Welcome to the one time event wherein I make a fool of myself by showing you guys my old writing!
So I unearthed this dinosaur while going through an old external hard drive. It’s a short story I wrote for my college Creative Writing class back in 2011. Normally I’d burn this in effigy rather than allow it to see the light of day.
What can I say? I’m a masochist.
Please now take a moment to silently judge my short story:
“There was a forest, once, which lived on the summit of the world. It was a metropolis of life that surpassed any other forest in the world. The sunrise was born on the wings of firebirds who carried it across the sky. The sky was a blue so pure that the water that ran under it became cleaner simply through its purity and goodness. And all the animals were free and happy to venture far across the lands, having adventures and frolicking and…”
I wasn’t actually there. The time and place in which this story takes place was so long ago that the idea of man and woman had not yet been conceived. Maybe, if someone had taken a sledgehammer to whoever it was beforehand then the world would be a better, simpler place. But instead I stood in something questionable, at one of the many poorly equipped zoos across the country. The sun was hotter than it should have been for this time of year and every breath brought little toxins into the body. I stuck my hands through the bars, palms loaded with peanuts, for the most talkative elephant that I had ever met in my entire life. And I had met quite a few. It wouldn’t be long before they would be taking this semi-ancient elephant to some quiet reserve to live out the rest of his life in quiet dignity. After which he would be off to the taxidermist for a dignified stuffing. Meanwhile, his mind was still strong and elephants never forget. Right now he was remembering one of his many past lives, one of his first, who had been told a story about one of the most important birthday parties since the incident with the gorilla. He chewed slowly, like he had all the time in the world. And who knows? A lion could escape from the exhibit down the way and maul me in the prime of my life. With that in mind I threw my hamburger into the closest garbage can I could find. Then it was only a matter of politely asking someone four times my senior if he might tone down his flowery speech for the sake of my “no child left behind” education. He agreed, but only because closing time was coming fast and then I would have to leave. However, even more than their memory’s, elephants are most famous, or infamous depending on who you ask, for taking their time. So I could almost hear nature texting before the last of the peanuts began a horrific roller coaster ride and then – it was time for a drink. I was able to find a bathroom and reply to nature’s text just in time for –
“ – gathering flowers. Everyone lived with a general feeling of peace and security. Yes there were problems but those come with any society. It’s just that trees are all around better arbitrators of justice than any other creature. Not including the superior and inordinately wise rulings of the elephants, of course. But this story is about the trees. The trees, in those days, grew tall and strong and those few times that a tree fell it was so great that when it hollowed out from years of decay an entire herd of antelope were able to take shelter there come winter. There were few wars but when neighbors became enemies it was a simple matter of the wrongful party uprooting and walking to another part of the forest. Sometimes there would be deep emotional ties to their home dirt but back then all dirt was rich and pure so all things would settle, and peace restored.
In this, the centermost of all forests, lived the royal court. Presided over by the first tree, whose name was of such magnificence that it simply couldn’t be translated into petty human speech. The King Tree had many children but his first daughter, who had sprung to life from one of his fallen branches was just about to celebrate her 10,000th summer. So word was sent out by bird, fish and all manner of quickfooted creature to search out the Great Trees and lead them to Home Forest where they would celebrate. Oak, Pine, Birch, Cypress, Palm, Willow, Maple, Ash, Sumac and even the great Redwoods of the deep woods made the long journey. There hadn’t been a gathering the likes of this since the gorilla incident. In fact there were so many trees that King Tree had to beseech Sister Rain to send her clouds over what was now the most massive forest in all of history so that they would not dry out. Finally, a full mood graced the skies and all trees raised their faces to the sky (to the great and unpleasant surprise of squirrels and birds for miles around) to pay homage to the Moon who watched over them.
And then the drinking.
