The Silver Tree

The Silver Tree”

by Leona R Wisoker


There is a tree in my memory that no longer exists in the real world. It was broad, with many sturdy branches and smooth bark that invited climbing; we called it the silver tree, and only children were permitted to clamber about in its arms.

My cane is a section of one small branch of that tree, a gift from the wood spirit when I left to begin my journey. Before I reached the first stop on my itinerary, the tree was gone: felled in a massive explosion that took out forest, animals, and most of my people in a hundred-mile radius.

I hold the only remaining piece of that time and place, and the burden is heavy at times. I am caretaker of memories turned sacred by the singularity of my existence. But we knew that would happen. The trees warned us, word passed from trunk to trunk from a thousand miles away. The ceremonies were performed with unprecedented haste. I was selected, and prepared, and sent out to be the official survivor.

The ship that carried me to safety was named, in the language of its people, Issassti: there is no exact translation, but Relief comes close enough. I submitted to the protocols and procedures and settled into my bed to sleep as we lifted high above my dying planet, each passenger in pursuit of various dreams.

I woke to the news of my expected loss, two hundred years ash by that time, and did not openly mourn. Other passengers howled, or drank themselves stupid, or provoked fights with one another, or had abundant sex in efforts to distract themselves.

I sat quiet, holding my cane across my lap, listening to my breath and letting my new life reveal itself to me piece by piece.

In four days, relative time, after our awakening, we went through the airlock to a station named Isedihe: named after a famous man whose shrewd vision had brought a planetary population into space and begun the process that ended, for me, in the destruction of my home.

The air was recycled and tinny in my nose. Sound moved poorly against the metal and plastic, with no living vegetation to carry information properly. I wore gently tinted lenses to protect my eyes from too-harsh artificial light, ate what at-best-bland food I was offered, and rested whenever I was able.

In four more days, station time, released from quarantine, I departed again, leaving the other passengers behind. They were city people, for the most part, and were content to explore and adventure on Isedihe. I did not have time. My cane was turning dry and harsh in my hand. I needed real air, real ground, real water. The efferni—Isedihe’s people, who had rescued us, who had destroyed us—understood. I was permitted to descend to the surface of their own planet, a privilege they tried not to seem smug about offering.

I listened to my breathing and held my cane. Anger and grief rose, swelled, diminished into the distance, over and over, repeatedly prodded back to life with each faintly forced smile or too-sympathetic flinch. They were a small people, the efferni, with long faces and long torsos relative to their extremities. Their skin ranged, like our own, from deepest black to a ruddy hue. The leading classes tended towards lighter tones. Our leading classes had been the opposite.

My own skin was a medium brown-red, neither high nor low. There had been argument whether I was suitable. Time had been too short, in the end, to question the selection process unduly. The efferni seemed caught by caution when they looked at me, uncertain where on the scale of importance I fell. Ah—that line of thought was only anger and grief coming back in disguise. I shut my eyes to the stares and sat quietly, waiting as we fell from station toward Efferna.

There was another period of quarantine. More protocols. More procedures. But now there was clean air, in between the endless buildings, and warm sunshine peeping through the clouds on occasion. Rain fell daily, great torrential sheets. Rivers developed beneath the Efferni’s stilt-legged buildings, sweeping along debris and swirling into massive drains and canals leading to the sea. The Efferni, short-legged and poor swimmers, stayed out of the water. They had endless indoor pursuits, from games to studies to exercises to creative projects. I was invited to participate in many. I accepted a handful of interesting offers, but still spent most of my free time outdoors, wading through the rushing waters, looking through the tall boundary fence to the sprawling forest beyond. I could almost hear the trees—almost, but they had been kept far back from the compound, and the cold metal of the fence barred speech as effectively as a gag.

