leafed trees

The Story Collector: It Came From Outta The Swamp. Short Horror Story

As Sweet As Tupelo Honey

There is such a thing as too much water and not enough light. When the green hangs down in fuzzy molding sheets from broken branches and even the plants thrive on living rotted meat and the swamp blossoms into stagnant life. These blossoms curl around their prey sinuous like a snake around a nest of robin’s eggs, squeezing the juice out of life and glorying in the fetid wetness of it all. The roads, raised by men, rise above the swamp forming low bridges made so humans, not made for traversing the sludge and the moldering water, can cross from here to there on their wheels and their feet.

The swamps are made for creatures with gills and webbed feet. They are made for creatures to hide within their shallow depths, just beneath the surface, hiding from common sight, but still spying on the lives of men, waiting for their rare chance to pounce unseen but for the prey that walks on the surface of the world, and drag them to the murky depths that are screened by the green and the brown, the yellow and the livid spotted soaked dead branches, and the weeping willow and the cypress that dare to grow and thrive in the bog.

Even the duckweed conspires to hide what goes on underneath the surface, intertwining with the reeds and roots desperately reaching for solid ground and sustenance, something to anchor them to the almost-water, the nearly-liquid mush. Nothing is so mysterious as the tupelo tree, and the gum that feeds the bees that make tupelo honey in all its pure amber richness. Such sweetness from the overripe swamp, such perfect spice and sugar!

Some of the old ones tell of the missionary that brought tupelo seeds from China in her purse, having tasted tupelo honey on her travels to China. She had fallen in love with the honey of the heathen in the land of mysticism and dragon gods. Having made it back to the New World, she returned to ride the steamboat down the Atchafalaya River with her husband in tow. The steamboats that skated over the swamp and the creeks, ducking under the Spanish moss and the weeping willow as the men gambled and the women spoke of dirt floors and uncomfortable journeys were just as dangerous as any venture she had ever made towards the East.

A drunk grabbed her purse as she looked out into the depths of the swamp from behind the guardrail of the steamboat and finding nothing in there but a Bible and a little sack of unusual seeds, threw those Tupelo seeds overboard in disgust. He had no need for seeds, only money.

The Tupelo grew and spread, loving the rich boggy mess, and the bees began their magic, once a year feeding on the nectar that oozes from the thin spikey blossoms. Each year there were three weeks of nectar bearing blossoms, and the beekeepers made sure that the hives were set out near the tupelo trees on the banks of the river. The bees formed an army of similarly spikey soldiers, ready to make the greenish gold fragrant tupelo honey of the swamp.

Sweet as Tupelo honey. Intoxicating as blackberry wine. The Missionary came to believe in Fate and karma, ending up keeping her own bees by the river side ready to feed on the gum of the tupelo trees, spending her nights playing sweet delta blues and ripping her stockings in the bars. She began dancing for the joy of living life, for the time spent alive, instead of worrying about the hereafter. The sweetness had seduced her, and even the thief had his place in the order of things. She ended up running off with the thief and leaving her stolid and staid husband to his revival meetings and faith healings. After all, what use are seeds that people are scared to plant? What use is roaming if you never pause to taste the honey? What use is heaven without dancing and honey cake and sweet tea? No use at all.

Mia was thinking about honey and the spikey green nodules that exuded their gummy nectar once a year. With her accent and her short hair, Mississippi was as alien to her as she was to it. Her girlfriend, Juliet, was from Atlanta, so south enough to sound the part, but was not from the closed and curious community they had migrated into: she was still as alien to Sander’s Hollow as Mia was, and every bit as unwelcome. Everyone in Sander’s Hollow suspected her roommate her companion was actually her lover and life partner, but the township gossip remained whispered and under the surface at least for the most part. The outward hostility was limited to a few nasty pranks and a general keeping at arm’s length.

Mia and Juliet went to Church once a month, just to show their faces, and though to start with there had been a few hoodoo offerings left on their driveway, and poppets nailed to one of the Tupelo trees that grew in the standing water of the swamp, with notes urging them to stop their ‘unnatural practices’, in time Sander’s Hollow realized they were no witches,  no threat to their community, and simply got used to them being there. Those that matters in Sanders, whose family had been there

Mia had always wanted to keep bees, ever since she was a child. People bought her bee necklaces and amber rings. She got bee themed cards for her birthdays and a honeycomb tattoo on her arm proclaiming her Queen Bee. When her father died, leaving her his house and a tidy sum of money, Mia suggested to Juliet that they buy a large property on the swamp with established Tupelo trees and set up some hives. Good tupelo honey fetched good money online, and Juliet loved to bake. Juliet and Mia set up the Sanders Hollow Tupelo Honey Co, selling honey soap, honey cakes, honey candy and cute teeshirts with a bee posing in front of a tupelo tree on the front, and glistening jars of the green gold goodness, with neat labels and pretty handmade honey dippers with ceramic bees fixed to the handle.

