Fairy Tales, Untold | The Tree Formally Known as Enchanted
The fair maiden, in a flowing, corseted gown far too burdensome to frolic about in, frolicked about in the grassy and flowerful meadow, humming a cheerful, pleasant tune as she made her way to the wood. She stopped at the edge and gasped at what she saw, covering her mouth with one hand in a most polite manner.
“An enchanted forest! How wonderfully delightful!”
The forest ferns brimmed with the twinkling light of fluttering fairy wings, and tiny elves carried about their day beneath the canopies of their mushroom communities. Small, furry animals and beautiful, singing birds greeted the maiden, drawing her into their magical home. She stepped over a gentle stream, the flowing water the color of a rainbow, and toward the centerpiece of the forest. She approached the old tree, gazing in wonder at its massive trunk and great, leafy branches. She circled the trunk, caressing the smooth bark with her fingertips.
“What a wonderful place to sit and rest for a spell.”
The maiden sat, her back against the trunk of the tree, and the branches of the tree began to flutter, lifted, it seemed, on the breath of a gentle breeze. She opened the satchel she carried with her and reached inside, taking one plump, juicy blackberry to savor. The flutter, however, turned to a quiver, and then the branches began to shake as if caught in the winds of a fearsome storm. The maiden rose quickly, spilling the blackberries from her satchel, and turned, her fear turning to joy when the branches stilled and the eyes opened.
“Oh! An enchanted tree, of course.” She curtsied. “How do you do?”
The tree looked down upon her, a rather bored frown on its rather full face.
“I’m old and I’m tired, and you’ve woken me from my nap. That’s how I do.”
“I am sorry, old tree. I did not intend to wake you from your slumber. I didn’t know-”
“Yeah, ok, I get it,” the tree interrupted. “How about you move along now? I’d like to get back to my rest.”
“But I have never met an enchanted tree. What is your magic, old tree? Will you grant me a wish? Interpret my dreams? Read my future?”
“First of all, my name is Ernie, not old tree. Who would even think to address someone like that? How’d you like it if I called you dumbo?” The maiden gasped again, covering her mouth with her hand, again. “Second of all, I’m retired. Now,” the tree continued, waving its lower branches, “go away. Run along.”
The maiden crossed her arms. “An enchanted tree can hardly retire.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“You can’t be retired. You’re here,” she said, spreading her arms about herself, “in this whimsical and beautiful wood. As long as you’re here, and as long as this forest exists, you must fulfill your enchanted duties.”
“I’m sorry, but it sounds to me like you’re implying I must work until I die.” Ernie smiled an unpleasant, mocking smile. “That can’t be what you mean, though. This is, after all, an enchanted forest, not a capitalist dictatorship.” He continued before the maiden could interrupt, raising his voice. “Do you mean to tell me a woodworker has the right to retire, a farmer, a shoemaker, a merchant, but I do not? After years of hard work, years of service to the community, years of sacrifice, these men have the right to slow down and enjoy life, but I must work until I die of drought, of a lightning strike, of an ax to my trunk?”
“No, I did not mean to say… I mean, I don’t think…,” the maiden stuttered, flustered. She stood beneath falling leaves, shaken loose from Ernie’s dramatic gesturing. Several of the forest creatures had wandered over and stood, watching and listening.
“I suppose you’ve read all about enchanted forests and magical trees in your fairytale books, haven’t you? I suppose you thought we are here simply for your pleasure and enjoyment.” Ernie scoffed. “I hate to break it to you, sister, but that’s all fantasy. This here,” he continued, spreading his branches about himself, creating a wind that knocked the maiden to her bum, “this is reality. We work hard, and get little to nothing in return. We have to hear your god awful singing, listen to your ridiculous wishes, watch you fawn and fancy over some strange man you’ve only just met, only because he’s a prince with a big sword.”
Tittering erupted from behind the maiden and she turned to see several elves and fairies gathered atop a nearby mushroom, laughing in agreement with the tree’s sentiments.
The maiden stood and faced the tree defiantly. “I think you’re not even enchanted. I think that’s why you are so horrible. You’re just a miserable old tree. You have no magic!”
