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The rain&#8217;s beat grew heavier by the minute on a weak cottage roof at the edge of a forest village. The wind was picking up, too; you could hear it moaning as the trees&#8217; branches creaked ominously. It was the kind of night that you could tell something was going to happen&#8230;and I daresay I knew what that something was.
Marina Bobrikova looked out at the rain blankly. It splattered down like a painter&#8217;s oils, nervously rushing his work for the czar&#8217;s birthday. Marina wasn&#8217;t focused on this playful thought, though; she kept her eyes on a huge tree at the edge of her village. Its roots were gnarled and the trunk old and wide, and it had a mysterious gaping hole in the middle. It was by far the tallest and most aged tree in the forest. They called it the Lettering Tree. Marina never knew why, and no one ever seemed to want to talk about it. She turned to her pet fish for a talk.
&#8220;Elena, why doesn&#8217;t anyone talk about that tree?&#8221; Marina asked.
Elena spun around to show off her beautiful blue fins, flowing freely in the water. She paused, blew a few bubbles, and then turned away again.
&#8220;Not even you want to talk about it,&#8221; Marina pouted. Then she turned back to watching the tree.
Suddenly, a small white object emerged from the hole in the tree. Marina watched as it was carried by the wind toward the village, but soon it went out of sight. She listened quietly to her grandmother rocking back and forth in her chair, thinking of what the object could have been.
A vicious flapping and rustling sound interrupted Marina&#8217;s daydreaming.
&#8220;Grandmother Svetlana&#8230;&#8221; she started, but was interrupted by a delicate envelope slipping through the bottom of the door and landing at her grandmother&#8217;s feet. Marina reached down to see what it was and whom it was from, but a voice stopped her.
&#8220;Don&#8217;t, Marina,&#8221; her grandmother said sternly. &#8220;I think that was meant for me.&#8221; She bent down between grunts and managed to pick it up. It had a maroon wax seal pressed on the fold, but Marina couldn&#8217;t tell what the letters were. Grandmother Svetlana&#8217;s hands were trembling, and more than usual as Marina could tell. She carefully opened the seal and pulled out a letter scored with gracefully written words. Her eyes, which always seemed to have a sparkle of youth in them, suddenly seemed tired and old.
&#8220;Call for your parents, Marina,&#8221; Grandmother said. &#8220;There&#8217;s no time to waste.&#8221; Still confused, Marina pulled on her coat without question and rushed out the door. She saw her parents working in the shed and yelled out over the speeding winds and the pouring rain, &#8220;Mother! Father! Grandmother Svetlana needs to talk to you now!&#8221;
Marina&#8217;s parents looked up. &#8220;What for? We&#8217;re busy now, Marina!&#8221; her father called.
&#8220;I don&#8217;t know, but she&#8217;s very serious about this! Please come!&#8221; Marina&#8217;s mother and father exchanged glances, and then hurried to the cottage.
When they got there, Grandmother Svetlana was still in her chair, reading over and over those beautiful, mysterious words.
&#8220;What&#8217;s the matter? Do you need something?&#8221; Marina&#8217;s mother asked. She stepped into the room and stiffened. &#8220;Oh my&#8230;.&#8221;
Everything happened so fast. Mrs. Bobrikova was alerting the village, Mr. Bobrikova was whisking away Grandmother Svetlana, and Marina was following close behind, hoping not to get lost in the pandemonium.
&#8220;What&#8217;s going on? Where are you going?&#8221; Marina shouted.
&#8220;Please, Marina &#8211 there&#8217;s no time to explain now. Say goodbye to your grandmother&#8230;she&#8217;s going away,&#8221; her father answered. &#8220;Just follow me.&#8221;
&#8220;But where is she going? I need to know!&#8221;
He didn&#8217;t respond.
Marina noticed that they were heading toward the edge of the village. A very familiar tree stood looming in the distance, staring her down. She felt chills evade her, but it wasn&#8217;t from the rain. An image flashed back in her head from when she had seen a suspicious white object come out of the tree. A moment later that mysterious letter had slipped through the door and landed directly at Grandmother&#8217;s feet. Marina was starting to like this tree even less.
&#8220;Marina,&#8221; her grandmother started, &#8220;I&#8217;m going somewhere&#8230;I don&#8217;t know exactly where&#8230;but I need you to stay strong. Okay?&#8221;
Marina nodded with eyes about to flood.
Grandmother Svetlana continued, &#8220;You won&#8217;t want to hear this, but&#8230;&#8221;
&#8220;But what, Grandmother? Please tell me.&#8221;
She sighed and then whispered softly, &#8220;I&#8217;m going to die.&#8221;
Marina couldn&#8217;t say anything. She couldn&#8217;t move. All she remembered was Grandmother Svetlana leaving her. Hobbling over to the tree. And disappearing into that gaping hole in the Lettering Tree.
