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Stumbling my way back to the bus stop, I hugged the walls of the identical looking office blocks that were to blame for getting me lost. The sky darkened and the rain became relentless sheets of icy wetness. The gloom was like the approach of evening, even though my watch said half-past eleven in the morning. I shrugged my hood further over my face.

When I reached a safe distance, I took a peek. There was nothing to indicate anything unusual had happened in that unit. No sign of that blond woman.

I looked at my hands, the rain sluiced over them in vein-like rivulets that reminded me of the patterns formed by that silver mist.

Crap.

Hallucinations.

That was the last thing I needed.

My sense of direction didn't fail me again, and I made it back to the bus stop. Rooting in my bag, I found my wallet, but my phone was gone. I'd lost it in the tussle. Calling the police would have to wait.

The bus dropped me off and I walked wearily up the road. I couldn't process what had happened. The attack? I guess there were sleazy wasters everywhere. But what I'd seen? What I'd felt?

No. That was getting buried deep in a corner of my mind to be teased out in therapy preferably in a decade or two.

The woman must have come to visit those men for drugs or something, considering the paraphernalia that had been lying around. Lucky for me.

I got back to the priory, in a blur of spent adrenaline, cold and shaky. My head ached, the only consolation, that guy's nose must be worse. The bed sucked me into oblivion.

The gift was wrapped in that old-fashioned kind of brown parcel paper. There was no card or label. Just my name written in block letters with black marker pen. I took the square box inside. Why wait the three weeks until my twentieth birthday? The first without mum, there wasn't much cause for celebration.

A shiver of excitement surprised me. I tore the paper. A silver branch poked out. I took the branch and pulled. Its sinewy siblings wound together, joining to form a rough silver trunk. Not a branch, I realised, but a root. Meeting some resistance, I yanked the root hard. It sprang from the package in a rush, the jarring sound of metal scraping against metal making me fear for its condition.

I needn't have worried. I held a perfect silver tree upside down by one of its roots. When I turned the tree, its branches flexed and its small, delicate leaves rustled in response to the movement. Where its silver hue suggested rigidity, its movements mimicked those of a real tree swaying in the wind.

Beautiful, was the first response that came to mind.

An inexplicable sense of unease quickly followed. It seeped into my very core, until it filled me entirely. As I struggled to tear my gaze from the silver tree, the feeling grew increasingly acute until only one sense remained.

Dread.

I woke suddenly, the sound of grating metal ringing in my ears. Consuming dread filled me like it did every time the dream had visited my sleep over the last five years. I reached under the bed for the brown paper covered box, my name in bold block writing on the top. Alice Gray. No return address. Like a mocking reminder that I couldn't send it back.

Lifting the lid a fraction, the silver branches flexed. Delicate little leaves rustled creating sweet chimes, nothing like the harsh sound that always brought me out of the dream.

It didn't fool me with its beauty; that silver tree had darkness in it.

Shoving the lid back on, I looked around for a better hiding place. The room was sadly lacking. I shoved it into the back of the closet and covered it with clothes. Only when the box was out of sight did the sense of doom lift.

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