This story is by Ivy MR and was part of our 2021 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
The people walked by me several times in the early morning. I could hear the birds calling to one another, asking what these strangers were doing in their forest. The people did not notice. They walked about speaking loudly to one another, pointing to different trees. Some were getting bright orange x’s painted on them. Looking through the forest, I found only a few trees near me had no x’s. It was the ones they hadn’t reached yet. The people crept closer, shaking the can that made the marks.
“We might not need these to go,” a browned hair girl with a green shirt commented gesturing towards the rest of the trees around me. She seemed to glance back nervously at the sea of orange slashes and tired branches. “Wha- uh what do you think Claire?”
“Perhaps, but better to get rid of them now with the rest, plus look at that one. It’s got an ugly bulge in it. No one would want to keep that one as a decoration, Nora.” A different girl with different hair, dressed in white and black spoke this time, and she stared at the remaining trees as if she could cut them down with her eyes alone. “Mark the rest and we’ll be done.”
Nora drew x’s on the last bare trees. She walked up to me and hesitated for just a moment before raising the can to my trunk. I could feel the paint seeping into my bark. Nora reached out and caught a drip of paint on her finger. She stared out it quizzically before wiping it on the back of her shirt.
“Quickly Nora, we have to get back to the office.” Claire was impatient and so was Nora but both in very different ways.
Night was approaching and the birds had yet to settle. They had been chattering all day about the x’s and what they meant. Birds, I have found, are rarely wrong. I had heard of this happening to other forests before. My forest had gotten quite a bit of new birds this Spring due to losing their nesting ground. We were glad to accept them. This year I got to house two birds. I was hoping to give homes to three birds next year but it doesn’t seem that that will come to be. And to think one of my birds had just finished making her nest only yesterday. But it was truly the worst for the birds who had laid eggs or the ones with flightless babies.
It wasn’t just the birds either. Many animals would have to find somewhere else. Some had already set out, having learned what the smell of paint and the presence of humans meant for them. The birds would too, soon. And after that, there would be no life here, and the sun would rise to wonder where her children had gone.
But for now, the birds would sleep anxiously in their nests, wondering when their homes would no longer be. It is when the chattering finally silences that more people come to the forest. There are several of them, quietly muttering to one another as they come to the center of the selected trees.
“So what’s the plan exactly? There are way more marked ones than I thought” I can’t see them, but their voice is light as they speak.
“It’s gonna be a lot of work but that’s why we got here early. We should be able to get it all off by dawn.” This voice is firm and sturdy.
No one speaks after that. I hear them walking and I see the occasional flash of light shined on the x’s, followed by the noise of spraying water. Eventually one of them comes to me. They spray my trunk and then they are off to another.
Light is creeping into the sky once the people meet back up.
“Perfect timing, they could be here any minute. We should go. Quickly. Everyone double-check the trees as you leave.” The same, firm voice from earlier.
Once again, no one speaks. The morning light shows the people carrying large pump-like containers. As they leave, they reach out to hold on to every tree they pass. Some even lean in for hugs. It is as the people get farther away from me that I focus on the trees, only to find that their x’s are gone and the ground all around is sodden as though it rained all night.
The birds sing with joy and thanks, but the singing is short-lived with the arrival of Nora and several men. Claire doesn’t seem to be with them. There is much shouting when the trees are found to be blank.
“I don’t know what happened. We had them all marked yesterday. It’s as if it rained.” Nora looked around, dumbfounded.
One of the men with her looked particularly displeased as he spoke, “we can’t backtrack this project, Nora. Where’s Claire? She should have a map of the trees at least.” He looked at Nora expectantly.
“Uh-I um I don’t know. She must be late but I remember which trees I marked. I can just point them out as we go.”
“Fine that’ll work I guess.” He seemed unusually overwhelmed for having done nothing.
Nora went off to talk to the other men, here to cut us down I suppose. She directed them around to each tree that had had an x on it. It took quite a bit of time but when she came to me she only showed the workers the trees around me.
The man was back, staring up at me as he said, “we’re not doing this one?”
Nora looked nervous, “um… no, Claire said it would add character to keep this one around.”
“Huh, well alright. If that’s what Claire thinks.” He looked at my growth abnormality uneasily as he wandered away.
The day moved forward and many trees were felled. I stayed standing around the carnage. The birds’ noise was drowned out and eventually, it was all just gone, for they had flown away. One of my birds stayed sat in her nest firmly, unwilling to leave her home.
Claire showed up later. She went around inspecting the trees that were still standing. Her eyes rested on me briefly before calling out. Nora was quick to shut her up, running over before anyone noticed her questions.
“Nora, why’s this tree up? I said I didn’t like this one.”
“Oh, right! Actually,” Nora gestured to the man, “he decided that keeping the tree would add character. So, uh yeah.”
“Hmm, a little unusual but I suppose we shouldn’t question him. Sure is ugly though. I hope he’s got a good vision in mind with that thing.”
“Right, super ugly.” Nora seemed tense until Claire walked away with a sigh. She looked up at my branches. “Well, at least I could save you,” she muttered sadly.
I’m not sure how much time went by. At some point, my remaining bird flew south and did not come back to nest with me. I got no new birds this year. I am no longer a particularly good place to live. I have hardly any other plant life around me. After my fellow trees were gone, they tore up the ground, taking any remaining semblance of the habitat I had been a part of. Once they finished the structure, they planted several bushes and flowers and a few saplings. It was nice to have the company but it was not as it had been.
Now I am to see how life will be. The birds do not come to nest with me. I will never get to hold a beehive or a squirrel’s nest. No owls will hoot on my branches at night. I haven’t seen deer in a year. I no longer give shelter to anyone. I am nearly an unwelcome decoration among the poor saplings that will never know what it is to provide a home. They will never fulfill their purpose, or even reach a fraction of what they could be, and now, neither will I.
A faint memory, from some forever ago, comes back to me. A child hiking through my forest. I had been watching her go from tree to tree giving hugs and whispering secret messages to each of us. When she came to me, she kissed me, for I was too small to hug then, and she told me to have a good life. I fear that I have failed her.
Even in death, I could have been something. A dresser or a bed or a jewelry box or an ax, as ironic as that may be, but anything would have been better than the nothing I have become.