They're sneaky little things. Always finding ways to slip beneath his radar. He has to be alert for them all the time. But he feels them, snaking their influence into the earth; the tremors – maybe tiny, maybe almost imperceptible – catching his attention before too long.
He tries to get them when they're still small, less than saplings, just a sprig newly established in good soil. He gets to them with a shovel, with an axe if need be.
Does what he has to do.
All these years.
Like his father before him.
“We're all that stands between the world and disaster.”
He gazed in silence when he was still very young, rolled his eyes when he'd been a bit older, but embraced his destiny in the end. Who doesn't, right?
The one he's tracked today is cunning. Cunning enough to have evaded him for years. This one grown to a little beyond his own height. Hiding. Embedded in the thick grove at the bottom of a hill at the edge of Roland Park. A crisscross of oak and birch, sprinkled with some pine, conifer, beech, macrocarpa; all knotted up with vines; and the ground a mix of leaves, needles, dandelions, thistles, four kinds of grass.
All quite innocent looking.
But these things, they can only blend in so far. To a seasoned Woodcutter they give themselves away: the folded look about their bark, a smoothness; straight, reaching branches; a sparse halo of leaves. The lichens and mushrooms that grow in and around them are different as well, or maybe influenced - the blight sinking into what sups on tainted wood.
He goes into the grove, approaching from upwind, but knowing his footsteps will be soon heard. Axe raised above his head. The tree sees him, it bends towards him, encumbered with the slowness of its kind. He doesn't waste any time, he charges in, chopping at the base.
The tree reacts. Its branches all come together at once; they strike at him, bending and pouncing – let loose like an arrow firing. But he's learned to be quick, and darts back away from their attack. Blunt-edged, but there's the force of a tree's weight and strength behind them. These things can do some real damage given half the chance.
But he doesn't give this one even a quarter. He sidesteps twice, judges the rebound of the branches, and leaps in to sink the blade a bit further into the trunk. Where he cuts he sees it bleeding – gaseous sap in colours of sunset and seascape. The same colours blushing into the bark, even as the grooves deepen and shrivel away. No, he wasn't wrong about this one. Has he ever missed his guess?
He ducks a second attack - a full, lateral arc of concerted branches. There's a sound they make – high and grating. One of these things escaped detection and grew to maturity once in the middle ages. Catastrophic. Or so he's been told. And he's not about to have that blood on his hands.
Sacred calling, his father used to say.
He's almost struck, has to fend one branch away with his forearm; but then he uses the momentum to duck in, take a bite with his axe from the other side of the trunk. The tree teeters, it falls; its colours are dispelled in the air, sparkling, struggling, fighting even as it surrenders its life.
Its children are in the breeze.
The fight goes on.
The girl at the bus stop looks him up and down. “So, I guess you're an axe murderer,” she says.
“I'd never do something so evil as to murder an axe.”
“Right,” she says, “they're innocents.”
She's pretty in a sinuous, sultry kind of a way. Her hair reminds him of treacle, her eyes give him cause to think of sapphires. A spicy, sophisticated smile; high, sunset cheeks.
So why not?
He says, “So, I haven't seen you around here before.”
“New in town.”
“How've you been finding it?”
The bus disrupts his intentions with an inopportune arrival. It's going her way. But she turns and smiles as she puts a foot on the first step. “I catch the same bus, every weekday, same time.”
He smiles back at her: “Good to know.”
He watches as the bus drives away, stows his axe in his old red bag, heads for home, humming to himself as he goes.
Picture credit/discredit: author's own work