The Last Tree Nymph
by Tapanga Koe
Elma woke up covered in ash. She laid still in it, blinking away first the nightmare, and then the reality. The fire had flashed by, consuming her kin without hesitation. Darkened tree trunks with jagged tops encircled the edges of her vision in a nauseous dance. Embers glowed in their blackened remains.
Her left hand tightened around the pouch on her chest. She ran her thumb over and over its cool silk. Within nestled twenty-one seeds, not one of which belonged to Mother.
With great care, Elma stood. The world around her tilted. She took a few dizzying steps to the next charred tree, fell to her knees and began to dig. She dug until her fingers ached, her nails were ragged, and encrusted with earth and ash.
Noises came from her midsection; stabbing pains from her belly. She dug on, knowing the seed was close. She could feel its life calling to her. She turned earth until she saw the bud, vibrant green against dark soil.
As she picked out the seed, her friend’s face flashed in her mind. “Ochera,” she whispered. She placed the seed with the others—twenty-two and still no Mother.
She started towards the next tree, but pain came on so strong, she fell to her knees. She clutched her stomach and squeezed shut her eyes. Tears streaked her sooty face. But she forced herself to her feet. Elma drug herself through the forest, to the cove. Seahorse would know what to do.
The cove. Once, it had been crystal, shining waters and shrieking games. Water so clear, you could see straight to the bottom. Now the waters were clouded with ash. Elma slipped off the rocky bank into the water. The stabbing faded to dull throbs, eased by the coolness of the water, as she paddled out a ways. A tiny pink seahorse broke the surface beside her.
“Back so soon? Have you finished collecting the Seeds?” Seahorse asked.
“No. I woke in the ashes. I don’t remember lying down. I tried to keep searching, but a great pain stabs me from the inside, my belly.” She held her stomach. “I’m afraid I must be dying.”
Seahorse frowned, his slender body rocked by the waves. “Until you have replanted your Seed and have another Tree to sustain you, you must eat as a human, to survive. Wait here.” Seahorse dove beneath the surface. When he resurfaced, he trailed a bulk of seaweed from his body. “Eat. You will need to do it again when the pain returns.”
Elma took the stringy plants and chewed one gingerly. “So, I have to eat this?” Elma screwed her face up, but the first mouthfuls soothed the pain and she quickly finished it all. “Being half-human is awful!”
“If it weren’t for your human heritage, you’d have been snuffed out with your Tree like the rest. You are lucky.”
“Lucky! Lucky to be related to those who slaughter Trees?”
“We do not know for certain how the fire started.”
“Who else could it have been?” Tears dripped from her face into the sea. “I wish I had gone away with the others!”
“Hush now. Your journey won’t be easy, but, because of you, there is hope. You will travel to new planting ground, start again.”
“I haven’t yet found Mother’s seed.”
“There is no more time. You must plant before the new sun or their souls will be ferried to the hereafter. Then, even if you find ground, your kin will never return.”
“Elma, Mother would want you to go. You must, for the sake of the others. Be strong, you will be Mother now.”
Elma sniffled and rubbed her eyes, she tilted her head and her brows knit. “I . . .?”
“You will be a most kind and tender Mother.”
“But I cannot; only Mother is Mother.”
“You will. You must. Elma, go, find planting ground. Save them.”
“But how? How will I find it? And when I do, how will I know it is true?”
“You will know. You are a Tree nymph, Elma, no matter your other heritage.”
Elma nodded and began to swim towards shore. “Which way should I go?”
“The fire went east, the sky is clear to the west. Follow the path of the setting sun.”
“I wish you could come.”
Seahorse rocked in the water. It was hard to tell if he nodded or was just moved by the waves. “If I could, I would. When you find ground, if you can reach the sea, send word through the waves and I will travel to your seaside.”
“And we will play sea tag?”
“I’d like that.” Seahorse agreed.
With heavy sadness, Elma climbed ashore and started west.
Rusty got to work fifteen minutes early. Night always fell before his shift and he did not want to get caught outside. Not this night.
When he got to the Control room, the Com-Station was deserted. The viewscreens flickered, the images of the forest rolled. He punched buttons on the console and manoeuvred the central cam joystick. Nothing would respond.
“If it isn’t Flea-Boy!”
Rusty jumped, and then chided himself for being so easily spooked. It was only Joe-Nathan. Who else called him “Flea-Boy”? Rusty turned, offering the best smile he could manage without allowing his fangs to show.
