After the old farmer’s death, his sprouts didn’t visit the crooked house in the woods much. They were the busy type, always moving, always talking, just like bees. The old oak missed his former owner. The farmer didn’t talk much, but he watered his trees regularly and would often read under Acorn’s trunk. It felt strange to see him stare for hours into sliced remnants of other trees, but the oak didn’t mind his silent company.
“Will they come back, Acorn?” asked the young spruce.
She was the last tree planted by the farmer and Acorn felt somehow responsible for the little thing. She was barely two seasons old. Her needles were still soft, and her branches lacked strength.
“I do not know, Blue.”
“I heard the roses cry the other day. Magnolia says they will die without humans,” she shivered at the sound of her own words. “What if we die too?”
The oak smirked, his trunk crackling slightly, but it was the best smirk Acorn could squeeze out of his hard bark.
“Don’t worry, little one! You and I are better off without them,” he assured.
The human sprouts sold the cattle, took the shiny things, locked the door, and crawled into a metal box that took them away. Oak heard they were living in a big hive full of other humans. They all lived over each other’s heads — bees indeed. The oak didn’t miss them much. Years ago, one of them had carved the letters, “A+P” inside a heart shape on his bark. It didn’t hurt much, but Acorn was a respectable oak and definitely too old for tattoos.
The life oozed slowly and quietly like honey. The garden, left to its own will and the mercy of the weather, overgrew itself. It was hard to say where the garden ended and where the woods began anymore. Gentle flowers withered and died without humans. They were soon replaced by hemlock and dandelions. Young trees turned into thick trunks and birds settled in among their branches.
As seasons changed, Blue grew into a real beauty, a tall and proud young lady in a majestic gown of shiny blue needles and beads of cones sprinkled all over her skirt. Even in winter, when all other trees turned into dark skeletons, her bright young silhouette sparkled under the shiny white veil of snow.
“What a beauty!” the other trees would say.
Blue shyly shook her head.
“What a beauty!” sang the bird sitting on her.
“What a beauty!” echoed Acorn.
One day, as abruptly as they had left, the humans came back. The oak wasn’t sure, but they seemed a little shorter. Humans were funny little things. Unlike trees, they seemed to shrink with time. They wore weird pieces of white clothes that covered the lower half of their faces and kept sprinkling strange water over anything they touched, but the oak recognized them. One of the old farmer’s sprouts and his mate. They brought their own sprouts - a girl and a boy.
The house rustled and bustled once more. They moved furniture made of more tree corpses, turned on electricity and water, and planted new roses.
“Oh great! Those are back,” mumbled the old stump of Magnolia.
“Do you think they will stay?” asked Blue. She shifted her trunk, trying to get a better glimpse of what was going on inside the house.
“They come and go, and in the long run, none of it matters,” observed Acorn.
“Easy for you to say,” groaned the Hemlock. “You are so big and old, nothing bothers you anymore. I bet they’ll root me out.”
They did, cleaning root and stem. They also cut the bushes into “presentable” shapes, mowed the lawn, and hung a tire from Acorn’s branch.
“I am tempted to break the branch they hung that stupid swing from,” said Acorn one evening as they were watching the red disc of the sun sink behind the horizon. A gush of cold wind whispered that the days were getting shorter again. It blew off red and golden leaves from Acorn’s branches.
“That’s just stupid. You’ll hurt yourself and they will just hang it from another branch,” said Blue. “They are not that bad if you give them a chance. They sprayed me with funny smelling liquid and it killed all the bugs that were giving me an itch.”
Acorn was silent.
“And, if you think, she doesn’t even swing from your branch.” Noticed Blue.
“Yes, instead she just sits under your shade and stares into that weird blue screen.”
“You hate everything new.” Blue’s needles shuddered in annoyance. “She’s an artist, you know. A future designer! Did you see how pretty they dress up those trees in the city? I saw in her screen. They take them home, wrap them in golden ribbon, put beautiful boxes with bows under them and hang shiny glass baubles from their branches, not these stupid hard cones.” She dropped a couple of her cones on the dry grass.
“Are you talking about those soulless plastic parodies?” scoffed Acorn. “They take them out of the cellar once a year, dress them up like clowns, and then shove them back into a box for another season.”
Blue didn’t seem to understand what Acorn meant.
“You’re right. I am much better than those plastic toys. I am alive and my color is brighter, and my scent is much better…” She sighed. “The other day I saw one in the girl’s phone. It had blue velvet flowers with golden trim and glass icicles, and another in white and red. So many colors! And the lights, did you see their lights?” She gasped.
Acorn’s head was pounding, partially due to a squirrel rustling in his branches, but mostly for Blue. When every plant in the garden fell asleep, Acorn shook his trunk and woke the squirrel.
“Hey, Squeak, can you do me a favor?” he asked.
