Acts of Kindness
Saturday, May 18th
“There is a tree that sits just on Mcloughlin Road, behind the high school and facing the college. I want it cut down.” Jack Kruse looked up from his plate of eggs as the man across the table from him spoke, confusion written plainly on his face. This contrasted greatly with the confident smirk that graced the wizened features of his breakfast companion. Smacking his lips once he set his fork down, picking up the paper napkin that sat to the right of his plate. Wiping his lips he leaned back in his seat, the fake leather cushion settling a bit more under his butt as he set his hands flat on the table.
“And here I thought you were buying breakfast just cause you liked me. What a jip.” Jack had known the man across the table for longer than he’d known his own parents, as sad as that truly was. The lined features of the older man were as familiar to him as his own face, the silvered moustache and slicked back hair seeming slightly out of place upon his lined and wizened countenance. A grin split the man’s features as he leaned back in his seat, the fake leather of the cushion groaning in protest as he settled once more.
“I’ve always liked you Jack, you know that. This is something that I cannot entrust to another. You understand.” Jack nodded as he arched one eyebrow, knowing that Sidney Victor Solus was a man who was not to be disputed. As much as he didn’t understand why he’d been summoned, other than the obvious that had just been stated, Jack knew better than to flat out deny the old man anything.
Sidney was perhaps one of the most well-to-do men in the town of Vancouver, though he was also without a doubt the most mysterious and reclusive. He’d been a friend of Jack’s family for the last two generations, his unnatural longevity leaving many people to believe that he was something of an oddity. Jack had no doubt this was true, but in all likelihood the man simply knew how to take care of himself. He didn’t know just how old Sidney was, but honestly he didn’t care. If he absolutely had to guess then he’d say the man was in his seventies at least, though by the way he moved about one could have decided that he was far younger.
“So why just this one tree? I mean don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying no. It’s just kind of an odd request is all.” Sydney smoothed his moustache down with two fingers before responding, grinning lightly at Jack as he did.
“It has become a health risk for the students since lately its leaves have been reported to contain some rare toxin that has become somehow lodged within the tree’s root system.” Jack looked uncertainly at Sydney as he went back to his breakfast, noting as always that the old man ate nothing, content to sit with his single cup of coffee that usually went untouched. He was a strange one, but then so were most people who were worth so much, it went with the territory.
“I don’t know much about trees and the way they conduct things through their roots, but that seems a bit farfetched Sydney. I mean how in the world do the toxins survive after the leaves crinkle up and turn brown?” Sydney gave Jack one of his long suffering looks that told Jack he’d just asked a rather foolish question.
“Normally you’d be correct my young friend, though in this case the toxins this tree has been reported to produce are extremely resilient. In fact they remain within the leaves even when dead, and within the bark that surrounds the exterior of the tree itself. Eccentric and crazy it may seem I have had my own specialists run many a test on the tree only to find that it is a veritable haven of filth and decay. Truly it is a marvel that no one has yet noticed the effects. Why, the asthma rate alone has increased dramatically in the past five years in the student population.” Jack liked Sydney, though this request seemed a little, well, off. That was nothing new when it came to this man, though Jack couldn’t help but, like always, think that eventually he would break down and do as the man asked.
“So why just the one tree then? If it’s really a health risk then shouldn’t we just go and take them all out? That would make a little more sense than just taking down one tree Sydney.” Jack felt the beginnings of a slight headache as he spoke, grimacing just a bit as he placed two fingers upon his right temple, rubbing it gently as he continued to look at the older man.
“Normally that would be a matter that the city would take into its own hands, though if it became known as an epidemic then far too many people would become involved and there might be a public scare if such a thing was brought to their attention. This way it is kept quiet and hopefully contained.” Sydney gestured with one hand as he spoke, his fingers moving in an almost hypnotizing way as Jack couldn’t help but notice the man’s slightly bony hand He did have a good point, though it still seemed a little ludicrous to chop down just one tree when the risk of such an incident occurring in another specimen was possible. Shrugging his shoulders Jack raised his fork, looking down at his plate as he prepared to dig into his eggs again.
