Deborah Szajngarten

Published in the First Aurora Wolf Anthology

Aurora in the Dawn


Everyone knew that Dr. and Mrs. McDermott had the most magnificent trees in the neighborhood. Tucked away on a quiet road in Northern Westchester, their eighteenth—century, colonial home framed the landscape of its meandering three—acre lot. cherry blossoms, magnolias, and pink dogwood trees lined the circular drive leading to the front door, greeting each visitor with a sweet and floral fragrance. Japanese maple, flowering pear, and apple trees ran parallel to the house, while the backyard teamed with sugar maples, white birch, and beech trees.

Dryad, the tree spirit, lived happily on the land, nurturing everything that grew there. She first came to the property in the late 1700s, after the original owners planted all the ornamental trees.

At that time, they hung a series of wind chimes around the house. The soft, sweet music lulled Dryad from deep within the spirit realm and enticed her onto their property.

The original owners put tremendous thought into their landscaping. They designed an elaborate English garden in the backyard that they edged with forsythia and wisteria—strewn fencing. Many magnificent perennials flourished within the garden. Its hexagon shape formed a maze of alternating flowerbeds teaming with various rose varieties, layers of irises, tulips and tiger lilies. Phlox framed the Peonies, and Heather lined the walkways. Flowers budded in the early spring and bloomed continuously through the fall. At the center of the flora and fauna, trellises wrapped in climbing roses crowned a large gazebo where Mrs. McDermott often entertained.

Dryad liked the original old couple that lived in the house. They cared for the trees and planted the property’s first gardens. She missed them when they passed, but the majesty of the trees kept her tied to the land. Many owners came and went throughout the centuries—some diligent gardeners and some negligent. Dryad barely noticed. Over time, some of the older plants died out, but new roots and shoots cropped up to take their place.

Human interaction and emotion fascinated the tree spirit. She liked the energetic innocence of youth, the nurturing of adulthood, and the quiet reflection of age. She loved her trees, but some part of her longed for a human connection of her own.

The McDermott’s son, Scott, took to the piano at age three. By five, he played the violin, the piano, and the guitar. Shy around people, the child expressed himself through classical music. He brought such passion to his music that it took on a life of its own.

Sometimes, the boy brought his friends into the garden. Like most children, they climbed the trees, hanging from their limbs. They played hide and seek, tag, and other children’s games. Their mischievousness and innocent laughter nourished the garden and entertained the tree spirit.

Scott practiced his violin in the garden whenever the weather allowed. He favored a shady spot underneath a maple tree. The melodies transformed into energy ribbons and weaved their way through the flowers and trees.

Dryad adored the child’s music and always looked forward to listening to him play, dancing to his melodies and the wind’s rhythm. She blanketed bliss throughout the garden. She delighted whenever Mrs. McDermott cajoled her son into performing at all of her outdoor parties. On rainy or cold days, he practiced inside. So Dryad sat on top of the Japanese Maple near his bedroom window and listened for muffled sounds to emerge from within.

* * *

Years passed. The boy became a young adult. He no longer brought his friends to play in the garden. In fact, his interests led him out of the backyard and away from his parents’ house. Scott’s skills surpassed most musicians and the world recognized him as an up—and—coming virtuoso. In high school he toured the country, leaving Dryad alone in relative silence for longer periods. He spent his undergraduate studies at Julliard, returning home only on weekends to practice under the trees.

Eventually, the day came when Scott moved out, leaving Dryad alone with her trees, the now—modern wind chimes, Mrs. McDermott’s garden parties, and an overwhelming sadness. She realized how much this one human being affected her—she fell in love with the boy and his music.

I would give up my eternal existence for a mortal life with him, she thought. If only he could see me.

Every other creature saw and interacted with the spirits of the natural world. Human beings could not see them. Although, what humans lacked in magic, they made up for in cognizance.

Dryad became despondent. She felt a great emptiness in her existence without the sweet sounds of Scott’s playing. These new human emotions surprised and confused the tree spirit who was unaccustomed to such experiences. The tree spirit pined for her lost love.

