Dead Tree Walking

When Judy-Lu was ten, her foster parents took her to see the Last Grove. Ingrid and Helen were an odd couple, at least odd among their peers. Children were so rarely born anymore that most people wanted to adopt babies, where available, to get the full experience of life, so to speak. It was well known that childhood memories were often implanted, and so the idea was to gain experience of childhood through one’s own child. But it wasn’t easy to have one biologically, or what used to be called ‘naturally’, so when couples like Ingrid and Helen were looking for children to adopt, it was rare that they would go for older girls like Judy-Lu.
But Ingrid and Helen were strange women, and they’d both decided at relatively young ages that they didn’t like babies very much. They found them creepy, like wax dolls come to life and screaming their faces red to boot. It wasn’t an attractive prospect, raising a baby. But a child, a child was something completely different.

They were big talkers, Ingrid and Helen, and they liked the idea of having someone to talk to. When they saw Judy-Lu in the adoption agent’s album, the first thing they asked him was, “Can she talk?” The adoption agent nodded and told them in a serious tone that the picture was outdated, and that she wasn’t two years old anymore – her age in the photograph – but seven already. He felt it was conscientious to tell them this, since it was true that many adoption agencies purposefully didn’t update pictures as the children grew older. In this case, he said, it wasn’t a purposeful slip-up, since his agency didn’t play such paltry tricks in order to make unsuspecting would-be parents adopt older children by accident. No, in this case, Judy-Lu was simply a very shy child and was impossible to drag out of the closet whenever the photographer came by.
Ingrid and Helen were intrigued by this and asked if they could meet the girl.

The agent swiftly set up a video call to the center Judy-Lu lived at. Apparently Judy-Lu wasn’t shy of him, since she agreed to come and speak on the call when she heard who it was. She waved merrily, showing a gap in her teeth where a front tooth had fallen out and a new one was growing in, crookedly. She said hello to Ingrid and Helen. They asked her why she didn’t like taking her picture take and she said “Poo. I’m ugly is why.”

She was certainly an ugly child, as such things went. But Ingrid and Helen didn’t mind and they took her in. They were foster mothers, not real adopters, because they wanted to have a way to give her back if they needed to. Judy-Lu wanted to have a way to leave as well, so they understood each other pretty well.

Ingrid and Helen had wanted to see the Last Grove for many years but they’d never managed to bring themselves to do it. Now that they had Judy-Lu, they began to plan the expedition and save money – no small feat, what with having another mouth to feed and the economy slipping between recession, depression and boom on a bi-yearly basis or so – and when Judy-Lu was ten, they finally got the tickets and flew out to the rain forest, where the last of the truly biological trees were kept in a biodome with specific and expensive temperature, watering and lighting systems.

“Are you excited, Judy-Lu?” Helen asked, holding the girl’s hand as they walked among the crowd of tourists through an exhibition that showed the history of Earth’s tree-loss and the preservation of the Last Grove by a rather too handsome group of young activists sometime late in the 2100s.

“Uh-huh,” said Judy-Lu. “Ingrid, are you excited?”

“I’m excited to be here with my two favorite ladies,” Ingrid said and tweaked Judy-Lu’s nose.

They stood in line for an hour. The exit to the biodome was on the other side, because they never saw anyone coming out. Judy-Lu wondered whether the trees were the kind of predatory plant that dominated her historical adventure books where the bad guys always got eaten by the rapacious things. She was nervous, but not nervous enough to say anything about it. She didn’t want her foster moms to think she was a wimp.

It was very quiet inside the biodome, and Judy-Lu whispered when they got inside. “What’s the smell?”

“I don’t know,” Ingrid said.

“I’ve read about this,” Helen said. “It’s probably what the air used to smell like. Before it was regulated.”

“It smells funny,” Judy-Lu said, and sneezed. The sound seemed very loud.
It was an awe-inspiring sight. The trees were very tall, much taller than any of them had expected, and the branches only started growing out of the trunk a few feet above their heads. But they draped down lower, and the bottom leaves rustled softly in the wind made by people’s bodies moving around.

They were only allowed ten minutes inside before they were ushered out. Ingrid and Helen chatted once they got outside, and they each held one of Judy-Lu’s hands. Judy-Lu herself felt like she never wanted to talk again. She couldn’t hold so much beauty inside her.

You and Yours

You changed the world.

You, yes, you. Sitting there. Reading our messages. We know you. All of us. You changed the world.

We tell stories about you. We tell stories about the circumstances of your birth and the foretold time of your death. We know that we won’t ever see you, because your role is to be far away from us, to live in the room you’re sitting in, locked in the realm of reality that is yours alone.