“Joe-Nathan, hey. The cams won’t turn and—”
Joe-Nathan cut him off with a jut of his chin, indicating the Com-Station, he said, “I don’t see no problems.”
Rusty looked. The screens had stabilized. He grabbed the joystick and the cam panned, showing the surrounding forest, quiet, as usual.
“Since you’re early, I’m going. Clock me out in twenty, okay Flea?” Joe-Nathan tossed Rusty his time card and left.
Rusty sat down at the Com-Station.
Rusty’s heart leapt as he sprang from his seat. Joe-Nathan stuck his head back in the door.
“Hey, relax. I almost forgot—I opened a soda but never got to drinking it. Help yourself.”
“Gee, thanks.” Rusty grinned.
He toned his grin down to a polite smile, which hid his pointed teeth. “Thank you.”
Rusty relaxed as he heard the elevator whisking Joe-Nathan away. No Mixed was comfortable around an UnMixed. Joe-Nathan acted civil around Rusty for an U.M. but he had no choice—Joe-Nathan’s father, Frank-Nathan, owned the museum, and that’s who Rusty had gotten the job from.
Rusty smiled. He was fourteen with a job he L-U-V-loved, that paid in real U.M. cash. He could buy food, pay-to-own for his den, and even save a little, if he was careful.
He grabbed the soda off the back of the console and sipped. It tasted a little off, but it had been a long time since Rusty had had a real soda. The best he could afford was a little sugar for his water, here and there. He put his feet up and sipped, settling in for a peaceful night of watching over the forest.
Elma could see green in the distance. Hope. The sun disappeared behind gray clouds and it began pouring icy rain. The ashes mixed with the water making a thick, freezing sludge beneath her feet.
She neared the unburnt forest, only something wasn’t right. There was a border, burnt forest and forest green standing side by side—but that was not all. Elma stopped. Her toes flexed, squishing into the wet ash. There was no feeling coming from the live trees. Nothing. She could still feel the dying trees behind her, their shudders of agony making subtle wakes in the air. She could hear their whispered goodbyes, their quiet weeping. But the green and living trees which she faced should have been shouting out, bursting with feeling. And yet, there was nothing.
Elma reached across the threshold, towards a large oak. Still no feeling. Her trembling fingers approached the trunk and then passed right through, disappearing. Terrified, she snatched her hand back and examined it. It was not injured nor was the tree; no holes had been left where her fingers had penetrated.
Elma sucked in a breath. She did not want to walk in this strange forest, but there didn’t seem to be any choice. The border of living and dead stretched as far as she could see north and south. Seahorse said to follow the path of the sun — east to west. She would have to enter.
She stepped over the threshold. The rain stopped a few paces in. Silence grew as she left her dying forest behind, until all she heard was the sound of each step. Her footfalls echoed off the cold, hard ground, which looked right—beds of pine needles, little plants and clumps of grass, patches of dirt—but her feet felt only icy, flat stone.
Elma had been walking for a long time. Her belly growled as she passed an apple tree, but she’d seen too many like it already. No apple here could be picked, bitten, or even touched. Each time she’d tried, her hand had passed right through.
By dusk, she was exhausted. When she caught the sounds of a shallow stream and licked her dry lips. Soon she came upon it; the stream gurgled and flowed, playing its way over rocks and around bends. She wondered if it was real.
Elma squeaked as her foot splashed down in the freezing water. Exploring, she found she could touch the stream but not the rocks or plants. Some rocks felt like water, and some places, the water disappeared beneath the illusion of the ground.
Elma put her face to the stream. It smelled good, cool and fresh. But, she worried, what if it was cursed? What if it was what had made this forest untouchable? While trying to ponder this, she absently sipped from the stream.
Startled by the chill of it, she put a hand to her face. It did not go through. Sighing relief, she put her mouth back to the water and drank. The fire in her belly quieted. Once sated, she stood, and continued towards the sliver of setting sun. Squinting, she saw that the sun was still very far away. She kept going, keeping watch on its descent into the hills.
With her next step, her big toe, then face, then body, met something solid as stone. More startled than hurt, she leapt back, holding back a scream. Ahead, not a single tree, bush, or rock barred her way. Elma reached out her hands. They met a resistance, smooth and flat. She stretched her arms far and in every direction. Everywhere she felt, the invisible rock was there. She could not continue west.
But Seahorse had said west – she would now have to decide on her own, which way to go.
Panic built in her chest; Nymphs were not known for their decision making skills. They were, however, renowned for their panicking skills, which could often summon a helping hand or sway a stubborn opponent. But she swallowed her fear, knowing her opponent would not sway and help would not be coming. Overcoming her trepidation, she chose the path south. She trailed a hand along the invisible blockade as she walked, feeling for passage.
