“Where do we start first?”
“Near the far edge,” I sighed. “We’ll work our way back.”
As we trudged toward the edge of the forest, my thoughts lingered on how far I’d come in the months I’d had my new house. I’d cleaned up the broken glass, the rusty nails, and the garbage. The new roof was on, the small garage in its first stage of becoming. But there was still the edge of the woods to fix.
The previous owners had tried selling firewood when other funds ran out. They’d gone about it by marking the biggest trees with paint and cutting them down. Then after cutting up a few into pieces, they’d decided the work was too hard and quit, leaving the rest to rot.
The moment I’d seen that, I’d made plans to get a woodstove. The problem was, the trees had been down at least a few years, if not more. I was now in a race against time to harvest as much usable wood as possible.
That was where my friend Rick came in. I didn’t know jack about cutting firewood, but he did, having grown up on a farm.
“Do you want to start with those small ones?” I asked, indicating a small pile of logs. “Or should we work on one of the big trunks?”
“That basswood,” Rick replied. “We’ll be lucky if we can get half of it. That stuff rots quick.”
Nodding, I went to his side as the high-pitched whine of a chainsaw cut the air.
That night, we sat on the porch after dinner, talking.
“You could have horses,” Rick said musingly. “Or cows. You’ve got enough land. You could even rent out the stalls, or the pasture.”
I gave him a wry grin. “Those fences are falling down. No, I’ve got my hands full right now. But thanks for showing me how to handle the chainsaw. I appreciate the help.”
“You and me both,” Rick said, rising stiffly to his feet. “I’ve got to go, I’ve got work early. You have a good night.”
I gave him a hug goodbye, then watched his taillights fade into the blackness.
He was right; there was a lot of possibilities. But there would be time enough for that in the fall. I had too much to do now to think about it.
Maybelline, my calico cat, hopped up on my lap, letting out an almost inaudible mew.
“I don’t know either,” I said, absently stroking her. “I’m beginning to feel that I’ve bitten off more than I can chew, May.”
May’s only answer was a slight purr, her paws kneading rapidly.
In the next weeks, I made a lot of headway in the forest. Much of that was Rick’s frequent visits with his own chainsaw. When we cleared the downed trees and brush piles, we saw what lay under them.
“This wasn’t a tree, this is cut wood,” Rick said, hefting a large rotted beam. “Do you know what was here?”
I shrugged. “They told me that there was a barn here once that burned. But that was up by the existing barn, where the rock wall is, not down here.”
“Whoa,” Rick exclaimed, reaching down. He pulled off a part of a tire to reveal a three-foot silver saw blade, the steel teeth dotted with rust. He bent down. “That’s what this was,” he said, setting down the beam. “This was the brace for the saw.”
I nodded. “They built the existing barn by hand.”
Rick replaced the tire. “We’ll pull this out of here later. Falling on that would be easy. Let’s get back to work”
I nodded, glad to turn my mind away from all those sharp steel teeth.
As the summer progressed, we made more and more progress, not only in cleaning the deadwood up, but also in dragging out the junk we found, including the saw blade, which we stored in the barn, complete with its tire covering. In addition, we discovered mattress springs, old floodlights, several types of old rusty drags for farming, and other pieces of metal. I put out everything for the garbage man, save one of the drags that still worked, and a hooked piece of metal that appealed to me. Those I painted silver, and leaned against the woodshed for decoration.
Rick admired them on his next visit. “You know you could probably sell those, if you wanted.”
“No, I like them,” I replied. “Where do you want to start today?”
“There’s only that one brush pile to deal with,” Rick said. “Now that you’ve got the tractor, that shouldn’t take long. Then we’ll see a movie.”
A weekend that was actually relaxing was an oasis. “Sure.”
We walked to the edge. “You know, I’m not going to be able to visit for a while,” Rick said. “School’s starting.”
“That’s okay,” I said. “It’s almost winter, anyway, and I’ve got enough wood. We can meet in town and visit at movies, or lunch. Thanks again for all your help. I couldn’t have done it without you.”
“No problem,” he said, beaming. “What are friends for?”
“It’s made such a difference,” I said, surveying the trees. “The younger trees covered with brush or bent under fallen trunks are now reaching for sunlight—”
“Do you hear something?” he interrupted.
“I do,” he said, pointing. It’s coming from that brush pile. Something’s growling.”
“Brutus was sniffing that last night on our walk,” I said, backing up. “I didn’t think anything of it, but you’re right, he was acting like there was something in there.”
Rick lifted some brush off the pile. Something inside growled louder.