Ernie sighed. “I hate to have to do this but this is my former livelihood, and reputation, we’re talking about. What did you wish for, fair maiden? To be turned into a billy goat?”
“A billy goat?” The maiden walked backward slowly, her pace quickly quickening. “No, I wished no such thing!”
“As you wish, fair maiden.”
The maiden tripped and fell backward into the rainbow stream and then disappeared among a cloud of green smoke. The forest was quiet, then, all the trees and flowers still, the animals and birds silent, all looking on in anticipation.
The smoke cleared and there sat the maiden in the stream. She looked about herself, then down to the white fur spotted black and brown and the hooves. She opened her mouth, then, and cried out.
At the sound of the bleat, her bleat, she jumped up and out of the water and ran, stumbling over four legs rather than the familiar two. She ran, running out of the forest and disappearing into the tall grass of the meadow. An owl flew up to land on one of Ernie’s branches.
“That was a little harsh, don't you think?”
“I'm a slave to the whims of man. They want magic, I'll give them magic.” Ernie shuddered his branches. “Get off me, Don. I've told you I don't like when you sit on me. I'm a tree, not an armchair.”
His attention turned, then, to the family of raccoons down below. They'd made quick work of scavenging the blackberries the maiden had spilled. They stood, now, clutching the berries in uncomfortably humanesque little hands, watching.
“Get out of here! Go on, this isn't dinner and a show. Shoo!”
The raccoons scattered and Ernie sighed a big, heaving sigh. “Can't an old tree get a little peace and quiet, for Christ's sake? Is that too much to ask?”
Ernie continued muttering to himself as he settled his roots deep into the dirt and closed his eyes. He fell quickly, and mercifully, back into hibernation, a long sleep uninterrupted by dreams. He didn't know how long he'd been asleep when he was awoken yet again. It could have been moments, or days, perhaps even years. Time was irrelevant to a centuries old tree, in particular one that simply wanted to sleep away its twilight years.
Ernie felt hands and feet on his trunk as a creature climbed its way up. “What in the…” He blinked his eyes open, the last few remnants of the wonderful oblivion of sleep falling away. “How many times have I told you all not to climb on me? Get off! I’m a tree, not a god damn jungle gym.” Ernie shook his branches and look down, expecting to see the beady eyes of a raccoon, or the twitching tail of a squirrel, finding, instead, a boy. The boy’s arms and legs were wrapped around the trunk, and he’d nearly made his way to Ernie’s jowls.
“What are you doing? What do you think you’re doing?” Ernie shivered his trunk and limbs but the boy remained. It was easy to shake loose someone or something from his branches, doing so from the trunk was a far more difficult task. “Get down, little boy. Get down, now.” The boy was just below his chin now and Ernie worked his jaw up and down, contorted his face from grimace to smile and back again, but still the boy clung tight.
“I wish to spend my days in your shade, great tree. I wish you climb your branches and savor your fruit. I wish to carve my name into your trunk and grow old with you. You will love me, and I will love you, and I will call you the Giving-"
The tree laughed a great, bellowing laugh. "Oh no, I don't think so," he snorted. "I know how that book ends." With one big shudder, from his roots to the tips of his branches, Ernie shook the boy from his trunk and he tumbled to the grass below. "Now get out of here before I turn you into a sad old stump."
He watched the boy run off through the forest and, once he was gone from sight, Ernie sighed. He closed his eyes and conjured the magic that still coursed through the veins of his leaves and the rings of his trunk. He was no longer in the business of making magic but he decided, then, to come out of retirement to grant one, last wish.
"I wish," Ernie mused, his thunderous voice echoing through the land, "everyone would shut up and leave me the hell alone."
The world around him was quiet, then, the forest undisturbed save for the stream that trickled past and lulled him to sleep. Finally, the tree formally known as Enchanted, now known simply as Ernie, found rest that would last forever.
Worlds We Live In
A world without a single military is not so unfamiliar. This world exists here and now, though you may fail to notice it, or choose to disregard it.
