Meridian High School Student Newspaper - The Lasso

The Lasso

Meridian High School Student Newspaper - The Lasso

The Lasso

Meridian High School Student Newspaper - The Lasso

The Lasso

The Tree Speakers

Graphic by Tessa Kassoff

For the month of May, The Lasso is featuring a collection of short stories submitted by seventh grade students at Mary Ellen Henderson Middle School. You are cordially invited to take a break from reality and take a ride into the vivid world of short fiction!


The Tree Speakers

By Leah Forst

I slide delicately through the branches, my forearms scraping against the rough bark of the tree. I push my feet deep into the cushiony moss. The green stickiness of it holds my feet in place on the huge branches, almost like an extra safety measure, to keep me from the constant threat of falling to my death.

In my left hand I hold a small serrated knife, and in my right, a blowgun, loaded with venom that could kill a human in an instant, and would kill an animal even faster. Luckily, my hunting skills are sharp and honed, and I flatten myself against the brown bark of the tree just as a furry little shape rushes by me. A tree fox, I think, its dark brown fur and small purple eyes are easily recognizable, even in the darkness of the woods. Meat is scarce in the treetops, so I know that this meal I can’t afford to lose.


I saunter into town, the fox swinging on my belt. Our home is directly above a small lagoon, nestled into the branches delicately. The village is always alive with a kind of magic. My senses relax whenever I walk into the large clearing. It could be the layer of silky netting lacing the lower branches of our home tree, keeping every child safe from the ever-impending fear of falling to their death off the trees. Or it could be the guards, watching over us, making sure that we are safe. However, I think that the ever-lingering smell of food is what truly gives me a sense of security. Honey and rice, boiled together with onions, and rich fox meat, seared over an open flame. I lick my lips as I slide past the huts, following the trail to the very last one.

My house is high up in the canopy, so it takes me a while to get up to the hut. We have three rooms, as is typical in our village. Our large wooden door creaks as I swing it open. The kitchen is lit up with candlelight, the fireplace in the middle of the room roasting dinner. My siblings are making dinner, mincing vegetables, and stirring stew. Sunggo and Baklayen, my 4- year-old twin brothers, scamper over to me, their curly blond hair bouncing jauntily as they wrap me up in hugs, all the while patting my pockets down for treats. “Saleng! Saleng!” They yell, and I shoo them back to their chores.

Pammati, my 10-year-old sister, gives me a smile from the other side of the room, her big blue eyes flashing. Pammati looks the most like me out of all my siblings. Her hair is red and straight, just like mine, and we share the same small faces and large eyes. Only mine are deep grey, whereas hers shine blue.

“Is Mama home yet?” I ask, hanging the fox in the rafters of a small cabinet used for storing food.

Pammati shakes her head, gently stirring the pot. She is the most talented cook in the family and is often in front of the cooking fire. Unlike me, she’s a timid girl and speaks as little as possible. “Dad will be home soon.”

I nod, acknowledging her comment, but turn away quickly before she can see my scowl. As the oldest child in the household, it’s my job to provide for my siblings. In our culture, the eldest child provides for the family, and the parents provide for people in the village who cannot work. I’ve always been sour about it, but there isn’t anything I can do.


Pammati and the boys go to bed, I begin to clear the table, wiping it with a cool cloth. Usually, this chore soothes me, but tonight it only unsettles me. Mama and Papa are always home by this time of night, not wanting to risk the nighttime threat of falling from the trees. AsI stare out of the dewy window, I count my options in my head.

Stay and wait for them to come home.
Ask for help.
Go find them.

I begin to chew my lip, deep in thought. As I scan the room, my eyes fall on my blowgun,
its carved flowers casting shadows against the dark wood. Suddenly, I’ve made my decision.

The village is dim, lit only by the fireflies that flit around the peaceful encampment. As I slink through the treetops, I realize how wet the moss becomes at night. My feet slip and slide along the branches where they once would’ve been steady. I follow the path out of town and am suddenly plunged into suffocating darkness. As I blink, my jungle eyes become suited to the darkness. I want nothing more than to light a lantern, but fire is futile in this dewy landscape. Suddenly, I feel my foot slip, and I gasp as it scrapes against the rough bark of the trees. As the air whistles around me, I free-fall through the canopy, screaming shrilly. I feel my body hit leaves, and I squeeze my eyes shut as sticks claw at my face. Just as I am about to black out, I feel my body hit a large surface. I open my eyes carefully, blinking through the blackness. I realize that a banana leaf has caught me, its scalloped edges folding over me. I sit up and begin to assess my arms and legs. Surprisingly, besides a few cuts and scratches, I decide that I am mostly unharmed. I reach to my hip and exhale. My blowgun is still there, along with my hunting knife.

“Well, this is fantastic,” I say to myself, climbing off the leaf and onto a large branch. As I hunch against the bark, I look down through the trees. I’m a good 100 feet from the ground. I swing my head, frustrated. It’s too dark to venture down to the ground and far too wet to climb back up. I decide to wait, nestling myself into the crook of the tree. As the sun begins to shine through the leaves, I wonder what my siblings are doing at this very moment. I imagine Pammati climbing out of bed, then wondering why I’m not there. I realize that I should’ve told her I was going, or at least left a note. I feel tears welling in my eyes, and I sniffle. “Get it together, Saleng!” I whisper to myself, swinging down through the treetops, getting ever closer to the ground.


