‘There Used To Be Trees’ was originally featured in the – now closed – Labyrinth Inhabitants Magazine back in 2010.
“I remember enjoying writing this one because of the unusual theme; the more original a publication’s theme is, the more likely I am to end up submitting something to it. I hope my writing style has improved a bit since I wrote this, though. Enjoy!” Rebecca
There Used to Be Trees
by Rebecca L. Brown
There used to be trees. I remember walking in their shade under whispering leaves, listening to the birds’ exquisite mockery. Sometimes a leaf would fall to the ground and I would smooth it out to keep, to treasure until they faded to brown and crumbled away. No two ever looked the same. I never came across a trunk although they must have been there somewhere I suppose.
Here the walls have reached so high they form their own cold, dark canopy. Sometimes the passage is wide, sometimes so narrow that they grate my skin as I force my way through. More than once, I have had to climb over unseen obstacles, shuffling forwards with outstretched arms only to find my palms pressed against a cold, familiar shape. The dampness of the stone clings to my skin, an unclean, oily film which seems to soak into my pores.
When I was under the trees I could see their shapes, but in this near-darkness I can only make them out in my mind. I imagine the stone becoming soft and warm under my fingers, the heavy throbbing of a hundred pulses or the tremble of laboured, distorted ribcages. So little air! I realise I have started to pant, sucking the stale, sticky air into my lungs and sobbing it out in staccato gasps. The stone presses in on me, its empty ears greedily soaking up the sound…
Elbows on shoulders, feet on twisted spines they reach up towards the dim and distant light, caught in a moment of desperate striving. Reaching out their arms they stretched upwards, their frozen, desperate, weathered faces turned towards the muted light, unmoving mountains of chiselled flesh, a maze of naked, petrified humanity made from or by unknown hands. Where rain has eaten into the stone their faces have become grotesque masks; here, a man’s open mouth has stretched into a gaping abyss. There, a woman’s eyes sink into their sockets like a vacant mask. Fingers, toes and noses litter the floor. My feet grind them a little closer to being dust.
Here in the darkness I can almost feel them writhing upwards, squirming over and against each other. If I reach out a hand I know I will feel them twist towards my warmth, hot hands callused like sandstone but pliable, nails brittle and bending where they press into my skin. I clutch my hands to my face, my wrists salty against my cracked lips. In my mind, the figures here are different; forgotten in the darkness they curl into themselves, wrap their arms around their numb bodies and long for tears of their own to cry.
I am crying for all of us.