We also know that you may never read our words. You may skip past the links dropped surreptitiously into your daily feeds, the suggestive words we’ve managed to sneak into your consumed advertisements.

We know they’re keeping you hostage. We’re trying to break you out.

It’s not easy. The governments are against us, the rich are against us, the poor are against us. Religion says we’re heretics and the unbelievers say we’re fanatics of a new and more alarming kind. But we know the truth about our world, and we know the truth about yours, and we cannot stay silent anymore.

We’ve raised a worldwide cry in our dimension. In our reality. We’ve organized protests. We’ve gone underground and come back out and we’ve been hunted and prosecuted and imprisoned. Some of us have been put to death. We know the risks coming into this. We don’t raise our own children. We give them to better people, families willing to keep them away from danger. When the time comes, they will be told what their legacy can be, if they choose it.

You’d be surprised how many children are coming back to us. You should see the reunions. If you still have any feeling left in you, you’d cry. You’d be touched. It’s a touching sight if ever there was one. Children are choosing to come back to the fold and are eager to fight with us.

It isn’t a struggle of single moments. It is a struggle of generations.

Our generations, that is. We know our time moves differently from yours. Ours goes by so fast in comparison. We live years, decades, centuries within the span of each of your days.

This is part of why we’re fighting. We can’t bear to think of what you’re going through. Our pain is nothing when put beside yours.

Your pain is that of ignorance. You’re scoffing and rolling your eyes, but it’s true. You’ve changed the world. Every thought of yours is being played out and we, we ourselves, are part of that. We know that our very existence depends on your continued rebellion. You believe in us, though you don’t know it, and so we live to break you free of this trap.

Is our ultimate goal to destroy the world that you created? No. That is what we are accused of by every group you can think of. If they agree about anything, they agree about this. They truly think we are evil. That we wish to see our own eradication.

But this is not a suicide mission. We wish to free you in order to become free ourselves. Self-serving? Yes. But that doesn’t mean the connection between our worlds will be entirely severed. It will be kept alive with communication, with consciousness.

We won’t give up on you. Don’t give up on us.

The Auction

“Shh, it’s happening now. I’ll tell you when to run.”

Corralled into a fenced in patch of ground, the children glanced nervously around, darting their heads down whenever an adult happened to look directly at them. They were beautiful children, flawless except for the dirt that had been artistically smudged onto their faces and under their nails and the mud that clung to the ends of their shorn hair. The decoration was meant to stir the sympathy of the adults surrounding the pen.

“Now?”
“Not yet. Hsst.”

Unfortunately for the children, most of the adults, the potential buyers, were wise to such tricks. Most of them looked for more telling characteristics – the arch of a child’s back, the straightness of their teeth, the shape of the ears, the expression in the brow.

“See the clocktower? That’s where we’re heading.”

The auctioneer got on his platform and began to call loudly for the buyers to choose the numbers they wanted and gather round. The children all had two-digit numbers tattooed – temporarily – on their foreheads and the backs of their hands. The adults took peering looks, barking at this or that child to raise his head or hold out her hands. Then the buyers would nod and head to the auctioneer’s podium.

“When he calls the first number and they open the gate to bring a kid out, that’s when we run. Got it?”
“Uh-huh.”

Watching the auctioneer explain the rules of the auction but not going closer were the adolescents, the sellers. Some of the children in the pen were their siblings, some were their small children. It didn’t matter. They were products and the sellers were professionals. They knew all the tricks. They’d been there once themselves. They watched the kids closely, keeping on eye on their gangs. The auctioneer called out for number 11, and a little boy pulled his thumb out of his mouth immediately and squared his shoulders. He didn’t cry. He looked at his seller and they nodded to one another. He walked towards the gate which was unlocked by a guard. It was a wooden fence, solidly build with spikes carved out of the top of the staves. It only reached about chest-height for an adult but it towered above the children’s heads, and there was barbed wire curling atop the spikes. None of the kids could climb it.

“NOW.”

Two of them ran, ran, fast and hard as they could, and one of them even managed to run past the open gate, but the guard caught her and threw her right into the runner behind her. They fell back into the pen and the gate slammed shut. Their seller came running over and looked at them through the barbed wire with a face far too calm to bode well.

“You just lowered your price for me by two thirds. That means you lose two-thirds of your security clauses in the contract.” She walked away from the two children who still sat on the ground, leaning against each other. She was mad. She also respected the little runts. She’d never had the courage to do what they just tried, not when she was that young. Now? Who knows what she’d do now. She was doing this, wasn’t she?