She was deep in mediation the next day, working on her tree, when Grigori showed up. He’d caught a ride with a tow truck driver, guiding the nervous looking man to the closest junk car. The driver stayed put as Grigori hopped out to check out the car.
Juniper sighed and disconnected. She was dreamy, in no state for company, but a deal was a deal. She joined the men, nodding to the skittish driver. “Hi. Checking for varmints?”
“Yeah. He won’t pay us until he’s sure there’s nothing alive in there.” Grigori picked up a rock, presumably to chuck it at the car.
She held up a hand. “I’ve got this.” Still deeply connected to the tree, she sent a pulse through the staff. Oak roots pushed from the soil, lifting the car and slowly rotating. They shook the car upside down, causing a clatter of old cans, trash and a family of ordinary mice to rain on the ground. Satisfied, she put the car back down and looked at the slack jawed driver. “Money?”
The guy shut mouth and fished some cash out of his flannel shirt pocket.
“Pleasure doing business with you,” she said, giving Grigori half. “I’ll see you tomorrow; I’m busy today.” She turned away.
“Are you high?” Grigori called.
“What?” she asked irritably.
“Your eyes are dilated,” he said smugly, no doubt enjoying throwing her comment back in her face.
She shook her head in disgust. “You interrupted my mediation, kid. Scram! I have a tree to remodel.”
“You added on,” he commented, nodding to the areal roots that formed a bump out.
“Twix needed a stable,” she said, offhand. She was itching to finish her project and in no mood to chat, so she hurried inside and sealed the door.
Grigori and the driver hooked up the car, working fast. The driver didn’t want to linger, and he suddenly stiffened and stared at the tree. “What the…?”
Grigori blinked as he saw tree roots snake over an old army truck. The roots glowed green and the truck began to shrink, absorbed by the tree roots. Astonished, he watched the gray sheen of metal crawl up the tree trunk, slowly coating the bark.
The driver thumbed his dirty ball cap back and shook his head. “Kid, the money’s good, but this place is weirder than granny on crack. You’re going to have to find another driver from here out.”
Grigori shook his head. “No guts, no glory.”
“You’re nuts, kid.”
Iron climbed the tree until it sheathed it completely. Spectators (people as far as a mile away, some with binoculars) watched as a golden bulb sprouted on top. It slowly grew to the size of a house, developing stained glass panels supported by amber ribs. The garden themed art on the panels was translucent, but prevented anyone from seeing inside.
“What’s she thinking?” Grigori muttered. “Anything could break that glass.”
As if in response, the curled sepals, or the pointy leaf things that sit under flowers to protect them before they bloom, uncurled, becoming iron shutters that covered the bulb. The iron dome looked like leaves of brushed steel. Water shot from the bulb’s top in a geyser and settled into a living fountain. It lasted only a minute before drying up.
Grigori shut his mouth. “Oh.”
Dozens of vines grew from the tree, dangling within easy picking distance, each with an acorn on the end. The acorns had a flattened base and ranged in size from mug to canister. The men took a wary step back, but one of the acorns followed Grigori and swayed invitingly in front of him. The words, “Open me,” appeared on the acorn.
The driver took a big step back. “It’s for you, kid.”
Grigori shot him a look, but reached for the nut. It easily detached from the vine, and he found the cap was a screw top. Instead of a nut, there was a buttery, solid oil. On the inside of the cap, it said, “Acorn oil. Good for cooking, frying or fuel.”
Since Grigori hadn’t exploded, the driver crowded him for closer look. “I’ll be shaved ape.”
An acorn swayed in front of the driver. Print appeared on it, too. “A gift. If you’re willing to come back, I’ll give you more next time.”
The driver accepted the acorn, but said, “Thanks. I’ll have to think about it.” He admired the acorn and admitted, “My girlfriend likes to collect canisters. She’ll go crazy over this one.”
Grigori waited until the guy left and said, “You doing okay? That was something, lady.”
Silence. He waited a long moment and wove through the hanging acorns until he reached the steel-sheathed door. He banged the acorn knocker. “Are you all right, Juniper? Answer me!”