by Steve Toase

The first tree I saw hitchhiking I nearly didn't stop. Not out of prejudice you understand, but surprise. I pulled onto the hard shoulder and reversed. Her roots meant it would take an age to make her way down to the car. She was a young oak tree, all fluttering leaves and strong boughs.

I asked if she had been there long.

"A year or so, no time at all."

She asked if it was ok to smoke. Confused I opened a window. Surely that's cannibalism. Or torture. She shrugged. "More like a bacon sandwich," and tapped ash outside. Modern cars have no ashtrays.

She was going to the city to meet some friends. They were forming a covert on the bypass, so she said. See the bright lights, experience the big city. A change of pace in centuries of life.

Over the next few weeks I picked up three more; a pine tree, a silver birch and a lovely fragrant eucalyptus, all heading in the same direction.

After that first lift I lined the back seats with bin bags, to avoid soil stains. I left a bottle of baby bio in the back passenger pocket, to top up energy levels.

Occasionally you would see saplings looking lost and cold, little leaf cover to shield them from the early morning frost. They took up no space at all. One time thirty crowded on the back seat, stretching out brittle branches to prevent movement in case of sudden braking.

Most drivers ignored the trees, jaded eyes failing to recognize their dislocation. Unable to separate hitchers from stray municipal shrubs. After a while the sight of branches trailing out of windows and sunroofs became common. Normal even.

Speculation chattered as speculation does. Was this the reclamation told of by the prophets of the green church, the sacrifice of brick and stone to leaf and bark? Mass hysteria? The St Vitus Dance of the environmentally aware?

No-one suspected this steady march of forest on town was a liberation army.

First they crowded stationers. Their roots could spread through solid rock. Glass doors and cinderblock walls were no barrier. Elms and pines carried their children, packed into square blocks, bound with the skins of others. Behind the rescue parties thorn trees, both haw and black, guarded the recovery.

Then they reclaimed the long dead. Over a matter of months mature chestnuts entered house after house, suspending table and chair alike from outstretched boughs. Ash trees spread their rootmass behind wallpaper, peeling it off in uneven sheets, sticky with sap filled tears.

Books passed from veteran to sapling, balanced across flexing branch and held in dense canopies.

Ten years ago they came to the city. Today the last ones left, taking with them the pulped corpses of children and ancestors alike. Mature pines stand guard between us and the woodlands, shallow rooted and precarious. We watch them sway in the breeze, ready to sacrifice themselves, to protect their children from the coppice and the pollard.

Steve Toase is a freelance writer, journalist and archaeologist who lives in North Yorkshire England, and occasionally Munich Germany. His story, "God in a Box," appeared in Issue #36 of The Cafe Irreal. His fiction has also appeared in Sein und Werden, Weaponizer, and ntthPosition amongst others.