“Okay, I’ll put a couple guys on it in a day or two, it’s going to take a small crew to get it done quick and with as little fuss as possible.” Sydney frowned as Jack speared a few bites of egg on the tines of his fork, almost shoveling them into his mouth as he chewed contentedly.
“This needs to be done immediately Jack. As foreman you should have the ability to go to your superiors and have this taken care of with all haste. This cannot wait.” Jack looked up from his plate, wiping his lips again as he swallowed his food before speaking. He couldn’t imagine why this one tree was such an issue, though Sydney sure seemed agitated about it.
“Sydney, if this tree is where you say it is we’ll have to cordon off the area while we’re working. We’ll be turning that small section of Mcloughlin into a one-lane road for the period of time it’ll take to bring that tree down. We can’t just zip in there, saw it down and zip out.” Sydney closed his eyes as he nodded his head, pressing his lips tightly together as he did. Opening them up again Jack could have sworn he saw something, a gleam or some sort of reflection that shone in the old man’s eyes, a glimmer of something that he didn’t understand. Matter of fact he didn’t think he would want to if it was real.
As soon as it was there it was gone, leaving Jack wondering if perhaps he’d been getting enough sleep as of late. He’d been pulling double shifts every other day for the past month now. Ever since they’d had to let go of three of their workers for reasons he would rather not think of he and the other crew members had been forced to pick up the slack. It was a point of frustration with his wife since both she and their two kids didn’t see him enough and when they did he was little more than a zombie. He needed a rest, though until they found someone who could replace the three idiots that had gotten themselves fired times would be a little hectic for everyone.
“Are you okay Jack?” Sydney placed one hand close to Jack’s right arm, leaning forward as the man could have sworn that he smelled something foul, something that had no business in a place like this. A part of his mind said that such an odor had no place anywhere in this world, though he couldn’t put any sense to that thought as he frowned slightly. What was wrong with him? Maybe he was coming down with something, maybe Patricia, she hated being called Patty, was right when she said he was working too hard. He pulled his arm back just a bit from Sydney’s hand, not wanting the old man to touch him at that moment. He knew this reaction was unfair and didn’t wish to offend the older man, though he couldn’t help but think that being touched by the old man right now would be more than a little uncomfortable.
“Yeah, yeah I’m okay, just nerves is all I guess, workin’ too hard or something.” The old man nodded as he smiled, the gesture seeming somehow comforting and terrible in the same moment. Jack was no longer hungry as he glanced down at his eggs, finding that the rapidly cooling yellow mound of food didn’t seem in the least appetizing anymore. Pushing the plate away he smiled weakly at Sydney, clearing his throat as he reached for his cup of coffee. “Sorry Sydney, I must just be out of sorts today, I was really hungry just a few moments ago.”
The old man smiled a little wider, still nodding his head as he closed his eyes briefly. Jack cast his gaze out the window to his left as he viewed the parking lot for a moment, seeing what he had expected to see, cars, cars, and more cars and across the way the glassed-in fronts of the medical supply shop, the beauty school and other, smaller businesses that lined the curb. Everything seemed as it should, normal in its own way and serene enough as people came and went, going about their business as though nothing else but their little world mattered. Jack was not a philosophical thinker, he didn’t enjoy the big picture as some people called it, he was more grounded in reality, he enjoyed knowing that the world around him was tangible and could be touched, heard, smelled, tasted and seen. Anything else was just so much science fiction and fantasy, with great emphasis on the fiction.
“So how soon can this be done?” Jack raised his eyebrows as he turned back to Sydney, seeing only the same old man that had been a friend to his family for so many years. This man was a part of his world, someone that could be seen and touched, though Jack could not remember one moment in his life when Sydney had really enjoyed being touched. There had been no embraces, no contact outside of a handshake that he could remember, as though the man were afraid of human contact. Of course, he was a bit eccentric, something that could easily explain how he was when it came to such things as touching and interacting with others. Some called him a kook, though Jack ignored such labels. Sydney was a friend.
“I’d say within a day or two Sydney, no longer.” The old man sighed as he smiled, nodding his head in resignation as he wrapped his bony hands around his cup of coffee. Suddenly Jack felt very hungry again, as though his stomach had decided to reverse its sudden decision of only a moment ago. Taking a sip of his coffee Jack placed the cup down just a moment before he began to dig into his eggs again.
