David C. Hughes, Writer

“For the LORD your God will bless you in all your harvest and in all the work of your hands, and your JOY will be complete." –Deuteronomy 16:15

Archive for the month “February, 2015”

The Trees Have Tongues (Part 2 of 4)

Ella found herself wrapped in a wool blanket, a cup of warm milk sitting on the table in front of her. She picked it up and sipped it.

“Think hard, my love,” her mother cooed, stroking Ella’s arm. “Tell me again. Who led you back to the cottage?”

Ella’s brothers and sisters stood behind their mother, grim-faced. None spoke.

“I do not know, Mama,” Ella mumbled. “All I heard was voices, many of them, speaking as one, leading me home.” The frightened girl looked down at her twiddling fingers. “They were quite kind.”

“Voices. Hmm.” Mama turned to Ella’s brothers and sisters. “And you? You heard nothing?”

“No, Mama,” Silas offered. “Nothing. Nothing at all.” The other children nodded.

Mama rose. “Very well.” She smoothed the front of her dress and adjusted her bonnet. The expression on her face remained stoic. “Please stay close to the cottage until your father returns. We will discuss this at length then.”

“Yes, Mother,” the children answered.

Ella did not hear the voices again for three more days.




“Papa! Papa!” the children screamed. “Papa is home!”

The old woodcutter shoved open the cottage door, allowing a gale of frigid air to rush in behind the warmth of his beaming smile. Sherrod stepped inside, secured the bolt, knelt down, and spread his welcoming arms. All five of the children tumbled into his embrace, kissing his thick beard and ruddy forehead until his wife stepped in to receive her husband’s affections.

After the family had settled in and had broken bread, Rhoswen took her husband’s hand in hers and looked into his afflicted eyes. “What is it?” she asked. “Something troubles you.”

Her gaze elevated Sherrod’s heavy heart, her touch even more. “The yield,” he chuffed. “The forest is not giving up its dead as easily as before. I had to take a few of the others.”

“But, Sherrod!” his wife exclaimed. “You know you must not. It is forbidden.”

Sherrod lowered his eyes and stared at the table top. The burden of the half-filled bowls sitting in front of the children and the ten filthy bare feet swinging under their chairs crushed his soul. He slumped. “Yes, Rhoswen, I know full well the edict of the land. But the forest has left me no choice.”

Rhoswen dropped his hand. “Husband—”

“BAH!” Sherrod pounded the table with his fist. “I must go out again. We will die if I do not.” He sighed. “I am growing old, wife. And tired. The forest has left me no choice.”

“But the forest has taken care of your family from the first breath,” Rhoswen protested. “You have always been the one who fervently tells the ancient stories, helping everyone believe even in the most desperate of times. Why are you now filled with such worry and torment?”

The woodcutter pushed his bowl away, rose from the table and threw his coat over his shoulders. “The stories,” he growled, “they are rubbish, fairy tales made up to bring hope and laughter to those who are childish enough to believe such things.”

“But Sherrod. Those are your family’s stories. You do not believe them anymore?”

Sherrod stared into his wife’s emerald eyes. “Do you believe them anymore?” As he turned to leave, he heard the birdlike voice of his youngest daughter call out to him. Her warble brought a spark of joy to his smoldering thoughts. “Yes, Ella?” he replied.

“Papa, I think the trees spoke to me,” Ella whispered.

“The trees?” Sherrod said. He glanced at Rhoswen, then back to Ella. “Tell me, lass, how do you know this?”

“Well, Papa …” Ella hesitated.

William nodded to his sister. “Go on, Ella, tell Papa what happened.”

“Yes,” Rhoswen urged. “Tell him.”

Ella took a deep breath and told Sherrod about the game of Jingles, describing how she had gotten lost and, with the help of the whispering voices, had found her way home.

A great wave of tiredness swept over the woodcutter. “It is the stories, is it not? The ones I tell on cold winter’s nights around the fire?”

“But, Papa, I heard them,” Ella pleaded. “They are not just stories. They are real.”

Sherrod sighed, stared at his wisp of a daughter, with eyes like her mother’s and cheeks as red as a sunset over a meadow. She was tiny, so innocent. He shook his head. “It is only your imagination,” he muttered. “You possess a good one, indeed.” He turned and stomped off to his bed, where he immediately fell asleep, completely deaf to Ella’s sobs.




Ella watched from behind the trunk of a great pine as her father hitched the horse to the wagon, took up his axe and coaxed the swaybacked nag through the gate into the gloom beyond. As soon as she knew Papa was well on his way into the forest, she rushed off, as fast as she could, in the opposite direction. Her bare feet padded softly on the damp carpet of fallen pine needles and curled yellow leaves. Still upset from the night before, she had avoided him all day, not even kissing him goodbye.

Sobbing, Ella ran, hardly noticing the cold spilling into the woods as the wind crescendoed from a gentle moan to a great roar. Twilight descended, and soon the wind blew away the last remnants of familiarity as she penetrated into the heart of the unknown.

“He believed me not!” she yelled at the trees. “Not even for a moment.” Sleet fell, pelting her hood lightly at first, then rushing down in great torrents, stinging her hands. The cold had worked its way into her bones and she could no longer feel her toes. But she crashed headlong through the thickening underbrush anyway, pushing deeper and deeper into … nowhere. Winded, she fell to her knees, her hopes crumbling with her.


