There aren’t many left, and for that, I’m glad.
The willows have haunted the waterways of New England longer than my family has been in Cross. My father told me tales of the local tribes beating back assaults by the trees and of others where the entire village was missing, victims of the willows.
It wasn’t until shortly after the War of 1812 that Old Man Willow arrived.
I’d recently returned home from serving aboard a privateer when I saw the willow by the Hollow.
I went home, ate, and made a note to check the tree in the morning. Willows, unbeknownst to most, move in the dark of night. They pull up their roots and creep across the land, their long fronds a whisper in the wind.
When I went round the next morning, he’d moved a solid two hundred feet closer to the house. The remains of a deer lay close by, and the birds were noticeably silent.
I returned home, fetched my rifle, lit a full lamp and carried both back to the tree.
Sitting down far enough from the branches, I loaded the rifle, set it across my knees and called out, “Morning, Master Willow.”
The willow remained silent.
“Let’s try this again,” I offered. “Morning to you, Master Willow. You’re nigh on close to trespassing on Blood lands.”
Standing up, I gave the lamp more wick and cocked the rifle.
“Now,” I said, holding the lamp high. “I’m not sure there’s enough oil here to finish you. I do know there’s enough to hurt you. Hold your tongue any longer, Master Willow, and I’ll throw this in the air and put a bullet through it when it’s about to strike. Oil spreads fast, faster still when it’s burning.”
“I need shelter,” the tree grumbled.
I sat down. “With a Blood?”
“Aye,” Willow said. “No place is safe. I have heard you offer refuge.”
“You’ve heard the truth.”
“What are the terms?”
“Don’t eat me or my guests,” I answered.
Willow chuckled. “Nothing more?”
Upon occasion, he ate a guest or two, but I’d warned them.
What more could I do? He’d asked for refuge, and I’d granted it.
And mistakes happen to the best of us.