Mia was in heaven. Juliet did the books and the certifications and all that FDA business, and Mia kept the bees. With her smoker and her beekeeper’s hat and the smile of a woman doing what she wanted to do most of all in life across her face, after a few years Mia became a beloved member of Sander’s Hollow society. She and Juliet were even invited for iced tea at the Brousseau’s house on the other side of town. It was there that she first heard the story of the missionary and her tupelo seeds.

Old Ma Brousseau was that kind of ancient that made people feel uncomfortable. She was so old her hands were permanently bruised purple and her skin was as fine as crumpled rice paper and as pale as it too. Her milky cataract filled eyes stared right through strangers and family alike. She wore a large wide brimmed straw hat, voluminous chiffon scarf tied across it and draping down the back of her neck, and always had a camel light in one hand and a long island iced tea in the other. That particular day that Mia first met Ma Brousseau, the old woman was wearing a pale blue cotton dress with a Chantilly lace peter pan collar and had fixed a duck egg blue scarf around her customary straw hat.

On her feet, despite the midges and the heat, were delicate white pumps. A long carved wooden cane sat hooked over the back of her padded wicker chair, and her cigarette burnt down neglected in her hand. Mia, hoping to stop the dead things being left on her driveway and the more intrusive attempts to scare her and Juliet out of town, had bought with her three jars of honey, a large honey and spice cake, a little package of honey soap, pressed into the shape of bees and comb, and a paper twist of honey and yuzu candy that she had made the day before. Ma Brousseau regarded her with a sly grin, and glancing over at Juliet, in her boots, overalls and baseball cap, gave the girls a wicked little wink and patted the loveseat next to her, motioning for them to sit.

“We are particular out here in Sander’s Hollow, ladies. Very particular. We like our world to stay the same. Of course, the school closed down back in ’72, and no young people stay any more. How old are you two ladies? I reckon about 28 apiece?”

Mia took a deep breath and placed the gift onto the white wrought iron garden table: “I’m 32. Juliet is 30. Nice to meet you Mrs. Brousseau.” Old Ma Brousseau ignored her proffered hand and instead dabbed at the sweat on her decolletage and sighed heartily. Her daughter was striding across the yard with a tray of glasses and a pitcher of tea with slices of peach cut into it, great grandchildren yelping and screaming in the paddling pool and dogs adding to the havoc. A thin man stood in the distance, in the cool of the veranda, muttering into his cell phone, and sweating in black dress pants and a white button-down shirt. He wore a black arm band round his left bicep. Mia was not aware of any local deaths recently and wondered who had passed away. Ma Brousseau seemed to have gained psychic prescience in her old age and replied to Mia’s unspoken thoughts. “Gerald is a professional mourner. He has a funeral this afternoon.” Mia thought of something interesting to say and failed. As happy as she was in her adopted home, she felt as if she was broken, unable to function, totally incapable of saying or doing the right thing at any given time out here in Mississippi. Still, she had her bees and her hives and her precious tupelo trees, and her beloved Juliet, their dogs and their sweet little white house with the bullfrog chorus and the buzzing of mosquitos, and this was enough for her. Something has to give. There are no tupelo trees in Seattle and nowhere she could afford to do what she loved out there on the Olympic peninsula. Compromises had to be made.

Mrs. Brousseau leant over and grabbed Juliet’s arm: “Go ask Sibyl to bring out the food, dear. I’m sure she could do with some help…” Mia could not shake the feeling that Ma Brousseau wanted to get her alone more than she wanted a sandwich and braced herself to be told they didn’t want her and Juliet’s sort in Sander’s Hollow, and mentally rehearsed her customary speech about just wanting to be able to live quietly, alongside quiet polite assertations that she and Juliet were doing no harm. Instead, Ma Brousseau started to laugh.

