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A Treefecta of Tales

"Like Renfield, but with twigs."

By L.C. SchäferPublished 3 months ago Updated 3 months ago 9 min read
A Treefecta of Tales
Photo by Michael Krahn on Unsplash

A Trilogy in Six Parts, AKA "A Greemarillion"

If you know me at all, you know that I don't enter every Vocal challenge. But when I do enter one, it's because it's inspired me. If it inspires me, I'm probably not going to stick to just one entry.

For the Snow Micro challenge, I made a cluster of stories all centered around the same idea: "The Revenge of the Snowman". [Spoiler ahead.] It's that age old tale: boy builds snowman, snowman comes to life, snowman is tortured by existential angst and murders everyone. Fun for all the family.

You can read all my Snow Micro entries here:

This time round, I've done a similar thing with my treefecta of stories: a trilogy in six parts. I'm going to collate them all here, for your enborement.

Bags of Fun

You can probably tell I am having BAGS OF FUN with the Whispering Woods Challenge. It's been a wonderful exercise in worldbuilding for me. As far as I'm concerned, if none of them place, I'll still consider it a win.

Thank you

This challenge has benefited me hugely as a writer, and as much as some of us have a little moan about Vocal now and again because they aren't doing things the way we'd like... I am immensely grateful for this opportunity.

My thanks to all the hard working people behind the scenes at Vocal, for making this the platform it is. Thank you, a hundred times, for such a smashing challenge, for the possibility to make multiple entries, for stretching me, and for such fantastic inspiration. It's been so much fun.

Thank you, as well, to everyone who has been reading my maniacal scribbles. I can't thank you enough for your support.

My entries, collated

***** Spoilers will follow, so if you intend to read them (thank you!) I recommend you do that first!*****

First up, The Nevergreens

Deep in the Neverwood

The Speaking of the Trees

That Infernal Clock

God is Empty, Just Like Me

A Fanny Full of Wasps

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Let's explore the woods together

My stories are set in a place called the Neverwood. It's a secret, magical place, hidden inside and behind a mundane forest at the back of a sleepy little English village. Did you read What I Bought at the Market? It's probably the same village.

This is where Father Time goes on holiday. He slows down, takes his boots off, idles. Stretches.

The Neverwood trees are sentient (of course). They're (mostly) gentle, but there's a secret at their centre. The reason they walk, and dance, and whisper and sing... is because they eat the life of any creature or wandering child that strays there. Think Renfield, but with twigs.

The trees themselves have a mostly innocent nature. There's no malice, only hunger, and a natural will to keep living, and not lose their sentience. This much, surely, we share, and can agree it doesn't make them evil. (Or, I dunno, that infamous apple was an allegory for the knowledge of good and bad, so maybe.)

The unsavoury part (the sacrifice) happens in the heart of the Neverwood, where there is a glade of Nevergreen trees. This place is called the Neverglade.

The Nevergreens are black and bare trees that always look dead and bleak, even in summer. They're vicious. They do the dirty work, if you like, to feed the sweet and benign "green children".

The green walkers don't know just what goes on in the Neverglade, or perhaps they know but prefer not to dwell on it. A bit like us, eating our chicken nuggets. Yum yum yum.

Summing up in a quick glossary

Neverwood: the sentient forest

Nevertrees: the sentient trees in the forest; also referred to as green walkers, or green children.

Neverglade: an area in the centre of the forest which is black, cold, and mostly lifeless. This is where the sacrifices go.

Nevergreens: gaunt, bare black trees with an air of winter about them all year round. They are the only thing growing in the Neverglade. They're also sentient, and very aggressive.

Symbolism, because I'm all fancy and shit

I had a couple of things in mind as this magical green world sprouted in my brain, with so many curious pathways to explore.

First, I was thinking of yin and yang. In my mind, the forest represents something like this. A huge and sprawling lush green blob (good, benign, gentle, peaceful), with a black heart in the centre (aggressive, malevolent).

The magical green world cannot exist without sacrifice, and without some entity with the strength and will to ensure that sacrifice.

I liked the symbolism of green as innocence, (if someone is "green" it's a way of saying they're new at something) and black as evil (black heart, black soul, etc). I played with this a lot. I generally try not to use the same word over and over again.... but I made an exception for "green" and "black" and deliberately used them over and over.

I had a lot of fun choosing religious language for a couple of these, quoting scripture, evoking Biblical imagery and themes, and name-dropping Satan. (He's got so many names, it's amazing.) I've packed many examples into God is Empty. Sacrifice being the most obvious, but also sin, innocence, baptism, stigmata, and serpents.

Inspiration

At some point, I also thought of The Time Machine, and the two races in that story: Morlocks and Eloi.

In my Whispering Woods stories, I wanted to flip the script and have the more aggressive race be in service to the gentler one. It is their aggressive nature that serves the friendlier trees, since the latter are too benign to take what they need for themselves. This is, in my opinion, the way a healthy society should operate.

If the malevolent trees were destroyed, the green ones would die. If the green ones were destroyed, the Others would be a manifestation of malice without purpose. So: each need the other. One to feed the other. One to keep the other in check and channel its nature in a useful way.

Themes and whatnot, what I had fun with

Necessary evil is a repeating theme. Is there such a thing? Some of the characters think so, and some say otherwise.

Perspective is another theme I had fun with. If all you see is the gorgeous green forest, infused with magic and wonder... you have a very different perspective than you'd have once you know what feeds it. If you only know what feeds it, you would be horrified... unless you'd first come to befriend these gentle green beings and want to care for them and preserve them.