This happened three years ago. Six months later, Marina was diagnosed with cancer and has mostly stayed at home since.
Marina was lying in bed again because she was too weak to go outside. She had become small and frail from the strong cancer and lately it had been very hard on her. Her friend, Jonathan, had come to visit again, attempting to cheer her up a bit.
&#8220;How are you feeling, Marina?&#8221; he asked.
&#8220;I don&#8217;t know, Jonathan, but I don&#8217;t like this weather. It&#8217;s scaring me,&#8221; she told him. She was right; dark clouds were gathering in the sky and the sun&#8217;s attempts to break through were more and more vain.
&#8220;Don&#8217;t worry, it&#8217;ll eventually clear up,&#8221; Jonathan replied, but he also was doubtful.
Marina looked out the window, and immediately her eyes focused on the tree and its dark hole. A flow of anger spread throughout her. This was the thing that had swallowed up the person she loved most in the world, and she would never forget it. She turned away from the sight before her rage could take over. Just as she did, though, something white flitted out of the tree&#8230;.
Marina started feeling drowsy and told Jonathan, &#8220;I think I&#8217;m going to go to sleep now&#8230;.&#8221; No sooner had she said this than her eyes shut and she fell sound asleep.
Jonathan was getting his coat to leave when he heard a rustling noise at the front door.
&#8220;Hello?&#8221; he called cautiously.
The rustling stopped and a crisp, clean envelope slipped through the crack under the door and glided gently to the bedside. Jonathan was about to pick it up when he saw the words &#8216;Marina Bobrikova&#8217; carefully and smoothly written on the front. He wondered who could have possibly sent this.
&#8220;Marina, there&#8217;s something for you here,&#8221; Jonathan said gently. &#8220;Come on, wake up.&#8221;
&#8220;Huh? Hey, I was just sleepin&#8217;, Jon&#8230;,&#8221; she slurred, half-asleep. &#8220;What? You said I got somethin&#8217;? Okay, okay, I&#8217;m gettin&#8217; it&#8230;.&#8221; Marina bent down with squinted eyes and picked up the envelope. She flipped open the seal and jerkily pulled out the letter. Slowly, her eyes widened as she read it and she threw it to the floor.
&#8220;J-Jonathan&#8230;&#8221; she said, her voice wavering, &#8220;I-I don&#8217;t want to go&#8230;I don&#8217;t w-want to be like my g-grandmother&#8230;.&#8221;
Jonathan gasped as he realized what the letter was. &#8220;You&#8217;re right,&#8221; he said, &#8220;We have to do something about this. I can&#8217;t let this happen to you.&#8221; He gulped and shoved his hands in his pockets. &#8220;But what can we do?&#8221;
Marina sat there for a minute, thinking and looking down at the floor. Then her face lit up.
&#8220;Come on,&#8221; she said, &#8220;get your coat and any other necessities. We&#8217;re leaving.&#8221;
Jonathan only gawked at Marina.
&#8220;But&#8230;&#8221; he started.
&#8220;But what?&#8221; Marina countered sharply.
&#8220;The letter,&#8221; he said. &#8220;Didn&#8217;t you&#8230;didn&#8217;t you see it?&#8221;
&#8220;Yes, Jon. I saw it&#8230;but I decided this tree does not have the right to take my life, or anyone else&#8217;s, especially my grandmother. What happened that night should never have even begun.&#8221;
&#8220;Do you mean&#8230;we&#8217;re leaving?&#8221;
&#8220;Yes, Jonathan. It&#8217;s the only way for--&#8221;
“But what will happen to us? What will happen to you?” Jonathan was panicking. “No one’s ever tried to…escape.”
“You’re right, no one has,” Marina said softly, “and that’s why I have to do this. People need to die by nature, not by a tree telling them when their life is supposed to end. It just isn’t right.”
“Well…I guess you are right,” he replied. “I’ll go with you, but I have to know where.”
“Well…” Marina started. She paused, thinking. “I know. The forests,” she said. “We’ll go through the forest to get to the train station, then move to St. Petersburg. If that doesn’t work, we can move into a small town I know of nearby. It’s different from where we are now, but I think it’ll be easy to get used to.”
“Hmm….” Jonathan explored any negative situations that could happen, then shook them from his mind. “Okay. I’m in.”
Marina sighed. “Thank you, Jon. I knew you would come through.” She smiled and then turned serious again. “Come on then, let’s get moving. We don’t have much time.”
“Right,” Jonathan agreed.
After a speedy twenty-five minutes, Jonathan and Marina were finally ready to leave on their journey.
“Oh, I completely forgot! Here, Jonathan.” Marina tossed him a rolled up piece of parchment and a pen. “Write a letter to your father, explaining the situation.” She started scribbling down on the old paper, paused, and then finished it with her graceful signature. ‘Love your daughter, Marina.’ She looked at the letter longingly for a moment, then folded it up.
