Saturday, January 09, 2010

Entry #78

The Truth About Trees
by Ken Ashby


Ever since I could climb, trees became my reason. Often I’d almost fall only for a branch to stretch itself within my grasp. How I loved curving my hands around them. Then, reaching as high as my conquest allowed, I’d straddle her coaxing bark. It was then I’d wonder about stroking a girl’s soft skin. I didn’t know then as I did later what the rising sap was within me. I only knew it was special.

No one saw me up there. I wasn’t hiding, it’s just they never looked up. Once, right beneath me, a girl walked with a man. They kissed. He held her tightly into him. She pulled away and ran from him. Until he shouted, I thought they were playing. She was found days later covered by dead leaves. I never told anyone I placed them over her. She was pale, her top ripped.

Now in battle fatigues, the last tree I’ll ever climb creaks to my dangling weight. I’m shaking--not through fear, but reflex. The rope tightens and burns, but the leaves and twigs still sway and flutter.

Darkness inevitably comes. Still hanging, face down--greased green and black as the foliage around--I await the bird to feast upon my eyes.

I confess I struggled in the Gulf, but not for the doubtless theories to be presumed. Without trees, the sand cut through my skin and reason.

Only the trees know why I didn’t tell, so be it for them to judge me.


(While remaining a Londoner at heart, Ken Ashby lives in Devon, England. He’s currently on the second draft of his first novel, a corporate thriller called ‘Without Foundation’. As a firm believer in the power of the word being in the lateral, not literal, he trusts the time dedicated to this work will disprove the title.)

36 comments:

Bernita said...

I wish I knew for sure whether the man killed the girl or if the narrator did...because subsequent interpretation depends on it.
Still,an original take on suicide motives.

onipar... said...

A good, dark story. I liked it.

Aniket said...

Like Bernita - I am left guessing too. But that takes nothing away from the great narration and pacing. I enjoyed reading every word of it.

Aimee Laine said...

So much sadness and guilt!

pjd said...

An interesting statement about his reason for suicide. A telling collection of memories. By the end, though, I find the main character creepy.

Ken said...

Thanks all for the comments.

Bernita and Aniket: The answer as to the murderer is provided by the narrator relating how he thought they (the man and the girl) were playing until the man shouted. In other words, if they weren't playing, what else was happening?

pjd: Yes, the mc can be viewed as a bit creepy. Essentially, I see him as a loner who's sensitive enough to see what's going on but unable to know what to do about it. The act, for example, in his youth to cover the girl's body with dead leaves may be viewed as callous, but then again perhaps in his confusion at the time could be perceived as being done as as an act of kindness, i.e. he may have suspected the girl wouldn't want to be seen as she was left. His having done so and not reported the murder itself, however, never leaves him (excuse the pun). Perhaps, he wishes he had done the right thing, and maybe his guilt at not having done so stayed with him thereafter, and led him into a life totally unsuitable for him.

Craig said...

I liked your use of the trees. Making them everything to the protagnist even judge, jury and executioner.

Sarah Laurenson said...

I, too, liked the use of the trees. I thought he responded to them the way some people prefer animals over humans. Creepy, yes, and very interesting. His psychological view of the world makes him a fascinating character.

JaneyV said...

Ken - I thought this was beautiful and I have to say that I didn't find the MC creepy at all. I found him tragic. I think his act of covering up the girl was, though quite wrong, motivated by the desire to protect
She was pale, her top ripped.

I can fully understand why a war zone bereft of the embrace of his beloved trees drove him to despair.

Wonderful writing Ken.

Lena said...

Great writing style. I guess I love everything in this story, the imager, the memories, the use of trees.

catvibe said...

I love thinking of the trees as knowing sentient beings. Your character is a little on the creepy side. You just don't know if he did it, I could see him doing it, but I could also see him just being young and in shock and holding the secret back. Well written, excellent imagery.

Nevine said...

Very internal and visceral... as if the character and the trees are one... or, they become one. The trees hide us and we hide inside the trees and from them and with them... Excellent!

Nevine

Charmaine said...

Who knew a little dignity could be found in a leaf. Thank you for doing that for her.

Kurt Hendricks said...

Packs the punch of a Post Secret.

Meghan said...

I also liked your use of trees. Very intense.

laughingwolf said...

creepy, for sure...

Laurel said...

Wow, I am way off the reservation here. I did not find him creepy at all. I came away with the impression of a sensitive soul who wished he could have done more for that girl than cover her with leaves so she wouldn't be found exposed.

I also like the early reference to sexual development among the branches. It was done delicately and seemed very natural for someone who felt so at home in the trees.

I feel sorry for him. He seems a poet without a voice, to me.

Anonymous said...

A great take on the picture prompt. A tragic tale full of secrecy that really stays with the reader. One of my favourite pieces.

Restina

Four Dinners said...

Very very dark. A witness as a child and a guilt ridden suicide as a man - with possible extras from war.

That is so well written it almost hurts.

How the hell in 250 words???