Long ago there used to be a magykal well that, when absorbed through the roots, had been known to make even the hardiest of trees a bit tipsy. Only an hour into the festivities you couldn’t find a single animal in that forest. Because who really wants to be surrounded by a forest full of drunk off their roots trees? They laughed and drank, sang songs dirty enough to make bark peel and, after the race, it took the soil months to recover. King Tree was showing anyone he could a series of rock carvings of his precious daughter, to her great mortification. They ranged from her first uprooting and steps as a sapling to her graduation from the Owl’s School for Higher Learning. When the moon was too covered by clouds to see, faeries risked the chaos to bring a gift of glow globes and spirits to the festivities. This went on for many nights and days without tire. However all things must end and soon everything began to wind down. Laughter turned to yawning and branches stretched as they made themselves comfortable. But then the saplings and faeries began to cry. Soon the great trees also felt the sense of unrest that comes from an unkind presence drawing nearer. The forest stilled. Eyes of deep brown, emerald and gold turned north to a coldness that drew nearer. A great heavy and blindingly opaque fog settled over everything. And then there was an eruption of sound as trees hastened to make a path. King Tree and his advisors could see nothing from their spot on the hill except a frantic need to avoid the new guest and a dark restlessness that followed in its wake. The stars disappeared from the night sky and everything grew cold. At last the great trees closest to the clearing where the court stood began to part. Though the King observed that it was not out of respect or even as simple as fear but a matter of survival. King Tree saw the birch closest to him showing signs of decay and death that had no place in a young, healthy tree. But as the young birch went further from the path the signs of death and age dissipated. It was then that King Tree, with a deep breath and a shiver that he felt in the roots that were deep enough to cause a small earthquake. He took one last grim look up at the dark sky and then cast his eyes downward.
And he looked.
And King Tree began to shake with a terror unlike anything he had ever known in his many, many years. But he was a king and so he must maintain a sense of composure. The tree was small and pale. It had no leaves despite the plentiful summer rains that had brought a forest full of healthy rich green leaves. It’s surface was completely white, not the pure white of the moon but more like a barren deadness which was accentuated by the fact that it was stripped of any of the usual textured bark.
It was also missing something else.
It had no face.
King Tree took a steadying breath and sunk his roots deep into the ground to keep him upright. As other trees began to realize what was in their midst a muttering began which cascaded back from the center out until it became a whispering roar.
A deep, horrible, rattling breath that seemed to echo from all around the forest. It reverberated through the hollows and sent shivers down to the roots of every tree in the forest. More horrible than the cold that sapped from the air as it seemed to draw all warmth from the air though, was the fact that the intruder had no mouth with which to draw breath. And then it spoke, the voice devoid of gender, emotion, or life. The voice seemed to come from everywhere, nowhere and all trees were forced to lean in to hear.
I bid you, King Tree and subjects, greetings and good wishes. I am a far traveling visitor come to bring you a gift in honor of your joyous celebrations. I am called –
“DO NOT SPEAK YOUR NAME IN THIS PLACE!” King Tree roared, breaking the spell of fear and numbness that had spread over the forest like a cold snap. King Tree dug his roots deep into the ground, drawing on all his reserves to gather his strength to confront what was in front of him.
There is a Death that is natural and good. It is the natural end to all things and leads things that live to what comes after all of this. It causes beings to live with more purpose than they would if there was no foreseeable end. Death has a twin. One made from the bad that comes out of every good. It has no name to speak of because it has been stricken from all knowledge. It can only be known as ‘End’.
King Tree I implore you to listen to my offer before jumping to hasty conclusions. I wish to bless you and yours in honor of your daughter’s celebrations. I would give the trees the gift of eternal life! Yes you live long and fulfilling lives but no tree is impervious to the wear of time. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to know that you would never need to be separated from your loved ones? I can offer you this.
Of course after such a statement it’s only natural that chaos, whether by panic or excitement, and there would be no productive conversation for quite a while. The forest argued far into the night, which sent what few animals who had decided to begin the trek home made a hasty retreat. A drunken forest was nothing compared to an angry one. Like most arguments between trees speech was quick, but so wordy that by the time everyone had said their piece (and there were quite a lot of someones) a full month had passed. And all that time the small, seemingly harmless white tree stood motionless and silent. King Tree matched his silence, but only because he was attempting to keep End’s power at bay. The fog had not yet dissipated since that night. It hung heavy and damp and trees refused to drink the sweet, cloying water that it emitted. Finally, after an old Sakura tree had petitioned to have a flock of eagles drop End into a volcano the forest grew still. Because it was now the King’s time to speak, and he was due only the most quiet of silences. The King knew what he was going to say because he had said absolutely nothing for a month for the sake of listening to his subjects. After all that listening and thinking, the words that come out of your mouth are bound to be good ones. He wished that he was in a field playing knock rock with his friends like the good old days. This is not what he wanted to do when he grew up.
“Change is slow. When it comes, if it comes at all there are always compromises. Sometimes, progress for the sake of progress is not the wisest choice. Sometimes, things have been the way they are for a reason and to interfere with tradition, not to speak of how the basic flow of nature would be corrupted by our actions. But I have a question for you,” King Tree said, directing his attention to the ghostly blemish that had encroached upon his territory.
