Nick John’s Picture Choice:
Title: The Call of the Wildwood
The trees hate me.
I have been their implacable enemy, but the depth of their malevolence, honed over centuries of slow growth, cuts more keenly now I am alone. I drove him to keep us safe from them. For years we controlled them, he and I. In the springtime of our love, we would venture out. He, armed with the tools of their subjugation, the well honed axe, sharp toothed saw and, the thing they feared most – fire; and together, we beat the trees back.
They were kept at a respectful distance. No shoot or sapling was tolerated. For years we maintained our ascendency. Tireless seasonal toil kept them at bay.
In the summer of our love we erected fences, evidence of the range of our proud enclave. The children were even allowed to venture to the margins of the trees. I cautioned them about the dangers that could lie concealed deep within their fey shadows, and sternly enjoined them not to wander too deep, but my concerns proved unfounded. The trees held no power over Jack and John. As soon as they were old enough our offspring sought out the city and soon settled, never returning to help their father maintain our refuge. He never recovered from their desertion, and the first sad small signs of autumn showed in his now wrinkled face.
I suppose I always feared that the trees held an allure for him. He walked among them for days. And nights; and, as our bond slowly withered, the trees began their slow, imperceptible, re-conquest of our refuge.
I feared that he would abandon me for them, that he would linger, trapped, wrapped in some timeless, nameless arboreal glamour. I watched, anxiously fearing that they would ensnare him. But he always returned to me, emerging from their tangling, snagging grasp, stamping his boots to rid them of the trees’ cloying, mulchy earth; flapping his coat to dislodge wicked, clinging leaves and seeds.
But trees possess the power of ages and, in the hard crack winter of our love they bested me.
On a stark moonlit night when winter held a frosty knife to the throat of all creation, he finally heard their summons. He scrambled, heedless of scratching, snagging branches, climbing higher and higher, gave himself up to the siren call. Through my rimed, darkened windows I saw him crawl out onto a limb and watched, helpless as he surrendered to them. His last mad tarantella was danced, not in my sheltering arms, but in the gnarled embrace of the blasted Oak, stage lit by the sere, watery moon.
So I faced the hatred of the trees alone.
Next spring I watched as sly seeds sprouted and, with each verdant awakening, blossomed into saplings replete with green loathing, the approaching vanguard of the trees’ inevitable triumph.
In summer’s arrogant fullness they blocked out the sun, creating dark pools of serotinal spite where their seedling plots could mature.
In equinoctial gales they cast down boughs to beat down our once proud perimeter fences. Autumnal malice dripped from every branch. Brown, treacherous leaves swirled toward the house carpeting the ground; swathes of slimy, rotting matter, their perfume of putrefaction reminding me of the approaching season of my loss.
Bending ever closer in their stark, spare nakedness, the barren trees commune openly now, safe in the knowledge that I no longer have the power or the will to control them. At night, I hear them plotting my destruction, their branches whispering, clashing together, beating a wild woody tattoo, preparing to engulf me. Their whistling voices, borne on the heedless wind, the harbinger of winter’s desolation, call to me. And, now, by the first pallid light of the solstice sun that no longer provides life giving warmth, the old Oak mocks me with the noose, calling me to abandon my now dilapidated fortress; to let all that we built return to wilderness, and to unite with my love once more, under the dominion of the trees.
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Despite his Mother telling him not to, Nick continues to make things up.