29 comments

Fiction

He was born of the earth millennia ago, and in the beginning he had brothers and sisters around him who kept him sheltered and safe. His fingers crept through the soil, clinging to it; pushing aside rocks and boulders and searching for water to make him strong. Time meant little to him as he grew; there was only he and his kind, and days and nights told him nothing yet of the habits of mankind. Deep into the earth he mined, those fingers becoming arms and legs which twisted around his fellows in an underground orgy of limbs exploring the rich soil for miles: unseen, untouched in a secret ecstasy which ought to have lasted forever, but the world is not so kind as that. His body grew tall, and broad, and he bore fruits; they wove around his body and clung to his surface until they turned red and fell, eaten by animals or the holy men who sometimes braved walking among his thick green family. The sun beat down on him, drying him out until he could bear the heat no longer, and then the rain swept in, swirling sheets of it drenching him in cool, glittering water which trickled down his thirsty spine into the gasping roots below. He is filled with energy and only the knowledge of how to grow bigger; grow stronger. He thrives.


The holy men hold him above all his brothers and sisters. They frequent the forest more and more, creeping around his roots and peeling his skin for medicine; picking his fruit and hoarding it. The animals he fed scratch around his base looking for lonely figs left behind, and soon only the monkey comes round anymore, swinging as they do onto his thick limbs, clambering higher until they are out of the reach of the holy men. There they sit and chatter, leaping from a limb bereft of fruit to one heavy with orange-red figs spilling out of his thick skin, rippling over his surface like watercolours. He lives this life quite well; the lower branches scoured of any fruit and his upper branches swaying with monkeys. The holy men lean on him as they sit below, and mix his stolen skin with water until it becomes a paste. He’s still young, and has much more living to do.


While the holy men do stay, others arrive too, and he watches as his family are struck down one by one. Innumerable leaves rain down on him for days, weeks; for years as they slowly remove the traces of the home he knew. Huge boughs thrash on the ground and the earth trembles as they are ripped from the tender soil. Dislodged animals scatter, the more foolhardy ones lingering to scavenge bruised fruit from the fallen, though when several of these animals are captured by the men, the rest scramble to make their home elsewhere. The world looks different now, but he survives. His fingers clutch at lifeless limbs deep under the soil and he is alone. The scars on his belly and those who caused them mark him as special. Elevated. He is left in isolation, and the inert roots of his fellows wither into dust, until he can no longer feel them at all. His home is farmland now, and man slowly turns his forest floor into fields of cotton and pulses. He reaches his fingers out and feels only tiny, frilly roots descending from the crops, and he strangles them all until the farmers move their fields further away from him. The unforgiving sun is hotter now that he’s alone, unsheltered and unsupported. His grasp on the soil around him grows weaker without his fellows to hold tight to, and when high winds come, his whole body twists and thrashes against them. His only company are the monkeys; their constant cycle of chattering and sleeping reminding him that time is still passing; the world is still changing. The farms changed hands, the rainy season came and went, and fresh skin grew over his scars even as new ones were made, for the holy men protected and used him still, praying over his aging roots and whispering to his boughs about medicine and prosperity.


Time moves or stops or becomes irrelevant in his solitude. There is sunshine and darkness; there is heat and coolness; there is loneliness. His boughs undulate with the weight of ever more monkeys, who comb him for figs, plucking them from his trunk until he is quite bare, leaving tiny hanging roots drooping like seaweed from his leafy boughs. When three brothers - sons of the current owner of the farmland - venture close enough to him, still standing at the edge of their land, ageing and scarred and bowed, they are horrified by the ravages of the monkeys. The three boy-men point their long guns at him and shoot, their sun beaten faces twitching as a monkey falls the long distance to the ground in remarkably short time. They are raising their guns again when the holy men, on their way to strip more skin from his belly raise their hands above their heads in protest, yelling stop, stop.

The boy-men laugh; three brown faces inform the men that they are the owners of this small piece of Jabalpur; that this property is their own to do with as they please, and these silly chattering rhesus monkeys, why, they’re ruining this beautiful tree at the edge of their farm. The holy men protest their claims of ownership, and caress him with their calloused hands, rough from sawing at his skin, and whisper to him of spirit and prosperity and consecrated ground.


