It is a totem of some renown. The tree first stood alone in a field, and the people would come, they would make their wishes, they would go. In time, they came and they stayed, they built their town, their town where at its heart stands the wishing tree.
It grows at a slant unnatural and enchanting. Just the barest hint of wickedness, this daring to be unique. Still it stands tall and thick, allowed to grow old, older than the town around it, older than the nation.
New people come now. They come to see, they come to wish. When the leaves are a deep green they come from across the map to lean in and whisper quiet desires, some sweet, some dark, or they take a photo, or they kiss the face there.
It’s only a knot, the face in the tree. It’s only the vaguest sense of a man looking out of that trunk. The stories are gossip passed around since always, since the time before the town was a town.
Ghost stories, legends.
He was a man of great sin whose Lord had had enough and punished the way gods delight in punishing. Or he was some sort of healer who failed to save the life of a wise man’s daughter, and that wise man in his rage did summon all his long life’s knowledge to punish the healer for this failure. Or he was just a man who lost a love, and when she was gone he stood weeping atop her grave until his body took root and he was forever trapped alone in his grief.
Comes the Sorrower. The wishing tree’s leaves have gone the rich red of autumn when under dark of night, the Sorrower appears with the tree and the man in the tree and her secret wish. With her she brings her sorrow, though to lessen this burden is not the wish she will make, for this sorrow and others are among the great many things that make up her spirit. The Sorrower crosses open ground on silent step and she comes to the tree and she leans to the face there and with a bare breath of words she shares her wish.
She lets her hands play across the ancient rind and she speaks her wish again.
Her weight presses there, and she gasps, and she speaks her wish again. She throws a leg over the trunk, she squeezes the wood with her thighs. She pulls herself forward and back and forward again so that the face is beneath her, touching her. She speaks her wish again. She begins to move her body. She speaks her wish in a whisper and she speaks it in a moan and she grinds herself against that face, and her arms do rise, and her fingers play across her tingling skin, and she speaks her wish, she speaks her wish, and limbs like hands intertwine with her fingers, and she is speaking her wish, she is crying it out.
And now she is spent, she is slumped across the cool flesh of the tree. She lies there panting, her body wrapped around the dark wood. In the sky, the moon hangs as it has done, always there through the centuries for the face in the tree to look up and see.
The Sorrower leaves this place this night, but when she finds her wish has come true, and it will, and she does, she will come once more to the wishing tree with its cursed man to offer her wish again.
Craig Rodgers is the author of stories that have appeared in Juked, Heart of Farkness, Chicago Literati, Not One of Us, and others. He has an extensive collection of literary rejections folded into the shape of cranes and spends most of his time writing in North Texas. Follow him on twitter @abasketofcraig