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A fateful encounter

By James LeekPublished 11 days ago 6 min read
Top Story - April 2024
Photo by Kevin Young on Unsplash

"To the left," the wizened Oak hissed, its brow of cloven bark furrowed above the deep brown knots of its eyes. "The left, I said!"

"I heard you the first time," snapped the Sycamore, whose leaves framed its pinched face in the fashion popular among the younger saplings. The Sycamore was altogether too old to pull it off, but it takes so long to grow such a style that he wasn't about to let a few extra tree-rings in his midsection make him question the choices he made last century. "It's no good, she's walking faster than I can grow."

"She's going to go right past us!" The urgency in the Oak's voice was not matched by his face, which took a long time to unfurrow and crease into a new expression. "Just slip a branch under her neck and wrangle the girl over here."

The girl, who had twenty-five human years under her belt and hated being called a girl by the middle-aged men she worked with, let alone by a plant, stopped in the middle of the path and faced the two gnarled trees.

"I've done it!" the Sycamore stammered, as surprised as anyone. "Through some ancient psychic magic I've brought her to a complete standstill. She is entirely at my mercy."

The girl cocked her head at the Sycamore. "You know I can hear you, yes?"

The Oak gasped. "Don't move! Pretend you're a tree."

"How do I do that?" the Sycamore cried, suddenly bereft of both ancient magic and independent thought.

"Just be very still!" A light breeze rolled through the forest, ruffling the leaves of the Oak's lower branches. "Confound this blasted wind! It's no use, we've been rumbled. She definitely saw that."

The girl turned now to the Oak. "I can hear you. With my ears. I can hear the things you are saying, with your mouth-hole. Do you understand that?"

By now, the Oak's expression had caught up with his previous sentiment, so he looked very urgent as he met the girl's eyes and said, "I am a tree!"

The girl raised her eyebrows, because it seemed like the only sensible response to such a statement. "Yes, and I am a woman, not a girl. My name is Winona. What are your names?"

At that, the Oak faltered and the Sycamore looked befuddled for the both of them. This was made possible only by the comparative suppleness of his bark.

"Names?" the Sycamore said. "We don't have names. I don't know why we would need them. We only speak to each other."

Winona peered beyond the two old trees, at the verdant forest stretching into an emerald abyss of branch and leaf. "What about these other trees?"

The Oak harrumphed, and his face made it look like he did so with great urgency. "They're all too young and cool to speak to us old-woods. Isn't that right?"

The Sycamore let out a deep sigh. (If Winona's recollection of her biology class held true, that sigh would be almost entirely oxygen, but she couldn't say what part of the tree the sigh came from. A sensible guess would be the leaves, but it looked very much like it came from the round hole that seemed to be the tree's mouth.) "Yes, the saplings of today have no respect. You can have the most fashionable leaf-parting in the forest and still not get so much as a 'how do you do?' from that moody bunch."

"The saplings don't say 'how do you do', they say 'what is up?'" corrected the Oak. "To which a tree in the know will respond, 'what is up, to you?'"

Winona had been tapping her foot for much of this exchange, and now she held up her hands in defeat. "That makes no sense. And they can't all be saplings. What about that old-looking willow back there?"

"Shh!" said the Oak, whose urgent expression had softened too soon for this caution to have the full effect. "Don't let her hear you, she's worse than silence!"

Behind them, in a small clearing, the Willow stirred. A shiver passed through the leaves that draped themselves languorously across the floor, and an ethereal voice floated through the foliage. "What do mine ears behold? Hast some fortunate traveller come in search of the wisdom of the Willow? One must only ask and I shall bequeath all that I know."

Very quietly, the Oak whispered a long, low, "shhh". The Sycamore said nothing, but its eyes conveyed a desperate plea for silence. After several quiet seconds, the alertness of the Willow's leaves dissipated and they settled once more.

"She's a few centuries older than us, but there's no reason for her to talk like that," the Sycamore muttered. "It really throttles my trunk."

Winona wasn't familiar with the expression, but it reminded her of why she had stopped in the first place. "Were you trying to strangle me earlier?"

"Oh!" the Sycamore said. "Yes."

"But not to death," the Oak clarified. "We just wanted to pick you up by the neck and bring you over here."


"You see this big hole at the base of my trunk?" the Oak said.

"The one you're talking out of?"


"Yes, I see it."

"We wanted to drop you in it."


"So many questions, girl! So that I could eat you."

Perplexed, Winona said, "Don't you photosynthesise?"


"Then why did you want to eat me?"

"Oh, for the love of all things floral, because we are bored, girl! We used to have lots of people traipsing through this forest and they would slip on the mulch of our fallen leaves and topple down the camber of the trail and then . . . oop!"

"Oop!" echoed the Sycamore.

"Right into my mouth."

"It was a lot of fun," the Sycamore assured.

"Now, though, they've put this paved path all the way through the forest, so anyone who does come this way is as sure-footed as a damnable goat."

"It's very level," the Sycamore agreed wistfully.

Winona had always been a people-pleaser, at least in the moment, and she was surprised to find that this trait of hers extended to pleasing trees, too, even in spite of her better judgement. "Why don't you grow a root over the path, or through it, to trip people? And you, Oak, why don't you sprinkle some of your acorns on the path for people to slip on? They might even roll an ankle." She didn't know why she said this, but the trees were delighted with the idea, even if the Oak's expression still looked reproachful from all her earlier questions.

"That is genius!" the Sycamore said. "I've been so focused on my branches and leaves, I hadn't considered a well-placed root! I'll start growing one right away."

"And I'll get right to sprinkling," the Oak said cheerfully, though he made no discernible movement to do so.

Winona smiled. "Well, I better be on my way. Nice to meet you both!"

"Goodbye!" the two trees chorused as Winona retreated back up the path.

When she reached the mobile office site, she went straight to the door marked CEO and gave it a sharp double-knock before walking in.

The balding man behind the desk glanced up. "Winona!"

"Hey, dad."

"Have you completed your survey already?"

"Yes," she said. "All fit for logging, no blockers."

"Excellent," said the man. He picked up a walkie-talkie from his desk, pushed the 'talk' button, and spoke into the radio. "Green light," he said, then added cheerily: "Tim-berrr!"

Short StoryFantasyFable

About the Creator

James Leek

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Comments (9)

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  • Esala Gunathilake4 days ago

    Congratulations on your top story.

  • Zunaira Khalil5 days ago


  • Novel Allen10 days ago

    The trees will get back at us someday, no matter how clever we think we are. Congrats.

  • D.K. Shepard11 days ago

    So creative and engaging! The dialogue of the trees was so well done! And the ending was a brilliant close!

  • Anna 11 days ago

    Congrats on Top Story!

  • JBaz11 days ago

    Like the subtle twist, and the wonderful exchange between them. Why were they so mean to the willow? (That was funny ) Well told story and enjoyable read. Congratulations

  • Mark E. Cutter11 days ago

    Enjoyed this very much. Great ending!

  • ROCK 11 days ago

    New subscriber; this was a humorous yet fateful take for this ("mouth-hole") of a grove. I enjoyed this very much!

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