Published: Tammy 31 December 1977 to 28 January 1978
Artist: Veronica Weir
Translations/reprints: Dutch Tina 1982 as “Bladeren in de wind” [Leaves in the wind]; Indonesian translation in Komik Nina #98 as “Daun Daun Berguguran” [Falling Leaves]
It is autumn at Laurel and Hester’s school, and those falling autumn leaves make them a bit sad. The headmistress decides to cut down the trees in the school drive to make things more tidy, and as she can be a stubborn, determined sort, it will take a lot to change her mind. Laurel and Hester are upset at this and a lot of other people are too, but none more so than a strange woman who is obsessed with her love of the trees, to the point of monomania.
The woman senses the girls are friends of the trees and invites them to her house. The girls find the interior lovely but really weird. The room is decorated with trees and leaves and even the furniture is carved in leaf shapes. The girls get a dreadful fright when Hester accidentally pulls a leaf off one of the arrangements; the woman goes absolutely berserk and looks as if she’ll tear Hester apart. The girls make a fast exit after that. The woman apologises for losing her temper, saying that all day she had a strange feeling that “my trees were in danger”.
After the headmistress gives a television interview on why she wants to fell the trees, the woman picks a real fight with her. She calls her a “murderess”, a “tree-killer” and warns the headmistress her friends will stop her, so she better be careful. The headmistress is unmoved, but Laurel and Hester are uneasy. They also find it odd that the woman knew what the headmistress intended to do when there was no television set in her home.
That afternoon, a wind blows the falling autumn leaves towards the head’s office and Laurel and Hester hear her screaming. Inside, they find her smothered with leaves and absolutely terrified, saying the leaves seemed to be alive. But she recovers her equilibrium and won’t let this change her mind.
The woman tells the girls it was a pity they interfered just then, and hints that the headmistress had better really watch out when dusk comes. The girls decide they need to watch the headmistress after this. They are also getting really spooked; leaves and trees appear to come alive and even seem to look like people. And by now Laurel and Hester are really scared of the strange woman.
At dusk, the headmistress has a car crash, and mumbles the accident happened because she tried to miss some people. Laurel investigates the drive and finds leaves in the shape of a head. Then a blast of wind blows the evidence to bits. The woman reappears, accuses Laurel of siding with the tree killer, and says she will soon see what the headmistress saw. She hints it will be that very night. In hospital, the headmistress looks scared, but Laurel can’t tell if it was the shock of the accident or whatever made her crash.
The police put the accident down to skidding on leaves, but then Laurel hears two buses met the same fate, in the same spot, and for the same reason. She heads to the spot to investigate. There, the woman sets three people, made entirely of leaves, upon her. Laurel realises they drove the headmistress off the road and she lashes out at them with a branch. But then the leaf people just turn into three piles of leaves. Later, Laurel learns this coincided with the time the headmistress changed her mind about felling the trees because she had grown scared enough to do so.
Laurel heads to the woman’s house with the news and questions. But inside everything is very different and there is no trace of the leaf-decorated room. The old lady who lives there knows nothing at all about the woman. The lady then tells Laurel the legend about the guardian of the trees. The story goes that the trees used to be a sacred grove for druids. When the Romans drove the druids away, they left a guardian behind.
Laurel leaves the house, hoping nobody else tries to fell the trees. However, the old lady thinks the tree guardian story’s just a load of rubbish and will fell the trees herself if the headmistress does not…
I haven’t seen many girls’ serials with an autumn theme, but this one has such a setting, which ties in nicely with the October theme this month. It is also a spooky, scary story, which ties in with the Halloween season too. It’s a bit surprising they didn’t publish it during the period in question. It is a short story, at five episodes, which suggests it was probably a filler.
Tree spirits rising in anger against tree fellers have been seen in Gypsy Rose and Strange Stories, but turning it into a mini-serial gives more room for development and scares. The development of the guardian is brilliantly handled. I like how she is dressed. She is in ordinary clothes rather than robes, hoods, gowns and such, which makes a nice change and her a bit different to most supernatural characters in girls’ serials. At first, to all appearances she is just an old woman and there is nothing really out of the ordinary about her. She just seems a bit eccentric and fanatical about her love of the trees. However, she soon starts to scare when Laurel and Hester see how one-tracked she is about her love of trees and taking things a bit far, as evidenced when Hester accidentally breaks a leaf off her leaf arrangement. The woman progressively reveals herself as something beyond ordinary, making comments about things she shouldn’t have known about, and issuing warnings of things to come. And when these strange things start happening with the leaves, that’s when the scares really begin and the woman becomes truly terrifying. To make her even more creepy, she never gives her name and she remains nameless throughout the story.
It it’s not just these spooky things that are terrifying; it’s the woman’s fanaticism as well. It’s so extreme it goes way too far and starts hurting innocents. Although Laurel doesn’t want to harm the trees, the woman views her as helping the “tree killer”, and that’s good enough reason to attack her with the tree people. And what was the idea with attacking the buses? They had nothing to do with the headmistress’ decision to fell the trees and were no threat to them. Whatever the woman was thinking of, she was going too far there. It was just as well the headmistress took only five episodes to change her mind about felling the trees. We dread to think what would have happened if she had taken more episodes to do so. But even when it’s all over, it’s a sure bet Laurel will never be able to look at those trees in the drive or autumn leaves in the same way again.