One game I found joyful challenge in was a familiar one: we had called it decha, the Efferni called it illassi. Round wooden counters of various colors were moved around an octagonal board. The Efferni put more emphasis on conquering your opponent, where we had seen the goal-concept as eliminating imbalances, but the rules were much the same. And the plain, unvarnished pieces of wood felt good in my hands, a promise of conversations to come.

The Efferni were gracious at losing, as long as it was only a game.


The trees on this planet held no spirits. They had barely learned to speak to one another, let alone another being. I was patient. I walked through the miles of untouched forests. The Efferni, environmentally pragmatic, had left much of their planet undeveloped. One ground port gave access to the orbiting station, which was in turn mainly supplied by the planets. The Efferni saw little need to tear up their atmosphere in pursuit of goods easily obtained from homes not their own.

I put aside anger again and again; knelt and wept, in the safety of a secluded grove; cut my arms in ritual patterns and bled as I walked. I ate the travel-food the Efferni had given me, loathing it, and had to put that fury aside as well. Nourishment was essential. I had work to do.

One night, I woke to see starlight reflecting from wide, dark eyes, far too close: a broad, striped and furry face. The air had no scent at all. I held still, matching stare for stare, and ever so slowly curled my fingers around my cane.

Those great eyes blinked rapidly, then the creature was gone, silent and odorless.

I rose, leaning on the cane, then straightened, keeping the end of the cane in contact with the ground. Hot pain flared along the most recent cuts on my arms. Tender scabs split, blood overflowing and dropping gently away. I listened to my breathing, balancing pain against need, and waited.

Nothing happened. The scabs reformed, grain by grain. The night remained too silent, too blank. It felt as though the entire forest held its breath, each of us watching the other, waiting, waiting to see what would unfold.

Nothing changed, other than the stars wheeling through their patterns and the sky slowly turning beige-pink as the sun approached. I listened, and watched, and waited.

It took seven days for the forest to speak to me.

On the second day of my waiting, a tiny, shiny black drone whirred through the trees to circle around me. The Efferni kept eyes on me. Occasionally the drones held queries from those still on Isedihe. I sent back that I was alive and well, understanding the vague guilt growing in their minds.

They were beginning to feel the lack of trees, themselves, although they would not have the words. Soon enough they would begin pressing to join me, and the Efferni would be caught in a difficult decision. One alien, physiologically required to remain planetbound, was a safe enough risk to manage. Each additional raised the risk; breeding pairs greatly increased the risk.

I smiled at the drone, projecting serenity, and sent it on its way.

On the fourth day, a larger drone settled to the ground, deposited three small rectangular packages, and extruded a tray. I opened the packages to find supplies: dehydrated food, medical kit, sewing kit, spare clothing. Mostly the same items they had sent me out with. Their drones had no doubt told them I was running low. The medical kit contained vials with test needles and a note to please submit skin scrapings, hair follicles, and blood samples. The Efferni wished to keep me as healthy as possible, of course, but I understood that their scientists also wished to learn more about my people.

I sent the drone back with the requested items and a small bundle of trash: empty wrappings, old supply containers that would not decompose. There was no reason to refuse their interest, not yet. I had not yet adapted to this new planet. They would not see anything of interest compared to previous samples.

They apparently paid no attention to my cane, which was slowly covering itself in a lumpy grey bark. I handled it with care, kept my hands away from the new growth, and waited, patient and quiet, allowing the days to pass.

A stream ran not far from my camp. I dipped up clear water to drink twice a day and at midnight on moonlit nights. Efferna had two moons, large and pale: they rose in matched cycles only once a year, and those few nights were bright as day. The first day of the matched cycle came on my seventh day of waiting, and the silence broke as I knelt beside the stream, marveling at the play of intense moonlight on moving water. It was a stunning refraction of ripples and radiance, and I felt it spreading into earth, roots, small creatures moving through the forest.

I did not sense the presence behind me until it put a hand to my back and tipped me over into the stream.

I thrashed, startled and spluttering, the sacred moment broken. The stream was barely hip-high to me; I stood, wringing water from my hair, and looked up at the creature watching me.

