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Dead Trees by Steve DeGroof #OriginalFiction

Steve wrote this after we were talking on Twitter about futuristic ghost stories set in libraries. He had several great ideas, and I said “Why don’t YOU do it?” to one of them, and he did! So, we’re happy to present Dead Trees, an original piece of fiction for Sci-Fi & Scary.

Find out more about Steve after reading Dead Trees.

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The wind howled outside. Nothing new about that. Tempest (formerly named PGC738D) was perpetually windy, at least in the habitable regions.

One side of Tempest, the side facing its sun (PGC738A), baked in perpetual light, while the opposite side froze in permanent darkness. The only temperate area was a narrow band of twilight, blasted by winds from the night side.

Marin barely noticed anymore. The habitat domes kept everyone safe and comfortable, and the tunnels connecting them allowed one to avoid going outside. No one went outside, save the few brave souls who maintained the colony’s wind turbines. Marin stayed inside, in the relative quiet of the library.

There was only one library – only one librarian, for that matter. Maybe soon, as the colony grew, there would be more. But, for now, it was just Marin in the library, alone with her books.

They were her books. No one else would dare lay claim to them. Since she’d arrived on Tempest, her job had been to organize the library. All of Earth’s writings had been packed into the colony ship Cawdor, compressed into a lightweight, high-density datastore.

Only one book – one real, live “dead tree” book – made the trip from Earth: a leather-bound, 21st century copy of “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare”. Marin had sacrificed two kilos of personal items to bring it with her, and had kept it clutched in her hands while strapped in her stasis pod for the entire trip. Some things were worth preserving.

Marin spent most of her time in the library, prioritizing which books to resurrect. Her budget allowed for the printing of a few books each month, turning cold, sterile data into real, living books made from paper and leather (or the nearest equivalent). Marin designed each book cover to match the original Earth version as closely as possible. She had even been able to replicate that wonderful, musty scent of a proper book.

So far, she’d managed to print two hundred books. She looked around at the near-empty shelves and sighed. It would take decades to fill them all. Still, there were worse ways to spend a lifetime.

The printer was currently churning out Shikibu’s “The Tale of Genji”. Marin watched as the print head deposited material, layer-by-layer, page-by-page, stitches and all, creating a complete, bound volume in a single pass.

(Banquo approaches) the wind whispered.

The door to the library creaked open. Who would be looking for books at this hour? What time was it, anyway? She’d completely lost track.

“Good morning, Ms Gibson. Up all night again?”

Marin rubbed her eyes. “Apparently. What can I do for you, Quentin?”

Quentin grabbed the nearest book, “Divine Comedy”, off a shelf, and started thumbing through it. “Need to discuss budgets again, I’m afraid. Ten percent cuts to the arts, across the board. And, yes, that includes the library.”

“Ten percent?!” Marin blurted. “I’m just barely keeping things going as is!”

“I know, I know,” Quentin said, snapping the book closed and cramming it back on the shelf. “But everyone has to…”

Marin spread her arms, taking in the whole of the library. “This, all of this, represents the legacy of an entire planet! The work I’m doing here is important, Quentin.”

Quentin propped himself up against the bookshelf. “More important than food? More important than medicine? And the archaeological expeditions cost…”

“Screw the archaeological expeditions!” Marin spat. “And screw the archaeologists while you’re at it. They’re the ones eating into the budget.”

It was true, though she probably could’ve worded it better, and probably would have, had she had a decent night’s sleep. She hadn’t been sleeping well – or at all – lately.

Tempest’s government hadn’t figured archaeology into the budget. In fact, it was just dumb luck that any of the colonists had a background in archaeology. Tempest was expected to be uninhabited. And it was, more or less, when Cawdor had left Earth.

In the thousands of years it had taken for Cawdor to make the journey to Tempest, an entire civilization had risen and fallen. PGC738D was chosen as a prime colonization target due to the fact that is was lush, verdant and, most importantly, unpopulated. Observations made at the time indicated a near-perfect Earth-like planet, covered in dense forests and rolling blue oceans. Most importantly, there was no indication of any intelligent life. No large animals at all, in fact.

A lot had changed between then and now, however.

First, some sort of intelligent life had made its way out of the forests, and had built massive, sprawling cities. Exactly how far this civilization had advanced was the subject of much debate among the archaeologists who had begun studying what ruins were left.