Copyright ©2015 by David C. Hughes


The Trees Have Tongues (Part 1 of 4)

Once upon a time, in a deep and gloomy forest, there lived an old woodcutter and his family. One morning, as the woodcutter sharpened his worn axe blade on a tired grindstone, a cold finger of air thrust its way through the woodshop’s crooked walls and tapped him on the shoulder. He dropped his tool to the rotted floor, barely missing his foot, and lowered his head. “The curse of it all,” he sighed. “Winter is approaching and I have but one axe blade left with which to harvest enough wood to supply the needs of the town and my family.” He lifted the axe from the floor and again set out to hone the bit to a fine edge. “Perhaps this year I will be able to buy each of my children a pair of shoes,” he muttered.

His heart grew heavy as he remembered last evening’s argument with Wymas, the ancient cobbler, who had stopped by the cottage for a visit and to bring him news from the town. The shoemaker had urged the old woodcutter accept a single pair of shoes to keep his children’s feet warm during the coming winter, but he had refused. “I pay for my wares, Wymas,” the woodcutter had insisted. “I shall make good after this season’s harvest. Mark my word.” Angry, he had sent the cobbler away without so much as a farewell.

As he laid the axe head against the grindstone, his children—two strapping young boys and three dainty girls—burst into the shack and danced around their father, lifting his spirits. Their voices rose with excitement, then they tumbled to the floor, giggling.

The old woodcutter set down the axe, crossed his arms and looked over his offspring. “Ah, children,” he said, allowing a slight smile to bloom under his generous red and gray beard. “What brings you out to greet such a poor excuse for a man on a despicable day such as this?”

“But, Papa,” trilled his youngest lass, Ella. “It is a lovely morning, not despicable. And we came out to see you.”

The old man’s smile lifted further. “Me?” he gasped, feigning surprise. He swept his daughter into his lap and burst into laughter. “Whatever would convince you to visit such a miserable codger such as myself?”

“Because we love you, Papa!” declared William, his eldest son, kissing his father on the cheek.

“That is right,” his youngest boy, Silas, added. “And because we wanted to see you before you left for the harvest.”

The woodcutter’s smile faded slightly. “Yes, yes, ‘tis true, my lad. Old Man Winter reminded me of that fact just a moment ago. He tapped me on the shoulder and told me to finish up my business, load the wagon and make haste into the woods.”

Nerida, his middling daughter, both in age and stature, shyly approached him. She curtseyed slightly and held out a cloth bundle.

The woodcutter accepted the gift with a grunt, folded back a corner and appraised the supply of boiled venison and potatoes. “Why, thank you, my fair Nerida.”

“I helped Mama prepare it for you, Papa,” she murmured, eyes searching the dusty floor. “Do you approve?”

“Of course I approve!” the woodcutter boomed. “Because it came from you, my forest lily, and from your enchanting mother.” He reached out and swept her into his lap as well, pressing both Ella and Nerida to his chest.

His eldest daughter, Fira, joined her sisters on her father’s lap. The old woodcutter did not protest despite the ache in his hips. “I will return in three days’ time,” he told his children. “Please be mindful of your mother and do as she requests.”

“Yes, Papa,” the children said.

“Now I must go and say goodbye to the most elegant flower of all.” The woodcutter groaned as he stood, shedding little girls like a molting gander. He grabbed his axe, donned his dusty fur cap and rambled from the shack with his five doting children marching in line behind him.

“Ah, Rhoswen,” the woodcutter sighed as he spied his wife standing on the threshold. “My most perfect bloom.”

“Sherrod, is it time?” she inquired.

He nodded. Sherrod’s spirit weighed heavily. “’Tis time. I must go.”

“If you must,” Rhoswen said, embracing him.

After kissing his wife, he loaded the wagon, hitched up the nag and drove it through the sagging gate. His family waved and Sherrod brushed away a tear as the weary horse led him into the great forest.




“You are not playing fair!” Ella cried, holding her hands out in front of her. She had followed the sound of jingling bells as William did his best to avoid being caught by his four blindfolded siblings. But instead of the bells getting any closer, the jingling grew muffled and then fell silent altogether. The earthy smell of the forest surrounding her family cottage had given way to an odor less pleasant. Ella suddenly felt ill. “Not fair,” she pouted. She tore off her blindfold and cast it to the forest floor. She gasped.

Mist as thick as the vapors rising from the bowels of Lesser Tortuous Swamp engulfed her. Not a breath of air stirred. Not a bird chirped, not a frog harrumphed. She was lost.

“William?” Ella called. Her voice thudded against the stillness like a ripe pumpkin against a moss-covered stone. “Fira? Nerida? Silas? Hello?”

Come, Ella. This way.

Ella froze. A chill crawled from the top of her scalp to the bottom of her bare feet as voices—many of them—spoke her name in the muffled silence. “Who … who is there?” she implored.

Follow us, my child. This way.

“But … who are you? How do you know my name?”

Come. This way.

Ella cocked her head in the direction of the whispery voices and her feet soon followed.

Yes, child. This way.

The voices moved ahead of her, drawing her through the oppressive gloom. As she obeyed, the air became less cloying, the light less frightening and the trees less threatening. By and by Ella began to recognize her surroundings, and soon she emerged from the woods into the comforting perimeter of her family’s homestead.

Upon reaching the threshold, she fainted.



Copyright ©2015 by David C. Hughes

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