“I really could not care less what you do in the privacy of your own home. I think you and Juliet are good for the town. Some young blood. I will have a talk with Gerald, see if he can have a talk with Cletus and the boys. They are ignorant that is all. I do hope their little tricks and impositions have not upset your girls very much? Of course, my aunt Miriam was funny that way. It is nothing new, Mia. We just were a little quieter about it back in my day. But what I wanted to talk to you about was the trees.”

Mia felt a smile start to spread across her face. Finally, she thought to herself, they might be tolerated, if not accepted. She was desperate for a glass of tea, the heat still shocked her no matter how many days she survived with the mercury boiling in the thermometer. Ma Brousseau grabbed her hand with surprising strength for such an old woman, and pulled Mia closer to her, so close she could smell the tobacco on her breath.

“I promise, I take good care of the trees and the bees. They are really low maintenance, and essential to my business. No harm will come to them. You have my word.”

Ma Brousseau laughed darkly. “Dear girl, I am not worried about you hurting the trees! I am worried about the trees hurting you!” Mia looked at her blankly.

“You are not in Seattle anymore, Dorothy,” she cackled. There are things out here in the swamp, down south by the rivers that you can’t even begin to imagine. There are things under the surface that require appeasing. There are things that demand sacrifice that lurk out here. This solitude and beauty, this heat and wetness is not without cost. Things grow here, and things rot. There is not a stick of my old house that is original. All of it replaced piece by piece as it decayed. It looks the same but it is renewed in sections. None of it is the same material, Mia. We either renew or decay down here in Sander’s Hollow, girl. You have been here a while, and the land is hungry, child. You live your life as if everything you need to know about sits on the surface within view. That just won’t wash, honeycakes. The Grandfather Tree, the Big Daddy of all of them is getting restless. Either you wise up and listen, or I suggest you run on back to the north, away from here and your bees.”

Mia felt the panic rise in her chest. The old woman was insane, lost her mind years ago, gone soggy in the muggy wet heat of Mississippi. “We are staying Mrs. Brousseau. Our lives are here. We are doing no harm, and we love our home and our little business, and we love Sander’s Hollow. We hope in time you will come to accept us here, but if not, all we ask is to be left alone to live in peace.” This was how she figured, if they could not force them both out, the local folk would try and scare them out. “I am not superstitious. I’m sure the only things me and Juliet have to worry about are of the living human variety.”

Old Ma Brousseau set herself back in her chair and folded her arms angrily. “Well, you won’t bring the bad luck swamp into my home! You youngsters never listen! I was trying to help you! I won’t have it! I won’t have it in my home! Not after Peggy Sue…Not after….” Her voice cracked and she started to gulp down air, tears flowing down her cheeks. Her daughter ran over, and motioned for Mia to come with her.

“I am so sorry, Mother has not been herself in recent months. Peggy Sue was her sister. Drowned 50 years ago in the river out near the old Myrtle House – I mean, your house. Mother gets distressed sometimes. It is nothing you have done.” Mia apologized, and waved Juliet over.

“I think we will leave, Sibyl,” Mia said quietly but firmly. “I hope you enjoy the honey and your mother feels better soon. We would both really appreciate not having dead things left on our driveway, nor those horrible dolls nailed to our trees. If our property is trespassed on in the future, I will be sure to call the Sheriff.” With that, Juliet grabbed hold of Mia’s hand, and the two of them walked back to their car and cried in each other’s arms, the salt water making not a splash in the wetness of the air and the dankness of the swamp, but running down each other’s faces and mingling with the misery in the air.

That evening Mia and Juliet sat on the veranda, looking out over the swamp. Fireflies lit up the darkness, and the sounds of the swamp drifted up to the porch swing they were sitting on. Juliet laid her head in Mia’s lap, as Mia brushed her long blonde hair and the two of them drank lime margaritas out of chipped enamel mugs.

“So, the old woman was trying to scare us out of here, huh?” Juliet asked, one hand languidly stroking Mia’s forearm.

“That is about the sum of it. Lots of deep southern talk of sacrifices and appeasing the evil. She seemed to actually believe what she was saying. Her little sister drowned out there somewhere in our grove. Long time ago now, but she seemed pretty messed up about it.” Mia shifted in the swing and grabbed her drink. Their cat, a ginger female called Natasha, started hissing and spitting at the banks, as the swamp water lapped and the mosquitos sparked and dropped as they hit the live element of the bug zapper.

