Story Submitted by Anthony:
Amara and I talked online and agreed to meet up, in person, in a park. There was a particular bench at which I told her I'd meet her.
When I arrived, she wasn't there yet, so I sat down and waited. After looking around for a little bit, I spotted something odd. A small tree with legs was slinking its way across the park, inching closer to where I sat. It wasn't really a small tree; someone was holding up a central trunk and collection of branches, like in a cartoon, as a kind of tree disguise.
The branches were thick enough with leaves to obscure the face of the person holding them, and since it was heading my way, I assumed that it was Amara. I turned around, as if I hadn't seen her approach, and waited a few moments before glancing at the tree again and saying, loud enough for the tree-walker to hear, "I wonder where Amara is. She sure is late."
The tree stopped moving. It was about 15 feet away. I turned away again, and glanced down the path. There walked Amara. She made eye contact with me and waved.
I gave a look at the tree-person, then hopped off the bench and went to greet her. She gave me a hug, then pointed behind me and asked, "Friend or foe?"
I spun. The tree-person, whoever it was, had followed me to where I had met Amara. I leaned towards it, trying to see a face, and asked, "Do I know you?"
Whoever it was started barking at me like a dog. It sounded like a guy. I said to Amara, "No idea who that is. Let's go."
We walked down the path and the tree-man followed. We walked faster, he walked faster. I thought about running away from him with Amara, but finally decided to stop short and confront him head on. I turned and made a grab for his branches. He stopped barking, shouted, and I was able to rip enough limbs away to see his face. With some additional pulling, most of his disguise lay in leafy ruins on the ground.
He was a short guy, all in dark blue, who I had never seen before. "Hey!" he said to me with a raised voice and a frown, "My branches!"
"Why were you following us?" I asked him.
He looked down at the remnants of his disguise and said, with an eerie calm, "You broke them." We looked at each other for a moment more, then he turned and walked off at a clip.
I returned to Amara and asked her if she had ever seen the guy before, and she said that she hadn't.
The rest of the date went well, and we were able to share a few laughs about the tree-man. I didn't think much else of it, until after the date, when I made it home, and an email from Amara was already waiting for me.
"I don't think we should see each other again," is basically said.
I wrote back to say that I was sorry to hear it, and asked her what the issue was, as the date had, from my point of view, gone very well.
She replied, "The guy with the tree nonsense. It just got me thinking about all kinds of horrible things, and it was all I was able to picture through dinner with you, and it's all I'll ever be able to picture when seeing you from now on. I'm sorry."
Flabbergasted, I wrote back, "What are you talking about? Horrible things?"
She never replied, so I guess it will always be a mystery to me.