They worked the whole night. Squesk picked up and hung colorful trinkets from her branches, like metals cans, apples, mushrooms and golden leaves from other trees. Acorn convinced fireflies to come hover among her needles. Squeak even found some late autumn flowers and tucked them between her branches.
“I think she’ll love it,” said the squirrel, adjusting the pieces of moss on Blue’s branch.
It was just before dawn when Blue opened her eyes. She looked around with widened eyes, moved her branches in disbelief and gasped.
“What is this garbage?”’ she demanded suddenly. Metal cans clung on her branches as she crossed them on her chest.
Acorn’s smile melted and Squeak rushed into the hollow.
“I thought you might like it…” mumbled the Oak. “You spoke so much about decorations…”
“Ah, I wanted velvet flowers and gold metallic leaves, not this pathetic trash!” In one swift movement, she shuddered her trunk, and the carefully placed décor thumped to the ground. Fireflies, scared of the movement, scattered away and melted into the sky.
Acorn said nothing. His bark felt heavier than usual as he breathed and his branches slouched a little. He tried his best to warm Squeak, who shrunk into a furry ball inside him.
Winter came with heavy snowfalls and strong winds. Humans decorated the garden with weird little fireflies. They were pinned to a black cord and couldn't fly at all. Instead of the usual warm glow of real fireflies, they glowed with cold white light. When humans wrapped Blue in them, almost choking her, she smiled and even slightly lifted her branches so the humans could wrap more fireflies around them.
“Isn’t this majestic?” she asked one evening, the snow sparkling like jewels on her under the white glow of her metallic fireflies.
“Ah, what a beauty,” whispered Magnolia’s stump.
Blue proudly lifted her tip.
“What a beauty,” sang the cardinal bird sitting on her.
“What a beauty,” sighed Acorn.
As the days grew shorter, humans grew more agitated. More often, they jumped into their metallic box and returned with more boxes, food, and decorations.
“Christmas is approaching,” said Magnolia. “They all get restless, but it will pass as soon as they eat the bird and exchange boxes.”
“Oh, I don’t want it to pass,” said Blue. “I wish that instead of that plastic doll, they decorated me. I am a thousand times better than that parody!”
“Be careful what you wish for,” said Acorn. “Some wishes are better left unfulfilled.”
“What do you know about dreams, old trunk? You lived here for centuries without knowing a better life,” snorted Blue. She shook her head and the lights twinkled. “Is it a crime to want more from life? What do you know about shiny baubles, glittery garlands, festive ribbons, and the warmth of the fireplace?”
“A fireplace filled with corpses of our friends,” Acorn reminded her. He tried not to look at the Magnolia stump. The rest of her ended in that fireplace years ago. “They don’t need you alive. All they want is to decorate you and dance around and when they are done, you will end up in a dumpster or that fireplace.”
“You’re just a jealous old trunk!” snapped Blue. “If they don’t choose to take me, I will have to take matters into my own branches,” muttered Blue through gritted needles. Then, she shifted her tip so he couldn’t see her face anymore.
Acorn opened his mouth, but Magnolia shushed him. She waved her tiny, lonely branch on a short sliced stump and whispered, “Give the lass some space. She’ll come along soon.”
As much as he wanted to speak, Acorn sighed and nodded.
He woke up to weird snapping sounds. Something was moving under Blue. At first, he thought humans came to cut her. He roared and swung his massive body just to stop mid movement in horror. A beaver was munching Blue’s beautiful straight trunk.
“Shoo! Get out!” shrieked Magnolia as the beaver chewed the last bits of the trunk.
“Hey, she asked me to do it!” growled the beaver, who thumped his tail and trotted away.
Acorn looked at Blue. She was smiling through tears as her stem bled sap.
“What have you done?” whispered Acorn with his dry trembling lips.
“I will be pretty.” She let out her last breath and dropped on the ground.
The next morning, humans picked up the fallen spruce and dragged her inside the house. They put her bleeding foot into a bucket and watered just enough to support life inside her veins. Then, they pushed her towards the big window, so she was visible even from the outside. They hung shiny beads and candy from her weakened branches, wrapped ornate ribbon around her body, placed a shiny bejeweled star on her tip, and put boxes around her.
Snowflakes fell down, muting the distant bustling of humans in the house. Acorn stared for a moment at the stump left after Blue. If trees had hearts, Acorn's was bleeding. Ragged edges of the torn wound still preserved her fresh scent, but her majestic silhouette was no longer by his side. Instead, in the distant frame of a well-lit window was another one, vaguely familiar, but slouched and heavy under the sparking outfit. She was barely breathing and slowly shedding as life was leaving her.
Humans lit the candles, took each other’s hands and ate the bird they murdered. Then, they laughed, exchanged presents, and took pictures under the Christmas tree.
“What a beauty,” whispered the mother.
Blue wailed in agony.
“What a beauty,” said the daughter, clapping and jumping with joy.
Blue closed her eyes.
“What a beauty,” whispered Acorn, tears sliding down his trunk.