“Are you ready?” Marina asked.
“Yes,” Jonathan answered, staring at his paper. He, too, folded it up and said, “I think I’m ready now.”
Marina placed the note carefully on her parents’ bed before leaving. “Goodbye, Mom. Goodbye, Dad,” she whispered. Right now she used her parents’ informal name, something very occasional in the town society. That made her a little bit happier, even though she was leaving them forever. Finally, she pulled her mind off the thought and walked straight to the front door.
“Okay, let’s go,” said Marina.
Without a word, Jonathan followed Marina out the door into the brisk November air. After his note had been delivered, they began walking toward the edge of the village, near the woods.
“Where are we going, Marina?” Jonathan asked.
“Anywhere away from that tree. I brought some provisions so we can camp out in the woods tonight. Jon, are you ready?” she asked.
“Yes,” he answered, but there was a slight hint of doubt in his voice. “Are you sure this will work?” he asked shakily.
“I can’t be exactly sure, but we have to try,” she replied, looking out on the horizon.
A chill gust of wind came upon them all of a sudden. Marina grabbed her backpack to prevent it from falling, but the latch snapped open and the contents flew out. She gasped and stood there gawking at all of her carefully chosen provisions, flying away with the wind. It was too late to try to save them, and they both knew it.
“What are we going to do without the supplies?” she burst out. “It’s too late to go back and get more…it’s all gone! I should have fastened it more. I should have held onto it tighter. I should have…I should have…” Marina rambled on.
“Don’t worry, we’ll manage without them,” Jonathan said comfortingly. “I can create some makeshift supplies. Besides, I brought some of my own. It’ll all work out.”
“Right…” Marina said, “But we better hurry.” She gazed up at the sky. The clouds were rolling fast, their dark gray and smoky white colors blending together threateningly. “It looks like a thunderstorm is forming.”
“You’re right,” agreed Jonathan, “we should go find some shelter before it becomes dangerous.”
Marina and Jonathan set off deep into the woods. When they had been traveling for about half a mile, Marina discovered something.
“Hey, look at that tree, Jonathan!” she exclaimed. “It’s just what we need to camp out tonight.”
“Yes,” Jonathan agreed, “it’s perfect!”
The tree was perfect; it had broad leaves for rain protection and flat, sturdy ground beneath it. However, it must have been decaying, because there was a narrow, rotting gap at the bottom, just large enough for a small person to fit inside.
Just then, thunder rumbled and rain began to pour down on them. A flash of light illuminated the sky and they both realized that the weather had finally turned dangerous.
“We’ve got to get over to that tree,” Jonathan said. “Come on, let’s run!”
Marina and Jonathan dashed through the bucketing rain and reached the shelter of the tree. Although the leaves were very wide, the wind forced small branches to snap off, leaving multiple breaks in the canopy.
We have to find another other place to stay, Jonathan thought. There’s not enough room under here to fit both of us.
Then he noticed a strange something. There was a rotting crevice at the base of the tree that looked drier than their spot under the canopy.
“Marina!” Jonathan called over the roaring gusts of wind. “Get in here! It’s safer!” He pointed to the crevice.
“But what about you?” she yelled back.
“Don’t worry, I’ll be fine! Just hurry up and go!”
Marina rushed over to the opening and turned around slowly.
“Are you sure?” she asked. Her face had signs of worry everywhere.
“I’m sure,” he answered, though it was barely audible.
Marina crawled into the blackness without another word, and soon Jonathan fell asleep to the rhythm of the falling rain.
Jonathan woke up the next morning to find that the rain had stopped. He slowly opened his eyes and observed the scene around him.
Branches were strewn everywhere across the forest floor. Leaves and twigs had gathered upon him like new fallen snow. There was a chill in the air and mist hung densely over the forest. Something was missing, though.
“Marina?” he called. The name suspended in air, as though words hadn’t been spoken before in a thousand years. He paused, waiting for a response.
“Where are…” but Jonathan stopped himself. There was something sticking out from under a leaf. Carefully, he swept the leaves away and revealed an envelope with almost perfect handwriting. On the front were the words, ‘Jonathan Andreev’.
Jonathan caught his breath when he saw it. Was this the letter? he thought. He picked it up and turned the envelope over. On the wax seal were the letters ‘TTL.’
Jonathan timidly pulled open the flap. The paper was thick and crinkled slightly, which gave it a somewhat professional look. He pulled it out, slowly and gently. That’s when he realized his hands were shaking.
As soon as Jonathan read it, his eyes welled up with tears.
“It’s…all…my fault…” he stammered. He dropped the letter and ran straight out of the woods, toward the village. The letter drifted down slowly, gracefully. Everything seemed to go silent when it hit the ground.
As it burned steadily and noiselessly, the last words left read, ‘ I am the brother of the Lettering Tree. Marina is dead…”