The Wooden Leaf Face

It was an odd thing to find, deep in the overgrown garden of their new house. A little round wooden box, half-buried under dead leaves at the base of an ancient maple tree. The box was only about three inches in diameter, and it had a rose carved in the lid. Sitha Carroll grinned, smiling to herself that she had found such a pretty little thing. She sat down on one of the maple's protruding roots, and opened the box. The inside was covered in faded green velvet, and amid the velvet there was a small brown and grey seed. She picked up the seed carefully. She didn't recognise it as any plant that she knew, but that wasn't surprising. Sitha's mother was the gardener of the family, not she.

The girl glanced around the garden, wondering who had put the box there. Probably the former residents of the house. It couldn't be that old, because the wood hadn't yet begun to rot, and the velvet was still in reasonably good condition.

This garden was one of the reasons Sitha's family had bought this house. Before, they had lived in the city, where there was no room for a garden. There, the house had been full of potted plants, that sat on every available space, and had to be watered constantly. But here, they could have a proper garden, with flowers and herbs and vegetables. No one had tended the garden for ages, so it was overgrown and full of weeds. Sitha was reminded of the garden in Frances Hodgson Burnett's The Secret Garden. It felt like a secret garden, too. It was so big, that parts of it weren't even visible from the house, and there was a high brick wall around it. Sitha already had plans to make one corner of the garden her own, and they had only moved in a few days ago.

Sitha looked back at the box, and realised there was something else in it besides the seed. It was a small wooden carving of what at first appeared to be a bundle of leaves. But upon closer inspection, Sitha saw that there was an odd little face amid the leaves. It had small, wise looking eyes, and a leafy nose, and it was sticking out its leaf-like tongue. She rubbed the little wooden face between her fingers. It had a sort of life-like feel about it, like an old tree branch that looked like a reaching hand in the night. But it wasn't quite like that either, because there was nothing sinister about it. Moreā€¦ mischievous, perhaps. Sitha smiled. There was something about the little leaf man that made you want to smile, she thought.

Her mother's voice came calling from the house, pulling her out of her thoughts. "It's lunchtime, Sitha! Come have something to eat, I've made sandwiches!" Sitha sighed, and put the box and it's contents in her coat pocket, heading for the house.

"So, what kind of seed is it?" Sitha asked, bouncing impatiently on her toes. "A flower or a vegetable? I thought maybe a carrot, but I'm probably wrong."

Sitha's mother shook her head. She had red hair and clear green eyes, like Sitha, only Sitha's hair was longer, and braided more often than not. Her mother said people with green eyes were gardeners. So far, that seemed to be true, because her father had blue eyes and hated gardening. "Not a carrot, it's too big to be a carrot. Where did you find this?"

"In a box, in the garden." Sitha pulled the box out of her coat pocket, and handed it to her mother. "It was buried in the leaves under that old maple." Sitha shifted uneasily. The little wooden leaf-faced man was still in her pocket. For some reason, she hadn't wanted to show it to her mother. There was something about it that made her want to keep it for herself.

"I told you gardens always turn up treasures," her mother murmured absentmindedly. "It's a very pretty box. I wonder what it was doing in the garden."

"Someone probably dropped it there a long time ago and forgot about it," Sitha guess. "I nearly didn't see it under all the dead leaves."

Her mother sat back in the kitchen chair, and handed the box and the seed back to Sitha. "Well, I have no idea what kind of seed it is. I suppose you could plant it and see what comes up."

Sitha nodded, wondering what would come up, and went to put the box away.

Before she went to sleep that night, Sitha took the wooden leaf man out of her coat pocket, and climbed into bed with it. Studying it, she thought the face seemed to be looking at her; there was so much intelligence in those carved wooden eyes. It was all very unusual. But she was tired, and it could wait for morning. The leaf-man still clutched in her hand, she turned off the light, and went to sleep.

It was late afternoon, and Sitha was sitting in the dry leaves beneath the maple tree in the garden. The sunlight glistened on the tree's green leaves. But where before there had only been a patch of bark, there was now the face of her carved wooden leaf man, with the intelligent eyes and the leafy nose and the leaf-shaped tongue sticking out. "Hello Sitha," a strange voice said. The face of the tree didn't move, but somehow she knew it was the tree talking. The voice sounded like a tree, soft but very old, and deep.

"Hello," Sitha replied, gazing up at the tree's sharp eyes. "Did you put the box there for me to find?" Somehow it wouldn't have surprised her if he had.

"Gardens always turn up treasures," he said, though this wasn't really an answer, even if he seemed to mean it as one.

"My mother says that." Oddly, it didn't seem to surprise her that a tree would say the same thing. Nothing seemed very surprising. Maybe because she was dreaming.

"Ah, but I said it first. Your mother got that saying from me."

"She talks to you?" Even this didn't seem particularly odd.

"Sometimes, yes. In dreams, like I'm talking to you now." The tree bent down to peer into Sitha's freckled face. "There is, however, something more important we are meant to discuss."

"What?" Sitha asked curiously.

"Do you know what will happen if you plant that seed?" Sitha shook her head. "A tree will grow. A magnificent tree, the last of it's kind. It will bear leaves in the winter, and flowers in the spring, and all kinds of fruit to eat in the summer, and in the autumn, it will bear nuts. The seed comes from the fruit, and each fruit has only one seed, so you must save them all, to plant more trees in the future."

"And what about he wooden leaf face?" Sitha asked, realising it was clutched in her hand, as it had been when she went to sleep.

"Keep it, as a reminder," the tree answered, shaking his branches lightly.

"Why am I the one who gets to plant the tree?" Sitha wanted to know. "Why not someone else?"

"You are a gardener. You have green eyes."

Sitha grinned, amused. "I suppose my mother got that from you, too?" But the tree and the leaves and the sunlight and everything else was fading, and she never got an answer. She woke up, instead.

In the morning, Sitha took the box, the seed, and the wooden leaf face out to the garden. In the corner where she had planned to have her own little garden, she cleared a spot to plant her seed. While she worked to clear away the invading weeds and stones, she leaned the little leaf face up against the side of the box, so he could watch her. She suspected he would like that.

Normally, Sitha would have though it odd that the dream of the night before was still so vivid in her mind. She didn't usually remember her dreams so well, but this one was still perfectly clear, down to the last words she and the tree had spoken. But somehow, she knew that what the tree had told her in the dream was true, and it should be followed.

When all the weeds were gone, and she had a clear patch of earth to work with, she dug a hole in the dirt with her fingers. With great care, she placed the little brown seed in the dirt, and filled in the hole, patting it down. When that was done, she gave it some water, and sat back to admire her work. In time, she knew, the tree would grow, and she would plant its seeds wherever she could, and then there would be new trees, and even more seeds to plant. For now, she could keep the seeds in her little wooden box, but eventually she would have to find a bigger box. "Yes," a merry tree voice whispered in her ear, "a much bigger box."

A/N: I was reading an anthology of short stories about the Green Man, so I decided to write one myself. I'm really very fond of it, which is odd because I don't usually like my short stories. Please review and tell me what you think of it, because I'd like to publish it eventually, maybe, once it's been revised to my satisfaction (which may take a while).