"It wasn't bad? I mean, he didn't suffer... did he?" The tree looked down at her, speaking as trees did, the quiet rustle of dry leaves and the creak of bending wood. "He didn't suffer?" "We all suffer," she finally answered the tree's repeated questions. "No one wants to die, so when you die it's suffering." "Yes, but... but he didn't suffer more than anyone else does," the tree consoled himself. "It probably wasn't so bad. I would know if it had been bad." She looked away. "He... he screamed... at the end. He was screaming." "Tend to your fire," the tree reminded her shakily. "It might go out soon." In response to his urges she crumbled more rotten wood onto the little fire in front of her. "Those things might come," he murmured, "you might get cold... keep your fire going. It'll be morning soon." A long silence passed between them. The night was black, the fire small, the world a tiny place. She sat near one edge of all that existed, the flames before her, the tree beside her. She still would not look at him. "Morning doesn't come here," she whispered. The leaves rustled above her. "It'll come. The sun didn't go down so long ago." His voice changed tone, trying to comfort with the creak of rubbing bark. "It's good that you're sitting on his stump like that. All his life he liked to be a home to other things, little animals of the forest, living among his leaves and branches. I hope it's comfortable. That's what he would have wanted." "I killed him," she said. She looked up at the tree. "I killed him to feed my fire." In the silence that followed, she could only say, "I was so cold..." "How could you kill him? You're not strong enough, not just like that." "I had this." She held up the axe, firelight glinting from scratches on the blade. "That couldn't do anything to a tree." She struck down with the axe, lightly, and it cut into one of the stump's rotten roots on the ground with a ringing bite. The tree swayed in sudden horror. "You're lying. Why would you kill him? You didn't hate him or want to cause him pain. He would have loved you, loved to talk to you for hours. You're lying," the tree said, almost to himself. Her answer was flat and dead. "I needed his wood. I was cold." She hunched her body toward the fire. "I was cold." "It..." he paused, leaves scratching together almost silently. "It will soon be morning. You won't be cold then." "There isn't going to be a morning. There's no such thing." "I remember the morning," he whispered. "I remember the sun used to rise up, and I could see trees, nothing but trees, all the way to the end of the world. It was the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. Trees..." "There won't be a morning! There's no sun!" She turned her head to stare with angry eyes. "Only trees and the dark." "I remember the sun." The silence stretched out again, a barrier between them. "You should feed your fire," the tree told her. "It's going out." "I don't have any more wood." "You need to find some. The things might come back. You might get cold." "I will find some," she told him, and picked up the axe. "What is that thing?" The tree asked her. She did not answer, only struck off one of his branches with the heavy blade. The tree howled, its dry, crumbling leaves raining down as it shook itself back and forth. She broke up the dry wood into a pile, and fed a little of it into the fire. "You hurt me," he said, his leaves still hissing with the pain of his lost branch. "Why would you hurt me?" "I needed your wood." "Is that what happened... what happened to him?" She looked down at the stump where she sat. "Yes." "Was it bad? I mean he..." the tree's voice gave out. "We all suffer when we die." "But then... he didn't suffer more than anyone else would have, did he?" "No," she answered him. "About the same." "Still," the tree rustled, after a long pause, "he would have been glad to know that you sat on him like that, his stump I mean. He loved to be with others... he would have loved you." "I know." She fed a little wood into the fire. "I love you," the tree told her. "I know," she told him, and leaned against his trunk. Her eyes grew wet, and her body heaved with sudden crying. "Don't worry," he whispered softly to her, as her tears ran down his bark. "Don't worry... it'll be morning soon."