* * *
He didn’t know why he’d been drawn here, though Kyle felt as though he’d had very little control in the direction his steps had taken him. Sitting in front of the large tree that stood in back of Hudson’s Bay High School Kyle wondered just why he’d felt the need to walk this far and stop here of all places. He’d sat against the rough bark of the tree as though it were the most natural act in the world, settling against the Old Guard, as it had been called by students and teachers alike. Kyle didn’t know how long this tree had been here, though it had existed during his high school years and for as long as he’d lived in Vancouver. It was a landmark of sort in this part of town, though in that regard so were many of the other trees that dotted the landscape of Vancouver.
For some reason though this one just seemed to grab the attention, its spreading boughs seeming to demand that others stop and ponder its existence. It could take minutes, it could take as little as a few seconds, though Kyle had been sitting here long enough this morning to notice that those who walked, drove, cycled or ran by seemed to always cast their eyes towards the tree, as though it were a matter of great interest that could not be ignored. He found this curious though still strange as he’d watched each person look either at the tree and then at him or just at the tree itself.
Kyle knew that his wife would think nothing of it if he was gone for an hour or more on a Saturday, she’d told him once she actually enjoyed having the house to herself for a short period of time. This allowed her to get such things as vacuuming, dishes and other such household duties taken care of without anyone in the way. She’d said this in as polite a way as possible, though Kyle had known what she’d meant. During the week he worked his ass off, pulling each and every shift his boss had given him lately thanks to the cut backs in manpower they’d suffered. It was amazing to know that with all the workers that Clark County employed that they could possibly be shorthanded, though just three men being let go had almost doubled the workload of everyone else.
He’d come to value his weekends off and as such had used them to wander around the surrounding neighborhoods, fully enjoying the freedom to go where he wanted without being barked at. His friend Simon was in the same boat since they were on the same crew, though on the weekends Simon went instead to the dojo up on Mill Plain to work out his frustrations. Kyle had watched the man during practice a few times and had to admit that he’d never want to find himself on the wrong side of his lifelong friend. Simon was just outright deadly it seemed.
Aside from just getting out of the house and enjoying a pleasant spring morning Kyle had to admit to himself that it was nice just to stop once in awhile, to do nothing, find a spot and just relax. He could have done this at home, though he would rather not be a burden to his wife. Besides that he knew that Simon’s wife Tia would no doubt wander over as she did when Simon and Kyle were elsewhere. This gave Jenna, Kyle’s wife, a pleasant day alone with another woman, who would no doubt understand the need to have the men out of the house every once in while. Kyle knew that if he was gone long enough they would pop open a bottle of chardonnay and get to talking about whatever it was that women talked about, no doubt getting a little tipsy as the day wore on. Thankfully Simon and Tia lived only a little ways down the street from Kyle and Jenna, it was a short enough walk even for a woman that had tipped one glass too many.
The day around him was pleasant as he watched the comings and goings of the people that moved about in their own methods and at their own pace. This was a good town, a good place to live and to maybe one day raise a family. He and Jenna had been married now for only a year, having finally tied the knot after the massive unpleasantness that had occurred during the past three years. His two nieces, Aeris and Belle, had finally moved on, forming their own lives after the disastrous events of the last few years. Life had finally evened out and for Kyle Feylan and his remaining family the world had finally began to make sense.
The gentle buzzing that came from his right hip pocket caused him to close his eyes in annoyance as he placed his hand over the vibrating patch of denim, groaning slightly as he reached into his pocket. Taking out his cell phone Kyle could see on the LCD display a number he’d hoped not to have to see for the next two days. It wasn’t uncommon for his boss to call him on weekends, though Jack had specifically told his crew in person that he would not be calling them until Monday, and even then he would only call them if they were late to work. To think that the man was about to go back on his word meant that there was something that really needed to be done. Jack Kruse wasn’t the kind of man that went back on his word by choice, which was why he rarely gave it.
As bosses went the man was a hardass but he was still cool enough that his workers knew he could be trusted to keep the promises he’d made. Working for the county though didn’t allow him to always keep his word, something the man lamented at times since it made him look like a fool. Kyle could respect Jack, though at times like this he really didn’t want to answer his phone. Unfortunately Jack had him and Simon pegged, he knew that the two men always had their phones on them and as such there was no reason for them to not answer. Kyle had been enough of a smartass to state a few reasons why he wouldn’t or couldn’t answer his phone, though Jack had shot each of them down in turn.
