The Ribbon Tree - Excerpt

“You’re sort of weird,” the girl said, but she almost smiled when she said it. Almost. “Don’t you ever say more than one word at a time?”

“Sure,” Navin replied. Then he grimaced and added, “What do you want me to talk about?”

“I don’t know. What do people do in this town? What do you do for fun?”

Navin considered her questions. Honestly, there wasn’t much, not for a kid without pocket money. Summers were long and dull. But he couldn’t tell her that. “Well, there are two movie theaters in town, but the Eastland Four is better than the Penn Twin. Hao took me to see Silence of the Lambs at the Penn Twin, and the projector was out of focus for about half the movie.”

“I don’t go to movies a lot,” Jane said. “It costs too much. It’s, like, four bucks and that doesn’t even include popcorn or anything. Sometimes we buy video tapes at yard sales, but that’s about it.”

“Well, there’s Time Warp Comics,” he said. “It’s around the corner from the Eastland Four. Hao buys Wolverine and X-Force sometimes. He lets me read them after he’s done. There’s this foreign exchange student, this high schooler, who goes in once a week to buy a copy of every single new comic. That’s pretty amusing. Hao likes to go in there on Wednesdays to watch the guy walk out with his big armful of everything.”

“A rich kid watching another rich kid flaunt his wealth,” Jane said, eyebrows raised. “I don’t need to see that.”

“Okay, well, there’s also the mall. But it’s pretty far away. You have to drive there. They’ve got Aladdin’s Castle, if you have any quarters. Hao’s pretty good at Smash TV. I usually just watch. One time, he played on a single quarter for thirty minutes. That’s almost impossible with that game.”

“I have some change, but I don’t want to spend it at an arcade,” Jane said. “I saw the mall on the way into town. It looked fine, not as good as Collin Creek Mall in Plano. That’s where I used to go. It has a real creek flowing right through the middle of the building. But, anyway, our van is busted right now. It’s a big conversion van with, like, red shag carpet. A ’78 model, old piece of crap that falls apart all the time. My dad’s cousin is supposed to be fixing it. What is there to do around here that’s in walking distance? And free?”

And now Navin was stumped. He rooted around in his brain, trying to think of something. Standing in the parking lot at the back of the trailer park, tossing things around and wasting time was what he spent most of his time doing.

“Show me something interesting,” the girl said, standing up.

“Something like what?”

“I don’t know. Something. Anything. A secret.”

“A secret,” he said. “Let me think.” But for the life of him, he couldn’t come up with a thing.

“Look, I’m not hitting on you, if that’s what you think. How old are you?”

“Thirteen,” Navin said.

“Oh, I thought maybe you were younger. I was gonna say you’re too young for me. It doesn’t matter. I just meant is there some place like a park or playground or strange old building? In Plano, we used to sneak into this abandoned farmhouse in the field across the street. Anything like that around here?”

“Well…the closest city park is Tuxedo Park. That’s about a mile to the west, but it’s…you don’t want to go there. It’s small and dumpy and probably not safe.”

“Sounds interesting,” Jane said.

“It’s not.”

“There’s gotta be something around here. Something worth seeing.”

Of course, there was one interesting thing that he could show her. Oh, yes, something truly interesting and profoundly strange, and he didn’t want to mention it because he knew she would insist on seeing it. But his desire not to disappoint her overwhelmed his fear of gray ribbons and stray dogs.

“Okay, there is one thing,” he said. “But we’re really not supposed to go there.”

“Yeah, that’s what they said about that old farmhouse,” she said. “But we went there all the time. What is it?”

“Um…” And in the couple of seconds before the words spilled out of his mouth, some part of him, a more sensible part, did try to stop it from happening. That part of him got steamrolled into oblivion by his eagerness to impress her. “It’s a light in the forest. A really strange light.”

“What do you mean by that?”

“It was…it was….” He cleared his throat, dropped his gaze to the gravel between his feet, and just let it all out. “I saw it up inside a hollow tree, a bright light, unnatural, just shining there all of a sudden, and a gray ribbon flew out of it and floated down, and…and I can take you there.”

For a few seconds, she said nothing, her lips working from one side to the other. Navin had no idea what she was thinking. Finally, she said, in a rather dull tone of voice, “That sounds strange. What is it supposed to be, like, aliens or something?”

“I don’t know. But if we go there, we have to be careful, because there are stray dogs out in the forest.”

“I’m not afraid of dogs,” she said. “Take me. Right now. Let’s go.”

She brushed her hands at him, and he rose. The dread was down there somewhere near the pit of his stomach, a tiny, hot thing. Swinging around, he hurried toward the back of the trailer park and the rickety fence. The short distance felt like about three hundred yards, and with every step, the dread grew, burning through his resolve. What was he doing? He couldn’t take the girl into the dog-infested forest. It was madness! They would both get chewed up, and there was nobody to run for help. The strange light might not even be there, and then the girl would think he was crazy or a liar, and they would get mangled for no reason.

He might have turned back, but the girl was right behind him, following along and blocking his escape. When he reached the basketball goal, he caught himself. Jane stepped up beside him, a funny look on her face. 


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© Jeffrey Miller