A Darkish Little Fairy Tale, or An Anecdote on Writing

The last rays of the sun aspen forest 1897 jpg Large

A cool fact about aspens (from Wikipedia):

All of the aspens typically grow in large clonal colonies, derived from a single seedling, and spread by means of root suckers; new stems in the colony may appear at up to 30–40 m (98–131 ft) from the parent tree. Each individual tree can live for 40–150 years above ground, but the root system of the colony is long-lived. In some cases, this is for thousands of years, sending up new trunks as the older trunks die off above ground. For this reason, it is considered to be an indicator of ancient woodlands. One such colony in Utah, given the nickname of “Pando”, is estimated to be 80,000 years old, making it possibly the oldest living colony of aspens. Some aspen colonies become very large with time, spreading about 1 m (3.3 ft) per year, eventually covering many hectares.

In other words, a stand of aspens is really one organism. It’s like planting a piece of ginger root: eventually, these narrow, green, bamboo-like stalks will sprout from the rhizome. If you’ve buried the ginger, then each stalk looks like an individual plant, but they’re really all sprouts from the same root. Aspens are kind of the same way.

I learned this fact some years ago when visiting my sister, who lives just outside Grand Teton National Park. I was very much taken with the idea of this super-organism, just as I was with the sound that aspen leaves make in the breeze, all shimmery and whispery. There’s got to be a good horror story in there, in the idea of these many-things-that-are-really-one. Or so I thought. I tried writing it, there in Wyoming, but nothing ever came of it, and I gave up and forgot about it.

Fast forward to this past Thanksgiving. Highway I-80 follows the Truckee River for a while, on the way from California into Nevada. As we were driving along that route, to my parents’ place, I spotted little stands of aspen along the river (at least, I think they were aspen. Let’s just say they were). I remembered my failed attempt, and wondered if there were another way to go about it — to be honest, straight-up horror isn’t my thing. But ghost stories, folklore, and fairy tales…

And there in the car, the seeds of the idea came, in the form of The Boy, and The Girl, and the idea of aspen-y revenge.

It took me a long time to sit down and write the story. Instead, I’d go to bed every night, thinking about it. In the morning, in that hazy time between coming out of sleep and waking up, I’d think about it some more, and write down what came to me, snatches of this and that, scenes divorced from any continuity. I’m pretty sure I lost what would have been the best scenes, because they’d vanish from my brain when I woke up enough to reach for the notebook next to my bed. Hopefully with more practice, I’ll get better at holding on to things.

And I remembered also the story of Cinderella — the Brothers Grimm version, not Disney’s. In that version (mine is from Jack Zipes’ translation, The Complete Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm), Cinderella’s spirit guardian isn’t a fairy godmother, but a hazel tree that grows from her mother’s grave.

Eventually, I knew I had as much as I was going to get (not much; I’m only a dilettante at this), so I put together all my scribblings, rearranged them until they flowed, threw a few out, polished the rest up.

The result is here, on Ephemera. I hope you like it.

It wasn’t the fastest way to write a story (especially one so short), but it was much less painful than some other pieces I’ve produced, not just for this blog, but pieces I’ve been paid to write. I still think there is a real horror story in there somewhere, too. Hopefully one of you will find it and write it, because it hasn’t been given to me.

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