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Jay Lake
Date: 2010-05-10 05:31
Subject: [fiction] Another open story
Security: Public
Tags:fiction, lj, stories
Remember "The Last Days of Yokohama Sid's Used Ferris Wheel Lot"? It was an open story we did here on the blog back in 2007. I wrote a stub, and people added to it in comments. jeffsoesbe then edited into something coherent, to deal with comment overlap and other such fillips of the format.

I think it's time for another open story. Herewith is a stub. Feel free to add your voice, your twist. Something in the way of continuity might be fun, but basically this is an open exquisite corpse. Enjoy!

The Ghosts of Trees

Everything leaves a mark on the world. A tire track leading to a smashed railing and drop into the gaping gorge. Such a view down there; white water braiding through rocks, stands of blackberries, a shattered yellow motorcycle helmet, the scent of gasoline rising on the wind. Just the same, a contrail high in the sky, interrupted by grayish black smoke and the long, slow, screaming fall amid a rain of aluminum shards and dampened shreds of life.

Endings come for us as surely as a predatory stalker in a 1970s B-movie. Some people find their terminus quietly at home, others die in a flash of bright light and a battle cry of "Hold my beer and watch this." Still more are eaten from within, slow predatory intent by the body's own betrayals.

But the world? The word for world is plural. The ending for world must be plural as well, and massive as the soul of God. Such a weight of life to be lifted from the uncomplaining lithosphere, blown like glass bubbling too hot to anneal until it vanishes in a red haze and leaves behind only the ghosts of trees looking down from cracked basalt at lands once more made void and without form.

It was all my fault, really. Stupid stupid stupid. This is how it happened.

Your turn...

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The NewroticGirl
User: newroticgirl
Date: 2010-05-10 14:20 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
The last thing that happened was the trees turning to stone, fossilizing. It's easier to start at the end and trace the series of events backwards than to pick the single thing that kicked off the whole chain. Was it the lack of milk for my coffee on November 12th? The first time I slept through the night and didn't need the nightlight (much)? The summer my parents went camping, when it was too hot even to screw -- though they obviously did it anyway?

So, the trees. And the ground, charred and twisted. And the heat, dry and crackling. That's the last thing.
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User: martyn44
Date: 2010-05-10 14:39 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Only trees don't believe in ends. Trees don't even believe in beginnings, never mind middles. The flames have come and roared, but where are they now? The trees call out 'Here, little bitty pretty flames!' and what do they get for an answer? Just the wind, and the wind is always. The wind was even before trees. 'You want permanent, unchanging?' think the trees from wherever they go when the fire comes, wherever they hide. 'Beside the wind we're like mayflies.'
So the earth is black and cracked hard, like a badly made pot thrown onto the waste heap by the frustrated potter, who was expecting something with form out of all that fury and flame. The earth just lies there, biding its time, not even counting the aeons never mind the years and months and days. Patient as a stone? You got it.
Then the trees decide to come out of hiding, not yet green tendrils rising up towards the greatest fire of them all, only the trees don't know that. Unyielding the trees may be, irrepressible, constant to be sure, but intelligent? No. All they know is that if they only push hard enough they'll find a way through anything.
I like trees. I've liked trees for a long, long time. They've been my unchanging company since before I can remember, and I have a very long memory.
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User: silvertwi
Date: 2010-05-10 15:11 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
The memories of the trees are longer even than mine. They go back millions of years, to before mankind ever came into being. Maybe if man had never existed, it would never have happened. Their memories would remain in the living, not the fossilized memory of stone.

