By Alex Greenspan
The crack of metal on wood slices through the morning silence. A bearded old man lifts his axe from his cutting board stump as the log falls in two. His thick, worn out jeans protect him from the flying splinters as sweat drips down, soaking into his white cotton shirt. He casually wipes a bead off his brow. Breathing deeply, he sets a new log.
The Woodcutter is walking, logs in hand, towards his cabin home. Standing between the two are nothing but stumps; former trees now forming only an expanding circle, slowly growing, counting the years. The ground is treacherous, even dangerous, suffering a quiet paving gate fate. The pile in his arms blocks his eyes, but he has no need for them. He walks around one tree stump, over a small hole, and around another stump; he’s made this trip countless times, but today is different…today, he slips.
The Woodcutter is falling, crashing to the earth, the logs fly out of his hands as he grabs at the air. He lands on his face, the logs land on the ground. Slowly, he crawls to his feet, logs scattered in front of him. He turns to examine where he slipped, a wet spot. He kneels down and touches it. Standing back up he brings it to his face…urine.
The Woodcutter is hunting, rifle in hand he peers for his prey, an empty brown leather bag slung over his shoulder. A broken twig, hoof prints in dirt; he twists and turns through the trees as he follows them. A sound! A deer not fifty yards away. With a steady hand and slower breath he fires one shot. Kneeling at the side of the fallen, he lays one hand on its chest and closes his eyes for a brief moment.
The Woodcutter is pulling, his full brown leather bag squeezes shut as the string snaps tight. He slings it over his shoulder before turning around, calmly heading home. He enters his cabin without the use of a key and walks to the back where he opens a door. He enters and comes back empty handed. On a small table lies a straight razor. He picks it up and leaves the cabin. Outside, on the front porch, he sits in a single chair, in front of a small table and looks into a tiny mirror, hanging from a string. He flicks open the razor with a twitch of his wrist and begins. He barely needs it, but this is his routine. The mirror gently rocks back and forth in the breeze. It doesn’t bother him though, he smiles as his reflection switches glances tween him and sunset. Finished, he walks back inside to his bed. He crawls beneath the covers, slowly drifting to sleep whilst listening to the sounds of the world as it churns around him.
The Woodcutter is stirring, awoken by the sun as it crawls across his face. He gets dressed and goes outside in order to inspect his small collection of logs. He smells the air, clean and crisp, winter is coming, he will need more. He strolls through the field of stumps to where his axe rests, wedged into his most recent cutting board. He picks it up and looks to the nearest tree. He swings and the axe sticks well. His head jerks up, alarmed by a wolf’s howl as it pierces through the silence like a bullet. He looks around but sees nothing but the trees surrounding him like a towering cage of brown and gold. He peers from side to side, knuckles turning red as he pulls the axe tight to his chest, ready for battle. Standing, breathing, thinking. Slowly, he raises the axe, peeking around once more before finally striking the tree. He keeps the blade in the bark as he stares to the sky, rubbing his palms together in thought.
The Woodcutter is sitting, inside of his house he solemnly eats a steak. A breeze catches the mirror and it sways, casting light through the window and striking him in the face. He doesn’t hide, but instead, closes his eyes, listening to the world as he chews. The gust ends and the noise ceases; his eyes open, jump to the window, and scan his surroundings. Everything is still and nothing moves. The wind kicks back up and the noise returns. Once again his eyes close as he slowly contemplates over his dinner, deep in thought, and little concerned.
The Woodcutter is resting, in his bed his eyes are on the ceiling. His breathing is smooth as he begins to drift away. His eyes close as he exhales. Relaxed, he inhales through his nose, but stops dead. Something in the air, something that shouldn’t be. His nostrils flair as he draws breath again for a second opinion. Vindicated, he gets out of bed and walks to the closet to grab his rifle. He checks to make sure it’s loaded when suddenly, scratches are heard coming through the wall. He aims his rifle at the source but stops to think. He lowers it, it won’t make it through the logs. Slowly, step by step, he begins moving towards the front door. Step by step. Suddenly the noise dissipates, leaving him in the silence and the dark. The only sound to be heard is his own rhythmic breathing. At the other end of the cabin, a loud sniffing commences. Spinning around he aims his rifle at the wall; but again, he lowers it, same mistake. He continues towards the front door, moving backwards, not taking his eyes off the source of the disturbance. He gets to the door and opens it. Once in the darkness, he can barely see as he looks around. Cautiously, he closes his eyes and holds his breath, silencing himself to help hear for danger. Silently, he counts to five. Opening his eyes, his night vision has improved. Working his way around his home, he makes it to the corner, then, swiftly, he turns it and aims to where he knows the animal to be. Nothing. Lowering his rifle, he licks his lips in thought.
