“For the last time, dear, I told you—trees can’t move.”: A Group Writing Project

About the Authors

1 Domenic Luciani, New York – October 17, 2018

2 Brittany Schmitt, Illinois – October 24, 2018

3 Diarmuid O’Hegarty, Dublin – October 31, 2018

4 Jenna Glover, California – November 7, 2018

5 Timothy Lee, California – November 14, 2018

6 Matt Turner, Washington – November 21, 2018

7 Victoria Clayton, California – November 28, 2018

About Dually Noted

Dually Noted is TBL’s exciting group-writing project. New and established writers from around the world come together to create one ongoing story through weekly installments. If you would like to add the next section, shoot us your 500-word addition by Friday night. Our editor will publish the best submission at the beginning of each week.

“For the last time, dear, I told you—trees can’t move.”

by the TBL Writing Community

Cosmic Infinitude

Darcy always wore this long kimono, a navy blue one with cherry blossoms all over it, and her hair tied in a bun. She never took it off. She said it was the only thing she felt comfortable in. It wrapped around her like a mist; she was always foggy to the eye. Likewise, if you were able to peer into her mind, all you would see is nothingness, a blank canvas: cosmic infinitude.

A shoe clerk once told me I had issues with reality. Unless I’m actually touching something, it might as well be a mirage. “You need an anchor,” the shoe clerk said. “Something to keep you tethered to the here and now. You need a size ten,” he said. “No wonder your nails are peeling off, you’ve been wearing eights your whole damn life.”

I thought Darcy could be my anchor, but she was the thin red line of a dead man’s heartbeat. She could only tell me what I already knew.

She was hard to miss. I was at the pharmacy looking for bandages. Big ones. I needed a whole pack of them; my finger was gushing blood. Alan had walked me there, I was ready to pass out and couldn’t have made the trip alone. We went in and saw her over by the tampons. Sort of oblivious—that’s how I thought she looked. And of course, the kimono.

“What’s that white bitch doing wearing a kimono?” Alan’s words, not mine.

We walked over to the counter and demanded their finest bandages.

“You feeling alright?” the white coat asked.

“I cut it,” I said, holding out my finger. “Pretty bad. I was carving pumpkins.”

The white coat looked at me funny.

“Seems fine to me,” he said. “You know Halloween was over a month ago, right?”

He leaned in closer and asked if I was on something.

“No, of course not, officer.”

Alan took me outside and sat me down on a bench near the park. His hands were full of little orange bottles rattling with pills. A gun peered out of his jacket pocket like a frightened animal.

“I’m sure one of these will fix you right up,” he said.

Darcy sat down next to me, or maybe she’d been there the whole time. It was hard to see because of all the lights shining in my eyes like someone had electrified a big American flag and cranked up the voltage. They didn’t seem to bother Darcy much. She was wrapping my finger in thick woolen gauze.

The trees in the park were dancing, it was like a sort of ballet. They were moving faster and faster, running away from the lights, fleeing in terror. They were on fire. Darcy was still holding my hand.

“Do you think they’ll be alright?” I asked.

I looked for her eyes but there was nothing, just the slow ebbing of darkened sea waters.

“No,” she said, letting go of my hand. “I don’t think they will.” 1  

 

 

 

Entwined

The trees have nymphs who dwell within them. Any witch can recount the ethereal sway of a nymph’s limbs as they peel themselves from the trunk of a tree, their complexion bearing the same color and texture as the bark. They navigate the carpet of roots with a confident footfall. Their eyes are the earthy shades of green, brown, and hazel, while their head sports a nest of jutting branches—home to flowers, leaves, and butterflies.

Before a witch can craft a broom, she must petition a tree nymph to lend her a branch from their tree. The most ambitious of witches flock to the most impressive of trees, drawn to the intricate quilt of their bark—stitched shingles of russet and taupe joined together with threads of moss. These nymphs are vain and short-tempered, only willing to surrender a branch to a witch with enough clout to warrant the sacrifice. The most traditional of witches turn to the most abundant of trees, the providers of shelter and nurture. These nymphs, like family members, have embraced the joys of first steps and flights, have weathered the losses of life and love. The wisest witch seeks out the oldest tree in her forest. She has come to know its ashy bark—thick, yet fissured, freckled by lichen and scarred from bouts with lightning. She has come to know its shortened and gnarled branches, the signs of harsh summers. Though this tree may be bent, it has not fallen.

