The Magnolia Tree

    Stella was perched rather precariously on the cold metal rails of the balcony of her second story bedroom. She dangled her feet over the edge and swayed ever so slightly as she drifted into one of her daydreams. The breeze blew into her bright blonde curls and she smiled at the moon. Curious, she thought, what a diffident wind we have this midnight, isn’t it?
    Her silent musings were abruptly interrupted by the slamming of a door. “Stella Marine, get away from that ledge! Honestly, where has your head been?” her father chided her and she replied by stepping back to the ground.
    “Only the most wonderful of places, father.” She smiled brightly at him and he only sighed. He never was as amused by her wandering mind as she had been. “I was thinking on the wind, whether it could burst into impetuous passion if so inspired. It was far too reserved tonight.”
    “Silly girl,” he retorted, “the wind cannot feel. It’s time you’ve learned to control your conjectures.”
    “What if I explode? That would be one awful mess to clean...” Stella’s voice trailed off and she looked away into her mind, envisioning something greater than her father’s disapproval before her.
    “I will not entertain such ludicrous notions! Where is your sense of propriety?” His voice became more stern and it shook Stella from her fuzzy fantasy.
    “Where is your sense of enigma?” She snapped back at him in a way she never had before. They both stood in silence, looking at each other over and over until someone could break the deafening stillness.
    “You will stay here until you learn your place,” he said lowly. Turning on his heel, Stella’s father walked quickly out of her room and shut the door with a resounding slam. She stood for a second, considering what had just happened. The wind blew and tousled her hair once more with the same conciliatory encouragement it had given her before. She walked forward and laid on her bed, stretching out on her bright comforter. Stella closed her eyes for just a moment...

