Der Machandelbaum
rating: +23+x

Even in broad daylight, the forest was still a foreboding environment. The shadows of the trees made bright daylight dimmer. Apart from the wind and some occasional birds, it was quiet. Dr. Flora Davis had never liked the quiet, and so walking through the trees, she was secretly glad for her assistant’s company. Though she could do without his whining.

“How much further?” David griped. “We’ve been walking forever.”

“We’ve been walking for thirty minutes, Mr. Vadas," she said, turning around. "You weren’t kidding when you said you were out of shape,” she japed. He shot her a look of good-humored irritation, but said nothing. It was true, he had said those exact words prior to their departure.

“What are we even looking for, Flora?" He felt the task of finding a specific tree in a forest to be an exercise in futility. "Are we sure it even exists?”

“We aren’t on a first name basis. Based on the descriptions we got, we’re looking for ‘the tree that’s different.’ Whatever that is. And given the five eyewitness reports and the nature of Nexus forty-three, I’m inclined to believe it exists. Unterbourg is a strange town."

“Oh great, a different tree. There are lots of trees here." He replied. He studied the dense foliage surrounding them. "Like, lots of species. How the hell are we supposed to know what it looks like?”

“Like a tree with different plants grafted on…” she said, stopping in her tracks as her assistant continued walking, oblivious to her discovery.

“Great. If I see that I’ll let you know, but otherwise—"

“No, Vadas, look.” David turned towards where Davis was pointing.

“…That’s prolly the one.”

The two walked over to the strange tree, trying to figure out what had caused the residents of Unterbourg to be so unsettled by it. They could already tell something was wrong with it. Though David felt unsettled by the tree, he found himself walking right towards it. He seemed unable to stop, until he was face to face with the low-hanging branches. The two spent the next few minutes observing the tree from all angles, hardly noticing they had both fallen silent.

“The main tree seems to be Juniperus Communis, the common juniper,” David explained, finally breaking the silence, “but it has almond seeds, suggesting a graft of Prunus dulcis. Additionally, it’s blooming flowers from the Rosa genus, which don’t even grow on trees.” He turned back to Davis’ dumbfounded look, suddenly embarrassed. “I like plants, ok? Isn't that why you brought me?”

“No, I had no idea,” she said, taken aback. She realized the two didn't know that much about each other. David opened his mouth, about to ask something, but was cut off. “Do you notice any other anomalous behavior?”

“Nothing specific. But something feels off,” he replied, plucking a rose from the tree. “Seeds and flowers plucked from the tree appear to be normal. I feel drawn to the tree. Like, I need to stay near it." He began climbing the lower branches. "That’s gotta be something right?”

“Maybe." She picked an almond off of the ground, wondering what was odd about the tree. She observed the almond as if it held all of the secrets of this tree. Not just of the tree, but of Nexus forty-three. For one moment, she wondered if the answers to all the world's mysteries could be contained in an almond. If all she had to do was take a bite…


Suddenly, everything faded back into view. David looked concerned, but it was no matter. She had remembered their directive. "In any case, we’ve done what we were asked to do: we found the tree." She dropped the almond on the forest floor. "Let's report it to the Foundation and get out of here, before something really dangerous happens.” She didn't trust the forest after dark.

“Alright," he replied, jumping down, "David and Davis getting the job done.”

“That’s not a thing. Don’t try to make that a thing.”

But David hadn’t heard her. “Davis… look.” Where he was pointing, a bird that had not been there before was perched. The feathers were vibrant, red and green, and in the sunlight its neck almost shone gold. “I don’t suppose you like birds enough to know what that is?”

“No… I don’t…” she said, taking out her phone. She hoped they could get some service out here as she tried to describe the bird in the search engine. A few seconds later, she had the answer. “According to the internet,” she showed her phone to the assistant, “it’s a European Bee-Eater. I don’t know if they’re common to this region.”

“Noted… I think we’ve got everything we— Dammit! Should we follow it?” He said, pointing to the bird in flight.

“Mark this tree. I’ll follow it.” Davis ran in the other direction as Vadas carefully marked the odd tree, hoping to make it recognizable amongst a sea of green. Somewhere in the direction Davis ran, he heard a noise. He heard a song that almost sounded human. “Davis?” He cautiously called out. The song was entrancing. “Davis why are you singing?” He felt inclined to follow it, to hear it more clearly, but he knew he had to stay by the tree. As the final notes of the song echoed through the foliage, his senses heightened. He cautiously walked a few steps in the direction Davis had run off in, when—

“Vadas!” Flora exclaimed, tapping his shoulder and causing him to jump.

“Dammit, Davis. You scared me!” He yelled.

“I thought I told you to stay by the tree.” Davis scolded.

