” A nervous look at the not-tree.

“Sure, it's okay,” Maria said. “I'm so sorry about last night. I didn't realize—I'm still learning.”

Part of her wondered whether she shouldn't just pretend the incident had never happened. The woman was mentally ill, after all. Who would believe her? But Maria had almost caused the death of her cat. An apology and explanation seemed in order.

“It's okay,” the neighbor said. “Socks shouldn't have been in your yard to begin with. After a good scare like that, I don't think it'll happen again, but I should've kept a better eye on her. So I'm sorry too.” She was up close to the tree now, tilting her head to look at it over her glasses. “Where did you get it? What is it?”

“I'm not sure. I found it in the park. All I know is that it eats meat. A lot of it.”

“Hmm.” The woman straightened up, adjusting her glasses. “I can ask around, if you like; I know people.”

“On the astral plane?” It came out sharper than she intended.

The neighbor paused, then sent her a placid look. “You have a flesh-eating tree in your yard that tried to eat my cat.”

True. Maria wasn't really in a position to claim superiority. Part of her still balked—carnivorous trees, okay, but come on—but at least the neighbor woman's strangeness didn't seem dangerous. Besides, it wasn't as though she had any better ideas on how to identify the not-tree.

“I'm sorry,” Maria said. “Here we've lived next door to each other for years, and I've never introduced myself. I'm Maria. Would you like some coffee?”

“I'm Chavela, nice to meet you, and coffee sounds nice.” Chavela gave her a quick, shy smile. “And if you tell me what it needs, maybe I can help watch the tree while you're at work...”

They went inside for coffee, and Chavela became Maria's tree-sitter.

Date: 2013-06-20 07:52 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] chordatesrock.livejournal.com
I found the ending sweet. I found Maria's idea to gaslight Chavela horrifying.

Date: 2013-06-20 08:09 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] lb-lee.livejournal.com
Good. It should be. Gaslighting folks is kind of frighteningly common in spec fic stories ("swamp gas reflecting off of Venus," anyone?) and it's a trope I want to deconstruct. I'd like to think Maria is acting in an idea of preservation... but that definition can get very large and vague in people's minds, until it reaches horrifying levels.

Date: 2013-06-20 09:35 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] chordatesrock.livejournal.com
Yes, and memory erasure, too. Many SFF worlds are horrific in the disregard they have for the minds of muggles.

Date: 2013-06-20 09:52 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] lb-lee.livejournal.com
Oh lord, memory erasure. That's another big one. You should talk to nevacaruso; she has a whole canned rant about that.

I use memory-erasers in one story-universe, but pretty much everyone is petrified of what they can do, and because of their power, they take it upon themselves to self-regulate. A fizzy who acts unethically will often mysteriously suffer an accident that removes them from their abilities.

Date: 2013-06-20 09:58 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] lb-lee.livejournal.com
Friend of mine who comments on here often. Big bibliophile with a huge hate for memory wiping. She prompted and sponsored Ordinary Ever After (http://baaing-tree.livejournal.com/510348.html).

Date: 2013-06-21 10:26 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] nevacaruso.livejournal.com
You rang?

I probably have several cans of rant on this subject, but they pretty much boil down to "Mind-wipes, especially when done in the spirit of keeping the poor innocent mundanes safe from the Big Bad Truth, are patronizing and creepy."

I don't want to hijack [livejournal.com profile] baaing_tree's entry, so if you want to talk more, feel free to message me!

Date: 2013-06-22 12:29 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] lb-lee.livejournal.com
By all means, hijack away!

--Rogan

Date: 2013-08-10 03:19 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] allie mandell (from livejournal.com)
This story is fun :) I love the crossover. And I'm really glad the not-tree didn't get Blacksockswhite!
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