Now a young man, Scott visited his parents only once a year, during the holidays, but the cold weather kept him inside. To Dryad’s disappointment, Scott hardly played music at all during those visits.

One summer, Scott returned home and spent the entire week with his parents. He brought his violin and played under the trees like old times. Only the music advanced into a complex and multi—dimensional harmony. Dryad danced along the treetops with glee. The symphonic sound sent her into an ecstatic state. She almost reached to the stars.

Dryad dreaded the prospect of returning to a life without Scott or his music. She needed to find a way to keep him close to her. If only he could see me? And so, the tree spirit devised a plan to create the space to materialize in front of Scott McDermott. If she could disentangle herself from the land, she might be able to create at least a semi—physical body . . . but first she had to make sure they were alone.

The following day, Scott reunited with all of his childhood friends. Five young men gathered in her garden, seated inside the gazebo. Dryad watched and listened as each one drank beer, smoked cigars, and talked about his life’s work. The doctor talked of finishing medical school and beginning a residency in surgery somewhere in Florida. The lawyer discussed the ins and outs of corporate law for a patent case he recently argued. The historian divulged the endless hours he devoted to research for his PhD thesis on the Punic Wars. The actor previewed a few lines from his upcoming audition piece, capturing and enrapturing the attention of the entire table.

Dryad enjoyed the immature masculine ambition of the young men. Their idealism both attracted and intrigued the tree spirit who spent her existence living within the ebbs and flows of nature.

Scott explained how he dedicated the previous two years to writing a master symphony. He revealed that his mentor, a former child—protégée named Dorian Mar, gave him the task of completing a violin and piano concerto with a full—choral accompaniment.

 “I have most of the score set to sheet music. I can hear the chords in my mind. My trouble is the lyrics,” he said. “Once I work out the lyrics, the final segment will follow.”

“Let’s hear it!” The lawyer called.

“Play, maestro!” The doctor echoed.

The four of them chanted, “Play! Play! Play!”

Scott, a tall, thin young man with a narrow nose, dark brown hair, and soft green eyes went into the house and returned moments later with his newly acquired Amati violin. He set the borrowed instrument to his chin, raised his bow, and released a symphonic stream of sheer brilliance. Once again, the tree spirit danced. For the first time, Dryad started to assume a human—like form. Her body tingled as she weaved between the flowers in the garden.

All four men listened, transfixed at the incredible music and awed by their friend’s amazing talent. For an instant, the doctor looked past Scott and saw Dryad dancing in the garden.

He gazed upon the beautiful young woman with flowing black hair, delicate features, and pale white skin. She wore what looked like a gown of white lace and danced more eloquently than a prima ballerina. She seemed to flow with the wind itself. With each turn, she sparkled.

The music ended and his friends stood up in applause. “Bravo! Bravo!” they shouted. But the doctor had such a strange look on his face that his friends became concerned.

“What is it?” Scott finally asked, violin in hand.

“You may think I am crazy, but while you were playing, I thought I saw the ghost of a woman in the garden.”

“You are right, I do think you are crazy,” the lawyer teased. “What did it look like?” Scott asked.

 “She was the most beautiful woman I have ever seen!” the doctor replied. “And, she was dancing to your music.”

“Have another drink!” the actor chimed in. “I promise, you will not remember this nonsense in the morning.”

They drank a toast to Scott and his extraordinary music, carrying on well into the wee hours.

Scott left his parents house the next day and returned to school. His professor and mentor Dorian Mar, presided at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. He lived in a brownstone in the center of the Noe Valley, and worked with his students in his garden atrium.

Determined not to live without music, Dryad disentangled herself from her trees and left her home behind. She floated through time and space following Scott to San Francisco. The travel weakened her. She needed to root herself to some sort of greenery or she would fade away completely, so she took up residence in Mar’s atrium.

For the next four months, Dorian Mar’s lemon and orange trees, which used to give fruit only once a season, now bore an endless supply of beautiful fruit. The hibiscus remained in bloom, the roses released full and fragrant flowers, and all the green growth inside the atrium thrived.

