The Withering Willow

Submitted into Contest #99 in response to: End your story with somebody stepping out into the sunshine.... view prompt

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Coming of Age Sad Speculative

CW: Mention of death and suicide.


  Not a single object is lit. Darkness cradles me from all sides like the cold water in the depths of the ocean. But how do I know the ocean? I can’t tell where I am, nor what I am. I don’t know how I speak nor how I know. A strange touch of smooth and crumble surrounds me, stopping me from seeing more. But how do I know there is more? Well, I feel vibrations above me, quick thumps from something unknown. Slithering touches my skin every so often, a wet slimy feel. Every so often a distant sound can be heard, a clanging or crunching in the substance I am trapped in. A soft tapping from above, that makes everything damp and sticky. But strangely, this tapping against what I can guess to be a different element higher than me makes me feel stronger, bigger. So without hesitation, I start reaching for this sound of life.


  What feels like weeks later, still in this darkness, through cracks I see light. Almost there, I think. And then, I break through. Now out of the darkness, part of me rises to this new world. Light. All I see is light. Blinded by this new surrounding, it takes a moment for my body to absorb it and get used to it. Giant things moving quickly surround me. Running. And those giant things were making strange joyful noises. Humans. Laughing. Thoughts appeared, allowing me to put words to my surroundings. Marking them, branding them creating a familiar and simpler world. Clouds, sky, sun. Strange but delightful sounds coming from a small creature in a giant brown and green thing. Birds, chirp, tree. Green blades the same size as me, if not bigger, surrounded me. And in the absence of these blades, a brown crumble to its place, which must have been what I was in not so long ago. Grass, dirt. After observing my surroundings and each of their distinct colours and qualities, I realise that this is in fact quite a nice place to be. A nice area to live in, grow in, with the other small tree sprouts like me that surround me. And from what I know, I don’t think I can run or move. So maybe I am stuck.


  Only two years later -of what I can predict with the seasons- did anything new happen. A woman, (which is what I named a certain type of these humans) had come by and sat down right beside me, while looking at line after line of black marks and squiggles in a book. But it was clear that these confusing lines were not so confusing for her -every so often she would laugh, smile, gasp or frown- which was absolutely fascinating. These creatures created some kind of algorithm, or… language, from which they could speak and understand each other. Even written! Her eyes went from one side of the page to the other at a steady rhythm, all the while moving her view down line by line, then occasionally flipping the page and repeating this process. For months, this woman came to me, put a blanket on the ground and read her book. She came every few days, usually in the morning when the sun rose and dew still marked the grass. This woman, without any intent taught me many things, and did so for a long time, something I am and always will be eternally grateful for. She taught me about the nature of humans, and not only their habits but interests. Suffice to say, I hope she stays for long.


  By now I was quite tall, towering over any human that passed under my cieling of leaves. I heard a father telling his son that I was a weeping willow, allowing me to put words to myself. And while I don’t think I have the same kind of emotions that humans have, I do have longing. Longing for the woman who has not sat down under my snake-like vines of leaves hanging from my branches in several months. She came so frequently I never would have suspected a sudden stop of her visits. I often wonder why she never came back, if something happened to her or if something happened to me. Maybe I had lost some of my grandeur, or my spellbinding, bewitching beauty? I could have lost all my leaves but still feel them on me. But no, I don't think those options are quite right. I suppose I won’t ever know.


  I was wrong, however, since not even two weeks later the same woman came skipping along through the beautiful blades of grass and the other sprouting trees, but this time accompanied by a young man. Smiles glued to their faces and excitement shown through their laughter, they came running towards me with the most joy I have ever seen in a human before. Their hands were linked together, as if they were two bodies that formed one. Giggling, once she made it under my canopy, with the man running right behind her, linked by the arm. “This is the tree! Isn’t it beautiful?!” she exclaimed. He looked up in wonder and agreed that I was. And in no time, they both sat on a blanket, gazing into each other's eyes.


  Whenever I feel boredom, which is whenever nothing different or exciting is happening, I try to challenge myself. For example, my arms under the soil, roots, are there for support, and they help feed me with water and minerals. But I try to push them further, make them longer, often resulting in them getting intertwined with other smaller and younger trees. Or maybe I try to augment feelings, focusing on one thing in my surroundings. The sound of woodpeckers searching for crawlies to feed themselves also resulting in my protection, songbirds singing and nesting in my branches, or the wind brushing up against my trunk and swaying my branches and leaves in the wind. It helps me grow as a specimen, and keeps passing the time during the night or when nothing in particular is happening. Which is basically anytime the couple isn’t here. 


