Blood Trees | Lisa Fritz

Even those without tongues have a tale to tell.


 Blood Trees

By Lisa Fritz

For the What We Talk About When We Talk About Love Award


 

My job is to bury the leftovers under the trees. The Governor claims it is the only fertiliser that will keep them alive though I have begun to have my doubts. In my mind they are just the blood trees.

I don’t like what I do but until now it has enabled me to keep my mother and me safe, as I am one of the Governor’s Select Crew. My name is Caleb and at fourteen I was carefully selected for my youth and strength and my enforced gift of silence. That was two years ago. It was a sacrifice I was willing to make to protect my mother as she and I are all that’s left of our family and the Governor promised our safety.

Coming to the forest at this time of day when it is still dark, just before the sun comes up, it smells horrendous. Even worse than the fresh contents of my buckets. I scoop away some soil under a particularly torturous looking arbour and messily slop my burden around. As I crouch down to gather and spread some leaf litter over it I notice a bit that is still somewhat whole and I want to gag. If this was my other life, before, I would think it looked just like a fat grey lawn grub. But not now. Clamping my lips together I quickly bury it beneath the leaves. I can’t ever show weakness or I’ll end up like this. Like them. For I have learnt there is no truth in the Governor’s promises.

The moon is fading out and I can feel the heat rising already. So, my shift over I rush back to town to return my empty buckets, still thinking about that tiny squiggle of grey matter. I can hear the Governor moving around inside his basement readying himself for another day. Even in his specially insulated suit he is the only one who risks going out in the daylight now. Since the ADOW, Apocalyptic Dehydration Of the World, it is too hot to be out in the day. My mother and I sleep underground with the other townsfolk until moonrise and work starts. Anyone not working, sick or frail, or who breaks the rules eventually becomes one of them. I know this. We have no prison, no hospital. And those leftovers I bring are what keeps the trees thriving, and they must, as our only source of food and oxygen for a thousand desert miles. It’s only a matter of time before the others figure it out. I feel kind of sorry for them as they mourn their loved ones thinking that some mysterious creature from the forest must have taken them but that’s the lie we, the Select Crew, have to maintain. It ensures that we are the only ones allowed in, to tend and harvest, and supposedly protect. Furthermore guaranteed by our gift of tonguelessness thanks to the Governor.

As I wash up and prepare to go home I hear the grinding start of a large machine in the Governor’s basement lab. This time I do vomit. I did ask him once, with my system of gestures, if I take the leftovers what happens to the rest of them. All I got was a fractured cheek bone in response. So now I see them in everything, even the bone white dusty flour that makes our tasteless flat bread.

I used to think the Governor was our saviour, ensuring that the forest lives and so do we. But not like this. Not anymore. My mother has been coughing since last week and last night I saw her name on one of his lists. So now my doubts have stirred into a solid mass in the pit of my stomach and I know there has to be another way, a more humane way, for us to survive.

I only hesitate for a minute. Then I grab an empty bucket and slowly creep, each step becoming more determined, down to the basement. I really have no choice, I have to save her. She is the only love I have left in this barren world. As I open the door with the sounds of the machine drowning out any noise it makes, I pray that when this bucket is full it will be the last load I ever have to carry, and that the Governor’s leftovers will be the best fertiliser our trees have ever had.

But most importantly, this death has to mean salvation for all of us. Not just my mother, but each and every one of us in the sense that we retain our humanity. Otherwise, we’re all lost anyway.