It was very like a bear, but thinner of frame and with a reddish pelt marked with moon-white swirls. It sat on its haunches, broad head sunk between its shoulders. One of its paws rested, very lightly, very carefully, on my cane.

I bowed, and spoke words of ceremony, words that should bridge the gap between us, if a path for such a thing existed.

The creature stirred, its nose lifting to sniff at the air; then it lifted its paw from the cane and stood, slowly unfolding to a much greater height than I had expected.

It bent its legs in a return bow, clumsy and regal, then turned and lumbered away into the shining night. It left behind a great tuft of reddish fur and an old claw. I collected the gifts and put them under cover, safe from the eyes of the drones.

My cane was now completely covered in bark but for the very ends. I laid it gingerly down onto the bare dirt at the edge of my camp, and left it there as I sorted out dry clothing and started a fire. The night was chill: bearable when dry, not so much when soaked though.

At dawn, I awoke from a light slumber to find another visitor, this one sitting across from me and poking curiously at the banked fire with a short stick. It was short-bodied, like the Efferni, and long of arm and tooth. It had two short legs and a round belly, and its ears flicked to and fro like a cat’s. It held my cane—thankfully, in the hand/paw not poking at the fire.

I rose, and bowed, and repeated the words of ceremony and bridging. It looked up at me with thoughtful dark eyes. It tossed the makeshift poker onto the coals, then laid my cane down gently and stood. It bowed, arms wrapped around its torso, then turned and left, as silent as the bear-creature had been. It left behind a perfectly round stone and a nut of some sort, as large as my hand, with a smooth black shell.

The next visitor came at noon, as I had expected. A bird this time, tall and long-beaked like a heron. It landed beside the cane: wrapped one clawed foot around it, and lifted it a bit, studying it with intent curiosity. Its feathers were gold and scarlet in the sunlight, and a spiky crest of white feathers ran along the back of its head and down half its neck. I stood and bowed, and offered the bridge. It looked at me for a time, not moving; then it set the cane down, bobbed its head nearly to the ground as though searching for an insect, and lifted away into the sky. It left behind a golden feather and a wide, serrated silver leaf.

I caught my breath, seeing that leaf: it was similar to the trees of my home, both in shape and color. The veins ran through in a darker hue and a different pattern, and the serrations counted up to a different ratio, but it was close. I took it as a sign, and wept with gratitude and renewed grief.

My cane was now entirely encased in rough, black bark. I did not touch it.

My final visitor came at dusk, just after another drone had whirred past. It slithered from the underbrush and circled me twice, a thin reptilian body, black and white and dappled with blue. I held still, patiently waiting, and estimated it was nearly seven feet long, and thick around as my arm. When it finished inspecting me, it went to the cane. Its thin, flattened tail slid beneath, rolling the cane into a sinuous embrace: the reptile swirled around the wood, so much larger than the cane that it doubled back on itself to half the cane’s length.

It hissed at me when I gave the ceremonial greeting. Its mouth gaped open, fangs folding out, shiny black tongue flicking. I took it as laughter, not menace, and grinned back, letting my own teeth show.

It unwrapped itself from the cane and disappeared into the woods without a backwards look. It left nothing behind, but my cane was now bare of bark, and a bright silvery grey.

I picked up the cane. Life thrummed through it, awake, anxious, eager. It was time.

I cleaned up my campsite, tidying everything back to nature as best I could, and began walking through the forest once more. Every so often, I touched the cane to a tree, leaving behind a ghostly silver mark that faded within moments. The moons rose as I walked, lending me their guidance.

I walked without direction, letting the cane lead me; it warmed when I came near a likely tree, and buzzed gently if I wandered away from the course it had in mind.

