by DIRK FERGUSON | 1st Place, student prose contest

Your first memory is of trees. Later there would be your mother’s hands, running through your hair and braiding it as she hummed a song you still don’t know the name of. There would be your father and his friends drinking in the garage as you watched from behind a door. There would be long walks in the forest with your mother, the only times you saw her with trees behind your back in your young life before she started hating the forest. There would be the feeling of dirt kicking up and settling on your clothes as you played in the forest until dark. Birds would chirp in the early mornings, and you would hear the almost too-loud buzzing of cicadas in the summer. That all was later, though.

First, you remember the trees.

Rough, red bark scratched the palm of your soft, child hands. You remember looking up and up and up, craning your head to even just attempt to see the tops of the trees. Your eyes traced the patterns in the bark and in the leaves and tried to memorize the seemingly random markings. You were fascinated by something so much larger than you could ever be.

Birds chirped and cicadas buzzed, but all you could really focus on were the trees. They looked so tall to you back then. They looked tall enough to pierce the sky. You wanted to climb them and keep going until you reached the top and then stay there for the rest of your life. You almost did try, but you fell and didn’t make another attempt. Not that day, anyway.

You have loved nature ever since you could remember. There isn’t much else to love in the small town where you live, surrounded by too-tall redwoods as it is. You walk old and beaten paths in the forest as you grow up with these trees and become familiar with the sounds of nature. It becomes a comfort, after a while, after your family splits and your mother dies and your father is ready to drink himself into an early grave. It becomes a comfort because your town and your home even more is quiet. The silence is deafening; you could hear it if a pin dropped halfway across town. If you have hated anything since the moment you could begin to hate anything at all, you hated silence.

Something basic to consider: nature is not quiet.

It does not have the overstimulating mess of noise from a city or the white noise of an AC unit and a television talking in tandem that you might hear in a home. Nature is loud but not artificial and something about that has always comforted you.

As you grew up and got older and spent more and more of your time in nature, before she died, your mother started acting strange. She started telling you not to go into the forest.

She didn’t like it when you went in alone among the tall redwoods. She never told you why, really, for what reason could she have for you to not go? When you grew up, no longer a child and still walking those old, beaten paths, you thought she just worried about you being alone. You were a child, and you were small and vulnerable. A coyote could have eaten you up without any problem. But later – but now, you mean – you started thinking something different.

Your mother wasn’t afraid. But her rule of not going into the forest, which is a rule you have broken hundreds of times over by now, was not the afterthought of a distracted parent, either. She wasn’t afraid but she was firm, and when you think back to those memories as a child of being scolded by her you can hear the overlaid sound of a cicada clicking softly against your ear.

“Don’t go out there,” she told you back then, “I told you to quit it. There’s things out there you don’t want to meet.”

And you thought she meant the coyotes. Bobcats. Bears. The whispers of a cougar your father’s friend swore he saw, he promised, it’s out there. And maybe she did. And maybe she meant something else entirely, something that wasn’t quite an animal, and you can’t even ask. Your mother is six feet in the ground and your daddy is about to drink himself into a hole just like it and you can’t ask. 


You were thirteen when your mother died.

It all seemed too sudden back then. Looking back, you think there were signs. She became paranoid too quickly, and it was a nightmare to interact with her even sparingly after a while. You don’t know what happened to her to make her act the way she did or why she became so insistent on you staying away from the forest. You still don’t know years later, even if you have more of an inkling.

Back then, you were thirteen and you were the one to find her body. Your memory of the afternoon when you found her, face down in the dirt of your driveway and fingers dug into the soil, and the morning of her funeral when you held your father’s hand and stared stone-faced at her coffin is fuzzy. Still, you remember some things.

In the afternoon, your hair was down, and you can remember the way it tickled the back of your neck as you jogged from your friend’s house to your own. You hated the way it fell flat against your neck and brushed your shoulders when you stopped cold three feet away from your mother’s corpse. The way she was angled in the dirt made it look like she was trying to crawl towards the tall trees that make up the forest, like she was desperate to go back. In the morning, your hair was pulled back tight against your scalp, and there was a migraine building in your temples and behind your eyes. Your mother’s corpse looked peaceful and prettied up in the casket and you hated it. You remember the way your father sobbed, free hand covering his eyes with shame.

He loved her. And you loved her too, even under your building resentment, but after years pass the things you really remember most are the cicadas buzzing in the trees and thinking about how your mother always hated that sound.

When you go into the forest for the first time since the funeral, you can’t hear the birds calling or leaves whistling in the wind or the faint sound of water running in a creek. All you hear are cicadas year-round, buzzing and chirping, and sometimes it feels like they’re trying to sing to you, right in your ear. And sometimes it feels like they follow you home, and you can almost hear cicadas in your dreams.


