This is the story of a tree.
For years it stood in the clearing, at first surrounded by other trees. In its youth, it remembers its cousins, brothers, sisters, and friends, as they laughed and played, in the ever-changing world. Winds would bellow up for a while, reaching a crescendo, and sending that familiar chill through him and his siblings, and he would lose his leaves. And then, almost as soon as he lost them, they would grow back again, with that momentary warmth. After that It would be Winter again; white snow growing on him for a short time; then those winds again, and with them the return of that familiar chill.
Then something happened. He was a proud tall tree. He was the tallest of all around, the wise one, they used to call him. But then they disappeared, one by one. He could not tell what happened. In this particular group of trees, who looked up to him, he remembered that Frosty was the first to go, and all that was left was a grotesque stump. No sign of how it happened. That was when everyone began to whisper about supernatural spectres, small things that you could get sight of if you looked sideways.
So they said. He never saw these small darting demons that stole trees, bringing their death perhaps. How could they tell? Could trees survive stumping? It was hard to say.
Then, in one fail swoop, the rest were gone, and in their place were a load of stones stacked upon each other, looking horrific in their unnatural, uniform shape. As his shock subsided, he pondered upon the nature of this strange shape. It had alien-like sharp edges, and with it he felt a foreboding that suddenly made him feel lonely.
It was at these moments, in the face of this tall brooding ugly thing, that he remembered the beauty of the other trees that disappeared one day. Great winding whisping things, graceful in their striving towards the sky, a sky which flashed dark and bright intermittently.
There had been talk of the demons, fairies and other supernatural things that inhabited this world. He never believed any of it, only entertaining the hushed whispers that some of the more excitable trees engaged in. But then they were gone, all of them. And he was alone.
Besides that strange pointy thing that stood beside him, all around him were bushes, but they were strange, flat bushes. He sometimes thought that these things were copies. He had a lot of time on his own, obviously, and he had come up with this idea of copying, a crude re-assemblage of lines and points, made up unnaturally of stones and rocks. The demons, he suspected, were trying to copy the tree, to remake it, re-appropriate it in a deeply destructive and selfish way.
Then, in the grass surrounding him, where his friends used to live, small rock slabs appeared. They had strange markings on them. And this actually excited him, cutting through his deep solitude. Not the rocks, but the markings. There was something about them that enticed him. But what were they?
He resolved, after much contemplation, that he would try to solve the mystery of these strange markings. He focussed on the one closest to him. The markings reminded him of the trees he tried to remember; strange twigs which, like the stone structure next to him, exhibited an unnatural straightness, angles which for him had no reference. It had branches alright, but sharp ones, and far too few. He thought that he could recognise somewhere within them a crude reproduction of a tree. Maybe he was going mad with loneliness. This struck him as a distinct possibility.
The stone closest to him had these markings on it:
THIS STONE IS ERECTEDOne day, these markings grew, somehow, or were added to, like a spurting youngling, but one that does not grow in the traditional way, one that just appeared, suspended never to become any bigger nor any smaller. Angular twigs that could never grow, and were never born.
O THE MEMORY OF PAUL
O'NEIL OF BALLYMORE
WHO DEPARTED THIS LIFE
12th JAN. 1811 AGED
80 YEARS ~
Strange strange markings. After a time though he saw them too recede, lessen, lost into the standing stone, as it became covered in white spots, looking decidedly more natural.
For a time he had thought that the markings were immortal, like him. But they too receded into this changing world.
Those markings. It was after a long time, of wondering upon the different variations of them, that he began to see different species, like the plants and grasses and bushes that sometimes surrounded him. It was around this time that he started to see the fairies, or demons. He wasn't sure what they were. Out of the corner of his vision, they sometimes flitted, hovering and then disappearing, always close to those stones with markings. When the markings went, so did the ghosts.
The marks of these demons, these fairies, these momentary beings, trying to make themselves immortal in their markings. Of all that, he could say no more. The air grew thick. He had lived a long long life, a long long one. His thought was this, in those final days; was he immortal, compared to this world of strange shapes, stone and other things he did not know, and those beings that flickered in and out of existence. But those markings, they were most like him, most like the trees that they had destroyed. They marked the stones, trying to copy a tree, to copy him. They wanted to copy the life of a tree. Or maybe they wanted to communicate with him, to say something to him, markings to tell him that they existed.
A first contact with those strange, little, ephemeral things.