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Everlie’s Tree

First major short story, this is the last of the initial drafts. Could really use your comments for any editing, would love to know what you think so please add a post smile

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Everlie’s Tree

Everlie’s Tree

I am a tree. The faint echoing falling of my leaves has marked the passing seasons as the blink of a human eye marks the passing of a second. I feel older than every blink a human ever made; my years feel more numerous than the leaves I have dropped. I was a seedling so long ago I no more remember half of the journey it took to become what I am now. As the centuries advanced, streams reached me from high places to nourish my hungry roots so that I may grow tall. Humans got closer. My branches had never known such fear before the torches flickered in the night. The world changed. Whispers in the wind and the chatter of roosting birds brought news of farms, mines and, terror of terrors, deforestation. As civilization developed I stood tall, and we trees ourselves also developed.
    I am known in the forest, criticised for an almost suicidal fascination with these human creatures. The others think we should only look out for our kind. I recognised the importance of humanity instantly, however. Initially this was purely out of the dawning fear I could be reduced to ash. I gradually realised humanity was more intricate than that, though the fear was deep and dark like the centre of the forest. Being on the edge, the frontier of the forest, maybe allowed me to be less dark, less negative or conservative. It also afforded me a greater separation from the others who already saw me as the outcast. As I grew solid, immovable and strong, so I felt. I assumed the status of outcast without disassociating my identity from that of my tree kin. I started to think of myself as a gate into the forest, a gate composed of lush colour and deep shadow.
  Now, it took a huge amount of time to actually notice a human. As the rings of my trunk rippled out like a stone thrown into a pool and my bark gnarled and hardened, I began to develop concentration. Imagine you have only a hundredth of a second to count the stars above you on a clear night. That is the kind of concentration it took to notice someone who rested in my shade for an hour, even more. It took many long seasons to develop the ability to see my surroundings in timeframes comparable to humanity. When I first reached for the sky, I would rarely notice the presence of anything that wasn’t fixed in place for a whole season.
  This did not, as you may think, lead to indescribable boredom. Imagine yourself rooted to the Earth, saturated by nature, fed by nature and absorbed into the cyclical throes of nature. It is an aching, unending ecstasy. I was, in some ways also, my own universe. Life was contained within me; insects and birds caressed my whole being. I felt pain too, for sure, when my bark bruised and my sap bled, but I was immersed in my environment in a way which is incomparable to human experience.
  Trees are not generally associated with telepathy. It would therefore come as a surprise to most beings that, to one degree or another, we are. This is how I learned what I know of the world, and of humans. And this is why I want to speak. I want to describe the most wonderful of humans – Everlie.
  Arboreal telepathy is information drunk in, absorbed like the water from the ground. Like concentration, it is a skill cultivated and developed over time. When Everlie came along I was already adept at this art of gleaning.
  She seemed to drift towards me in the sunlight. It was hard to tell the rays of sun from her shining blonde hair. I listened intently to her heartbeat, and felt the soft tread of her bare feet ripple towards me through the stems of grass. There was life all around and nothing nearby feared her. The birds excitedly flitted around my upper boughs but did not flee. I tried to discern her thoughts as she approached.
  Why don’t they love me? I try hard, but they hate me. They wish I wasn’t here at all…
  I saw her tears as she got near to my shadow, and felt an emanation of pain. It was shocking that this beautiful being could be so distressed. I had sensed the human emotions of those who had sat below me in times past, and learned something of what they mean to people. I knew the fragility of birds and their alarm at predatory danger, but this distress was new to me. I tried to stretch my boughs as wide as possible, offering the embrace of my shadow. She sat down on a knotty, gnarly bump at my base, an ugly protrusion that I had wished wasn’t there.
  She sobbed and I felt her anguish. I tried my hardest to be a welcoming tree. I was thankful the delusions were gone; I no longer believe I am the Norse World Tree, and the hallucinations of my Protector Dragon Simorg have subsided. I am just a tree, tall and leafy and functional for the sort of tree I am meant to be. I knew that at that moment, the sort of tree I wanted to be was a relaxing and inspiring one.
  Eventually, as her eyes stopped glancing back down the path, she seemed to calm and I felt intoxicated by the energy she produced as she sat there thinking.