The boy-men raise their guns anyway. The triggers click, the shell casings scatter at their feet, but no shots ring out. The monkeys continue to chatter, un-phased; the boy-men pull the triggers again and again to no avail; they are powerless against the whispered prayers of the holy men. He survives; the monkeys remain; the boy-men leave him alone and tell stories of the sacred tree at the edge of their farm. The world keeps changing but he survives, visitors trickle to him, lay their cheeks upon his roots, pray upwards into his leafy boughs, and slice away more of his skin to heal themselves of maladies. They whisper to him the troubles of man; the chaos in the world, in India. The farms are deserted as the owners are forced out of India by man’s new laws, but the stories continue, and so does the protection. He is growing weary, and his skin takes longer to heal; his fruit is less abundant. Where he was once covered with swirling expanses of figs bonded to his body; now his harvests are sparse and the fruit is growing bitter. The monkeys relinquish him as the city creeps over the abandoned farms and he is once again surrounded, this time by juveniles newly planted in the tired earth to make a pleasure garden for the new citizens of Jabalpur.


For the first time in centuries, his sleepy fingers feel new life curling round them; a new underground energy which digs deep and explores the dusty soil for water. He is thousands of years old, and he isn’t yet spent. His skin is left alone to heal, and there is nothing but birds sleeping on his verdant branches. He thrives.


April 19, 2021 12:31

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29 comments

Claire Lewis
13:27 Apr 22, 2021

I’m loving that you and Heather both took a tree’s perspective and turned that into vastly different stories. The imagery here is fantastic. I enjoyed that the tree was a bit distanced from the goings on around him, and that you focused mainly on what directly affected him. The ending is perfect, a hopeful moment of healing. Really well done :)

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Rachel Loughran
13:43 Apr 22, 2021

Thanks Claire! I know, Heather's story was gorgeous and I guess just shows how much diversity can be wrought from a single prompt! Also, clearly trees are watching us all the time and we should all be aware of that. I've mentioned elsewhere in comments that the monkey tree was a favourite legend of my grandpa's to tell - he swore it was a true story, and this prompt made me think immediately of him and his tree in India, so I felt I just had to incorporate it this week! Thanks for your lovely comments on my story. A happy ending for once!

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Michael Boquet
17:29 Apr 21, 2021

I really like how you convey the passage of time in this story. It's clear and understandable without having to be spelled out. I would suggest breaking up the super long paragraphs into smaller passages by adding spaces between. Reading this on a phone, I lost the thread several times and had to backtrack. Saw the comment below, and I personally like 'He thrives' as the story's final thought.

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Rachel Loughran
07:04 Apr 22, 2021

Thanks Michael! I'm glad it worked without needing spelled out - in my mind this story took place over thousands of years and it would have been really tough to make that explicit without needing much more research or a larger word count! I have added in some paragraph breaks now after everyone's feedback - this must be a blind spot of mine because it didn't really cross my mind until it was remarked upon, so thank you for the advice, everyone! Please let me know if this reads easier now.

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Michael Boquet
12:13 Apr 22, 2021

Youre welcome, and Yes, I think it's clearer now.

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H L Mc Quaid
14:19 Apr 19, 2021

Really nice job. Even though you have long paragraphs, they work together well because each sentence flows into the next. Lots of lovely imagery, and use of different senses (sight, touch and sound) to create an immersive environment. Interesting that you chose to portray the tree as male. I struggled with that, I didn't want to give my tree a gender, so ended up using first person, which I'm not totally convinced works, haha. Anyway, you fit a lot into so few words. It's dense but clear, tangled yet flowing. well done.

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Rachel Loughran
14:27 Apr 19, 2021

I know, I questioned gendering my tree as well. I swithered a lot on it actually, but I had decided that it should be a fig tree (due to the story location in India and the fact they can live for thousands of years), and there is something distinctly...masculine? about a fig tree. The fruit. Maybe that's just me.

