Tell Us A Story
Tell us a story, we would beg. All of us sitting around the old creaky chair, eyes wide and breaths held. We waited for the story to begin, for a new adventure and were they!
"Did I tell you about the ancient trees, a beautiful grove of tall, silvery trees…"
In their youth they reached so high you would think they touched the blue sky. The leaves were bright green tinkling like tiny bells whenever a breeze would sway through their branches. Nyads and Sprites would sit at the edge of the stream; they’d languish on the soft mossy grass and dance under their shade singing beautiful songs.
No mortal could ever describe such a sound or sight and when the moon cast its pale light on this grove magical things would happen. Flowers would bloom, large white petals and their scent, it carried on the night wind sweet like a strawberry.
The trees grew, their youth slowly waning as they matured. Time changed and the revelry lessened, the Nyads and Sprites became fewer and fewer until they vanished.
The age of man arrived and with it came pain, pestilence, death and violence. Nothing was safe, no one was safe…
But the grove remained undisturbed. The soft wind still blew through its leaves, the sound drifting through the woods easing the uncomfortable slumber of beast and human alike close enough to hear.
It happened that humans began to move into the forests, they cut down trees, made fires whose smoke drifted through frightening the animals. They cleared large tracts of land and built out of stone, used the cut down trees to hold up their roofs, made furniture.
The humans ignored the trees and their cries of pain; they didn’t see the tears shed by the trees for the horrible crimes committed against them. For the humans, trees had no voice, they felt no pain; the trees were there to provide for them.
Selfish, uncaring… this is what the ancient trees were told by their brothers and sisters, the humans were unlike any animal- worse so because of the butchery they committed. Years passed in conversation, debating what could and should be done regarding the humans. How could they be kept out of the remaining forests?
So engrossed in the debate were they that the sound of human laughter escaped their notice. They didn’t hear the group of humans until the three tumbled on the soft grass, their squeals of laughter much louder now that they were in the grove.
Awe took them over, their bright eyes widening at the sight of such majestic trees. Little hands touched the silvery bark, soft under their hands and warm pulsing with life… Another knelt in a mossy patch to smell the white bloom half closed in the day. The scent intoxicated the youth and reaching plucked it from the vine twined around the trunk.
In the center of the grove, the youngest of the three peered up at the canopy of leaves, watched the sun burn orange in the sky and heard their song. It was haunting and sad and brought an ache to the child’s heart. Its small hands clasped against the aching chest feeling as if its heart would burst free.
It cried out, drawing the others attention. They ran to the center, knelt on either side of the young one unaware of the change in the trees. The white bloom lay in the grass, trampled and broken, forgotten by the youth who’d plucked it from the vine, the life withering away…
Do you see? The trees cried out. Do you see how little they care? How little they value our life?
We provide shade.
We give them our song.
We nourish their air.
And they cut us down.
They burn our brothers and sisters.
They take and take with no regard for our pain.
Oh when will they stop?
What more do they want?
The ancient trees drew together; they felt all the anguish, the pain their brothers and sisters had suffered.
It was too much, it became clear that nothing would stop the humans, nothing would keep them from taking, from killing…
The grove drew together, the earth shook from the shifting of their roots. The children cried out, their fear a palpable thing but still the trees were resolute. Nothing would change, nothing would make them stop and though they knew it was how it was meant to be they could not let the image of the crushed bloom fade to nothing.
The wind blew strong; it whipped the leaves and swirled around the children, white petals sticking to their skin, hair and clothes. More and more the grove clumped together, two trees joining until their trunks were one and so on and so on until there was a wooden ring surrounding the children. Solid wood everywhere they turned, pale faced and wide eyes, the two oldest cried while the third and youngest still knelt in place, both hands clutching at the pale chest…
Their pleas went unanswered; their begging did not sway the trees but their tears brought sadness, hadn't their brothers and sisters cried as well?
The humans did nothing, ignored their silent pain…
We are not like the humans, the trees said.
We do nothing but care for these humans.
They are the ones who kill, murder… They cannot live in peace among each other.
We cannot stand by.
We will all die…
All they said was true but still, the ancient trees were saddened by what they would do.
As one they spoke, a hollow sound that rose from the ground at the children’s feet. It vibrated inside them, filled them with dread as the words registered in their heads.
You have felled our brothers and sisters.
You've taken from us.
Now, pay for your sins against our kind.
The children screamed, they cried and called for help but no one heard them. The sun shone straight down into their circle, bright and blinding while at their feet the vines and grass grew long and tall, wrapping around their limbs. The vines slithered over the soft skin, scraping and cutting into the soft flesh until their blood peppered the ground. Pain tore into each one, visions of what had been done played in their heads, the pain and cries of all those trees burned in their bodies…
Time didn’t matter, didn’t register but when the light faded, pulled back into the sky the wooden ring made the ground treble once more. The ancient trees separated, settled back into their original places much older than when they’d begun. Their leaves didn’t shine so green anymore, the edges were tipped in silver, their veins glowing copper and when the breeze blew past swaying their branches their song was melancholy.
The grove was forever changed, their action had made them different, no longer the innocent venerable beings they had been from the moment they touched the air and met the light of the sky. They were irrevocably changed by what they’d done to the children.
In the center of the grove a new tree sat. Its trunk was thick, mal-shaped, nothing like the smooth, tall trunks of the ancient trees. The roots spiraled out, exposed to the sky in some places. The leaves were a pale green splotched with rusted maroon specks and when the breeze blew through its branches the song was nothing like the ancient trees. This new one, its song was no louder than a whisper, sad and condemning it filled the ancient grove with its reproach. The branches reached to the sky as if in pleading, small knobs were the echo of childish heads, their hair now patches of moss on the trunk.
No one came to search for the missing children, those who’d cared for them, loved them had long since turned to dust. There was no one to remember them, their playful jaunts into the forest, purple smudged fingers, tongues stained with berry juice…
The world had changed again; man had grown and cut down more of the trees. The grove was no longer safe. The wind carried to the ancient trees the scent of smoke, not the woody scent that had threaded through their branches from before. This time it was a heavy scent, black and daunting it didn’t cease. Other trees, their feeble voices growing ever silent spoke of a silver substance that burned.
The humans surround us in it, they cage us!
They build great homes, giant buildings from this.
We are dying.
We are few…
The news was distressing; the ancient trees let their branches droop. The world was different, the humans had grown in number and while they’d punished three, their brothers and sisters had been systematically destroyed.
We are no better.
Our fate is our own.
The chair creaked and standing we knew the story was over. It was over and-.
"Wait! How does it end?"
"What do you mean?"
The question made me think of everything I'd heard. From the moment we sat around the chair, the story of the ancient grove spelled us. The fate of the children horrified me and I’d wanted to ask how these peaceful beings could do something like that, hurt them when they were innocent.
"Don’t you remember the child plucking the flower from the vine? Don’t you remember how it lay trampled and dying… forgotten by the children who’d found it so beautiful moments before?"
Of course I remembered but they hadn't killed the trees, they hadn't meant to- not purposely.
I could see in her expression that I’d found the correct answer. The last words repeated again.
Our fate is our own.