Annie’s face bore an empty expression, her hands clutched around her knees. The shimmering light filtering through the gently rustling leaves was the only hint of animation. Even her breaths were so shallow they were imperceptible. “VACANCY” was tattooed across her forehead in invisible ink, but Jessi knew the empty look meant anything but an empty head. She sat up from where she was lying and tossed a handful of leaves into the air to watch them fall.
“You see a ghost or something, Flower?” she asked.
“No.” The answer was slow in coming and it didn’t seem to come from Annie. Not really. Her lips moved, but barely, and the voice wasn’t really hers, as flat and emotionless as her expression. Jessi was used to that.
“Too much adrenaline from the bridge?”
“What then?” Jessi reached back and shook her top to rid her back of any leaves stuck there. Too much speculation could interrupt another of Annie’s incidents.
“It’s just green, you know?”
“It’s trees? They’re supposed to be green?”
“Earth must be able to see herself, like there’s a mirror in the sky.”
“You mean like she puts on makeup?” Jessi looked dubiously up at the emerald blanket between them and the sky.
Annie finally showed a sign of life in a thin smile. “You have to admit it’s beautiful.”
“It’s not this beautiful everywhere.”
“Sure it is. Think about it, Jess. Every single thing you can think of that’s ugly… picture them all. Every single one of them is something we did, not Nature.”
Jessi coughed. “That boy Lyndell of yours…? Sorry, that one’s on Mother Nature.”
Lyndell didn’t seem worth an argument at the moment.”What happens when the green’s gone, Jess?”
“You’re not trippin on that end-of-the-world shit again are you?”
“Not like in the movies, or like what Billy claims. It’s coming though. They can sense it.”
“The trees.” Annie made a circular gesture with her head. “They talk about it if you listen.”
Jessi said nothing. She closed her eyes and listened. Even in the calm of the afternoon, there were so many noises. Birds chattering. Leaves brushing each other. In the distance, the tumbling of the rapids pounding the boulders of the ravine and the dull drone they created echoing peacefully up through the ground beneath them. Even the carpet of leaves on the ground offered little twitches of the beetles that crawled underneath. Louder cracks from squirrels in the trees and possibly deer or other animals treading carefully in the perimeter reached her ears.
It was almost impossible to shut it all out. Even the memories of their hysterical laughter seeped into the jumble of sounds. Underneath the din, there was the quiet whispering of the breeze and the only soft sound that belonged to the trees themselves, a nearly inaudible creaking that came from deep within their trunks as they leaned ever so slightly under the weight of their swollen limbs. From hundreds of trees at once, it was as if they really had a voice.
Nothing sounded like an arboreal anticipation of Armageddon.
“The trees have been here longer than any other life,” Jessi said. “If they say the world is gonna end, well if anyone would know, they would.” She scooted close and leaned her head on Annie’s shoulder. “I don’t want the world to end.”
Annie leaned her head on Jessi’s. “It has to end. Sooner or later the sun’s gonna hiccup and fry everything in the solar system. I expect until then, the Earth will stay green.”
“But you said it was going to end.”
“Well, all things must pass, but I said it wasn’t going to end the way the movies or Billy said.”
“What exactly did the trees say?”
“A grassfire in a valley about 500 miles from here burned a small forest. They’re sad about it.”
“No, I mean about the end of the world, shithead!”
“The Earth has always been green. For as long as there has been terra firma, the plants have been here to turn the caustic devastation of creation into a breathable paradise. Mother Nature will always create balance. Creatures that consume plants and consume oxygen are necessary for balance.”
She stopped for a moment and then the subtle animation in her voice became dark, slow, and deliberately sinister.
“We consume everything. We upset balance. I can’t tell, because the trees don’t know, but I don’t think we should ever have grown past a few hundred thousand like any other species our size. The world as we know it is going to end. She is going to balance us.”
“But if she’s our mother, you know, Mother Nature, why would she just kill us?”
“No one said anything about killing us, but look at it this way. If you were a mother, and you had a bunch of children, and one child started killing all the others, what would you do? I would protect my other children.”
“Some of us try really hard to protect the Earth and replenish it.”
“Maybe that’s part of the balance.”
“So then if more of us try harder to protect the Earth and replenish it, maybe we can avoid destruction.”
Annie laughed. She lifted her head and hugged Jessi. “I have no idea, but don’t you think it’s worth a try?”
“Well, if the trees said that…”
“Wait, wait, wait!” Annie interrupted. “I never said the trees never said any of that.”
“God damn it, Flower! You always do this to me! What did the trees say?”
Annie smiled. “They just say there is going to be world peace.”
© 2012 Anne Schilde