The Wishing Tree
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Tara Fox Hall
Only a few days remained until Christmas.
The humans of the household had been working hard this past week, wrapping gifts long hidden in closets and putting them under the Christmas tree.
Decorations were already hanging on the walls and doors, with many cards of cheer on every flat surface.
The creatures of the household watched this activity with a great deal of interest, eager to see what gifts they would be getting.
"I hope there are treats," Phantom the fat tiger cat purred excitedly, "I need more treats."
"I want toys." Hunter the German Shepherd barked. "I miss my favorite stick that we used to play with on walks."
"Good luck getting that." grumbled Tawny the brown husky dog. "You lost it months ago."
"It's not impossible," Hunter growled back, "I loved that stick."
"You have as much chance of getting that as I do of having..."
Tawny trailed off, then got up and slowly walked away.
"Good job," Moon the fluffy black cat meowed. "You know Tawny has been missing her old black cat, Cavity.
Cavity used to sit with her at night and lick her head and face."
"I've been grooming her," Phantom said grumpily, "and I do a better job, too."
"We all miss him, since he passed over the Rainbow Bridge," Hunter said sadly, "but we will all see him again, in due time."
Moon got up slowly, and then limped into the next room, where Tawny lay looking out the window.
"I'm sorry you're sad," she purred, nudging the brown dog with her cheek.
Tawny wagged her tail the tiniest bit, and rubbed her head against Moon.
Christmas Eve arrived.
Moon sat waiting near the fire, warm and happy.
Suddenly, Santa appeared before her, dressed in his red coat and hat, smiling.
"Hello." Moon purred happily. "Merry Christmas."
"You're a calm friendly black cat," Santa said, petting Moon happily on her head. "I don't see many of those."
Moon rolled over on her back happily.
"Not true," she purred "most black cats are happy; it's those calico ones you have to watch out for."
"Ho ho ho!" Santa laughed, "I'm glad you've got a sense of humor."
"What presents you have brought us?" Moon purred.
"Ho ho ho!" Santa laughed. "And what treats did you hope for Moon? You are a very round black cat!"
"It's all fur really, and I don't need treats, thank you. But my friends were hoping very much for certain things."
Santa's jolly face fell, as he rooted in his large sack.
"I have cat treats and dog treats and some dog toys." he said, showing them to Moon. "I hope that's what they wanted."
Moon shifted her feet, embarrassed. "Not exactly."
"I'm sorry," Santa said kindly "but these are all I can offer. I have a lot of presents to deliver tonight."
"It's okay, don't feel bad," Moon meowed, "please leave Phantom some treats though, he can't ever get enough."
Santa looked at him, then smiled. "You are a brave cat, to be so bold, yet kind as well. So I will tell you that there might be a way. You need to go to the Wishing Tree tonight and ask for what you want."
Moon's eyes grew wide. "Who is there? Where is it? Will they give these things that my friends want to me?"
"You must look for two dead trees that grow together." Santa said. "A Wishing Tree lies just north of this house in the forest, past the big barn. I saw it from above when I flew in with my reindeer; but you must go tonight."
He shouldered his pack, and made to leave.
"What creature lives there?" Moon meowed loudly.
From the bedroom came a sleepy human voice. "Be quiet, Moon, I'm trying to sleep."
"What lives in the tree will answer your wishes, if they think you deserve it." Santa said.
With difficulty, Moon stood; her crippled left front leg now obvious.
"I am brave Santa, but I am not able to make any trip at night, in snow." she pleaded. "I limp badly, but I want to help my friends. Can you take me in your sled?"
"I cannot, I must tend to my own job tonight," Santa replied gently, "you may be crippled, but you are smart dear Moon. Good luck."
With that, he disappeared.
Moon let out an extra loud screech of frustration.
Both humans emerged from the bedroom calling for Moon, Tawny and Hunter eagerly following.
"Are you all right?" Tawny asked Moon.
"What is out there?"
Hunter barked loudly, running from window to window.
"I will get you if you try to come in. I'm big and I have bigger teeth!"
The humans followed him, grumbling as they switched on flashlights.
Moon quickly explained to Tawny what had happened. "I must get outside, can you help me?"
Tawny licked Moon lovingly. "You can't go alone" she barked, "one of us must go with you, to protect you."
"The humans will stop you, if you try. I have to go alone. You must make a distraction," Moon yowled. "I must slip out the door, in the confusion."
"How will you get back in?" Tawny barked anxiously. "You can't do this."
Moon thought of her animal family, and knew she had to try.
"Make believe that something is outside! Please, Tawny!"
Tawny shot her a scared look, then began barking wildly, jumping at the front door. Hunter joined her in loud barking, sure she had seen something.
The humans pushed both dogs back, then slipped outside, carefully scanning the night with their flashlights.
