The Mean Tree

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
The rain has stopped, and the forest is wild and awake.

Submitted: April 04, 2019

A A A | A A A

Submitted: April 04, 2019



Last night, on Saturday, January 3rd, Sicily’s pet cat Pebbles died. He had lived a long time, especially for a cat. Sicily’s Parents had bought him before she was even born, and even then, he had been old. Sicily had known him all her life, and out of her three pets (two black labs and the cat) she had liked Pebbles the most. Pebbles was one of those distant, angry cats, that really only pays attention to one person in any given family. Of course, Sicily didn’t give him a choice of who to love. She would snatch him up from beside his food bowl and bury him in blankets and coats. Some nights she would trap him under the sheets and close her bedroom door just so he would sleep with her, ignoring all the growls and meows until they gave away to reluctant purrs and drowsy eyes.

Sicily wasn’t really sad though, especially today. Children have a way of brushing off sadness. Whether it’s the death of a pet or even a family member. Their brains don’t like to work that way. This is particularly true if they have a good childhood. Having a mother that can read them to sleep and a father to say “Like water off a turtle’s back” can help pass over these sad happenings without too many tears. Sicily had had a good childhood, but more importantly she had a backyard with a forest.

This was no ordinary forest though. It was a forest with those tall trees that loom into the sky. The wind would whip in and out of the tree line as it swam through the densely packed trunks and brush. The branches of these trees were tightly packed together, and some limbs were thicker than Sicily’s whole leg. Blackberry bushes were dotted along the ground, and in some places, farther into the forest, they grew so large and so thick that no human, not even a little girl, could pass without being stuck by a thousand thorns. Where there weren’t any blackberries there was long grass which swayed back and forth with the invading wind. Some of the grass was tall and thick, and it cut you if you put your hand on the wrong side. Sicily’s father called it “saw grass” and warned her not to grab or pull it without her gloves on.

At night the forest became taller and wider. The curled bracken leaves melted into the surrounding darkness, and the outlines of the tops of trees were just barely distinguishable from the darkening sky. Its larger evergreens seemed to stretch upwards, as if pulled by giant hands, and the few openings between trees soon fused together into a single dark abyss. The sounds made by the forest grew in volume as well. The cracks and moans of the older trees accompanied the whispering wind, and the brush was alive with the rustlings of small creatures. The wind dictated the rhythm of the night, except for the constant trickle of the babbling brook that could just barely be heard from Sicily’s open bedroom window.

The forest during the day was smaller and quieter, but it was still huge, especially to Sicily. The entrance she normally took was in the far right corner of her parents’ property, behind the old abandoned stable shack. She had to open the old wooden gate that always groaned with every push and pull. The long grass made this especially annoying, as it was almost impossible to pull it open completely in one tug.  Sicily would sit there for minutes just pushing the gate back and forth, trying to carve out a wedge of lawn that would allow the gate to open enough so she could slip through.

This was especially true on January 4th, as it had rained the last couple weeks pretty consistently. This had the effect of not only making it impossible to mow with their families small riding lawn mower, but also making the grass grow especially fast as the water got quickly absorbed into the porous soil. This was common for January though, and really Sicily was glad to be outside again after the downpour stopped.

After her fight with the stable gate, she walked slowly over the soft wet ground towards the forest entrance. Well, she called it an entrance. It was more of a hole in the brush that had slowly gotten larger as both Sicily and her dogs had walked through it. Her father called it a deer trail and had at one point taken an electric hedger that he had borrowed from their neighbors and attempted to clear it out a little. He had succeeded in cutting some brambles directly in the center, but the ferns and nettles that lay on the sides proved too thick to adequately trim. Sicily didn’t mind though, the entrance was just big enough for her and the deer, and she liked it that way.

Carefully, she crawled through the opening, making sure not to get her wool sweater caught on the low hanging brambles. After crawling a couple feet, the forest opened up a little. The surrounding trees shaded the ground from the sun, which stopped the growth of invasive vegetation enough to easily walk through. Eventually the tree canopy would become so dense that walking was fairly easy. Sicily dodged past trunks and over roots, slowly progressing down the small footpath into the forest that ended at a small clearing with a large evergreen tree in the center.

Sicily looked up at the thick branches and walked left around the trunk looking for the lowest hanging one. She had named this tree “Pointer”, because the lowest branch on the left side pointed in the direction of the next path. She liked naming the trees, it made her feel like she knew the forest and that the forest could know her too. She liked to imagine that the trees were waving at here as she carefully stepped over their roots and brushed her hands against their trunks. She had even named the dead ones that had fallen over. After all, they still had stumps which were stuck in the ground, so there must be some life left in them.