This world, our world, is free of arbitrary beliefs and values, and so a world free of differences in arbitrary beliefs and values. In this absence we have no need for a military to defend our dogma. In this world, we are dictated by neither god nor government. In this world, we know only what we know, and we simply live.
Here, battle ensues and death at the hands of another occurs. Here, however, battle is purposeful and death is meaningful. We battle for land and territory, and the death of an individual determines the survival of another. We fight and we kill for no reason other than that most fundamental force of nature, survival of the species. In this world, evolution is god and government.
We are often referred to as creatures of inferior intelligence, or savages. We do not live in houses, we eat the blood and flesh of other animals, and we live according to ingrained instincts. We are incapable of philosophical thought. We have no religion, and so we do not kill in the name of a holy entity. We have no government, and so we do not kill in the name of political ideology. The notions of wealth, privilege, culture, and class are notions far too complex for us to grasp, and so we do not kill in the name of superiority or inferiority. Our world is diverse, far more diverse than the world that's been created around us, yet our world is balanced, and all of us who reside here are equal in the most fundamental sense of the word.
No, a world without military is not so unfamiliar. It's the world we live in, the world we have always lived in, and the world that will persist following the downfall of this species more sophisticated and the world of their creation, and eventual destruction.
I had a nightmare.
The couch I sit on is old, worn, stained in some places. There is very little light in the room I am in. Dark curtains hang in the windows, blocking sunlight from entering. There are pictures on the walls. They are hand drawn sketches, and they are unsettling. There is one of a man, peeking from behind a tree, his expression blank. Another portrays a woman, pulling a fetus from a gash on her stomach, surrounded by wolves.
There are lots of books, walls lined with bookshelves of varying sizes and designs. I approach one of the shelves to read the titles and I am startled by movement, a snake, patterned red and black, winding itself through the slats that run the side of the shelf. I reach forward and the snake slides over my palm and around my wrist, wrapping itself around my arm like a living, breathing ornament.
I move to the kitchen, open the cupboards, take a look inside the refrigerator. There is not much in the way of anything to eat, nothing to put together what most would consider a good, wholesome meal.
The room is quiet, still. Never has the laughter of a child echoed through the halls, never will an intimate conversation be whispered in hushed tones with a lover in the bedroom. I am, however, not quite alone. There is the snake, bound securely to my arm. There is something else, too. I see nothing, hear nothing, but I know, there is something else.
I see it, then, slinking around the corner. The snout appears first, the teeth of its upper jaw exposed. It crawls forward, its large, lumbering, armored body moving from side to side, followed by its long reptilian tail.
The alligator’s yellow eyes turn to me, and it comes for me.
I woke up, early morning sunlight streaming through the open window. The bedroom surrounding me was decorated in shades of ivory, sage, and blue, the quilt that covered me a patchwork of yellow and white.
I opened the bedroom door, stepped out and into the hallway. The walls were occupied with pictures of a smiling, happy family. I followed the sound of voices, laughter, and made my way down the hallway, hesitantly, afraid of what I might find when I turned the corner.
What I found was a man and two children, sitting around the large, pine dining room table, breakfast in front of them.
"Good morning, honey," my husband greeted me. He patted the chair next to him. "Grab yourself some eggs and have a seat."
I moved around the table, giving morning kisses. I started with my husband, moving next to my son and then to my daughter.
"Good morning, mommy," my daughter said. Her hair was in pigtails and she smiled a big, toothless grin. My son grunted in response to my greeting, his eyes glued to the phone in his hand. He was a teenager, too cool for his family.
"Oh, and I made your favorite," my husband said, raising his coffee cup. "Pumpkin spice.”
I could not deny the joy this brought me. I poured a cup, removed a plate from the cupboard and added some eggs, a piece of toast, and joined my family at the table. After breakfast, I set to packing lunch boxes, my children's, my husband's, and my own, filling them with leftover vegetable lasagna from the night before, apple slices, a box of raisins, and a homemade, gluten-free blueberry muffin with flax seed.
