Lukus bounced in his saddle and renewed his interest in their surroundings. There were ironwood and gnarled muscled hornbeam trees all over the flat of the creek bottom near the banks, but as he looked, he saw that there wasn’t a single tree of any kind, not even a sapling, that was not bent and twisted into some horribly unnatural pose. “I’ll declare,” he thought. “How could trees give me the creeps?” He kept seeing ordinary looking leaves on the ground, much like the white oak leaves in Niarg. When he looked overhead to find where they came from, he saw that they weren’t oaks at all, but bore brilliantly colored succulent fruits in bunches, each bunch a different bright color. “Fresh fruit and lots of it, just hanging there for the taking. And I think I will,” he said as he steered Starfire toward the nearest tree. Directly he had a handful of the irresistible smelling treats. “Hey Rose!” he hollered. “Come back here and try some of this fruit! They’re better than your old figs! And they’re all different colors!”
Rose turned Mystique about at the word fruit and came galloping back for his first bite.
“Wow Rose! This is good,” he said, champing away. “Strange, but real good. It’s got milky white juice which is real bitter but really, really sweet at the same time.” He popped another one into his mouth and savored his prize. Suddenly his eyes bulged open with strained urgency. He turned frighteningly red as his veins stood out. He wheezed in a gasping panic as though he might explode. And now he was gagging convulsively.
Rose fought down her horror. She sprang from Mystique and mounted Starfire behind Lukus, who by this time was bent over, turning purple and nearly unconscious. She wrapped her arms around him, grabbed her fist and yanked, making him cough out chewed fruit all down his front. He slid to the ground and sat there gasping and coughing as tears streamed down his face. Rose knelt beside him, and saw that the inside of his mouth and throat were still swelling. Once she had rinsed out his mouth, he croaked a hoarse thanks for saving him.
“Needles! It felt like needles,” he said as he mounted Starfire. “I don’t understand what happened. Those berries weren’t even big enough to get stuck in my throat like that, not to mention fill up my mouth the way they did. My throat hurts.”
“Lukus,” said Rose, “I just remembered something that Grandfather once told me. Sorry I didn’t think of this before now, but I reckon I’d no reason to. He said the berries here were all the different colors of the rainbow. I think the pits can be roasted, but anyone who eats the fruit strangles to death while his windpipe swells shut. That’s why they’re called chokeberries and this place is called the Chokewood Forest. Those trees are called choke trees or choke oaks, though they aren’t true oaks at all. I guess they grow all over here.”
Ch. 8, The Collector Witch
Carol Marrs Phipps and Tom Phipps