The Arbor War
The trees remember.
They observe silently, committing to memory every bird within their branches, each creature nestled in the hollows of their ancient trunks. They watch the grasses and shrubs far below their canopies as their smaller cousins burst forth with the thaw of spring. They slumber, silent and naked beneath the icy skies of winter, dreaming of the day the first green buds will emerge from their outstretched boughs. They stand tall against lashing rain and sleet, and dare the thunder overhead to strike one of their number down.
They remember the passage of the seasons as the world veers in its orbit, the rise and fall of the sun across the horizon. But the memory they turn over in their heads through restless nights and days is that of a force more devastating and powerful than mere nature.
The sound as each swing of the axe hits home. The crash as another of their number tumbles to the earth below. The grisly trail of leaves and bark and leaking sap as the cutters drag the fallen off to be butchered and remade.
They watch, silently, as brothers, sisters, mothers, lovers fall to the mossy floor. And when the men have taken their hatchets and the bodies of the dead away at last, they weep sticky amber tears that harden into shimmering crystal along the surface of their boughs.
The trees remember the fallen. Their lives are long, measured in eons, and at first they may forgive. But after centuries of watching the slaughter, motionless and unable to escape their fate, their amber hearts grow cold and brittle. Leaves rustling softly in the breeze, they begin to whisper to one another, and they begin to plan.
And sometimes, when the men return to the forest, they take their revenge. In human terms, they move so slowly as to be almost imperceptible, but the trees are nothing if not patient. They wait for stragglers to wander off, to rest and drift to sleep against their trunks, their roots, their branches. That’s when they strike, so slowly that the sleepers do not wake – not when the slowly-climbing roots penetrate flesh, when the branches ensnare arms and legs, and not even when the sticky sap begins to ooze across their clothes and hair.
The sleepers only stir when the forest strikes the final blow, crying out in muffled alarm as bones disintegrate to dust beneath the weight of so much timber, as windpipes crumple with a sound like the crunch of trodden leaves.
By the time the woodcutters’ compatriots find the bodies, the forest has withdrawn. The men don’t understand completely what has happened, but they begin to whisper, an alarmed murmur rising from the crowd, growing in intensity until they are shouting incomprehensibly among themselves. The frightened humans gather the mangled bodies and withdraw from the forest.
After a long and quiet season, they always return. They warn each other in hushed tones never to drift to sleep beneath the canopy. Never to wander far. Never to stand too close to any tree that they don’t intend to send crashing with a wooden groan to the earth below.
The men remember. And the trees? They wait.
BONUS: Watch this illustration in progress!