I’d been reaching, but now I snatched my hand back. I had on leather gloves, but whatever was in there was angry.
Rick lifted off the top brush to reveal a furious groundhog. “You stay where you are. I’ll get him out of there.”
The groundhog seemed aware of what we planning on doing to his beloved home. When Rick poked him with a stick, but he snapped at it, breaking it. When Rick used a metal bar, the groundhog grabbed it in his teeth, and wouldn’t let go, growling loudly.
“Let’s have lunch,” I suggested. “Maybe if we go, he’ll leave.”
An hour later, we returned to find the groundhog still angry, still waiting to take us on, his eyes blazing, and his growl rumbling.
Conceding defeat, we left to see a movie in town to sooth our sore egos.
Everything was quiet for a few weeks, as fall deepened, the trees becoming colorful in the cooling evenings. Then one evening in October, I was awakened by the throaty growl of a chainsaw. Brutus began barking excitedly, his paws on the window ledge, his tail stiff.
That was coming from my land; it had to be. Swearing, I hustled into some clothes, and grabbed a flashlight. My hand was on the doorknob when I heard a high-pitched whine, then a bloodcurdling scream.
I took my hand off the door. No way was I going out there.
Another scream sounded. I dropped the flashlight, heading for the phone.
Lights flashed red and blue in the darkness, the black bag disappearing into the ambulance. The engine started, then it moved away slowly over the rough field road.
“So you heard nothing?” the policeman said for the fourth time.
“Nothing,” I echoed, my eyes still riveted on the bloody saw blade, chunks of flesh and hair sticking to the inch long teeth. “My dog barked, and then I heard a scream. Then I called you.”
“Horry was an idiot for trying to saw in the dark,” the sheriff said, coming up to us. “It’s easy to see he was poaching wood. Not a surprise; he’s been arrested twice this year for doing it.” He looked over at me. “If you don’t mind me asking, ma’am, what is that saw blade doing out here? It looks like you maintain it well.”
I looked over the oiled contraption, the rough-hewn wood frame sturdy and solid. The blade had been in the barn last I saw, the frame in rotted pieces. But he wasn’t going to believe that. “I had a friend up last weekend. We got through cutting, and must have forgot to put it away.” I shrugged. “I can’t move it by myself.”
“That’s a fact,” the officer said. He turned to his deputy. “The coroner is calling this an accident. Had to be. No fool would lay down on a moving blade.” He tipped his hat. “You best go inside ma’am. Use some Clorox on that saw tomorrow, before it rusts.”
“Will do,” I said, flashing a nervous smile.
“That’s unbelievable,” Rick said, after I related my story.
“I know,” I said. “So I did some digging.” I took out a sheet of paper. “There was a guy who lived here in the seventies. He was big into forestry, and built his own barn and furniture from this forest. He had a business selling woodworking. He died of a heart attack when he was out here cutting one day.” I showed him the picture. “His name was Red. They called him the Saw Man.”
“His ghost killed that man for poaching his wood,” Rick said slowly. “So why hasn’t he killed us, or the other owners over the years?”
“He must recognize we have a legal right to the trees,” I said, shrugging. “But maybe he did manifest before. The person I bought this from; the guy who left those cut trees to rot? He broke his leg out here. It was ruled an accident, but maybe it wasn’t. He put the place up for sale right after.”
“I’ll help you get the saw inside and cleaned,” Rick said, standing. “If the ghost left it here, he must want you to take care of it.” He paused. “Did this Red like groundhogs?”
“It doesn’t say,” I answered, giving a small smile. “But we’ll leave him be, just in case.”
Tara’s educational background is in math and science, and she is currently employed as a safety inspector in a metal fabrication shop. Her writing credits include over thirty short stories published in the nature magazines Catnip Blossoms, Meanwhile, and On The River. Her short horror stories have appeared in Deadman’s Tome, Flashes in the Dark, Halloween Alliance, Black Petals, and Ghastly Door. She also coauthored the essay “The Allure of the Serial Killer,” published in Serial Killers – Philosophy for Everyone: Being and Killing (Wiley-Blackwell, 2010). Mélange Books published both a short e-book romance, Surrender to Me, and a short horror story, “The Origin of Fear” in their Spellbound 2011 anthology in October 2011. Return to Me, another short e-book romance, is also due out in October 2011 from Mélange Books. Dark Moon Books will publish both “Night Shift” and “Hold Your Breath” in their Frightmares Anthology coming out in November 2011.
You can visit her website at www.tarafoxhall.com