One such tree appeared as she continued in the direction Pointer had directed. Its name was “Bridgette” because it spanned the gap between two large rocks with the little creek running through. In the summer, Bridgette was dangerous to cross, as the water from the melting mountains made it the creek high and fast. Her bark had mostly been stripped away, and the wood became slippery when wet.

It was fall though, so Bridgette’s wood was soft and sticky. Sicily crossed her in two skips and landed with both feet on the mossy surface of the adjacent rock. Jumping down, she continued past the creek and into a small grove in between two walls of brambles. This was the grove she was looking for.

The fern covered ground was slanted upward into a steep slope which made the tree trunks bend upwards. This had the double effect of both making them look funny and making them exceptionally easy to climb. Most of them were skinny and full of pitch, but one near the center was much bigger and thicker. It’s bark at the bottom had been mostly kicked off by Sicily’s rubber boots, but farther up the trunk the bark was almost entirely intact. Though it was thick, the tree was old, and the branches hung low over the gnarled roots. It’s pines and twigs glistened with a slight dew, but the branches, sheltered by the above foliage, were mostly dry.

Sicily called this tree “The Mean Tree”. Her sister had named it that because it’s branches always drooped lower than you thought they would, and if you walked too close without paying attention the tree would hit you in the head. Sicily and her sister often imagined that the tree was reaching for people that passed by. It would wait patiently like a spider or a praying mantis and lash out at any other careless adventurers that were foolish enough to walk close by it. It would then slowly absorb its victim into its bark, growing slightly taller each time.

Not Sicily though. She and her sister were too smart to fall for the tree’s tricks. They knew how far the tree could reach and would play right outside the range of it’s creeping branches. Some days, when they were feeling especially brave, they would even duck under its curved arms and grasping vines and climb up it’s trunk as high as they could go. Today was one such day, and as quiet as she could, Sicily tiptoed up the slope, being careful not to step on any small twigs or dry leaves. Her foot would slide down the damp soil a bit with every step, but she silently steadied herself and crept closer.

Finally, she made her move. Kneeling down, she sprang forward with a cry and latched onto the tree’s bark. Carefully, she rotated around the frozen enemy until she had enough leverage to pull herself up onto the curved trunk. Having tricked the tree, it was now hers, and she mounted her newfound subject. Slowly pushing herself forward on the trunk, she reached up and grabbed one of the lowest hanging branches at it’s base, pushing up with her legs and pulling with her arms until she could put her booted foot onto one of the hanging limbs. Testing it with her weight, she decided to trust it and brought her other leg over, hoisting herself up. Her bravery pushing her forward, she repeated the process, slowly clambering up the twisted branches like rungs to a crooked ladder. Tree’s like this one usually have very sturdy branches at the base. Some are broken off near the trunk, but even these splintered boughs could be balanced upon and clung to.

Other limbs are more malleable, however. When the wind blows too rough, or an adjacent tree falls and hits them, or a small child climbs on top of them after a rainy night, they break off and fall to the ground, taking the tree or the girl with them. This actually helps the tree grow, as it allows the pine cones and the seeds within to fall farther away from the tree. This spreads them out and allows the new infant trees to grow apart from each other, unimpeded by the sister tree’s roots. Of course, little girls like Sicily don’t want to fall like  branches do, so when the limb underneath her left foot started to bend toward the earth, her eyes went wide. Scrambling with her hands, she couldn’t find any branch close enough above her to grab onto. Instinctively, she threw her arms around the trunk, grasping at the peeling bark. The branch under her foot started to creak under her weight. Its cry started out high pitched and light, but it quickly lowered into a deep growl, punctuated by a sharp crack like a gun shot. The branch and Sicily fell away from the tree, both hitting the ground at the same time.

She landed on her legs, but they gave way under the pressure and her body slammed onto her back. The slope of the hill carried her momentum, and she rolled over twice before landing on her back again at the bottom of the hill near the entrance to the small grove.

When she landed, Sicily heard a loud “Pop” and her left leg went instantly numb. The wind was knocked out of her lungs by the impact, and she lay gasping at the bottom of the hill. Her hair splayed over the ground and lay over the left side of her face, blocking her left eye.

She gradually started to regain her breath, but fear set in as she tried to move her legs. Her right leg was alright as far as she could tell. She could bend her knee and wiggle her toes, but as soon as she tested her left leg a searing pain shot up into her spine. Sicily let out a short scream into the silent forest.

