Mr. Morshige’s Tree
BY ALY APELES FROM MEEKER MIDDLE SCHOOL
Mr. Morshige was a strange man. Anabelle had known it ever since her dragged the two of them across the country to live with Nate. Every afternoon as she walked the dusty road back home from school, Mr. Morshige was there at his tree, the only tree among the vast wheat fields, talking to its rough bark. Anabelle avoided speaking to the old man as much as possible, though on occasion he would call out a cheerful greeting that she couldn’t understand but would reply to out of politeness.
She once forced herself to ask Nate, “What’s wrong with Mr. Morshige?”
Nate had, of course, given her his overly friendly smile. “He’s a nice enough man. He and his wife came here from Japan when I was eight. They didn’t have children, so when Mrs. Morshige died he was alone.” He placed a calloused hand on her shoulder. “I’m glad you came to me, Belle. It’s important that we develop a sense of trust in one another.”
It seemed that every conversation with her stepfather ended like this. Nate was always trying to make her feel like his real daughter. But no one could replace Anabelle’s true father or, the way she saw it, her mother’s true husband.
When Anabelle’s dad died, both she and her mother faced a tremendous sense of loss. Yet Mrs. Hicks-now Mrs. Jamison-had recovered fast enough to marry Nate and have another child with him. Anabelle was seven when her half sister Mary was born. Now, five years later, Mary had become a noisy little girl who drove her older sister up the wall.
Anabelle often ran out to Nate’s barn and sat in the hayloft to escape her aggravating family. She brought along a pen and paper to write a letter to her father. She used to cry every night after his death, but discovered a few weeks after the crash that writing letters soothed her. She had not cried once since then.
A barn owl had made her nest in the loft some months ago. Anabelle had been shocked, yet then proceeded to name her Hoot. She once forgot a letter in the loft, but returned the next morning to find it in Hoot’s nest. Now, instead of taking the letters home with her, she left them with the owl. Each morning, two days after receiving them, they would be gone. Anabelle liked to think that Hoot was delivering them.
One day after school, she climbed up to the loft and flopped down with her letter supplies.
“Brought you these,” she told Hoot, extending a fistful of crackers. The owl, now quite comfortable with her presence, gobbled them up. “Can you imagine what would happen if I didn’t feed you?” Hoot ruffled her feathers in reply. Anabelle smirked. “That’s what I thought.” She wrote to her father:
It’s been a while since we talked and I don’t have much new to say, but I do have a few quick things to share. It’s Mom’s birthday soon. If you have any cloud making powers or something, I’m sure she’d appreciate a special sky painting for a present. Just an idea. By the way, does your postman/woman/owl get lost often? It’s like I never get a reply from you. It would be nice to, if only once.
She folded the letter and handed it to Hoot, who took it in her beak, cooed and closed her eyes. She seemed to be awake only when Anabelle was there and at no other times during the day.
Back in her bedroom, Anabelle noticed a giggling from within her closet. She crept up to the doors and whisked them open.
Mary shrieked with laughter and pounced out, wearing an oversized turquoise dress. “I’m Princess Jasmine!” she exclaimed.
“Princess Jasmine wore pants,” Anabelle said. “She also didn’t have red hair and smeary little fingers. Now take that off, it’s mine.”
Mary slumped. “Daddy said I looked like a princess.”
“He was trying to make you feel better.”
The little girl stood there for a moment, looking deeply upset to the point where Anabelle almost felt bad for her. Then Mary yanked the dress off over her head and ran out off the room buck-naked, obnoxious laughter bouncing off the hallway walls.
Anabelle groaned, covering her ears. Why couldn’t she have a normal, blood-related family? Feeling agitated, she headed downstairs to grab an apple.
Her mother, Nate and Mary were all there. “Hi, Belle!” her mom chirped. “How about lunch?”
“I’m just getting some fruit,” Anabelle said. “Thanks, though.”
“You never spend time with the family,” her mom persisted. “Sit down, we’re having sandwiches.”
“I’m not hungry.”