They say a butterfly beating its wings in China can create a hurricane halfway across the world. One tiny little insect, such huge, devastating effects. But I am not an insect. And this one was all my fault.
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User: slweippert
Date: 2010-05-10 16:02 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I have to admit it, even to myself. My fault, my actions, my choices did this. Funny, I thought I'd feel devastated at what I had done. I feel tired, weary. My feelings are a strange thing; they are separate from me. I never understood them, but they push me to make choices my mind would rather not.
Such as this choice, for example, to end everything.
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User: cithra
Date: 2010-05-10 16:16 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
People wonder why "paper covers rock" in the ancient triad game, and here's the reason. Rock is solid, in the main, until peering close-in the fractal chinks and crazing become visible, tiny purchase but enough for rootlet's questing. So root to bough and triumph, foliage creeping in to paper over the landscape like the flocked walls of a Victorian mansion. Each tiny probing tendril of vegetation, as it marches, pries and prizes at the stone, wearing away, tearing down, erasing oh-so-slowly the erasure previously wrought by molten devastation.
My folly was the thought that I could intervene - that I might somehow bend this endless cycle to the filling of my pocketbook. I cast myself as scissors, forgetting in my hubris the third leg of the game where scissors break on rock, and was so broken. My wits were not as sharp as I pretended, my intellect was less than keen. My stone-devouring trees now standing in dead ranks, become stone themselves, mocked me as I surveyed the empty plains where my experiment had died, while that death crept outward with each insect kiss, each dutiful pollination errand of the bees, each gust of wind spreading my accidental poison.
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User: stephenstanley
Date: 2010-05-10 16:16 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
And I mean everything. Even the damned trees and their damned accusations. I won't be content just to end mankind; wipe memories of futile lives from the planet, from the solar system. The Earth must go as well, and if not destroyed then at least become a ball of sterile dirt to match its moon, its fellow planets. So I bargained for the power, the ability. No, I did not make a deal with some make believe superstitious "evil," nor with a fictitious cabal of powerful rich men, but with the unsuspecting trees. After the last of the oil was finally burned, after civilization came to a halt, after the famine and the pestilence, there would remain the trees. The damned trees. They thought they would re-inherit the earth. Perhaps they would have, except I made one stupid mistake.

I fell in love again.
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User: otterdance
Date: 2010-05-10 16:26 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
It was hot that morning. Shimmering mirages were already skittering across the concrete sidewalk as I straddled my bike and pulled on the ugly, secondhand yellow helmet Elaine so despised. She kept threatening to write "Lemon Head" on it like a gang tag in permanent marker. It was an empty threat. She knew as well as I did that the price of a new one would shit can the delicate triumvirate of rent, food, and treatments.

Edited at 2010-05-10 04:27 pm (UTC)
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User: (Anonymous)
Date: 2010-05-10 18:09 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
We had to get back in before sunrise. The heat was oppressive enough at three a.m. Might as well put a gun to your head when the sun rose.

Elaine gunned her bike and swooped away down the street. My bike shuddered as I popped it into gear and rode after her. Elaine knew these streets a lot better than I did. I didn't like spending much time on the ground.
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L,  tequila powered avian superhero
User: asthecrowfly
Date: 2010-05-10 19:51 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Elaine had ghosts living inside her. She'd been tan as a kid, running around the desert barefoot with her first aid kit and a bag of home made pixie dust, Koolaid and bright white sugar. The tan had faded years ago, but the streams of freckles remained, like comet tails. I followed her, watching her red helmet up ahead in the not-quite dark, ears full of the drone and hum of our two bikes. She could trace her way along the road like she was dancing. She made it look easy, the same way she'd come up from sleep, curls springy, smile easy.

Lainey made forgiveness look easy. If you could just tell her what you'd done, and mean it--mean the grief and pain and the desire to change--it was like magic. Lainey could forgive just about anybody, if they could open up their mouth and say the words.

I hadn't been able to ask. And I've lived with her long enough to know the things you do, when you love someone. Lainey could never forgive herself for anything.

So she's on pretty intimate terms, with all her old ghosts. And everyone else's.

So I just rode the bike behind her, watching her red helmet up ahead, the light of her headlight shedding illumination on the ground.
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User: talekyn
Date: 2010-05-10 20:18 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Rock, paper, scissors. Rent, food, treatments. Stone, sea, trees. Elaine, me, the pregnancies.

Triads. We used to play a board game, when I was kid, called Tri-Bond. The card would list three things, the teams had to identify what they had in common or what connected them. Most of them were not as easy as "rock, paper, scissors," or even as easy as "Elaine, me, the pregnancies."

Except that now that I've made the comparison, I'm not really sure what the connect really is in that last group. Sure, the obvious physical connection, but I'm talking at a deeper level. A level of memory that stretches back far longer than I can say, and not long enough. It gets harder, the longer you go on, to remember everything, and sometimes the one thing you forget is the thing that sparks the connection between then and now, between putting a yellow motorcycle helmet on and seeing it shattered on the rocks below.

All my fault, really. My long but cracked memory. What have I forgotten? Something about the trees.
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celestialgldfsh: Good day for writing
User: celestialgldfsh
Date: 2010-05-10 22:51 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:Good day for writing
Trees possess ghosts, too. Or spirits, I should say. Elaine knew those beings just as she knew her own. She would lean her bike against the crusty summer dirt and lay one palm on a gnarled tree trunk. She closed her eyes, pressing her ear close to the bark, like the Indians always do to the ground in westerns.

"It says change is coming," she said this one time. Her voice was an ominous whisper.

