Chapter 3 – Forest.
The questions began again with the dawn light. I answered in kind, preparing myself for my day. I felt stronger than I had for weeks. Were they weeks? Months? Time had left me long ago, as it had once before. I rose quickly and dressed. Today I would be collecting. This season’s wood pile was getting low. We were almost through winter, though it needed to be replenished for the next.
I had to find the wood first. I was given an oversized backpack. I placed some food, water and a file inside it, then strapped an axe and large handsaw to the outside. A box of old newspapers sat in the corner of the woodshed. I’d been told to leave them alone, to cut myself off from the things that didn’t matter. Things that could cloud the mind I was trying so hard to free. A face on the corner of the front cover drew me in. I reached for it, slowly pulling it out so as not to tear the faded yellow paper.
Four faces were shown beneath a story of a jewelery heist foiled by a security team. I knew one of them. It had been years, though it was him. He looked a little older, heavier from what I could make out in the picture, but there was no mistaking his face. He was part of the reason I was here, in recovery. I ran a finger across their faces, felt the crumpled yellow paper, rough beneath my fingertips, before Madame Rai appeared.
-˜What are you doing?’ she asked. She strode over to me and took the paper from my hand.
-˜I was getting my things.’
Her face told mine it was lying. She studied the story, me, then folded the paper and returned it to the box. -˜The sun is rising, get going.’
I bowed, picked up the things I needed and ran for the driveway, my head full of thoughts I couldn’t suppress.
The forest was an easy five miles away, down a series of gravel roads. I had to run there, choose a tree to cut down, then saw the trunk into large wheels of wood. The trees were balsam firs, huge things that stood at least sixty feet tall and were almost two feet thick. I’d done it before, more than once.
It would take me all day. I’d have to stack the wood in a pile, wait for Madame Rai to come, then fill my backpack with the remainder and carry that home. The orange pick-up would be there, waiting for me to unload it when I eventually returned. I listened to my feet strike the gravel, felt it crunch as I pushed forward, the backpack swinging with the weight of the saw and the axe on either side of it.
So he was doing okay. Did he deserve to be? Ignore it, Kat. Focus on where you are, what you’re doing. Which is what, exactly?
I drew fresh air into my lungs, inhaled to capacity then emptied them as slowly as I could, which isn’t easy when you’re running. I was deep in the forest now. I looked left and right, searched the long dark corridors between tree trunks for a sign of anything. This wasn’t our forest. It was owned by the province. They’d be logging it eventually, though I’d never seen a truck or anyone here for as long as I’d been around. Which was how long?
I had to choose carefully. The tree needed to be mature; its bark would be rough, a scaly red-brown, the wood hardened so it wouldn’t take long to cure, once cut. We had enough wood for winter. They’d burn this next year. How many times had I been here?
The gravel road ended in a wide crescent. I walked to my left, found a clearing deeper in, placed my pack on the forest floor and set about sharpening the axe with the long file. I hadn’t been this far in before. I had to be selective about where I took the wood from. Random places spread throughout the forest, on the edge of where it wouldn’t be missed. In no time at all the blade caught the ridges of my fingertips as I ran it gently over them. I put the file away, braced myself with a solid stance and struck the tree at its base. It didn’t budge. It would be some time before it moved at all. The clearing would give it plenty of room to fall once it did. When the sun was above me, it would be near midday. I wanted the tree down with a third of it cut before then.
His face appeared in my head as I struck the tree. I ignored it. Bark flew to the left of me as I swung. I worked harder, swung the blade faster, eager to forget where my mind was trying to take me. The top cut had grown. I was just shy of a quarter of the way through the trunk. I went to work on the undercut, being careful to make sure I had the felling direction right, as Madame Rai had taught me. I was sweating now, my body having adjusted to the cool temperature. I went to the opposite side of the trunk, used the offcuts as felling notches, then carved thin slices out of it to line up the tree’s path.
I studied the forest floor. Listened as birds sung in the trees overhead. Watched as a light wind caressed the treetops, absorbed what I could before I swung my axe a final time and silenced all of it. I hit it hard. The fir stuttered at first, a death knell to an audience of one. It stood straight a final time, then plunged earthward, crashing to the floor, scaring away what little company I had.
