For Jane Dougherty’s Micro Fiction Challenge # 25 The Red Tree. (Image: Virginia Frances Sterret)

Rather long and dark so all critiques welcome. I was drawn to how her hair was worn, long braid in front like a leash or chain, as if she had been lead to the tree as a prisoner of some sort. Judicious pruning is needed.

At the suggestion of Jane and several readers, rather than pruning, I am planting another paragraph – a dénouement, a transition. I hope this is the sort of transitory point folks had in mind – let me know if the italicized paragraph below creates the right end/beginning/end. Thanks!

They had used her long braid as a leash, pulling her to the chamber of the tree of truth. Her false accusers, jury and judge sat just beyond her sight in the darkness, while a few stars spilled out of a clouded sky. Her fate hung upon the tree – apple, apricot, grape, pear, plum – one fruit held her salvation; the others held her death.

“Choose witch, harridan, harlot” the assembly chanted, “Choose.” The fruit she picked would be dissected – if her tale were true, the signs would be in the pulp, the pith, the seeds, the pit – her fortune told there. If a witch – the fruit would be barren, or the tale told of witchery and evil. Then to the pyre. She could almost smell the kindling catch, then the larger pieces, wood smoke enshrouding her as the flames crept up towards her feet.

She must choose well, she must choose right. She thought upon each fruit in turn:

apricot small, like ripening breasts; sweet delight of jam and dried to candy confection; a lover’s dream

apple juice dripping from chin or bubbling, beneath, from pie; stored away in hay to last winter’s winds

peach fuzz soft against skin; sensuous; delicate hidden secret flesh so easily bruised and broken

plum dark deep; exotic; transformation to prune new life sucked out as an shriveled old crone with powers of her own

pear shape of woman sharing in her sweet juices; her births and sorrows; unpicked, shrivels on the branch

grapes thick skinned beauties with willing soft fruit; bearing many seeds; fermenting into wine; wrapping the drunken in its leaves; binding itself to it’s master alone.

Which best told her truths. Which would not be barren, nor devil-sent when she plucked it.

“Choose witch, harridan, harlot.” The chants became more strident. “Choose, choose, choose!!!!!!” as, with a small, prayer she raised her right arm towards the tree. The sound of wood chopping and pyre construction could be heard even above the roar of the assembly.

To hisses and hoots of derision, she reached high and plucked her fruit from the tree, whispering “Please hold the truths of my life.” A hand shot out of the dark, grabbing her choice before she might recant. The faceless voice of the judge said,“Be this then your choice.” “Yes,” she said, standing taller and stronger than she felt. “It is the fruit of my salvation.” The judge smugly pronounced, “We shall see, yes, we shall see.” The pyre continued to be built.

Ruffling the child’s hair, she said, “And that, little one, is why the grape vines are known as ‘red knots’ and these grapes as ‘choice.’” The child looked up and smiled, “Hungry!” “Off to orchard we go then,” the old woman said, leaning on her cane of red wood, “I will tell your fortune from the pit or the seeds of the fruit you choose.” She murmured, “So choose wisely, little one, chose wisely.”

© Lorraine