**Did you miss part one? Read it here.
The door of the gorgeous log home swung open, and a lean man stepped out.
Skye sensed his magic immediately. It was woodsman magic, tied to trees and the roots that anchored them into the ground.
Before humanity took over the earth, a race of indigents specialized in woodsman craft. They could be thanked for the massive redwood forest lining the west coast, as well as the preservation of the evergreen and deciduous forests scattered over the North American continent.
She hadn’t encountered a woodsman since her last visit to Brazil. Her parents had one on their research team, and he’d been a masterful guide through the thick, untouched jungle. That’s where her parents worked to discover a way to keep magic flowing when each year fewer people were born with the gift to access it. Her parents hypothesized that the industrial revolution and subsequent deforestation and influx of man-made structures everywhere had stunted the magic and thus limited the number of magic users born.
Living where the forest was nearly untouched was the best way for them to prove the validity of that scientific guess. And possibly refine their judgments as new facts presented themselves.
The woodsman’s feet seemed not to touch the ground as he strode toward her. Lithe muscles danced over the rocky pathway from the porch spanning the front of the cedar house. The house of her dreams. She sighed.
As he neared, Skye noted the man’s eyes were greener than the grass, and his ears had a slight point where they peeked out from his dark brown hair.
His skin reminded her of well-sanded golden oak, his hair the shade of walnut bark and those eyes as leafy as anything she’d seen in the woods or rain forest. Her magic struggled against her hold wanting to brush against his, as it had done with the guide in her parents’ party.
“Miss Reynolds,” his voice could have been a buffeting wind. “Where would you like to start the tour?”
She gestured toward the outbuildings. “If those aren’t similar to what I need, there’s no point in loving the house.”
He nodded, his pointy chin—whisker-free—dipping toward the vee of his dress shirt.
Did he despise the restrictions of clothing? The forest guide had shed all but a pair of cotton shorts as he led them through the vine-riddled jungle. The branches slid away from him as if he parted them with his hands but he never touched them.
“Call me Skye,” she said as she followed him toward the large red barn. Its paint sparkled and glowed in the spring sunlight.
“Drew,” he said.
The interior of the building exceeded her imagination. Animals had never graced it as far as she could tell, and there was a hallway with doors to square rooms that had been used for storage but could easily be converted into bedrooms for retreat attendees. A single bathroom with only a sink and toilet sat at the beginning of the hallway which meant plumbing was accessible.
Drew answered her questions but didn’t offer a running narrative about the property as a few other real estate agents had done. Both of those earlier listings had been too close to the city making the verdant music of the plants mute, distant, a faint chorus of cicadas at dusk.
The second building surpassed her hopes. It boasted a large central room, perfect for group classes, a dining area and a stainless steel kitchen, as well as four more rooms that would work as guest rooms or classrooms. It looked nothing like she expected a carpenter shop would, although a faint scent of freshly sawn wood lingered in the air.
“The owner’s grandson taught woodworking to at-risk students for several years before he needed to sell. It’s been vacant about four months.”
Excitement rose while she toured the fresh-smelling log house. She discovered a perfect setup for live-in employees that would keep her privacy intact. Not to mention an incredible master suite, the sole occupant of the upper floor.
It was perfect. Except for one thing.
She followed Drew onto the front porch. A breeze carried the fruity scent of the happy orchard to her nose. If only those distorted evergreen stumps and trees didn’t ruin things.
Her magic reached toward the misshapen pine tree closest to her Camry. The tree felt strange, different than anything she’d encountered in her lifetime of city dwelling. Magic echoed within it but it didn’t whisper like the grass or sing as the fruit trees sang.
Skye and her guide walked closer to their automobiles as her magical sense tried to communicate with the trees.
“I don’t understand this.”
Drew stopped several feet away, closer to his truck. He raised a sculpted eyebrow. “What?”
“The trees. Why would someone torture them so? I don’t know how they could even grow like that.”