    Something was tickling her nose. A large, puffy, soft something. Stella sleepily brushed at her face and opened her eyes. A forest like no other she had ever been in before surrounded her. There were great trees unlike any she’d ever seen before; these were large and bent into unnatural positions. They were variegated with large blotches of every color combination in the rainbow and Stella could have sworn she’d noticed a face in one of them when she’d been distracted by a rustling in the bushes. She looked over to the large bush with little bells for berries and heard the distinct ringing of something moving the branches. Stella crawled over to the shrub to investigate and noticed something rather odd. There was a little door handle on one of the leaves. She tried to pull it, but it wouldn’t move.
    “You have to hit the doorbell.” A voice that emanated from what seemed like nowhere made Stella leap ten feet in the air. She looked about the odd forest and couldn’t find the speaker. She turned back to the bush cautiously. “It’s the one with the red bell.” Stella whipped her head around again and noticed a purple and yellow tree coming to life before her eyes. The large knots she had once overlooked were now transforming into two probing eyes. A hollow twisted into a crooked mouth that almost seemed to smile at her. “Yes, the red one will do it.” Stella looked back to the bush and saw a little red bell berry that had been slightly dented. She touched it and it sang. The door handle shifted and a little doorway appeared. Stella turned back to the tree which now was quite still. She stared at the purple and yellow knots and decided that they had just been knots after all, maybe she had just imagined it.
    When she turned back to the bush, the doorway was much smaller than it had been not twenty seconds before. Stella was taken aback by the change and her mind whirred with how she would get through the playing card sized hole. “Try the yellow bell.” Another deep voice rang from behind her, yet Stella didn’t turn around. She pushed her finger against the yellow bell berry and she felt her body begin to contort. Soon, she was no more than three inches high and was able to walk through the door.
    Stella entered the room. The walls were lined with more than half a dozen bookshelves that carried dozens and dozens of dusty stories waiting to be read. The old library of sorts had peeling yellow wallpaper and an ancient fireplace  complete with a roaring flame. She took each step carefully, soaking in every detail. For a reason she couldn’t explain, a sense of warmth pervaded her being and she was quite fond of the sensation. Suddenly, there was a clattering noise followed by an exclamation.
    “Dag nabbit!” A raspy voice shouted. It was a shabby old man standing in the middle of a flurry of papers that were still falling around him. He clearly hadn’t noticed Stella, and he bent down to collect his papers.
    “Excuse me? Can I help you with that?” Stella called sweetly. So violently startled by her voice, the old man dropped the papers he had already collected. He stood in awe  for a second, looking her over, before approaching her.
    “Ah, who are you?” he questioned.
    “I’m Stella Marine.”
    The old man just smiled at her. “Of course you are. What has brought you to my abode?”
    Stella pondered for a moment before replying. What had brought her here? She certainly hadn’t asked for this, and from what she had ascertained from the place so far, she wasn’t that big of a fan of it either. “I’m not sure. The last thing I remember is that my father and I were fighting over my habits to let myself wander. Then I was in the forest with something touching me and then I was talking to a tree and being shrunk and now I am here.”    
    “You wander?”
    “Yes, I frequently have daydreams. He finds them repugnant. He’s just so.... what’s the word?” She thought for a bit of time in order to find the correct word to describe her father. “He’s so...”
    “Pedantic!” the man exploded, “ P-E-D-A-N-T-I-C! He’s a pedant! The definition of a pedant is ‘a person who is excessively concerned with minor details and rules or with displaying academic learning.’ I learned that from the dictionary, I did!” Stella looked at him with shock in her eyes, the man had startled her with his outburst. “He loves to follow all the rules in a book, he does, he does. I read all the books myself and I guess I’m a pedant too! Don’t you think that dogmatism is so.... alluring?”
    By the time Stella had begun to ponder whether dogmatism was even a word (she wouldn’t be surprised if it weren’t), the old man had disappeared. She was all alone in the strange little library and utterly confused at the sequence of events she had endured. She turned to leave, but first saw there had been a book left out on a desk. She went over to it and opened it up. The minute her skin graced the cover, the book split open and began to read itself aloud. Stella jumped back and stared at the talking fiction and watched as it grew silent after a page had been finished. This place had been profusely terrifying, yet she had never been more intrigued. So Stella walked away from the library and back towards the forest.
    Once she stepped back onto the lush orange grass, she grew to be full sized again. She wandered cautiously through the trees and eyed them as she passed. None of them moved even slightly, Stella shook her head and continued walking until she happened upon a garden. She noticed that the garden was flagrant in vivid purple color and invitingly warm, so she walked through the white picket gate.
    The roses that circled the imperial fountain seemed to be quite sick. They heaved and they coughed and they sighed against the earth beneath them. Stella went towards the beautiful violets that had drawn her to flowerbed. “Excuse me, but what is wrong with all of the red roses?” Stella inquired.
    “Oh, it’s terrible,” a violet answered with an airy voice, “there’s an awful contagion that’s killing off all of the beautiful sisters.” The violet’s voice was quite sedate and seemed to accentuate the hacking coughs of the roses. “It’s such a shame. This sickness isn’t like the other floral diseases, it doesn’t appear to be very ephemeral. No, our exquisite friends seem to be terminal. Oh, I wish there was something I could do about it!” The violet sighed sadly and looked longingly at the roses.
    The old man ran through the gates and exclaimed “Try this for size!” He swung a large bag from off of his shoulder and poured its contents onto the gasping roses. A pile of white grainy substance formed on top of the petals and the roses began to sag even more.
    “Why, what are you doing?” cried the violet. “You’re hurting my ravishing rose sisters!”
    “It’s sugar, it’ll do them good!” the old man laughed. He vacillated on the spot with pride as he watched the roses struggle beneath the pile. The mountain of white vanished before Stella’s eyes and the roses’ pale petals began to flush a deep crimson. One of the roses lifted itself from the ground and looked up towards the man.
    “Thank you, kind sir, for saving our race!” the rose eagerly spoke with a light voice. The rest of the roses in the bed began to rise from the earth and smile towards the old man. The violets cheered with glee and Stella felt a true sense of rapture in that moment. The old man bowed a low bow and looked back to Stella.
    “Come,” he said simply, “I must tell you something.” Stella waved goodbye to her alluring flower friends and left the garden with the curious old man. They walked for a while in silence, Stella waiting for him to explain what he’d wanted to tell her. “Stella, do you know where you are?” Stella shook her head. “Do you know why you are?” Again, Stella didn’t know. “Well, what do you know?”
    Stella thought on that. “Well. I do know that I am somewhere where things don’t make sense. I can’t see the logic behind anything that’s happened to me so far! It’s utterly absurd.”
    The old man smiled at her. “Exactly. This is where I leave you now. Good bye.” For the second time that day, the old man had left Stella completely alone and confused. Looking around, Stella noticed the purple and yellow tree once more. She stood before it and stared deep into it’s bark.
    “I know you’re there. You told me to ring the bell. Only, you couldn’t have because you’re a tree. But I know you spoke to me. I’m sure of it. And if there’s anything I believe right now, it’s that you have been one of the most abstruse concepts in this whole blasted forest. You’re the only thing that has remained hidden from me and I want to know why.” Stella spoke calmly, yet sternly. The tree didn’t waver. “You’re so vexing. You’re vexing me. I hope you realize that you are absolutely, profoundly frustrating. I know I saw you, why won’t you admit it?” Once again, the tree stood silent.  Stella crossed her arms and stared at the tree, both still.
    Then, something happened. The tree groaned to life. A twisted mouth formed but was no longer smiling at the girl before it. “I am a magnolia tree. That is all I am. You are a silly girl. How is life as an enigma worked out for you?” It spoke slowly and with each sagacious syllable, Stella felt smaller. “You believe in a distant place where you can distract yourself from your present. You create an alternate universe where things can be just as you wish. You are a silly girl. I am a magnolia tree. Has it gone just as you’ve planned?” Stella swallowed hard. She looked at the knotted eyes in the bark of the tree and took a step towards it. She lifted her hands slowly and took deliberate steps towards the great tree. Stella touched her fingers to the bark of the tree and found that it was utterly intangible much like the images of a hologram. She thrust her body forwards into space where the tree was and she found herself falling further and further into a hole, surrounded by pure darkness.

    Stella opened her eyes. She was instantly blinded by the sun that was halfway in the sky. She stood and walked over to her little garden on her balcony. She stopped to smell every rose. She had just been gazing into the open sky when her father burst into the room. She turned to him and smiled. Running towards him, she threw her arms out and hugged him with all of the strength she could muster. He patted her long blonde curls and waited for her to let go. 
    “Have you thought on what I said?” he asked coldly.
    “I have indeed.” Stella replied.
    “And what was your conclusion?”
    “A sense of propriety can be far more advantageous than a sense of farce. I do apologize for my lack of sobriety.” It caused a somewhat painful throb in her heart to say it, but it was completely necessary.
    “And what lead you to this belief? A particularly verbose chipmunk?”
    Stella half smiled. “A crazy old man and a magnolia tree, actually.” Her father sighed and shook his head. Stella took his hand. “Come on. Let’s go down to breakfast.” And so they did.

The End

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