Juliet got up to pull the cat away from the water’s edge. The tupelo trees dripped and dangled by the water, casting long dark shadows on the swamp and the marsh beneath them. Mia yelped, “Juliet no! It might be a snake! Remember we get snakes out here! Sheriff Jones warned us about it. It might be a copperhead or a cottonmouth!”

Juliet, leant over and grabbed towards the cat in one graceful movement, missing completely. The cat’s hackles were raised and she was hissing and spitting towards the water. “Mia, it is more likely to be one of those crayfish snakes, they are harmless. I see them out here all the time. They are kinda cool. Chill. That old woman has got you all spooked, sweetheart!” Just as Juliet lunged towards Natasha once more, a thick dark sinewy tendril whipped out the water, curled around the cat’s body, just under her fluffy front legs, and swiftly dragged the cat under the surface with Juliet desperately splashing trying to find where the cat had disappeared to, and save her little friend’s life. The cat screamed, then a few bubbles rose, the thrashing bubbled the calm surface of the water, and then all was still. A dark shiny crimson patch spread across the water, barely visible in the lamplight. Mia leapt up, and with both arms pulled Juliet away from the water’s edge and back into the safety of the house.

Juliet was inconsolable. Nameless things that grab innocent creatures from the safety of the banks and into the shallow but unfathomable depths of the swamp were not part of her City lexicon.

“I could have coped if she had got hit by a car, Mia, I would have been sad, but managed, but not this! What even was that!” Juliet’s hands shook as Mia tried to console her, not quite knowing how to calm Juliet when her own breath was coming ragged and panicked. Something deep in her primordial mind an alarm bell rang and it would not be shut up. However many times she told herself that it was a snake, that it was no danger to them, but they would have to watch out for their other cat, a sweet little tuxedo kitten, and their old dog, a golden retriever that Mia had rescued from a shelter back up north, the same insistent voice in her head kept telling her that it was something else, something other. Something more than just a nameless but hungry water snake with a taste for feline flesh. What if it liked bigger prey too? What if it went after Juliet. What if it went after her! The voice kept nagging at her to either run or face it, but that ignoring the evil was going to be impossible. The voice sounded very much like old Ma Brousseau.

“Juliet. It has to have been a snake. After all what else could it be?” Mia remained reasonable, despite her reptilian brain telling her to pack up and drive back to Seattle this very second, hives and honey be damned.

“That was not a snake! Snakes don’t grab cats from the banks of the swamp and drown them! Snakes don’t cause their prey to bleed! Juliet’s voice reached fever pitch. The heat seemed to cause a smell of fetid just past the ripe stage rotten sweet fruit to fill the air, with a hint of sulfur and death. Mia grabbed the air conditioning remote control from the kitchen table and turned it on cold.

“We will talk to the neighbors in the morning. Call the Sheriff even. I promise. We will work out what it is and how to get rid of it, and then we will carry on life as normal.” Juliet had her back to Mia, staring out the window at the ripples on the surface of the swamp. “But for now we are going to close those damn curtains and lock the doors and turn all the lights up bright and the television on loud, and we are going to pour ourselves another drink.”

“You are such an asshole, Mia. Nothing ever phases you, does it? Nothing ever upsets you. Sensible Mia. Level headed Mia. Maybe what the old hag down the way said about something evil needing appeasing living in our stretch of the water was not so crazy after all. Maybe she was telling the truth!”

Mia felt the sting of tears prick her eyes. It was as far from the truth as it was possible to get. Mia always tried to be capable, to look after everyone around her. She did not like being vulnerable yet loved Juliet deeply. She would make time to cry for Natasha later, but for now Mia was in ‘capable mode’ and nothing would shift her from her place of safety. She wanted to reassure Juliet and by reassuring her, reassure herself. If she let go, she feared she might never regain her self-control and composure and that would never do.

“I’m sorry Juliet. I mean it. I’m trying to make things better, but you are right, there is no way to make this better. Poor Natasha. I think she was trying to warn us to stay away from the water.”

Despite all the lights being on bright, the television being on something mindless loudly as possible, the windows all shut and locked, the curtains pulled shut and the doors all bolted securely, Juliet and Mia could not shake the feeling that something was terribly wrong. They slept with the dog at the end of the bed and Misty hiding on top of the wardrobe, her eyes wide open and unblinking, staring at something that no one else could quite see.

When the morning came, Mia and Juliet made their way out to the veranda together. A few drops of blood had made their way to the wooden deck, but apart from that nothing seemed out of place or unusual.

