The last thing she will remember is the peach; the sweetness in her mouth going sour and the ripe flesh becoming and fetid and rotten even as she swallowed. She feels the change in the texture, in taste, as it slides down her throat. Feels it settle in her belly and then she feels it unfurl, uncoil; transform from half chewed fruit to grasping, questing tendrils. She feels the slithering touch of these shoots, each individual wriggling writhing curling exploration of her innards.

All she does is tighten her grip on the peach, fingers tearing into soft fruit-flesh. It bruises at her touch, darkens, juice trickling down her wrist and pitter-pattering to the floor.

They spread themselves thin, spread within her; infiltrating organs, slipping into veins. They aim for the marrow of her, and after a moment she finds the presence of mind to scream. But as her lips part, the shadowy spiraling thing that has taken root in her stomach climbs upward, outward; threads her lips shut and blackens her vision.

She drops the peach, falls to her knees, and claws at the gradually tightening sutures with sticky, trembling fingers. But there is nothing she can do.

That fetid, sour touch reaches into her mind and then it too goes silent.

She wakes because the noise is insistent. It presses against her ears, urges her to heed it. To rise, to sway, to bring her heart to match that pulsating rhythm. To break free before it is-

Her eyes flutter open and the world that greets her is entirely alien. The clouds that drift through the noxious green sky are dark- gray and black. Looking up feels like looking down, down into the murky depths of water. Light is reflected off it, not given of it, and as she looks to the east there is a bright shimmering white. A city in the distance perhaps. She is guarded on every side by these white, hopeful glows- but here it is dark. Here there is no light but that feeble gleaming reflection in the sky.

She rises to her knees; or at least, she tries. Her fingers are rooted in the soil. As far as she can see, there are trees twisting and twining upward, and their dark boughs are heavy with bright, ripe fruit. There is a small space around her, in this grove, and it is only place that what little light the sky affords touches the earth.

She squints, stares at the roots of the trees and she would scream when she discerns what feeds them if her lips were still not sewn shut. They share her stitching, and their eyes are black, gleaming pools in their faces. They stare at her with miserable intelligence, some of them, while others are dull and vacant and

dreaming

whisper the trees.

She cries when they begin to speak to her, through her, somehow issuing voice from the threads that seal away her own speech. As she keens behind her closed lips, the bodies beneath the trees move. Their chests heave and their pitch-black eyes turn heavenward. They cry with her, tears spilling with all the color and consistency of ink down their cheeks. And they whisper in her mind, telling her fear will be replaced in time and it is

so wonderful to be one

and in time in time in time she will forget that her legs were for walking rather than

food for the trees

and her hands were meant for caressing, for creating, for touching rather than

food for the trees

that her arms were for holding, her heart was for loving, her tongue was for singing and none were ever meant to be

food for the trees food for the trees food for the trees.

But for now, the grove feels her pain, and the thousands of voices trapped beneath the roots rattle and rise behind sutures black and thick.