Flipping the top of his phone open Kyle still debated hitting the SEND button before bringing the phone to his ear, sighing as with his thumb he hit the green button that would allow him to speak to his boss.
“What’s up Jack?” he said cheerily, putting as much mockery into his voice as he could.
“We won’t be going out to Ridgefield on Monday Kyle, just wanted to give you a heads up is all. I’ve already called Simon and told him.”
“I’d be lying if I said I was disappointed.”
“Yeah I know you wanted to lay blacktop on some back country road so badly didn’t you?” Jack laughed as Kyle joined in, narrowing his eyes as he wondered what job would be taking the place of the tedious labor, “We’ve got an assignment that’s closer to home though kid, one that’s just down the street from you and Simon matter of fact.” Jack Kruse knew where Simon and Kyle lived, they both had housed on the same street and Jack had been to both of them several times on social occasions. To Kyle and Simon the man had been a good friend and a trusted drinking buddy, though at work they kept their relationship professional as could be.
“Oh yeah? What’s the job?” Kyle could have sworn he felt a tingle run down his back in that moment, as though something had crawled down his shirt. Leaning away from the tree he looked up and behind him, seeing nothing upon the bark. That would make sense though if something had already crawled down his shirt, it would no longer be on the tree itself.
“There’s a tree outside your old high school that needs to come down. Don’t ask me why but Sydney and I were havin’ breakfast today and the old man told me all about it, somethin’ about some disease or illness the tree might be spreading.” Kyle raised one eyebrow in disbelief. He knew very well who Sydney Victor Solus was. The man was one of the only residents within Vancouver that all county workers knew to either avoid or revere. Kyle knew too many higher ups that liked to kiss the old man’s ass just because of his standing in Vancouver and his supposed contributions to the “beautification” of the city. Personally Kyle thought the man was just downright creepy, like the type of person who was shown in movies that could pass for a demented scientist or an aging serial killer. In any case Kyle just didn’t like him.
“Really. And what kind of diseases exactly does this old tree have that would harm a human being?” As Jack sighed on the other end of the phone Kyle knew that the man had already given into whatever request Solus had made of him. Kyle liked Jack quite a bit and had no problem doing whatever the man asked at work, though it was and had always been a mystery as to how old man Solus had been able to get Jack to do what he wanted. Even worse was that Jack’s bosses never seemed to find fault with the old man directing what jobs he wanted done. They didn’t work for Sydney, this wasn’t Solus County, it was Clark County.
“Don’t get me started on that kid. I just wanted to tell you that on Monday we’ll be down on Mcloughlin. I still need to speak to the school superintendent and let him know what we’re doing, plus there’s a few other people I need to talk to. Just make sure you and Simon are ready to go then alright?” Kyle narrowed his eyes as he felt yet another tingle as he laid his back against the tree again. Staying very still he tried to feel tiny legs upon his skin, figuring that maybe an ant or some other insect had given up the rough terrain of the tree for something slightly smoother and less exposed to the light.
“Alright, see you on Monday then. Hey wait, did the old man, I mean did Sydney tell you any valid reason this tree needs to come down? I mean there must be dozens of trees around the school Jack, if one has a disease the rest could have them too. Plus from where I’m sitting they don’t look diseased to me.”
“Kid, you don’t know how much I had to talk to the old man to get him to at least try and see my point of view. You know how it goes, if he wants something done then eventually no matter who he has to use it’ll get done. Let me guess, you’re sitting near that specific tree right now?”
“If it’s the one I think you’re talking about then I’m sitting against it, yes.” Another tingle ran down Kyle’s back, though he didn’t feel as though anything was crawling upon him. Instead it felt as though the feeling was coursing along his spine in a way, as though it were a sensation being elicited from deep within his body. It was not unpleasant, though it was definitely noticeable enough to be distracting.
“Took another one of your walks did you? Look kid, you know that the county doesn’t belong to the old man but those that run it listen pretty close to what he says. If Sydney says something needs to go then it needs to go.”
