She must have taken a wrong turn and skidded down a rabbit hole. Except this wasn’t Wonderland. Or even wonderful.
Skye Reynolds checked the address on her phone against the wooden signpost at the edge of a rutted drive. Her foot pushed harder against the brake pedal. Sure, the rutted track beyond the post looked like a horror movie rendering of the Oregon Trail, but that wasn’t what made her pulse spike and her stomach bottom out.
Misshapen pine trees lined the bumpy road, set in nearly perfect increments like distance markers. Except their trunks resembled winding goat trails, or exaggerated letters, or something no lover of plant magic would think picturesque.
Was this some sort of cruel joke?
Her real estate agent had been her friend during their college years, although what a business and sales major had in common with a musical therapy major, Skye couldn’t say. They both loved watching reruns of Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman and taking walks in the nature preserve that abutted one corner of the campus.
Angi knew that nature fueled and centered Skye. Of course, she had no clue why because she had no aptitude for magic. Thus, her friend couldn’t sense the vein of power that ran through every growing thing. But she wouldn’t see this horror show as something Skye would want to be part of, and certainly wouldn’t recommend it as a place for her to settle down and create the retreat center she planned with the money her grandparents left her.
Tears choked her.
She wouldn’t think of Granny and Papaw. The loss of their presence in her world was too new, and she hadn’t grieved them properly. She might never accept that she couldn’t pick up the phone and hear their voices. When her parents chose magical research in the largest rain forest on earth over raising their daughter, Granny and Papaw had offered Skye a home. One that was more stable than anything she knew before. Although seven years isn’t much of a time frame for setting reality norms, moving from one forest to another and one continent to another, living out of a tent or in a vehicle, was all she had known to that point.
Angi knew all that, and she’d never steered Skye wrong in the six years they’d known each other.
She eased her foot off the brake. Her Camry eased toward the drive. Would the car even make it without bottoming out? She’d have to find out.
The display of trees lined the right hand side of the drive, some more grotesque and deformed than others, but all of them painful to look at. Skye averted her gaze to the other side of the road.
She bounced as the car jarred into one particularly deep rut. Her teeth snapped together, and her dark blonde hair brushed the roof above her.
Good grief! If she decided this property met her requirements, a total overhaul of the drive would be the first step on her list of things to fix. Although she could be getting ahead of herself since she hadn’t seen the buildings yet.
On the left side of the road, an array of fruit trees stood sentinel in perfect lines, soldiers in formation. She spotted peach, pear and apple trees before the road veered sharply to the right and the buildings came into view.
Her foot jammed the brakes. She gawked at the site in a small valley at the end of the unpleasant roadway. A log house, larger than she’d envisioned sat to the right, flanked by a pool of landscaped grass and flower beds. The drive curled to the left beyond the house where an enormous barn and another building—what had been a crafting house since the former owner had been a woodworker—offered exactly the space she’d imagined for her workshops.
A lump rose in her throat and butterflies exploded in her gut. If only those tortured trees didn’t line the drive.
She pulled the car forward beside a late model Ford truck. This must be the listing agent’s car. That’s who Angi had arranged to meet them for the property tour. She wasn’t sure why her friend hadn’t arrived.
After putting her car in park and unplugging her phone, she checked her messages but saw nothing from Angi. Of course, she barely had half a bar of reception and might lose even that when she walked further into the slight depression.
Outside the car, she inhaled the scent of pine, grass, fruit, flowers and nature. Her toes tried to dig into the soil, as they loved to do. Exactly why she normally went barefoot when outside. She opened her extra sense a crack, afraid what sort of agony she might hear from the disfigured pines.
The apple trees sang with a chirping melody, their magic tingling across her senses. Pear trees harmonized with a baritone voice, and the peaches sent a steady thrumming bass note that echoed in her chest. Grass sighed, and the daffodils swaying in the nearest bed hummed in imitation of the apple trees. Bulb flowers were the biggest copy cats in the plant kingdom.
Hearing the joyous refrains, she relaxed her sensory shield further, still mindful that the evergreens could send a screech through her that might have her curled on the ground like a poked potato bug.
The door to the house opened and a thin man stepped out.
Skye sensed his magic immediately.
**Come back next Monday to read the rest of the story.
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