He Died A Long Time Ago
The Chia halted at the outermost edge of the forest. The Dark Woods, as they were known, had a reputation for being haunted; pets went in who never came out again, or so the stories went. Adam, for that was the Chia's name, did not put much stock in these stories. He had explored the Dark Woods for months now, and he had never felt in any danger of never coming out again, except, perhaps, during those times when he preferred the isolation and seclusion of the woods to the bustle of his home town.
He was going to see a friend this day. He had met this friend only the other week and had been overjoyed at the prospect of having such a unique individual as his companion. True, he could not leave the Woods, even if he had wanted to, but that was just another compelling reason for Adam to continually visit the place. His new friend was decidedly worth it.
The path to get to Adam's friend was virtually nonexistent. His footsteps wandered aimlessly through the forest. It seemed to the Chia that this method of finding his friend worked almost without fail. Although his friend could not move, it was as though he always appeared right when he needed to. And he could be seen through the trees from a great distance, even though he himself was a tree. He was hard to miss, however: he was a tree with a brain.
"Adam..." A wailing voice made the Chia jump. It had come from behind him. "Adam... is that you?"
Adam turned and smiled at the small sapling, its pulsating orange brain nestled in between its branches. He had not been expecting to find his friend just yet. "Hello, Tree. You startled me!"
"I did not mean it... Adam." The Tree's voice was wind whistling through the forest. It was the crackling of bark and the straining of roots. It was the earth itself.
"That's okay, Tree." Adam seated himself on the moist dirt next to the young sapling. "How are you today?"
"Well... Adam. Can you teach me numbers again today?"
Adam smiled softly. He had come prepared for this. "Of course, Tree. Do you remember what we did yesterday?"
"Threes... Adam. Is it four that comes next?"
"Very good, Tree! Do you know what four and one is?" He enjoyed this joke. His friend always thought he was testing him.
"Adam... that is four. I'm a sapling... not a seed."
Adam laughed. His friend had a humor of his own sort, and it thrilled him to hear it. "Of course not, Tree! How about four and two, then?"
Adam's friend was silent.
"Tree? Do you know?"
"That's right! Two fours makes eight." Adam placed two groups of four pebbles each next to his friend so that the numbers might make more sense. "There's one four and... there's the other four. And if you push them together, it makes eight!"
"Eight... I will remember... Adam."
The lessons continued throughout the afternoon. Adam's friend managed to get through the entire set of fours and had gone almost halfway through the fives when Adam decided it was time to go home. He enjoyed his time in the Dark Woods, but he had forgotten to pack a lunch and his family would be worried besides.
"I have to go now, Tree. I'll be back again tomorrow, though!"
"I'll be here... Adam."
The Chia laughed at his friend's simple humor and turned to go. He liked his friend, and he hoped that they could be friends for a good long while. After all, fives weren't the end of the world. There were sixes, sevens, and eights to get through! And once they were done with numbers, there were all sorts of other things for his friend to learn. Probably so many things that they'd both be old and gray before they could get through all of them.
"Goodbye, Tree. Don't forget about me while I'm gone!" With that, Adam made his way out of the clearing and out of the forest altogether.
The clearing had been deserted for many cycles of the moon now. The great white orb had waxed and waned, illuminating everything and nothing by turns, yet nothing was illuminated in the clearing save the Tree. It was a truly monstrous thing to behold. It towered above all other trees, its scraggly branches tearing at the midnight sky, its pulsing brain a slap in the face of normality. It was grotesque. Wretched. Vile. It deserved its loneliness in the clearing.
The sound of splintering wood broke the silence. Someone was coming. The Tree's branches snapped in anticipation, and the ghoulish face in the bark twisted and ripped. It was an apparition out of nightmares.
"I-is this the Brain Tree?" The voice was a whisper in the darkness, fainter than the words of a memory. The Usul behind the words used the trees on the edge of the clearing as a shield.
"Yes... weakling." The Tree's words were well-rehearsed. This little Usul was not the first, nor would she be the last.
The Usul seemed to gain confidence; she was clearly expecting an answer like this. She stepped out from behind a gnarled tree. "I want a quest!" Her words were not as timid as before.
The Tree considered her for a moment before creaking open its mouth of bark. "Adam... Chia."
The Usul waited for a minute, unsure of whether the Tree would continue. She grew impatient. "Yes?"
The Tree's branches shook suddenly, and its eye gouges glowed faintly red. "He died... a long time ago. I need to know where... and when... for my records."
There was a flash of yellow, and the Usul was gone before the echoes had died away. The Tree was notorious for enforcing asinine time limits, and it wouldn't be long before the seconds ticked all away. It was not as though the Tree lacked for time; he had all too much of it, truth be told. It was more that the Tree tired of pets, and it didn't want to deal with them for longer than it had to. There would always be more.
She was off to the Sentinel, as the Tree knew him. The rest of the Woods called him the Esophagor. He was a fellow creature, a wretched beast. He had been nice once upon a time, even jolly. But time had hardened the Sentinel. Whispers reached him, whispers from far distant lands. All the old faces of the Dark Woods disappeared across the world, and yet all seemed to return to the ears of the Sentinel. The losses had hurt at first, and the Tree could hear the Sentinel's wails echo throughout the forest. But with each new loss the wails lessened. The Sentinel's heart grew hard.
He would know the details of Adam Chia's death. The Tree had sent pets to him before, and they had all returned with knowledge of lives long since passed. The only variable now was time.
"He died in Humburg Hollow in 34 BN." The information was delivered without emotion; it was merely a fact. The Usul held out her small hand expectantly.
"Thank you..." The Tree lowered a branch, and a sticky knife dropped into the Usul's eager paw. It was a trinket, something collected in ages past, but it would satisfy the gruesome curiosity of the Usul.
She squealed with delight and brandished the weapon as fiercely as she was able. "Sweet! Thanks, Brain Tree!" Her former fear completely vanished, she ran up to the gnarled old trunk and gave it a quick pat of affection. Had the Tree wished, it could have squashed the furry little nuisance, but it found the display endearing. She might even come back to find more dates for it in the future.
The Usul left as suddenly as she had come. For a time, the snapping of branches could be heard as the little pet made her way back to a more civilized area of the forest. The fairgrounds were nearby as was the desolate town of Neovia, and each had their own comforts that the Tree and its clearing could not provide. Nobody ever stayed long in the Tree's part of the woods. It was left alone in the clearing once more.
"Mortimer..." The name was wailed to an unseen entity. Shuffling feet made their way before the Tree's roots, and a mutant Bruce atop them.
"At your shervish, shir." The Bruce gave a trembling bow and smiled horridly up at the Tree.
"I require flowers at... Humburg Hollow. Find the grave... of Adam Chia."
"Flowersh, shir. How many, shir?"
"Forty-two... Mortimer. For forty-two years."
"Yesh, shir. Four and two flowers at Humburg Hollow."
"Yes... Mortimer. Four and two."
As the Bruce shuffled off, the Tree's mind was taken back to a different time. It was a happier time, when four and two meant eight pebbles, not forty-two flowers on a rotten grave. It was a time of learning and laughter and sunny days. It was a time of new friends every week who wanted to talk to him and help him learn and who didn't scream when they saw him.
Adam Chia had given him this happier time, but he was dead now.
He died a long time ago.