The following is a guest post by my 11-year-old cousin, Lucinda Cubbard. Please feel free to leave some feedback for her in the comments section below.
Nobody guessed that it would happen. The sun was shining, the birds were singing, and I was enjoying listening to the Old Gum telling stories of ancient times. It was always great fun to listen to him. He would explain everything in great detail, and would recite his stories slowly and carefully, as if it would demolish the purpose of the tale if he were to mispronounce a word. I usually interrupted him while he was mid-way through a sentence to ask what something meant, but he was always patient with me and didn’t seem to mind if I expressed my curiosity, unlike all the other Old Trees.
He told tales of all sorts. Sometimes he spoke of aboriginal rituals and beliefs, and other times he tutored me on forest ways. All in all, he’s a great tree. Today, he was telling me about how whip birds cried to each other as a way of talking.
“Truly beautiful creatures,” he rustled. “You may think that whispering through leaves is the best way to communicate, but I’m telling you now youngster, the feathered critters are geniuses when it comes to speech. They are also the best ones to rely on when it comes to sending messages. The tune of the bird song stays in their head you see, so it is nigh impossible that they would forget the message. And their wings are an ideal way to travel, as it makes them faster than most animals and they can also get through places when nearly nobody else can. As you can see, they are the ideal mes-…“
“How fast could they get over the mountains?” I asked. “Surely they can’t go any faster than a brumby.”
“Oh, they can go much faster than a brumby, youngster.” He seemed very amused by my question. “They can get over the mountains in about an hour or so.”
“Really?” A small shiver from his leaves sent me an affirmative.
“So as I was saying, whip birds are the ideal messengers. Curlews are also good messengers, but not as so. Their strong voices can be extremely useful, but not to someone who’s a mile away. No, if you ever have the choice between a whip bird or a curlew to take a message, choose the whip bird. Now I’m going to catch myself some shut eye, as I suggest you do too. I have a meeting with Boobook tonight, and it’s probably going to go on for a while. ”
And with that he dozed off. I watched him sleep for sometime, but I quickly grew bored. I gazed up into my leaves, seeking out the purple flowers that I was now old enough to have. As a jacaranda, I was supposed to gain my first flowers this Summer. It had been a week since the first of December, and I was getting worried.
“They will come with time.” Old Gum had told me when he had once caught me searching my branches for a blossom. Lost in thought, I kept searching my leafy branches. Five minutes passed and still no flowers. I gave up and examined a bellbird perched on Old Gum. I wondered if bellbirds were as good as whipbirds at messaging.
“Go to the Ancient Holly and tell him that his flowers are the finest in the whole forest,” I said to it. The bird cocked its head and flew off. Shock filled me. I hadn’t intended it to actually work. Oh well, the flowers were quite spectacular.
Suddenly, a curlew cried its blood curdling call from somewhere in the distance. It sounded strained and panic filled. I squinted in the direction of its scream. Black smoke was rising from a few trees. Horror blossomed in my trunk as I realised what the cause of the curlew’s alarm was.
“FIRE!! FIRE!!” I yelled. “FIRE!!”
The Old Gum was instantly awoke to my shrieks.
“What?” he yawned.
The black smoke was approaching us quicker than a possum gliding through the trees.
I glimpsed a golden flame slithering its way towards me. Dread drowned my heart. No longer could I scream. The soil around my roots was suddenly dry and acid-like smoke was filling the small clearing that I grew in. Flames whipped my trunk, setting it ablaze. I cringed in agony as the inferno engulfed me. It was as if the entire world was being set alight. Through the flames, I saw many birds soaring from the trees. Creatures of all sorts were shooting past my trunk. I wanted to scream for help, but my throat was drier than a rock in the Simpson Desert. And any way, who would stop to help a mere tree when their own life was in danger?
Glancing to my left, I saw that Old Gum was also alight. But he seemed calm. It was as if he welcomed the thought of death. Well, I certainly didn’t! Pain shook my body as my branches crumbled to ash.
“Hmmmm…,” I thought. “It looks like I won’t be getting any flowers today!”
I was disgusted by my own black humour. With a sickening crunch, my trunk gave way, unable to bear the heat. I tumbled down, and for a dreadful moment, the world spun. Round and round. The sky was now a charcoal black, or was that the ground?
That was when I blacked out.
* * *
With a groan, I reluctantly opened my eyes. I had to blink a few times because of a shining light. When my eyes adjusted, I saw that the dazzling light was the sun. The sun, shining through what looked like black and white bones protruding out of the ground. I looked closer and realised with a shock that they were not bones but trees. Burnt trees.
Suddenly, memories started pouring into my mind. I remembered that there had been a fire. I grimaced at the recount of my agony of being set ablaze.
This led me to remember that I had collapsed and rolled along the ground. But if I was on the ground, then the world would be horizontal, not vertical. I scanned the clearing, searching for my trunk. I noticed that the ground did seem a lot closer to me now than it had before. Ignoring this fact, I continued to hunt for my body. And there it was. A lifeless log was resting against another tree. I recognised it as mine immediately. Sadness filled me like water into a jug. An empty jug at that. It took me a while to realise what tree my body was resting on.
“Old Gum!” I exclaimed. I was surprised I could talk after my voiceless episode last night. “Old Gum! You’ve grown!”
The ancient tree smiled down at me. His trunk and branches were now white and black. His branches were bare, which sort of disturbed me, for I had known him for my entire life, and he always had had leaves clouding his top half. Only now that I saw the tips of his branches did I realise how big he was. He had known I was awake, but had chosen to let me recuperate instead.
“No, Jacky, you’ve shrunk.”
I stared up at him in dismay. It was true. I was now nothing more than a pile of roots and a small section of trunk. The old tree saw my misery and then said, “You should be grateful to be alive. That fire did some serious damage to you, but still, you survived. And anyway, now I get to see you grow up all over again!!”
© Lucinda Cubbard 2011