Second, a set of freak astronomical events had halted the planet’s rotation. It was unclear what exactly had happened, but the system’s fourth planet (PGC738E) was missing, along with the larger of Tempest’s two moons. And Tempest itself was stuck still, one side facing its sun.

It was unclear whether the astronomical events had caused the destruction of Tempest’s civilization, or vice versa. What was clear, though, was that the PGC738 system had gone through some changes while the human colonists slumbered in their stasis pods.

Upon waking, Tempest’s new residents were met with a ravaged, barely habitable planet, dotted with tantalizing evidence of its former occupants.

Marin, for her part, could give two shits about some dead aliens. She’d been perfectly comfortable, ignoring the whole deal, right up until it started interfering with her restoration work. Quentin could try to guilt her with talk of food and medicine, but she knew – everyone knew – the real reason for the budget cuts was the archaeological digs.

Governor Sumner had been pouring more and more resources into investigating Tempest’s dead civilization. He seemed obsessed with it. So much so, that he’d nearly lost his reelection campaign. Nearly. Maybe next go-around. Marin wasn’t sure if she could make it through five more years of cuts, though. She’d be so much better off with Sumner out of the way.

And Quentin. Quentin fucking Rowntree. Sumner’s Treasurer, messenger boy, lap dog. Quentin seemed to derive some sick pleasure out of delivering bad news in person. Why else would he visit Marin this early on a Friday morning?

“Marin?” Quentin said. “You still there?”

She blinked. Quentin had been talking, apparently. “Sorry. Must’ve blanked out for a second. Could use some sleep. What were you saying?”

“I said, I couldn’t agree with you more. We’re spending way too much on these digs, and we’ve got virtually nothing to show for it.”

He was lying, of course. Trying to play both sides, and he was terrible at it. Smarmy bastard.

Marin closed her eyes and rubbed her temples. “It doesn’t matter. I’ll make do. As long as I have enough to keep the restorations going. It may take longer, but it’s not like I’ve got anything else to do.”

“That’s the spirit,” Quentin said cheerfully. “And, as far as ‘other things to do’, there’s the inaugural ball next weekend. Maybe you’d…”

“Big soirees aren’t really my thing,” she cut him off. The governor had enough budget for that, apparently. Marin wondered how many books she could resurrect for the cost of the ball.

The smile vanished from Quentin’s face. “Suit yourself. Invitation’s still open. For now, at least.”

He turned to leave. “Oh, and get some sleep. You look like shit.”

The door slammed shut behind him.

A dull thud behind her made Marin jump. She turned to find “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare” lying on the floor.

“Shit.” She rushed over and picked it up, checking it for damage. It had fallen open to the middle of “Macbeth” or, as some superstitious actors called it, “The Scottish Play”. She chuckled at the thought. So many people thought the play was cursed, feared it so much that they dared not speak its name.

Sure, words had power, just not that kind of power.

“Macbeth!” she shouted over the wind’s howl.

“Macbeth! Macbeth! Macbeth!” She danced around the library, hugging the book, laughing. “See? No bogeyman. No curse.”


Marin stopped and listened. Nothing. Just the wind.

She really did need to get some sleep. Even a couple hours would do.

She hadn’t been sleeping well – or at all – lately. When sleep did come, it came with bizarre, surreal dreams.

She dreamed of forests. Tall, swaying trees. Walking trees. Marching trees.

(Birnam Wood)


“Did you hear?” Luke asked, strolling into the library, and grabbing the broom from the corner closet.

Must be Tuesday. Luke came in on Tuesdays to help out. Part of his extra-credit work with the high school. Nice kid. Kept out from underfoot, for the most part. A bit chatty at times, though.

“Hear what?” Marin asked absently. She was working on a cover design for “The Republic”, next in the queue for printing.

“Some sort of incident at the Ariel site,” Luke replied. “One of the diggers went berserk, and attacked the crew with a shovel. Three dead, five wounded.”

Marin tried to feel sympathy for the archaeologists, but found it difficult. Bitter much, Marin? she thought.

Out loud, she said, “Oh, wow. That’s awful. Any idea what set them off?”

Luke shrugged. “Dude’s gone off the deep end. First he says ghosts told him to do it, then he says it was the trees. Said they want us all dead. All sorts of weird shit.”

He let out a dry laugh. “Talking trees. Tree ghosts.”

“Tree ghosts,” Marin repeated, not looking up.