  Years later, with the ups and downs of visits from Ella and Marcus (over time I heard them speak each other's names), they came with something I had never seen before. For the past few months Ella’s stomach had seemed to grow quite a bit, to the point where I became worried if something was wrong. But now, days later since I last saw her she came hopping along the hill to the west with Marcus, her stomach back to normal as if I had somehow gone back in time or was stuck in a dream. But the woodpecker poking a hole in me indicated otherwise, and I observed as they kept a straight path towards me -except for the few trees in the way- holding a bundle of what looked like blankets, carrying it with such care you would think their very souls were trapped inside and prone to fall and shatter. And as the couple approached, I believe that what I experienced was what I named shock. The bundle was in fact a miniature human. Not even a quarter of the size of Ella, it giggled as they tickled it and tried grabbing Ella’s hair. They repeated the very similar process of going under my leaves, setting up a blanket, with the slight difference of taking out plastic bottles and food for themselves. Over the following hour I enjoyed myself very much, observing this miniscule child and it’s behaviours, as well as seeing how happy Ella and Marcus were. I suppose that I had never really thought about where humans began, but seeing this miniature clone of Ella and Marcus combined -the resemblance strikingly similar- it did make sense. I had emerged from the earth small, and as I fed upon the minerals, water, sunlight and air, overtime I grew taller than I ever thought I would. For the child, it was probably what was inside Ella’s stomach before, and will probably grow to be as tall as it’s parents. This was all very fascinating and exciting, the best thing that has probably happened, well, ever. And with a bit of thought I think I've decided on the name for the small child. I think I will call it a baby. 


  “Mom!” Timothy shouted. Now grown four years older, he was quite the troublemaker. Always seeking attention and fun, he ran in the grass around me circling around the other trees that lay in the path to Ella. “Catch me if you can!” she yelled, running away while both of them laughed. As she looked back at him chasing her, she ran straight into Marcus who blocked her from running into a tree. They toppled over on the ground, laughing, and just as they were getting up Timothy jumped onto them and sent them back down to the ground. “Got you!” he said. The next year was like this, games and picnics usually every weekend, watching Timothy grow up and play, and enjoying the fresh air of this forest with growing trees. But a harsh lesson I will learn is that not everything good lasts forever.


  A year later, after consistent visits from the family, they slowly started to show up less and less. At first I never understood why, maybe they were busy, (doing what?), maybe they had lost interest, (they always seemed to enjoy themselves though?), but eventually I figured out why. Timothy had become sick. I knew this because he didn’t run around so much anymore, he always looked tired and he later even needed help walking. He was given many little pills, probably as medication and he started to lose his hair and a lot of weight. And weeks later the visits stopped. I worried for Timothy and his parents, and even for me. Could I ever become sick? All living things must die, but when will I? 

 … 

  It has been thirty years. Yes, there have been other people and families that walk by in the forest, but I have not seen Ella, Marcus or Timothy in that many years. Time almost seems to pass differently. If I would at least know what happened to them, or if they were going to come back that would be great, because it’s being in the unknown that is the worst. The waiting and the slowly dying hope that I could see them again. But I gave up a long time ago, to stop myself from getting my hopes up. So for quite a long time now it has been just me and the animals around me. The other trees have grown quite large, although I believe I am the only Weeping Willow in this forest, none of the others have the same kind of leaves or posture as my branches do. But nevertheless, it is a beautiful place now, with new plants growing on the grass and moss covered floor, and new creatures inhabiting this magical place. New birds fly among the woodpeckers and songbirds that have lived here since I first grew up, and different butterflies, squirrels and bigger animals such as deer and foxes found a home in the comfort of the forest. It has become a bit more of a challenge to grow however, now that I have to compete with the roots of other plants for minerals and water, but I luckily had a head start to grow so I was still tall enough to have access to sunlight, whereas the others might find it to be a struggle. But now I am old, and I can feel it from inside of me. Bugs have an easier access to my wood, so I suppose my bark is weakening. There’s also the fact that every gust of wind sends my branches flying and makes my whole body sway, indicating that I’m not as strong as I once was. I suppose I will just have to accept this, and keep going until I can’t. I’m not dead yet after all.


