The Caddo Root
The mating time was brief this year. Our women sang notes like floss on the wild-wind plains. A human came who forced his seed on sweet Ala of the Yellow Eyes. We went on, saying not a word, bent to harvesting our Caddo root.
Afterward, Ala wasn’t the same. She cut her marvelous hair which had been dark and long, grown down below her knees. She wandered off to the Darklands, heavy with child and none to celebrate. We mourn her fate. If she survives, she’ll not return. She’ll raise his spawn alone. She was the envy of us all. When the child is born, she’ll burn his father’s image in the sands of our dead oceans. The human sits on our sacred stones. He preens his beard and leers at females, with no more thoughts to waste on Ala; he never even knew her name.
Come burrow season, we prepare, sharpen our talons on the Caddo root. When the freezing gales begin, the human will demand sanctuary, as his kind always does. We bring him the rich sap of our Caddo root, watch his flabby face turn pale as the winter moons. We will confirm his welcome with the strewing of his bones.
“Round and round the tree, who will it be? One wish for you, none for me.” But don’t get too close. “Forever you may find, is far too unkind.” Forever… don’t think about that. “In a circle we dance, now only two. One wish for me, none for you.”
“Footsteps, footsteps, roundabout. Sure with the pacing, never in doubt.” One little slip… Nancy slipped. Oh god, poor Nancy. And Deidre. Can’t think, have to keep moving. Finish the song. It’s the only way. “Complete the circle, one by one. Pay the piper, single survivor. The wish is yours when the song is done.”
Why did we come here? Wishes? Fortunes? Happiness? It was only supposed to be silly fun. Grandma warned me. I didn’t believe her. Foolish tales. I never thought it could be… Not this… Cara, did she? Yes, Cara stumbled. I’m going to survive!
Just to be certain, I helped my friend to her death with a push, watching the tree consume her flesh, until nothing remained but a petrified corpse. Then on trembling legs, I made my wish and whispered the last line of the song.
“To the one left standing, a wish granted you see. The others have fallen, now part of the tree…”
Lee Andrew Forman
Time uncounted passed since the radiance of our love ended. We adored that barken pillar and its canopy, the shade it provided from the fury of a summer sun. Blankets lain and baskets aplenty carried by lovers’ hands, words of angels and moments of bliss born into existence—each an expanding universe of our contentment.
But these years, so soft and kind, turned bitter and dealt spite upon our miracle. An affliction came upon her, and through its vile nature, her lips ceased to smile. All they had to offer was a cold, passionless touch. I wept over her body until my nostrils could no longer stand the scent. Only then did I begin the work of finding and putting to use a shovel.
What more fitting place than at the foot of our favorite tree to bury her emptied vessel. I sat with her daily. I spoke the words I would have, had she lived. I picnicked with fine cheese and her favorite wine. With each passing year, the roots grew; they twisted as slowly as grief.
With each new moon, the hair upon my scalp grayed, and I smiled knowing we’d soon be together again.
Only dirt, a patch of grass, and one tree survive. Besides black and white, the only colors left here are gray and green and shades of brown. Everyone worried about nuclear war, or the coming of AI. They worried about pollution and overpopulation, about new plagues and old, about the revenge of plants, or insects, or birds, or the frogs, or mutated beasts. They worried about climate change and super storms. No one worried about the thing that actually killed us, that left earth a corpse world. It happened when useless, meaningless words began to proliferate from the mouths of idiots. When bloviating fools talked and talked and talked and talked. And words lost their meaning and strangled all thought, and then all life. Until only this one patch of grass and a tree are left. For now.
She went to the forest. It was the place she always visited when her heart was broken. Another failed romance; perhaps her standards were too high, perhaps the boys she chose were just assholes. She drifted along trails, leaves speckled with sunlight. She was heading to the tree. It was her place of peace, her thinking tree. She often visited it, when she was happy but also when she was sad. There was just something about the oak, as it towered a hundred feet into the air above her. She sat and rubbed the bark.
“Just you and me again. I wish I had a heart like yours. A wooden heart can’t be broken.”
She closed her eyes and drifted off to sleep, lulled by the warm, scented summer breeze. She woke to coolness. The sun had shifted. Her hand was stiff and dead. Must have slept on it funny and cut off the circulation. She tried to lift it but found herself unable to. Looking down she screamed. Her hand had all but disappeared into the wood of the tree. The skin on her forearm was no longer skin, instead it was scaly and brown. Like bark. She realized with increasing horror she was unable to escape. A whispering came from above her. The wind in the leaves serenaded her.
Sleep, it will soon be over. Soon be better. You will have a wooden heart and that can never be broken.
