As his pale lips pressed against her rosy neck, she flinched once, shuddered and subsided beneath his sharp teeth. At last, he raised his face. Even her blood on his mouth wasn’t as red as the rich hue that now flushed his lips and cheeks.
“Andi, now what are you letting the boys watch?”
Even if I hadn’t heard her distinctly chipper voice, I would have known it was my stepdaughter, Merydith. She was the only one who shortened my name, Andrea, to that monstrosity she seemed to feel was affectionate. I twisted sharply from the movie I was watching with my two sons. Before I could retort, Joseph and Daniel leapt to her side, hugging her.
She had come into our life a year ago, once she had turned 18. However, she was a biology student at the local college and could only see us every couple weeks.
“Hey, hey guys!” she laughed as she hugged them back. “Careful of the camera. I borrowed it. I’m going to get me a pic of the Albino that’s down at the creek. Tell Dad I’ll see him when I get back.” The last time she was here, she had raved about the tree. According to her, it was some rare parasitic plant that didn’t manufacture its own chlorophyll but instead sucked life from its host redwood.
“Can we go, too?” My boys begged.
“No!” I objected. “We…. need to get the Halloween costumes together. Maybe some other time, Merydith.”
I sent the boys upstairs to take a bath and watched out the window as she headed down into the tall woods below our house. The fog slid thick long tentacles over the hills and up the creek bed, trees leaned close and trailed claw hands down her shoulders but she was impervious to the atmosphere. The last I saw, she was trudging sturdily into the mist, arms swinging jauntily.
I never let the boys go down to the creek–they might fall in. But I encouraged Merydith. I told her about a white tree by the creek. I had known it was there since I was a little girl.
That stand of Redwoods had been growing for over 1000 years. When the loggers had cleared this section around the turn of the century, they had panted after the huge trees in that area. And, they had cut one or two. But, Grandpa told me that one day a branch broke and fell on a logger. By the time the crew had managed to get to him, his blood had spilled out across the earth like a red puddle beneath the white Albino tree. They couldn’t save him. Oddly, the next day when they came back, they couldn’t find the unusual tree either. As a memorial to the dead man, they left the stand untouched. They never found the pale needles that marked where he died though.
But I had seen the ghost tree. I kept watch for it. And if necessary, I fed it.
When Merydith didn’t return by midnight, we went looking for her. She lay like Sleeping Beauty underneath a branch, her hair a halo of darkness-her skin pale from the blood spilled and soaked into the ground around her. My husband gathered her gently into his arms but she was cold, lifeless already.
At the boys’ insistence, we go back every few months to lay flowers where she died but this last time I noticed a few branches overhead were pale and anemic looking. Luckily, the neighbors across the creek want the land surveyed. I’ll make sure they come by here.