Archive for April 9th, 2012

9th April
2012
written by amber

The Trees

They moved along in the bobbing, springy gait of a family that followed the woods as some families follow the sea. Effortlessly, miles disappeared beneath their feet, all of their possessions packed into the ungrav pod floating in their wake. Trees soared overhead and birds flew in the high canopy, their sounds muffled by distance and the thick golden air.

The trees weren’t trees and the birds weren’t birds and the air wasn’t air, but this was the family’s new home and they could call things whatever they wanted. They’d been adapted to breathe this atmosphere and digest the flora and fauna of this planet; they were ready to homestead.

They could eat the fungus which grew between the massive root buttresses of the trees, they could eat the vines which snaked upward, seeking sunlight, they could eat the enormous multi-legged bugs which crawled on the vines. If they could catch them, they could eat the birds. But they preferred to eat the beans that dangled from a low-growing plant endemic to the planet’s grasslands. They tasted the beans during their orientation month, and found them delicious.

All the grassland homesteads had been taken by the first wave of settlers, and the second wave were relegated to the less desirable lands. They were charity settlers, allowed in after a devastating war on Earth, but they hadn’t been able to afford to contribute, as the first wave had done, to the infrastructure of the planet.

The beans were so delicious, they had become a major trading item for the planet, and the new settlers were expected to clear the forest land so that bean crops could be sown and prosper in the fertile soil and the golden warmth of the planet’s star. But as the family traveled through the forest toward their assigned homestead, their steps grew less springy, their spirits faltered in their chests.

The trees were enormous. Even with the laser cutters they’d been given, clearing their land would take years. The father wanted to rant against the unfairness of their situation. He’d been an accountant, back on Earth. Why had they not allowed him to stay in the capitol city of the planet and ply his trade, instead of expecting him to toil for the remainder of his life at something which didn’t inspire or interest him?

The mother, who’d already been a Back to the Land type, had been excited when they were chosen for resettlement, and happy with the pioneering gear they’d been given, the sturdy boots and building tools and farming implements, the cooking pots and basic condiments, the old-fashioned computers with 2-D screens and built-in data. But the first night of camping rough had been difficult.

“The planet has no insects,” she’d been told. But the 10-legged, multi-segmented beasts might as well have been giant cockroaches when they slithered into her sleeping bag that night. And the tiny flying things that swooped and darted at her face as she walked along weren’t micro-birds, they were gnats, or as good as. She knew there was nothing like an insect-repellent in the ungrav pod. And she was starting to be certain that she’d never like this place.

The children, a boy and a girl, were young enough to have known nothing but war on Earth. At first, they had been delighted by the absence of the sound of gunfire and tanks, by the assurance they’d been given that none of the land on this planet was mined. They’d looked forward to playing in the fields. However, during their long trek, they came to understand that there would be no fields unless they created them by felling the huge trees, one by one.

“We could climb the trees,” the brother whispered to his sister.

“You think?” she hissed back, looking upwards. His gaze followed hers, seeing the trunks smooth and massive, rising without branches for hundreds of feet, textured only by the vines which they broke easily each night to make fuel for their fire.

On the fifth day of their journey, they moved along in the shuffling, hopeless gait of a family that is swallowed by the woods as some families are swallowed by the sea.

The Story 365 project is a year-long marathon of short story writing, with a new story for every day of the year and posted on this website from May 1, 2011 – April 30, 2012. Stories must be a minimum of 200 words. Please help me by adding first line or topic suggestions in the Comment section of any story.

The first line and title of this story were borrowed from the unforgettable novel of the same name, by Conrad Richter.