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Bad Day Studio
"In The Orchard Of The Ancients"
Story by Jeff Patterson
Art by Carolyn Faille
.2001 Bad Day Studio
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          I awaken.
          I do not know why. It is not my time to awaken, and from the state of the land around me that time is still months away. The water in my roots is thick and slushy, the ground anchoring me is cold, and heavy ice cakes my needles like ancient elemental candlewax. My strange companions who drink from this soil still sleep in snow that drifts to their lowest boughs, beneath glacial clouds which almost block out the three moons, and dream of green days and warm winds until this world's orbit spins it deeper into the sun's thermal embrace.
          Except for me. The canopy of my slumber has been parted.
It has happened before. Back on my seed-world, in the seasons when I had thinner bark and a thousand fewer rings, I often awoke in mid-winter from dreams of blight and gnawing insects to find myself covered in near frozen sap, with my cones quivering.
          When I was first transplanted to this strange place, I was hesitant to take root among my alien companions. I soon learned this world had been sculpted for myself and others like me: old ones from many worlds, with lives behind us and tales to tell. Here there was no fear of choking vines, or burrowers, or fire, or all-consuming fungi. I also learned that my companions found me as unusual as I found them, and their tales.
          There is the Amputree, who sheds her limbs each autumn as others shed leaves, only to grow them back thicker and stronger each spring. She boasts that the citizens of a distant empire have bowed before a sceptre carved from her wood for time untold.
          There is the Humming Tree, who attracts the lightning with his great height and stores it in his fruit. He claims the children of his world flew to the stars in ships powered by his fruit burning in their engines.
          There is the Golden Applause, whose gaudy leaf-pairs begin to clap at the passing of even the slightest breeze. He constantly recites the many poems and odes written of him and his ceaseless timbre.
          There is me, and I speak of my only great pride, my legacy. Across the span of my life my seeds have spread and spawned generations of forests. My clippings and offshoots are cultivated on world after world. Sprigs of my flesh have helped turn desert moons into rich, vibrant places. I, once a seedling myself, have woven verdant arteries across space, and the needles of my progeny turn up to face the rising of a thousand suns. The cycles of my growth and domiancy are a rhythm that plays out on all these worlds, syncopated against the music of time itself, a song that goes on for eons.
          The thought of it warms my roots, but does not reveal to me why I have awoken to stand against the wind-blown ice, alone amongst the giants...
          "Cold enough for you?"
          The creature beside me is gnomish, dressed in red robes, and impossibly old. He smiles at me. Before I can reply, he speaks.
          "Sorry to disturb you, friend, I don't have a lot of time here. Your kids wanted me to give you something."
          With a wink, he places a hand against my bark. There is a tingle at my core, where the wood is hardest. It rises the length of my trunk and spreads to my outermost needles. In a wave of warmth the unrelenting winter around me fades...
          I am standing with each of my children. In homes. In huts. In palaces. On ships hurtling between worlds. On lonely habitats in the depths of space. In village squares. Atop unfinished constructions. In rows along roadsides. I am adomed with garland, lights, baubles, chains of fabric, jewels, crystals, and glinimering trinkets, all placed with reverent care by children, servants, androids, recluses, and lovers. I shelter stacks of gifts beneath my boughs, while songs of absolute mirth and levity are voiced in a hundred languages around me. I am both the symbol and the epicenter of unbridled joy, both others' and my own.
          This gift from my children resonates and surrounds me like a blanket of fallen foliage. They speak to me of their gratitude and pride, of traditions and lineages that reach through history and extend deep into the future. We will outlive the worlds that harbor us, and the suns that feed us, and this convocation of joy shall be my true legacy, long after I am ash.
It all fades, and once again I stand obscured by winter's fury, the sound of bells receding into the roar of the wind. I do not mind. When the storms have died, and the snow packs have run off, and the seeds below the soil burst forth anew, I will have quite the tale to relate to my companions. Indeed, a tale that has no end.
          And with that, I slide gently into my dormancy once more, to dream of green days and warm winds.

Jeff's Note: The sophomore outing from Bad Day set a few patterns into place. First off the "In The/Of The" titles became standard. Secondly, this was the first "formula" story. One of my writing group comrades once told me that each of my stories contained a "list" that I would use as an info-dump. I purposely decided to work one in. It's a neat gimmick used with great aplomb by writers I really admire. As this year also began the tradition of making each card a rush-job, I took the liberty of ripping-off the best. The "list" became a regular ingredient.
    I strived for a true science fiction story, but threw a rather generic Father Christmas in for good measure. The lush language just dripped on this one, bordering on sappy (pardon the pun. snicker).
    Carolyn rendered a neat face-in-the-foliage here, a trick so subtle that it was lost on some recipients until it was pointed out later. Anthropomorphic
trees are always cool. This picture has shades of The Ents from Lord Of The Rings, the cranky apple trees in Wizard of Oz, and Swamp Thing. I like the gnarled roots. Lovely texture, y'know.