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H L Mc Quaid
14:35 Apr 19, 2021

Figs do resemble some parts of the male anatomy, which I'd not really thought about till now, so thanks for that. 😂 Most fig trees are self-pollinating, so I suppose they're technically hermaphroditic? Anyway, male fig tree works in your story, and it works well.

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Rachel Loughran
14:50 Apr 19, 2021

You are more than welcome Heather 😂 If I ever write about another tree, I will only be able to think of this exchange!

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David G.
15:27 Apr 20, 2021

The Italians definitely think figs are feminine. I’ll leave it at that and let you do the googling!

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Rachel Loughran
15:32 Apr 20, 2021

WOW David thank you for adding another layer to this bizarre figs-as-genitals accidental subplot of this story. My googling did confirm though that Italians consider the tree masculine and the fruit feminine? This is a can of worms, guys!! I'm so glad we opened it 😂

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David G.
15:24 Apr 20, 2021

A story full of hope (and shades of Shel Silverstein)! You’ve got a way with words. Maybe try this without the last two words (“He thrives”) and see how you like it. Or not. Just a thought. Keep writing! I’m enjoying your stuff.

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Rachel Loughran
15:36 Apr 20, 2021

Thank you! I wondered about removing the last "He thrives" but I liked the full circle moment of it, sort of a note to say he's not done yet - he's got as much living to do as when he was a young tree. I don't know, maybe I'll edit it out before submissions close on Friday. Let me ruminate on it!

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Stevie B
12:11 Apr 20, 2021

Very well written work of fiction!

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Rachel Loughran
12:30 Apr 20, 2021

Thanks Stevie!

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Thom Brodkin
17:22 Apr 19, 2021

I decided to come over and read your newest story and I'm so happy I did. Using the tree as a witness to history was inspired. Heather did something very similar but you both proved that similar ideas can be very different and both rewarding. I agree that your paragraphs were quite long but it didn't distract and you made me root for the tree and I was genuinely happy with the ending. I'll be over more often to give you a read.

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Rachel Loughran
18:16 Apr 19, 2021

Thanks Thom, I’m glad you enjoyed it! I’ll be more conscious of paragraph length in future - I guess I could have broken this up a little more, but I’m pleased it didn’t distract! I’m also glad you were happy with the ending - if you choose to linger on my profile and read any of my other stories, you’ll notice happy endings don’t come around very often! Heather’s story was beautiful, wasn’t it? Thanks again for your comments!

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Rachel Smith
14:10 Apr 19, 2021

Loved the imagery and the monkeys! I thought it had a nice flow to it as well. Well done.

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Rachel Loughran
14:18 Apr 19, 2021

Everyone loves a good monkey! Thank you!

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12:44 Apr 19, 2021

Wow, this is beautiful! Each description of the tree felt so realistic, and I felt as if I were going with him on his long journey as a tree. You captured the setting perfectly as the tree's environment changes around him but he stays the same. I love all the playful monkeys 🐒. Amazing job with this, Rachel!

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Rachel Loughran
12:50 Apr 19, 2021

Thank you! This was inspired by a story my grandpa used to tell - he grew up on a farm in Jabalpur and told us the story about trying to shoot the monkeys out of the tree - they were pests, I guess - but the guns not working because it was a holy tree. It was always presented to me as absolute truth, too, and when I saw the prompt for this week I knew I had to write about the monkey tree! I'm glad you enjoyed it, and thank you again as always for your thoughtful comments.

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12:52 Apr 19, 2021

Wow. No wonder you wrote this so well...it was inspired by a story :) I should be thanking you for another great read! You always write amazing stories.

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Rachel Loughran
12:55 Apr 19, 2021

I come from a family of raconteurs! Prompts permitting, I'm sure there are other family legends I'll mine someday...

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13:00 Apr 19, 2021

I hope so!!! :)

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13:20 Apr 19, 2021

And if you have time, I would love it if you could check out my latest story. I would love your feedback :)

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Aaron Caicedo
13:09 Apr 25, 2021

This was quite poetic and reverent! I loved the thought of the roots as fingers, just brilliant. Great job!

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Rachel Loughran
06:47 Apr 26, 2021

Thank you Aaron!

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Aaron Caicedo
07:08 Apr 26, 2021

You’re very welcome!

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