  Along the distance I see someone walking up the hill towards me -through the thick foliage of leaves of course- and wonder who this could be. A man going bird-watching? A woman looking for a nice place to escape? I usually like to guess as a kind of game to pass the time, and as the mysterious person escapes my line of vision into the forest, I realize that this person’s walk was familiar. You see, with so much time and nothing you do, you observe things in your surroundings with much more attention. It was only a few years ago I realised that I could subcounsciously remember how one person used to walk, talk or move. And this one person looked familiar. But what are the chances I will see him or her in a giant forest like this? Almost zero to non- snap! I hear. Someone is coming. Too loud to be a deer -they are always very quiet and cautious- and it’s not loud enough to be a dog or bear -dogs usually bark or growl and yes, I have once seen a bear here- so it has to be a human. As it came closer and closer, and then into view, I knew who it was. Ella. After all these years she returned. Older, but alive. However there was an air of sadness that surrounded her. Her head hung low and her eyes were not nearly as lively as they once were. Once she stood under my trees she looked up, and her mouth went crooked a little bit, not quite enough to call it a smile. “I found you.” she whispered. And then to my surprise she stepped through the branches and hugged my trunk, the leaves embracing her, and she quietly cried. “He’s gone. Marcus is- is gone.” Ella sank to her knees. “He was all I had. All that was left of- of Timo-Timothy. After he died of c-cancer we left and tr-tried to forget. And we did for a- a long time. But now both of them are gone and” she took a sharp breath in, paused, and said “and now I’m alone.” How badly I wished that I could tell her that she wasn’t, that I was here and alive and more just a memory of her son I couldn’t describe. I wanted to reach out and hold her, tell her it was all going to be ok. But I couldn’t. Instead, Ella took something out of her pocket that looked like a pill. “But now I don’t have to. I can see Marcus and Timothy again. I can leave and be happy.” She observed the pill carefully, the gears in her brain clearly turning and she popped it in her mouth. The effect was almost immediately, her eyes drooped down and she seemed to start to lose consciousness. “Well I’m off old friend.” she said as she patted one of my roots sticking out of the ground. “And soon enough, I’ll be reunited with my family. We can have picnics, and-and'' she yawned, “and we will walk out of the forest onto the hill. Out of the shade from the trees and into the sunshine from the sunrise.” She closed her eyes, sighed and then smiled. And just like that she left me, once again, alone. I had her back, and now she’s gone into the sun, just like she said with Timothy and Marcus. But I’m happy for her. After all the horrible years she must have endured she finally found her happy ending, and I now know what happened to them. And now she left me to wither alone for my last dying days, until all my leaves fall and I become rotten to the core. Until bugs have no use for me and I become too frail for birds. But maybe I will, too, step into the sunshine. Or perhaps I could become something else, better, maybe a bird this time or even a human. All so I could properly see Ella’s smile as she finds her new home and family. To see her smile and surrounded by loved ones again, just like she once was and will now forever be.


-Hugo Millaire

June 22, 2021 18:04

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10 comments

Amanda Lieser
17:23 Jul 01, 2021

I really enjoyed the beginning of this story. I thought you captured the start of life for a tree very well. My favorite line was: I heard a father telling his son that I was a weeping willow, allowing me to put words to myself. The ending was surprising and I thought that you did a great job in choosing a Weeping Willow specifically. Thank you for writing this story.

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Hugo Millaire
01:58 Jul 05, 2021

Thank you so much!!!

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Isla Wren
15:07 Jun 24, 2021

Oh, and for a fabulous tree story, check out A.DotRam’s shortlisted “The Kissing Tree”

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Hugo Millaire
16:03 Jun 24, 2021

Awesome this is great thank you so much!!!

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Isla Wren
15:05 Jun 24, 2021

Thank you for reviewing my story! I found yours through the edits & feedback account (they reviewed a different story of mine.) This was so cool, we both wrote about trees. I thought about trying to write from the trees POV, but couldn’t manage it so it was nice to see how it is done! I am a sucker for old trees 🙂 The beginning keeps your attention as you try to figure out what the character is. A person? A worm? A tree! One of my fave lines: “I heard a father telling his son that I was a weeping willow, allowing me to put words to m...

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Hugo Millaire
16:01 Jun 24, 2021

That’s actually a really good point thank you so much!! The story hasn’t been approved yet so I can edit it😁

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21:14 Jun 23, 2021

This. Was. Beautiful. It was sad, it was gut-wrenching, it was terrifying and horrifying and whimsical and joyful--and all those things put together make it beautiful. Hugo, you have a talent. Please nurture this talent so that it grows as tall and strong as our weeping willow friend, and then some. :) This isn't exactly a critique, but the paragraphs are very long. It totally fits the vibe of this story, though--especially since there's not much dialogue. I felt for Ella, watching everyone she loved die around her. I wish she hadn...

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21:19 Jun 23, 2021

And I forgot to mention: the title is amazing, as well! :)

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Hugo Millaire
14:37 Jun 24, 2021

Oh my god thank you so much!! It means a lot to me that you took the time to read it!!! It’s not often you get comments so I really appreaciate it, as well as your account! Thank you sosososo much!!

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15:48 Jun 24, 2021

You're sosososo welcome! It was an absolute pleasure to read! :)))

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