Tea Leaf Tales: Which Yule Tree Will Pick Me?
Fantasy Flash Fiction by Marsha A. Moore
I suck in a gulp of thick, pine-scented air, faced with the difficult question—which one. I tick through the usual criteria—fullness, tightly attached needles, correct height. Beyond that the trouble begins for me when I consider needle length, color, tightness of branches.
Needles crunch under the soles of my shoes as I slowly pass down the row, hoping one tree chooses me. Those I don’t give a full inspection slyly begin to stretch their postures more erect before I turn completely away. If I pause to admire one, branches brush past the backs of my legs until I turn around and give that tree a careful look.
Ahead in the center of the display, I hear voices in foreign languages—hurried bits of anxious dialog that quiet as I grow near.
One small blue spruce tries his best to stretch taller but cannot reach up to his neighbors, so I lean in and whisper, “If you talk to me, I’ll take you home.”
I wait, determined, and the nearby treetops bend over the tiny spruce until finally a gentle tinkling begins deep inside at its trunk, radiating to the tips of the boughs at my side. I caress the singing branch, then wave an arm to the shop owner.
Tea Leaf Tales is a series of original ten-sentence short stories by Marsha A. Moore, relating to photos/scenes that resonate with her. Read more Tea Leaf Tales archived in Marsha’s Mercantile of Tea Leaf Tales.
Blood Ice and Oak Moon
Coon Hollow Coven Tales
Marsha A Moore
Print Length: 211 pages
Publication Date: October 3, 2016
Esme Underhill is about to discover a darkness hidden inside her that could destroy her chance for independence and possibly kill her.
Esme’s mother took her young daughter away from Southern Indiana’s Coon Hollow Coven to prevent her from learning about the unusual witchcraft she had inherited. When Esme is twenty-seven, her beloved Grammy Flora passes away and leaves her property in the Hollow to her granddaughter. With this opportunity to remake her life and gain independence, Esme attempts to emulate Grammy Flora as a wildwood mystic who relies on the hedge world of faeries to locate healing herbs. But fae are shrewd traders. When they open their world to her, she must meet the unknown malevolence of her birthright.
Thayne, the handsome king of the fae Winter Court, faces his own struggle to establish autonomy as a new regent. He is swept into the tempest of Esme’s unfolding powers, a dangerous threat to his court. His sworn duty is to protect his people, despite Esme’s beauty and allure, which tear at his resolve.
Both Esme’s and Thayne’s dreams of personal freedom are lost…unless they can trust each other and overcome surmounting dangers.
Excerpt from Chapter One: Winter Began
Dear Miss Rebecca Esmeralda Underhill,
Please accept our deepest sympathies concerning the loss of your grandmother, Flora Esmeralda Freestone. She was much loved and well-respected in our community.
As per her documented wishes, the ownership of her property on 10510 East Lost Branch Run passes to you. This transfer has been filed in our office. At the request of High Priest Logan Dennehy, all council members have voted to reinstate you as a member of Coon Hollow Coven after your absence of twenty years.
However, despite Coon Hollow Coven being your birthplace, a majority indicated the lapsed time was sufficient cause to withhold transfer of Ms. Freestone’s ceremonial standing to you, which customarily would accompany a property transference to blood kin of adult age. For explanation of how you may attain ceremonial approval in your name, please visit the council office at 50013 Owls Tail Creek Road.
Enclosed, please find pamphlets describing the expected dress and personal property code of our coven, which adheres to the time period in which the coven was founded in 1935. This is to best protect our witchcraft traditions.
Coon Hollow Coven Council, secretary
Esme’s gaze fixed on the words that acknowledged her as the property owner. She’d never lived alone. First her mom, then a roommate and finally Doug. Esme’s shoulders straightened and chest lifted with strength and independence at the thought of owning her own place. But, why wasn’t she approved for ceremonial status? Her hands gripped the edge of the table, knuckles whitening, and her heart raced. It’s not fair. I won’t be accepted as a healer. Only children not yet graduated from the coven’s secondary school were kept from participating fully in ceremonies. Esme loved learning the ways of a hedge witch and helped Gram every summer from grade school through college. Fascinated with tending Gram’s plants, Esme even studied botany in college.
The research company she worked for had already accepted her request to work offsite and study mystic plants…at the stipulation she be reduced to part-time. She needed work here as a healer to supplement her income. She’d assumed incorrectly that her experience with Gram and college studies would’ve qualified her as an accepted healer. Her standing in the coven would be important to patrons, all except Gram’s closest friends who knew Esme well. An attempt at independence seemed bound to fail before she started.
Her gaze drifted to the name used in the letter’s greeting. She hadn’t seen her full name in print for decades. It didn’t even appear on her birth certificate, which labeled her as Rebecca E. Underhill, one of the many things her mother insisted upon. Mother wanted nothing to do with the coven or witchcraft and said, “Esmeralda sounds too much like a witch. No need to encourage the darkness out.” Grudgingly, she accepted her own mother’s middle name for her child to uphold custom. Esme never understood Mother’s view since Gram was well-respected for her kind and gentle strength by all who knew her.
To Esme’s Indianapolis friends, she was Becky. Only her mother addressed her as Rebecca. But inside, she was Esme. Gram had always called her that, or Esmeray in carefree moments. Her middle name suited the mystic inside Esme, something Gram must have known. If only Esme could use Gram’s last name Freestone. Underhill felt like a lead weight.