He was a man of few words, another trait that reminded her of the Brazilian woodsman. With heavy, clumsy steps, she traipsed across the graveled parking area and along the grassy roadside to the nearest pine. It’s long needles swayed although the air was still. Hairs prickled at the back of her neck.
Drew stopped beside the tree and rested a long-fingered hand on a branch near him. His lips moved, and she wondered if he spoke to the tree or created a spell. Woodsmen had strange powers that defied explanation, even to one familiar and in tune with the musical voices of the plant world.
The tree seemed to shake itself. A face appeared, level with Drew’s chest. Its eyes had no whites but were the color of the bark and the iris and pupil a rich brown. What seemed to be a crack in the bark moved slightly forming a smile.
“What is this?” Skye’s voice was somewhere between a croak and a gasp.
“A pine spirit.” Drew dropped his hand, and Skye noticed the branch had taken on fingers and bent slightly like an elbow.
What in the world?
Magic hummed in a current between the tree and Skye’s diaphragm, where the seat of her plant magic slept. It tugged on her like a rope, and her feet shuffled closer to the tree. Would it hurt her? She couldn’t seem to stop her forward momentum.
A creak, like a branch breaking beneath a load of snow, rumbled through the air. A chorus of follow up groans and snaps tumbled from the tree.
A slight tilt bent the woodsman’s ruddy lips. “She came here as a seedling, escaping from a nearby forest where the trees were being harvested.”
Her mind couldn’t comprehend that a tree spoke and the woodsman could understand its language of creaks. To her, it sounded like wind rushing through a forest.
Had she mistaken this sound as nothing but wind when she’d hiked in a forest? Were the trees tying to communicate with her then? There had been times when she’d felt the strange pressure tugging at her magical seat. She hadn’t thought to imagine there could be spirits in the trees who might want to commune with her.
“They cut the tallest and straightest trees first,” Drew continued. His eyes darkened and his lips flattened into a hard line. “So these spirits decided to make their bodies different, unappealing to the people who seemed hungry to destroy them.”
An ache weighed on her chest ached. Skye knew the despair of losing family. What had these trees experienced as genocide happened before their eyes?
“I…would…that’s horrible.” Her mind spun. What had looked like ugliness as she’d driven in transformed into a desperate picture of self-preservation. Like draping a camouflage net over a powerful tank.
“They wanted to be with someone who understood them. The grandson couldn’t hear them, but he had a touch of plant magic.” Drew studied her with intensity. “They would like to touch your magic.”
“What does that mean?” A shiver had Skye sliding back a step.
“You feel the tug?”
“They will touch you through that connection. It feels like a surge of electrical current.”
“Not painful. More like an awakening.”
Skye remembered the first time she’d heard plants sing. It had tingled like a foot that had been asleep for months. Painful but a temporary discomfort that faded quickly into a world of new sensations.
“What? How?” Skye slid a half-step closer to the man and the tree. She glanced at the barky face, and the eyes studied her, unblinking, inhuman but ancient with wisdom.
He took her hand and placed it on the tree’s fingers. The needles tickled across her palm. She clasped the branch, shyer than she’d been with her first boyfriend.
A lightning bolt struck her chest. Her breath huffed out and her back arched. A thousand voices sounded in her head. Everything spun. Ground became sky as the world tilted.
She blinked and dropped the piney hand to press her palm to her galloping heart. As she watched, the line of pines twisted and straightened, growing taller before her eyes. Gone were the strange, disfigured trunks and branches. A line of straight, column-worthy trees stood in their places.
“They would be honored if you would reside in this house,” Drew said, his voice low, awestruck. “Never have tree spirits embraced a stranger so completely.”
He stared at her with penetrating green eyes. “They say the same about you.”
No need to wonder anymore. Skye had found the perfect place to invest her grandparents’ legacy and build a musical sanctuary.
The trees chorused their agreement.
What do you think? I’d love to hear you honest assessment of this story and if you feel it would fit within a certain genre.
Thanks for entering wonder land with me today.