As the witch approaches, the nymph slowly pulls away from the embrace of their tree. The sight may be familiar to a seasoned witch, but it still leaves her breathless. She studies the nymph’s sunken face and the branches that sparsely cover their crown.

With a smile, the witch holds out her hand. A twitch of the nymph’s brow sends a songbird, nestled in their hair, tittering away. The nymph offers a sweeping gesture to the surrounding forest, as if to say, All these trees and you’ve picked a dying one?

The witch does not move while the nymph laces their lithe fingers together with hers, watching her with eyes framed by deep splinters. The nymph’s hands are coarse but steady against the witch’s palm. In solemn ceremony, the nymph turns and cuts the sturdiest branch from the center of the tree, handing it to the witch with a lift of their chin. A distant creek hums against the quiet sanctity of the moment.

Nestled in the tree’s roots, the witch lingers, whittling her broom. When she begins to tire, the gentle touch of a mossy branch on her shoulder does not startle her. She laughs because she has heard the words of those without magic, lost in the woods—their murmured reassurances that the stirring of the forest is imaginary. She listens to the swaying sound of the nymph’s hair overhead as the movement of the branches become a song.  She wonders why anyone would assume that something so alive cannot move.2    

 

 

 

Shortcut

A hike had been agreed. Although it wasn’t his ideal date, he thought he had better keep his reservations to himself at this tenuous stage. It was only their third outing together. The first had been, on his suggestion, a drink. The second, on hers, was a tapas restaurant with portions too small and far too expensive.

Halfway through the hike, she told him a joke about vampires in which the punchline relied on “tomb” sounding like “to whom.” Initially the joke was lost on him, but he offered a chuckle all the same—his attempts at appeasement didn’t go unnoticed. She looked at him with doubtful eyes and explained the joke with a sardonic grin.

Pressing his shoulders back, feeling joints crack as he did, he looked around and noticed the night was beginning to show its face. “We should turn back,” he said. “It’s getting late.”

“Late? It’s only five?”

“It’s getting dark is what I meant. Isn’t it dangerous to be out here at night?”

“Nah, it’s fine,” she said. “We’ll press on. I know a shortcut.”

Unwilling to look like a coward on top of lacking the wit to cop a joke, he conceded. They turned into the undergrowth and began to carve their way through the forest. Ferns brushed his ankles and he shivered.

“It’s not too far now,” she said, smiling.

The moon was pouring itself across the roof of the forest, spilling over the bark and dirt. He suddenly felt free of anxieties and, for a moment, stopped to appreciate this liberation. The forest was beautiful and exciting at night, not dangerous. Hadn’t she told him this before they started? Yes, he remembered. She had told him, but he refused to comprehend her admiration. But now he saw it for all its worth. Its smell was different somehow and the trees shone with an enchanted glisten.

“I can see the forest moving.”

She turned and saw he had stopped. “Come on,” she said, “It’s just past here.”

She disappeared behind the trees. Standing in the middle of a clearing, she gestured for him to join her. She held his hand as they lay down on their backs. She sat up on one arm and looked at him. “It wasn’t the forest you felt move,” she whispered in his ear.

She closed her grip around his wrist. He couldn’t move and his head became too heavy to lift. He heard the muffled crackle of footsteps getting closer. Over ten pairs of feet. He panicked, his eyes searching the dark to see who they were. He clenched his stomach in disbelief. She stood over him as the others came into view. Some were wearing masks, while others weren’t; and he knew then, meeting their eyes, he would never see the morning.

 

 

 

I Met Her in the Aspen Grove

The trees can’t move, so Billie moves for them.

That’s what Ma always said when I asked why Belinda “Billie” Jones danced in the aspen grove at night. There weren’t many kids in Decorah, Iowa, but there were enough for the nights to mean bike rides and sneaking beer, not spinning and skipping among the trees like Billie.

Billie is special, Ma would say in a kind of whisper, as though being special was something secret and beautiful, something I did not yet understand.

