(AN:  In honor of the snowstorm hitting the northeast, I came up with this short and bitter story.  It's another bizarre premise, so judge it for yourself.  Flames welcome.)

Beauty

By RED

The beautiful ones were always the first to die.

            Snow was drifting down from the gray sky that day, and my people were silent with the weight of grief.  Only the crippled ones were left.  All the beautiful, perfectly formed ones had been killed and taken away.

            I was lucky.  I was one of those deformed mutants, and I had been allowed to live because no human wanted me in their home, because the branches on one side of my body had died of disease.  It was an awful sadness we felt, and I so desperately wanted to shout, to give the few trees around me some form of hope – but I knew they would all be dead this winter.  They were healthy and strong, and sublimely perfect.  They would be taken.

            The only tree left beside me was a tender young spruce.  The only reason no one hadn't picked her yet was because of her small size.  But her life was quickly becoming less certain, as others, larger ones, were cut down and dragged away in screams of agony.

            Several humans had considered her already today.  The snow had brushed her limbs with a white that made them look like the wings of a dove.  She was so pretty.

And she was so, so frightened.

            Calm sister, I whispered in the fragile air.  Be still, be with soul.

            The little spruce tree had no way of answering, for she was not of an age to speak yet.  Even so, I'm sure she heard me.  I could only pray that she would live.  She was too young to be subjected to such cruelty.

            Another group of humans came to us, two of them large, two of them small.  They never gave a second look at me.  After all, why should they have?  I was ugly, and I was unwanted.  Instead they moved to the younger tree, and the smallest humans danced around her delicate boughs like ritual animals.

            "Daddy, daddy, what a pretty tree!" said one of them.  "Please, let's have this one!"

            "I don't know, it's kind of small…" one of the bigger ones replied.

            She grew terrified under the scrutiny.  Calm sister, I repeated softly.  They will not choose you.  Breathe deep.

            "Honey, I'm freezing out here," complained the other large human.  "Come on, they like it – let's just take it and go home."

            The first one thought for a moment, and I hung on his voice, my spirit in the balance.  "…Fine, I'll get the saw."

            It was like an axe had split my trunk in half.  Just like that, the verdict was made, and a life was thrown away.  She was going to be killed after all.  The spruce tree beside me probably didn't have the experience to yet understand human speech, but she knew her death was coming.  I could feel it.  And still, she did not panic, nor did she yell…  She was silent.

It was surprisingly powerful; it was worse than the screaming would have been.

Why did this child not protest the brutal way her life was going to be executed?  Why did she not cry out, even when she had been told by the elders that she would spend the last few weeks of her life shelled from the company of her people, dying slowly in a canister of water?  Why child?  Why did she not scream?

            The human returned with a piece of toothed and spined metal, like the fangs of an animal.  I had grown to hate that thing, the instrument of death for my people.

            He lowered it to the base of her trunk and set the teeth against her bark.  Her fear was growing, and still she did not cry out.  I prepared myself for the pain we would share; it was the least I could do for her, to make the passage even a little less excruciating.

            The human began to move the metal teeth, and they ripped into her bark.  At first we felt nothing, but as soon as the teeth bit flesh, we screamed together.  The pain did not lessen, even doing this countless times before.  It still was agony to share death with one of my own people.

            With each pass of the teeth against her heartwood, it was a burning brand of fire for both of us, only for her it was real and I was merely sharing the burden.  Ripping, tearing, they dug deeper.  We shrieked as the teeth passed the halfway mark, rending her core forever severed from the earth.  She would never again hear the speech of her people.  I gritted my will.  It was almost done.  There were a few more twists of the metal, a crack, and then the beautiful, valiant tree toppled to the ground.  I could still feel the pain vibrating through her, aching in her trunk, desperately craving her roots to the earth…  But it was gone.  The little humans cheered as they dragged her away.  She did not scream, like so many others had.  She was moaning, regretting the brevity of her saplinghood, carrying the remorse of being killed in such a cruel and terrible fashion.  But she ignored the physical pain, pain that was still shooting through my core with such malevolent ferocity, and yet she bore it.

            Well done sister, I cried, even though she could not hear me.  It had to be said.  Be strong, be strong…

            The silence filled me as she finally left my side, where she had stood for many years in her growth.  I would have preferred the screaming, or simply any sound at all in our crowded communion of deadly quiet, crippled people.  Anything at all…  I missed her.  I missed all those who had been killed, but now that she was gone, I missed her most of all.  I had never witnessed, nor felt, someone cut down with so much humility left to give.

            It began quietly at first, a murmur, a hush among the nettled soil.  But soon it grew powerful.  They were words, and this is what they said:

            Well done sister…  Be strong, be strong…

            It grew in might, bit by bit, echoing my fevered shout a thousand times over until other trees, oaken and ash, birch and beech, elm and ironwood, were all joined in a jubilant chant.  It was a victory, though small.  We had to accept what little strength my people had to rely upon.

            The call did not quiet again until evening came and some of us settled into sleep.  I was not one of them.  As the winter snow chilled my branches, I was haunted by her absence, missing her wordless, emotional presence.  I would never speak to her again.

            The beautiful ones were always the first to die.  The ugly ones were left to live, but left behind as well...  For they existed in a world of the dead, with no way to leave.