the story was that the blood-sucking deer were prevalent in these parts, or so the treemonger heard. he’d never seen one, and he didn’t think he was likely to lay eyes on one because who’d ever heard of a blood-sucking deer? but then, he didn’t leave his home much, and he rarely left his grove of evergreens for too long.
his trees of life were his constant focus – whether joy or struggle, or both, as he came to realize most days. this far north, it was rare to see a copse of trees of any size, let alone his sizeable grove he maintained. it was his family’s land and trees for decades to the point of centuries. the evergreens on the west grew in orderly rows; to the south, they were interspersed with some fruit trees that his father had planted on a whim and managed to thrive; looking to the east, shrubs dotted the understory of the tall pines, which the monger never understood; and to the north, the trees were scattered and wild, despite how orderly his family had tried to plant them.
in the middle of the trees stood his small home and the greenhouse that was five times the size of his living quarters. between the two buildings squatted a small wood-burning furnace and a stack of split logs in rows next to it. next to his greenhouse was the small barn that housed his animals: chickens, a cow, and three barn cats that left him mice in exchange for milk from the cow.
despite the whispered rumors and stories from travelers who stopped on their way from somewhere or to anywhere, he didn’t believe the blood-sucking deer existed. why? because his chickens had never been touched. he figured if the blood-suckers were real, his livestock would’ve been lunch by now. just the other day, he’d run into a traveler on the edge of his grove while checking a tree that was nearing the end of its life after a windstorm. he was sputtering about some ghost horse he’d seen over the harvest in his hometown to the south. the treemonger just shook his head and muttered “nonsense” to himself.
now that the days were getting colder, the treemonger spent a lot of time making sure his spring saplings were doing well. he pulled a wagon of mulch through the lines of the trees to the small trees, making sure that they were fully protected from the cold that would be sweeping across the tundra. after he finished up mulching, he’d go around with a water tank on wheels to give them one last drink before the ground completely froze. already there was snow on the ground, but the monger could tell the trees would still take some water, so he made his rounds.
after he pulled his mulch and water into his greenhouse (and stayed a bit longer than necessary to warm up), the treemonger headed out for his evening walk on the long drive to the edge of his property to check his trees down that way. the sun was already low on the horizon, though it didn’t get much above the horizon at all this time of year, so it was difficult to see very far, but he was used to the light and knew his way. when he got to the edge of his property, as was his method, he circled around and took in the area before heading back.
to the north stood two women, like they were waiting for him. the treemonger just stood still and stared for a moment.
“we were wondering if you’d come down this way,” said the taller one as she stepped closer to him with her arm extended in a handshake. the treemonger shook her hand, then looked over at the other visitor, who didn’t seem to want to move any closer. he looked at the woman who was shaking his hand and then again at the other one.
“You may have to invite her onto your property,” said the taller quietly, then glanced back.
“i welcome any visitors who happen across my path. please feel free to join me in my home,” the treemonger rambled. he doubted he’d ever said such nice words to anyone. suddenly a warm whoosh of wind gusted across the top of his head and over to the shorter woman, and she visibly relaxed and started forward.
“hi, i’m mariah,” she said smiling, hand reaching for his.
they walked in silence up to his cabin, which he knew should be warm. he glanced sideways at the two women: the taller one was walking in silence, eyes resting on the buildings ahead, but the shorter one kept glancing up and around at the trees. he huffed into his mustache and shoved his hands in his pockets. if they started going on about blood-sucking deer, he’d kick them out.
“your greenhouse is impressive,” said the taller as they passed the building. “how long as the grove been in your family?” people had always assumed this had been his family’s pastime, but none had been so overt.
“onwards of 200 or 300 years, i’d reckon.”
the taller one nodded. “i’ve seen this grove for many years from afar but had never needed a reason to come visit.”
the treemonger held the door and they all tromped inside and removed their boots. he gestured toward the chairs around the table, poured them some tea, and remained standing while they each took a tentative sip.
“you’re wondering why we’re here,” said the shorter – mariah. he nodded. “we need your help. well, specifically, your trees.”
the taller one sat up straighter, and he noticed now that she was no village woman. no traveler. neither of them were. their actions, their dress, the way they talked – they were important.
“you know how you had to invite me in?” he had wondered about that. the wind was especially unsettling. “i’m a hedgewitch – evergreens tend to keep me out of certain areas, especially private property.” he frowned at that. this was treading on blood-sucker territory. “you know it’s true,” said mariah. she’d seen his reaction. “you felt the wind and the air.” he did have to admit that much. he nodded.
“your trees are special. they’re owned evergreens and keep away certain paranormal beings. some just need a gentle nudge, like me. others – well, they can’t even be in seeing distance of the boughs.”
those blood-suckers- no wonder he hadn’t seen any, if they existed. they couldn’t come near his property. he wondered if they would even be able to come near him.
he must’ve muttered something because mariah continued: “yes, you wouldn’t have seen any of the blood-sucking deer. or the other. this whole area has some kind of aura, if that makes sense. it’s even on you. i wish i’d had some of your pine needles with me when i’d had to kill the herd or had that encounter with the other.” the taller one put her hand on mariah’s shoulder.
“so…” words caught in his throat and he cleared it. “so what do you need with me?”
the two women looked at each other. the taller one drew in a breath and withdrew a letter from her pocket, then slid it across the table toward the treemonger.
“we’re from the pole. we have a problem.”