Now that the smoke had cleared, she saw that the bulge had burst open, and was hollow. Reams of tree sap dribbled from its fracture. She stared at it as piano music tiptoed up the hall—Maggie's radio, no doubt—resonating eerily amidst the sterile walls. Thinking she heard the ghost-voice of Karen Carpenter—what were recordings if not the voices of ghosts?—she noticed something different about the willow tree. Something other than the weird bulge, now split open.
It was an odd configuration of branches, some thick as a person’s arms, others thick as legs. Had those been there before? She was pretty sure they hadn’t. She noticed there were unusual masses of vegetation growing from them; in addition to strands of weeping willow leaves, there were flowers, ferns, lilies, mushroom stools—she knew they hadn’t been there. Taken together, the branches almost formed a human shape—with shaggy shoulders and a mane of green hair—in profile. But since when did trees grow—
Suddenly the shape turned its face to her, opening its eyes, and Tika shrieked.