Excellent.

illyriataylor said...

gorgeous, you took my breath away. Let the trees be my judge..magnificant

kashers said...

Thanks for all the encouraging comments.

Laurel, you're not 'off the reservation' at all. If anything, I'd say you're sitting right by the fire.

Liz S said...

You've done so much in so few words! It's haunting, tragic, and beautiful.

Have you ever read, "Baron in the Trees" by Italo Calvino? It comes to mind, only because the main character takes to living in the trees after deciding not to follow his parent's rules any more. Completely different story, but your character reminded me of him.

Amazing piece!

Anonymous said...

Nice one, Kash.

gg

kashers said...

Liz, never heard of it before, but I'll be searching it out the next time I go into town. It sounds really interesting. Thanks for that.

PEOPLE, PLACES, VOICES, FACES... said...

I get the kid who loved the entire sensory experience of climbing trees. I don't think he's creepy at all. In fact, I agree with Laurel--he's maybe too sensitive. He's definitely not a "violator"--even when climbing trees as a pubescent, he'd only go as far as the tree would "allow."

I like this very much. I've had one too many painful visions of of birds pecking eyes in this contest, though! Even the thought has all my nerves cringing!

Ranee

Laurel said...

Kashers,

Oh, good. I've gone back through this to try to put my finger on what built this impression for me and I think it's two things.

1)He is in the tree because he is at peace there, not to spy on people. This comes across pretty clearly in the first lines. The fact that he goes unnoticed because others are unobservant makes him a witness, not a voyeur.

2)Given the security and comfort he feels in the trees, covering the victim with leaves seemed a gentle, tender gesture, an attempt to comfort. To me.

I wonder it all the death, mayhem, and evil omens in the other entries are setting us up to look for something sinister? It's hard to read something this far in with a clean palate.

kashers said...

Once again, many thanks.

Laurel, you're a diamond. You've completely empathised with the piece as it was written. Yes, covering her with leaves is highly significant. Perhaps he feels the trees even prompted him to do so?

PPVF, thanks for your kind words. I'm thrilled you spotted the permission granted in the 'allowed'.

Funny what you say about the pecking. Kind of churns my stomach too. The mc here though, isn't thinking of it as an attack as such, nor is it something he's dreading. On the contrary, being the order of nature, he welcomes it. To him, the bird's action is a feast, a benefit, not a violation.

Four Dinners, many thanks. Delighted you got 'all' of it.

Liz, I ordered that book. Should be in by the start of next week.

illyriataylor, Delighted to hear your appreciation of the 'be it for them to judge me' ending.

Chris Eldin said...

I'm so far behind in reading and commenting... Once again, Laurel said what I would've wanted, only better. I immediately felt the tragedy of your main character. And the symbolism of covering her with leaves--beautifully drawn. I also want to say it feels a bit autobiographical. That it's based on a true story, but there is some pull back. Just my impression, but this is because it's extremely well written.

truevoid said...

like chris said, way behind in commenting. a little creepy and little sad. nicely done!

Deb Smythe said...

I thought I'd commented on this a coupled says ago... Oh well. Laurel said it better, anyway. So, what Laurel said!.

Laurel said...

Kash:

Do you have an email? If you are not averse click through to mine and share it....

kashers said...

Laurel, pressing on your link sends me round the houses to Yahoo ID which I didn't know I had and certainly don't know the password to. If you wish to email me at kenashby@btinternet.com feel free.

james r tomlinson said...

I certainly understood your narrator's heartfelt guilt for not comprehending what he'd seen. This piece had a strong, serious tone to it.

SzélsőFa said...

at first reading; it felt creepy. on a second reading i felt how close the mc was to trees, to the natural world in general.
(see reference to 'sap').
a great description of a pre-teenaged boy's perspective in the first part.
and the end is quite lonely and painful. great job.

Aerin said...

Dear Entrants #1-105,

I have read your pieces so that I can fairly participate in the Readers' Choice vote. (I read all of them through last week, before I started commenting.) I will be coming back around to offer my keep/tweak comment, but I didn't want anyone to snark.

Cheers,
Aerin (#236)

BTW, it's perfectly fine if you still want to snark, but this way you can choose a more appropriate subject, like Sarah Palin's hair or the enigmatic career of Justin Timberlake.

Anonymous said...

Long time no read, me dear. Had a bit of trouble even tracking this down. As for the story (and I know I'm a bit late in the day) as always it's in the lateral here and I'm reading nature, first and formost - the boy, then the man is at one with it, part of it, indeed so much part of the scenery that like the trees he's gone unnoticed, or rather unobserved. His growing up, his experiences - the witnessing of brutality, even, passed over (by others) known only to him. Though unstated, the war and the murder are one and the same in his eyes, regardless of society's view. Wrong, very wrong in that it is a curse against nature itself, but part of life. See no evil, hear no evil... until the narrator chooses not to accept this any more and ends his life. Such is the power of being human, as dubious a power as it is.

Good to read you again, K. Enjoyed the story. Haunting and chilling as it is, you've not lost your touch.