I always used to laugh at those logging shows on TV, with the idiots in hard-hats cutting down trees with chainsaws and some rope. The producers seem to have forgotten that loggers don’t need Chainsaws anymore, hell I haven’t seen a hard-hat on site in fifteen years. I only had to do the chainsaw and rope thing once, during training. But even back then we had the feller-bunchers, big trucks with an arm that grabs several trees and just mows them from their trunks. They’re much different now, since the switch to renewable, like that matters.
That day started out just normal as any other day. We stopped at a diner for coffee, gross place looks like they built it in the nineteen sixties and just went with the asbestos for another hundred and forty years- and that logging show I mentioned was on. My friends and I had our good laugh about it. Somewhere along in there we ignored the screen and brought up some old drinking stories. They had me tell the one where I beat the piss out of a tree hugger while holding three cans of beer in one hand. It goes something like this:
We was out at a bar over in Dakota, who cares which, and loaded up on tequila shots. After about an hour or so we got to talking about work. Mostly simple stuff- tree loads and shipping routs, we do most of the work ourselves. And just then a kid walks up to us calling us assholes and tree killers. We’re used to this, you see, everyone complains about the things they depend on. We just do our work, and we work harder ever since the switch. Ignoring him didn’t sit too well for long with all the tequila burning a hole in my gut, though, and so I started running my mouth- as you do- and heating the guy up- as you do. I ordered some PBR and then I says to him-
“Hey I’ve planted more trees than you’ve seen in your life so don’t call me a son of a bitch when you stay at home drinking your tequila sunrises and jerking off.”
And he says something about how many trees have died and how deforestation is ruining the world and how I should be ashamed of myself. So I take my beers, ordered four, and I down one. Then I rip the can open so it’s nice and flat like, and hand it to the guy and say.
“Alright, if you don’t like logging, how about you take this and wipe your ass with it. And you know what here’s a debit card from the 2020’s, the ribbed bits might get those hard to reach areas that Charmin just can’t tickle.”
I threw them at the kid and grabbed my beers to go. I’m a big man so I held ’em in one hand- as you do. And that’s when the kid set me off.
“Yeah whatever, bye bitch.”
Now no one, and I mean no one calls me bitch. So I turned around, hooked him right in his sniffer and watched him tumble to the ground. That’s when he pissed himself. God it smelled like rotten broccoli.
It’s a good story, but I’m getting tired of telling it- but every time we talk beers it comes up, and every time I suppose it’s worth the telling. I’d like to say the rest of our day went like that, it normally does ever since the switch. Nice and easy lemon squeezy with our electric thingy- ma- do’s and our deep woods dingle berries (they get bad when all ya got is leaves).
Truth is things got funky from then. They had a warning on the TV in the diner. Something about the Sun, I couldn’t get a good look with all the people crowding and what for lack of time, but people were panicking. Not something we cared about. We got left and right wingers in our troop but we don’t bother with the news, conversation takes time away from the work. Wish I had cared now, wouldn’t be in this condition, ya know?
Took us about three hours to get to the new site. We were to live and work there for three weeks. Drones would deliver our meals and we’d shit in the woods. Paradise, really. Only minor things was amiss when we got there. So we got ready to work.
When we arrived we talked over the site plans. Some rich guy wanted to build a house out there, it cost the forest four thousand trees. After about an hour and a short hike from camp in that blazing global warming sun I hopped into the Feller- Buncher and got to work. Took me fifteen months to get the new system down. I’m sure you’ve never been in one, but it’s like being in a room surrounded by touch screens and tablets. Damn thing could shake like a vibrator and you’d feel next to nothing on the inside.
I was about two miles out from camp there. When I’m done the Mulcher would come through and clean up and then the Skidders would get to piling. We had about four hours of work done when it happened. Now if I had known then, I don’t think I would have gone to that site, but instead I spent a whole week wishing I had just paid attention to the damn news.
