The Dryad


Alexa Halpern

Dear Diary,

We were at school when we first heard the news. Twenty-four-year old Jordan Williams was brutally murdered by an unknown suspect. His body was found decapitated near a river, the head nowhere to be found.

At first, people thought it was a hate crime. After all, Williams was an African American man in the South. Even though he had just moved here and hadn’t been here long enough to do anything wrong, it didn’t take much for prejudice to form in the minds of the old, white folk.

The only lead the police have is the tree in his front yard. When Williams was at work—the insurance company off Boore Road, the tree in front of his house was cut down, but only the top. All the leaves and branches were gone, leaving just a stump that was too tall to be a coincidence.

We live in a small town. Everyone knows everyone, and we’re super close knit. A crime like this is unheard of.  I think that’s why it’s so hard to wrap our minds around.

As the school journalist and part of the newspaper, it is my duty to discover the culprit—from a distance, of course. There’s no way my mom would ever be content with me getting knee deep in a crime as gritty as this one. Or any crime in general for that matter. But the other reporters on the newspaper don’t have overbearing parents, and they can get their hands dirty in any article they want. Take Riley Robinson for example. He’s so erratic that he should be kept on one of those child leashes at all times, but his mom is too concerned about getting her doctorate that she lets him do whatever. But alas! I will discover the truth!


Dear Diary,

People no longer suspect it to be a hate crime. The enemy has struck again! This time, it was an old, white woman of eighty-three years named Edith Coombs. She lived alone with her gardenias a few blocks down from me. Once or twice, I watched her cat, Menace, when she traveled to South Carolina to visit her son. Regardless, an old, white woman is on the opposite end of the spectrum from a young, black man, and that’s enough evidence needed to persuade people that this isn’t a hate crime.

We know that the two crimes are connected because that poor, old lady’s tree was defaced too. What a shame too…she had the nicest garden in the whole town due to her florist skills; she would’ve been upset to know her pride and joy was destroyed. Unlike Williams’ tree, hers was missing all of its limbs, all its branches. Her body was found the next day limbless, missing her arms and legs. I don’t know which death is worse.

The police still have yet to catch the suspect. The anonymous killer has been dubbed “The Dryad” in the meantime. It’s scary to think that the murderer can be anyone, and we’re all unaware of it. The neighbors on the streets that we smile at…the clerk at the grocery store…the waiter at the diner downtown. It can be anyone.

Everyone is starting to get paranoid, and for good reason. Two deaths in a week is already frightening, but in our small town, it makes it worse. Mom is afraid of me leaving the house. The only reason she lets me go out is for school. I understand her point, but just because they aren’t living anymore doesn’t mean that we have to stop living too.


Dear Diary,

A third victim has died in the hands of the Dryad. He was a middle-aged Arabic man named Khalid Abadi. The tree in his front yard was cut down and chopped up into several pieces. Abadi was found in the forest, his body chopped up just like the wood was. It was revolting to see the pictures posted in the media. Thankfully, the teacher said we didn’t have to post them on the school’s newspaper too.

It’s sick to think about what this deranged serial killer is doing to the hearts, minds, and bodies of the people in my town. Never in a million years would we have suspected this would happen, and now that it is, we’re all afraid of our own shadows.

My heart goes out to the families of these victims. Not only are they losing their loved ones, but the bodies are being mutilated to the point that the families cannot identify them; only DNA tests can do that.

It’s disheartening that we don’t have the serial killer identified. Yet, it is my duty as a journalist to unveil the truth, despite the difficulties.


Dear Diary,

Last night, one of the trees from the local nursery was stolen and displayed on Main Street for all to sees. Its bark was stripped from its trunk, revealing only the soft wood underneath. The townspeople are frightened beyond belief, but we don’t know how to heed the warning.