“You didn’t," he said, indignant, "but I did, it’s right here—“ But when he turned around the tree was no longer there. He looked around for a few seconds in disbelief, wondering what had happened. When he finally spoke, he could only think to ask one thing. “We have to tell the Foundation, don’t we?”

But Davis said nothing. What was there to say? It was gone. And now they had to walk thirty minutes back to Site-99 to fill out the paperwork and deliver the news.

Flora felt like she had failed. It was her first notable assignment, working directly with an anomaly from Nexus-43 and she had lost it in the space of a few minutes. Her main lead was a bird that had also disappeared, and had apparently led her on a wild goose chase. Or a wild European Bee-Eater chase, she thought to herself. She was instantly glad she hadn't said the joke out loud. She had been told the previous day when she returned that missing anomalies were common around these parts and that she shouldn't be too worried. But something had unsettled her about it, and she felt obligated to find out all she could about it. She was concentrating on similar phenomena, anything that might tell her where the tree was, when a familiar voice caught her attention.

"Von Dem Machandelbaum." David interrupted, triumphant.

Flora Davis looked up from her research, bemused. "What the hell are you talking about?"

"Von Dem Machandelbaum," the assistant repeated, setting an old book down. "That's what we're dealing with here. I went to the library—"

"You went to the library?!" Davis teased.

"Don't patronize me." He smirked at her disbelief and sat down to join her. "And while you were doing anomalous research, I was doing folklore research. I got a copy of the Grimm Fairytales. Now, I can't read Low German very well, but there's a tale in here called Von Dem Machandelbaum, or 'From The Juniper Tree' in English. Folklore classification Aarne-Thompson-Uther type seven twenty."

"And what's it about?" she said, perusing the book to see if she understood the archaic words

"Tee-ell-dee-arr stepmother murders child, frames other child, feeds him to his ignorant father, child exacts his revenge as a bird. It's a gruesome story, I kind of love it, anyway, I think this is what we're dealing with. Not only that, but I think we may have learned something from it already."

"Hold up, what makes you so sure this is what we're dealing with? There must be other explanations…" Davis rummaged through her notes for some alternate theory that didn't sound so… bizarre.

"Well the tree we saw was juniper, for starters. The bird in the tale is described as having red and green feathers and a golden neck, just like the bird we saw today, and although I couldn't hear the song very well I think the song I heard in the forest is the one from the tale."

"Mein Mutter, der mich schlacht’, Mein Vater, der mich aß…" Davis began muttering the words from the old book, surprised by the familiarity. "I heard the song only a little better than you, but I think you're right. I think this is it.

"I told you!" He gloated, pumping a fist in triumph.

"Ok, but what do you think we've learned from this?" Davis said, curious.

David's eyes lit up, excited to share his findings. "So you know there are two current theories on how Nexus forty-three works. The first is that the anomalous activity was seen by the citizens and passed throughout the country as folktales—"

"And the second is that the writings of Grimm created the anomalies."

"But we can't prove that theory because there are too many variables—"

"And we can't prove yours because most of the anomalies observed were only first written by the brothers Grimm."

"Most being the keyword there. I did some research, and it turns out Grimms' 'Von Dem Machandelbaum' isn't the first written instance of that tale. They got the story from a romantic painter, Philip Otto Runge, who published the story sometime before they collected it."

"So they couldn't have created the juniper tree phenomenon…" Davis said, beginning to understand.

"Exactly! And get this: in his version, Runge called it an almond tree."

"…This is all interesting, but it's far from disproved the other theory. Maybe Runge wrote his version while in Unterbourg."

"I thought you might say that, so I did some more research. Remember that classification, ATU seven twenty? While it's not the most popular classification there are some other tales like the Juniper Tree. In fact, there's a tale almost exactly like it first recorded by Joseph Jacobs."

"What are you getting at?"

"Joseph Jacobs was English, so his version of the story is different in a few ways, such as the gender of the children and the method of decapitation—"

"Decapitation? Just how dark is this fairy tale?"

"Very, it's fantastic. But the difference that we should be concerned with is the tree. He called it a Rose-tree. And tell me, Dr. Davis, when was the last time you saw roses on a tree?"

"…You're right. The anomaly came before the story. It doesn't mean all of them are like that, but it does set a baseline. We need to include this in our report."

"Davis and David: solving the mysteries of Nexus forty-three one anomaly at a time."

She smirked. "That's still not a thing."

"What? I put you first this time!"

Davis fell silent, deep in thought.

"Davis? You ok?"

"I'm realizing the ramifications of what we saw. The tree was there, and then it wasn't. And since Joseph Jacobs wrote about it in England…"

"…Oh shit, it could be anywhere. And the bird… is the story repeating itself?"

Davis looked up, determined. "We need to find that tree."

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