The Tale Of A Tulip Tree, Part II


ali_icon.gif emily_icon.gif

Scene Title The Tale of a Tulip Tree, Part II
Synopsis The Tale still needs to be told.
Date February 27, 2020

Ruins of Queens

Emily doesn’t remember getting loaded into the back of the van. She doesn’t remember the bindings tied around her wrists and ankles. She doesn’t remember the gag being stuffed into her mouth. She doesn’t remember the van driving off. She doesn’t remember the lights coming on in some of the windows. Or the people coming to investigate.

They had come too late, anyway.

She doesn’t remember anything until she suddenly feels something against her back, jarring her out of sleep. Wrists and ankles bound tight with wire ties, she can’t seem to move out of where she’s placed. The gag, though, that she could spit out. It wasn’t even that tight. Eyes adjust to the surroundings.

It’s a house.

The walls are burnt in places. The floor broke and collapsed. The ceiling gone in places, letting the sunlight of the early dawn into the room.

“Don’t bother screaming. If there is anyone all the way out here still they probably won’t care.”

Ali sits in a broken chair. It’s crooked, one of the arms ripped off, but it looks as if it had once been painted and probably quite nice.


The room has beds frames, also broken and burnt in places. A wire mattress remains on top of one of them, the wires painfully sticking out like little branches. The other is just a frame, like a lonely skeleton. It had been a bedroom once. Pieces of a torn poster show a movie poster from just before the war broke out.

Emily had been dreaming, at some point. She can barely recall what about, save for that they were vaguely pleasant.

Unlike the situation she currently finds herself in.

Her hands flex, testing the binding, her head slowly lifting. Even if shouting for help is out of the question, she spits out the gag anyway, working her sore jaw. Her vision swims with grogginess, one she tries to work through as she looks in Ali's direction. The air feels too still here.

That she's somehow still alive, still herself comes as a bit of a shock in all this.

"Ali, how could you?" Emily asks in a hoarse whisper.

Instead of answering that question, Ali smiles. There’s something off about the smile. It doesn’t look like the cheerful study partner who had hugged her and laughed with her, who had seemed so excited about life and everything. How much of it had been a lie? Everything? Was this the real Ali, looking back at her?

“This used to be my room. Mine and hers. Before they came for us. Dragged us out of the house in the middle of the night to put us in a camp. They didn’t call it that at first, but that’s what it was. All because we were Evolved.” That’s what it had been called before the war. That’s not what people called it now, almost equating it to a slur, which is probably why she said it like it tasted bad. But that smile didn’t fade. The gleam in her eyes didn’t fade. She wants to tell this story.

She wants her to hear it.

“Ali died there, during the war. Did you know they never even bothered to get any of the bodies out of Manhattan? Do you know how many people just— rotted in the streets, in the broken buildings? Picked at by birds until they were nothing but unidentifiable bones?”

Just how lucky Emily had been in her own story comes flooding back to her, realizing she doesn't have any experience she remotely relates to in this— because she was spared from that horror. A pained expression crosses her face as her head dips forward, long hair slipping across her line of sight as it slides off her shoulder. She swallows hard.

"I don't," she decides to say. "There were countless. I don't think they still know, even today."

Her eyes have nowhere near their usual sharpness, the ice of them fluid as they seek out Ali's again. "But you survived, didn't you?" Emily's voice softens as she asks, "What's your name, if Ali's the one who died?"

“Alexa,” she says after a moment. “Ali still works, and I rather like it. I’ve been using it for years now.” That makes her laugh a little again, as she shifts in the chair to lean closer, hair cascading around her shoulders. “You remind me of her. They all did. Not just in appearance. Some of you had the same interests. Little things. Interests, jobs— Ali wanted to be a police officer. She always talked about it our whole lives.” That might be why she believes she would have shot her.

“There was the barista, who had the same job that she’d had for her first and only job. Then the girl who loved Wicked, same as her. And the one who had interned with the NYPD…” She trails off as if she was losing her train of thought. “But they weren’t enough. They didn’t help. But you— You’re the one I needed the whole time.”

She stands up from her chair, taking a step closer. “Did you know that some people plant trees in memory of their loved ones?”

Needed is a strong word, and it's one that Emily's deeply uncomfortable with hearing. What was she needed for? Her brow twitches together in a furrow before she tries to calm, tries to meet Alexa's eyes instead of looking away in a panic, instead of fighting to escape.

"Yes." she answers evenly, sitting upright as the other girl begins to close the distance between them. "We…"

But that's as far as she gets in telling that story, her gaze breaking, eyes shutting hard. They never had a body to bury with Taylor, so they'd planted a tree. Nathalie's loss was still too fresh to even have had a thought like that, and yet here they were suddenly.

"Yes," Emily repeats, voice thick with emotion. "That's a thing some people do." She takes in a slow breath to steady herself, asking without looking up, "How many people did you lose, Alexa?"

At her real name, Ali’s eyebrow twitches just a little, but she seems to be trying to ignore that. She hadn’t been called Alexa since the war when she slipped into her sister’s name and identity. With how everything was after the war, it might not have even been too difficult to do. So much had been lost in so little time. “I lost enough,” she says after a moment has passed. “But losing her— Watching her die…” She trails off.