I went to watch Billie once. Others had gone before me. They always came back disappointed, reporting that she just danced like the lunatic she was. I needed to see for myself the difference between special and crazy.

It was early spring, and the fog of my breath led the way to the aspen grove. Billie was already there, arms spread wide, twirling and jumping and skipping—unlike any dance I’d ever seen.

It was strange, sure, but there was also something else, something felt but not seen that made me think the life in the grove wasn’t so silent and stationary after all.

But then Billie stopped—still swaying, as though to be still were to die—a small contented smile gracing her face. To this day I can’t explain it, but I knew that Billie’s dances were important, that she couldn’t stop.

I started coming out with Billie to watch her dance, compelled by something I had felt that first time. I never joined in, but I kept a silent vigil. During those nights, I heard the trees in her movements, felt their life touching mine. It was as special as Billie, and I fell in love with her on those nights, with what only she could see. If I spent the rest of my life watching Billie move for the trees, I would’ve been content.

But one day, it all ended. A horse spooked when Billie had been too close. They say the horse’s hoof broke clean through Billie’s chest and came out the other side. I don’t know; I didn’t go to the funeral. Instead, I went back to the aspen grove. I knew she wouldn’t be there, and I knew I’d never dance in her place, but it felt important that someone did go, and I learned from Billie to never ignore those feelings.

I sat on the ground and watched the trees.

They did not move, and now there was no one to move for them, to speak their grief. I sat there for hours in a silence that took over all my senses, and the world became nothing in the absence of its brightest child. Was this what death was like? Was this what Billie felt? It was as close as I’d get to Billie ever again, so I stayed all through the night.

I never went back to the aspen grove.  And the trees never moved. 4      

 

 

 

 

The Giving Human

To whomever it may concern,

 

My execution date has been scheduled, but would you please just get it over with? Let my children grow and replace me. Hopefully, their lives will be better than mine. This air hurts to breathe and the lack of water is torturous. And to be quite frank, the yellow liquids that are occasionally poured on me don’t quite quench my thirst. In addition, I must also complain that I’m really tired of people sitting, leaning, and walking into me. It happens more often than you might think. People just walk right into me all the time. I’ve been around long enough to see the evolution of excuses. It used to be the processed remains of my brethren bound together that kept their eyes oblivious to their path, but now it’s those glowing squares of wisdom everyone seems to have. It was pitiful when they tried to make their mistakes my own:

 

Excuse me, but I do not remember that tree being here.

It’s always been there, dolt.

 

Now it’s:

 

When did this big ass tree get here?

You must be trippin’.

 

 

I’m old and tired and sick of the squirrels and birds and humans that think of me as property. I’m irked by the small space I’m permitted to grow while my brothers grow freely away from the Land of Concrete. I’m also sickened by your cruel human practices. Our blood is precious to us, yet you use it for ointments and toppings on cakes, as if we didn’t already provide food ripe for the picking every season or even year round.

I wouldn’t expect you to believe me. You’ve probably been exposed to the propaganda. I saw it first when a young human decided to read it while sitting at my base. The Giving Tree was a story about a tree that gave everything to a spoiled human because it “loved him.” Pardon me Lorax, but I, an actual tree in the real word, speak for the trees when I say that I don’t want anything to do with humans and that I definitely do not love them.

Let it be done. End me to create whatever fast food chain, cotton skin store, or hipster coffee shop you intend to place on my land. But remember this: you need me more than I need you. Without me, without us, there would be no you. Other humans have brainwashed you into believing that we owe everything to you, but you owe everything to us.

Maybe in my next life I’ll come back as one of you, but with a pure heart. I’ll have to write my own propaganda for the sake of trees. I’ll call it: The Giving Human.

Yes, I know this is meaningless in the end. I’m a tree. I can’t write. But can a tree in an abandoned lot think a thought? Yes, it can. 5  

    

 

 

Black Box

At some point there was a distinct shift in the tone of their words and the images they described. More blackness, more char, more heat and hunger. The people of this continent seemed to want nothing more than for God to suck the teeming ash of pines from their lungs.

“The house is gone.”

“Is everyone okay?” 

“No.”

“Who do you have?” 

“Jenna and Nick. We haven’t seen your dad.”