“I’m going to go see Mrs. Brousseau,” Mia declared. “Do you think you could call the Sheriff and ask him if he has any idea what might have dragged the cat into the swamp? Juliet had strapped a small hatchet that she used to chop campfire wood, onto her belt. Her hair was hidden under a bandana, and she had a look on her face that said she was not messing around any longer. “You just go and see the old witch, and I will hold things down here. We belong here, Mia. This is our home.”

The bees had started buzzing around the spikey pistols of the flowering Tupelo trees, gathering the fragrant gummy nectar for their Queen. One landed on Mia’s arm, waving its tiny antenna at her as if to say hello. She let him sit there. Her bees always made her smile.

Mia grabbed an unopened bottle of Grey Goose from the freezer, threw it into a tote bag alongside a loaf of good sourdough she had just taken out of the oven, and headed down to the Brousseau house. Ma Brousseau was sitting under her umbrella, burning a cigarette and sipping a Nescafé and ice. It was not even 9am yet, but she was looking straight down the driveway as if she was waiting for Mia to turn up. When she saw Mia headed towards her, she motioned for her to hurry up and sit down next to her. She poured another glass of ice coffee out, as Sibyl stared out the window, pale and dark eyed.

“What was it?” Mrs. Brousseau asked. “Is your sweetheart safe?”

“Cat. Julie is ok. I left her at the property to call the Sherriff.”

Mrs. Brousseau shook her head. “That old fool won’t be able to help you, even if he has heard the stories. You should be safe for a day or so, the Grandfather tree will be partially satisfied. I am sorry to hear about your cat. Miriam and her friend liked to keep cats too, God rest her poor soul. A few drops of rain fell from the air, despite the heat and the sunlight, causing a small rainbow to form on the horizon. The rain stopped as fast as it had started. “The devil is beating his wife, Mia. There is more evil above and below than we can comprehend, let alone the evils that hide in this world.”

All the resistance melted away from Mia’s brain. It was as if the inner Mia had decided that if she wanted to live then there was no time to waste denying the substantial reality that there was something evil living in her precious tupelo grove, or at least the water that surrounded her beloved trees and hives.

“Those dead things left in your driveway were not left there to scare you and Julie away. They were left by people who were trying to keep you girls safe. They were offerings for the Grandfather Tree.”

Mia gulped. They were not trying to drive her and Julie away, they were trying to keep them from dying from an attack by whatever killed their cat.

“And the dolls nailed to the trees?”

“Hoodoo. Folk magic to try and bind the Entity to the water and not let it reach its tendrils and roots out towards the living mortal things and drag them down to feed on in the depths of the swamp.”

“So, you really weren’t trying to scare us away.”

Ma Brousseau looked at the floor. “I am not going to pretend that we are perfect out here in Sander’s Hollow, young lady. There are people here who believe all kinds of things, written in books both sacred and profane. Some of them act on it. Most of them don’t, not outside their own properties. Of course some people think you girls are doing things you ought not to be done, but like I said, Aunt Miriam was a decent sort and I liked her friend immensely. They were always kind and helped everyone around more than they were ever aided in return.”

Mia nodded. “So what is it?” she asked softly, while gulping down her cold milky coffee.

“We call it the Grandfather Tree. That Missionary that brought the first seeds here from China must have brought some curse along with her. We never have got to the bottom of it. We think the Grandfather tree is the one mentioned in her diaries. I am descended from her, you know. Not directly. Great great niece or something like that. I inherited her diary when Miriam passed away. The Grandfather tree is alive. It is alive in a different way to the other trees. I don’t know if it was something in the swamp that took over the roots and trunk of the tree, or if it was just waiting in the seed that it grew from. Whichever, whatever, the tree is sentient. It demands tribute.”

Mia took a deep breath. “Yes, the thing that we tried to reason away as a snake could very well have been a root, but it was different. Prehensile. It grasped that cat like a monkey with its tail. Then there was the blood…”

Ma Brousseau’s eyes shone darkly. “It has some kind of root system which sucks the blood from its prey, Mia. It needs blood not just water. Peggy Sue…They found parts of the body. Death certificate says it was a gator attack, but I saw it. A thick root whipped out of the water and wrapped itself around her foot, pulled her under and sucked the life right out of her.”

Mia didn’t know what to say. “I believe you, Mrs. Brousseau. I saw it last night.”

“You don’t need to leave, Mia,” Mrs. Brousseau’s face hardened. “You belong here; but we do need to get the situation under control. The Grandfather Tree demands sacrifice.”

