The Journey Tree

Here is a flash fiction piece that grew out of a writing exercise I did last month. The goal was to make a thing or a place the centre of a story.

The Journey Tree

(~500 words)

How the tree had grown so tall in the rocky desert where bushes barely took root, no one in the village knew. And although many seasons had passed since it had sprouted even a single, needly leaf, never did a dead thing seem more alive than when its scrawny limbs were silhouetted against the purple-and-blood twilight as it tried to catch the setting sun in its bony fingers.

Some villagers still hung dried leaves from the tree over the entrances to their dung huts. Spiky leaves, thick and brittle; charms to ward off wandering shades.

Oútu would sneak off in the evening after her chores were done to sit by the tree. The roots had a groove perfectly shaped for her to lean back into and watch the rays of the setting sun bathe the village below in sanguine light.

Some evenings she would climb the tree, though her mother had strictly forbidden it. “It's an old tree. You cannot trust that it will hold you.”

But it always did.

One such evening, Oútu discovered a miracle. The tree was a home to her, so she knew right away that something was different. It had always felt static, dead, but tonight it was as if there was life beneath the smooth bark, and the branches were ready to reach out to her like when grandmother slowly stretched her limbs in the morning before she could get out of bed. And almost at the top, one of the branches had changed. There was a bump on the end of it. It was bright green.

Outú slid down the trunk, quick and smooth like a startled sand snake and ran towards the village, shouting and pointing to the tree.

“It's a leaf! A leaf on the journey tree,” shrieked Oútu.

Bewildered villagers rose from their dusk gatherings, a time meant for stillness and reflection. They murmured questions and complained in hushed voices. A few began to sing their household songs, fearing it was not Oútu who was coming, but some screaming night spectre taken her shape.

The elders gathered at the village heart and dung was brought to light the heartfire so they could sit council. Oútu told them what she had seen, and they listened and nodded with furrowed brows, then told her to go to her hut and rest.

When the village rose with the sun, the elders summoned everyone to the faded heartfire, where the elders sat in tired silence.

Haru stood up and faced them, her dark red robes flowing about her in the morning breeze. She was not oldmost, but it always her who was last to relent to change; her love for the village was as deep as the roots of the tree. A decision voiced by Haru would be inevitable like the dry storms of high season. A single tear rolled down her wrinkled cheek as she spoke.

“We must leave this place.”