She understood. Her tree was trying to protect her. She laid back, her head against the wood. She listened as the tree absorbed her, turning her into wood. Her consciousness joined the others. After her transformation, she simply resembled a long, knobby, albeit strangely shaped root.
Miriam H. Harrison
I could not escape. Not when you lured me with gentle words, not when you wooed me with practiced charm, not even when I first saw your anger flash red. No, your wrongs were terrible, but you always knew how to make them right. You knew how to be sorry—oh so sorry. You knew how to bare your vulnerable heart, cry your misunderstood tears, until I would forget who had hurt whom.
I remember now. I remember now that it’s too late.
I could not escape you then. Now, you will not escape me. I will be all you see. Look to the clouds, and I will be there, bleeding red sunsets. Look to the stones and you will see my broken bones. Look to the trees and I will look back, reaching to you with roots and branches, reminding you of what you will never escape.
Barely able to see, I clamored on, climbing as quickly as I could. Passing the first bisected limb, I struggled further—not to the second, but the third. It was rumored the higher the elevation, the greater the enlightenment that would be achieved. I lay down and began to pant, my body slick and exhausted. The cradle of the tree welcoming. I chose this as my birthing place.
I began the arduous task at hand. Gaining my feet once more, I leaned my back against the main trunk and began to slough the mucus like cocoon that encased my body and hers. More than once, I had to readjust my stance for stability. With most of the shedding complete, I reached down to embrace the babe now laying at my naked feet. She was beautiful – as raw skinned as I, but still the most exquisite thing I had ever seen. A slight error in judgment as I leaned forward to bite through the umbilical, and I was airborne, until I wasn’t. Lying on the ground, I watched as my brothers made the same climb I had, but for a different purpose.
Broken and shattered, I could do nothing but watch as my siblings cleaned the ancient tree of the ichor I’d left behind. In their haste, they didn’t notice the small bundle among the discarded tissue. My broken body unable to speak, I lie at the base of the tree and watched as she plummeted to the ground, landing in the cook of my arm.
Only when she is dead will it stop coming for her. Only under the earth,
when air is no longer a tormenter, will she be free to rest her weary head.
There is no place that she can hide. No place where she can be who and what she
is – was – is without it eating neurons. No matter the distance. No matter the
country. She has no memory: no family or home. No roots. Earthbound: trapped
and homeless inside a shrinking head.
‘There is no one to say goodbye to, is there?…’
She thinks it’s the ancient tree moaning in the autumn breeze and to soothe
it, she places a frail hand on the bark grown thick and strong with every
passing year. Her skin is as thin as paper.
‘No, I don’t think so.’
What fantasy can a splintering woman have, except to lie beside the stolid
tree as though nature is her friend, too?
The Squid Man
I float above old root veins holding a petrified body, legs decayed to squid like bits. The roots suck onto the body from beneath the ground. The condemned youth’s blood flowed thick, sustaining this mighty tree, with its bark foot inching forward, finding ways to grasp. Months ago, in the reflection of the water, and above it, from this mighty fir, this young man was hung from a rope, then his body cut down, left in these woods to rot and decay, as is the custom here. Around his corpse, leaves fall like the years, and the summer grass turns a weak green colour, with the autumn rains. The young man became a squid creature fallen, the tree feasting on his blood, a tree with a foot like an elephant’s, thick and strong. The young man, decapitated, the fall from the rope so powerful his head released and fell yards away, where it became a petrified ball.
I have this dream night after night, viewing the young man’s arm pulled off and his head and body decaying beneath the tree, and every night I want to cut his squid arm free, but it’s too late, it is fused to the roots. Headless corpse here, dry and drained, the living tree under which the young man was condemned possessing the body with its roots. A tree mighty and powerful, thrusting skyward strong where this man was hung for his crimes. My dreaming soul floats above the desiccated corpse in a forever dream. Beneath the earth, where I cannot see, the condemned man’s blood now absorbed by the fir roots. The nutrients still circulate here, bringing strength and life.
Waiting to Fall
You never loved me more than when you were dying,
nestled in your noose, waiting to fall.
I watched. I watched you die.
At your last breath, I fainted into the cold earth beneath your feet.
It was good there. It was good in the cold and dark.
I returned every night after your body had been taken down;
after your body had been disposed of
without any indication that you had ever lived.
The tree became a memorial.
I offered myself to it.
Offered my love to it, to you.
And you took it,
so that each night I grew weaker.
Your restless spirit sought sustenance from mine.
Your mouth, your lips, your teeth, they took
as I lay beneath the tree craving more darkness as you craved more light.
Before my eyes failed, I saw you shimmering,
draining me so that you could become more substantial.
You never loved me more than when you were dead
and I was dying and waiting to fall
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