PUBLISHED: Reckoning Magazine | 4000 words | Reading time: 15 mins
Akari saw the restricted tree first. Wrestling the Agency’s sleek sedan around the treacherous holes in Zimmerman’s pitted rural driveway held my full attention. We’d passed the mailbox fifteen minutes back, leaving me certain we’d missed a turnoff to the old man’s place—then Akari slapped the dash. “Frank! Pull over!” Akari snapped off her seatbelt and lunged out the door into the bright summer heat before we stopped moving. Dust and ash-exhaust billowed over the car. My junior agent’s silhouette vanished in the rusted cloud. When the air cleared, I saw what she’d seen and fumbled my seatbelt off too. “Is that a—?” “Betula pendula ‘Laciniata’.” She stepped aside as I joined her in front of the young tree. “Weeping birch. A Level Four restricted cultivar.” Tendrils of leaves spilled over the pale bent trunk, curtaining it like stringy hair over the face of a cowering girl. I’d only seen this species in file photographs.