Man Of The Oak by Kevin M. Casin

Into the scarlet acorn Sam had plucked from the boughs he whispered, “I wish for love, beloved. I’m tired of the heartbreak. Please help me.”

As the ancestral tomes had instructed, Sam kneeled before the oak and he laid the offering on the fluffed earth. Gray tendrils broke the soil, buried the seed. Throbbing cracks of black earth laced over the auburn bark. Mud- and gold sap-coated roots twisted into legs, engorged into a torso and arms, then curled into a head. Liquid moothed into flesh and earth congealed into loose, black hair. A man appeared and the seed charred black as the moon.

“From the branches, I often watched you speak with my father and care for him,” said the man. “I’ve waited a long time to meet you.”

Sam rubbed his neck, fixing his eyes on the ground as though he might offend the man. He was too beautiful. In his brown hands, Sam took the seed. He knew what it meant. The tomes had told him.

“Shall we get to know each other better?” The man asked. “We don’t have much time to waste.”

Sam nodded. He hoped they could fall in love before the full moon. 

In his yurt by the sea, Sam wrote poetry, prepared extravagant meals, everything he thought Adam—the man had named himself—might want. Though Adam laughed and danced, Sam kept his distance. If Adam’s gaze lingered for too long, Sam made an excuse to escape. How did he know it was safe to give his heart away again?

But, the seed was half dead now, bleached by waxing moonlight. Little time was left. He had to let Adam in somehow.

One morning, as he prepared the arepas con huevo, Sam asked, “would you like to see Endamas?”

Adam smiled. “I’d like that.”

The metallic walls of the homes, the translucent transaction pads of the market, the sprawled infrastructure of the village fascinated Adam.

“The forest thrives because wood isn’t needed for us to live anymore,” said Sam. “Isn’t that nice?”

“And we are grateful,” Adam replied. “Without you, I wouldn’t be alive.”

“And I’m so happy you are.” Sam blushed. He noticed Adam had inched closer.

“I know my father spends his days searching for ways to repay your kindness. I have often admired how much you care for him. When the chance to meet you arose, I could not ignore it. You are more handsome up close, I must say.”

Sam stroked his cheeks, begging the blood to leave his face alone and go back to what it’s routines. He turned away, but with a firm hand, Adam stopped the escape.

In his green eyes, Adam trapped Sam and said, “The moon is not full yet. I will love you, if you let me.”

Adam’s lips curled into a smile, warm and inviting. Eyes softened into a dream. He leaned in, drums beating all around them, but Sam slipped away. Adam caught himself on Sam’s shoulder, laughed awkwardly, and continued the stroll through the village.   

The men climbed the steps to the air docks, watched the great ships venture to the stars. One sleek, gray, and paneled in sea-green glass kept pace with the clouds and hovered over them.

“Will you take me one day?” Adam nudged a pensive Sam.

Sam huffed. “If standing next to you scared me, how could I ever get on one of those ships?” He imagined the earth’s pull sucking him into leather seats, the flare of the atmosphere inches away from his quivering body, the cold, lonely void beyond.

“They are not equals. Both are acts of brave men, certainly, but one wounds deeper. Love is not easily won. The labor goes on. You have me close now, but will you dive from the cliff? Will you let the void swallow you?”

Sam grinned. He met the man of the oak’s auburn face, locked his eyes, and asked, “How does a son of the forest know about space?”

“You speak to my father about it. I heard your conversations. The heavens seem marvelous. I would love the chance to see them. Would you take me?”

Sam’s stomach clenched. By instinct, as though a theft were occurring. He wondered what Adam might be taking. Could it be the memories of past loves? The other men who refused to love him, who toyed with him so much by hiding him from their wives or families. Sam gave no response. Instead, he descended back to the village and hoped Adam would follow.

Along the road home, for one brave instant, Sam allowed his hand to brush against Adam’s. He wondered if everything would be okay after all.

Moonlight had dripped into the seed. It was now a drop away from full bleaching. Their time together was almost over. If it was to end, and Sam was to be alone again, perhaps forever, he thought the sea might soothe him. It always had.

Adam stood at the edge. The rush of the waves swept across his body, rippling his clothes. Sam reached out and set a hand on his shoulder. He was afraid of heights, but he was more concerned Adam might be carried out to sea. He couldn’t risk it. Not before he had one last chance.

Adam turned toward him and his hands rested on Sam’s waist. All they needed was music.

“So, what will it be?” Adam asked. “Shall I stay?”

The words were stuck in Sam’s throat. An emphatic, “of course!” and “are you crazy?” were all fighting to spill over the threshold. Sam had grown to care for the man. He wanted to take him out into space, to spend what was left of his life with Adam, but how could he be sure this was not a trick.

“Faith,” he said.

Sam met the man’s gaze.

“I know of your past. You told my father, remember? I walked with you through the village. I told you I would go with you and explore the stars. I spent all these days and nights with you and never left. I will stay if you ask me to, but you must decide. You must have faith.”

Sam looked down to his feet, where the grass met the sea and the limestone crags. Adam had done all he could, it was true. The rest was up to Sam. Could he take the leap? He might be flayed by the rocks, or he might be embraced by the water.

Sam brought the acorn from his pocket. The once scarlet seed was white as bone, as the moon peeked over the horizon. He felt the weight of it, the heavy memories it held. He looked back to Adam. Sam found something in those eyes. It hadn’t been there in the eyes of his other loves. It was something that made him weak, made him tremble to acknowledge, something that asked him to open up. It felt safe enough.

Without breaking from Adam, Sam held the seed out over the precipice, loosed his grip and let the waters consume it. Adam swept him up in his arms and Sam welcomed his lips. The man the oak had given carried Sam into his yurt by the sea and together they lived for the rest of their days.

Kevin is a gay, Latino fiction writer, and cardiovascular research scientist. His fiction work is featured in If There’s Anyone Left, From the Farther Trees, and more. He is Editor-in-Chief of Tree And Stone, an HWA/SFWA/Codex member, and First Reader for Diabolical Plots and Interstellar Flight Press. For more about him, please see his website: Please follow his Twitter: @kevinthedruid.