Lunches packed, I took a shower and readied myself for the day ahead. I was a third-grade teacher in an elementary school. I loved my job, working with children, shaping the minds of the future. I dressed quickly, eager to get moving and out the door, pulling on a pair of cropped jeans and a pale pink blouse I'd purchased yesterday, on sale, at Wal-Mart. I slipped my feet into my shoes, white Crocs.
In the drive way, we said our goodbyes and my husband climbed into his Camry, pulling away while I loaded the kids in my minivan. We listened to a family-friendly station on the drive to school, singing along with the radio.
I arrived to my classroom just in time for the for the first students to begin to trickle in. I sat at my desk, grading papers, allowing the students the chance to converse before the morning bell rang. I had a great group of students this year, well-behaved and eager to learn. I looked up from my papers, thinking about this, my beautiful children, my husband who had just recently received a raise in his management position at the bank, our upcoming vacation to the Grand Canyon. My life, I thought, is a dream.
A wonderful, perfect dream.
"Ok," I said, clapping my hands to get the class' attention. I picked up the ceramic owl perched on the corner of my desk, a gift from a former student to honor our school mascot, Hooty the Owl.
"Who is ready to learn?"
I had woken with a start from this nightmare, my heart pounding in my chest. The images of the yellow and white quilt, the minivan, Hooty the Owl lingered in my mind. I shuddered, thinking of my husband in his dress shirt and tie, his sensible haircut, so pleased with his choice of pumpkin spice. Who likes that shit, anyway?
The kids, the gluten-free muffins, the family-friendly music. It was horrific. It was an omen, what my life could have been, what it could still turn out to be if I wasn’t careful.
I'm in the kitchen, now, Cora wrapped around my arm, her head resting beneath the shade of my hair. Buttercup is making her way in to join us, hungry for breakfast.
"Hi, big girl," I say, patting the top of her head, stroking her rough skin. "Did you sleep well? Any bad dreams?" I think of a nightmare an alligator might have. "Did you dream you were a common lizard, trapped in a terrarium in a classroom?"
She mutters a low, guttural, growl.
I stand, prepare to make her breakfast, the nightmare beginning to fade.
"Why would anyone want to go to the Grand Canyon, anyway?" I ask aloud, pulling the carcass of a pig from the refrigerator. "It's just a big fucking hole."
I set about chopping the remains into bite size morsels with a large cleaver. Oh well, I think. No reason to dwell on it. It was just a dream.
A horrible, miserable dream.
This is harder than I thought it would be.
Let me rephrase that. This is hard. I never gave any thought to being in this position so I can't justifiably make claim that the difficulty of it exceeds my expectations. I didn't willfully make the decision to end up where I am. This was not a choice. But here I am, and it's hard.
I'm not alone, however. I can, and do, take comfort in that knowledge. There are others like me, doing what we can to survive. I have seen them, lost, hungry, scared. Just as I am. We are in this together, and that is something promising to keep in mind. We'll make it through, so long as we stick together. I do believe this.
I was downtown when the outbreak erupted. That was this morning. That seems impossible, it seems like it happened so long ago, but it was only this morning. I was on my way to a doctor's appointment, and I was terrified. At my last appointment my doctor informed me there was an abnormality in my white blood cell count. He'd sent me for additional, more comprehensive blood work and I was returning, that day, to receive the results. I remember hearing a loud, terrified shriek, and I jumped. I'm not someone who startles easily but I was already on edge. I turned in the direction of the scream and that's when I saw them. My mind, bless its effort and dedication, tried to make sense of what I saw. Were they animals? People, horrifically injured? This involuntary, unconscious need to make sense and label was thrown by the wayside when I saw one of the creatures tear into a man's abdomen and begin to consume his organs. The man looked on, fully aware, his shock rendering him speechless.
The disease, the infection, the epidemic, whatever you want to call it, started slow, picking up speed and spreading until it reached the densely populated cities. Upon arrival, it began to spread like bacteria in a petri dish. We were never made aware of the exact nature of what was happening, though. There were rumors of a bizarre, mysterious illness, seemingly incurable, but we were assured that the cases were few and isolated, that those affected were securely quarantined. This information was delivered by all the big news outlets, on behalf of various medical organizations. Did we believe what we heard? Did we take heart in what we were told? I think the real question to ask is, were we even paying attention?