“Can’t we just burn it down?” Mia asked with a glint of steeliness in her eyes.

“Then we would have to burn the entire grove, Mia. All your trees, and who knows if what is under there will be destroyed with it. I fear our choices are to appease or leave. At least for now. Perhaps in time we can work out exactly what we are dealing with and destroy it, but for now the situation is far more pressing. It will take if we don’t give, Mia.”

Mia drained her glass of ice coffee and refilled it from the jug, adding a slug of vodka to the ice in the glass. Ma Brousseau motioned for her to pour another and added her own splash of vodka.

“What does it want?” Mia asked, hopelessly.

“I think it would rather have humans, but we don’t do that any more here. Something big. A goat, a horse, perhaps a cow. The offerings we were leaving were mostly taken, but it rejected the road kill as being inadequate. I have a couple of goats I could give you, if you want to give it a try. I’m old now, but I will come to the water and help you offer them. Perhaps we should not tell your friend. Do you think she can cope?”

“She saw the cat dragged in yesterday. She was more willing than I was to accept a supernatural explanation. You don’t need to worry about Juliet.”

With that Ma Brousseau grabbed her stick, stashed the bottle of vodka under her chair and levered herself into an upright position. “I will come to yours this evening. It seems to be more active after sundown. You will be able to keep your hives and honey business, young lady, and this thing in the swamp will not be taking any more human lives.”

By the time Mia had walked back to her own property, Juliet had finished talking to the Sheriff. He had suggested it was probably a gator and to be careful. He would not listen to stories of snakes grabbing cats and drowning them in the swamp, dismissing them as two women getting themselves scared in the dark out there. Mia looked out over her precious grove and wondered which tree had the evil growing in it. Which one of the trees was possessed by some hungry spirit that demanded blood and sacrifice. Was it the big ole boy closest to the house with the huge clusters of blossoms? Perhaps it was the small delicate one she called “Edith” that seemed to be particularly fragrant, and threw off the fluffiest whitest flowers until the petals fell off showing the spikes of the pistols exuding the sweet gum. The honey made from the gum was so sweet, so fragrant, so pure in color and flavor. The bees seemed drugged on the nectar and lazed around in their little bee heaven of the tupelo grove. Mia’s stomach turned as she thought of what those trees fed on: the death and the blood and the evil. Such sweetness made from something so wrong that should not exist in this world, or any other.

Mia and Juliet spent hours moving the hives to the back of the property, away from the tupelo trees. It hadn’t taken them long to agree on a resolution, drive to town and buy huge sacks of salt which they spread around the precious trees. It didn’t take long to fill up plastic red cans of gasoline up at the gas station, nor to fire up the flame thrower that Juliet had bought to use on those infernal blackberry bushes. They sloshed great slugs of gasoline around the grove. Mia thought she could see something squirming under the surface of the swamp. Something moving in there, concerned by her actions and made uncomfortable by the purifying salt and the bitter of the fuel that she spread around her beautiful property on the river. As the sun fell Mia and Juliet put the cat and dog in the U Haul that Juliet had hired in town and parked it a little way down the street.

The dusk was heavy in the air. Moisture soaked through everything. The air stank of fetid sweetness. Juliet started the engine of the truck as bees swarmed in the air, realizing that something was wrong and taking off for somewhere cooler.

Mrs. Brousseau stalked down her driveway just as she set fire to the first tree. She buried her head in Mia’s shoulder as the flames took hold, and vast roots and tendrils started to thrash and foam with red fury under the surface of the swamp, but Mia didn’t stop. She carried on and on, purifying all that water and moss, all that mushroomy slime and soaked timber with gasoline and fire, salt and determination; yes, and sacrifice too. Walking up to the little tree with the biggest blooms Mia caressed it with flame. As the tree gave up its stolen life blood, vomiting up all the mulch and rich rottenness of its ancient body it reached out for Mia with flaming arms and Mia realized that sometimes if you love something enough, sometimes you have to let it go. She didn’t even hear Mrs. Brousseau’s screams, or Juliet’s desperate begging.

Those tired old cliches were missing their mark, and did nothing to console Mia, or soothe her lost dream. The honey spilled out of the overturned hives and soaked into the ground. All the sweetness. All that sugar, sweet and fragrant as only tupelo honey can be, poured back into the earth, as the sirens wailed and the flames grew higher, and Juliet drove back towards Atlanta alone.

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