Your father gets more and more distant as time flies by. The two of you never were close, but these days it feels like you’re living with a stranger. He always smells like liquor even when he isn’t drunk, and the tirades he goes on are odd at the best of times and more often than not about your dead mother. Even just looking at you when he’s in a bad mood or drunk or both sends him off; you look too much like your mother for him to bear.

“You spend too much time out there,” he tells you with stumbling, slurred words on a bad night when you come back in the house from an evening walk. “Just like she did.”

You don’t dignify him with a response. It never ends well when you do, so you just let out a sigh as you hang up your jacket and slip off your shoes. You can see him lumber towards you in the corner of your eye and feel a stab of annoyance. You can’t wait to get out of this house.

“Don’t you ignore me!” he demands and grabs your wrist, grip loose but insistent.

You scowl at him and tug your arm away. “I can spend my time how I want,” you say.

The way your voice sounds to your own ears is whiny and petulant like a child instead of an almost-adult, but you can’t be bothered to care. These days when your father talks to you all you can hear is an unremitting buzzing in the back of your head, and all it does is remind you of your mother’s paranoid ramblings and her funeral and being too far into the forest at a time of night when you should be sleeping.

Your father snorts. He says, “You’ll end up like your mom,” and that stings more than it should. If there’s someone in the world you don’t want to be like it’s her, and he knows it.

God knows what he really means when he says things like that. You’re not sure if he knows more than he lets on, if he knows why your mother took a few too many pills and let herself pass out in the dirt the morning she died, or if he’s just spewing nonsense. You don’t get to ask because he shambles off to his bedroom without another word, and you can hear the echo of the door slamming shut from across the house. You’re not sure if you wanted to ask anyway. You’ve never had the courage to get the words out.


Your first memory is of trees, and you know that it will be your last memory too.

It seems so peaceful to die in nature. Others would disagree—others would say and have said to you it is better to die within the comfort of your own home. To die in a place that is familiar and safe and warm. No one wants to die out on the streets or in a hospital or, apparently, in a forest. But to you, along your well-worn and beaten paths, under the tall redwoods you have known your entire life, this is a place that is familiar and safe and warm and somewhere you would like to die.

After your mother died, you didn’t go into the forest for a while. It felt wrong, at first. Maybe you just wanted to listen to your mother’s wishes one last time, since you didn’t while she was still alive.

But something about it drew you back. Something about it always draws you back, and in retrospect, when you really sit down to think about it, it almost feels like you were being called. Which is a ridiculous idea and not one you usually entertain, but—

You lie in your bed, hands under your head, as you stare up at your ceiling. There is a cicada that sings into your ear constantly and you have heard it every single day of your life since your mother died. You can almost feel the soft weight of it barely noticeable on your shoulder and hidden in your hair. But you know it isn’t there. You’ve checked more times than you can count just today.

Something calls you to the forest. It’s not a person. But something calls you to the forest and left cicadas to bury themselves in your brain. And you have a sinking feeling your mother heard them too.

But would it be so bad to go? Would it be so bad to let yourself waste away and die, sitting underneath the trees you love so much?

You get off your bed and go to the bathroom to look in the mirror. Your hair is longer these days after years of not cutting it. You lift it to look at your shoulder, at your ears, and there is not a cicada there. You’ve checked so many times now, expecting a different outcome each time, but it’s always the same. There’s nothing there.

But you can hear that buzzing. You can hear it, echoing and bouncing off the walls and settling right into your brain. It’s the same sound you have heard all your life, and you want it to stop but at the same time—at the same time, it’s calling you.

You can see the forest from the bathroom window. You push away the curtains and look at it now, at the trees that sometimes seem so much taller than they should be, even for redwoods. The cicadas are louder than they have ever been, and they scream their songs to you, calling for you, begging for you.

You’re not like your mother. They called to her too, but she couldn’t make it back to the trees. She resisted too much. You’re not like her.

You go to the forest and follow the sounds of cicadas as they grow louder and become the only thing you know. The trees welcome you back and you know you will never leave again.


Dirk Ferguson is a TCC student currently studying English with plans to be a high school teacher. He is transgender and spends much of his free time writing and creating stories. He hopes one day to contribute to more LGBT+ representation in published books, especially in genres such as horror.

Emily Dangott is a student at TCC, where she is majoring in Communications. After TCC, she plans on attending the University of Oklahoma or the University of Central Oklahoma to continue her passion for photography. She has been a photographer for four years and will continue to work towards her career goal of becoming a fashion photographer. Her ultimate goal is to work for Vogue or Bazaar magazine. She currently works for several clothing boutiques in the Tulsa area, including J.Cole and Love Like Bean, and has an internship at Shane Bevel Photography.