  It’s not my fault I’m not a boy. I will be useful someday. I will help people. I just wish he wouldn’t hurt me.
  I sensed her relief, her escapism. Her mind floated on the breeze, as if from the vantage of the canopy she could look upon the suffering world with a feeling of affinity, and longing. Reach out with her heart to show the world her worth.
  She was picking drowning bugs from the puddles of recent rainfall in my nooks.
Hey little buddy she thought as she cupped her hands around an aphid and softly breathed it dry. She whispered to it and encouraged it to fly away. She even waved as it ascended. As she watched it go, a squirrel jumped between my upper boughs and this captivated her. For the first time she smiled, and it was almost as if her smile was photosynthesising my broad leaves. Here was a very special person.
  She sat a long time in my shade, a blanket embroidered with red thread hung from her delicate frame and her breathing settled. As the sun went down her awe gradually morphed into melancholy. She had to go back to a situation she didn’t like. I suddenly decided to send my best pod spinning right in front of her like a butterfly and her smile briefly graced her face. Gloomy she left me and I watched this interesting being disappear over the crest of the hill and into whatever life she had to return to. I hoped she would come back.
  It was two days. She didn’t just come back, she ran back and hugged her knees as she found shelter. She was shaking and I felt the pulse on my trunk, and read from her mind the concern she felt about the blood and swelling on her face. Her shame. She pushed her cheek into my bark and there was an overwhelming sense of desperation. I didn’t know what to do. I angled my leaves as far as possible to enhance the cool breeze for her.
  Then something happened that was puzzling. Arising from an unknown source, the confusion and painful energy transmuted into a calm deeper than sunset after a hot day. There was a glow about her face that interacted with the wheat-field blonde of her hair. I could see it would shine like Venus if she was happier. I felt an energy that was soothing, reciprocal and full of warmth. Something had changed. Reaching back to when an artist had sat under me, I had a hazy feeling she had begun to meditate. It was a dimension of nature I had not experienced at any point in these centuries of my lifetime. An ethereal thing impossible to describe, like my environment – bark, sap, boughs, leaves and the creatures finding home in them, had extended to include a separate human being through her energy. In the bliss I started to realise what sets humans apart from other sentient life, this creative energy and the freedom of imagination, these exquisite bundles of identity, dream and audacity.
  Shadows were encroaching all around Everlie and I, night was not going to be long coming. She knew too, and I could sense her reluctance to move. Her energy diffused gradually as she came out of her meditative state, until it was me, tall and alone, reaching for a sky I will never touch, and Everlie, small and alone, fearing her home. I knew then that never must there be anything scary about me. The way my boughs groan or creak, or the haunting sound of slashes of wind biting my leaves. I felt gratitude that she had chosen to spend time with me. I must be serene and comforting, a place she can always run to no matter what.
  As she was leaving, I thought I was discerning more thoughts.
    Why can’t I live here all day and sit under my tree where I can be safe?
  But she was too far away, it couldn’t have been her thoughts.
  Night fell and I imagined her, her loneliness hidden behind her sunshine hair and smile. I thought I heard her crying, and it pained me. I stood solidly and let the darkness take me through to another day.
  As the new day exploded all around me in a cacophony of birdsong and creatures moving around, the sun began to appear from below the hill. I always sense the moment when the first pure sunlight reaches the tips of my leaves, it is an exquisite pleasure. Right away I noticed something was different, the sunlight was etching patterns into my leaves. These intricate patterns faded into the leaf, seeming to scorch them with painless heat as they disappeared. Suddenly I could hear Everlie. I did not know what was happening and it scared me.
  I felt trapped in my mind, constricted. I was looking for an explanation, and scanning all around for signs of Everlie. The effort sent ripples of strain up the inside of my trunk. Desperate, it occurred to me this could be something imparted by the glow of her energy yesterday, in meditation. Perhaps it could be an extension or enhancement of my telepathy. It brought my mind back to when it felt like her smile was strengthening me. I was scared that it was a delusion. I thought I had left that behind, but I concentrated on the words the patterns carried through my branches to my soul.