Esme set the letter aside and paced the length of the rag runner through the small kitchen. Frustration wound her along a circular track through the sitting room, to her closet-sized guest room, and back. The space was too small to work answers out of her tangled mind. On the second pass, she sank onto the goose down comforter of Gram’s iron bed. Billowing fluff sheltered her from the problems. Gram’s linens, scented with homegrown lavender and rose sleep liniment, comforted Esme and tugged on her eyelids.
She forced her eyes open and pushed herself up and off the bed. Hiding wasn’t the way to begin this fresh start in life. She’d done enough kowtowing to stronger wills, letting Doug and her mother run over her. At the back door, she paused long enough to grab a rain parka and pulled it on as she strode outside.
Gram’s cat, Dove, zipped alongside with a sharp meow, slipping out before the door closed. Esme smiled, grateful the tomcat kept Gram company during her illness. She’ doted on the smoky blue stray that happened into her garden one early fall afternoon and never left. Gram swore he was an omen and chose his name ‘cause of his white-winged breast patch. She used to say, “One day soon my spirit will fly on those outspread wings, and together Dove and me we’ll roam the wooded hills.” Gram loved those hills. Thinking about the hills drew Esme to gather Dove and head outside.
Ice still peppered down, adding more layers to the spiky crystalline grass blades. A breeze blew at Esme’s back. She allowed the wind to guide her toward the woods behind the cabin. At the trailhead, ice coating the bittersweet vine berries glistened the same shade of blue she’d rubbed from Dove’s coat. Alert to the strange color, she followed a line of branches dangling sky blue icicles, each one more fanciful and richer in hue than the last. A beautiful play of light, ranging from cerulean to ultramarine. Even worth the chill at her ankles, which were bare in her cropped jeans.
Whenever Esme paused to marvel at the colored icicles, Dove pawed them and then dodged when they dropped.
Minutes later and deeper in the forest, the ice pelted heavier, and Esme reached for the hood of her raincoat. Strands of hair fell forward, woven with frozen ultramarine threads. The same purplish tint coated twigs along the path. Light from the sky reached this far into the woods since all but the oak trees had lost their leaves. The unusual color couldn’t be caused by light refraction. She’d never seen any rain, sleet, or snow like this, not even in the Hollow. Grammy had taught her a little about omens. Was this a sign?
Esme scurried along the trail, sliding at times and spotting richer and deeper shades of purple and red-violets. At the far side of the woodlot, iris-hued spider webs clung to berry brambles. She gasped at the beauty. Tempted to touch, she extended a hand but at the last instant resisted.
A deep groan echoed from the adjoining property ahead.
She snatched her hand back and scanned for some god of nature angry at her ruinous attempt. Grappling for Dove, Esme crouched behind a thicket.
The cat gave a single hiss, then clung to her leg.
In the distance, a big middle-aged man, both tall and wide, staggered behind a shed, dragging a long, clumsy load wrapped and tied into a blanket. His balding head snapped in her direction, eyes wide and face blanched gray-white. “Who’s there?” His booming voice sliced the delicate webs from their branches. Crimson freezing rain assaulted both trail and yard.
Esme froze, afraid to move and attract his attention. Her heart, drumming against her ribs, threatened to give her away. She wanted to run home. But if the colored ice omen was meant for her, she needed to stay and learn its meaning. Could the man see the omen?
Thankfully, her cover must’ve fooled Baldy. He resumed lugging the limp bundle, and didn’t seem affected by the magical ice.
From between the tangle of branches, Esme studied him.
His wet, black shirt clung to his round belly. Blood-red ice coated his load, tracing the outline of a human body. Smaller than his, probably a female. Was she dead? Of natural causes? Or had he murdered her? The thought wrapped around Esme’s breath and trapped it deep in her lungs. Her legs twitched. Gaze riveted on Baldy, she positioned to bolt from potential danger.
He rolled the body into a depression Esme couldn’t see.
She leaned to one side, bracing herself with a hand on the ground.
Over what looked like a freshly dug grave, Baldy grunted as he shoveled and kicked dirt and large rocks. Clumps of red clung to long strands of his comb-over, now hanging along one ear. Was it ice or real blood?
Dove huddled closer, and Gram’s voice from years ago spoke in Esme’s mind. “Blood ice is stained with revenge.”
Crimson liquid dripped from the man’s eyes and fell from grimacing jowls. The face of a demon
© Copyright 2016 Marsha A. Moore. All rights reserved.
About the Author:
Marsha A. Moore loves to write fantasy and paranormal romance. Much of her life feeds the creative flow she uses to weave highly imaginative tales.
The magic of art and nature spark life into her writing, as well as other pursuits of watercolor painting and drawing. She’s been a yoga enthusiast for over a decade and is a registered yoga teacher. Her practice helps weave the mystical into her writing. After a move from Toledo to Tampa in 2008, she’s happily transformed into a Floridian, in love with the outdoors where she’s always on the lookout for portals to other worlds. Marsha is crazy about cycling. She lives with her husband on a large saltwater lagoon, where taking her kayak out is a real treat. She never has enough days spent at the beach, usually scribbling away at stories with toes wiggling in the sand. Every day at the beach is magical!
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