After a time, she felt a small break. She stopped, exploring it with her fingers. The space was very narrow, like that between two ridges of bark. Straight and vertical, the gap went all the way to the ground and also as far up as Elma could reach. She tried to jam her finger tips into the crack to widen it. She tried chipping a piece off to start a hole. She pried at it until her fingers smarted and her hands grew slick with sweat. Each time her fingers lost the crack, she had to feel about to find it again.
The gap would not widen or be chipped. Her teeth gritted and she smashed her fists off her unseen foe. The impact made a thunderous bang. Elma jumped back, startled. She touched the barrier, hoping she’d broken it, but it felt solid as ever. Not even a dent. Her eyes brimmed with tears. Elma turned away.
In the distance, a heartrending howl sounded. The pretend forest flickered rapidly in and out of existence. Darkness fell. The moon did not rise to light the night sky and not a single star shone. Elma waved her hand in front of her face, but could see nothing. She sat down on the cold, hard ground and began to cry.
Rusty’s head snapped up at the urgent beeping. The soda can tumbled from his lap, sending a fine, sticky spray across the floor. Black smoke came in columns from the console. He wiped the drool from his mouth and chin, blinked, and shook his head. His brain felt like lint, his tongue like fuzz, and his vision was blurry. The soda can emitted a strange odor. Rusty leaned in, forcing himself to focus on the screens.
The screen’s images of the forest were rolling.
“Not again.” He groaned, wiping his face. He grabbed the joystick, punched buttons, and when nothing would work, he smashed his palms on the console. “Only on my watch,” he muttered.
He’d have to fix it before the morning shift, or he’d be fired, or worse. Probably worse. He checked his watch— it was four a.m., he had two hours. He cracked the console and assessed the damage. Several wires had been cut and it looked like someone had poured acid on the cooling fan.
He’d been pranked a few times since starting at Virtu-Real, but this was taking it too far. This time, he’d have to tell Mr. Frank-Nathan. But for now, he needed to get replacement parts from the basement. Since he had to go down anyways, he thought he’d better duck in on the exhibit to make sure everything was alright. Any excuse for a chance to go inside, he thought. But, he reminded himself, only for a minute, he had to get that console fixed.
He walked down the corridor and punched the elevator button. “Only to me, only on a night like tonight.” The elevator doors slid open.
Bad luck always struck Rusty when the moon was full. He punched G, pushed up the sleeve of his turtle neck, and scratched the thick patch of hair on his forearm. A bad habit, his mother always said, keep it covered, all that extra hair. She’d been dead for years, but Rusty still heard her voice nagging him all the time. “Yes, ma.” He smiled a little.
At Ground floor, he got off, and headed to the closest exhibit entrance. He punched the code in the keypad and the doors parted. Rusty stepped into the Virtu-forest which filled out most edges of the exhibit, where the real forest had died off. Smoke scent hung heavy in the air. Burnt wood.
Wood for fuel had been given up long before Rusty was born. The only “wood smoke” Rusty had experienced was artificial, like in the smoked beef jerky that he loved. He sniffed the air. This smell was different, like the artificial creations hadn’t gotten it quite right. And then he realized…
He ran through the Virtu-forest, towards the middle, the real forest. There, the environmental controls had kicked in and the overhead sprinklers rained out icy water.
Rusty fell to all fours and ran through the wet ashes. But it was too late; there was nothing he could do. The fire was out, but everything had been lost. He stopped, raised his head to the sky, and let out a long, low howl.
His mind raced as he fled for the nearest exit. The UnMixed would have his head on a stake. He’d have to leave town, to get far away. Maybe nowhere was far enough. But he could hardly blame them. He’d just let the world’s last eco-dome, the last living forest, burn. He thought maybe he deserved to die, but he ran on anyhow.
He tried not to imagine his head on a pike. He remembered his mother’s warning about taking UnMixed jobs, the ensuing argument, their angry last words. Rusty had thought the world could change. No, worse, he thought he could change the world. His mother was right, he had been a fool.
The Virtu-Sky flickered and went out, leaving him in the pitch black. He felt his way over to the wall and followed it to the exit.
“Ow!” A girl cried.
“Who’s there?” Rusty snarled. The smell of fresh, green woods filled his nostrils.
“You stepped on me!”
“How did you get in here?”
“I . . . I live here,” she replied with a sniffle.
