This is more experimental than anything - just toying with plot and flow and character a little bit.
There sits, like a petulant little garden gnome, an odd tree on top the hill at the end of the town. And I do mean that literally - the place where the town simply stops. Streets that go nowhere and shiver out into crumbling, un-set gravel. Signs that point toward nothing. Shops that, if you circle around to their backs facing the hill, are merely blank.
Just a gradual upward gradient, and then the tree.
No one really goes up there.
No one really thinks about it.
I didn't think about it either, really. It was the end of the town, and the end of the town was something that provided exactly what it showed - nothing but a gnarled, ugly little tree. It wasn't like I was ignorant about the rest of the world - like our town existed like its own little mechanism, apart and stranded, with age-old traditions and ridiculous beliefs. This wasn't The Village with the red-caped girl who couldn't see and the town's elders dressing up to keep everyone afraid and stagnant. I just didn't think about it.
I didn't wonder what was beyond the hill and its tree. I didn't think about what it would be like to follow one of the roads-going-nowhere and then, pausing on top of the loose gravel already disappearing, look out and up and think There must be something else. Didn't edge out into the grass, suck in a breath, and start running.
For years and years, I never gave it thought. It passed through my vision, a solitary landmark, and then drifted out. For years, I didn't ask why no one went up there. For years, no one talked about it.
And then, one day, someone just did.
It was the new girl, a week before I turned sixteen. She'd shown up in the dead of the night and her family unpacked without anyone ever hearing. By the morning, it was like she'd been there all her life. I saw her for the first time sitting on the verge, reading a book. I almost walked straight past her on my way to the nearest café before I realized I'd never, in my life, seen her before. Which was a big deal in such a little town in the middle of Spring.
So I did stop.
I stopped to ask her her name. To wonder who in the hell she was.
"Anna Perkhov," she'd said, lifting her face from the pages of the book spread on her knees. I'll never forget it, either, that little movement that cemented her into my head like tattoos around the circumference of my skull. Because when her eyes met mine, I felt a little jolt - something like my nervous system jumping - and couldn't help but smile.
She was wild. She was exciting.
It showed, too, when I saw her face. Bright eyes, pink cheeks - like she'd just experienced some fierce and uninhibited thing. She almost looked windswept, but as time went on, it was just how she looked. Like she was always experiencing that fierce and uninhibited thing. It was contagious.
She and I were friends, I realized, before she'd even finished telling me her name. And I don't know if it was because I was the only one who saw her - really saw her there on the verge - and stopped because I knew she didn't belong. Or if it was just because, the moment I saw her, that little hollow inside me that was still untouched by the monotony of my little town, burst open wide and made me just as wild as she.
She was the one who thought about the tree more than any tree had ever been thought about. I often found her after school, staring up at the hill. I wanted to say she had an obsession, but most of the time I just stared at it with her. I was shaken - I know she thought of something different when she looked at it, but me -
I could only wonder how I'd never thought about it before.
It rattled me in some way that was as unforgiving as the way that tree bent and curled. It haunted me at night, and she brought it with her during the day, always smelling of grass and wind and soil. Sometimes, I think I saw her fingernails gilded with the dirt. But I didn't like to wonder where it came from. I told myself she'd only been digging in her garden.
Because I didn't want to think about her standing on top of that hill next to that tree. Something about that made me cringe. Made me afraid.
But I suppose it was always inevitable after her appearance that we would, in our mutual fascination, visit it together.
That day was as harrowing as it was enthralling.