“She made me take my dress off!” Mary hollered, thumping her chubby hands on the table.
Nate gave Anabelle a false smile. “Belle, your mother and I thought Mary looked pretty.”
“She looked like a pig in a dress,” she snapped back. “She can’t touch my stuff.”
Although her parents seemed shocked, Mary wasn’t fazed by this comment. “You spend a lot of time with the pigs out there,” she noted. “Once I found your letter on the ground out by the barn. It was to Daddy.”
Nate frowned. “Is that true, Belle?”
“My real dad,” Anabelle snarled, and whirled to face Mary. She brought her hand across Mary’s face, hard, and ran out the front door, never once glancing back.
A mile down the road, she noticed something that made her stop. Mr. Morshige was at his tree. But instead of talking to it, he was slumped against the trunk, mouth hanging open. Anabelle approached him, concerned.
“Mr. Morshige?” she said. He did not respond. She crouched down and took his hand. A faint pulse thrummed through his wrist that she could tell was far too weak. “Just hold on!” she told him and pulled out her cellphone, dialing 9-1-1. Within a few minutes of speaking to the dispatcher, an ambulance arrived. Anabelle gave the EMTs an explanation of her discovery. In under two minutes, they packed up Mr. Morshige and were gone.
Anabelle leaned against the tree’s trunk and slid to the ground. She’d never known the old man, but now she grieved for him. Why couldn’t her life just stay happy and uncomplicated?
A soft “Woo, woo,” overhead interrupted her thoughts. She looked up to see Hoot, an envelope in her beak. “Hi there,” Anabelle said, taking her time standing so as not to startle her friend. “Is that for me?” Hoot dropped the envelope into Anabelle’s outstretched hands. She opened it and pulled out a letter.
I am so sorry that I haven’t been able to contact you. Things get busy up here in Heaven. Even with a timetable of eternity, I still have my hands full taking care of you and your mother! Please, Anabelle, maintain your faith in me and all who care about you. Sometimes God gives us blessings which we cannot see.
Your adoring father
Anabelle wiped away a tear. Then she had to brush off another. Before she knew it, they were rolling down her face and she laughed as she sobbed. It felt so good to cry, to let out all those bottled up emotions.
Nate’s SUV pulled up beside the road. “Belle!” he called out. Instead of ignoring her stepfather, Anabelle ran to him and flung her arms around his neck. She said nothing; he gave no overly friendly smile. Neither was needed.
Anabelle apologized to Mary, Nate and her mom. She vowed that from now on, they would be a real family. Partway through their makeup session, the phone rang. “Mr. Morshige is in the hospital. He wants to see you,” her mother told her. “Could you drive me?” Anabelle asked.
Upon reaching the Mr. Morshige’s hospital room, Anabelle sat by his bedside. The old man beamed despite the tubes in his arms and nose. “You saved my life.”
“I’m no hero, I’m just not a psychopath. You needed help.” She paused before asking, “Mr. Morshige, why do you talk to that tree?”
He gestured for her to come closer. “My wife died years ago,” he whispered. “I had her buried in that field. But before the undertakers could throw the dirt back on top, I planted an osage orange tree seed over her heart.” He gave a bittersweet sigh. “People think I’m crazy. I don’t care, as long as I can talk to her.”
Anabelle grasped his hand. “You can talk to my family, too. We’d love having you.”
Mr. Morshige gave her a knowing smile. “A little birdy told me that things hadn’t been going so well with your family. I guess now you recognize that sometimes God gives us blessings which we cannot see.” Anabelle stared, mystified, into his twinkling eyes. Perhaps God gave blessings that could not be understood, either. She leaned over and embraced him.
“I do, Mr. Morshige. Thank you.”
Aly Apeles is from the Tacoma-Federal Way area, and enjoys Tae Kwon Do, writing/reading, and learning about science and languages. Her favorite authors include Marissa Meyer, Ellen Hopkins, Rick Riordan, Steven King and J.K. Rowling. One of her favorite recent reads is Impulse, by Ellen Hopkins, which made her laugh, cry, and think about life. Reading helps her learn how to improve her writing, so she does it often. She attends Meeker Middle School.
