Friday, September 26, 2008

Where to?

"Wake up little tart," Gordon said, he had one arm under the girl and was easing her into a wheelchair.

She stirred but her eyes remained closed, little gurgles bubbling up from her throat like a drainage pipe.

"Take care of her, Mate," He told the nurse who'd come out to collect the girl and the nurse gave him the 'it's my fucking job' look and hurried her inside. "Glad that shit is over. What?"

"She could die, Gordon," said Mali a little hotly.

"She'll be fine. My uncle used to get that way once a week. We'd just leave him outside the hospital and hope for the best,"

They stood outside the hospital for a long time, shuffling their feet and watching as men pushed laden gurneys through the wide ER doors and barked orders to each other.

"Should we go in and check on her?" Joe wondered aloud. Mali shook her head.

"I think we should just go," she said and the others nodded.

They started walking up the street in the general direction of another bus station. They talked in hushed tones as they went, idly asking if one or the other was alright, if they maybe wanted to tell a story or get something to eat. None of them seemed to want to. Even Joe had started to wonder if he'd want to tell any stories for a while. He kept picturing the girl in the hospital, seizing or already dead. He wondered if maybe they should have taken her to the hospital first instead of making her tell them a story. He decided that if he didn't want this whole trip to collapse before it really began, he would have to do something quickly.

There was a boy, once, who went to the woods in search of wood for his family's hearth. He was pure of heart with straw colored hair and eyes like the midsummer sky. He took only his father's axe and himself and marched into the woods without fear. He knew them, after all, and most of it belonged to his father. Only the northwest corner did not belong to them and he had never ventured there.

He marched a long time through the woods in search of a tree that he could cut down. He wanted to chop one that would last, that would keep him from being sent out into the woods too many more times. After hours of searching his father's property he rested his axe against a sapling and say down in a bed of leaves to cry. There were no trees left that would keep him warmly inside during the winter. Nothing but saplings and adolescent maples with broad green leaves. It was hopeless.

A rustling in the foliage caused him to look up and he realized that a thin black cat was perched above him on a thin maple bough.

"Why so sad child?" The cat asked, swinging it's tail playfully through the air.

"None of these trees is fit to cut and if I don't chop one that will last I will spend all winter out in the forest cutting logs," he replied through his tears.

"Ahh I see, but have you looked everywhere?"

"I've looked all over the forest,"

"What about the northwest corner? There is a tree there that would heat your house for years,"

"I've never been there. It doesn't belong to me,"

"It doesn't belong to anyone," The big cat said, "I could take you there if you wish."

The boy thought for a long time. His father had told him to go to the woods and get a tree, but he didn't specify where in the woods the tree had to come from. A tree that large would save his family so much time. They might even be able to sell some of it. He told the cat he would and followed him through the thick wood.

It grew ever darker as they plodded, the light being strangle by mossy trees and tall brush. It was difficult to follow the agile cat, the boy having to sprint under low boughs and over fallen foliage. He leaped with the cat through a thick line of brush, cutting his face and arms, and found himself in a wide clearing. In the center of the clearing, too tall to even see the top of, stood a tree that daunted the boy to his very bones.

The gnarled mass was as thick as a house and taller than anything he'd ever seen. He was surprised that he'd not see it from his own cottage. He wondered how far from home he must be to have missed this on the horizon.

"It is beautiful," he said, hefting the axe in his hands, "I don't know where to even begin."

"Do you see the thin scar that faces us on it's bark?" the cat asked and the boy nodded, "I made that mark. It will make a great place to begin."

The boy thanked the cat and took his axe to the enormous tree. He worked for days at it's base, heaving the axe into the thick flesh of the tree and sleeping beneath it at night. The cat brought him each day to a stream where he could drink and caught rabbits for the boy to cook and eat. By the fifth day the boy was bone weary and his father's axe nearly dulled to a club. He'd cut deep into the tree, however, and turned to the cat.

"One or two more chops should fell her," He said and the cat congratulated him.

"Your family will be proud,"

The boy smiled as he hefted the axe and cut. hefted and cut. hefted and then, pausing, felt the rumblings of the tree on it's base. Hot cracks burst in the sides and fired arm-thick splinters into the woods like shotgun pellets.

"Run!" the cat yelled and hey took off out of the clearing, always looking over their shoulders to make sure that the tree was not leaning towards them. They landed flat on their stomachs and covered their heads, praying that the tree fell opposite of them. When it came down the boy felt his insides slosh against his skin and thought his heart was going to burst. He stood and ran back to where the tree now laid.

"Oh no!" He cried and covered his mouth. The tree had cut a path through his father's woods, crushing trees and damming a wide stream. It had fallen directly across a dam built by a family of beavers and the water that pooled as it hit the log was crimson with entrails. "I killed them," the boy gasped.

"And you have my thanks for it," The cat said happily, "they sat all day, happily eating in their home, mocking me. They chewed on my trees and were going to build more homes for more beavers with this great one you've cut. I'd have been miserable if you had not come along," the cat slid a prickly claw around the boy's throat and grinned, "I'd have been hungry, too."

Joe finished and stared at his feet. He just hoped that it helped the others.

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