Rusty felt for the keypad and punched in the code. The girl screeched and scrambled back as the door opened and yellow light flooded in from the corridor. She was petite and very pretty, with delicate features and chestnut hair which flowed to her waist. Her eyes were red-rimmed and puffy, as though she had been crying. She wore only a pouch on a piece of twine, which dangled between her small breasts.
“You’re a nymph!” Rusty had caught the occasional glimpse of them on the screens, playing in the forest. “But how did you survive?”
“I hid with Seahorse and the others,” she replied, her eyes looked past him, to the corridor.
“They are gone, without their Trees.” Her body shuddered.
“I’m sorry,” Rusty said, a great sorrow heaving his heart. “I have to go.”
“Take me, I need to go west!”
Rusty shook his head. “I’m sorry, I can’t.” He turned and ran down the corridor. The nymph chased after him, he heard her bare feet slapping against the cement floor. Rusty whipped around to face her. “Go back to the exhibit. The day shift will be on soon, they’ll take care of you.”
“I can’t stay here!” Her cheeks flushed. “I need to find planting ground before morning sun!” She screamed and began to stomp her feet. “And Seahorse says I have to eat to stop the pains in my belly, only I can find nothing to eat, and it hurts, and, and… you have to help me!” She stopped stamping and paled, wrapping her arms around her trembling body.
Rusty wondered what they would do with her, the last tree nymph. Would they breed her like an animal to try and preserve her species? Or would they suck out her DNA and clone the bits to make more? She looked like one of them, like an UnMixed, all but her slight build and pointed ears. But that wouldn’t make them think twice, let alone stop them.
“Alright,” he said, “but first, you need to cover up.” He pulled off his turtleneck. The nymph draped it across her shoulders. “No, like this.” Rusty reached for her. She danced back, nimbly avoiding his touch. “Look, you can’t prance around in the buff, people will notice. Do you want to come or not?” He felt bad about his tone, it wasn’t like him, really, but he had to go. Now.
She nodded, letting him help her. When he pulled it down over her head, his shirt hung past her knees. He rolled up the sleeves to her wrists. “Good enough,” he said. He turned, running again, but this time he didn’t hear her follow. He looked back. The nymph stood in the corridor, staring at the exhibit door.
Rusty ran back and took her by the arm, dragging her behind him. “I’m sorry Miss, but I really don’t have time for this.”
Elma pulled her arm from the boy’s grasp and ran behind him. The floor, walls, and sky here were all made of dull, gray rock. Little suns trapped inside it lit their way. The air smelt foul, like it had all gone moldy.
The passage ended, but the boy made the glistening rock part for them, just like he’d done in the dark forest. Beyond, the big, round moon and all the stars were back in the sky. Elma smiled, feeling very glad to see familiar faces.
When he stepped into the moonlight, the boy grew a snout and tail, changing to a silver wolf wearing baggy blue shorts. Falling to all fours, he took off. Elma followed. The hard, gray ground struck up at her, she felt every footfall jarring her bones.
Square rocks towered around them. They ran past trees with shining and skinny black trunks, and no branches or leaves. Some of these were topped with bright suns, and some had suns which were dark. Elma hoped those suns were only sleeping. Strangest of all were coloured lights, red, yellow, and green. These always hung in a row, dangling high off of dark vines.
The wolf boy slowed at a round tunnel in an awful smelling mountain.
“What forest is this?” Elma asked, plugging her nose.
In the dark tunnel he paused to look at her. His snout and tail receded and he again came to stand upright. “Forest? No. This is the world, nymph. Concrete cities for the UnMixed and trash heaps for the rest. Not a single tree in it, let alone a forest…” He looked down at his feet. “…at least not anymore.”
“I need to get to the planting ground.”
“Yes, before the morning sun,” she said, supressing the urge to start stamping.
“We have to run!”
“But I must!” She stamped once, hard.
“Look, we got to get out of here, you and me both. We’re in big trouble if they catch us.”
“I need to plant the Life Seeds!” Elma screamed. “They’ll die!”
“If we don’t scram, we’re the ones who are going to die!”
“I must! I must!” she shrieked. Elma’s face grew hot; she balled her fists and held her breath.
“Okay, listen, I got to go home and pack. After that, we’ll go, okay? Please?”
Elma nodded, wiping tears from her eyes, she sucked in a breath.
Rusty ran down the tunnel. “By the way, I’m Rusty,” he called over his shoulder.
“I am Elma,” she replied.
