The Wompom Forest

The Wompom Forest
Illustration by Sam Fontaine

Burt was not a bad person; he just took his job as Chief Guardian of the Wompom Forest very seriously. The Wompom Tree was quite simply the most useful and valuable thing in the world. The entire community depended on it for everything, because quite simply, there was nothing a Wompom could not do.

The many coloured fruits of the Wompom fulfilled all dietary needs. It was important to get a variety and everyone was reminded to “Get your five colours a day”. The juices and seeds from the fruit could be mixed to make medicine for all known illnesses. There was nothing a Wompom could not do.

The white leaves and vines were perfect for making cloths that were comfortable and long-lasting. With the right treatment they could be made elastic or hardened. And they could be dyed any colour using Wompom fruit juices. There was nothing that a Wompom could not do.

A Carpenter could craft almost anything from Wompom wood. It could be treated so that it became flexible or so that it set to be stronger than steel. All construction was done with Wompom wood. There was nothing that a Wompom could not do

The black leaves of the Wompom were natural solar panels. The black vines made excellent superconducting wire. The black leaves and vines could also be ground up, and combined with Wompom amber to make any electrical device, from light bulbs to motors to computer chips. There was nothing a Wompom could not do!

But a Wompom Tree was a fragile thing. If you picked too much of its fruit, cut too many of its branches or harvested too much of any of the wonderful things a Wompom Tree produced, then it would surely die. And it took generations to grow a Wompom Tree.

This was why Burt’s job was so important. The Wompom Forest had to be protected even from accidental misuse. And so, he towered over Anna in such a way the little girl knew that if she tried to do something stupid, like slip past him, she was going to have a bad day. Burt actually knew Anna very well and knew she would not try something like that. But that was beside the point!

“Requisition tickets,” he said gruffly.

Anna smiled and held out a sheaf of tickets printed on brown Wompom leaf. Burt examined each one in turn then, when satisfied, he equally gruffly passed them back and stood aside. Anna smiled and skipped off down the forest path.

It was not a long walk to the main Wompom Management office. The office was rare in that it had been made by hollowing out a gargantuan old Wompom Tree. Only the very oldest of the Wompom Trees could be hollowed in this way and the living office tower was a sight that took most people’s beath away.

But not Anna’s; she skipped through the front door, into Sid’s office, and deposited the tickets on his desk.

“Eight Wompom fruit please,” Anna beamed.

Sid glared at her though his Wompom Amber glasses. Sid was also not a bad person, but he had perhaps the single most important job in the world: Managing the Wompom Forest. Sid was Chief of the Wompom Managers, he and his managers needed to know every last tree in the forest. They needed to know exactly how much had been harvested from each tree and when. There was no margin for error, for every error killed a Wompom tree.

It was huge responsibility and an equally huge job. A community of thousands of people to cater for, thousands of Wompom trees and an unfathomably huge number of things to be harvested, sorted and stored; it was no wonder Sid was grumpy most of the time.

He pointed to the sign on the door that read “Knock before entry”. Anna squeaked an apology, hurried back to the door, knocked and stood in the doorway expectantly.

“Enter,” he sighed.

“Eight Wompom fruit please,” Anna beamed.

Most people did not come to Sid directly for their requisitions. He had three floors of the office dedicated to dealing with requisitions. Anna was a grudging exception. Her father, Isaac, was Chairman of Distribution Committee and effectively Sid’s counterpart; this led to an unfortunate amount of familiarity in Sid’s opinion.

Where Sid was responsible for harvesting the many products of the Wompom Tree, Isaac and the Distribution Committee were tasked with dividing those wonderful products fairly amongst the community. Again, this was not an easy task, but the system the community had developed long ago was a sound one.

In the beginning the community had been very small, but so had the Forest. There had not been enough to go around, especially when they learned how fragile the Wompom Trees were. Everyone had had to take only what they needed and absolutely no more. Over time the forest had grown, the amount that could be harvest increased, everyone had what they needed and they were comfortable. Finally, they reached a point where not only were everyone’s needs were met, but they had a small surplus. It was decided this surplus should go to expanding and building up the community as a whole.

Generations had passed, the community and forest were now huge but the same system had been maintained. Everyone got only what they needed from the Wompom Trees and everything else went into great surplus supply. This was then used to expand the community by building roads, sanitation, medicine, schools, hospitals, museums, theatres and everything else the community needed to thrive. In this way the wealth of the Wompom was equally divided amongst everyone.

It was a complex system. Everyone’s needs were different. While the Wompom provided many things, many more things were then crafted from the Wompom. Anna’s mother ran a restaurant. She could not just order valuable Wompom fruit and hope for customers. Instead, when people booked into the restaurant, they handed over their tickets for fruit and placed an order. Anna was then dispatched to collect the fruit in time for it to be prepared for the arriving customer. It was a similar system for all of the craftsmen in the city.

The ticket system meant that there was no need for currency. Everyone was allocated what they needed to be comfortable. It was not perfect, not everyone got what they wanted, but it did work. Through the careful management of people like Sid and Isaac, the forest would last for ever and continue to grow as would the community it supported.

Sid examined the tickets, checked his computer, then stamped the tickets and handed them back.

“Go to Distribution Hub Three to collect your fruit,” he said.

“Thank you, Sid!”

“Oh, and since you’re here, I trust your father is going to hold this month’s community meeting tonight as planned?”

“Tonight, on schedule!” reported Anna.

Sid nodded and was just turning back to his computer when Anna added, “Don’t worry. Daddy knows how important tonight is for you. We won’t let you down or tell anyone your secret!”

