The network wasn’t fast but it served their purposes. Alerts were circulated and action co-ordinated, while underground supply lines sustained the sick or starving. To an onlooker they might seem inactive, but as they stretched to soak up the spring sunshine the network was crackling beneath them.
Now news of an attack came through. The raider had been identified, and allies were summoned who could deal with this particular enemy.
Children ran into the copse and called to their parents.
‘This is the place! You oldies can sit on that tree trunk if you don’t fancy the ground.’
‘Less of the oldies, thank you!’ The blanket was spread and the picnic unpacked.
‘Can I have a sandwich?’
‘Come and play ball.’
‘I’m going to climb this big old tree.’
‘Pass me a brownie.’
‘Did you read today’s paper? This article about trees… says their roots are connected by fungus systems. They communicate – send each other warnings, feed sick trees….’
‘Talking of which, are there any sandwiches left?’
‘Help me down, Dad – I’m stuck.’
‘Ugh! There’s a caterpillar in your hair.’
‘Come on kids, clear up your rubbish.’
‘Not the most comfortable of seats.’
‘Who’s got the ball?’
‘Look Mum, this trunk’s still alive – there are leaves growing.’
‘You two fold the blanket.’
‘Who remembers the way back to the car?’
The high-pitched voices faded. The Elm had been busy, in its own measured way.
Identifying the caterpillar from its saliva, the tree had sent bitter compounds to the mauled leaf, deterring the caterpillar and preenting further damage. It now released pheromones to summon parasitic wasps. One would lay its eggs inside the caterpillar, condemning it to a tortured death.
Already more leaf-eating caterpillars were hatching. Few would survive to morph and take wing.
(First published in Witch Way and other ambiguous stories, 2019. Written in 2018.)
(Thanks to elfkat.wordpress.com for this link)