I was in the middle of cutting a tree when the flash came. Bright and gone, just like that. We didn’t know shit for what it was, but I swear I could see the bones in my hands and legs as it passed through. All my screens surged and the Feller- Buncher crapped the bucket for a bit. I tried to turn it back on, wondering what the hell happened, but it started fine and I got back to work. We finished about a half hour before dusk, and we started off for camp.
After some silence on the walk, Paul turned to me and said, “Hey what happened earlier today? All our stuff stopped working for a sec and I couldn’t hear anyone on the radio.”
That struck me. I didn’t check the radio while we were working, had my tunes on the whole time. I didn’t realize that we couldn’t communicate.
“Wait,” I said, “Did anyone get a hold of Doug?”
“Isn’t that your job?” Vick asked.
“Shit,” Paul said, “I bet he’s been calling us all day.”
I tried to ring Doug, but there was no service. Typical out in places like this, but Doug knew where we were and we never got our drone delivery that day. So I started to worry.
“Let’s hurry back.” I said, and we took off at a jog.
When we made it back it was almost dark. There were shards of glass everywhere. We checked the inside of the cabin, nothing, we went around back and found Doug. Covered in his own blood, a piece of glass sticking out of his neck. He must have died slow. His face haunts me still.
We worked out sometime later that the Panels had blown- but at the time we had suspected he was murdered. Not one of us slept that night. We tried to get off home in the trucks, but they were plugged in when the panels blew, damn batteries were all broke. So we sat, with a dead body behind the cabin, and the sky all green and orange. I read somewhere that them people in ancient times, they thought the sky was on fire during the northern lights. They couldn’t have been more right if they’d seen a night like that night. It was damn near as bright as day, whisping and blowing all around us.
When dawn came and we saw the sun, we started to piece things together. That giant string coming out of it, the 100 degree weather at dawn. Christ we was scared shitless. Vick and Paul took to the water tank like mad dogs. I wasn’t thirsty, but I kept moving around in my head what on earth could have happened.
“Look guys,” I said, “We’ve gotta head back to town. All the panels are fried so we’ll have to walk.”
“What about the equipment?” Vick asked
“There’s no way it would hold a charge long enough to take us further than back here from where we left ’em.” Paul said, “I say we hold out and wait here.”
“Dammit Paul, we’ve got no food here. Now I’d agree with you if we was in a situation where the sun doesn’t look like a damn kettle bell, but I don’t think we’d get a rescue party out for us- something in my gut tells me there’s nothing that works out there.”
“It’s going to take us weeks to get back!”
And that’s when I punched him. I guess I was stressed- I mean who wasn’t back then, but I just knew I was right- like that feeling you get when someone’s behind you, like that but with my fists.
We argued for another hour or so, and by the time my voice ached and my face hurt I grabbed myself a hatchet and one of the knives off Doug’s belt and stormed off into the woods. Weird to think that the most dangerous thing to do turned out to be right. All I know today is that Paul and Vick are dead. I can’t say whether or not they became those things, but they’re sure as shit dead either way.
So I stormed off into the forest and walked according to the Sun. I stayed along the trail our trucks had drawn so at first it wasn’t much but smooth sailing. But the whole forest did seem a bit off as I went. No sound in an untouched forest isn’t quite what you want to hear. Usually it means big game, or too many people. But that first day was only weirdly quiet. I scooped up some water from my canteen and boiled it in a fire after I gathered enough wood. It is one of those special bottles they came out with in 2030, the ones for outdoorsy types like me that collects the vapors. It was hot-ass water but it did the job. It was the second day that I started to get nervous.
After I woke up and stamped out my fire pit and walked along the path some more. After about two miles I started to notice what I think was them things. They had been coydogs, I couldn’t say for sure, looking at them made you want to be blind and the smell made you gag. I felt hungry up until I saw them laying on the ground like that. Something in the water I guessed, but Christ it really wasn’t the kind of thing you’d want to see on the way home.