Luke was suddenly standing beside her, picking something up from the work bench next to the printer. “Hey, what’s this?”

Marin looked at the object Luke was holding.

(Is this a dagger which I see before me?)

“That?” Marin replied. “Just a bookmark.”

“Nice! Really realistic. Looks and feels just like a real knife. Surprised you used part of your budget to print it, though. Ow!” Luke dropped it on the workbench and sucked on the tip of his index finger. “Sharp too. Not a great feature for a bookmark. Might want to dull it down a bit, so it doesn’t rip the pages.”

He went back to sweeping the floor.

“Yeah, rip,” Marin muttered.

She stared at the knife. Where had it come from?

A quick check of the print logs showed there was a print job at 2am last night. Had someone slipped in and printed a knife (dagger) while she slept? Who had access?

She pulled up the security logs. Her face went pale. Someone using her card had been in here last night.


Marin dreamed of trees again. Trees wearing crowns. Trees wearing long, flowing gowns of bright red ivy. Trees wielding daggers. Trees collapsing in pools of blood.

One tree turned to her and spoke. “Say to the king, I would attend his leisure for a few words.”

She woke to find the dagger clutched in her hand.

She didn’t even remember taking it from the library.


The following morning, Marin returned the dagger to the library and locked it in the fire safe. There was nothing else of consequence in there anyway. The folks who constructed the civic services offices built a fire safe in each, regardless of the office’s actual purpose.

Upon seeing it for the first time, Marin wondered what she had that would be precious enough to lock up. All the books in the entire library? They’d never fit.

Now she’d finally found a use for it. It wasn’t that the dagger needed to be kept safe, but she felt safer knowing it was locked up.

“I should just get rid of it.”

She didn’t.


She tried to keep herself busy. Tried not to think of the dagger. Tried not to think of the dreams.

The dreams came every night. Every night she managed to sleep at all, which wasn’t many. If the wind would just SHUT UP, stop CHATTERING CHATTERING CHATTERING, maybe she could get some rest.

On the few nights she slept, the dreams always came.

On those nights, the tree in the red gown would murder the tree king.

On those nights, her dreams were bathed in blood.

Sometimes she woke screaming.

Sometimes she woke laughing.

Sometimes she woke with the dagger in her hand.

She would always return the dagger to the safe. It always came back, though.

When she didn’t sleep, she continued her work, designing book covers.

“The Prince” was next in the queue. She designed an ornate cover, with a border of intricately-woven vines. In the center she placed a man with dark, piercing eyes, his face carved from wood.

She worked diligently, sometimes humming to herself, sometimes laughing maniacally.

It helped pass the time.

“The Complete Works of William Shakespeare” fell off the shelf again, opened to the same page.

(What’s to be done?)


The next morning, Marin called Quentin.

“To what do I owe this pleasure?” Quentin said, by way of greeting.

“About that ball at the governor’s mansion,” she began. “Is your invitation still open?”

There was a long pause on the other end. “I suppose I can pull some strings, as a favor to you. Didn’t think big soirees were your kind of thing.”

“Normally they aren’t,” she replied.

She looked down at her left hand, and found the dagger resting in her palm. She smiled.

“But, you know, I figured I’d take a stab at it.”

About Steve DeGroof: Steve is an expat Canadian who now lives in North Carolina. He has worked, at one time or other, as: a TV repairman, a security guard at a children’s hospital, and a janitor in a strip club. His current day job is as a computer programmer for a bank. He has a patent for a “Folding Stereoscopic Computer Display”, which sounds a lot more impressive than it really is. He has created various “artworks”, including: – a baby woolly mammoth with a jetpack (which doesn’t actually fly) – a Giger counter (not a typo) – a clockwork orange (a bowler-hat-wearing, wind-up piece of fruit that plays “Singing in the Rain”) – a clock in the shape of Rick Astley that chimes “Never Gonna Give You Up” on the hour (for which he is sincerely sorry). His first book, “Dandelion Seeds”, was written largely by accident (it’s… complicated).

Find him on Twitter:
Or on his website:

Published inOriginal Fiction


    • Glad you liked it!!

    • Thanks! It was a fun challenge. Had trouble keeping it short, though. Kinda feels like it needs more back-story and atmosphere. Might have to re-write at some point. 🙂

      • Miss Plumtartt and I both read and enjoyed the story so much, we watched the Orson Welles movie version of ‘Macbeth’. 🙂

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