Acorn Hearts | Flash Fiction
We hear new noises in the forest. Not birdsong or the creak of clustered branches shifting with the wind, not the languid dripping of collected moisture falling back to the earth. This is loud, unnatural. Something large and as graceless as a bull crashing through the dense protective underbrush of thick, wide, green leaves as big as bear paws and tightly wound vines clawing their way up gnarled wooden oak trunks older than memory.
Murmurs spread like light through the dark spaces between trees, our sisters concerned, but curious. An outsider is in our midst. This hasn’t happened in ages.
Those of us who thrive here learn the rules of these woods: blend, adapt, slink through gaps in the foliage in fluid fabrics that move like liquid along our limbs. Soft steps in bare feet on ferns and moss to muffle the disturbances of being human in the wild. It’s been so long since we felt human.
We don’t remember where we born, or how, or when. Perhaps we were birthed from the roots of the trees, nurtured with dew and rain, vital nutrients in the rich loamy soil seeping into our skin; or maybe we emerged from cocoons of dead wood and dirt, faces pale and caked with mud, crawling like larvae until our legs were strong enough to support our weight.
If we had mothers made of flesh, they are long gone, having abandoned us to the mercy of Mother Nature. Or possibly they became rooted, calcified skin and hardened veins replacing any comforting cushioning as they transformed into towering oaks. Nature isn’t soft, but these trees care for us like we are extensions of their web, feeding us from their own bodies like a mother would, so we don’t much worry about our origins.
We do worry about the new presence in our forest—is it you? We feel the disturbance in the cool air, smell the tang of rot creeping in at the edge of each breath. Our world is changing. There is the crackle of static in our normally smooth breeze, whispers of crushed bushes and ripped up roots, a hiccough in the rhythm of the creek, a dull pain in our heads. Imbalance brings danger, exposure.
Have you heard about the wild things whose hair grows in stalks toward limited sunlight, is threaded through with violets and damp earth? Have you come seeking a glimpse of the daughters of the forest, whose bodies are as strong and wiry as roots, as delicate as butterfly wings? What will you do if you find us, the feral plant-girls whose blood runs with sugary sap and ancient knowledge?
Here we are, watching. We have been following you the whole time, tracking your labored breathing and your heavy tread, feeling the ache of your harsh footsteps on the ground, the bruises on the earth forming beneath our shirts. But we are interested in you, too, in the increasing alterations of the landscape, in the curled yellowing edges of green fronds, the unfocused thrumming of dragonflies lost in the new direction of air.
The sisters are unsure; there is disagreement for the first time in our shared memory. If we reveal ourselves to an outside audience, will we cease to exist as we are? Will the vines that trace our veins across the tops of our skin shrivel up and fall away? Will we lose our ability to sprout strands of velvety violets through our hair? Will the forest forgive us our desire for something softer, more human?
Can we survive a world without roots?
One of us steps out in front of your path, makes a sound that hasn’t been heard in these woods for centuries, a sound that stops the singing birds and weaving spiders for miles and makes the trees around us shudder and let loose a rain of leaves.
“Hello,” she says and you are too shocked to speak but you are part of this now, intertwined like our mother trees, like the ivy that winds itself around their branches.
The rest of us hold our damp earth breaths and fragile bird bones close to our pounding acorn hearts and wait for the forest to respond.
Melanie Thorne is the award-winning author of the novel Hand Me Down (Penguin), which was critically acclaimed by People, the San Francisco Chronicle, and the Associated Press, among others, as well as nominated for an ALA Alex Award, and named a Kirkus Reviews Best Fiction Book of 2012. Her short fiction and non-fiction have appeared in Good Housekeeping, Global City Review, Litro, The Florida Review, and The Nervous Breakdown. She was awarded the Maurice Prize in Fiction, an Alva Englund Fellowship, and residencies at Hedgebrook and the Atlantic Center for the Arts, and was a 2015 Tomales Bay Workshops Fellow, a 2014 Virginia Quarterly Review Scholar, and a 2014 PEN Center USA Emerging Voices Mentor. She holds an MA in Creative Writing from UC Davis and lives in Los Angeles, where she teaches at the UCLA Extension Writer’s Program and in private workshops. Find her online at www.MelanieThorne.com