Margin: Exploring Modern Magical Realism

F L A S H   F I C T I O N
TREES
b y   j o h n   b r a n s c u m   ~   l o u i s v i l l e ,   k e n t u c k y

OUR TOWN had never seen trees quite like these. They were hidden in the deep mushroom center of the woods. Green despite the hoarfrost, their leaves shuddered like crisp lace. They smelled of turpentine and copper bowls.

Their trunks and limbs were not so much bark and pulp as silver-dusted flesh. When the axes dipped in, you heard the cold clump of metal into meat and the trees spurted blood as red as ravioli. I wish they would have screamed—that would have made a difference—some sort of scream. But they didn't. They stayed silent and I supposed I was foolish to begin with—expecting trees to scream. Things that hurt so easy made you think that they must not have wanted to live.

The bark was easy to peel. Once stripped and quartered, the tree flesh writhed like fish.

The hands of the men who cut them were stained red and stayed red. Some had splatters on their faces like radiator burns. Others were wholly dyed. Yet, even those of us who had simply watched had marks that would not wash away. Because of this, the town elders decided the trees were cursed and built a fire to do away with them.

The fire was white and the smoke curled into shapes that were almost recognizable.

The ground where the trees once stood is now level. We have hauled even their stumps away, uprooted them like terrific molars, then smoothed the earth. On the night of the fire, I stole a branch from the brush pile, took my knife and carved the buttery flesh. The next day the wood had hardened. I sat in my treehouse, and carved it into a flute.

It's a pretty flute, notched with a beveled mouthpiece, but when you blow it makes no noise.

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