By dawn, the cane had faded to a dull, unremarkable brown, and I was shaking with exhaustion. I lay down on a softly grassed hillock and let myself sleep, a deeper slumber than I had managed since my awakening in alien hands. I slept for days, unmoving: when I awoke, a drone was perched beside me, lenses slowly tilting to scan my body from head to toe and back again. I shot out a hand and grasped it before it could fly away: the changes had begun, now, and the data would alarm the Efferni.

I crushed the drone and buried the pieces across several miles of forest.

Then I went into hiding, and waited.


Once more, the two moons rose, casting aside shadow and turning the world to a surreal paradise. Silver flickered along argent-coated trees like living metal. The trees stretched, shook themselves, and began to look about in wonder.

The world came alive. Trees, ever curious in their first moments of true awareness, bent their more pliable limbs, picked up living creatures that wandered by, set them down again—not always gracefully. Flowering bushes woke resentful, as usual, well aware of the wounds from the harvest of their plumage, and lashed out at those attempting to collect beauty for their own use. And on it went, down to the very grasses, which never rose above the barest level of awareness, but found a voice to protest being stepped on, all the same.

It took less than an hour for the drones to descend, fanning out across forests all over the world in alarmed observation. It took little more than that for them to find me, but each drone that found me also found itself instantly blinded, then disabled. The ground around my feet grew thick with humming, distressed drones. I did not destroy them. They would be useful soon.

The trees told me that the Efferni were panicking. Many had shut themselves into their homes. Many boarded shuttles to flee to the station. There were few soldiers on Efferni—what point, with no enemies onworld?—but those there were, began collecting together to search for me.

I roused ten of the drones and sent them to the soldiers, each drone carrying a message.

Stay in your cities, and wait. You will not be harmed.

Doubtful these Efferni heard the echo of their own words, just before my world burned. Be peaceful, they had told us, and we will not harm you. Only wait, while we deal with those who refuse peace.

Unlike the Efferni, I did not lie.

Half of the soldiers obeyed. Half came into the forests, and died.

It took less than a day for them to send the other refugees down. I sent a dozen drones to guide them to me, another six with messages to the Efferni that warned against interfering or harming my people in any way.

The Efferni here had soft spines, compared to those who voyaged among the stars. They obeyed my orders, and lost their world.

My people reached me on an evening, after they had been walking for three days. Less time than it might have taken if I had not asked the forest to ease their way. When they arrived, they stood pale and nervous in the twilight. They were dressed in thin, garish Efferni styles; one even had marked his arms as the Efferni artistes did, with swirling blue and gold patterns. They shivered in the chill air, and stared at me with open fear.

“What have you done?” one asked, voice trembling. “What have you done?”

“They’ll kill us,” another said. “They’ll drop a bomb on us.”

“You were in more danger on the station,” I told them.

“We were treated just fine! I had—I had friends there—”

I stared at that one, and he cast his eyes down, a flush rising to his pale cheeks.

“Friends,” I said, flatly, in case anyone else had made the same mistake. “With the people who killed our planet.”

“That wasn’t these Efferni, though!” a slender young woman protested. She had tied her long pale hair back into an Efferni style of braid and decorated it with golden ribbons. “What are you going to do, punish people who have just been living their lives? The station people don’t even hardly know what the ships are doing, and the ground people certainly aren’t involved.” She spoke with an assurance and an arrogance that spoke of the topic being broached and dismissed many a time in her company. She was Fini: a city intellectual, who spoke in abstracts and could not hear the ground under her feet.

“So go back to them,” I said, and motioned a drone into the air. “This will guide you to the launch space.” I looked around, taking in which ones stared at the trees and which ones glowered at me. I lofted three more drones. “Here. Go, if you wish. I hold no anger.”

“Go where? They cast us out!”

“They will take you back, if you ask. They have that duty. Remember what they said to us? When encounters go poorly, they consider themselves bound to help the survivors. They will take you in again, and consider you their own from that point on. But ask yourself one question, before you go back.”

The young woman hesitated, her gaze switching from me to the drone and back to me. “What?”

