COARSE – LAST DAYS OF AUTUMN (FRENZY)
Deep in the empty forest
“Ready?” the mother asks.
The boy admires the sharpness of the blade.
She zips up his coat and sends him out the front door, hoping he will turn around and wave to her. But he only marches forward, the axe resting on his shoulder as he heads to join the other children at the edge of the village where a forest once was.
At the bottom of the valley the log braces for their arrival. They will come as they always do: a swarm of them with maddening grins on their cherub faces, each toppling over the other, hunting for wood for their winter fires. When the day is done they will lug their prizes up to the village, and chimneys will cough up the captured so that all winter long the dead will blanket the sky.
The whistle cries and the children barrel down the hill at full speed, careful not to trip over stones and squirrels and roots from trees chopped long ago. They charge deep into the valley, searching for a log.
“I see it!” a girl shouts, tricking the others so she can overtake them and be the first to cut her saw into the fresh wood. It is this single act all the children want most. It is not a prize or a reward, but the pride in being first that sends them charging after the girl, hoping their arms will outreach hers.
But the boy stays behind. Is that not something moving behind those boulders? he wonders.
The log presses his back against the cool rock. He wants to disappear inside it, to become nothing but a motionless lump in its surface.
Then he hears something move above him. A squirrel, he thinks. A raven, he hopes.
A boy’s voice.
The log peers up, a frown emblazoned across his face. He waits for the axe to strike him and split him into two, just as he has witnessed so many times before. But the only thing that strikes him is the voice of the boy.
“Are you okay?” he asks the log.
The log takes a breath. Am I okay? He asks himself. “No,” he answers aloud. “No I am not.”
“I don’t want to hurt you,” says the boy.
“Then put your down your axe.”
The boy turns around to ensure the other children are nowhere near him.
“But our village,” he says. “We need wood for the winter.”
“Why not go off into the next valley? A forest still grows there. There is enough wood there to last you until you’re old like me.”
“But the next valley is too far, and you will give us enough wood to last for many months.”
The log stands up and peers into the boy’s eyes.
“Your village has killed my father, my mother, my brothers, and my friends. I don’t have much time left myself; in a handful of winters I’ll be rotted and dead, and then you can carry what’s left of me and do what you like. But for now, let me live my lonely life in peace.”
“Go to the next valley,” the log says.
The boy looks into the eyes of the log and sees his own mother’s severed limbs spewing embers in a hearth.
Where is he?
Have you seen him?
Do you think he found a log?
Their voices echo through the valley.
Just as the boy is about to turn around, their footsteps thunder toward the boulders.
“He found one!” a girl shouts.
“No,” the boy mutters, as he sees them. “No!” he tries to shout.
He drops his axe and puts his hands up as if to stop them. The children trample over him, their heels digging into his eyes.
Heavy and old, log tries to lumber away, but he has only taken two steps before the first blade strikes him. Soon enough they blind him, too, though he can still hear their summer laughter.
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