"Change?" The first thing I thought of was quarters, thick rolls, the sort I could take to the arcade.

Elaine made a face as if she could read my thoughts. "No, stupid. Change, as in life-changing, catastrophic, world-shattering."

I hated when she called me stupid. I hated it even more later, when I knew the word was true, and that everyone else knew it, too.
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User: slweippert
Date: 2010-05-11 00:36 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Anger flares still at that final memory of her, of her final insult. Her last words seared into my mind, my emotions. I do not know why I care. She's gone now, along with everyone else, everything else.
The anger burned myself to ash as I stood next to that cursed tree and heard her mouth form that word, and my emotions, illogical as always, transfered from my love Elaine to the tree she touched with loving hand.
My anger would burn the world down.
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User: e_bourne
Date: 2010-05-11 01:42 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I sat on the shack's porch looking over the desert, polishing my glasses like I did round about every sunset every night. Waiting for the days to end. That's how I saw her come walking out across the buckled earth, scarlet hair blowing like a fire storm behind her. She carried a sawed off shotgun in one hand and a kitten in the other.
She got close enough, I hollered, "I like your kitten." That paused her. She hefted the gun. "Name's Sheba."
"Mine's Isiah. Never seen you round here before."
Of course, that's because there was no one left to see. Not after the rocket's red glare burned the cities down, turned the trees to ghosts and people to dust. Funny to see a person again. Specially someone like her, all curves and long red hair.
She stepped up onto the porch, icing me with a long stare. Then she rested the muzzle of the shotgun on my shoulder and said, "You'll do. I'm tired of walking. It's been a long road since Henderson and a longer one to LA."
She leaned down and kissed me, a kiss full of heat and fire and screaming pain. When she let go, my glasses hit the floor and the change began. I gasped, "Sheba, what did you do?"
"Sheba? I said Shiva. That's my name. Your mine now and I've got a settling up to do. On foot wears me down."
As she watched I finished the embarrassing, messy business of turning into a horse. She tossed the kitten up on to my back, where the tiny thing dug its claws in for the ride. Shiva soothed the little thing for a minute then mounted up, and off we went. Which I guess was better than waiting to die.

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User: wyld_dandelyon
Date: 2010-05-11 12:57 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Funny thing is, Shiva had Elaine's pixie dust. I hadn't seen it before she changed me, all mired as I was in my despair and guilt, but my new eyes couldn't help but see it, sparkling around her, showering off of her.

The kitten saw it too, batting at it the way kittens play with anything that moves, and when the kitten connected, the glow absorbed right into the kitten, and it purred, like it had eaten something particularly delicious.

But me--the dust just bounced away from me. It didn't even hit me proper before bouncing, just got to an inch or so of my new brown hide, and veered off, as if it could sense this was all my fault.

Then it cascaded into the ground, where it soaked in, as relentless and persistent as tree roots.

I turned once to look behind, only to have my sensitive nose cuffed by Shiva, to have the kitten dig it's sharp, sharp claws deeper into my hide. But it was too late to keep me from seeing the haze of green that marked her path, green where there had been no green for so long, since I--

"None of that now. That's not for you. Focus on where you're going, not where you've been."

How could I focus? But I soon learned that it hurt less to carefully avoid turning my ungainly horse head to look behind us.
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User: martyn44
Date: 2010-05-11 13:03 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
She rode me west, this one woman doing the work of four men, although I believed I heard an echo of her voice 'What? Never heard of multi-tasking? Four? Only four!' West, into the rising sun, baking everything still harder and more enduring, less amenable to change, less human. Not that there was much 'human' left, but where Shiva passed there was even less in her shadow.
I wanted to ask her why, but who ever cared what a horse said? Certainly not My Lady Shiva. I wanted to die but I didn't dare.
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User: wrathchylde
Date: 2010-05-11 18:09 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
In time, we reached the grove. Fire followed us; fire danced in our steps. The younger trees had fallen to that ash, that heat, even while they, desparate, dug their roots deeper into the soil, shed their leaves while they were still bright green.

Shiva was silent, her eyes filled with tears. Her arm had an angry red burn where the dust had been wiped away.

The kitten ran up the tree. Shiva stepped forward, into the arms of Yggdrasil.
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User: lt260
Date: 2010-05-23 06:36 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Thunk, thunk, I rapped my knuckle on each canteen to make sure they were full. Survival shelter hung between on the belt. Pack on back and tool in hand. Next person in line and so forth and so on until the last person in line does the same for me. Good morning fire camp. The sun is rising and the dragon is stirring. Off we go to do battle for the umpteenth time but this one is slightly different. Smoky cannot point a finger at anyone and nature had nothing to do with it. Great balls of fire from outer space – meteorites -- a whole shower of super-heated rock causing too many fires to count.

