"I'm not revealing my sources," he said.
"Did you hear something, Viola? How about you, Beatrice? Or is Paulie T. just talking out of his branches?"
"Ida B, don't pay him any mind," Viola told me. "We heard something on the wind about a storm headed your way, and we were all settling in and hoping you were okay, too. That's all."
"There's no storm coming today," I said. "Can't you feel how beautiful it is?"
"You take care of yourself now, Ida B," said Viola. And then they all just stood there, like they were sleeping standing up.
Well, I got tired of feeling like I was alone in that particular crowd, and I was peeved about Paulie T.'s pleasure at my expense. "All right then, I'm headed off to have some fun somewhere else," I said.
And none of them said a word back.
Once Rufus and I got to the brook, I asked right off, "Did you hear something about me and some trouble?"
"Did you bring the rafts? Are you ready to play? Get 'em ready and get 'em in so we can play, Ida B," said the brook, ignoring my question.
"In a minute. First I want to know if you heard something about trouble heading my way."
"My-oh-my, and will you look at that," the brook replied. "I'm late for an appointment, Ida B. Gotta go, gotta go.
"Better talk to the old tree," the brook went on as it rolled away. "Yep, yep, that's a good idea," it called as it tumbled over the rocks and around the mountain and was gone.
Now, by that time I'd just about lost my patience with the bunch of them. But talking to the old tree was a good piece of advice, so I didn't mind the brook's rudeness too much.
Rufus and I hiked up the mountainwhich isn't really a mountain, but "hill" is just too tiny a word for ittill we got to the old tree that has no leaves and hardly any bark. That tree's bare and white, and people think it's dead but it's not; it's just older than old. It hardly ever speaks, and even if it does you often have to wait awhile. But when it does you want to listen, because it's also wiser than wise. And it always tells the truth, unlike some of the young trees that tell you what they think you want to hear or are just too, too clever.
When we got in front of the old tree I said, "There's a rumor around that I'm in for some trouble. Now that's from Paulie T., and you and I both know that his word's worth about two fake pennies. But I was wondering if there's something I need to know?"
Then I climbed up into the tree's branches, and Rufus settled in down at the bottom of the trunk. I rested my head on one of the limbs, closed my eyes, and got ready to listen with my insides, because that's what you have to do with that particular tree.
I was sitting there for quite a while, and not minding a bit. The branch against my face was warm and smooth, and it still felt like a nothing-could-go-wrong day. I was ready to believe that Paulie T. had just been working his mischief, when all of a sudden I got a cold feeling inside of me and I saw a dark cloud at the front of my closed eyes.
And I got a message, but not in words. That tree lets you know things, those things go into your heart, then they find their way up to your head, and once they get there they turn into words. At least that's how I think it works. So, if I had to give it words, this is what I'd say the tree was telling me:
"Hard times are coming."
Well, my eyes flipped open so I wouldn't have to look at that darkness anymore. I jumped out of the tree, almost landing on Rufus the Saliva Factory, because I felt like I'd gotten a shock right through me.
"What?" I asked. "What did you tell me?"
From Ida B. Copyright © 2004 by Katherine Hannigan.
All rights reserved.
Reproduced by permission of Greenwillow Books
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Southern Gothic fantasy with a contemporary flare set in Savannah
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