I like flipping stuff around and turning things upside down. The character who is supposed to be wicked (I refer to her often as a witch) is tough, competent and still tender when she needs to be. She's able to support her charges in a matter of fact way, without judgement. She's driven and defined by her deep desire to protect others. The character who thinks herself virtuous is blinded by her own wants and is quick to cast judgement. She leans heavily on scripture, but twists it to rationalise her personal agenda.

The Stories

A couple of people who commented were unsure on the timeline. It doesn't matter hugely, since each story should be able to stand on its own. But if you want to read them in any sort of order, this is probably it.

I posted them mostly in chronological order, with the exception being "The Speaking of Trees" which, being from the trees' perspective, stands apart.

1. The Neverwood

I'm very happy with this story, but I think I chose the wrong image for it. I think the one I made for the next story would have been a better fit. Ideally, I'd like to take the images I made for #1 and #2, and swap them round.

In this story, a child stumbles into the Neverwood by accident, and befriends the trees there, who let her return. She eventually intervenes and prevents a human sacrifice: a baby who who's been abandoned and given to the Neverglade. Her family is able to adopt the baby, and she names her Willow. She returns to the forest to destroy the Neverglade so that her sisters will be safe.

2. Deep in the Neverwood

I know Dharsheena wanted me to kill off the baby in the first story, and if I'm totally honest, I wanted to as well. At first, anyway. But I couldn't, because I wanted her to grow up knowing her roots (not sorry) and be able to share her perspective. That's what she does in the opening to this story, which takes place less in the nice soft green part, and more in the Neverglade.

After Willow tells her side of things, the perspective shifts to a teenage girl. She is taken by her grandmother to visit the witch on the edge of the forest, who you should be able to recognise from the first story. (She didn't destroy the Neverglade, and she did come back, after she made a bargain with the Trees.) The witch takes the teenager to the Neverglade as a way of bringing an unwanted pregnancy to an end. The "seedling" is given to feed the green trees. The witch hints that the given seedlings don't "die", not properly, and instead become part of the forest. It's not clear if that's literal, and something she knows, or if it's just imagery that she hopes will comfort the girl and inspire her to help look after the forest.

3. The Speaking of the Trees

The green children tell the tale from their own perspective, giving some backstory as to why a child was allowed to blunder in, leave alive, and return, multiple times. The Trees also express gratitude that she did give them her life after all, and reflect on what might happen after she dies.

4. That Infernal Clock

A Christian woman who cannot have children loathes the idea that pregnancies are being terminated in the forest in some ungodly ritual. It goes against everything she believes in, and sincerely hurts her heart. She steps in to try to stop it, but instead gets all tangled up in it. She asks the forest for help conceiving a child. I loved this character so much that I kept writing her.

5. God is Empty, Just like Me

I think this was my favourite one to write, it was lots of fun! We are still with the Christian woman, and what she does after the witch dies. She tries to step into the role demanded of her, but she doesn't do it very well. Possibly because it goes against all her principles, and every part of it is a struggle to her.

I was especially pleased with the image AI churned out for this. It wasn't what I asked for, which was something like "a frightened woman sinking into the ground in a forest". Instead, they gave me quite a tormented looking face, in stark monochrome, that looks like it's asking, "what have I done?!"

I was quite frustrated at the lack of a term for a "person being baptised". I did a spot of googling and found "baptizee", which is a bit obscure, not commonly used and apparently from the nineteenth century. I decided it'd do!

Finally, yes, that title is lifted from a Smashing Pumpkins lyric. Here you go:

Emptiness is loneliness, and loneliness is cleanliness , And cleanliness is godliness, and God is empty , Just like me

6. A Fanny Full of Wasps

This is my least favourite of my entries. I've gone back to Willow's perspective to write this one. I'm beginning to have second thoughts and wishing I'd stuck with the Christian woman. This story continues her character arc, and I don't know if it lands so well not being able to share her thoughts and feelings, and only see her actions from the outside.

I couldn't make this story bend the way I wanted it to go. There were elements that I wanted to include that just felt out of place when I shoe horned them in, and empty when I took them out. Darlings I killed, apparently senselessly, because it still didn't go.

Feedback

Your feedback on any of these entries is gratefully received! I wish Vocal had an option where you could pay a small fee for feedback from the judges. I would absolutely utilise that! I might do a piece about this at some point, if I have time.

Shoutouts

I usually do some shoutouts, but since this is already a behemoth, I will do that separately this time.

And Finally

Let's have some Pumpkins to sing us out, because, lets face it, this is the main reasn I'm posting this! 😁

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PS. If you are tempted to inform me that trifecta and trilogy refer to three of something, I know.

Challenge

About the Creator

L.C. Schäfer

Book-baby is available on Kindle Unlimited

Flexing the writing muscle

Never so naked as I am on a page. Subscribe for nudes.

Here be micros

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Sometimes writes under S.E.Holz

"I've read books. Well. Chewed books."

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Comments (5)

  • Esala Gunathilake3 months ago

    Hats off to your performance. Well done!

  • I believe the arcs worked really well together! You could possibly weave different arcs that are happening at the same time, not exactly sure how, but it could be done!

  • Caroline Craven3 months ago

    I really enjoyed reading your ideas and themes behind the stories. You’re so much more articulate than me when it comes to explaining your thoughts. Good on you and wishing you all good luck in the challenge.

  • Cathy holmes3 months ago

    Thanks for the fascinating look inside your brain as you were writing this series. It truly is excellent. I think my favourites of the six would be the first one and the Godless one.

  • John Cox3 months ago

    I’m happy to report that I made an effort to understand the complexities of the narrative arc of your Neverwood series and was able to track its consequences on the major characters. I appreciate your encapsulation of the series here and especially enjoyed your wry asides and literary references. You have a way of making the appreciation of art both humorous and engaging.

L.C. SchäferWritten by L.C. Schäfer

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