Shocked by the pain, it took her another minute or so to think straight again. Tears welled up in her eyes, and her shallow breathing became fast and scared again. Fear crept into her brain, and her mouth shut, holding back a sob. The ground was cold and damp, and the dull ache in her left leg scared her. As she closed her eyes, holding back another scream, a tear rolled down her cheek and onto the wet ground, mixing with a dark puddle of rain water right next to her head.

After a few minutes, Sicily began to think again. The shock of the fall had almost all gone, and she started to think about her parents. She wondered if they could hear her from all the way out here. Finally, after considering it for a bit, she yelled “Dad!....Mom!” as loud as she could. The forest again answered with silence. Sicily opened her mouth to yell again, but the unechoing stillness of the wood was too much for her. She began to cry. This cry was deep and welled up from within her throat. Sicily was scared. Scared of the cold, damp ground. Scared of the deep blue sky that would eventually give over to the darkness of night. Scared of the pain in her leg, and the powerlessness she felt. Sicily cried for a while, each sob louder than the last until eventually they quieted to a moan.

Finally, she started to grow tired of crying. Her mouth closed again, and her eyes opened slightly. She felt the wind blow against her cheek, making the streaks made by her tears feel cool and refreshing. Her breathing returned to normal, and for the first time in a long time, she looked up at the sky.

It wasn’t a gray sky like the ones that usually come before and after a heavy rain. It was a deep, navy blue, with streaks of clouds floating listlessly high above the ground. The tree’s around her made a ring which encircled her vision, and it was as if the sky was a painting encased in an intricately carved wooden frame. A painting like that would probably sell for quite a lot of money, Sicily thought. Simple, colorful paintings often do. She had seen somewhere that pure white paintings had sold for millions of dollars, which was more money than Sicily had ever even seen.

The ground around Sicily’s body was no longer cold. Her back had heated it up enough to feel normal, but it was still damp and slimy in spots. Her head was resting on some soft patch of fern or grass, but her eyes couldn’t move far enough to the side to discern which, so she kept them looking up at the sky.

Since she had stopped crying, she could hear some sounds that she couldn’t before. Instead of silence, Sicily could hear the wind rustling through the trees. She could hear the small pitter patter of rain drops as some of the agitated branches tossed their dew onto nearby leaves. The caws of a crow could be heard far off above her head, and the brook she crossed trickled its soft echo in between the ebb and flow of the breeze.

Sicily closed her eyes, listening even more closely to the forest. She imagined herself shrunken down as small as an insect. Smaller even. The leaves around her were huge, and every drop of water that fell from the canopy above was like a tidal wave. Little Sicily wasn’t afraid of the drops, however, because little Sicily could fly. Her miniature counterpart zoomed across the ground, weaving in and out of blades of grass. The ants and insects that she passed watched her as she flew by them, listening to the wind rush past her small ears. Finding the twisted end of a tree root, she followed it as it swam in and out of the shallow soil. Eventually it shot out of the ground and connected with another root, and another, and another until she was flying up the trunk of a massive tree. She could see every curve and split of the cracked bark as she followed it up. She stopped for a moment and peered at it, taking in it’s immensity. Small holes in the bark were oozing with golden pitch, and the sunlight shown through it’s glass like surface, illuminating the small pockets of air within. Continuing up the tree, she dodged branch after branch, coming so close that her hair whipped some of the emerald pines, rustling the dew on top of them. Finally, she stopped and stood on one of the tallest branches. She floated gently to the end of the bough, staring out at the sapphire sky. She was high enough now that she could see the countless trees blend into the surrounding fog until they disappeared into the fading horizon. The wind blew past much faster, unheeded by the innumerable stalks and trunks of the forest. Looking up again, she saw what she had seen on the ground, only this time the painting was not enclosed by a wooden frame. Instead it enveloped her in its colors and vastitude. Its enormity and her miniscity sent a chill down her spine, which continued into her legs and arms, and made her muscles tingle with anticipation.

Once more she leapt up into flight, shooting faster and faster into the sky. The forest fell away. The clouds shot past. The sky became larger and larger, encircling her entirely. Eventually the azure yonder faded into a darker navy. The higher she went the more the world dropped out. The clouds disappeared, the color faded into a darkness. The horizon became curved and vivid. Looking straight ahead, all Sicily could see were stars.

The silence of space was finally broken. A twig snapped, the bracken ferns rustled, and a hurried figure broke into the grove with a gasp of “Oh dear God, Sicily! What Happened!?”


© Copyright 2020 Kelson Brewer. All rights reserved.

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