I trudged on for the rest of that day just fine. I wasn’t having no problems with nothing yet, just spooked by the sun and the dead animals. I worried a bit about my buddies back at camp, and thought a bit about that news release, I remember that. I remember gathering wood that night and starting up the fire. It was a cloudy one so I did what I could to shelter myself with a tent. Boy was I glad for it!
Now since yous was in the cities you remember the rain. It fell thick and heavy sure, but that’s nothing when you wake up and find that everything’s been covered in this orange film. I got up and walked on after that morning. By then I remember feeling so hungry that it hurt. The trees were dying and the forest stayed a stark mess.
That was the day I found the cave. It was just off the trail and it offered a good place to sit back and think up a plan. When I got in there I didn’t dare touch my boots, but I found a rock and had a much needed sit down. I remember thinking about what I would need to do to get out. I had a limited supply of water and no food- which was fine enough for one or two more days. I said to myself I could manage but looked deeper into the cave. Most of the time there’s a bit of water in those things when they go deep enough, and that water would be cleaned by the rocks and the mud.
I went on in with a torch I made out of my underwear and a stick. I figured that’d work for a few minutes while I took a peek. The cave was huge, and as I walked in I could hear a bit of running water, just a trickle, but better than nothing. I’m sure there were plenty of warning signs, but with a torch I couldn’t see so well.
I found the source of the trickle and downed what was left of my boiled water. I then filled my canteen and turned back towards the entrance. Honestly at that point I was feeling alright about the cave. Figured it’d make a nice home. Problem was I didn’t pay much attention to whose home it might already be.
I remember a flash before everything went black, and I woke up on the floor. When I came to the bear was toying with me, cutting here and there. Normally I would have played dead, because those scratches wouldn’t harm me much, but I had to make it home, and I wasn’t about to let myself become a meal. So I took that hatchet that I had from camp and swung it hard at the darkness. I got lucky, hit the damn thing in the eye. It roared a cry that will haunt me forever, and swung hard at my arm. Now you’ll never believe me when I tell yous this. I didn’t feel a thing. All of this- I felt nothing.
After that bear took that swing I gave it another with my ax, a good hard one to the forehead. It was odd how the bear just slumped after that. Most of the time they’re tougher stuff. Maybe it was hunger, or maybe it was the sun, or the rain. That bear was not bear material- though it managed to hurt me up real good. I couldn’t feel my left arm, but I pulled out a knife and cut as much of the bear up as I could- and then I lit the torch back up. I spent the rest of the day trying to skin it and get some good meat from the bear and paid myself no mind.
I got what meat I could and cooked it at the caves entrance. It really did take me that long to notice my left arm. I knew I couldn’t move it but I just didn’t pay it any mind while food was on the menu. It was a mangled mess. I remember just looking at it, knowing it would have to come off. I just looked at it and then returned to the meal. The meat was tough, and sour, but it gave me what I needed.
I woke up the next day screaming. What was left of my arm jerked and fumed at me, while the back of my head felt like fire. I tore up my shirt and wrapped up my arm into a sling. That’s when I wrapped the bear skin on. I remember how hot the days were, but everything was freezing at night, and I needed shelter from both. I knew that I would run out of meat and just delay starvation if I stayed. I had all of that meat, so I wrapped it up into a bit of my shirt, and tied it to my belt loop. It looked good enough. So I gathered that by the next morning I would move.
That’s when I heard the noises. They came from inside the cave, they was like a thousand dead people screaming at once. I didn’t think twice. I ran from that cave and never looked back. Jokes on me, I left the ax with the bear.
I suppose I was lucky that it didn’t rain that day. I could barely see the trail through that orange film, and I was so scared that I didn’t really care. I think I ran a good few miles before I collected myself. By some wonder I managed to walk on good ground- something told me not to touch that stuff. That was the beginning of the longest day of my life.
