The time has come! Blog Hop hosted by Unicorn Bell! And the internets has been fixed! Sweeeeet. It was touch and go there for a bit. Been off line for almost a week, and I think my mind about exploded. Yipes. I'm really excited to see what everyone has come up with for this challenge so without further ado here is my humble offering to the critiquing gods.
The Tree House Tea
Alone in the field, it had become part of the landscape itself, the house slowly being devoured by the living branches of the old tree. The two girls grinned at each other and raced to the foot of the half-rotten ladder, scrambling to see who could touch the old brass doorknob first. Breathless, Lacy flung open the door, her ringlets swinging. As usual, a feast was laid out on the low table in the center of the room. None of the children ever knew where the food came from; they just knew the rules of the Tree House Tea.
Leave a card with a list of names to be invited in the Old Witches Stump on the New Moon. Then, on the Full Moon, your Tea will be served.
Cakes with sweet cheese filling! The thinnest cucumber sandwiches they'd ever seen! Tarts with every type of fruit imaginable! The aroma of fresh baked bread was heavenly in the air, almost dizzying! And the tea itself! Thick with honey and cream. You could almost bite into it! Lacy and Bree clasped hands and squealed, spinning around the table, careful not to touch anything. Then they settled down to wait for their guests to arrive.
One by one the children arrived. Each one ooo'ing! and Ah'ing! over the beautiful spread. Lacy played the perfect little host. She was the one who'd placed the card in the Witches Stump. It was her right. She greeted each little girl and boy with a "Welcome to the Tree House!" and a, "Please! Find your seat, it will be Noon soon!"
Bree busied herself placing teacups, sugar cubes and honey dippers in front of the children. She had noticed something odd though. Instead of the allotted ten chairs, there were eleven. And, on the back corner table, where they usually found a tiered silver tray of fondant cakes, there were eleven, single-serve bottles of rosy pink liquid. Around the neck of each bottle hung a card with the name of one of the children printed in a delicate hand. Soon, though, there was far too much chattering and laughing for Bree to worry about this change in routine.
At precisely Noon the wooden cuckoo clock chirped twelve times and all the children looked to Lacy who promptly raised her hands and yelled, "Let the Tree House Tea for Lacy BEGIN!" All the children cheered and fell to eating the sandwiches and tea cakes with gusto. Bree , however, couldn't help but wonder about the extra chair and strange bottles.
"Lacy. Did you see the new drinks?"
Lacy glanced dismissively over her shoulder at the row of rosy pink bottles, glistening in the afternoon sun. "I did! There was a card on my plate that said to serve them last, so I guess they're for dessert..." Another girl pulled on Lacy's arm, demanding more tea, and Bree was left staring at the empty eleventh chair.
Just then another child walked into the room, causing a stillness to fall. He was dark, had shy, downcast eyes and a well worn, tired look about him. The other children stopped eating to stare at this intruder. Lacy looked around at her guests. "Please! Continue! It's fine. I invited him." She placed her hand on the new boy's arm and directed him to the empty chair, serving him tea herself. Bree followed and pulled Lacy into a corner.
"This is bad, Lacy! I know he wasn't on the original list."
Lacy waved Bree away and turned back to her guests, but there was a discordant note in the air now. Instead of being boisterous and gleeful the children began whispering and little fights broke out.
At two pm the cuckoo clock chirped cheerfully. CukCoo! CukCoo! Lacy stood up and clapped her hands twice.
"We have a special treat today! There is a bottle of Rose Water Soda on the back table, specially made for each of my guests. Please! Find your special bottle and enjoy!"
There was a clamor of children pushing chairs of and rushing to be the first to see what this marvelous new treat could possibly be. Oh! The flowery scent of early summer! The sweetness of spring! The bright sparkle and bubble of eating snow in the winter! All caught in a bottle! Each child marveled and delighted and "Oh! Thank you so much for inviting us Lacy!" Then, in another rush of chaos and laughter the tree house was empty.
Except it wasn't. The dark boy had stayed behind to hand a small envelope to Lacy. It was written in the same delicate hand as the name cards. He shuffled his feet and stammered:
"I found it in my mailbox this morning. It has your name on it." Then he turned and rushed down the rotten ladder.
Mystified, Lacy turned the envelope over in her hands and opened it.
Shame, Shame, Double Shame
You knew the Rules, You Played the Game.
And should those Rules you choose to Break
You Shall Have to
Lacy stared mystified at the card. A forfeit? She knew the "Rules". Don't invite anyone after the New Moon, but really! One boy! What harm could there be in breaking just one little rule?
"Bree! Come look at this!" There was no answer. Lacy looked up from the card to the empty tree house.
Except it wasn't.
In the corner, over by the tea cake table lay the little girl with the blond bob. A half empty bottle of Rose Soda lay tumbled beside her outstretched hand and a thin trickle of blood inched silently down from the corner of her mouth. Her clear blue eyes stared sightlessly up at the ceiling.