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Susurrus and Sapling

Jamie Lackey lives in Pittsburgh with her husband and their cats. She has over 160 short fiction credits, and has appeared before in Daily Science Fiction, as well as in Apex Magazine, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and Escape Pod. She has a novella and two short story collections available from Air and Nothingness Press and has self published two flash fiction collections, two novellas, and a novelette. In addition to writing, she spends her time reading, playing tabletop RPGs, baking, and hiking. You can find her online at jamielackey.com.

Petrichor stirred and pulled up their roots as the first rays of sunshine caressed their leaves. They sorted through their mycelial dreams. Most of the news gathered from the tangled network of roots and hyphae was minor. A fire burned, but it was well over the sunward horizon and sputtering. The cool wind that stirred their branches heralded a summer storm, but the clouds carried no damaging hail or dangerous lightning.
But there was also news of a more personal nature, sent over a much longer distance, and that was dire indeed.
Petrichor's seedgiver, Susurrus, was rooting, and Petrichor had to go to them.
But Petrichor had finally planted a seed of their own, and the sapling, fresh and green and fragile, had just pushed up out of the earth. The sapling had yet to quicken, and was unable to uproot themself and travel.
If Petrichor wanted to be with their seedgiver as they stilled, they would need to leave their sapling behind.
Petrichor had wandered for many seasons, looking for the perfect place to plant their seed. It was a sheltered spot, with pleasantly sloped ground, gentle breezes, and plenty of sunlight. A wide brook babbled close enough for roots to reach, so dry spells were no danger. The mycelial network was robust and generous. The sapling would not lack for resources, even without Petrichor there to send it extra energy gathered from the unshaded sun.
The sapling was unlikely to quicken this season. But it was not impossible.
Petrichor did not want to leave.
They went anyway.
The journey was long, but so were the summer days. Petrichor reached Susurrus's side just as orange edged the first handful of their leaves.
"I am here, seedgiver," Petrichor said.
Susurrus twined their roots through Petrichor's.
"Your presence brings me joy," Susurrus said. Their voice was different, now, from what it was in Petrichor's memory. It was slow and seeping, like sap in winter. It hurt to hear it, to know that the voice in their memory was already lost.
Susurrus slipped into sleep, even though the sun was high overhead.
They had selected a beautiful place for their rooting, deep within an ancient forest, on the banks of a meandering stream. Tiny yellow flowers pushed up through the thick leaf mold and rooted trees stood elegantly, each a respectful distance from the next. Bright red mushrooms popped up in shady spots, and birdsong filled the air.
Susurrus woke. "Petrichor?" they said, their seeping voice querulous. "What are you doing here?"
"I came to see you, seedgiver."
Susurrus's leaves shivered, and a few flashed orange in the sun as they fell. "You didn't need to come all this way. I'm not sure if this is a good spot. I might not stay."
"It seems like a good spot," Petrichor said.
Susurrus drifted back to sleep.
"I'm afraid," Susurrus said when the sun blazed high overhead and their shadows were nothing more than smudges directly beneath their leaves. "I don't want to still. To stop."
"I know," Petrichor said. "I'm sorry, seedgiver."
"I wonder if I'll still dream. I hope I will. But I fear that I won't."
Petrichor had no idea what to say to that, so they said nothing, just twined their roots around their seedgiver's and angled their branches away from their trunk, careful not to block any of Susurrus's sunlight.
"The rain feels lovely on my leaves," Susurrus said the next morning.
The only clouds were high and wispy, still painted pink from the sunrise. There was no rain falling for a dozen horizons.
"Rain is very nice," Petrichor agreed.
"That is where your name comes from, you know. The rain."
"I know, seedgiver."
"I've always thought it was a good name."
"Yes, I think so, too."
They lapsed into comfortable silence while the sun wheeled overhead. As their shadows stretched, Susurrus stirred. "Where have you brought me?"
"I'm not sure what you mean, seedgiver."
"I had found the perfect spot! But this isn't it. This is wrong. Take me back, you had no right to move me."
"We haven't moved."
Susurrus thrashed and wept till the sun vanished.
Susurrus was happy or confused or angry or sad, and Petrichor had no way to predict which mood would greet them when their seedgiver stirred. They couldn't tell if their presence was a balm or a burden. At times it seemed like both.
Their heartwood ached, and they missed their sapling. They had been so tiny, just a handful of leaves on a trunk as thin as Petrichor's smallest twig, but they must have grown. Petrichor wondered how tall they were now, wondered what color their leaves had turned as the days grew shorter. They assured themself that their sapling surely hadn't quickened, that they hadn't missed the first reaching moments of awareness, that their sapling's first memory would not be one of loneliness. That it was not wrong to stay.
The days grew shorter, and Susurrus stirred less and less. Even their weeping and thrashing grew sluggish. Their leaves fell in brilliant drifts.
"This is a good spot, isn't it?" Susurrus asked as sunset painted their bare branches red.
"It is beautiful."
"Will you come here, when it is your time?"
Petrichor wasn't ready to think about their own rooting. But it was a good spot. "Maybe."
"Bring your sapling to visit, when they're ready."
"I will."
"I wish I could have met them."
Petrichor's heartwood ached so sharply, they feared it would crack. "I wish that, too."
"Maybe I will see them in my dreams."
"I hope so."
Susurrus flexed their roots against Petrichor's, gentle as a spring mist. "I love you very much."
"I love you, too."
Susurrus grew still, and Petrichor almost wished it was for the last time, that that could be their last moment together. But Susurrus stirred again the next morning, angry about birds daring to nest in their branches, and again two days later, to do nothing but weep.
When Susurrus stilled that evening, Petrichor allowed themself to weep as well. The pull to leave was like an itch beneath their bark. The fear that their sapling would quicken early grew with every sunrise.
But if they left early, they weren't sure they could ever forgive themself.
They didn't want to stay.
They did it anyway.
It was hard winter, the ground frozen and the leaf mold rimed with frost, when Petrichor was sure that their seedgiver would not stir again.
"Goodbye," they said through grief sharp and cold, both familiar and different. "I hope you dream."
The trip back to their seedling took longer than the trip away, because of the shorter days, weaker sunlight, and the stiffness that cold always brought. Winter was no time for wandering. But they wanted to be back by spring, to see their sapling's leaves bud. They pushed as fast as they could, hoping exhaustion would deaden the ache in their heartwood.
It didn't.
When they reached their destination, they found their sapling a foot taller, and still lulled into a deep winter dormancy. The earth around the sapling was smooth and undisturbed. They had not quickened while Petrichor was away.
Petrichor watered their sapling's roots with quiet tears, relief and sadness and hope and loss all combining in an overwhelming storm of emotion.
When their tears ran dry, they sank their roots deep into the earth to wait for the spring and dream.
The End
This story was first published on Saturday, May 21st, 2022


Author Comments

This is a deeply personal story for me. My grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer's last year, in the middle of the pandemic. She's always been one of my very favorite people. I also watched a neat documentary about tree communication, and this story weaves together my sometimes-overwhelming grief and the hope and wonder I feel thinking about the web of life that we're all a part of but are so poorly able to understand.

- Jamie Lackey
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