I have come to the realization that all I can do, all there is to do, is survive. Despite our condition, the will to survive is alive and well inside of all of us. You'll never know what you're capable of until you're faced with the unrelenting and uncontrollable instinct to survive. Is a tiger faulted for hunting a deer? A bear blamed for killing a fish? The truth is, we are all animals. Sometimes we don't like to think of ourselves as such, but we are. And even now, we are still animals.
But it is hard. I was hungry, so incredibly and desperately hungry. Many have now gone into hiding but I found one. He tried to talk to me, tried to reason with me, unaware we are beyond such rationale. Unaware I have rationalizations of my own. I was soon accompanied by several others like me. I felt no need to protect what was mine. We work together. We're all scared, unaccustomed to what we have become, unsure of where we'll go, unaware of when we'll eat next. But we'll make it, I know we will.
Because we have one another, and we have the will to survive.
I arrived home after a very long day, utterly exhausted. I needed to take a shower, I needed to eat, but mostly, I needed to go to bed.
I started with the shower. I undressed, allowing my clothes to fall to the ground, not bothering to place them in the laundry bin. Standing beneath the falling water, I closed my eyes, relieving myself of wakefulness for the first time since tearing myself from sleep early that morning. I fell into the hypnagogic state, that unusual meeting place between wake and sleep, brought back to consciousness by the sound of a loud thud on the other side of the wall.
Neighbors, I thought.
I turned the shower off and dried myself, hung my towel on the rack to dry, and dressed in my most comfortable pair of pajamas. I made myself a quick dinner, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and orange juice, and sat on the couch, turned on the television. I can't even recall which program I turned on. I looked at the TV, stared at the picture on the screen, but didn't actually see anything. My mind was elsewhere, already at rest.
I became vaguely aware of a sound that seemed to come through the wall of the bedroom on the other side of the living room. Singing, talking, or crying, I wasn't sure. My roommate. I ignored it, continued eating my dinner and watching television in a daze. I finished my sandwich and apple juice and realized I was still hungry. In the kitchen, I searched the refrigerator and the pantry for something else to eat.
Cereal, I decided, finding a box in the pantry. Perfect.
I poured the cereal into a bowl and added milk, my back to the living room. I heard a door open followed by the sound of seldom-used limbs and joints creaking. I turned in time to see my roommate pass the entrance to the kitchen, crawling on the floor. I stood at the counter and ate my cereal quickly, eager to finish and get into bed.
I entered my darkened bedroom and returned to the bathroom, returned the towel I’d left on the floor to it’s proper hanging spot. I brushed my teeth, fantasizing the moment I'd lay in bed, pull the covers up and over me, and fall into a wonderful, deep sleep.
It was even better than I imagined. In bed, I tried not to think about the fact that I'd have to be up and out of the house in just a few, short hours. Instead, I focused on the comfort of my warm blanket, the moonlit darkness that bathed the room, the total silence. This was one of my favorite things about living out in the country, my closest neighbors miles away. The absolute quiet.
I fell back into hypnagogia. My thoughts became disorienting as I made my way into a strange world composed of logical reality and bizarre impossibilities. I climbed a very tall tree, a dead, leafless tree decorated with Christmas ornaments. At the top, I balanced myself on a thin, crumbling branch, walking out and over crashing waves of the ocean beneath the tree. The branch broke and I fell, landing into the comfort of my bed.
I startled, awake and aware, seemingly refreshed by the adrenaline of falling from the branch. But I was confused, too, wondering if I'd slept through the night and if it was time again, already, to wake up and start the day. Rational thought and recollection began to creep back in. It was night. I'd just fallen asleep, after arriving home, showering, and eating dinner.
I thought of my clothes on the floor in the bathroom, the peanut butter and jelly, the cereal, my roommate crawling past the kitchen and toward my bedroom. She was in my room, now, sitting in the corner.
A knot of terror burst deep inside me, flooding my entire body in seconds, and my heart began to pound. I could hear the rush of blood inside my head as a thought occurred to me.
I live alone.