The trash heap was so large, and so carved with tunnels and caverns, that the Mixed could go their whole lives without ever seeing the U.M. world. Rusty paused before turning down the tunnel which led home. He sniffed the air. Twice, he thought he’d caught a mechanical scent, but now he smelt only garbage.
At the den, he tossed Elma a chocolate bar and a canteen of water, and then started flinging things into his knapsack. He packed what food he had, some sparkling trinkets he might be able to trade, and then pulled his savings and his mother’s picture from beneath his pillow.
In the photo, his mother posed in human form, but an abundance of silvery hair, and large, glinting canines, betrayed her true nature. His father had taken it, mother had told him, Rusty knew he’d been a professional, and had developed it himself, in an old fashioned dark room.
Taking photos of Mixed was forbidden. Rusty knew that was why his father had been executed, though his mother had never said so. For a long time, he’d hated that photo, but the day he’d returned home to find the U.M. had taken her too, he was thankful to have it.
He packed the picture and buckled his knapsack. The cash he stuffed in his pocket. They needed to leave, fast, but he’d have to go trade for supplies first. It was a long journey to the next Mixed city, starvation in the tunnels would kill them just as surely as the U.M.. “Let’s go.”
Elma’s cheeks and mouth were smeared with chocolate. “To the planting ground?”
“Midnight Market, then we’ll go west. I hear there’s a huge Mixed city out there called Chick-Ago.” He hoped he sounded braver than he felt.
“To the planting ground,” Elma said, nodding and smiling.
They ran through the tunnels, but slowed to a walk in the large cavern that held the Midnight Market. As he crossed to it, Rusty tried to work out the barter in his head. He entered the food stall and began negotiations. A couple of pounds of beef jerky and some more candy bars—easy energy, tasty and cheap. Then, thinking of the nymph, he got some dried fruit rations. He packed up, and then looked around for her, but she was nowhere to be found.
He went outside. Elma was kneeling in the middle of the cavern. Beyond her, Joe-Nathan stood glaring. When Rusty met his gaze, Joe-Nathan’s mouth twisted into a violent grin.
The moment Elma had set foot in the Midnight Market cavern, she’d known. The ground sang, coursing up through her feet, a myriad of joyous voices. When those voices reached a crescendo, she fell to digging.
The ground would barely yield to her clawing fingers; she had to pry up bits of garbage to make a hole. When she dropped in the first Seed, the ground issued a puff of lilac-smelling smoke. The earth quivered with renewed life.
“What are you doing?” Rusty shouted, and then he was pulling on her arm.
“It’s here! I’ve found it!”
“We have to go now, the U.M. bots are coming.”
Rusty pulled, but Elma wrenched herself from his grasp and continued to plant.
“I have to go,” he said, hovering around her.
She nodded, intent on her work.
“Yes, run Flea-Boy, run like the disgusting dog you are,” Joe-Nathan said.
Elma dropped the next Seed into the ground, the glorious scent of fresh air wafted up.
“Get out of here, Joe-Nathan! Leave us alone,” Rusty said.
“And miss all the fun? U.M. patrol will be here any minute, you’d better g’it along, l’il doggy.”
Elma heard a deep, rumbling growl. She looked up; Rusty was snarling and baring his teeth. Joe-Nathan’s face drained of colour and he glanced at the tunnel behind him.
Elma returned to her planting.
“Come on, Elma, we have to leave, now,” Rusty spoke through clenched teeth. He grabbed her beneath both arms and yanked her up.
“No! No!” Elma screeched, kicking and wriggling to free herself.
Rusty wanted to shake her. He wanted to scream in her face that they were both about to die. Then he smelt it. He looked at the ground; the gray filth of the cavern floor was turning to rich, dark soil and the air smelled not of rot and foulness, but green and wonderful.
In awe, Rusty released the writhing nymph, and she fell once more to digging.
“Go on then,” Joe-Nathan sneered, “run.”
“You—” Rusty growled, falling to all fours. His anger surged and he could not control the transformation, he felt his nose elongating and his ears growing. He stalked towards Joe-Nathan. “You messed with the Com-Station, you set the exhibit on fire, you burned down the forest! And you drugged that soda. You set me up, but why? Why destroy the forest?” Rusty could hear the whirring of the machines coming down the tunnels.
Joe-Nathan backed away. “What’s a few lousy trees when we got all the Syntha-Wood we can use? My dad was wrong, he never should of hired you. Mixed don’t belong in our world. In fact, they don’t belong anywhere at all. Not even stinking up this nasty trash heap.” Joe-Nathan spat at Rusty.
