Bill’s breathing was heavy, labored. Sweat poured down his brow, hair sticking to his forehead. His goggles fogged, and he realized he had to stop a moment. He pressed the switch and his chainsaw obediently died, the blade stopping on a dime, the persistent rumbling of the gas engine cutting off suddenly, Bill’s breathing now the only audible sound in the forest. He placed his tool down in a pile of fresh wood chips, standing into a stretch, hands on his hips as he raked his back into an arch, trying to push its dull barking pain out of his mind.
He stood alone amongst the quiet pines, his polo shirt stained with sweat around the neck and pits. He wiped his forehead with his forearm, replacing the sweat on his brow with flakes of dead Tree. He felt alive, invigorated. Some people relaxed by reading, by exercising, eating, drinking, sex, drugs, games, knitting, whatever. For Bill, it was chainsawing, ripping dead and dying trees to shreds, clearing trails on his family’s island. The smells of pine and sweat and gasoline were almost erotic. Nobody ever really walked most of the trails, but keeping them clean and free kept Bill feeling free. He reached for a water bottle and took a long drink, letting the water run down his chin, cooling his chest. He was halfway into his bend to pick the chainsaw up when he Heard the voice.
“Hey, fuck you!”
It froze Bill in place. There were only three other people on the island, and none of them anywhere remotely in earshot. He would have heard if another ATV had approached, wouldn’t he? He shook it off as impossible, bent back for the chainsaw.
“Yeah, you. Fuck you!”
It was definitely not his imagination. He stood, looking around for the offending party. He removed his earplugs, listening carefully for whatever birdsong he was somehow mistaking for obscenities. But all he heard was the rustling of the trees and a distant sparrow who did not seem to speak English. Somebody must be screwing with him. Perhaps his son? Despite himself, Bill called out into the woods.
“Hello?” Bill’s query sounded stupid to his own ears. “Someone say something?”
“You heard me: Fuck. You.” The response was clear, unmistakeable, somewhere nearby.
The voice sounded coarse and roughened, not like Bill’s son’s, or anyone else’s he could think of for that matter. He spun around, trying not to look frightened despite becoming more and more disoriented.
“Who’s there?” Bill called out in no particular direction.
“‘Who’s there?’ You got some fucking nerve, buddy!” his unseen tormentor replied, mocking.
“Sean?” Bill asked, knowing it wasn’t but unable to conceive of another guess.
“No, it’s not your jackass kid, you prick!”
The attack on his son caused some measure of masculine anger to rise up in Bill, finally. “Hey! Cut the shit, alright? I’m not in the mood for games, okay?”
“Oh, boo fucking hoo.”
“Now that’s enough!” Bill crouched and picked his chainsaw up. He felt a strong instinct to be prepared to defend himself. He stepped forward a bit, brandishing his impractical weapon, head on a swivel, mad now, looking for whoever was intruding on his chainsawing. “Show yourself, damn it!”
“That’s it, one more step…”
Bill heard a long, slow creak, like a well-worn floorboard settling into an ancient house. He stepped forward again, eyes narrowing behind his protective goggles.
The unseen insulter laughed a quiet, slow, rumble of a laugh, a sound that built louder and louder, crescendoing in a tremendous sound, a sun-drenched thunderclap.
Bill turned towards where the terrible sound came from, just in time to see a huge, seemingly healthy pine tree careening towards him. He had just enough time to lift a single hand in pathetic defiance before the mighty forty-foot pine drove him straight into the dirt, a fleshy nail under an all-natural hammer.
“Boom, bitch!” cried the tree, a sound that nobody heard.
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