Skinner's Daughter

Rain dribbled down the window, the drops hitting the glass with a harsh sound. The grey clouds drifted by on the sky, hiding the sunshine, soaking the surroundings, and dyeing them with gloom.

The ringing voice of his mother woke Isaac up, drumming into his ears. Standing up, he staggered into the bathroom, and after washing his face, he changed into the school uniform - a dark suit and pants.

Already tired, the boy leaned on the window sill, looking out, desperately staring at the sky as his face melted, as if reflecting the miserable weather. Sighing, he grabbed the bag and left the room.

The time stretched, and the classes didn't seem to end. Rain still drenched the ground, drops sparkling on the green leaves, the scent of wet flowers spreading in the air.

Returning from the school, Isaac felt his eyelids closing as the monotonous sound of rain pouring on his umbrella began fading, turning into a lullaby. He had approached the field he had to cross to return home.

Isaac was almost dozing off when his eyes landed on a girl in the field. Trees filled it, lined up in rows, their broad branches slightly quivering under the rain that kept getting heavier. The sound became louder, almost overshadowing his footsteps.

Isaac stared at the girl standing under the tree in the center of the field. The tall tree had spread its branches like a human spreading his hands. The girl had leaned on its thick trunk, gazing down at her hands. Her long, light-green dress stuck against the tree's rough, cracked skin while she breathed slowly, just standing without moving an inch or uttering a word. Her long braids fell to her waist, her tanned arms neatly placed on her lap.

It kept raining, but not a drop could reach through the tree's dense branches, the palm-sized leaves creating shelter over the girl's head. Isaac felt an unfamiliar feeling washing over him - warmth mixed with mystery and admiration. More he stared at the scenery - a girl standing under the tree while everything around her became wet under the rain - the more he felt like he watched a painting. The girl and her tree looked untouchable, too pure to blend in with the outer world.

A sudden smile rose to Isaac's lips. He knew who she was - Elizabeth, James Skinner's youngest daughter. He had often seen her under the tree but had never dared to approach her. But now, feeling the cold wrapping around him and watching the girl calmly standing while he quivered as the rain soaked his back, Isaac felt like he could talk to her.

He stepped forward and slowly walked up to the tree. Elizabeth didn't even look up

before Isaac stopped under the tree, a few feet away from her. Her eyes gleamed like silver dots, her lips so prominent as if carved out of marble.

"Hello," he murmured.
"Hi," Elizabeth smiled.
"I'm Isaac," he scratched his head.
"Nice to meet you, Isaac," she eyed him with a gentle smile and fell quiet.
Feeling awkward, the boy chuckled.
"I see you here a lot," he uttered. "You... You like this tree very much, huh?"
"Yes, I do," Elizabeth nodded, her smile turning nostalgic. "This tree is my friend." "Why this one and not the others?" he asked.
Her eyes glided up the tree, staring at it as if she saw something no one else could.

She softly put her palm on the trunk and then pressed her cheek against it, closing her eyes. Goosebumps ran down Isaac's skin. He had never seen someone so magical - like a forest fairy.

"This tree is special," she murmured without moving. "I feel connected to it. It has an energy that you just have to feel. I can't explain it with words."

Isaac stood, watching Elizabeth hugging the tree, and he couldn't help but smile. He didn't know about the tree, but he was sure this girl was special.

That night, when the rain finally stopped and left the earth drenched, Isaac stood up from the bed. Unable to fall asleep after his meeting with Elizabeth, Isaac walked to the kitchen to have a glass of water. He saw his father reading under candlelight.

"You can't sleep?" the man asked as he noticed his son in the murk. Isaac nodded. "Me either."

"I saw Skinner's daughter today," Isaac let out. "We talked a bit in the field."

"Hmm?" his father's face partly sunk in darkness. "I've heard they decided to cut all the trees there. They want to make a playing field out of it."

Panic mounted in Isaac.
"Are you sure?"
"Yes," his father returned to the book. "It's decided. Everyone knows."

Isaac couldn't sleep a wink that night. He couldn't imagine Elizabeth without the tree.

That's how he'd always seen her - hugging the tree, her skinny arms around the round trunk. What would happen to her if the tree vanished? Would she disappear too?

As soon as the first sunlight hit the ground, Isaac ran out of his house toward the field. When he approached it, he heard a commotion and discerned a crowd of people encircling Elizabeth's tree.

With his heart pounding, Isaac pushed through the murmuring crowd and froze from horror.

Elizabeth hung from the tree, one end of the rope gripping her throat, the other - twisted around the branch. Her bare feet slightly swayed in the breeze, her dress dangling over her bony, lifeless body. Elizabeth's closed eyes had stopped shining, her red lips turning colorless.

Aghast at the sight, Isaac stepped back, feeling the strength seeping out of his body. "She couldn't live without this tree," someone muttered, crying.

Staggering, Isaac turned, walking back to his house, leaving the sobbing crowd behind.

He knew he would never step on this field again. Elizabeth had vanished just like the ashes of her tree would scatter in the air. But Isaac's memories of her would forever live with him.

Years went by, and Isaac stood in front of the field, divided and altered, now called Skinner's field by the students. He was old and weak, visiting his childhood home. But he couldn't leave without seeing what had been left from what once was.

Elizabeth's tree still stood in the center, as tall and green as ever. As if only seconds had passed after that spring day of 1815.

"Mr. Isaac!" the boy ran up to him. "Are you leaving?"

"In a bit," he smiled.

The boy glanced at the tree Isaac stared at.

"You know, I've heard that this tree is never cut in the memory of a girl who loved it so much, she could give up her life for it."

Isaac nodded silently, his eyes soaking the last image of the tree. He knew he'd never see it again, but maybe he'd soon meet Elizabeth. Unlike Isaac, she would still be young and beautiful, but he was sure she'd welcome him with open arms.

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