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The forest grew lush and heavy. Rumors spread of the creature that lurked within the groves of thick oak and wild pine. People vanished overnight—never to return—but that never bothered me. My work was too important.

It was a pleasure to chop down trees.

With my cut-off, sweat-soaked flannel, my fists wrapped around the heavy haft of the axe, the blade bit deep into the trunk. The sassafras tree shuddered, groaning. It crackled, crumpling with a great crash. Sap oozed from the split bark and exposed hardwood. I sighed in relief.

I drew my leather-bound notebook. With a red sharpie, I crossed off the picture of the tree. Selective logging was my life’s passion. I relished the journey to find the most straight and thick trunks. Others were too afraid of the darkest depth of the woods; this left the prime lumber for me.

Gritting my teeth in preparation, I raised my axe. Limbs stuck out like sore appendages from the trunk. With a heavy and a trained swing, I chopped. One. Two. Three. All the limbs removed; the trunk remained far too heavy to carry back in one piece. I grunted, sweated down my blistered fingertips and hacked away.

I returned home with my lumber, spent and weary.

No part of this tree would go to waste. I collected the sap in buckets. In the morning, I boiled it down until it caramelized and blackened. I liked to add this to my morning brew; the sweet, smoky and metallic flavor complimented the coffee’s bitterness.

The bark, I peeled off and ground up. I typically sprinkled this over soup for a rich, earthen flavor. I saved a chunk for an ongoing project—placing the slice of bark on canvas—half covered with birch and oak and pine. When it filled with color and texture, I planned to resin-cast and mount it in my living room. I titled the work ‘Juxtaposition.’

I was more than an artist; I was a self-made man.

Every tree was an ordeal. I would go days, sometimes weeks at a time searching for the best tree. I camped out overnight in the forest, relishing in the sounds of nature. Not once did I hear any creature sulk and scratch in the darkness.

Not once.

The next day, I walked to my favorite tattoo parlor. The scent of burnt cigarettes and buzzed ink lingered on the shabby furniture. I scrubbed my shoulder clean, searching for a bare spot among the quickly growing forest that memorialized each tree. The tattoos were all the same: a small, almost cartoonish inking of a pine tree.

I relaxed as Jack, the tattoo artist, went to work. Each prick of the needle brought a tear-jerking pain, but I gritted through it, focusing on the old television hung in the corner. A reporter droned on about the old-growth forest.

“You think it’s real?” Jack asked.

“I’ve never seen it. No such thing,” I said.

“Don’t you think it’s possible, though? There’re bears and wolves and god-knows-what in those woods. Nobody goes there for a reason.”

I had a glazed look in my eyes. “Those aren’t the woods I see.”

The session finished. My arm smarted, swollen. I walked across the street to my favorite Deli; the familiar air of toasted bread and fried bacon made me salivate. I stood in line. Ahead of me, a mother and daughter ordered a corned beef Rueben. The daughter turned towards me. She frowned at the tattoos down my arm. Raising her hand, she pointed. “Hey mister, what are those for?”

“I cut down trees”—I reached into my pocket for my phone—“One tattoo for each tree.”

The child’s mother shushed her; they quickly walked away.

I whispered under my breath, “Run along now, little tree.”

Discretely, I snapped another photo for the notebook. The pair quickly disappeared into the forest of people around us.

It would be a simple pleasure to chop them down.

Recommend0 Simily SnapsPublished in All Stories, Horror, Mystery/Thriller

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