The mysterious woman watched me with sad eyes. Her face was withered with age, matching the ancient presence of the grove that surrounded us. I did the maths in my head. The garden had begun as a city project in the 1850s. She said she had been there to watch the first seed be planted. The current year was 2023.
“Who are you?” It was the only question that I could get out, but it was not the one she seemed to want from me.
She approached me and I got to my feet, wiping the dirt off of my clothes. The cursed tree stood between us, branches barren but still stretching up toward the sky in desperation. It looked more ominous in the dark.
“I am the watcher of the trees,” she said, though it produced more questions than answers. She was much shorter than me, and I was oddly reminded of the tree stumps I had passed on the way in. Her movements were much more jagged up close, as though her limbs had yet to learn how to move.
“The curse will infect them all soon if we do not perform a tree removal. Melbourne in its entirety will become a blackened landscape, singing a hymn for the lost every night.” The sadness in her voice had been replaced with a grim tone.
“We?” My voice was barely above a whisper. It felt like all of the trees were watching me through her eyes.
“I am stuck here, in this garden, but you…” She turned back to the cursed tree. Her hand twitched as though she wanted to touch it, but thought better of it. “You can save us all. Get in touch with an arborist.”
Could I? Logically, there were a hundred tree services near me. If not for the years of working with my parents and taking over the company of paranormal investigation myself, none of this might have felt logical.
But I had heard the trees sing with my own ears. My heart knew that the woman was right. The curse might not be something I could see, burrowed in the root systems below me, but I felt it.
“If this tree is removed, will the curse be lifted?”
The woman nodded. Cheeks still wet with the tears I had shed, I agreed to help her.