“I ask you, who has come with no invitation or warrant. Answer me this; has anyone else been presented with your gracious offer?”
Yes, great King. The mighty Stones of Bismark have accepted my offer only this past seven day.
“Lies!” Cried a voice from behind a cluster of Elm. Out walked a great monolith of stone, each step so heavy that his feet sunk deeply into the ground. “My people are strong of heart and mind and would never fall for the likes of you!”
You have no reason to be upset, great figure of stone. Your people have ascended to a higher place in the world, free of dangerous weatherly wear or plants that would seek to grow and crack your illustrious selves. All you need to do to join your brethren is enter the sacred circle they have formed and you will join in their happiness.
Without another word the Stone Chief of Bismark turned and sprinted away, the force of his thudding feet uprooting small plants for miles around. The chatter was dangerously close to turning into another month long “debate”. King Tree cleared his mighty throat and all was silent. When he spoke, no matter how hard he tried to hide it, his voice was tinged with such sadness that it began to rain and the fog dissipated.
“My friends. I am but one tree standing against the gales of time. I cannot force the entirety of treedom to bow to my will if they are reluctant to follow me as things are. I know how many trees are present and I know you are leaders of forests of your own. I trust each one of you to make this decision with the good of your charges in mind. I ask that any tree willing to accept…End’s offer would send a leaf down to rest in a pile at my roots. I would also not force a decision on others if the majority voted a certain way. Perhaps End will allow that only certain trees, those willing, took part in his offer.”
King Tree looked down at End as if daring it to challenge his ruling. End only nodded a silent acknowledgement of consent. There was a short pause as words were considered and decisions made. Soon there was a rustling and leaves began to float along the slipstreams till there was a good sized hill in front of King Tree. He reached his roots into the pile and counted. No one moved or breathed or thought. They just stood, fixated on their King who seemed to take a year and a day on his counting. Finally, his roots withdrew from the pile and he opened his eyes to look upon his subjects.
“Of the ten million forests in this world, fifty-thousand of them have chosen to take a new path. We will wish them only the best in their new life,” he turned to End. “The deal has been struck. You have claimed a great many of my trees and now I demand you leave this place.”
Very well King Tree. Until the crossroads.
“Till then.” But End had already vanished.
Suddenly, trees started screaming. They ran and cried and many would crowd around one and scream at it. King Tree pushed his way through to the closest group of trees and they parted. What stood before him had once been an elderly Birch with a poor sense of humor. And for all intensive purposes he still was a birch. But his face was gone. His body had gone stiff and there was no sign of the light where his essence had been. All around the forest trees were discovering that their friends had also gone stiff and cold. King Tree that if he didn’t act soon he would lose his people to panic and despair.
“My people!” Most trees were shocked into a shaky silence, all others had either settled into quiet sobbing or had passed out.
“A terrible thing has happened. No one here is to blame, for the trickery of the great Evil is powerful. We will leave this place and find a new home safe from this disease. Come!” He uprooted and began to walk. And the procession was such that the like had never been seen before and would never be seen again. They disappeared into the night and vanished from this world.
A few hours later a thundering sound could be heard as the Chief of Bismark came running back. When he realized that he walked in a graveyard he slowed to a stop. The field wasn’t bare exactly, but compared to what it had been there may as well have been no trees at all. The Chief tried to ask one of his Redwood friends what had happened but he was met with silence. He achieved the same results no matter where he went and at last, exhausted, he sat down in the clearing where King Tree had once been and put his colossal head in his enormous hands. After he collected himself, because despite what you may have heard the stone people are quite an emotional lot, he went to ask a small boulder what had happened. The Chief was so devastated that the trees had met the same fate of his brothers that he went wandering.
One day he got stuck in a mud patch and was sinking when an elephant heard his cries for help and pulled him to safety. To repay the elephant for his kindness the Chieftain told him his story. And elephants never forget. So generations of elephants later I get to tell this story to you. Peanuts?”
I tossed the rest of them into his waiting mouth and said thank you. You never forget to say thank you to an elephant. I walked through the almost empty zoo, it was closing time but it hadn’t been that busy to begin with. The ground was still covered with stuff of a questionable nature but now it was accompanied by trash that people couldn’t be bothered to put in the proper bins. The wind picked up, sending rank fumes from the dump next door over the animals who were forced to endure it day after day. It didn’t matter though because their senses of smell had died long ago. I walked out of the zoo a little bit wiser and a lot sadder. And on the bus ride home I couldn’t help noticing the trees.
The trees without faces.