In that initial vision the pitted stone, as tall as Leo’s shoulders, hulked on the ground. Its companion's delicate, graceful branches bowed in contrasting genteel beauty. He studied them, wondering what the strange pair indicated.
The massive stone sat atop several crushed aliens. More dead aliens tangled in the thin branches of the willow, limp insect marionettes in the delicate grip. The air hung heavy with the coppery tang of blood.
Leo ran his fingertips over the stone’s craggy surface. Hard, implacable, it told him nothing. What it represented he couldn’t imagine. He dusted the grit from his hand.
He turned to the tree. It drew away from him, and its shuddering fronds fled from his touch. Leo stared; it was actually aware of him. He reached toward it, palms up, the way one might offer a hand to a friendly but skittish cat. The tree’s limbs drifted toward him.
Trembling branches whispered against his legs. He felt a hesitant touch on his cheek.
He shivered at the shy touch of the mind that called to him. He caressed tiny leaves with his fingertips. "Friend," he whispered.
A breeze sighed through the willow's branches. Who?
"A survivor. I live in a safe place, a hideaway inside an old limestone mine. It‘s called the Rock."
"No aliens bother us here. We’re well hidden. It's just north of Pittsburgh in a town called Boyers." He motioned to the corpses hanging from the tree's limbs. "What did you do to them?"
The tree shuddered all over. The dead aliens jiggled an obscene dance, their limbs jerking as if under the control of a puppeteer having a seizure. Aliens? Where?
Leo realized only he saw the horrible creatures. Many of his visions were filled with symbols that demanded careful analysis. The willow was aware of him, but not the components of his vision.
"Hush," he comforted the tree. "It's all right. You have nothing to fear here."
All fear. Nothing else.
He stroked a branch. "You’d be safe at the Rock. Can you come to me?”
Maybe. Fronds reached to brush the craggy stone. Both?
The stone was a companion then, another person. The vision grew hazy as wisps of smoke drifted across the air. Leo was running out of time. “Of course. Remember, it's in Boyers, Pennsylvania. You and your friend are welcome."
Heavier curls of smoke drifted between them obscuring Leo’s view. He had so many questions for the willow, but he’d have to hope he‘d be given another opportunity. “Come to me, Willow. Come to the Rock."
Then he'd found himself back in the basement, trembling with excitement. Someone was out there in the wild, someone with abilities that matched his own. The presence had felt feminine. Who was she? Would she come to the Rock? She’d said she’d try, but there’d been a world of doubt and fear in that one word.
He sent a prayer to the ancestors for her safety and wished he could do more.
Available from New Concepts Publishing