I had lived in a forest my entire life. I’d seen trees of all kinds; maple, cedar, oak. But in all my life, I’d never seen any tree that resembled the one that changed me forever; Vaikimine, the Tree of the Silent.
It was a typical autumn afternoon. The sun peaked through the clouds to illuminate the lovely changing colours of the leaves on the tall trees. Sounds of leaves dancing in the winds; dead and living, echoed throughout the forest.
I watched my feet as I walked along the dirt path Papa had made for me, so I could explore the wood. Right, left…right left… I thought. That’s what Papa did. He would pace in his office at home, and mutter under his breath as he walked…Right, left…right left…
I was nearing the creek, and I could hear the rushing water…and voices...There were faint voices of men ahead. I stopped dead in my tracks. Should I go back? I asked myself. I remembered what Mama had said, “Don’t talk to strangers, Edgar. They can be very, very dangerous. Do not trust them.”
But maybe they are not strangers…
I continued walking, although much slower than the pace I had been keeping. As I grew closer to the water, the whispers became louder. What was being said, though, was still unclear.
I’d finally arrived at the creek, but I saw no one. The voices seemed to be faceless, although they still spoke. The dirt road ended where I stood…but I felt so close to the voices. I stepped off the dirt road and onto the untouched grounds of the forest. My foot sank in a bit, into the sea of the thin leaves that had fallen from the trees above. I continued, nonetheless. Right, left…right left…
I followed the voices for what seemed to be hours, but the sun still shone through the plump clouds in the sky, so I knew I had more time to find the whisperers. My legs felt weak from travelling upon uneven terrain. They felt as though they could detach from my body at any moment. I persevered through the pain. The whisperers were so close…I knew it.
Then I saw it. I couldn’t have possibly missed it. It was a Gothic-looking tree. It towered over me like a sky-scraper. The tree was stripped of its leaves, but nothing lay under it, except for patches of dead grass…and what seemed to be rotting mushrooms. From the tree, millions of voices spoke.
I lifted my head to view the very top of the tree, and the whispering stopped abruptly. “Tere? Hello?” I sheepishly said.
There was a pause. “Tere, young boy,” whispered the million voices.
“Who are you?” I asked.
“Are you saying that you do not know who I am?” The whisperers seemed shocked.
“Do your parents not tuck you in before you sleep at night, with a story?” asked the whisperers.
“From time to time they do…but they’ve never told me about…you.”
“If they do not speak of me, what do they speak of?” demanded the whisperers.
“They tell me about princes and princesses…things like that…” I responded.
There was no answer.
“But please,” I began, “who are you?”
“I, young boy, am Vaikimine. Who are you?” boomed the voices.
“M—my name is Edgar.”
“Edgar, do you know what I am?” asked Vaikimine.
“Well…you seem to be a tree.”
“A tree, you say? For the sake of the Heavens and the Earth, Edgar, I am not a tree,” bellowed Vaikimine. “Do trees talk, Edgar?”
“N—no Vaikimine, not usually!” I exclaimed.
“Am I not talking to you now, Edgar?”
“Yes! But how?” I asked.
“I will tell you, young Edgar. I am Vaikimine, the Tree of the Silent. Over the past four hundred years, I have collected the voices of men, women, boys, and girls. Their voices keep me living, Edgar. In return for their voices, I give them immortality. I let them live forever as they are.”
I contemplated this… “So…they can’t speak?” I asked.
“They cannot speak; nor can they hear. All is silent to them; they are silent to all.”
“Do they ever miss their voices?”
“Well, I wouldn’t know. None of them have ever told me they wished to have their voices back, so I suppose they have never missed them,” said Vaikimine.
“This is true…”
“Edgar—you have such a lovely voice,” said Vaikimine.
“Thank you, no one has ever said that to me!” I smiled.
“If I had your voice in my collection, everyone would say ‘Oh, Vaikimine, you have such lovely voices. But the one I favour is that of Edgar. You are so privileged to speak in such a beautiful tongue.’”
“Do you really think so?” I asked.
“I know so, Edgar.”
“Vaikimine, if I give you my voice, can I have it back if I ask for it?” I asked.
“Why Edgar, if you ask me for your voice back, I will not only let you have your voice back, I will let you keep your immortality!” exclaimed Vaikimine.
“Yes, Edgar!” I am a being of its word,” he promised.
“Vaikimine, you may have my voice!” I exclaimed.
“Very good! Now, to give me your voice, you must pick one of the mushrooms. Do so now.”
I walked over to a patch of mushrooms, and picked one. “Now what?”
“Now, Edgar, take one single bite out of it. And then burry the remains into the ground beneath me.”
I did so. I felt my voice flow out of my mouth like a breeze blowing out of the sky, Vaikimine transformed from the dead tree it had been, into a beautiful, luscious plant.
The sound of the rushing water stopped. So did the sound of the leaves in the wind… I walked back home.
When I walked into the door, Mama looked at me. Her lips moved, but I heard nothing. She cringed. Her lips moved again, but everything was silent to me. I just stared at Mama, hoping she wouldn’t become angry. I hoped in vain.
She grabbed me, and pulled me upstairs to my room. I thought she was yelling at me, but I couldn’t tell. After she began to cry, she left me alone. I tried to leave my room, but she had locked the door.
For five years, I suffered silent loneliness. All I wanted was my voice, but Mama and Papa never let me leave the house. One morning, while everyone was still asleep, I snuck out of my room to find Vaikimine; to get my voice back.
Once I found Vaikimine, I opened my mouth wide and tried to scream Vaikimine, I want my voice back! But nothing came out. When I had agreed to give him my voice, I had forgotten that I would not be able to ask for my voice back! That was probably the only reason why Vaikimine had agreed to my terms.
I was so furious, that I ran to Papa’s workshop in the wood, where he kept his tools, including his ax. I had found the ax, so I hauled it back to where Vaikimine was. You tricked me! You tricked me! You tricked me! I swung the ax into the tree. Black fluids spurted out of the cut-wound I had created. I swung again! You tricked me! You tricked me! You tricked me! More fluids oozed out of the tree that was now withering away. “You tricked me! You tricked me! You tricked me!” I yelled aloud. My voice was back!
“You rotten child, you! You will suffer further for this!” bellowed the dying Vaikimine.
I ran far from him; I ran back home. I burst through the door. “Mama! Papa!” I shouted. “Mama, Papa, I’m back! Listen to my voice!”
They both stood in front of me with blank faces.
They said nothing. Then I remembered... You will suffer further for this…
Mama and Papa couldn’t hear me, nor could they speak. All was silent to them, and they were silent to all. And that was how we lived our lives; in the way of Vaikimine; the Tree of the Silent.