Lillian Fu & Jamie Tan

“Okay, well… here goes, I guess,” Polly says under her breath, stepping up to the trunk of the Ghost Tree.

She gulps, looking up at the huge tree, the trunk curled over the river she stands on the banks of, twisting branches stretched into a ceiling above the rushing water. The tree seems healthy and growing well, but the whole thing lacks color, as if there’s a black-and-white filter over it and nothing else. Polly has never been a superstitious person, but there’s a silence ringing in her ears as she gets closer. And, though it might just be the sound of the river covering it up, she swears the leaves aren’t rustling even though it’s a breezy day.

To her left, her friends crouch behind other trees and bushes. Mo gestures for her to hurry up, and she scowls at him. One game of rock paper scissors lost, and now here she is, facing one of the town’s most famous urban legends. Why did she even agree to come with them in the first place?

“Um, h-hey there,” she tries for a smile, not sure which section of the tree she should be addressing. “Me and my friends—sorry, my friends and I, we… stumbled across your story on the internet. You… probably don’t know what that is, huh. Well, not important right now, anyways—”

In the corner of her eye, she catches Mo face palming. Polly’s cheeks heat up, but she soldiers on. “We thought, you know, we thought it was real sad. I mean, the whole being murdered while tending to your tree… garden? Was it a garden?”

The tree doesn’t answer. Polly clears her throat. “A-anyways, it’s just—it’s real sad. You were our age too, and people said you were beautiful—not that I think a girl’s worth is determined by her beauty, of course, I’m a woman myself—”

Emma, another of her friends, emits an audible groan from her station behind a bush. Polly’s cheeks darken, and she resists the urge to turn around and yell at them. She swallows, eyes darting from branch to branch. “So we came here to… pay respects, I guess. And to see if you would talk to us, that wasn’t my idea I swear, I personally have no intention to bother you in your rest. But. My idiot friends dragged me here, so here I am.”

Polly nods into the silence, looking down at her denim jeans. She gets the distinct feeling that she’s being judged by the tree, but she chalks that up to her own insecurity. Mo holds up a sign that says “Ask her to talk to you or smth” and she sighs. 

“So, again sorry for disturbing you, but… I was wondering if you could, uh, leave a message? Or something like that,” she says. “Any form of communication would be great.”

Nothing. Of course, nothing, because ghosts aren’t real and she looks like a freaking fool standing here and talking to a tree. God, if someone saw this besides her friends, she’d have to kill them. “This is so stupid,” she mutters under her breath, completely ready to leave.

Right then, a single leaf flutters down from the tree and lands in her hands. Her friends shriek and she can hear some crash. She stares at the leaf, about the size of half a sheet of binder paper, with elegant cursive handwriting carved into its surface. “Holy sh—” she suddenly remembers that the tree ghost is a nineteenth century Christian lady. “Um, cow. I meant holy cow.”

Mo face palms again. Polly ignores him, eyes deciphering the loopy letters. “Are you a… beekeeper’s?… daughter, because you’re sweeter than… honey.”

Wait. What?

Another leaf flutters down into Polly’s hands. She reads it quicker this time, eyes adjusting to the handwriting. “Did it hurt when you fell from—oh my god.”

And then, directly after, another falls on top of the previous leaf, with the words Are you a time traveler? Because I can see you in my future printed on them. Polly stares at them blankly, her friends too shell-shocked to even react.

“Are you… are you flirting with me?”