I wince as my feet hit the ground. My toes feel cold against a hard grey slab, and I jump. The air is thick down here, humid and stifling. I look up at the treetops, wondering how I will ever find my way back up. Suddenly, I see a light in the distance. It seems so much like the soft lights that are used in our village. Its gentle warmth pulls me closer, and I cautiously begin to move toward the glow. Dry leaves crunch under my feet, and with every unfamiliar sound, I wince. As I finally reach the light, I begin to feel unsettled, placing my feet more slowly. The lantern is familiar, and not unlike the ones in my house, but yet I place my hand on my blowgun. Suddenly, I feel my feet lift off the ground, and I yowl like a cat. A woven net surrounds me, and I claw the air around me.

“Saleng?” I hear a soft voice under me, sharp with shock. I swing around to look down at
my captor and almost faint with surprise.

“Mama?” I gasp as she lowers me down to the ground. I climb out of the net. “What’s going on?” I demand, folding my arms tightly across my chest.

“It’s a little complicated.” I hear a gravelly voice and whip around.

“Dad?” I ask, my voice cracking a little. “Why are you here?” I almost shout, my voice as biting as winter frost. My anger surrounds me like wildfire until it seems to blind all my senses. I kick the lantern and curse. Suddenly, Mama grabs me by the shoulders and turns me until I’m facing her.

“Calm down.” She says quietly. “We didn’t mean for you to be in danger, and we didn’t mean for you to be down here.” She looks around nervously, her long black hair that I once admired suddenly seems like the feathers of a manipulative raven, her voice in my ears like the cackling song of the proud bird. “Saleng, the truth is-”

Dad cuts her off with a sharp noise in his throat, almost like a bark. His eyes meet Mama and he shakes his head quickly. I watch as they communicate with their eyes, a language that Pammati tried to learn long ago, but never mastered. Finally, Dad sighs and nods his consent.

“Saleng,” Mama continues. “You know the soldiers around the village, right?”


“Do you know what they are there for?”


“Not anything good.” Dad snorts, sitting down on the ground.

“What do you mean?” I squint at him, looking him up and down. I’m not feeling very trusting at the moment, and my kind father’s coldness makes me even more nervous.

“Well, you see, there are these people who…govern the village,” Mama tells me, and I raise my eyebrow at her hesitant choice of words. “They have been a great help to build our community, but lately they have been fighting with us.” She glances at Dad and continues. “You know all too well that your father is the lead hunter in the village, and it seems like the organization is tired of him.”

Dad grumbles, rubbing his head, his light brown hair standing on end. “Tired of me, my-” He trails off when he sees Mama’s face. “And now we are hiding down here like dogs because your mama doesn’t want to see our family get in trouble.” He says resentfully. “Even though so many other people up there are suffering.”

I blink, unsure about all that he has told me. “And you didn’t take us with you?” I choke out, folding my arms. “What about Pammati and the twins?” I scream, pointing to the treetops. “What about me?” I say more softly.

Mama pats my arm, and I push her off. “We just thought it would call less attention to us being gone.” She said, and her excuse makes me even more frustrated. I stare into her eyes, my grey ones meeting her blue.

“I will never forgive you for leaving them.” I snap, turning away. “I’m going back.” I begin to propel myself back up the tree. “Goodbye.”


It’s almost dark by the time I reach the top of the trees. The sky is tinted with red, and as I bound into the village, everything seems to be peaceful. Despite my disbelief in my parent’s claims, I move quickly to the small hut that we call ours.

“Saleng?” My sister’s wispy voice greets me as I walk into the house. She’s leaning against a wall, her back straight. She jumps up and gives me a hug. “Where were you?” She asks, her voice sharp for the first time in her life.

“Just looking for Mama and Dad,” I explain, making my voice as smooth as possible. She narrows her eyes, squinting at me as I walk to the fire. I hunch down next to the flames, then am suddenly hurled across the room as a deafening boom washes across the village. Pammati screams, and the twins come running out of their room, fear in their bright eyes. As I stumble to the door, another crash shakes the canopy. Pammati grabs the twins and jumps under the table. I peer out of the window cautiously and immediately duck as I see hundreds of animals running through the village, leaping monkeys and swift jungle birds, flooding our little town. A final boom sounds, and suddenly the village is silent, the only thing I can hear are the fading cries of animals in the distance. I step cautiously out of our house, then gasp. “Pammati get the twins.”

My siblings gather at the door quickly, and Sunggo grabs my hand. “What’s going on?” He whispers, his face sweaty. Suddenly, he looks up and his face goes white. “Why is the jungle burning?”

Pammati screams again, and I drag my siblings out of the village. As the jungle burns above us, I take their hands and guide them down the canopy. Smoke and flames envelop us, fiery leaves singing the hair on my arms. As we descend, the light from the fire grows dimmer, and Sunggo and Baklayen whimper in the darkness. Finally, we hit the ground, and I look back up at the trees, thinking of the beauty that once was in the treetops. The cries of our parents are muffled in my ears, and I feel arms around me, and I begin to cry. I didn’t think this would ever happen to our beautiful village.

More to Discover