There was so much going on in her eyes. Losing her sister, watching so many people dying around her during the height of the war— all of it had destroyed something in her. Had awakened something else.

“I think I actually started to love you, you know. Like a sister, I mean.” She bends down until she’s almost within reach. But not quite.

No, Alexa is very much aware of how much fight this girl is willing to put up.

It manifests instantly, in fact, at the mention of a sisterly bond.

Knowing just how tied down she is does nothing to prevent Emily from trying to lunge at Ali, feet propelling her off the ground even though they can't even take her anywhere. She lets out a furious cry, anger flaring in her eyes. The seat goes tipping forward… onto its side, next, and she lands with a painful grimace that does nothing to diminish her anger.

Her hands are balled into fists behind her back. She knows anger isn't the way, here. It can't be. If she's going to make any plea that sticks, one that might save her life, she needs to find it in her to speak from a place of compassion.

"Why?!" Emily demands to know, even if she's not sure she'll ever be able to understand. "Why kill people? You lost enough, why force that on others!? Why…"

Tears are stinging the corners of her eyes, leaving her overwhelmed with conflicting emotions. "Why would you do this to someone you cared about?"

“But they’re not dead Emily, they’re trees. Beautiful, harmless, trees. Most of them will live for hundreds of years now, I think. Able to withstand so much of what’s going on around them. Trees were here long before any of us. Trees do so much and we don’t appreciate them for it, you know? They don’t suffer until people get involved.” Her logic is flawed, but since when did someone who had a psychotic break really use logic. “I tried it on animals first, like most scientists do.” She laughs a little.

Scientists aren’t the only people who experiment with animals first. So do serial killers.

Her eyes flash— start to glow. They’re glowing red. Her voice seems to come as if she were talking into something, warped and echoing.

Professor Marten gave me the idea. But he didn’t know what I was doing. When that agent showed up at the library I tried to deflect her toward him cause I knew things were getting close. But you’re the last. I think I can leave after you.

The last. After you.

Do you want to know what tree you’re going to be?

"None," Emily submits her guess as a plea, shouting it like it will help her win her case. "Ali— Alexa, you don't have to do this! Please!"

She's filled with fear and anger— things that, to her knowledge, shouldn't have allowed her to tap into her ability at all. But she feels the sincerity and clarity carry in her voice, her gift threading through it, tear-filled eyes not quite meeting Ali's given her position on the ground.

"It's not too late," she insists. "Ali wouldn't want you to do this. Trust me."

This time, widened eyes on Ali's, nothing more wraps itself around her words than her passion. She believes it with all her heart, but this time, that special emphasis is missing.

There’s a small pause. That little extra emphasis might be missing, but it still seems to give Ali pause. “Of course I don’t have to.” She says with her normal voice, even the bright red lessening from her eyes. But then she’s moving again, lunging forward, putting both her hands on Emily’s face. “But I’m going to anyway.

The distance closes between them, and she can already feel it beginning, and it’s unlike anything that she had imagined. “You're going to be a Tulip Tree.” Right here. Right in the middle of the house. As Ali’s hands drop away and she steps back, the change has already begun; Emily’s body begins to betray her.

The floor of the building cracks under her, roots reaching out for the ground, ripping through the weakened wood. The house had been built without a solid foundation, dirt under the floorboards. With the roots burning deep into the dirt, Emily starts to lose all senses, one by one. Everything becomes wrong. The feeling of touch goes first, then sounds, then taste.

Emily's eyes widen, the feeling spreading throughout her so overwhelming she can't even scream. By the time she wants to, there's nothing left to do so with. Growth explodes from her, but she is the growth, and slowly it begins to curl its way around her body. The bindings have snapped and no longer hold her in place, but what limbs she had are not responding anyway. Her body isn’t hers, not anymore— not exactly. She's something different now, something more.

Sight goes last. As a result, she can see her friend stepping back to make room for her while she grows. Emily sees her looking up at the sunlight streaming in more and more through the destroyed roof in the moments before shadows overtake everything once more— canopy developing and spreading, kissing the sky.

When it's done, sightless and nearly senseless, Emily feels the morning sun on her leaves. She feels a gentle breeze rustle her branches. She struggles with the want to breathe, capable of intuiting the chill that will strive to damage her without the capacity to do anything to ward it off— unable to move, unable to shiver, unable to scream in horror as she feels everything recognizably herself slip away. She fails to fight what comes to take its place.

One of the largest trees native to the region, a tulip tree can grow hundreds of feet tall, up to six feet wide. And this one is no less than a perfect specimen as it reaches completion, almost entirely destroying what's left of what once was a family home. The remains of the bedroom where two sisters grew up together are unrecognizable now… all that remains is the tree that has taken root where it once was.

It is a towering monument, all that's left behind to memorialize a life destroyed by war and warped by its aftermath.

A single canvas shoe halfway grown into a prominent root is the only sign left of the person it was before that.


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