Enjoy an exclusive guest post from Kevin M. Folliard, author of “Home by Dark,” featured in our upcoming anthology ON TIME.
Alan rode his bicycle off the forest path and found a large clearing. There stood a plump tree. At first glance, Alan thought it was crawling with wriggling green lifeforms.
Upon close inspection, countless buds of leaves sprouted, grew, and expanded before his eyes. Within seconds, the tree’s foliage thickened. Pale flowers blossomed in moments, like tiny fireworks, then swiftly rained into petals.
Soon, the leaves blazed orange. They fell, crisped midair, and decayed into gray flakes before hitting ground. Buds sprang across the skeletal tree all over again. It cycled through the seasons within seconds, bursting green and pink and autumn fire, over and over.
Alan let his bike fall. He approached the miraculous tree, slaw-jawed and heart pounding.
“Hello, child,” came a honeyed voice. A willowy, pointy-eared nymph glided through the grass. “You have found the Cycle Tree. Beautiful, isn’t it?”
“What is it?” Alan asked.
“A rare, natural ode to the seasons, a monument of time.” The nymph’s eyes shimmered like blue ice. Her skin shone white as candlewax. “The Cycle Tree attains perfect balance with winter, spring, summer, and autumn.”
Alan crept closer. He marveled as stabbing gray branches bloomed green. Flower petals spiraled into existence, fluttered away, and leaves turned crimson and gold. Bees buzzed, birds chirped, hatchlings peeped, grew, and fluttered away. The spectral shapes of the tree’s residents flitted and ghosted, slumbered and foraged.
Alan yearned to touch the trunk. To feel its perpetual bliss.
“Careful,” the nymph said. “The tree is not meant for humans. It exists in all times simultaneously. Your eyes can only see it in passing moments. Months and years measured in seconds.”
“It’s wonderful.” Alan hesitated a moment beneath the blossoming canopy. He suddenly felt unworthy of such a miracle. But the nymph was not stopping him, not telling him to back away. Gossamer hair swayed hypnotically past her stoic expression.
He pressed his hand against sun-warm bark. The life of the forest flowed through him. A flawless circle.
He smiled at the nymph, grateful to share this feeling of eternal joy with another person. “What is your name?”
The nymph’s frozen eyes shimmered with blank indifference. “I have no name.”
Déjà vu wormed through Alan’s mind. “I’ve asked you that before.”
She nodded. “Yes. Eight-million, seven-thousand, and six times. I warned you to be careful.”
Dread sank into Alan. The nymph’s eyes gleamed. The whine of insects, forever swarming and dying, vibrated around him. Rotted leaves rained.
He ran for his bike. Rode as fast as he could, as far as he could, until he found a large clearing. There stood a plump tree.
Kevin M. Folliard is a Chicagoland writer whose fiction has been collected by The Horror Tree, Flame Tree Publishing, Hinnom Magazine, Thrilling Words, and more. His recent publications include “Halfway to Forgotten,” featured on The No Sleep Podcast, and the Short Sharp Shocks! Halloween tale “Candy Corn.” Kevin currently resides in La Grange, IL, where he enjoys his day job as an academic writing advisor and active membership in the La Grange and Brookfield Writers Groups. When not writing or working, he’s usually reading Stephen King, playing Super Mario Maker, or traveling the U.S.A.
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