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Words from the Whispering Woods Cislyn Smith

A curl of bark, stained meticulously with sap

We listened and watched, root and leaf and stem and bark, and learned the marks and the sounds. We are neighbors. The witch says you are too new to be trusted, but we like the way your sprouts laugh and run, like large squirrels. Welcome. We hope we will be friends.

* * *

Leaves carefully scattered across a concussed woodsman

Do not cut our sprouts or our elders. That hurts. There is plenty of wood for the burning. It falls. Some of us are ready to go, and will make ourselves known to you.

* * *

Dried mud on a fallen log

Thank you for the fertilizer. The soil is enriched by your gift. Please do not put any more of it into the river water or streams. That is bad for the fish.

* * *

A long branch etched with beetle marks, carried by a child

These sprouts wandered far from your grove. We have returned them to you so they can grow properly. Hungry things stalk the cold and dark. Do not let your little ones stray.

* * *

Another branch etched with beetle marks, carried by a child

The sprouts were once again far from your grove. Do you require more communication than this? The cold and dark is dangerous.

* * *

Five long branches etched with beetle marks, carried by a group of children

The sprouts say that you do not believe we speak to them. We speak. Perhaps you have grown past hearing. Are you also unable to heed the words we make for your eyes, since only sprout ears are hearing us? These sprouts were far from your grove, lost. We made paths for them. Be good to your sprouts. The cold and dark will not last forever, but it is dangerous now.

* * *

A parchment, delivered by raven

The woods warned you but you did not listen. I warned the woods, but they did not listen. So it goes. Your children have made their way, hungry bellies and greedy hands, to my house. Now they are mine. This land is full of bounty, and there is no need for any to go hungry, even in winter. The squirrels manage. The trees manage. And so do I, despite all your hungry little children. Plan better, or lose more.

* * *

Stained birch bark, wrapped tightly around three unconscious men

Do not come into our home with fire, with cutting, with noise. You want your sprouts? They do not want you. You sent them into the dark again and again. They are with the witch, learning, listening, laughing and running like squirrels again. Some of you have asked, but we will not show you the way. The witch does not like neighbors. We begin to understand why. We will not make the paths for you.

* * *

Sticks, dropped in formation by swooping cardinals

No means no. Stop.

* * *

Entwined thorns, forming a wall and words

Of course the witch isn’t eating them. Sprouts are not good for eating! Do you eat your sprouts? Have you tried berries? Or fish? There are fish in the river. Birds. Grubs. There are many things. We are trying to help you. Stop trying to find the witch.

* * *

Blossoms in the thorn wall

Now you say the witch is keeping food from you. She does not want to share. We are trying to share, but you insist on carving paths that are not for you. We have told you where to find food, and the dark times are nearly over. Dawn comes sooner and sooner. Your sprouts grow. You did not want them. You sent them on the wind, seeds to find ground. They have.

* * *

A parchment, delivered by owl

The trees say that you want us to come home. Why would we do that? The witch says we have to write to you so you will stop hiring idiots with axes and harassing the trees. So here is a letter. Stop doing that. I am going to have a tasty mushroom house grown right from the ground when I am a witch. I always liked mushrooms.

* * *

Blossoms in the thorn wall

We learned to speak. When will you learn to listen?

* * *

Acorns in an empty field, carefully arranged

We listened and watched, root and leaf and stem and bark, and we have decided. We do not like being your neighbors. Thank you for the sprouts – they are good new witches. We are going now. Our witches have made arrangements for us elsewhere. Be careful in the cold and dark. With luck you may survive. Good bye.


FFO: What is the story behind your story?

CS: I was participating in a forum-based contest to write a story in a weekend, and one of the suggested prompts for that round was to use a generator for random fantasy inn rumors as inspiration. The rumor the generator gave me was, “The trees of The Withered Woods have gained sentience and speech.” That made me think about enchanted forests and fairy tales, and wonder what the trees would have to say about the stories that take place within their bounds, about witches and wicked parents and children that get lost under their branches. This story fell out of all of that.

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© Cislyn Smith

Meet the Author

Cislyn Smith

Cislyn Smith

Cislyn Smith likes playing pretend, playing games, and playing with words. Though she was born on the gulf coast of Florida, she calls Madison, Wisconsin her home now. She shares her home with three very photogenic cats, a variety of cool bacteria, and some nifty humans. She has been known to crochet tentacles, write stories at odd hours, and study stone dead languages. Cislyn is occasionally dismayed by the lack of secret passages in her house. Her poems and stories have appeared in Strange Horizons, Diabolical Plots, Mermaids Monthly, and other places else-internet. She is a graduate of the Viable Paradise workshop, and a first reader for several genre magazines. When not writing, she spends time behind the scenes at the Dream Foundry, helping emerging creators across the speculative arts to connect with helpful resources and level up their craft. She is co-convention chair for Flights of Foundry, a virtual convention held annually in the spring.

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