 The kind of research I do—analyzing social media chatter and posts from the era—causes my heart to break daily. I read that when they traveled in airplanes, they had little black boxes that recorded everything in case the plane crashed so they could find out what went wrong. My job is to open the “black box” of the Climate Genocide, as we now call it.

“Nick is driving, we had to leave.”

“No word?” 

“No, all we can do is pray God will keep him safe.”

“I am praying. Keeping an eye on the FPL.”

“I saw on the news they’re dropping water on the freeway,
to cool the pavement down. It’s that hot?”

“Yes.”

 The Found Persons List quickly became the most accessed document in history. People could search on their phones by region for anyone they lost. The List kept a record of those who were found dead by a crew or who’d survived and checked in with an Updater. 

“I got a pic from an Updater. No sign of a body,
just the alder tree near the house. It survived.”

“Why did they send you that?” 

“Consolation, I think.”

“I had a dream that the tree wouldn’t move.”
Seen 10:37 AM

The phosphorescent quaking aspens, the dark-webbed valley oaks, the glass-streaked leaves of the birches, and indeed, the alders: by the end of the century, all had billowed into dunes. There was an unquestionable account of what they faced before it came, and yet they milled about, rippled and seethed like an ants’ nest before the foot came down on them. In other words, they did nothing different until there was more smoke than air.

“He just showed up on the FPL. Deceased.” 

“Why is Jenna on there? Are you and Nick okay?”
Seen 3:07 AM

“Praying for you all.” 6    

 

 

 

The Truth

My mother says the residential memory-care facility, the one near the skatepark they took me to when I was a kid, offers the most progressive treatment for Pop. Today, it still smells like matzo ball soup and Lysol.

Pop had been tall, imposing, exacting. He was a circuit court judge and if anyone was judicial, it was him.  It was maybe my—what was it?—yes, my third time in rehab when Pop, perhaps wiser than all the other counselors, came up with my treatment.

“You must make a commitment to the truth. The absolute, unmitigated truth. Every minute of the day.” His lips were thin and pale when he said this. Like Kierkegaard or one of those philosophers, he believed the truth could save you.

Of course, one simply couldn’t work in public relations and tell the absolute, unmitigated truth. I discovered you couldn’t even be a checker at Bristol Farms. I would have to quit a lot of things. For all these years, though, it’s worked.

“Glady,” Pop now says. “Purple is your color.”

The woman next to Pop giggles. She is not Glady, my mother. This is the woman who informed me her name is “Violet Irene: The Village Queen.”

Pop and Violet both have suites in Beach Villa. I don’t know what village Violet came from, but Pop was a sailor; he’s always lived near the beach. Allowing dementia patients to believe they are still their former selves is the main thing here. It’s called simulated presence therapy. They have sand and heat lamps in this wing. I’ve parked Pop and Violet on a fake boat, sort of like a movie set but undoubtedly much less realistic. I sit next to Pop and try to keep our bargain: I’ll tell the absolute truth. I say very little. My hand shakes.

“It was before Tony Hawk landed a 900 and put skateboarding on the map,” I say. “When you used to take me to that skatepark. We all wanted to be Tony Hawk.” Pop smiles. Does he know who I am today?

Most residents are confined to a wheelchair. But somehow I hear the whoosh, click, and screech sounds when you have to stop hard. I think 360. Ollie. Kick flip. In all these years, I nearly forgot about skateboarding. Yet, I’d broken my arm attempting a pop shuvit.

A nearby speaker crackles. “We set sail at noon.” Violet claps. Pop smiles.

Pop also did the truth treatment with me. He lost friends. His assistant quit. Glady claimed their marriage suffered. It saved my life.

At noon, the scenery projected on a screen moves. Violet starts crying. I can’t speak. Pop’s long vine of an arm, his veiny hand, finds Violet’s knee. He says, “For the last time, dear, I told you—trees can’t move.”

Now I ponder: What truth had we been telling all these years? Pop looks at me and it’s him for a moment, the judge. He winks.

 

 

 

 

Trees are so integral to our world—what would happen if suddenly trees could move? This collection explores all the possibilities spurred by a world with moving trees. So, tell us your 500-word stories in this setting! Feel free to borrow characters and locations from other installments. Your section can stand alone or build on what came before. Send us your submissions by Friday for consideration!