What You Aren't Taught

Submitted into Contest #143 in response to: Set your story in the woods or on a campground. ... view prompt

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Fiction Coming of Age

She met the new day's sun with tired contempt. In one heavy sigh, she fell the rain from her many limbs, scattering the birds to sky and the worms to earth and the squirrels onto her sisters and the owls briefly out of sleep and the deer out of calm and then it was quiet. Save for the screeching of some little one she thought sounded alone. She wanted to sound out to the voice. She wanted to scream with it. But she remained still and quiet and before the guilt built she turned her attention to her sisters that had forever been an arms length away from her. She had once found solace in the presence of their distant proximity. It used to be a reminder of the work bestowed on her and all of them, but now she only found solitude. Though she wouldn't have been able to name the feeling, her contempt at the world had been growing.

           The sun yawned out from behind a cloud, settling into its throne above her crown. Miles away, she heard the metallic teeth of monsters gnawing and gnashing at her sisters. She mourned without moving and then let herself turn to anger. Now, she hated the sound of an ignorantly bubbling creek. Didn't it notice her? She hated the sun now and how it maintained its brilliance. She hated the little ones now that they had begun to dart and dance with fear. Don't they understand they can move? She hated herself for not being what she wanted to grow into.

           It hadn't always been like this. Long ago, she looked eagerly at the tops of her family, impatient to when she would be able to nurture and protect and become her reason for being. She would stretch out in the middle of the night hoping just one finger would graze the moon so she could keep growing from the borrowed brilliance of the sun. She remembered how earnest she was in maintaining life. She would take the sun's gift and grow big and sturdy and be happy to lend shelter to small critters that would burrow in the time-earned holes of her trunk. She would sing, despite the pain, of the bird that loudly and painfully cracked her armor for the tiniest ones that marched up and down her. She would celebrate and understand, not pity, those eaten up by the yellow and orange tongues, understanding their lives gave way for more life. Her family always grew despite the deaths and she had been told there was beauty in it all and let this belief grow into her.

           But her contempt had been making this belief rancid. The charm courting animals once had turned to disgust. Her own family never once touched her. Only nurtured from afar and, though their fingertips were sometimes a breath away, they maintained their distance. She once swallowed this distance as a fact of life but now that space was maintained for growing isolation. The loving glance she once held for a snoozing critter mutated into resentment. She was never taught about rest.

           Her contempt was born around the time rumors had rustled amongst her and her sisters about metallic monsters that only ever ate wholly and without knowledge of satisfaction. They would fall and no life would emerge. The metallic monsters apparently were apathetic to her sister's armor, as if their soft, naked insides were all they were made of. Her fallen sisters were abandoned by the lives they protected and cultivated and, yet still, her sisters seemed to welcome and honor the passed down belief that they would find meaning in giving.

           And so she saw them give despite their impending end. Give to the bees by erupting flowers from their fingertips, give to the hogs by creating pacts with fungi that also took, give to the streams by holding back the earth, give to the birds that end up discarding their homes on her sister's bodies, give to earth below so others may eat, give and give and give -

           An anxious, blue bird landed on top of her head, searching for something from her. She felt it bounce and intrude about her. Each cock of its head seemed to her an accusation. She had nothing to give, little one! It shook its body, unfurled its feathers, puffed its chest as if it would tantrum about until it got what it wanted. Brand her selfish, little one! Mark her an affront to the legacy left before her. Offer her up to the teeth of the metallic monsters. She didn't care, she told her guilt and the anxious, blue bird though neither listened. The anxious, blue bird pecked and nuzzled against her, but she didn't let it warm her. It hopped back, as if it didn't know what she was she thought, and then flew away. She sighed without moving.

           Things were leaving her and she knew those metallic monsters would be coming to fill the absence. It seemed even the wind had stopped dancing with her. She tried to be strong as she once wanted to be but, despite or maybe because of her heaviness, the earth itself seemed to be pushing her away every time she tried clinging to the ground.