Rusty pounced on Joe-Nathan and snarled, snapping his teeth inches from Joe-Nathan’s face. Behind him he could smell the sweetness of the forest in full force, mingling with the fast-approaching scent of the U.M. patrol.
“Ah, please, no!” Joe-Nathan cried.
Rusty snarled again, and then pushed Joe-Nathan hard into the ground as he leapt off. He went to Elma and used his claws to help her pull the muck from the ground. The U.M. bots entered the cavern and began circling around them. Giant mecahno-rats on wheels, blinking lights covered their metal coats and whisker-thin antennae quivered around their steel noses.
As the strange rats began to circle, Elma dropped the last Seed, her Seed, into the hole and Rusty helped her fill it. She patted the earth over it. The ground began to shake and then trees sprung forth around them, instantly sprouting branches and then leaves, and the metal rats were crunched, crushed, and flung away. The trunks grew thick, and up and up, punching through the ceiling of the cavern.
Elma climbed to a low branch in her Tree, and reached for Rusty. “Take my hand!” Elma stretched, but Rusty’s paw remained beyond reach. Elma’s eyes widened as Joe-Nathan pulled a long, glinting dagger from his jacket. He ran at Rusty. “No!” she screamed. But it was too late.
Rusty turned back into a boy, his face contorted with pain. His fingertips brushed Elma’s and he crumpled to the ground. The dagger’s hilt jutted from between his shoulder blades. Elma dropped from the tree and went to him, cradling his head in her lap.
“Hush, hush,” she said to the groaning boy. “It’ll be okay, Rusty.”
UnMixed men neared the edge of the Trees.
“Go.” Rusty shuddered. His eyes closed, and he grew still.
Elma rested Rusty’s head on the earth and slipped into her Tree. The U.M. men came. They looked from the Mixed boy dead on the ground, to the UnMixed boy standing nearby.
“It’s . . . it’s not how it looks,” Joe-Nathan stammered, “I had to defend myself from that . . . that creature. He was going to kill me!”
“Hey Chief, there’s a bot over here,” one of the men said, “Pretty roughed up, though.”
“See if you can get the cam working,” Chief replied, not taking his eyes off of Joe-Nathan.
Joe-Nathan tried to run but two men grabbed his arms and held him.
“Got it,” the man with the bot said. All turned to watch its fuzzy projection.
Elma, too, watched the moving picture. In it, Rusty reached for her hand. Joe-Nathan threw the knife and Rusty fell to the ground. Then, the image flickered and went out.
Some of the men shook their heads, muttering amongst themselves. Chief removed a round stone from his coat pocket and stuck it to Joe-Nathan. A glowing, red field sprung up around him.
“No, please! He’s an animal! A Mixed! He doesn’t matter, I do! This is ridiculous!” Joe-Nathan shouted.
“Murder is murder,” Chief said, “I don’t ascribe to those old-time beliefs. Take this back-stabbing chicken-shit in.” The men set up walls of light around Rusty’s body before they departed, Joe-Nathan being prodded along, the red field still surrounding him.
“Quickly now,” Elma whispered, urging the freshly sprung baby nymphs further up into their Trees.
“Yes, Mother,” Okra replied, toddling through her tree’s branches.
Elma looked to each of the nymphlings, pressing her finger to her lips. The U.M. men had returned, and now formed a group below. Elma climbed to a lower branch to listen.
“We set the field up right, Chief, I swear it.” He stared, bewildered at the sapling surrounded by walls of light.
“I don’t remember the body being a tree, but maybe you can send it to the coroners anyways, and once it’s been processed, we’ll have a camp fire. I’ll even make you boys some s’mores,” a man said.
“Let’s question the locals, maybe they’ll know something about this,” Chief said. “Retrieve the force field, it isn’t doing any good around that tree, is it?”
The men took down the walls of light and left.
Elma crossed the branches towards the freed tree, which now sprang up and out as had the others. She climbed to its trunk’s top, and found the pod nestled there. She touched a finger to it. There was a puff of mist and the faint smell of wolfsbane as it opened.
The wolfish babe’s mouth stretched in a yawn. Elma cooed and brushed a finger over his fuzzy cheeks, then picked him from the pod and cradled him in her arms. “Welcome home, Rusty.”
Tapanga Koe has published works in anthologies They Have to Take You In (edited by Ursula Pflug, Hidden Book Press, 2014) and That Not Forgotten (edited by Bruce Kauffman, Hidden Book Press, 2012). She lives in rural Ontario, Canada.