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Tree of Living by Carine Engelbrecht

The kiss of earth was grainy, slightly bitter and tinged with the scent of dew on grass. Waves of beer came and went as his gut churned against recent excess. The air was autumn cool.

Just look at you. You are disgusting.

Breathing in the full moon’s light, he wished she could understand the beauty of such madness. He wanted to stop hurting, but the tug of war between his world and hers never let up.

Why can’t you live in the real world? It’s good enough for everyone else.

Each breath felt good. He was lying by the tree in the bottom of the garden. He loved that big tree. It broke his heart that he would never see it again when she threw him out. By now, it was definitely a “when” measured in hours, days at the most.

Far away, a door slammed.

He was drifting in a consciousness that would not quite connect with his body, but the tree was a constant. Trees made oxygen. Strange how one little fact from a science class decades ago can float back up in the great soup of discarded knowledge. He smiled, tasting earth. Wow. The wonder came out as a wet belch. Beer flavored spittle dribbled past the numb corner of his mouth. Super wow. The tree made the oxygen he breathed in and drank up his beer drool. They were connected, him and the tree.

He began to cry. The tears came so suddenly, they overwhelmed him. Here’s for being so gifted, so uselessly talented. Here’s for having the ability to attract love but not to hold on to it. Here’s for failing the faith, the hope that gets invested in him, time after time, woman after woman.

He felt rather than saw the light go off in the kitchen. Now it was only the moon. He closed his eyes.


His broken consciousness did not question the children’s voices. He saw them in the theatre of dreams, skipping and dancing. A boy in denim dungarees and a girl with strawberry buttons on her dress. The girl cries. Unconcerned a man on a ladder prunes away dead branches. They fall but never hit the ground The fifteen year old girl leans against the trunk reading a magazine. A dog raises its leg. Where did they all come from? Then, suddenly he knew. He had drifted into the memory field of the tree and it was telling him the story of its life – not the chronological year by year version, but rather in the shifting truths of love and neglect. It was a language he understood far better. Not that his memory was bad. It just resisted organization of any kind.

He slept and woke in the mind of the tree.

The sun was up when he opened his eyes. He tasted the ground. He was slightly damp all over and his legs took a while to remember that they were human. He rose as far as his knees and noticed that flowers grew where he had lain. He gazed at them. It occurred to him that these were not autumn flowers, but he accepted the gift of them even as he rejected the orderly world’s protests of impossibility. He picked five. It felt as if they were the tree’s gift.

Balance was hit and miss as he made his way to the kitchen door. The interior of the house seemed very wrong. Its rigid structure felt almost like an assault against the fluidity of his thoughts. He could connect with nothing that he saw. He tried to remember why he had come in. There was a woman. Her name. Damn, he couldn’t remember it. He took a deep breath. And another. Water. That made sense. Water would help.

He dropped the flowers onto the table. There were several items in the sink. A blue cereal bowl with a white feather detail. There was a coffee mug that said LET ME WARM YOUR HEART in bright red letters. They hurt his eyes, but he took it anyway and emptied it. He filled it with fresh running water and took a mouthful.

The house felt empty of life. She had probably gone to work. There would be a note. There was always a note. He tried to make sense of the kitchen again, slowing turning on his heels. It took three revolutions to find the piece of paper.

He wanted to laugh and cry ‘Woo-hoo!’ Finding it seemed to be the exciting part.

The words danced across the page like busy little ants. He squinted. They marched the other way. He shrugged and crumbled it up. At this stage he did not need notes anymore to know what they said.

He saw the spray of flowers again. He wanted to shout, “Thank you, tree, I’ll take good care of them,” knowing he wouldn’t, not really. There was one last thing he could do. He drank another mouthful before introducing the LET ME WARM YOUR HEART mug to the five flowers. It was a match made in heaven.

That took care of the urge to share magic where it was not wanted. By the time he hit the sidewalk he could no longer remember whether he had locked up or not.


Carine Engelbrecht writes fantasy, horror and occasionally Science Fiction. Stories by her has been published in Heavy Metal Horror, Strange, Weird and Wonderful, Every Day Fiction, Toad’s Corner and Bloody Parchment Volume One. She is a member of the Adamastor Writer’s Guild, which is based in Cape Town, South Africa. She also creates art and music.

‘Tree of Living’ came from a dream so vivid it almost felt like a flashback. It explores the power of consciousness and connecting to something so alien that you might return from the experience changed in ways that an outsider cannot begin to imagine.

Thank you for your time and attention. The story follows below.

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