I haven’t put anything on this blog for a month or so, which is mostly because of college and stuff but also because I’m working on another project that I’m pretty excited about. Anyhoo, this is a thing that I wrote for the reddit /r/WritingPrompts board a while back. Most of the prompts are pretty silly, but I liked this one. It was “You are protecting the last tree on Earth in a post-nuclear fallout world. Today is the first time in decades you’ve seen somebody approach the tree.”
the wind has a bitter taste to it ever since the sky fell. it explores craters and ruined buildings, glides over the brittle bones of the long-dead, coils around the millions of tree skeletons as they slowly rejoin the soil. you didn’t believe it when you first saw it. after days and days of grey and black viewed through the pale yellow lenses of the respirator, you were sure the green leaves were a mirage. but you gingerly felt them- ripped off the mask, kissed them- inhaled the beautiful earthy scent of the bark of the only living thing you had seen ever since the last mushroom of death faded into the clouds. you thought that was funny sometimes- the mushrooms, that is. how strange, the things that stole so much life now sustain you, as you sit- the sole guardian of the last tree on earth. you’re an excellent caretaker- you promptly prune the dead leaves, pray the foliage comes back after every winter, encourage the tallest limbs to climb higher, higher- high enough to see- is there anyone else? you shouldn’t think about it. it probably doesn’t help the dreams. at night, cradled in wooden arms, you toss and turn- you dream that the arms of the tree are smoke, and they curl together, higher and higher and higher until they reach the sky, mushroom out over the entire planet and people rain down but they all have leaves for hair and bark for skin and their eyes are made out of pure fire and you’re awake and sweating and your throat is raw from the screams. deep breaths. the tears fall down- you always stick your head out to let them drop onto the earth at the base of the trunk, to water the tree. you know that it’s crazy, but you swear you’ve heard the tree whisper to you at times like this- comforting words, words of thanks. you speak back, beg the tree- you are so alone. just a single person, someone to stand watch with you. the tree says nothing in return. it gets lighter outside. you watch as the sun peeks over the horizon, the tree turns gold in the morning light. you drop down from your perch, and get to work gathering mushrooms. plenty of dead things here for them to feed on. bending down, you grab the fattest ones- a twig snaps. you freeze. you’ve seen animals before- they’re mostly just confused, near death- but you don’t play around with them. you look up, the tree is fifty feet away. you bolt, scamper up it in the way you’ve done thousands of times before. through the leaves, you peek out towards where you heard the noise. there’s definitely something moving- a bear? wait. it stands, hobbles towards the tree. not a bear. it stumbles out of the skeletal dead brush, and your gasp makes your lungs hurt. a man. you fall out of the tree, run over. he reaches out for you. you try to say something, fail. you realize you haven’t spoken in years. you clear your throat, and try again. “h-hello? are you here to help me?” the man falls to his knees, makes a gurgling sound. no. no, god no. you wrap your arms around him, cradle him like a child. his beard wraps around his face and connects with his hair, he looks more animal than human. he coughs, spams wrack his body, his head hangs loose. no. the tears are here again. you pick him up- he’s too light- run over to the tree. you scream at it. help you, help him, god, please. please. this can’t be real. this is a dream. you pinch yourself, but the man keeps coughing. tears are streaming down his face, which is the color of concrete. it’s not fair, you scream. not fair. you throw your voice into the sky, and for a moment you imagine you are a mushroom cloud, you imagine making the tree and the man and the earth and yourself disintegrate in a second. your tears fall down your face, salty twin rivers, and you pay no mind to where they land. you scream and the bitter wind is blowing you are pounding your fists into the tree trunk and the man is coughing up blood and the last tree on earth does nothing, just as it always has.