Thursday, May 23, 2013

Flash Fiction # 44: The Trees

The distant hum stopped, the woods filled with silence as we all held our breaths, waiting.
And then it came; the horrible, heart-wrenching sound as a big tree groaned and fell, the ground trembling even here, so far away.

So another of the elders died and a moan traveled through the forest as every living thing here mourned the loss. Well, all except the blind and deaf humans. The saplings that had been her children cried in despair and many would not survive.

"Back to your trees, sisters," one of us whispered. "Our sister is down; we must make shelters for the small ones who are lost."

We murmured our farewells and I wasn't the only one who looked around with dismay, wondering which of us would disappear next. I hurried to my pine and leaned against the bark, feeling the rough texture beneath my fingers, soaking in the scent of resin. I heard the fluttering of little birds in the boughs. I did not want to give up the woods, which were more than the trees, after all. I looked around in the bright morning sun, fearing I might not see it again. The saws could come for me, though I wasn't a very tall pine. I might be saved a while to watch my sisters disappear. Would that be better?

I didn't want to be the last, and the fear drove me into the tree this time, without looking back. The tree trembled with me, needles falling in a rain of green to the ground. I almost lost control, until I felt the ones who sheltered within my wide limbs. The insects were buzzing in distress, the baby raccoons crying in fear. Mama Owl laid over her owlets, protecting them and smaller birds cried out in dismay as they took to the sky.

I must be calm.

I merged closer to the wood, feeling the life moving from ground to the tip of the tree. I calmed and my friends calmed with me, returning to life as it should be. I was aware of distressed animals who fled across the ground and birds swarmed in the air looking for a home that was no longer there. Nests gone with fledglings and eggs; a baby raccoon the only survivor of three, and mother gone as well. I drew the little one closer to me and up into the tree with two others. Normally they would not have accepted him in, but I soothed the way and made peace between them and the others. This was what druids do; we protect our worlds. The tree is not just wood, it's all that lives in it, from the old hawk sitting high in the limbs, letting the sun warm his wings, to the little insects chasing other insects across the bark. A chipmunk scampered up to a low lying branch, panting and worried.
Above us the birds whirled and cried out in dismay. The humans were deaf to the sounds. But we drew them down, little by little, as the day went on. Some would not survive the loss, but we sheltered them. We made them a new world.

And we waited for the saws.

Time passes oddly for dryads and trees. We watch the days, but they blend into variations of light and dark. Generations of birds build nests, raise fledglings, who come back and start over. The seasons come and go. We do not count years. We only know the passage of time as a whisper on the wind, the growth of more trunk and limbs, reaching always towards the sun.

I heard the horrible hum of saws sometimes, but even they eventually passed and I had not noticed. I had stayed in my tree, sheltering and nurturing as I could . . . and waited for the end. They did not just kill the trees, you know. They killed the power of the world that the dryads held. When the magic that holds the world together goes -- the dryads, the nyads, and all the others -- then the world is doomed to fade away and died.

Humans do not believe in magic, but they'll fall just as surely as everything else.

Then I noticed more humans in the woods. They did not come with saws and axes, though. They walked quietly, one or two together, sometimes groups. They spoke softly, but I was still in her tree and could not understand the words.

So I came back out, finally. I stayed in the shadow of my tree and waited. Chipmunks and rabbits gathered at my feet. A lazy fox came by, eying the others with contemplation, though she would not hunt here. A doe and two fawns stayed nearby. We waited.

"Lovely," a human said close by. I saw her reach out and touch my tree. At first I shuddered at the thought . . . Then I realized what she was saying. The man with her spoke so quietly I couldn't hear his words.

They walked on. I waited, a day and another, but other humans came by then. The group of them, pointing out animals, gathering up a few cones to take with them. One dropped a wrapper and another picked it up and chided him. They went on.

The humans had changed.

I wandered to other trees and whispered to my sisters, but they said the same things. The humans had changed. They even planted new trees in places where they had been cut away.

"A park," one said. "That is what I heard. A park and this means protected. At least for now."

At least for now. . . .

I blessed the ones who came by my tree, and hoped that my blessing and love for the forest would spread to others. We are so few, the older dryads. The new trees will take centuries before full awareness will come to them.

I hope we have time to wait.

The End
999 words

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