Overwhelmed with happiness and surrounded by green life, Dryad enjoyed a constant stream of sound. Music played more than twelve hours every day; although, nothing compared to the sophistication and seduction of Scott McDermott’s song.

Even with the lush greenery and magnificent music surrounding her, Dryad continued to weaken in San Francisco, so far from her home. She worried that her own trees were suffering without her. Worse yet, nearly four months passed and he still could not see her. What should I do, she agonized.

School broke for the winter holidays and Scott prepared to return home to New York. Dryad looked forward to going home. She missed her trees and needed to recharge. She followed Scott to the airport.

“Yes. Scott McDermott. Checking in for the 11:00 AM flight to New York,” he said to the ticketing agent. The woman handed him his boarding pass.

“Are you checking any luggage, sir?” she asked in a monotone voice. “Yes, one piece.” He loaded the bag full of his clothes onto the scale. The agent looked over the counter at his second bag—the one containing the sheet music for his concerto, his violin, and metronome.

“I am sorry sir, but you will have to check that bag as well. It is too large for the overhead compartment.”

“No, I cannot check it. It is too valuable and must stay in the cabin with me!” he insisted.

“We do sell extra insurance,” the agent offered.

“No, the bag must not leave my possession.” Scott said. The long line of waiting passengers became restless.

“Take it up with Security. The office is on the second floor,” the agent informed him, pointing to a small door near the escalator.

He placed the bag down next to the door and entered Security looking for a manager. Oh no! He left his music, thought Dryad. A strange man walked by eyeing the abandoned bag. His greedy gaze spied the metronome sticking out of the duffle.

He is going to take it! What do I do? In a moment of panic, Dryad yelled “NO!” and physically materialized in front of the would—be thief.

Startled by her sudden appearance, the man dropped the metronome and ran. It knocked against the ledge and flipped over the edge of the railing. Dryad tried to grab it, but could not reach. Still standing there, she projected the device from the airport into the only place she could think of.

Meanwhile, Scott looked past the unhelpful security manager at the commotion around his belongings. He saw the man reach into his bag and the appearance of the strange and beautiful woman who seemed to materialize out of thin air to protect it. Running outside the office, he stopped beside the woman and found his bag safe and sitting on the ground, where he left it. As the thief ran off, Scott turned to the woman and his luggage.

“Thank you!” He bowed his head. “I don’t know where you came from, but I am sure glad you are here! My whole life is inside this bag. I don’t know what I would have done if something happened to it.”

“I know,” she replied. “I love your music. I am, perhaps your biggest fan.”

“Have we met?” He extended his hand. “My name is Scott McDermott.”

All this activity wore Dryad out completely. As he reached out to take her hand, she faded back into the shadow, disappearing from his sight.

Scott shook his head in disbelief. He called out to the security manager, “Did you see that?”

“I’m sorry sir,” the manager replied as he alerted the others of the would—be thief on his radio. “You are lucky. He must have seen you running back and took off.”

Scott looked perplexed. “No, I meant . . .” He glanced back to the empty spot where the woman once stood. “Oh, never mind.”

But the mysterious woman haunted Scott. He could not shake her from his mind. Why didn’t the manager see her? He wondered. How will I find her again? If she is my fan, perhaps I will see her again at a concert, he hoped.

Dryad returned to New York to her own trees. In only four months, the property fell into terrible disarray. Many of the trees were sick and dying. The McDermott’s grew concerned about the changing landscape around their property. Some on the trees had suffered from blight, others scourged with frost. Dryad knew she must heal them or they would die.

“I am so sorry, my dear sweet trees,” she cried. “I never should have left you.”

When Scott returned to school the following week, Dryad remained. She did not have the strength to follow [him], and her trees needed intensive care.

* * *

Dorian Mar handed him a gift. “Here, this is for you.”

The eager student opened the box to find his personal metronome, which appeared to be both broken and repaired.

 “H—How did you get this?” he asked, remembering the strange and beautiful woman in the airport.

“That is a strange story,” Mar explained. “On the day you left for New York, I returned home from leaving you at the airport. I went into the atrium to pick an orange. As I plucked the ripe fruit from its branch, I caught sight of an object from the corner of my eye.”

