The Onion Drop Tree

After being set to the task of obtaining the onion drop, Dim and Jacob take a cab out to winter territory. They stop at the Starbucks in Beaverton that a lot of changelings frequent and Jacob asks an ogre named George—who has his left arm growing distortedly out of the back of his neck—where they might be able to find promise leaves. He directs them to a hedge gate in Aloha between Beaverton and Hillsboro that typically has them growing all around it.

They take a ride out to Jacob’s shop first. There, he picks up the shotgun that he keeps behind the counter for discouraging theft and Dim saws the barrel off, turning it into a double-barrel sawed-off. Jacob pockets some extra shells and they head for the hedge gate.

This hedge gate is situated one block or so from Aloha high school, through a garden arch next to a driftwood giraffe that is a very recognizable feature of the neighborhood. At the gate, Jacob pulls some promise leaves and uses one in the activation of a magical blessing over the shotgun. It will retain a slight edge of accuracy until the morning.

With a weapon in hand and a goal in mind, they decide to plunge into the hedge in search of the elusive onion drop. They walk for what seems like hours, with Jacob determinedly leading the way, sure and certain of his path. Just as monotony threatens to overwhelm them, they come upon a rise where the canopy of the hedge has a rare break, offering them a vista of the wooded valley ahead of them, where they can see a tall tree with bright purple fruit hanging from it.

As they prepare to head down the steep slope ahead into that valley, they hear a deep howl, like a sorrowful moan that more threatens than causes grief. Whatever it was, there’s something out there and they don’t want to encounter it. They begin to run breakneck down the slope.

Dim has charged into the lead recklessly, and it costs him as he loses his footing rounding a switchback in the trail. He goes careening down the hill off the path. When he crashes to a halt and picks himself up, he looks back up the slope. It’s a nearly sheer cliff face from here. Climbing it seems far more daunting than falling did.

As he turns to examine the wilderness around him, he is shocked to see a tall, wiry wolf-like beast looming just feet behind him. It opens its slavering maw and prepares to devour him. As he raises the shotgun, it takes a backhanded swipe at him. Ducking causes his first shot to go off without a bead on the target, barely grazing the creature. It swings forward again from the backhand and slashes Dim directly across the face and chest. However, the second barrel unloads on the beast, peppering its belly with buckshot.

As Jacob screeches to a halt at the spot where Dim went off the path, he hears the two reverberating shots. He pulls a pocket flashlight out of his utility vest and waves it back and forth. “Dim! Dim! Come towards the light!” In a moment, Dim comes scrambling on hands and knees up the slope, near gibbering in fear.

Of course, from Dim’s perspective, he’s just clawed his way up a steep cliff wall and he hauls himself up onto the path again. “I…” he huffs, “I don’t…” and huffs again, “don’t know what that thing was, but it ran away after I shot it twice.” Jacob helps him to his feet and gives him all the spare shots for the shotgun so he can reload it.

They rest a moment and then press on toward the tree. They know they’ve arrived when they come out into a broad meadow. In the center of it stands a tall but slender tree with outstretched limbs heavy with the purple turnip-shaped fruit. Off to one side, however, is a squat encampment of a variety of hobs. The two changelings make their way over to the encampment and address the hobs.

Jacob asks, “Is one of you in charge here?”

The hobs all laugh uproariously. One of them, the biggest one with a huge nose, says “No one of us is in charge. We’re all just here for the same thing. Onion drops. I’m Barglemesh.”

“Jacob. This is Dim. So why are you camped here instead of getting the fruit?”

“Can’t. No one can. Poor Squizzle over there is the last one that tried.”

Jacob and Dim look over. One of the hobs has his head wrapped in bandages and looks miserable. “That one?”

“No, that’s Feez. Had a disagreement over a game. Squizzle’s in the tent over there.”

Dim walks over and pulls open the flap of the tent. Inside is a quivering mass of cuts and bruises that barely resembles a hob. Jacob flinches.

Dim asks, “So what’s so dangerous about the tree?”