The Woodcutter is drinking, the morning light passes through his water like a prism, his rifle leaning against the wall behind him. He finishes his glass and slings his rifle over his shoulder, where it stays, beside his empty brown leather bag. Heading into the woods, he parts brush out of the way. Among the trees he walks, strolling, until a deer comes into view. Slowly he takes his rifle from its perch and aims true. He fires one shot and the deer falls. As he slings his rifle back over his shoulder, a large gray wolf jumps out from the brush and tears into the deer. It rips large bites from its flesh, then quickly as it came, vanishes into the trees, leaving nothing but a trail of blood in its wake.
The Woodcutter is confounded, staring at the atrocity below. He aims his rifle at where the wolf disappeared and starts heading towards the body. He gets all the way there and no wolf appears. Peeking into the brush, he sees the wolf’s trail vanish in the distance. He bends down to look at the deer; its stomach has been ripped open, the contents leaking into the meat, spreading across the flesh like an oil spill. It has been rendered uneatable. With his jaw tightening he grumbles to himself.
The Woodcutter is scowling, the last amount left from his previous kill was not satisfactory. In bed his stomach growls, unable to settle. Tossing and turning he stays awake against his will. Eventually, it becomes overwhelming; he gets up and walks across the room to his closet. He removes his rifle, loads it, sets it down on the table and goes back to bed.
The Woodcutter is waking, his stomach roaring with anger. He throws on his clothes and grabs his rifle. He doesn’t make breakfast, he has nothing to eat. He doesn’t cut wood, he has nothing to cook. Once outside, he quickly heads into the woods, scanning the ground for signs of life. After a brief time, he comes across tracks, deer again. He grins and follows them. The prints go to the left, then the right, up a hill and down the other side, but he does not. For from the top of the hill, he can plainly see the corpse of the long dead deer, partly eaten lying coldly in the dirt. He scours the area and finds the prints of the beast. He checks his rifle and follows them. They lead back up the hill and on through the trees. He moves carefully, always looking to see what lies ahead. Suddenly he stops, recognition. He pushes brush out of his way, revealing his home, front door covered in scratches. He takes his hand and touches every mark with his fingertips, feeling them, absorbing them. He turns around, sighing as he sits in his chair, rifle resting on his lap. He scratches his head and takes a breath.
The Woodcutter is grunting, the large wooden chest threatens to teach him of gravity as he walks out of his closet. He sets it down in the middle of the room and pulls out an assortment of ropes, chains, wires and other tools and hunting equipment. He pushes most to the side and picks up from underneath them the longest chain he can find. He walks back outside, chain scraping on the ground. He attaches it to the roof, in the corner, then down to the banister and back up to the roof. Little by little, he concocts a net, separating his porch from the world, leaving only the entrance open. He goes back inside where he grabs the wire, and begins braiding it together to form a sizable square panel. He puts small loops at two corners and a piece of wire hanging over the edge of the other two. He lays it down and grabs two ropes and makes a quick slipknot at the end of each. He pulls the hanging wire though the loop of rope, bends them backwards and ties them off. He then runs each length of rope up and through the two loops and picks up his contraption. He walks to the entrance, where he hangs it from the roof so that it reaches the floor to his exact specifications. Back inside, he grabs one last length of rope before heading out again. His home, once beautifully painted by the color of weathered wood, now a fortress, designed to keep the world at bay.
The Woodcutter is sleeping, rifle by his side. Suddenly, the sounds of the wolf are heard. He wakes up, startled at first, but his memory seeps back, returning to him. He silently creeps out of bed, rifle in hand. Ear to the door, he hears the wolf stepping around. Above the door-frame, a length of rope is tied through a roughly carved hole in the wall. He yanks it loose and it slides out. The wire fence crashes to the porch, weighted down by a log. The wolf immediately starts growling. Furious, it begins to gnaw on the wires trying to escape; but with every bite, the wires bend and flex into sharp points, cutting its mouth. It stops and howls in pain. Looking through the window, rifle in hand, he aims, exhales and fires one shot. The wolf screams and falls to the side. He throws the door open and steps outside, the wolf lying at his feet, struggling to breath. Looking down, he takes aim at the wolf’s head, cocks his rifle and says, “I don’t understand why you were here, but I’m sorry it came to this.” With that, he fires one last shot.
Alex Greenspan was born and raised in New York. He went to college in Albany and is now traveling around America. He moved to Albuquerque about five months ago and, in about five more, he will be moving to New Orleans. It is his goal to forge a career as a writer and has no doubt that this will happen.