  In an almost serpentine whisper, the sunlight was urging me to listen harder for Everlie, and to care for her.
  You are her solace. See!
  As the whisper faded, so did my vision. The words resonated through to the heartwood within me and as my vision cleared I could not see the field or any other trees. There was a wolf-like creature sniffing around what I realised, dazed, must be a house! I felt ethereal and rooted at the same time. Hesitant, uncomfortable and trapped outside my body, I tried to concentrate, sensing that this experience had a meaning. I suppressed my rising panic and somehow I moved closer.
  Everlie stood in the front room, looking almost as thin as her mop. The luminescence of her hair was dimmed, strands were falling in the wrong places and her smile was pained as others, boys, noisily entered the room.
  ‘Missed a bit Ev, aren’t you good for anything at all?’ said one. Everlie’s eyes fell and her face dropped.
    ‘I, I was doing my…’
  ‘Forget it sis, you’re useless. If you spent as much time cleaning as you do inside those weird daydreams you like so much, this house would be worth having you in it’.
  They scrambled past, ruffling her hair dismissively and upsetting the bucket on their way, leaving a murky puddle for her to clean up.
  ‘Hope you’ve had a good day!’ she called behind them, but they were gone, and the corners of her smile were collecting tears. She sniffed and shook herself, and I saw that she was imagining a ladybird on the stem of a flower as she once more picked up the filthy mop and started on the puddle.
  Every movement was awkward and her thin arms were tense, elbows pushed out like broken wings. I heard heavy steps and didn’t need to look at Everlie to know it was bad news. I watched her cower as the man who must have been her father stood over her. He was grey. Grey hair, grey clothes and a grey pallor to his skin. He was short and stout, with wiry hair, beady eyes and tight lips. He stared at Everlie for a moment.
  ‘Half an hour to feed the pigs, I was gone. Why is the room not perfect Everlie? How can there still be a puddle!’ She flinched as his hand came down hard on a wooden surface. There was a faint slur in his voice.
  He sighed, a deep breath laden with menace.
  ‘I didn’t want you, neither did your mother, God rest her soul’. He spat the words. ‘You’re good for nothing, but you could still make an effort!’ As his voice rose, so did his hand.
  I felt my presence recede and a hot white light shone on all sides. After a time, my form shrank back into my trunk and I stood tall once again in the sun and the breeze. My leaves shimmered, and my anger simmered.
  I tried to make sense of what had happened. I, the outcast, had left the forest. Had any tree ever done that before? Why had it happened, and whose was the voice in the sunlight? And what on earth was I meant to do anyway?
  For a long time I churned, consumed by this disturbance. I had never felt anything like this. It was like my roots were writhing snakes, my branches swinging wildly and I had sensations of little bugs skittering up and down my trunk, though I knew they were too fast to be bugs. I felt overwhelmingly gloomy, even the sparrows flitting towards me seemed repelled and I could only look at my shadow. If this was real emotion it explained a lot about humans. It was hard to feel strong and stout, and I faced the night with unease, wondering when I would see Everlie again. I felt my age and strength mattered not. I had now seen what brings Everlie to me and I felt powerless.
  I watched the sun fade across the sky and out of sight, until only the pink-tinted undersides of the clouds stood against the enveloping darkness.
  It was an uncomfortable feeling when I saw Everlie approach next. Even though it had not been of my design, I felt I had intruded into her life in a way I had no right to. Maybe there was an element also of frustration that my strength was of no avail.
  She was deep in thought, a depth in fact that was almost impenetrable. Hers was a tempestuous, messy mind that day. As I felt a resistance to my intrusion into her life, I also felt compelled to continue to grow in my understanding of her. Yet what could I do? I can’t move! It was a hopeless day, for both of us it seemed. She looked indescribably lost, her bearing downcast, defeated. It was clear she had been hurt once again. I could hear the tears inside her amidst the storm of her emotions, falling like heavy rain.
  Will nobody ever love me…Who will save me…Where can I ever go, will I ever be happy?
  I felt my leaves precipitate, dew falling in empathy. I looked at myself and saw that she was making me feel. I decided that I must learn how to overcome my immobility and help her. I could try to encourage her in spirit and thought, maybe there was scope for developing arboreal telepathy in that direction. Maybe the voice in the sunlight would enlighten me tomorrow. It felt hard to balance my will to help against feelings of encroachment into her personal matters.
