Cape Cod Evening
This idea for this story sprang from a flash fiction class taken at the National Gallery of Art, hosted by The Writer's Center. We were tasked to create a rough flash fiction piece based on Edward Hopper's painting, "Cape Cod Evening." Most people came up with stories about the couple waiting for their son to come home from the war or something similar. One of my writing friends who also attended decided to make all three characters aliens who were on Earth to study life. As I stared at the picture I felt like the tree itself was its own character. Between the obvious stress emanating from the characters and the gloomy woods stretching into the distance, it felt like they were all waiting for some impending doom. This story sprang from those impressions.

The General Tree

The waves of grass spur me on like a vessel coming to shore at last. The couple doesn't turn to look at me, but they know I'm here. I bravely step from the sanctuary of my dark brethren to join the family, impatient for battle. My form stands boldly against the plain, white house. I don't speak to them; we all have our pre-battle superstitions. The casualness of our grouping allays our confidence in the outcome. Only the dog looks warily out expectantly as though he senses, as my friends do, the coming danger.

I casually lean one of my branches against the siding above the bay window, and only then do I notice the front windows are still bare. My trunk stiffens as I pull my branch away. Why the devil didn't the man finish boarding up the windows? As if sensing my question he looks over at me. "Ran out of wood planks," he says and shrugs. He nods, indicating the forest that still gathers behind me. "Need some help."

Help? I shed a few leaves as I tremble with rage. The fool! We would already be out-numbered and he wants me to sacrifice one of my soldiers before the battle even begins? How many weeks had we spent planning this? How many hours of plugging holes and vulnerable spots in the house and he can't even be bothered to make sure he got enough wood!

I don't really have a choice. It's our duty to protect these feeble, stupid humans. The dog looks at me once with sympathy before turning his back on the man in disgust. He knows what is being asked of us. He sighs and resumes his watch, snout pointed stiffly in the direction of the approaching storm. Even the woman cannot bring herself to look at him. She scowls at the ground, avoiding eye contact with anyone, including the dog. She flushes with what I hope is rage. I hope someone understands what is being asked of us.

I turn back to look at my brave, beautiful friends. Their leaves rustle lightly with anticipation. I take a deep breath and ask for volunteers, attempting to ignore the piercing chink of stone on metal as Bob drops the sharpening stone onto the axe that lies at his feet. The man can't understand our speech, but he surely must notice the increased agitation of the rustling of so many leaves in the absence of wind. I hear comments through the din.

Haven't these people already asked enough of us?

Let's leave them to die!

I'd like to take an axe to him.

We should just turn away and retreat to the safety of ourselves, but I can't leave them undefended. They're poor, feeble humans, incapable of self-preservation. Jeremiah steps forward and there is a general murmur of approval. Jeremiah understands the way of things. Jeremiah leans over with grace and a shiver runs through our collective branches.

In a misguided attempt at levity, the man yells a drawn-out "timber" as Jeremiah collapses into the grass, his thick trunk swallowed by the billowing blades. He is helpless. Unable to move, I can sense the urge to roll away as Bob approaches, axe thrown over his shoulder nonchalantly. I can't look, but I hear the "thuck" as axe hits bark and Jeremiah's scream pierces the air. Even the dog's calm poignancy is ruffled and he paces in agitation, his silent watch abandoned. There is movement behind me as the man continues hacking into Jeremiah. Thoughts of desertion blow through our leaves again.

The rustling turns to a low drone and I realize there is no point. The woman screams and the dog who had been distracted by the ordeal and is caught off guard, barks warning. It is over before it has even begun. They have sent the moths.

Bob stops mid-swing and cuts at the air around him before he is smothered. The woman runs inside but the moths easily crash through the uncovered glass of the bay windows. I don't need to see her to know she will not survive.

The dog fights valiantly, but is overwhelmed by the sheer number of moths. They pluck the hairs from him and sink their jaws into his flesh. He yelps repeatedly until he falls, splatters of red disappearing into the yellow and green stalks.

Jeremiah is already dead; he had it easy. I stand and watch my friends run in vain. There is no escape. The moths are too fast. They tear at my leaves, eating away my gorgeous green mantel. Through my bare branches I see my army wailing, bark being torn from their trunks in agony and I wonder why I'm still standing. My leaves are gone, but the moths have left me intact.

Everything is still. I hear very faint moans coming from the woods where my friends have fallen. I cannot move, petrified I am more hurt than I appear. The moans gather into another low drone and I see a wave shuddering through the grass towards me. The beetles are coming, I realize. They have left me for the beetles.

They bore into my trunk and eat me from the inside, all the while making sure I'm still standing. I scream from the pain and realize this is why I was left. I will remain forever, a hollowed out tree, standing as a warning to anyone else who would try to defy them. The flesh of the humans and the dog will rot away and join the earth, but I will continue to stand. Alone.

The End