Their Days Are Numbered is a new year-long project authored by the collective Entropy community. It is a collaborative online novel written by the Entropy community on a weekly basis. A different author will write the next “chapter” each week, to be posted every Tuesday, following the previous post from the previous week, and following a very limited set of guidelines (that each author has one week to write the next piece after the previous week’s installment goes up, that installments should range between 150-1500 words, and that pieces should somehow incorporate a real-life occurrence, current event, news item, or other happening from that week).
Follow the entire “novel” here: Their Days Are Numbered.
The sixteenth installment is presented this week by Brooke Wonders.
She sits at the edge of her property, legs crossed beneath her, skin dust-marked and damp with bathwater. A tornado tears green across the horizon. Her self-diagnosis: trapped in her least favorite flavor of nightmare. Bubblegum. Chocolate-mint. Chased. Falling. Frozen. Wake now. Okay, not now. How about now? I keep dreaming the same dream, waking up convinced I’m really awake only to realize I’m still asleep so I wake myself up and I’m convinced I’m really awake only to realize I’m still asleep
…which is to say at this precise instant she is unconvinced. She closes her eyes against the rising wind, savors the grit between her teeth because it might mean she’s woken, except there’s a blue glow through her eyelids. Every light in the house must be on, a brightness just out of reach. Who would do such a thing, with electricity so scarce and necessary?
She opens her eyes to find the tornado and her land have vanished Oz-style. She’s on a lonesome trail, no one around for miles. Wake now. Okay, not now. How about now? She’s following the pipeline again. Puts ear to earth and listens for the trees in their deafness. Scene by scene, she’s slowly begun to learn the sign language of their branches. A rifle is slung across her back, is aimed ahead, is cold security, is unloaded. Every few steps, she digs, hoping to excavate bullets or at least a rock. The world travels by while her gaze holds steady within it, its desolation in her crosshairs. With deliberation this time, she closes her eyes.
She knows the trick of remembering your dreams. Eyes closed, she thinks back through the plot as far back as she can. The electric mouse and its promises smashed with a rock in her fist. The cold machines, rocketing upward, the sound of a large fire and then a smaller one. A man tugging off his mustache and reversing it, then gluing it back on, though now it squeaks when he speaks. What was the mouse’s name? Keeping her eyes shut, she thinks backwards, trying and failing to piece it all together. The blasted cityscape, the trail, the writing desk, the bathtub. She records her numbered days on the walls of her eyelids, one two three four crosshatch makes five. When she wakes, she will remember everything. That’s how the trick works.
Except that when she opens her eyes, she’s turned tree. She tries to run but she’s rooted. A wooden woman with a raw, red core. Wind shivers her leaves, and she thrashes limbs in protest. Trees in their deafness have no choice but to let the wind speak for them. A column of ants marches steadily up her trunk, a many-legged tickle. They climb toward sunlight. Mornings are for waking, mornings are for blue, but trees don’t have eyes, and so she can’t lucid dream herself into a new narrative. Wake now. Okay, not now. How about never? Women have been turning tree for centuries, that perfect fusion of generative growth and stasis; women have been trees for as long as stories have been dreams. She tries to scream but knots are not mouths. She tries to speak and her branches sign this story:
Once upon a time there was a teller.
He went into a forest he had never seen before.
He said, Why, you harassed wood, we will get rich
if you promise me what lies beyond you.
The trees said yes and gave a promise written on board:
We will give him such apples. The teller laughed and said,
I will come and take what belongs to me.
When the teller got home, his wife came to meet him and asked:
where is it from, this sudden wealth as a flood into our home,
every box and chest completed? One box was brought to him,
and I do not know what it produced. He said he had met trees,
a foreign forest, and had promised them great treasure.
Oh my husband, said that woman, horrified.
Your promises bend beneath the wheel.
They will give apples, yes, but in return
these trees will take our land and our language,
the entire sweep of your telling.
The trees crowded the teller’s house. They moaned,
we have come to take what belongs to us.
Their branches swung with bled apples.
The teller began to tell, and they pulled the words from him
like water from earth. The teller fell gradually
into nothing but this.