“We were not the first encounter to go poorly for them. They admit that. So where are the other survivors, from the other planets? Did you ever see any, in that station?”

“Oh, think of time, though,” the young woman said, confident. “It took us two hundred years to get here. Probably the others are long passed on by now, that’s all.”

I let that sit for a moment, looking around, and noticed a few heads tilt in the beginning of understanding.

“They never had children?” I said, very quietly. “None of them, ever?”

“Of course not,” the young woman said, “we’re given a–” She stopped, abruptly, her own face going grey. “As a … convenience, while we adjust …” She faltered into silence.

A slip of silver moved from one tree to another to another behind her, emerged to hang in the air, liquid moonlight in the dusk. Everyone turned to look at it, caught by the fluid luminescence.

“What is—no,” a stocky dark skinned man said. “You couldn’t have. It’s impossible. You created tree spirits here?”

I laughed at him. “No, that would be impossible,” I said, although with the support of more of my kind I could have easily stripped spirit from flesh and woven it onto a skeleton of wood and water and dirt. But not alone. Even the strongest of my elders could never have done that alone.

“Then what?”

I lifted my cane slightly. It was still dull brown, unremarkable: power utterly spent. I had kept it out of fondness, but it had no more value than any other branch on the forest floor at this point. “I brought our spirits with me.”

They stared at the cane. They looked at the slowly turning line of glowing silver. They looked at the trees, and at one another.

And, as they stood wondering, the moons rose in all their majesty. The tree spirits came out, dancing, laughing, singing in voices that I alone could hear. The others stared, caught in wonder at a sight they had only heard of in fairy tales of long, long lost childhoods.

“Stay,” I said, leaning on my cane as my right leg began to weaken. “Stay, and rebuild.”

“The Efferni won’t just leave,” the stocky man said, pragmatic.

“They don’t have to,” I said. “But they will. Eventually. When they realize the resources here are no longer for their use. They’ll take to the stars, and find another planet, and take true care in that encounter.”

“Or they’ll just kill us, like Geniga said,” the stocky man countered.

“They can’t,” I said. “Once you set foot on the ground, you came under the protection of the forest. And nearly eighty percent of this world is still wild forest.” I paused. He still, clearly, didn’t understand. “On our planet,” I told him, “by the time the Efferni came, ten percent of our world was wild forest.”

That made for wide-eyed looks.

“All the fairy tales you’ve heard of my kind,” I said, “are true, if we have enough resources. Your ancestors took away the forests to trim our power, and left us with a shadow of our strength. The Efferni can drop a bomb from space if they like. It would simply be rejected and hurled back at them.”

They looked at one another, shock turning to wily calculation. It was enough. They would stay. I deactivated the drones, let them drop to the ground, rattling and lifeless.

“This is now your planet,” I told them. “Learn to listen to the forest. Learn to hear the spirits.” I pointed at the swirling dance, still going on all around us. “Learn.”

“What about you?” the stocky man asked, eyes narrow.

“I will be here,” I said. I leaned on my cane as my left leg weakened. My right leg felt stronger now, as bone swept into a new toughness. “I will always be here for you, and for your descendants, and for theirs.” I pointed at the spirits again.

Muttered curses, as they remembered the old bedtime stories. More than one cast a worried glance up at the moons, as if wondering what would change when two of them offered their power.

I smiled, amused, as my left leg grew stronger and my spine grew weak.

My cane fell to the ground as my hands grew weak and my spine grew stronger.

“A silver tree,” someone whispered, some time later, voice filled with awe. “A real silver tree.”

I stretched, drinking in moonlight, and listened to the world breathe.


Leona R Wisoker has had had five novels published through small presses, and a handful of short stories in various anthologies and magazines, including one in Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine. She writes fantasy, science fiction, and horror, with a sideline in anything that catches her attention.

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One Response to The Silver Tree

  1. Mark Vetter says:

    Excellent. Very impressive how you accomplish such compleat world building in such a short story.

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