  The next day, the sun may as well have not risen. Masked by a greyness that reminded me of Everlie’s father, the whole day melded into a pre-dawn half-light. I felt constrained by it, my vision blurred, almost useless. I barely noticed Everlie’s approach. Her hair could not shine today, but her spirit had a brightness that refreshed me in the absence of the sun. I was intrigued by what may have caused this new lightness within her. I listened intently, so intimately that I could hear the rhythm of her heartbeat that lay behind her thoughts. She had found, it seemed, a new friend! I was delighted. I tried to piece together the fragments of happiness she projected into an image of this helper.
  He was human. My spirit soared with the knowledge that someone who could move had reached out to her, someone who could draw out these innermost thoughts of hers by talking to her, listening to her, holding her. For a second my boughs felt more useless than ever, I felt a shadow of dejection at my complete inability to do that for her myself. While that shadow flickered around the extent of my being, I felt my centuries-old tree identity fall away for the first time, and all I wanted to do was love.
  Yet I am a tree, and how could the shadow stand the strength of her smile today? I am shelter, I am a space to think, and I tell the unspoken words of the earth. That is more than enough. I traced the images of this weightless happiness through her mind, and her excitement resonated within me.
  He was kind, this friend. I felt blessed as I watched the past through the eyes of her mind. They had met by the same stream that keeps me alive. She’d been distracted from her task of collecting water for her family by the distress of an animal thrashing around, unable to swim or climb out. As she spoke softly to calm it, so that it would accept her hands that would bring it to safety, a voice joined hers. Together they rescued the creature, and as she held it gently, drying it, her new friend filled the containers she had brought for the water. There was an unspoken affinity between them, the childlike acceptance of a kindred spirit. He was a small youth with messy brown hair, wiping the clinging dirt from his open, smiling face. His cheeks were red and he was full of life. She was nonplussed when he picked up the containers and asked where they needed carrying to. Such a simple, yet profound introduction to the kindness she had never before received.
  As they walked, her being could barely contain or process her mixture of emotions. Curiosity flowed into excitement, then to anxiety. Her father could not know - it was not safe. If she was going to get the water home soon enough to avoid the worst of the trouble, she didn’t have much time to talk, to explain.
  ‘Thank you…’
  ‘George, my name is George’ he said. ‘What’s yours?’
  ‘Everlie’ she smiled. ‘I can get the water home fine now, but do you know the tree on the edge of the forest, just up there’ she pointed, ‘the closest one to the wildflowers? It’s huge, old and very beautiful. I like it there. Can we meet there? Tomorrow? Do you live far?’
  ‘Not far at the moment’ he said, ‘but we move around a lot. I can be there, at dawn?’
  ‘Yes, please’ she said, starting to lose her confidence.
  ‘OK’ George said with a smile.
  She took the water gently and briefly met his eyes. Then she hurried off. The water was weightless and her heart soared.
  I knew then that today, as she sat expectantly at my base, we would not be alone.
The look of hopefulness in Everlie’s eyes never diminished as we waited. Her mind’s presence to my own had the feel of a woodpecker, but without the irritation. My time-lapse vision searched as far and wide as it could, waiting for the first sign of our new comrade.
  George was a dark shape, his outline stark against the grey soup of the day, like a shadow that had learned to be free. Anticipation registered in every aspect of Everlie’s being. I was caught up in it, but not so much that I could not feel a hint of sadness that nobody had ever made her feel valued before, or so excited.
  George’s smile was broad and crooked. He casually strolled his way towards us, the grass gently flattening under his bare feet. He reached us, his shadowy appearance resolving sharply into the ruddy-cheeked and messy-haired walking grin that he is. He greeted Everlie heartily and with great warmth. She blushed and took half a step back, leaning with one foot on my trunk.