 “Startled, I thought, ‘What is that’ as a wooden object crashed down onto my desk. I walked over to it. The timepiece lay there broken in three pieces on my desk. So I picked them up, examining each one carefully.”

Why, this is Scott’s metronome, I thought. But Scott left hours ago. I dropped him off myself . . . and he had it packed in his bag. I even saw it sticking out.

“You know Scott, if you were trying to get my attention, it worked. Whatever you did with this metronome spooked the hell out of me.”

* * *

Back in New York, Dryad struggled to revive her trees. During Dryad’s healing, Dr. and Mrs. McDermott moved out and the house sat empty. Unable to focus on humanity, Dryad’s awareness centered completely upon the land. Several seasons passed before she and her trees truly recovered. She lost track of Scott, and learned to live with only the sounds of the whistling of the wind, crackling of thunder, and patter of rain. I reached too high and tried to live beyond my means, she thought to herself.

Dryad grappled with the idea of the impossibility of any relationship between them. I am a spirit and he is a man. I would have given up my trees to walk the earth as a mortal if he asked me, but he never understood or even saw me. This is where I belong. I must be happy with the music of the natural world and stop meddling in human affairs.

Scott McDermott finally returned to his parents’ empty house. The once beautiful landscape now languished in obscure overgrowth. Weeds crawled into the flowerbeds. Tall grass replaced the once—manicured lawns. A layer of dust and cobwebs coated the windows. The once shining, white colonial house now looked weathered and gray.

He moved in with his new wife and the pair began renovations on the old place. He painted and repaired the house while she weeded and pruned the garden.

Dryad experienced fresh and painful emotions with the presence of Scott’s wife. On one hand, the woman strangely resembled her. On the other hand, any last bastions of hope for the two of them vanished when the moving trucks arrived.

Wrapped in melancholy, Dryad responded slowly to the attentions that this new woman paid on her garden. Yet, everyday she came out to work. The tall, thin woman tied her long, wavy, black hair loosely behind her neck, and knelt down in the soil to dig. Within a few months, this new woman pulled all the weeds, pruned back the overgrowth and replaced the topsoil in the flowerbeds.

One afternoon, many men arrived with ladders and saws. They climbed up the trees and trimmed the branches back. These same men replaced the topsoil around the tree bases, fed them with organic fertilizer and laid down mulch and wood chips.

The new woman cared for the flowers and trees with a thoughtfulness that reminded Dryad of the original owners in the 1770s. Despite herself, Dryad grew fond of the new Mrs. McDermott. The tree spirit tried hard to dislike her, but their shared love and care for the property bound them together. Their defining moment came one sunny afternoon when the woman walked through the garden with a series of wind chimes.

Humming as she worked, Mrs. McDermott glided through the garden seeking out spots to hang the chimes. She stopped at the Japanese Maple just outside of Scott’s childhood bedroom.

 “I think this one belongs here,” she said aloud as she hung a long, silver set of chimes. She paused for a moment underneath the tree. Dryad leaned down to look at her.

 “There is something special about this tree,” she said to herself. “I can’t put my finger on it, but it feels like magic.” After she hung the chimes, she sat down below the tree and lingered in its energy.

All through her growing pregnancy, the woman took to reading underneath the maple tree. She sat for hours, relishing the quiet solitude. Dryad watched her, returning the woman’s kindness.

They developed a kind of unconscious friendship.

Even though he lived in the house, Scott did not spend much time there. The musical community embraced his masterpiece with world acclaim. Scott toured at least seven months out of the year. When he did come home, he stayed inside. On these rare occasions, Scott played the piano. Dryad drifted up to the windows and listened to the remarkable music coming from inside the house. Most days, she waited for the music, only to find silence.

That year, they experienced a particularly snowy winter. Shimmering white snow blanketed their home in a sparkling silence. Dryad listened to the wind chimes ring in the rattling winter winds. The cold, dark season brought a new twinkle to the property. In the spring, Mrs. McDermott carried home a baby girl.