I walked for hours, too exhausted to notice the pain. And yeah I stopped to eat when I wanted to, but I didn’t sit. Everything around me had that film on it. The ground and trees sizzled. There were dead animals everywhere. You ever filled a garbage bag with uncooked meat and a bunch of leftovers, and then just kind of left that bag in some hot room for a while? Well if you can imagine that smell, you’d get a feel for how that forest smelled. My boots didn’t seem to mind the stuff, but everything was rotting around me. I tried to hold my breath as I walked through, but there was no end to that filth. So I just kept along the trail. I walked until the sun went down, and then I did my best to keep walking. The nights was filled with screams that kept me awake enough to move.
You see out in the forest night time is quiet- except for the nocturnal hunters. Now I thought those screams was coydogs, but you already know now what they were. There was no way a coydog would make those sounds. I think it was the water- I really do. That night the sky was calmer, could see the stars again and the green waves in the sky were just a regular something to look at. I kept going, listening to the slush beneath my feet and the odd sizzling and cracking of everything around me. I was glad for my bear skins, as they was keeping me warm. That night was short, dawn came and my day was still going. I welcomed that sunshine though, I had frost on my beard from the freeze.
It wasn’t all great though. By then I stopped being scared and started feeling the aches of a broken body. My arm smelled like cheese, and I’ll be honest I pissed myself a good four or five times. My legs felt like spaghetti, and my head was so crusted with blood that moving it hurt more than the actual cuts the blood came from. But I kept walking. I kept begging my feet not to give. I kept eating that bear meat and hoping it wouldn’t kill me. I kept drinking the water and hoping it wouldn’t turn me into orange film. I kept moving. And the longest day of my life, continued on through another night.
There was a moon that night, a very bright one seemingly out of nowhere. It gave me a second daylight through the trail. There was some spots without that orange film, and the ice gathered over everything. It was cold, but a charming cold. By then I was in so much pain that I didn’t care much about the cold. And besides I was wearing that bear skin.
I woke up around noon the next day. I guess I fell asleep walking. I landed in the orange film, but the bearskin took the brunt of it in my slumber. I had to make the rest of the trip without it. My hair was singed by the stuff so I bet I looked more crazy than anything, walking around shirtless with a bag of meat tied to my pants and my arm in a sling. But I was damned lucky. I got up and walked, figuring it’d be my last day in the woods.
I remember it was still pretty hot out. My sweat made the dried blood run, and I had to keep wiping my eyes. But I kept walking. The trail, at least I thought it was the trail, carried my tired legs for miles or maybe inches. By nightfall I found the road and I did an eeny meany miny mo to choose left or right. I ended up going left and took a break a few hours in. The road meant nothing to me, it wasn’t no town and it didn’t offer no food. But I felt safer, and I could finally sit- something I did a lot of on that road.
It’s called something like route 11 and my legs was happy enough it was there. I remember taking big chunks of meat that night, and finishing off my water too. For the first time in my life I slept in the middle of the road and I was not scared one bit. I’d seen enough not to be.
The next day I walked for a good half the day before I came upon town. It looked a mess, as if I was having a better time of it mucking about the woods. That’s when I realized what the screams were. That’s when I realized I was a lucky sonna bitch. But that’s when I met you, so I don’t need to tell you the rest.
I always used to laugh at those logging shows on TV, with the idiots in hard-hats cutting down trees with chainsaws and some rope. But after that week in the woods, I knew I’d never laugh again. And I’m glad you found me- though I’m sure I looked like one of them. I’ll tell you this, there still is food out there, and it ain’t just us. We’ll keep fighting to survive- we’ll adapt, we’ll turn out broken, but just fine.
So this story was originally supposed to be a one page short. But at 3700 words I don’t think it quite lands that category. I’m sorry for the late post- I wanted to post this on Monday, but I’ve been working on a lot of projects and I haven’t got the new rhythm down just yet. Keep an eye out for my featured writer on facebook (announcement later today). You’ll see their work up tomorrow and a new video on Friday. Keep writing, my friends!