The Trees


"Childhood is the kingdom where nobody dies."

Edna St. Vincent Millay


It has been many years since I have seen you, child. Sometimes, it is difficult to note the passage of time among my unchanging companions, at the feet of these towering giants.

The trees are draped in the golden splendor of fall, the sky a bright blue where it peaks between the high boughs, as they were the day you first entered my kingdom.

But the years are traced in the lines of your mouth and the silver in your hair and reflected in eyes that reveal their age.

You are so changed from the lonely child with sad eyes who sought refuge in my forest. Sometimes I forget the way time affects your people.

You were nothing like the laughing, carefree children who rushed from the shadows of the forest with wide eyes, with the innocence of youth to conjure the illusion of a limitless world, empty of death.

They did not see you. They never saw the longing and distaste mingled in your gaze, overshadowed by a resignation that did not belong in the eyes of a child. But I did.

From the trees, through the hazy windows of your family's home, I saw your father, sallow and pale, keeping watch over your mother's decaying form. The taste of death lingered over that house, waited for you in that unsettling silence.

You came to the forest for escape, and I gave it to you. And I became for you what the world had denied—hope, life, and faith in the good of the world. I showed you the power of dreams, the endurance of life, and the strength of spirit inside yourself.

But the day your mother died, you cried. I turned away, because I knew you were burdened by the pitying eyes of a hundred others, but I whispered to the wind and promised you that when they looked away, when they returned to their petty distractions, I would always watch over you.

And you seemed to hear me, because you stopped crying and turned, your glistening eyes seeking mine among the trees. I know you never saw me, child, but I was always there.

The seasons changed, the days passed. I remained as I was, as I am. But you were there, and I could see the minute changes that proved time marched forward and carried you further and further from me, from the forest.

But it was not time that stole you from me. When your father died, it was others who took you—unfamiliar faces with promises of a better life.

With sadness, I watched you leave, and I saw the way your eyes lingered on the forest and me with that piercing gaze. But then you turned away to face the road.

I did not see you again till today.

"I know it was real," you whisper to the silent trees, but even I can hear the doubt behind the statement. Time has the power to make memories seem like dreams.

There is fear in your eyes and something of desperation. But it is not for fear of me.

"Please, be real," you say. A solitary tear traces a slow, winding path down a softly wrinkled cheek.

It is impossible to ignore the toll the years have taken from you. You have always had death in you, but now, it has grown and taken root in your soul, child. And that is why you fear.

That is why you have come.

You feel it inside of you, and this is the realm where death has no hold.

But that time has passed. I can no longer shelter you from that mortal end. I do not have the power to stop death—I can only lend faith to those who trust nothing to life. I gave it to you, for a time. But no one can remain here.

No one wants to leave, but it is the way.

Twilight casts long shadows across the leaf-littered forest floor, and a gentle breeze stirs the still air. It dances around you, ruffling your hair. You close your eyes, and for a moment, the illusion of youth returns to your face.

And I want to whisper words of comfort to you, but they will not come.

I watch you turn back to the forest's edge and the world that waits beyond it with its cruelties and marvels. And I wonder what sort of life it is you built there.

Another gentle wind sweeps among the trees, and with it, I send with it the elusive emotions that I cannot voice. You turn with wide eyes to stare before your surprise becomes relief. And the relief fades to hope, a burning light rekindled in your eyes. Yes, child, I am here.

And I watch you leave, knowing that you have returned where you belong without regret.

And though goodbye has no place here, I say it to the empty forest and to you. Farewell, child. Farewell.


Written for The Review Game's March Writing Challenge Contest. Check out the other entries and vote for your favorite between the 8th and 14th.