A Forest of Silvertrees: Part 1
“Humans are very short,” said Elik, “hardly taller than a hatchling. But they are very strong and very dangerous. They have only one eye, which is not on their head but on their chest.”
Her sisters all stopped to listen, even though they had just come across a tasty troop of soup bugs.
“That’s nonsense,” said Kriskil. “What use would it be to have an eye on your chest?” She was not a popular clan-member, but she did have some talents which made her highly regarded by the other members. For instance, despite being a little overweight, she had won the free-leaping competition the last three seasons in a row and showed no sign of relinquishing her title.
“What do they look like?” asked Incan.
“Very short, as I said, but much thicker than we are.”
“I don’t care. I don’t believe in humans!” Kriskil shouted, lashing her tail petulantly on the ground, squashing one soup-bug and sending the rest scurrying for cover. “And even if they did exist, I’m not afraid of them!” she added with youthful defiance; but her clan-mates could hear her joints crackle with fear as she spoke.
“Kriskil’s afraid of humans,” Elik chanted, and the others joined in.
“Mother says humans are just a story made up to scare little children,” Kriskil added.
“Tenkel has seen them,” said Elik.
Kriskil was shocked to hear Elik so easily ignore the appeal to her own parent’s authority. “I’m telling Mother,” she whispered so only Elik could hear.
But Elik ignored her. “Their heads are huge and as round as a browntree seed,” she said. “Like a huge bubble, but very hard. The strangest part is the eye, and they only have one. The eye shines in the night, so bright you can’t even look at it.” She paused for dramatic effect. “But if they see you, they can kill you just by looking at you!”
“Have you ever seen a human, Elik?” asked Lokie.
“No,” Kriskil admitted. “But I know what they look like. I’ll show you.” She inflated her lungs and erected all her fur so she was almost as round as a browntree seed, though considerably hairier. She tried to kill her sisters by looking at them, but they did not understand what she was doing.
Despite her show of bravado, Kriskil felt waves of fear overtake her. She did not believe the nonsense about creatures with a single eye on their chest, but the idea of a creature that could kill with a mere glance, however ridiculous, sent shivers through her body. There was no point saying anything now. Incan and even Lokie were captivated by Elik’s words.
“They must be dangerous,” said Incan in awe.
“They are very dangerous,” said Elik. She lowered her voice. “They say if fifty humans ever got together, they could wipe out every clone- clan in the land.”
“Where do they come from?” asked Kriskil in a whisper, as if she was afraid the humans might hear her.
“They say humans fall out of the sky on trees,” said Elik.
“Trees falling out of the sky!” mocked Kriskil. Despite her fear, she felt a duty to maintain the resistance.
“Greentrees, browntrees or yellowtrees?” asked Lokie.
“Silvertrees,” said Elik.
“Silvertrees?” exclaimed Kriskil. She sang the tree song. “Yellowtrees are for fruit, greentrees for bedding, browntrees for shelter. But what is a silvertree?”
“They’re like yellowtrees,” said Elik, “but they have no branches, and they’re silver. And what they’re for is carrying humans.”
Kriskil coughed nervously. She had heard of silver but she was too embarrassed to say she did not know what colour it was. “Have you ever seen a silvertree, Elik?” she asked.
“I haven’t actually seen one,” she confessed, “but I’d know one if I saw it.”
“Well, I think you’re full of sand. I don’t believe in humans, and I certainly don’t believe in silvertrees.” Kriskil shook her tail in disgust and stomped off into the forest. She wanted to tell Mother that Elik had been spreading stories about humans, but she could not bring herself to betray her clan-sisters, not even when they made fun of her; and she had to admit she could think of nothing more terrifying than a tiny, one-eyed, two-legged, bubble-headed creature that could kill just by looking at you.
She came to a grove of yellowtrees and stood at the foot of the largest tree, gazing up at its smooth, yellow bark and its sparse branches with their thick foliage. She tried to imagine what a silvertree would look like, but the word had no meaning for her. And how could you have a tree without branches? No branches meant no foliage, and so the tree must be dead. How could humans come flying in on dead trees? It was all nonsense.
The tree before her bore several bunches of ripe fruit, but they were too high for her to reach. She searched around the brush until she found a dewsucker. It was small, barely more than a baby, but its skinny little arms looked strong enough for climbing. As soon as she picked it up in her teeth it started squealing loudly. She released it onto the yellowtree, and it quickly climbed the sheer trunk and tried to burrow into a bunch of fruit. When Kriskil shook the tree, the dewsucker squealed again and started digging into the stalks of the fruit. As soon as the fruit started crashing down, she gorged herself. Then she found another dewsucker and repeated the process, which yielded an even bigger bunch.
It was only when she finished eating that she realised how greedy she had been. Her stomach was so full, it almost dragged along the ground behind her. She lay down to rest before attempting the walk home. As she stretched herself out on the forest floor, the dewsuckers nervously descended and scurried away.
It was already dark when she awoke. Her stomach was still bloated with yellowfruit, but she had to get to the nest as quickly as possible. She had never been alone in the forest at night, and she was very scared. She might be attacked by humans or even worse – if anything could be worse than a human. Fortunately there were three moons in the sky, and though little of their light reached the forest floor, they were enough to pick her way along the path. But the moons caused the forest to cast frightening shadows, which somehow came to look like little, prowling, bubble-
headed creatures. She was also terrified of missing her path and wandering off into the deep forest, where it might take days to get out, and anything could happen in that time.
After what felt like an age, she began to think she had actually missed the path, though she could not see how. She stopped still, but that was worse, because she could never get home without moving, so she started up again, moving a little faster and straining her eyes so she would not miss the path. At last she turned a corner and found it. Now she felt happy, though still scared, and she started walking much faster. She could not wait to get home.
Suddenly a bright light appeared in the sky above her, far brighter than any moon. She raised her eyes to the sky and was startled to see a massive star shoot out of the sky into the forest, so bright she could only look at it for half a second. The sound of its wake almost deafened her, and she was sure everyone in the village would be wondering what was happening. The word came unbidden to her lips: silvertree.
At that moment it suddenly slowed down, almost as if it had heard her, and she saw it was not a star at all, but something long and sleek and enormous. She could see no sign of humans clinging to it, but it was still travelling too fast to be sure. And then it disappeared into the forest near her. Far too close. She tried to run then, but quickly, almost magically, two groups of humans appeared, one group in front and one behind, leaving nowhere for her to escape. As soon as the humans saw her, they increased their pace. Within a few seconds they would reach her, and there was nothing she could do about it. As the humans came closer, they began to run, and there was nothing she could do about it.
Then one of the them lifted its eye and pointed it straight at her face. Briskil didn’t even have time to scream.