  Then, suddenly, George did the most peculiar thing. Taking me completely unawares, he somehow he drew my awareness out and, like a ball, sent it flying across the field. Incredibly, I could sweep low and kiss the grass, then swirl up as if caught by a thermal and look down on my own self like so many birds. I was stunned, momentarily I lost track of my own existence. It was nothing like my earlier departure from my roots, but equally as powerful. It was exhilarating, and I still have no idea how he did it, or even if it was intentional. I suspect it was. To unbind me from the earth, for just a moment, was a beautiful gift. The boy is a magician.
  Extraordinary trick over, I watched them settle, as I too recollected myself after my trip around the field. Shaken, my anticipation was redoubled. Their hands naturally reached for each other, and they relaxed. George spoke.
  ‘I’m glad you spotted that fawn in the water the other day. I hate seeing them suffer, and of course without it making all that noise I wouldn’t have found you…’ His voice softened and he became still, more serious than I thought his playful features could allow. ‘I take it that’s the handiwork of a brother or a father’ he said slowly, as he gestured to her bruises.
  Everlie took a sharp intake of breath and nodded almost imperceptibly. Please don’t turn me away…
  In one movement, George rolled up one leg of his short trousers. The mass of scarring and burns was hideous and absolutely shocking, and it felt like the whole field had taken a pause of breath. The moment hung like a spider’s web. Everlie simply pressed herself against him and they embraced bitterly, tears falling freely after long years of suppression and emotional incarceration.
  Time passed slowly, and the moment of total solidarity, extended beautifully and wordlessly, became a flurry of questions as curiosity resurfaced with strength.
  ‘Where are you from?’ Everlie asked.
  ‘Nowhere, I guess’ George answered, making circles in the dust with a twig. ‘Nobody ever told me where I was born and nobody ever tells me where we’re going next. And we never stay in one place long enough for anywhere to feel like a home’. His eyes narrowed.
  Oh no…he’s leaving already! Everlie’s thought was like a gasp.
  ‘Will it be soon, that you move on again?’
Her voice was as gentle as a zephyr.
  ‘Yeah, for sure. Unless…’ he paused and swallowed, his mind working fast. It had taken me a while to attune to his thoughts and my reception was somewhat broken up, but words were starting to resolve clearer and faster as he ruminated.
  Will it even…what if they…follow us for sure…this is so…
  ‘Unless what?’ Everlie ventured. I don’t want you to go.
  ‘We could run away. Together, like. Far. Fast. I know how to fix things, almost anything. We’d survive, maybe it would have to be in a city for a while, we could stay in one of the hives out East. I’ve been planning to get away almost since I could have a thought in my head…never dared hope it would work out, until I saw you that day. Then I knew’. I can’t do this on my own Everlie.
  Everlie’s hand was over her mouth, disbelief visible all over her form. WhatdoIdo? WhatdoIdo?
  Everlie loved everything. She was incapable of hating anything except perhaps the absence of love, which was precisely what she hated about home. Yet, to leave her brothers, her dad… could she really do that? How will I know he will never be like my father… And my father, my brothers… how would they fare without me?
  In a moment of almost complete emptiness she realised her father would likely be too drunk to care and her brothers glad of the extra food. She had a real chance here, presented to her by encountering a drowning creature. Could this be how I find happiness?
  ‘Let me tell you something about myself’ said George. ‘I know what freedom is and what it is not. With my folks, the world is there for the travelling but I’m no freer than this tree. I see freedom in you Everlie, no matter how long you’ve been in one place’.
  I stiffened at the casual reference to my immobility, but was caught up in the monumental choice in front of the two of them. If I hadn’t seen Everlie’s father with my own sight I don’t think I could have understood, but I was willing her Go, Go, Go.
  She could not see the ferocious, pure light that lived inside of him, could not know for sure like I did that there was no deceit in him and likely never would be.
  Everlie composed herself carefully, as if wrapping up her emotions like a precious gift. She swallowed hard and looked off to the far side of the expansive field. Cities could never be this beautiful…but in this forest I am so alone…
  She started nodding, each movement of her head more forceful until finally she faced George, her beautiful hair an angel’s halo.
  ‘We never stop in a place without trees. There has to be one, no matter how far into the hive we have to run.’
  George replied by reaching to the dirt. He picked up one of my fallen pods.
  ‘We can plant as many Everlie’s trees as we want’ he smiled.