           A hoot from an owl signaled night in tonight's absence of the moon. She used to love the night. The brilliant red of the fox flashing towards some scurrying brown thing. She used to sip water and listen to the life that seemed louder and more full in the dark and considered this her reward and rest from the day. She considered the moon a friend that would greet her with a hazy hug and they would watch and rest in silence, together. But now she remembered how she still gave during the night. Now she noticed there was less than before. Most had already left, shooed away from the chattering teeth of the metallic monsters.

           A tap on the ground startled her, breaking her defenses and letting hope conjure up a furry friend in her imagination. It was one of her own fallen leaves. A gentle breeze came and helped her shake out her frustration but it wasn't enough. As another or the same owl hooted once more, the ground rumbled in a violent fit causing everything that wasn't rooted to the earth to bolt away, murmuring and chattering with confusion and fear, leaving her and her sisters to a dark silence that was felt above the groaning of the earth. Then it was quiet.

           The new day started without the sun. The metallic monsters had begun to eat not far away. She peered around her to only be met with the stark faces of her sisters. No one was left. They knew it was going to end and so they left. She imagined shaking and pounding the earth and growing so large the sun would cower till she said otherwise. But she remained still and quiet and turned inward, counting her rings to keep herself busy. 373. She had been growing less each ring. She wanted to recede into herself. She hugged herself tightly as she had been doing for some time now, hoping to stop growth.

           But it never did. Try as she might, a new ring had been added every time and the new ring never touched the old one, no matter how close they were there was always distance. A foreign fog had wafted through. It was heavy and smelled of her fallen sisters. Her leaves seized in an attempt to cough but nothing happened and she tried to choke but nothing happened and she tried to cry but nothing happened. She had been told of her life's meaning and inevitable journey and this had never been part of it. A macabre thankfulness for the dead fog sprouted in her so that her sisters might not notice that, even without the metallic monsters, she wasn't happy with the giving her life was supposed to be.

           Fear was nesting, but since she didn't know what it was, it only festered and spurned her contempt. Each crunch and scream from a fallen sister heated her. The water within her began to boil and steamed out from her leaves and trunk. She was seething and foaming and could hear the alien movement of the metallic monsters. Their noise was behind and ahead and around. Her contempt had grown to its full extent.

           She would not give to these monsters. She would not lie on the ground like her sisters. Even if eaten, she would not once scream or wince in pain. She shook from head to her roots for the first time ever without the guidance of wind or by the urging of the earth. Though she hadn't grown, she felt more powerful than the sun. Yes! She would uproot and run away and move and dance like the creatures she had grown to envy. She would take for herself and be for herself and not do anything she didn't want to. And rest! She would rest! Her sister, who she had known from her first bud, cried in anguish and remained in anguish as she was mutilated.

           But there was no more guilt in her as she drew out her long roots from the earth. And the earth, as if sensing her found individuality, held her back, begging for her to remain she thought. But she couldn't! The monsters were right behind her! She wouldn't! She was finally going to live! She tapped each root on the ground, defiantly making music over the metallic monsters which stopped them. It was quiet then. Metallic monsters waiting to see her next move. She waiting for the moment to keep pushing her towards a new life she had already begun imaging. She took her first step, but her roots weren't made for this.

           She fell, and her thud ended the quiet and made way for the chattering teeth of hungry metallic monsters. 

April 25, 2022 19:20

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4 comments

Charlie Murphy
15:51 May 04, 2022

Sad story! I assume the metallic monsters were bulldozers or some other construction machine.

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L. Maddison
18:07 May 02, 2022

Hello Ateeq, I am so moved by this story. I love how you have bestowed sentience to a tree, with complex emotions, with exquisite language. This is beautiful: She would stretch out in the middle of the night hoping just one finger would graze the moon so she could keep growing from the borrowed brilliance of the sun. It made me think about new research which is suggesting forests are responsive and communicative, engaging through their root systems. This tree was a true heroine and I’m sad she fell.

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Danielle Roach
18:01 May 05, 2022

As the reader, I really feel for this tree and the emotions she is dealing with. Beautifully written. -Danielle

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Ansley Stone
20:24 May 06, 2022

wonderfully written! I really enjoyed reading this. I liked your idea of a sentient tree (they're all probably sentient in real life if I'm being honest)

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