Skeptics believe this wasn’t the work of the Dryad. After all, the serial killer usually vandalizes the tree of his victim, rather than stealing one. However, when the police discover the person who did this, the punishment will be severe. No one would want to imitate the Dryad’s work, get blamed, and face the penalty. That would be extraordinarily stupid. Although I am not a skeptic and certainly believe this to be the Dryad’s work, I am a good journalist, and I must look at the situation from all sides.

Everyone is on edge. I guess we will have to sit back and see what happens.


Dear Diary,

The skeptics were wrong. Catalina Martinez was found in a sewer this morning. Her skin was stripped bare. Her body was pink and bloody and mangled beyond belief.  She was only twelve years old.

Everyone feels as if they should’ve done something to help. After all, these trees get vandalized the night before a murder. We should take initiative to stop it, but no one knows how. The cameras all turn black just as the kill occurs. The radios all lose signal. Nothing can catch him. It’s so odd, and no one knows how to explain it.

The worst part is that there is no rhyme or reason to the murders. Everyone is left guessing. A young, fresh-faced black insurance worker. An old, white, feminine florist. A middle-aged, esteemed Arabic lawyer. A Hispanic, little girl. No one knows who’s next because each victim is so different from the last. Some are making bets on which gender, age, and race is next. Some believe that these things don’t matter because deaths are deaths at the end of the day, and we should be more worried about that than the minuscule details.

This little girl, Catalina, shouldn’t have been killed. She was homeless, living with her mom in shelters when they weren’t full and alleys when they were. She didn’t have a front yard, not a tree to mutilate. But she still died. They all did. The Dryad needs to be caught.


Dear Diary,

The Dryad is coming. This warning is different than the others. The tree is gone, only a large hole left in the ground where the plant once stood. Everything has disappeared—the trunk, roots, and leaves have all been taken. Everything was uprooted.

That tree…that tree was mine.


Dear Diary,

Mom wasted no time packing our belongings and throwing them into her minivan. Just like our tree, we too are being uprooted. She believes that if we leave, we’ll be safe. It’s a lousy attempt at safety, but we have no other options.

As I write, I am at a gas station, using the overly-bright light to see each word I pen. I write now because I can’t write in the dark, can’t write in a bouncing car. We are six cities away. I hate having to leave my friends, my school, my life, but I hate living in fear. It’s better to leave than to die.

The gas station is quiet, and I am alone, save for a few homeless junkies chatting on the side of Pump Six. I keep trying to tell myself that anything is better than being the next victim. Anything, anything, anything. I still have my mom, still have my belongings, still have my life. The others weren’t so lucky, but I am.

There’s a gray sedan pulling up beside my mom’s van. Gray and boring, just as interesting as my life is right now. I don’t know where my mom plans on taking us, or if she even has a plan at all. I guess it’s like one of those trust tests you take. But there’s no falling backwards, hopefully into someone’s arms. Rather, if I don’t pass this trust test, there will be death involved.

The part that worries me most about the tree is that it was uprooted completely. The leaves weren’t stripped from it. The bark wasn’t taken off. Heck, it wasn’t even simply knocked over. It was gone.

My poor journal, you can tell that I’m bored and that my mom needs to hurry up and get back because at this point, I’m rambling. I can see her from the window. She’s at the register, but what is taking so long?

Okay, this is going to sound psychotic…but I swear the man in the gray car is watching me. At least, that’s what it looks like. He’s not even trying to disguise it. His eyes are aimed directly at me, and it looks like he’s watching my every move.

Or maybe I’m delusional. He’s probably just tired. I’m tired too. It is almost two in the morning after all. And he’s probably just staring off into space.

The longer I wait for my mom to get back from inside the gas station, the stronger the need to relieve my bladder is. But I’m scared to move. I don’t trust that man.

But I see my mom. She’s right there. As long as I let her know where I’m going, I’ll be good.

I’m going to the bathroom. If something happens, just know the man has brown hair and wild eyes. He’s driving a gray car with a Kansas license plate. If I don’t write another entry, assume the worst. If I don’t get back, that is the man. The Dryad.