And in the confusion, inky black Moon hobbled out the open door into the snowy night.
She hid beneath the nearby bushes, shivering, as the humans went back inside and shut the door.
Then she carefully began limping in the direction of the Wishing Tree.
The night was clear and cold, with a soft wind. A large moon shone down, lighting her way. Tiny blowing snowflakes stuck to Moon's long black fur, but she kept moving slowly, even as the snow coated her back and head.
Carefully, she followed the bright light of the barn, keeping that in front of her, hoping that no animal with big teeth like Hunter would notice her as she crept along near the corral fence.
Moon sighed in relief when she reached the barn, sheltering in the woodshed.
As she sat there huddled, warming her cold feet, a small young mouse came forward. "Are you lost?" it asked in a tiny voice.
"I'm looking for the Wishing Tree little mouse." Moon replied. "I must find it tonight, to get my wishes answered. I'm trying hard, but I've never walked so long; I'm very tired."
Moon held out her crippled paw. "My name is Moon."
"May I go, too?" the mouse asked hopefully. "I have never heard of a Wishing Tree."
"You can, but I'm not sure of the way." Moon answered. "This is a cold night, and I don't see any other lights out here, just blackness. I don't know where I'm going, little mouse. I may not survive. The world looked so much smaller from inside my house."
Another, older mouse, came forward. "That's a cat, don't talk to him; cats can't be trusted."
"I have a wish too." the young mouse chirped back angrily. "It's important, I want to go and she needs me."
The young mouse came closer to Moon.
"My name is Nancy. I know the edge of the woods; I can help you find this tree. But we have to be careful of the owl, the fox and coyote; they all hunt the edge of the woods at night."
"Then we need to start Nancy." Moon said, getting to her feet with difficulty.
"An owl will get you both for sure, you foolish animals." the older mouse said nastily, then ran back into the woodpile. "Or maybe the fox."
"You should walk beneath my tail," Moon said "I always hold it up, to help me balance on my bad foot. That way you can run if an owl comes for me."
The mouse nodded with scared eyes, and they headed off into the night toward a deep blackness that was the edge of the forest.
Just as they reached the edge, a fox came into view, staring right at them. Moon braced herself to be eaten.
"Shh!" a whispery voice said in her ear, "Make no sound."
Moon held her breath, terrified of the fox.
She waited, but the fox did not approach, instead it made a wide circle around her and ran away.
"Hurry!" Nancy said, darting in front of her. "He might come back!"
They ran into the forest, hiding beneath a tree.
Just then, a coyote came along. It looked at them with large yellow eyes.
"Make no sound!" that whispery voice said again. But this time Moon had already crouched down, and begun to growl, Nancy hiding between her paws.
The coyote gave a snort of fear, backed up, and ran away.
Moon and Nancy looked at one another, shrugged, then went on their way.
An hour later Moon lay down in the snow.
"I can go no further," she said sadly, "my leg is too sore Nancy."
The mouse looked again at Moon with his worried oversize eyes.
"You will die of cold if you stay here, you must keep going."
"We have already found the forest, but we can't find the tree," Moon cried sadly "we will never find it. I was stupid to come out here in the dark by myself, crippled as I am. We failed."
"You did not fail." that whispery voice suddenly said in her ear. "Go a little further. The Wishing Tree is right in front of you Moon."
Both creatures staggered to their feet, their fear giving them strength.
"Who said that?" Moon demanded.
"I thought I heard something before, twice," Nancy said, shaking in fear, "are you haunted Moon?"
"I'm not haunted." Moon answered. "Who are you? What are you?"
There was no answer, except that the wind began to blow harder.
Afraid, Moon and the mouse struggled on.
Two huge trees appeared suddenly out of the night, curved around each other, branches twisted and broken.
At the bottom of one of the trees was a large hollow, darker than the night around them.
"Closer." that whispery voice said. "Go to the darkness Moon."
Nervous, both Moon and the mouse crept close to the tree.
"Hello!" called out Moon.
There was no answer.
"Hello!" called the mouse. "We're here for wishes, please."
From the hollow, two long thin brown sticks appeared.
"Who goes there? A cat and a polite mouse together; very strange."
"Santa told us of the Wishing Tree," Moon meowed loudly, "we have come to get our wishes, please."
There was a small movement in the hollow, then the sticks became the legs of a giant wolf spider. Several smaller spiders peeked out from behind him.
"I am Wolf." the large spider said. "We who dwell in the Wishing Tree only grant wishes to those who deserve it."
"So we have heard." Moon answered. "We have come a long way Wolf."
"We eat all others." Wolf said, "Who dares disturb us on such a cold Christmas night?"
