The Problem’s Root

The song began with a slow murmur. Crouched under the trunk of a towering but barren pear tree, I felt the symphony before I heard it. The ground shook beneath my feet. I felt the damp undergrowth push up against my fingertips, as though the roots of the trees were pulsating.

In my ears, that pulsing somehow turned into singing. Soft, angelic voices swam around me, playing a melancholy melody just for me. It tore at my heart, reminding me of a requiem.

By the time the music ended, my vision had gone blurry with tears. I held my breath. The pulsing died down into an uncomfortable silence. Not even the crickets dared to breathe. 

“You feel it too, don’t you?” a voice said behind me, causing me to fall back. My heart leapt out of my chest faster than I could turn around. 

A frail woman had appeared out of nowhere. She wandered passed the trees, touching each one tenderly as though memorising the bark on each trunk. She appeared more focused on the trees than me, and it almost felt rude to answer her question and break the silent display of affection I was witnessing.

“I remember when this garden was first planted,” she said wistfully. “I was there for the first seed. The first hedge trimming and pruning. I watched this garden grow, flourish and then be forgotten.”

Her sadness was palpable. Usually, I would have quickly wiped my tears away and jumped into a flurry of questions. What was that song? When did it start? But the woman’s presence had rooted my tongue to my mouth. 

I instead watched her pick her way through the trees one by one, mulling over her words. The garden was in disrepair – I had seen it on the way in. If you combined the efforts of all of the tree pruning services around Melbourne, it would still be hard to manage the sheer amount of overgrown roots.

The woman paused at the base of the largest tree in the grove. Its bark was barren and charred. She didn’t touch it like she had with the other trees. Instead, she turned toward me, her face grim. 

“This tree, once the heart of this grove, is the key to the curse. Years of neglect have made its roots hard and black.” She frowned. “The trees sing out of sadness. They know the curse will infect them all soon.”