BY KIA ADDISON FROM SPANAWAY LAKE HIGH SCHOOL
Even late at night, The Somalian heat was suffocating. It sat in the air as if it intended to smother the inhabitants into doleful surrender. It was the only time that Doctor Eliot Acnes had a moment to spare. Thus the suffocating night saw him walk into the modest two-story hovel that counted as a hospital in these parts. A single, guttering light bulb swayed on the ceiling. The local medical nurse was waiting for him inside, her features morphed from standard placid to deathly grim.
She stood several inches taller than Eliot, but size mattered not in this battlefield where life and death, healing and fixing, hung in mortal hands. Experience was what mattered, and out of the two of them, he had eleven years extra experience.
All the same, he respected her opinion. Expectantly, he waited for the diagnosis. “He’s dying,” was the blunt reply to his unspoken inquiry.
“There is nothing I can do to cleanse that bile from him,” she snarled, whether in anger or disgust he could not tell. “I have done all I can, but…His body cannot handle this.” Eliot immediately searched his memory for a possible cure; but almost a decade of college instruction and years more of field experience availed him nothing.
“This didn’t have to happen,” he stated darkly. The spirit within the dying body was too bold and courageous for death to steal it away before the world had even had its share of him.
The native woman set her jaw. “You know this is how it is here,” she chided.
“That doesn’t mean it is supposed to be this way,” he retorted. She snorted disdainfully.
“Your pretty words don’t mean much to us,” she scoffed. Eliot wondered if she were right about his ideals, so casually brushed off as ‘pretty words.’ Freedom, justice and peace were easily believable when one inhabited a safe environment but when people began murdering and dying… He turned his mind away from that.
“May I see him?”
“Yes. It isn’t contagious, but he is weak. Extremely weak.”
“I understand. Thank you,” he said, but the woman was already looking around at the emptied abode as if waiting for more patients to materialize and overwhelm the facility.
Eliot resignedly marched into the droll room. Seated impatiently upon a small cot layered with borrowed sheets was the patient Eliot had come to see.
A ten-year-old child.
“Doctor Acnes!” The room’s silence suddenly danced into sharp, uncontrolled joy that only children could exhibit. Eliot chuckled. He loved the children’s enthusiasm, their energy, their pure, unbridled endurance in the face of abomination.
The small child smiled genially up at his favorite teacher. Eliot frowned, though the boy’s spirits were high, it was apparent his body was failing. His usually animated brown eyes were lined with black rings, and the feeble body was emaciated, for nothing would stay down. This child was slowly starving to death.
Eliot sighed, contemplating that to most others in this area, his angst would be considered the product of naivety and weakness. In many ways the belief was this: life would continue. There were always more children, more chances. This was just how the world was. Peace was a word scoffed at, freedom was a fairytale.
Yet if this is how the world is, what hope is there? It didn’t make sense. Brotherhood and tolerance weren’t just ‘pretty words,’ they had to mean something, had to matter at least a little to someone…. So if they are the key to perfection, why are children still dying?
Eliot quickly turned his thoughts away from that. Histrionically, he took a seat next to Omarr. The sick child giggled softly at the spectacle. His mirth bubbled in the room, creating warm pangs in Eliot’s soul. He relaxed enough to finally smile.
“Hello, young one,” he greeted using the local dialect. Few spoke English here.
“Hello, Doctor Acnes,” Omarr replied hoarsely.
“How are you feeling?” Eliot inquired as his eyes searched Omarr’s face for any dents in the poison’s armor. Omarr gave a half shrug.
“Not too good,” he admitted, worriedly. “Is that bad?” he asked.
Eliot exhaled slowly, wondering what to tell him, if anything. For goodness sakes, all the boy had done was drink some water, which unbeknownst to anyone had been poisoned by those who resented UN involvement. Their water supply had been contaminated, but because of blessed ignorance or laziness or both, the assassin had not used the right dosage of toxin, thus most people had escaped with mere sour stomachs. But for Omarr’s age and weight….It was fatal.