There was a scuttling from behind Moon's ear, and suddenly a tiny spider ran down her front leg and out towards the tree, right up to the large spider Wolf.
"Seymour," Wolf said, tapping the small spider on its head, "where have you been?"
"The human carried me to the woodshed on a piece of wood." Seymour said. "I would have died there, if I hadn't caught a ride home with Moon here, hidden in her long fur."
"You could have asked," Moon meowed to Seymour, "we would have helped. You never let us know you were even there."
"You knew the way all along, Seymour!" Nancy squeaked. "You could have said something."
"I did help," Seymour said shyly.
"I saved your life, and Moon's. I knew with the snow on her long black fur and the way she hobbled when she walked, she looked like a skunk in the night.
I warned you when the coyote and fox came Moon, so you didn't meow. If you had, the coyote and fox would have known you were a cat, and they would have eaten you both.
Just like the owl, neither of you saw, which followed us as we left the woodshed, until we met the fox."
"Thank you." Moon meowed, with a shudder. "But you could have just asked for a ride, Seymour."
"You might have swatted me." Seymour said shyly. "No one likes spiders sitting on their heads."
He raced inside the tree.
"You are brave, to have come so far Moon, even with Seymour's help." Wolf said. "What is your wish?"
"I must ask for my friends first." Moon said. "The dog Hunter wants his stick. Where did it go?"
"The stick he wants is in with the human's firewood, after he dropped it too near the woodpile." Wolf replied.
"I know the dead can't come back from the Rainbow Bridge, but my friend is hurting." Moon continued. "One of my friends has died. What can be done?"
"Time will heal her." Wolf said. "But you can also help fill this hole yourself Moon. Use this empty space to grow closer to your friend, to spend more time with her, and to know her better."
"And me." Nancy piped up. "I guided Moon here, as he did not know the way. I want my wish, please."
"What is your wish little mouse?" asked Wolf.
"Every year we build homes in the woodshed, and each year they are destroyed as the humans use their firewood." Nancy said sadly. "What can we do to make homes that last?"
"Build your home within the barn, not the woodshed." Wolf answered.
"Beware of machines, and stick to areas that the humans do not go. If you do not, you will end up in the fire one day, as Seymour almost did."
Nancy the mouse went to leave, but Moon stood firm.
"Do you have a wish of your own, Moon?" Wolf said.
"Can you make me normal?" Moon asked sadly. "That is my only wish, to be able to walk. I need a new leg, Wolf."
Wolf smiled, baring fangs. "You have made the hardest journey of your life, just as you are. You don't need a new leg Moon."
"Then my wish is to go home. I cannot make it home by myself." Moon argued.
"My bad leg is very sore, and won't support my weight anymore. Nancy and I will both die."
"You are much stronger than you think, and you are not by yourself." Wolf said, as he moved back into the tree.
"You will not die Moon, head for home now and it will find you."
The spider disappeared back into the tree.
Moon and the mouse followed their prints in the snow back to the woodshed as fast as they could.
This time, there were no foxes or coyotes.
Reaching the light of the barn, Moon shook off the snow on his back and head, hurried inside and lay down to rest, his leg hurting badly.
"Thank you." the mouse squeaked, even as his family ran out to see him, excited he was alive.
"Wolf was right, I made it here." Moon meowed. "I can rest, then start back in the morning. I'm cold, but..."
"Run!" one of the mice squeaked in terror. "Dogs! Big dogs!"
Moon staggered to his feet, just as the mice scattered and Hunter came bounding into the woodshed, followed by Tawny and their two humans.
"What are you doing out here, and way over by the barn?" the woman said picking up Moon. "You're coming inside right now Moon."
"I'm happy to come inside." Moon meowed.
"I told Hunter you were missing, and he barked until they noticed you were missing." Tawny said proudly.
"I can't protect you if you don't tell me you're going out." Hunter barked at Moon. "It's my job to protect the house and everyone in it. I hope you learned your lesson."
Moon just purred happily.
That Christmas morning Moon told Hunter where his stick was, as the humans slept late.
Hunter happily gnawed on his favorite stick and Phantom munched his cat treats, while Tawny lay with Moon by the fire.
"Thank you for trying to help." Tawny said to Moon. "I have never heard of The Wishing Tree before. You were very brave."
"I love you, and my family." Moon purred happily, licking Tawny's face. "It was easy to be brave. But I am happy to stay inside, and leave the adventures to Phantom and you dogs."
"So you won't go again to The Wishing Tree next Christmas?" Tawny asked.
Moon purred. "Next time, I'll let you go with me."
The humans awoke and came out to see their family, all the animals happy and peaceful.
"I miss Cavity," the woman said to the man, "but I'm so glad we have our family."
"Merry Christmas dear." the man said, hugging her.
"May we have many more to come as good as this one."
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