  That stunned both of us. It is impossible to keep track of the endless seeds carried off by the wind, but to think that I could in some way travel with them…I could see the wonder in Everlie’s eyes at this gesture.
  ‘So,’ Everlie nervously twirled her hair, ‘we’d have to leave soon I guess.’
  They both stared solemnly at the monochrome horizon for some time, hands still wrapped around each other’s for strength, comfort. There was an affinity between them as natural as the soil.
  If we survive…
  Suddenly visions of the future sprang up in both minds at once. I saw hope rise that had been dormant. George was fixing a cart wheel as Everlie cared for the horses of travelling merchants. There was one gate they could both return to at the end of the day to find violence transcended and lives recreated.
  ‘Next time you need water, would they notice if you left with a burden?’ asked George.
  ‘I could hide everything in the water carrier’ schemed Everlie. ‘They won’t really see me when I leave anyway. I think they see something different to what I am when they look at me.’ Is this real?
  ‘Well they don’t see freedom, that’s for sure’ said George. ‘Could you meet me where we saved the deer? The path along the stream is perfect, it goes right where we need it to.’
  Everlie nodded carefully, caught in that magical place somewhere between fear and hope.
  ‘And Everlie?’ He caught her eye. ‘It will be ok. I promise.’
  The gratitude each of them felt was palpable with or without telepathy. I felt such sympathetic joy until I realised I might never see the sun catch Everlie’s hair again, or feel the intensity of her thoughts. Oh no.
  I felt selfish to even fleetingly desire the deprivation of this escape. Yet they would leave together and I would be more alone than I have ever been in all the time I had been alive. And I would never feel so alive again. As they picked each other up and made to trudge back across the field and out of my sphere of perception, I felt absolute agony reach up from deep within me. I sent out a sub-sonic shriek of pain, and maybe it touched their minds because they both turned back as if they had heard a noise. When they were satisfied nothing was behind them, they faced forwards again and were soon lost in the grey mists.
  I began to rationalise these new-found emotions. I could not expect to keep either one of them prisoner to my world, to narrow their experience to my own field and forest. I can stand tall and watch them go, resolute and proud. And besides, they are taking my seeds with them! What greater honour could I receive?
  However, as I stopped worrying about myself, the agony did not fade. What was happening to me? Fresh panic began in my heartwood and it was no longer connected to any thought of being bereft. I could feel something deeply wrong inside me that was quite separate from any emotions Everlie may have caused me to experience. I stared for a long time at the point at which they had disappeared and grappled with the pain. But it had only just begun.
  The longest two days of my existence followed. I worried about Everlie and George, and I could barely see past my own bark the pain was so great. They might even have been to collect the seeds and I would barely have registered their passing. Everything was out of balance. I felt the full force of a hurricane sweep my boughs despite the close, still air. The sap seemed to freeze inside me despite the early summer warmth, and there was a tearing, ripping feeling running up and down me as if thousands of insects had turned from our natural relationship and decided to devour me. I actually thought I might fall, roots withering and snapping out of the ground. I was scared, so very scared. And then I knew.
  I projected the thought as powerfully as could ever be possible, by any tree.     
  Everlie, I am dying!
  Only then did I see the glow of her hair in the sickly sunlight. She had already come. As my cry forcefully left my mind she spun quickly, a look of horror on her face. There were tears in her eyes. She had the water carriers slung low on her back. George was there, too. He had gathered many of my precious pods into his own burlap satchel. They were ready to leave. I was not ready at all. Directly and simply she spoke to me in her thoughts.

  Goodbye. Thank you for being my refuge, for being the most beautiful tree of all trees’.

  I was distraught.

  Goodbye Everlie, friend of all who live.

  She hugged me, and for a moment all pain ceased. When I returned to my consciousness, the two were walking slowly away from me, George’s arm was gently around Everlie. I wished with all my might that their hope for the future would be fulfilled. So much promise, so much light in their hearts and minds. I bled sap, and I watched them go. Freedom was theirs.
  And so, in my last days, I have spoken. I have not seen anything for two months, and I can no longer feel my roots or boughs. I will not survive another winter, but the memory of Everlie will never die.


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