His screams woke them for the third time that week.
Calphania was out of the bed in an instant, pulling on her robe. As her husband Malci rose more slowly, she growled at him.
"You and your history lessons!"
Malci grunted and followed her rapid steps down the hall to Benthy's room.
The boy was sitting up in bed, a study in terror.
The curtains over his window were pulled tight, but he was staring at them horrified anyway. Malci peeked through, but there was nothing to be seen but the usual comforting urban landscape. Buildings, terraces, metal sculptures with soft flowing curves, the smooth pedestrian causeways, the floating railroads.
"What was it, Honey?" Calphania asked, as she sat on the edge of the bed, and Benthy threw himself into her arms.
"The tree!" he cried, shivering in terror.
Calphania enfolded him in her arms, while throwing Malci a dirty look.
"Now, son," said Malci, "I told you that was all a long, long time ago."
"But I saw..."
"You imagined," said Calphania.
Benthy nodded, but admitting it was all his imagination did nothing to calm his terrors, which had to fade on their own timetable.
"It was outside my window, growing through the tiles. It was tall, taller than our house!"
Malci grunted softly, as Benthy continued with a shudder.
"It had arms! Big branches covered with leaves that the wind threw back and forth, and they scratched against the window. They were trying to get in!"
"That's silly," said Calphania. "Tell him, Malci. Tell him it's silly."
Malci took his turn sitting on the edge of the bed. Benthy looked to him for reassurance with a tear-stained face.
"Your mother's right, Benthy," he said. "You just had a very vivid dream, but it's silly to think it's true."
"It is?" The boy was at last calming down.
"Yes," said Malci. "What I told you was how the Earth used to be in the distant past, before we learned how to get rid of all the growing things. Now everything is safe and all part of the city. Everything is manufactured. Homes, food, clothing. Everything comes from the matter converters."
"No trees?" asked Benthy.
"No, son. No trees, no flowers, no plants of any kind. There hasn't been a tree on Earth in a thousand years."
Calphania nodded with approval, as Malci tousled the boy's hair. She could see that Benthy was now ready to go back to sleep.
Jerry says, "I live in San Jose, CA with my wife and daughter. I write science-fiction that explores our assumptions about technology and human nature. I'm drawn to characters who are ambivalent about the lives we lead, the loss of the natural world, and the transformations of the future."