The woman took her child into the now flourishing gazebo every day and rocked her stroller. Dryad swayed the trees back and forth to soothe the child so that the woman had a chance to read. One day, Dryad swept down from the trees to look at the little girl. Touched by her sweet innocence, the tree spirit kissed the baby’s forehead.

Mrs. McDermott let the child run freely in the garden as soon as she was old enough.

* * *

“Hello,” the little girl said as she looked up at Dryad.

“Can you see me?” the tree spirit asked in disbelief.

“Yes, you are the pretty lady that lives in the trees,” the child answered. “My name is Marion. What’s your name?”

Tears formed in Dryad’s eyes. No human has ever seen me in my true form before, she thought, much less asked me my name.

 “My name is Dryad. It is nice to meet you, Marion. Would you like to play a game?”

“Okay, let’s play hide and seek,” the child answered.

As the child counted to ten, Dryad floated through the garden, hiding among the roses where she knew the child could find her. The little girl wandered in and out of the gazebo, looking for her magical friend.

 “Psst,” Dryad whispered. The little girl looked back and found the tree spirit.

 “These are English Tea Roses,” Dryad explained. “They have lived here for many, many years now. I remember when they were first planted.”

* * *

Mrs. McDermott watched Marion through the kitchen window. When Marion returned from the yard, she asked, “Who are you playing with?”

 “The woman that lives in the trees,” the child replied.

Mrs. McDermott chuckled, “I always knew that this garden had its own spirit.”

Marion and Dryad spent endless hours playing in the garden. Dryad relished the opportunity to participate in the innocence of human childhood. She developed a deep and personal bond with the child. The tree spirit taught the girl about each plant and every tree. As she grew, Marion added many other wind chimes to the Japanese Maple Tree outside her window so that the wind created ethereal songs as they breezed to lull both spirit and child.

Marion grew up to be a sweet and gentle girl. She paid great attention to the trees and flowers. Marion and her mother often spent time together, weeding and pruning in the garden. Whenever the wind chimes rang, she looked outside her window for Dryad. Marion took a keen interest in plants, so much so that she took up botany in school. After school, she would walk through the garden and talk with Dryad about what she learned.

* * *

Meanwhile, her father never ventured onto the property. One day, the teenage Marion waved to Dryad from inside the house.

“Who are you waving to?” Scott asked his daughter.

“Oh, that’s Dryad. She is the woman in the trees,” she replied.

Scott looked through the window at the side yard below. He saw only the Japanese Maple.

While staring out of his childhood window at the maple tree, he considered his daughter’s strange explanation. The idea of a woman in the trees troubled him. He thought back to his own youth as a boy playing the violin. Then, he remembered his doctor —friend’s strange vision on that drunken night so many years ago. An image flashed back in his mind of the woman at the airport so many years before. She was so beautiful, he thought. She has haunted me ever since that day. I can still see her in my dreams. Scott thought back on all the years he spent looking for his mysterious admirer. He even married a woman that looked just like her. I have to stop chasing ghosts.

Unable to shrug it off, he walked down the stairs and found his wife in the midst of washing dishes. He kissed her cheek and said, “You know, ever since we moved into my parents’ house, you dedicated yourself to the garden.” He took her hand and kissed it.

“You mean, you just noticed,” the woman chided, somewhat startled by her husband’s realization.

“Yes, both Marion and I love the garden. We both find our own peace there.”

Scott looked out the window. “My mother always loved the garden,” he explained, turning back to his wife. “But she never invested the amount of work that you do into maintaining it.” He led his wife toward the French doors facing the yard. “I guess I’m just a big jerk. In all these years, I’ve never walked through garden with you, or even bothered to look at the work you have put into it. And, for that, I am sorry.”

“Where did this sudden sensitivity come from?” She asked.

“I can’t undo my years of neglect.” He slipped his arm behind her back. “But, can we walk together now?”

Bewildered by her husband’s strange behavior, she followed his lead. The couple opened the doors leading out to their patio and strolled through the magnificent gardens. With each turn, they encountered burgeoning blossoms in various stages of bloom.

 “I’m amazed by what you’ve done with the place!” he exclaimed. “It feels even softer and more beautiful than when my mother managed it.”