Sid glared at her, but Anna was already skipping out of the office.

The community meetings of the Distribution Committee were vital. Sid, Isaac and many of the other leaders had to report back the people how the Wompom trees were being used. It was critical for transparency and accountability and to show everyone was treated equally. The whole community was invited but, as the meeting was mostly a lot of boring reports, not everyone came.

Isaac was most definitely a good man. He had a warm face, a friendly smile and a soft yet authoritative voice. Isaac knew how easily his position could be abused and he took every opportunity to show he was no more important that the next man. His dress was smart but unassuming and their family’s house was just like all the others.

That evening, just as they had many times before, interested members of the community gathered for the meeting. Isaac called it to order and gestured for Sid to take the lectern. For thirty minutes Sid presented so many facts and figures Anna would have fallen asleep on her mother’s lap if she were not so excited.

“Finally,” announced Sid, “it is my great pleasure to report that the saplings planted two generations ago in Green Brook have reach maturity and can now be harvested.”

A roar of applause went up! Sid gave the hall a rare smile. He then straightened his glasses and spent ten more minutes updating everyone on his projected increase to the surplus as the trees grew.

Isaac took the floor next. “As is our tradition, the committee will now hear suggestions for how this surplus will be used.”

Sid raised a hand.

“My Managers ensure the forest provides for everyone without a single tree ever dying. Likewise this committee has ensured we are all sheltered and fed. Without us this community would surely fail. Given the great responsibility we bear I propose that the Managers and Distributors be given extra fruit from the surplus.”

A murmur rippled through the hall. Anna saw her father thinking carefully.

“I second this proposal,” said Isaac. “Let us vote on it.”

The vote carried. After all everyone in the community agreed Managers and Distributors worked very hard. They did deserve a little extra for that.

But next morning Burt came to see Sid in his office.

“I’m confused boss,” said Burt. “Don’t these new rules mean you are getting more than you need?”

“That’s right. But don’t you think, given all we do, we deserve a bit extra?”

“I suppose that makes sense. But without my Guardians people would just wander in here and you’d never be able to manage anything. Aren’t we just as important?”

“My friend, I think you’re right.”

The next month Burt proposed that his Guardians also receive extra fruit. But the chief of the Recyclers also had a proposal. Things made from the Wompom did not last for ever. It was the job of the Recyclers to assess where things were aging, they saw that these were replaced and the old products were put into great compost vats. The compost was then used to grow the Wompom Trees. He argued that without the Recyclers not only would the trees die but everything else would collapse! The Recyclers felt they deserved extra too.

Everyone agreed both jobs were vital and deserved extra. But there was not enough fruit left in the surplus for both, so it was agreed that the Guardians would receive extra fruit and the recyclers would have bigger houses built for them.

Next month all the craftsmen made the case how important their work was and once more the surplus was dipped into.

The next month the teachers and doctors made their cases and received extra.

The next month the cleaners made their case.

“I’m very sorry,” said Isaac, “but there is nothing left in the surplus to give you.”

A murmur of dismay swept the packed hall.

“Without the surplus how will we grow?” shouted one person.

“Screw growth!” replied the leader of the cleaners, “my members deserve recognition!”

“But there is nothing more to give you,” said Isaac calmly, gesturing to the charts.

“Think what this community would be like without us! If we don’t get what we deserve then we are going on strike!”

And they did.

Within a week the streets were piled with rubbish and every house stank. The next week a new infectious disease broke out at a hospital because it had not been cleaned properly. Suddenly there was a need for more Wompom fruit to make more medicine, but all the fruit had been allocated already. Without immediate action the community faced its worst crisis in decades.

An emergency meeting was called and the community hall was packed with concerned citizens. Once more Isaac took the lectern, and even though he faced the most irate and frightened assembly in his career he was just as calm as ever.

“Citizens, there is a simple solution to our problem. We return to the old ways. In the last few months, we have learned that everyone does something important for our community. Whether that is manage the Wompom Forest or collecting our litter, it is all important and all worthy of recognition. We know that not everyone’s needs are the same but to take beyond what we need, to take from our community, is greed. I propose that we return to the system whereby we each take only according to our needs and we share what remains equally by using it to expand our community.”

Sid raised a hand, almost timidly. “I second the motion.”

The vote carried once more and Isaac ordered that the surplus fruit that was allocated to be sent to the Managers be immediately sent to the Alchemists to make medicine to fight the infection at the hospital.

As people filed out the meeting hall, Anna ran to her father and through her arms around him.

“You did it Daddy, you saved everyone!”

“No I did not,” smiled Isaac. He looked to where Sid was standing.

“You knew this would happen,” sighed Sid. “You let all this happen to teach me and everyone else the lesson that we are all equally important.”

“I did not teach you anything. The Wompom Tree taught us that.”

Sid gave one of his rare smiles. “I know more about the Wompom Trees than anyone, and yet they can still teach me a lesson. Incredible.”

“It’s not incredible at all,” said Anna.

Both Sid and Isaac looked at the little girl quizzically, so she explained.

“There is nothing a Wompom cannot do.”

Wompom Trivia:

  • There are thirty-one colours of Wompom fruit. However, technically speaking, seven of these are vegetables. Technically speaking, six more are actually meat and two more are eggs.

  • Wompom wood is flammable and produces vast amounts of carbon dioxide when it burns. In fact, it generates so much carbon dioxide that the fire is almost instantly starved of oxygen and goes out.

  • The Wompom sapling disguises itself as a regular tree until it matures. If you ever encounter a tree, treat it with great respect and care just in case it is actually a Wompom Tree.