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This piece was originally a sestina I wrote about the movie Nightbreed. A sestina is a fixed verse poem consisting of six stanzas of six lines each, followed by a three-line envoi. The words that end each line of the first stanza are used as line endings in each of the following stanzas, rotated in a set pattern. For my current Flash Fiction course, I was to remove the Nightbreed references and turn it into a hybrid Sestina/Prose poem. A few vague references and re-used words still remain.

Cemetery of Trees

I know a legend, a tale that speaks of a city. It lies tucked far beneath unblessed cemetery grounds. Do not trespass on the spiral weeds and dead grass! You may be charmed by the burning scent of firewood and autumnal haunts, but mortal steps cannot fall upon this unholy garden of stones.   Buried deep under the soil, past entombed layers of dust-smothered bodies, lies the last of the ancient monster trees, poisoners of oxygen, the overpowering grandfathers of the forest.

I tell beastly stories of these moonlight elder roots to the children: tales that aren’t lies, of the cave-painted woodlands hidden deep below the soil. They told these stories to me, with my sharp psychic ear pointed curiously downward. Do not trespass upon the ashpiles of bodies. Dead vines may pull you far beneath the cursed grounds. Listen closely and you can hear them play their rhythms of innocent songs of weeping and roars.

“Come in, and take your shoes off. Let us feel your heat,” the soil-entwined roots will say. Stop! Go no further! They can track the footprints you leave in the grass, and the angriest ones will tunnel through the ground, following you all the way home.

On the surface is a world of ageless boneyard ash, and sand smothers the grass, but human eyes and ears will never understand the trees beneath. Some spin their roots, others writhe on floors of marble and stone. Every day they celebrate with lunatic abandon in this wonderful city. Guilt is erased and sins are forgiven when your tears touch the ground.   Sapping black puddles of blood, and cutting off bark like skin, they practice their art on captured sacrificial bodies.

I know some of their secrets and have seen some of their curious, crooked bodies. Squint, and the branches look like cracks in the sky. The quiet ones play games, but the savage will drop you on the graveyard grass. Breathing wooden kings of elegant, glowing sensuality will beckon to you from under the ground. It would be wonderful to live below, with the sunless tree tribes. Sadly, mere men cannot live in that grand, monstrous city. Fanged wood-warriors bite, ivory-horned demons laugh, and you will fade under stone.

“Now who is weaker, we who no longer fry by lightning, or you who melt and burn?” They will come at you from every direction, howling and sneering, as stump touches stone. “Ridiculous humans, they kill us yet need us! Let’s mash their delicate bodies!” Our saws have banished them to this underground city, but not all of them mind. Some are sickened by the stench of flesh, and living things. Tentacled branches, changing in shape as they grow, and eyeless sorcerers, all live among the forest tribes. Forgotten voices with imagined languages talk to birds and falcons from below the cursed ground.

These beautiful abominations sometimes fear we who are the monsters above the ground. Their doom was written in unhallowed soil, an omnibus of nightmares weeping in the mud. Ignorant and confused by the unknown, mankind have always hunted the forest tribes. They desecrate their natural home, burn and mock their bodies with fireplaces and carving knives. But prideful men and their guns will never destroy the beasts under the grass. The trees have patience and power. They will rebuild their city above the dirt. And then they will conquer us, and with a shiver, we will understand them.

So, children, stay away from the grounds the old timers fear. There are thriving tribes and dead bodies buried there. The stone cities of the deceased shouldn’t be touched. Ignore what you think is blood on the grass. The tribes of hungry roots can smell it, warm and fresh, if it spills in their city.

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