Dryad heard the familiar voice. Could it be? She wondered. She wove through the treetops until she lingered above them. Dryad looked at him, amazed by how much older and more serious he looked. He now wore glasses and the tufts of hair above his ears had turned gray.

Look up! She thought. Just look up!

Scott stopped and looked around.

“What is it?” his wife asked.

“I feel something,” he replied, “Something familiar.”

Dryad almost burst with excitement and anticipation. This is it! He will finally see me! She watched him intently. Just look up!

Scott looked all around him. He waited for a moment longer and began to walk again.

Dryad deflated. He did not look up. She thought as she reverted into the trees.

Years passed. Marion grew up and went away to school. Mrs. McDermott still came out to the garden to work and read every day.

Dryad resumed her existence focusing on the trees.

* * *

One afternoon, Scott brought his violin outside. Now an old man, he missed the vitality of his youth. His arthritic fingers swelled, making it more difficult to close them around the strings. He reflected upon the joy that this garden gave him as a boy. He pined for the freshness of life’s first experiences There is no greater pleasure than to sit beneath the trees and make music, he thought as he chose a shady spot beneath the Japanese Maple and began to play.

* * *

Dryad could not believe her ears. She awoke and watched in amazement as the old man performed a sweet and sorrowful song. She leaned against the trunk of the nearby birch and watched him—eyes closed—passionately embrace the instrument of such heavenly music.

There was a quiet wisdom about him. A reflection that she recognized as the knowledge gained at the end of a long life. He appreciated simple things now, like a sunny day under the maple tree.

* * *

When he finished the song, Scott McDermott opened his eyes. He looked at the beautiful spirit standing before him. Her dark hair reminded him of the grain of mahogany, her skin resembled the creamy blush of a white dogwood flower, and her white lace gown looked like it was made from apple blossoms.

“Have I died?” he asked her.

Dryad chuckled. “No, you are still alive.”

“You are the woman from the airport! I have searched my whole life for you! Now you are here!”

“I have been here in the garden all along.”

“I—I don’t understand,” Scott stammered.

“I am Dryad, spirit of the trees.” She dropped to one knee so that her eyes met Scott’s on level ground. She explained, “I fell in love with your music from the very first time you picked up a violin underneath this Maple. So many nights, I danced through the garden to the sounds of your music . . . and it was your music that drove me to love—to push beyond my boundaries and strive to be greater than I am.”

Tears formed in the old man’s eyes. He cleared his throat. “My very first memories in life are from this garden. It is the inspiration for every piece of music I have ever performed.”

He rested his violin on his lap and looked around at the landscape and returned his gaze to Dryad.

“When I wrote my thesis, so many years ago, I wanted to capture the elegance and majesty of this very garden. I wrote each note to capture the subtle sounds within my own childhood paradise—the flutter of the leaves as they sway through the trees, the gentle brush of an iris as it leans down to kiss a rose, the warm sunlight glistening upon a rainbow of blooms . . .  I composed that piece to mimic the seasons, starting with light spring joy, and then transitioning into the sultry ripening of summer. I wrote a crescendo representing the burst of autumn colors, and ending with the cold decent into winter’s slumber.”

Dryad’s eyes grew wide. “All these years, I wanted you to see me. I followed you to the other side of the country—sacrificing my health and my land—with the hopes that . . .” She broke off.  “If you could just see me!”

A single tear dropped from her eyes, and lay, suspended upon a blade of grass. The droplet of water slipped from the grass into the soil. The tree spirit leaned in to kiss the old man on the forehead. “You are a brilliant musician. I should have known that you could hear me all this time.”


Deborah Szajngarten began writing fiction in the summer of 2008 as a hobby to her public relations career. She writes in both the fantasy fiction and slice—of—life genres. Her first published short story, Dryad—a modern fable about a tree spirit that falls in love with a human—appeared on the AuroraWolf.com website in November of 2009. Her short story, Tommy and the Train—a slice—of—life fiction set in 1980s New York— was recently published in The Best of 2009 * * *fridayflash Anthology. You can read more of her work at www.deborahszajngarten.com.