Elaine and her buddies stirred fuzzy memories from an age ago. Triads. Elaine, Hector, and me. Pissed on, pissed off, and just plain pissed. Shattered yellow helmet, Adenocarcinoma, and a fetus. A whole lot of things I don’t need to be thinking about right now. I have fifteen people expecting me not to have my head up my ass. The dragon is out there and is very hungry.

Off we go, hi-ho, hi-ho. Out to the fire line, one dirty, dusty road turning into another. I have a map, I know where we are, but orientation will take a while longer. Trees and underbrush with green soon turn into trees with green and charred bushes leading into everything charred and an ash covered duff. Home again, home again, yippety-skippy. Get done with one project fire, tap your soot covered boots together three times, and get whisked off to the next one over the rainbow. Head’em up an’ move’em out. Just call me Rowdy, ma’am.

My nose wrinkles up from the familiar acrid air. Swiping my forehead with the back of a wrist, I call over to Ortega, “Yvonne, take your team twenty feet forward and work back to the road.”

We are bent busily on our tasks, and there is more then enough to do, but we still keep on eye out for each other, an eye on our surroundings, and our third eye on the weather. A slight breeze might feel cool but wind heralds the coming of the dragon.

I stop, stand slightly with bent back, and try to crack my lumbar spine. Another few years and I will have to let the kids play this game. The smoke cover has dropped a few hundred feet since the AM. Meteorology forecast hot and sunny but gray would be as good as it gets this close to the fire. I look around and everyone has a bandanna hanging from a schnoz. Is there a correlation between forest smoke and lung cancer? Can’t be that great. Oh well, back to work.

We churn the ground like moles on amphetamines. The going is way too easy. Even the duff is burnt. No hot spots to speak of and a dearth of snags. Just blackened trees with few limbs. Naked trees and gray skies. Home sweat home.

Justin sings out, “Skunks ahoy.”

No, not the animal. Trees with one side burnt to white ash. It foretells a truly hot fire ahead -- time for me to earn the zeroes on my check.

“Craig. Randy. Spot the line.” I said as I moved out through the char and ash forest. Justin called it right. The trees had that stripe from intense heat. Worse, the stripe grew broader the further in I went. Been here, seen it, got the t-shirt, oh shit. This will get worse until the trees are burnt down to stumps. Then there will be a small field of white ash where the dragon had slept the night away, squatting and slurping up everything, intensifying heat until the morning sun and wind change allow the beast to venture forth to consume what lay before it.
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User: lt260
Date: 2010-05-23 06:36 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)

I had long learned to expect only that which is in front of me but there could be no way to prepare for this one. Still, surprise is no excuse for not thinking. It was my fault, all my fault. Damn, damn, damn.

I froze when I waded a foot high into ash and all obstructions to my vision cleared. The blanket of white shimmered so pristine it sparkled. Out as far as the eye could see, over the farthest hill and spreading in either direction to the horizon, white upon white, a whisper of smoke here and there trailing blue up, up, and vanishing.

A hillside, part of a valley, a field, maybe an acre, maybe ten, but no more then that. Dragons are hungry but this is unheard of. I spied boulders, or what had been boulders, shattered and laying in heaps of slag. You want blood from a stone? Let the dragon breath on it and turn it to sand.

My team caught up to me. As I stood there brain-dead, a few wandered out into the white sea. Stupid, stupid, stupid. Cheryl’s scream wrenched me back to reality. Running to her as fast as I could, I watched as she floundered around like a drowning sailor. I got there at the same time as Hank and Yvonne. “Hold up and don’t get too close. Yvonne, reach out to her with your shovel handle while Craig and I back you up.”

Our daisy chain soon had her out of the hole. The char of flesh is an odor that I can never forget. Even with Nomex and thick boots, multi-thickness burns from mid-hip down had been but delayed. The pit we had pulled her out of had been straight from hell. Once a mighty, centuries old Douglas fir, now a below-the-ground pile of white hot coals smoldering at unbelievable temperatures.

My fault. I knew these hell-holes lurked beneath that oh so innocent white blanket. I let the dragon bedazzle me and Cheryl paid the price. I radioed base camp for a dust-off and reported what we had found. Gazing out again, I still could not believe it. In a much smaller area, yes, but not this huge swath of utter devastation. The ghosts of trees were not those naked, blackened things we had come through. The ghosts of trees are ash and this ocean threatened to swallow us whole.
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January 2014
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