A response to T.S. Bazelli's "Author Aerobics: Telling Challenge" posted in her blog, Ink Stained.
Gabriel hammered tacks into the gnarled steel of the soultree causing ripples to resonate up the twisted branches to where Rousseau balanced in the tree's limbs. The vibrations slowed Rousseau's heart as he stared at the wispy cloud-crowned angel. Rousseau, the least successful soultree attendant of the recent Bermudian harvest, set the soul-flute, a narrow stemless glass, back into the steel loop where the crystal clinked, Rousseau swung down a steel branch, his weight shaking the tree and causing the flutes to tinkle, and landed beside the angel. Rousseau swallowed his fear, the angels weren't to be questioned.
"What is this?" demanded Rousseau.
"Why don't you read for yourself," snapped Gabriel. Sparks of miniature lightning flickered through his crown.
"I can't read."
Gabriel swung the hammer to rivet the thick parchment to the soultree. A soul splashed out of one of the flutes, hissing in a burst of smoke when it hit the ground.
"Careful." Rousseau needed the soul essences to blend them together to seed the waiting embryos.
"It doesn't matter," said Gabriel. "This tree is condemned, and will be bulldozed within the week."
Genocide. "But --"
"You have failed." The lightning reflected in Gabriel's gray eyes. "We need this land for someone who can tend a proper soultree growing it tall to seek the sky."
"What about me?"
"You'll float up to the one above or down to the one below, I don't really care. We have a new ship of attendants from the triangle."
Rage roiled within Rousseau as he watched Gabriel retreat into the forest. He followed their prescriptions, and didn't understand why his souls grew sickly. The angel's interruption created a backlog of waiting embryos. Rousseau selected a soul flute, dipping an eyedropper into the viscous liquid to grab a swirl of gentleness and squirt it into his flask. He swung through his tree, collecting a touch of mischievousness, some honor, and his favorite -- not much left of this soul -- a sense of wonder at natural beauty. A flick of the flask and the souls swirled together creating a pinkish eddy which he poured down the nozzle to descend to a waiting embryo, in moments to be born to live and die before he winked his eye.
Balancing high in the tree, where the new souls arrived as the tree grew new steel loops to hold the soul flutes, Rousseau picked up a recent arrival. His hand clenched around the crystal, he felt the essence of the soul seeing a little of its life. Shocked, he saw himself through his father's eyes. The glass cracked under the strain of his hands. Glass shards ricocheted off the soultree's limbs as droplets of blue-green liquid scattered through the air. Rousseau grabbed at the liquid, cutting himself on a broken piece of glass. A drop of his blood landed in his flask. Laughter drifted from the boys in the neighboring trees. Rousseau flicked the remnants of the soul essence sticking to his hand into the flask, adding a couple drops from another soul to even it out. A quick swirl and down the essence went.
Spent, Rousseau continued to mix his blood with the essences of the souls. Working day and night, he mixed the souls together busier than he ever remembered. High in the soultree's branches, he saw a distant figure, thunder whispering from the angel's cloud-crown.
Rousseau swung down from the tree. Was this the day they would destroy his tree? He bounced from limb to limb, circling the main trunk as the branches got thicker but the ground was still far away hidden by steel. His weight at this level no longer shook the wider-than-his-thighs branches. Out of breath, he landed looking at Gabriel's back. The angel pried the tacks out of the tree.
"What are you doing?" asked Rousseau.
"You've surprised us," said Gabriel. "Your tree meets the minimum standards. Don't know where I'm going to find some space to put the new attendants." Gabriel shook his head walking into the forest.
Rousseau felt faint, his skin pale from a loss of blood. He smiled looking up at his tree, the tip hidden from sight. His blood. His tree.