“It isn’t bad to admit your feelings,” he assured the child, though that had not been the question.
“Doctor Acnes?” Eliot stiffened, startled by the uncharacteristic tone of voice. “I can’t feel my legs,” the child’s voice quivered as brown eyes stared at Eliot with confusion and fear.
“Hmm,” he stalled for time, desperately. He took his time shuffling over to sit beside the ragged boy and to reflect that after twelve years, he should be able deliver the news without batting an eye.
Omarr’s parents were gone-presumed dead and if not, they were missing- and no older siblings were there to take responsibility for the child. The only one to tell the truth to was Omarr himself.
“Yes,” gently, he reached out and swiped some of the child’s dark hair away from his face. “You are…” Is it cruel to say to a child? Is it cruel to let it remain unsaid? “Dying, Omarr,” the words were whispered through unwilling lips.
Omarr blinked. “Dying?” He croaked.
“Yes,” nonetheless, Eliot saw in Omarr’s face he did not comprehend the word death. Eliot felt his chest constrict. He had explained it many times, but it never got easier. “Dying is… Like sleeping,” he supposed. “Except you don’t wake up,” Omarr puckered his lips in a pout.
“I’ll be like auntie?” He mumbled tearfully. Eliot did not know who Auntie had been, but seeing as how she was not present …
“Yes, you will,” he decided.
“But where will I be, if I don’t wake up?”
Eliot knew the diplomatic answer could have been to admit his unknowing. He was no priest, but… “A good place. Where all the good people go,” From earliest infancy he had been able to deduce that much. Good people received good things, and if he couldn’t hold unto the belief that death held that good thing, then… It wasn’t a thought. They weren’t just pretty words. They couldn’t be, because if ideals and beliefs and peace were just naïve children’s thoughts, what did that mean for the future? “You’ll watch over us from among the stars. You love stars, don’t you?” Omarr’s face brightened, and his frail body relaxed.
“Oh. I guess….Will you stay with me?” he asked softly. Eliot nodded and gripped one tiny hand in his own, tightly.
“Yes,” he whispered, and like all heart vows, it was sacred.
If the doctor could do anything to change Omarr’s apparent fate, he would do it. He would give every ounce of his strength if only he could save one more little boy…
Yet this was a battle not even the strongest belief could fight. The woman’s factually stated words echoed in his head. “Your pretty words don’t mean much to us.”
Omarr’s eyes fluttered. “Dr. Acnes, sir? I told my friends I was going to…that place… America when I was grown up. You believe me, don’t you?” he mumbled.
“Absolutely,” he agreed. Omarr let out a breath of a laugh.
“Told ‘em,” he grunted. “America…I would have come back one day, though,” Eliot gave a start. What reason would Omarr have for wanting to return? The child noticed his confusion. “This is a nice place, Dr. Acnes. These are nice people, sometimes nice people fight when they’re sad. But I would have come back and helped,” Omarr’s breath hitched. The time was not long now.
Eliot squeezed his hand. A tear raced a salty path down his cheek. “Very good dreams,” he whispered to him.
“I know.” Omarr agreed, so soft Eliot struggled to hear.
“Because…I believe it,” His brown eyes stared into a space far away. “I believe in your pretty words.” The pretty words that the rest of his society assumed were fairytales and impossibilities.
Yet somehow the children always believed.
Eliot smiled. That seemed adequate enough reason to stay in this place and try to heal and help and believe. Perhaps if people weren’t sad, then the pretty words might mean more, might come someday to mean everything. In Omarr’s memory, he would fight for the right to live in a world of pretty words.
And with hope rekindled in a broken heart, he watched the boy join the stars, knowing that Omarr was too good for such a bad world. Eliot, too, would sleep one day, but not before he fulfilled Omarr’s dream, not until the whole world was composed of pretty words.
Kia Addison reads everything in sight. Her tastes range from old school fantasy to historical fiction. She would like to attend Western Washington University and earn a MFA in Creative Writing. She attends Spanaway Lake High School.