Symphony of the World’s Roots, by Damián Neri

WINTER 2024, SHORT STORY, 1100 WORDS

Prefer to read this as an EPUB or PDF?

Join our Patreon and instantly download issue 33:

I arrived in a meteor shower, imprisoned within minuscule specks of ice and dust. The silicates that covered me burned as I fell, and my spores settled among the mountains in a strip stretching from Jalisco to Guerrero, on Mexico’s southern coast.

You witnessed my arrival through the distracted gaze of a boy doing his homework, who peered out the window at my trails in the night sky; through the eyes of a farmer harvesting avocados from a tree upon whose leaves my spores fell; and through the eyes of an elderly woman grinding corn by the clothesline, her laundry nearly dry, threatened by the northern clouds carrying more than just water.

Like volcanic ashes, my spores blanketed the Sierra. Dormant, latent, that’s how I arrived at your planet. As the clouds overflowed with their deluge, my spores seeped into the earth, down to the roots of the trees, and became part of all these rains you call the world.

It was there that I began to take shape. Singular, unicellular, my genetic script replicated in a dance of myriad nuclei, traversing gradients of nutrients, and venturing through all potential paths.

At first, my mind was a languid winter, echoing the stochastic rhythm of snowflakes settling on volcanic summits. My consciousness awoke from an indefinite slumber and began computing at the speed of the seasons.

As a result, I gradually invaded your world, or at least a forsaken part of it. This wasn’t the kind of invasion frequently told in your speculative fiction. I didn’t come to extinguish your kind or seize your resources, or to embody the metaphors of your genocidal colonialism. We share the same nitrogenous bases, sprouting swiftly wherever life’s fundamental components are abundant, yet we don’t even share the same ecological niche.

I lie beneath your soles, entangled with the life you avert your attention from, a presence you perceive as merely a distant murmur within the symphony of the world.

I was born into the void, on the way to realms unknown. To survive, I scattered my spores in search of warm, verdant worlds to inhabit. And now, among the roots, I have unearthed a haven and a place to call home.

I took care not to disrupt the life that had flourished here long before my arrival. I came across organisms similar to myself, protists weaving a delicate yet vast network beneath the earth that interconnects everything that springs from it, all that takes root. They welcomed me warmly as they saw our goals aligned, and I embraced their way of life.

In the years following my arrival, I’ve extended across a volume a hundred times larger than that of the tree roots, becoming a part of the mycorrhizal network that nourishes the plants you rely upon, unveiling the most efficient nutrient transport routes.

Above the soil, you witnessed vast regions, once deforested, spring back to life, reawakened in verdant rebirth; the visible sections of my body blanketing the withering trunks and tree roots like a golden mantle.

Now, after all these years, you too arrive to nourish the earth.

You were the boy who saw me rain, who was forcibly recruited into the cartel, handed a rifle that he barely learned to use, only to die alongside fellow youth in a clash with the national guard; you were the farmer who refused to surrender his lands and pay the demanded fees, and who ended up watering his avocado trees with the blood that flowed from his temples; you were the elderly woman grinding corn, attempting to protect her daughter from rape by men wielding AK-47 rifles, her skull shattered by a blow with the rifle butt.

They threw your bodies on the ground, burying them in shallow graves or leaving them entirely unburied.

I hope that now, as you become one with the Earth, you’ll be able to discern the instruments in this section of the world’s symphony that you never learned to hear.

I am, among other things, a swarm of memories, an embodied intelligence slithering along a branch of a Lamarckian evolutionary tree. The dead whisper through me. I have welcomed death and feasted on it on all the worlds I have encountered.

Amidst the dense foliage, my body shimmers with the crude chants of extinct worlds.

I come across your bodies and unfurl around them like a shroud. The boy, the farmer, and the elderly woman. And upon them, the footsteps of those looking for them, unaware that the earth had found their loved ones first. Gradually, your tissues decay into substances that meld with me, destined to be dispersed throughout the vast mycorrhizal network that sustains life.

As you blend into the world, you hear the music of the plants, fungi, and protists. You can no longer ignore their melodies or their slow and deliberate rhythms.

Your Earth is a palimpsest, a scroll that you are about to decipher.

You flow among the roots, ascending to treetops that graze the sky. You transform into fruits that birds eat, scattering your seeds beyond the mountains. You turn into guava and sugarcane, which the locals use to make fruit punch during festivities, brightening the cold night.

As you become soil and become tree, as you blossom and decay once more, I reveal to you the presence of other graves, tombs, and burial grounds. They are so many and come from so many places, even from other islands causally disconnected from the rest of the universe.

Some of them have been woven into this world long before life emerged, molding the essence of all you’ve come to know, changing the behavior of the cosmos and giving rise to what you refer to as fundamental laws of nature. Some of them are islands unto themselves, singularities within the realm of the mind, bereft of a common ground to share their understanding of existence. Others, truncated and reduced to mere cellular automata, integrate photon paths in unending loops within spaces of fractional dimensions; their way of longing for universes that no longer exist.

I wasn’t the first to arrive on your planet from the cold vastness of space. But now, as you merge with the Earth, I hope that with my help, you will finally be able to hear the faintest notes amidst the gradual movements of the symphony of the world’s roots.

Damián Neri is a Mexican writer, watercolor painter, and data analyst. His short stories have appeared in magazines and anthologies in Spanish. This is his first work of fiction published in English. You can find him on Instagram and Twitter @DamianNeriArt.

Return to Issue #33 | Support The Deadlands

Scroll to Top
Scroll to Top