“You just go try to pick an onion drop and you’ll find out.”

“What will it take for you to tell me?”

“I’ll trade you for one week of smiles.”

“Done.”

“It’s a beast that protects the onion drops jealously. Fierce and powerful, it mauls anything that tries to steal its bounty. Nothing can climb the tree, and nothing can knock the fruit down without the beast setting upon them.”

Out of curiosity, Jacob picks up a rock and heaves it up into the branches of the tree. For a split second he can see a cat-like shape appear out of thin air amidst the branches of the tree and swat the rock down.

Jacob tries to bargain with the hobs for help in getting an onion drop, but none of them are willing to risk their lives. It’s equally obvious, however, that none of them are going anywhere until they do get the fruit they were after.

Frustrated by the lack of progress, Dim thrusts the sawed-off into Jacob’s hands and runs at the tree. When he’s close, he calls out to the tree to give way for him, and on some level, it obeys the contract, becoming yielding to his rending grasp. He pumps more Glamour into a surge of strength and then plows into the trunk of the tree bodily. It cracks loudly, but fails to shatter completely.

Jacob calls out that the cat creature is coming. Dim just lays into the trunk of the tree with his fists, knocking chunks of pulped fiber out of it. Before he can finish the job, a cat-like hobgoblin with the appearance of angular glass drops directly on him, plowing him into the ground and beginning to rake at him. He feebly tries to fend it off, but his wounds, in addition to those delivered earlier by the wolf creature, are doing him in. As Jacob rushes up with the shotgun in hand, Dim succumbs to unconsciousness.

The glass cat remains atop Dim. Jacob looks back and forth, and then prays he’s making the right choice. He points the sawed-off shotgun at the base of the tree and pulls the trigger. Wood sprays in all directions from the force of the blast, and the tree trunk is almost completely gone. The glass cat roars in defiance and leaps back up onto the tree. Quickly, Jacob pushes as hard as he can against the tree, and it topples over with the cat clinging to the side it is falling on, killing it instantly.

The resounding crash of the tree falling on the cat is followed by the sound of gleeful hobs rushing over to reap the harvest of rare goblin fruit. Jacob bends over Dim. He’s bleeding far more profusely than even he can survive. A moment slips by while Jacob panics and tries to attract the hobs to come over and help him with his compatriot, but they quickly gather as many onion drops as they can and then scatter into the hedge.

Alone, Jacob rushes over to the now abandoned hob camp. He pulls the lid off a basket only to slam it back down before the snake inside can escape. The next basket contains a number of goblin fruit. With nothing to lose, Jacob clutches the basket to his chest and staggers back over to Dim. He starts squeezing the juice out of each fruit into Dim’s open, slack mouth.

After a few minutes of tending him, Dim is mostly healed, but still unconscious. Jacob figures he’ll have to wake up on his own, and leaves him to look around. His fear for the life of his fellow changeling is turned into rage; the hobs have stolen up all of the fruit, and left none behind. His outraged scream rouses Dim back to wakefulness.

“What’s wrong?”

“The hobs stole all of the fruit. We came all this way for nothing.”

“You mean that fruit?” Dim points weakly. Wedged partway under the mass of the tree is a single fat onion drop. Jacob squawks gleefully and capers over to pry up the fruit. As night falls completely, they begin a long trudge back through the hedge.

Hours later, they come to a place where the path diverts around a grotto. Placed in a roughly circular hole in the grotto is the underside of a manhole cover. Jacob tries to entice it to open back to the real world unsuccessfully. Impatiently, Dim shoulders him out of the way and says, “I’m in no mood…” He shoves the cover inward and pushes it to the side. The two crawl into the hole and up out of a manhole in the middle of a street. They realign themselves to gravity facing a different direction, and then pull the cover back over the hole.

It’s between 5 and 6am, and they are only mere blocks from Dim’s apartment. He leads the way to his place, gets his car, and they drive to the Shelter in silence.

The Onion Drop Tree

Petals of the Rose Malkom Malkom