I swapped the axe for the saw and went to work on the trunk.Â The sun was climbing now; it had reached the bottom corner of the clearing. I was almost halfway through it, well ahead of where I wanted to be. I sat down on the fallen trunk and drank deeply from a bottle of water I had packed.
I took out a small bowl of rice, using two fingers to spoon it into my mouth, when I heard something. Probably just a rotten branch falling. No, it was something else. Car tires on gravel. I grabbed my axe, let it hang loosely at my side as I strode quickly between trees, back toward the road, hunched over as I moved. It couldn’t be her, she was too early. There were two voices. Through the trees I could see a red truck parked in the cul-de-sac.
Someone screamed. I ran faster. A bearded guy in a blue and black checkered shirt was fighting with a girl. He held her hair tight, half of it wrapped around his hand as he pulled her toward him. Now she was screaming; he was yelling back. He’d forced her against the side of the truck. Her pants had been ripped open, they slid down her legs. He had her arms pinned behind her with his left hand, his right hand unbuckling his belt. He was still grinning when he looked back and saw me. His smile disappeared when he took in the axe. He stepped back, let her arms drop to her sides.
-˜Who the fuck are you?’
-˜Me?’ I asked, stepping clear of the trees. -˜I’m Kat. What are you doing?’
-˜Well come here, kitty-kat. I’ve got something for you. Put your axedown. There’s plenty to go around.’
What he was doing, what he was trying to do,Â had half done -¦Â it stole all thought from me. The face from the faded yellow paper appeared on his shoulders. It was an ignorant face, unconcerned about who or what I was. What I should have meant to him. It looked through me, like I had already been condemned to the past.
I ran at him. I was strong -“ stronger than the woman. She turned, her blues eyes meeting mine. She found her voice as I swung the axe past his forearm and took him in the right side of the head. He crumpled. I dropped the axe, stared at the blood that ran between my fingers, down my hands, that covered my white robe. His blood. I stumbled to the nearest tree and threw up, strings of vomit flecking the simple shoes I wore.
When I could breath again, short sharp gasps of air that somehow made their way out, I gave her water and the keys from his pocket and told her to drive, far from here. I watched her go. The tires spat chunks of gravel as the engine gunned for the gap in the trees. I could just make out her tears in the rearview as she drove away.
I dragged his body to the base of the tree I’d chopped down. I used the axe to dig a hole in the soft earth and hid my mistake deep inside it. I gagged again as I covered his face, then looked up. The sun had disappeared below the trees of the clearing I stood in. Madame Rai would be here in a few hours. I washed what blood I could from my robe with the water I had left, before turning it inside out.
I set about sawing the rest of the tree and my pile of round tree trunks grew. I rolled each of them to the gravel cul-de-sac, ensuring there would be no need for her to venture in. I split the few she would make me carry home, and placed them in my pack.
It was dark by the time I arrived back. The orange pick-up with its full tray of wood sat in the drive. It was another hour before it was empty. The tub had been heated, and I climbed into it still wearing my robe. I set about cleansing the robe, and my head, of the day.
I screamed. They’d come for me. I was being pulled down a vast corridor by a thick black rope tied around my waist. Blood trailed behind me as I tried to break away, to roll over, to find a handhold on the floor or the wall I was being thrown against, anything to tear myself free. But I couldn’t. There was no escape. I couldn’t hear them at first, though their voices got louder as I was being drawn closer, a dull chatter, now their silhouettes were clear, I could almost make out their faces, they were shouting, then screaming at me. I screamed back. Shadows with elongated hands that clawed and scratched at me. They reached for my arms, grabbed my legs and pulled me in.
-˜Why are you here?’ said a voice above me. My eyes flicked open to the dawn light.
It had been a long time since I hadn’t answered. I was done. I couldn’t stay.
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A Thrill of a ride!
This book keeps you on the edge of your seat with powerful characters and dark twists. Scott Butler is a fresh voice in the thriller genre who is not afraid to push himself and the reader.
With twists and turns and the different perspectives providing a mix of unpredictable voices - The Security was an engaging read that keeps it's reader guessing.