“I always thought there were committees for things like that.”
“Normally that’s how it would be, but look at this way, it’s one tree, it’s not a whole forest.”
“At least not yet right?” Jack sighed over the phone as Kyle responded, he’d obviously been speaking to the old man longer than he was admitting, though Kyle couldn’t conceal how he felt at that moment. The tree he now sat upon was just one plant out of a bunch of them that lay around the surrounding area. Vancouver was a rather green city when it came to plant life, it wasn’t quite as much concrete and asphalt as a city such as Portland, its closest neighbor. Hell even Portland had its fair share of greenery covering its hills despite its much larger population. Kyle didn’t see the difference one tree would make if it was cut down. Aside from that were the complaints that might arise from the school board, the students and even the college students across the way.
Many of the students attending Clark Community College just across the street had gone to Hudson’s Bay High School and several could no doubt remember Old Guard fondly. The trees lower limbs had been removed long before anyone who was still alive could remember, preventing injury from the zealous few who thought to climb into its higher reaches, though it was still a favored gathering spot for young high school kids when school let out or just to pass the time on a weekend. For Kyle the tree had always been a nice place to sit as it was now. He could remember more than a few times when he and Jenna had leaned against the rough bark as they’d sat to talk and discuss what they would do once they graduated. It was here that Kyle had first thought to propose to his wife, though that plan had been ruined quite effectively by the death of his family years before.
“Look Kyle, we’ve been given a job to do, that’s all there is. That tree’s coming down on Monday, just be ready to go alright?”
* * *
“So he’s really gonna have us cut Old Guard down huh? That sucks.” Simon cracked the lid from his beer as he then flipped the cap into a large bowl that already held an uncounted number of different colored caps. Taking a long swig of the cold brew Simon kept his eyes on Kyle as saw the strange look pass over his friend’s face. He’d seen such a look on Kyle’s face before, it usually meant that the man was planning on doing something uniquely stupid or dangerously innovative. In other words it signified trouble. Simon had to admit that he kind of liked trouble at times.
“I’m still wondering why he would ask us to cut it down. One tree out of a bunch of them doesn’t make sense.”
“Maybe whatever disease the old man found is confined to that one tree.” Simon offered, taking another swig.
“And it just now sprang up? C’mon man that makes no sense.” Simon shrugged helplessly as he looked at Kyle, wishing his friend would let the subject go. He’d arrived home shortly after Simon had shown up, taking the rest of his day off in favor of spending time with his friend and mentor Yin Juang, or Mr. Yin to those who knew him best. Simon had found in the older man a good friend and a patient ear when it came to his martial arts studies, which took up a great deal of his time every now and then.
“I don’t make the decisions Kyle, neither does Jack really. We just do what we’re told is all. I remember Old Guard just as fondly as you do, but in all honesty I can’t see getting all bent out of shape over an old tree coming down. If it’s a health risk then we really don’t have a choice but to do what we’re told.”
“I’m surprised though that they aren’t having a hazmat team or something come in to at least supervise or take control.” Seated upon the large blue couch that dominated the Feylan’s living room, Tia Roninsay, Simon’s wife, sipped delicately from her glass of wine. As Kyle had thought the woman had come over to keep Jenna company and the two had already tipped back a bottle before he had arrived home. Jenna was seated only an arms length from Tia, nursing her own glass of pale yellow wine as she followed the conversation.
“It’s not a chemical spill, it’s just a tree.” Simon replied.
“But still, if you’re taking it down because it’s diseased then why wouldn’t they have some form of containment or something along those lines ready?” Simon and Kyle exchanged a look at that moment that Jenna didn’t miss, her lips tightening into a thin line as she looked at both of them. “What?”
“Hon have you ever seen a tree fall? There’s no way to contain it adequately. Even if there was the cost of resources and manpower would undoubtedly be way too much for a project like this. That’s why it doesn’t make sense.”
“Oooh, sounds like a conspiracy.” The two women laughed as Tia waggled the fingers of her left hand, her eyes widening as she smiled at Kyle. For his own part Kyle merely rolled his eyes, grinning as he shook his head.
“Ah just let it go man, we hack down a tree and we get paid, no big deal. I kinda wonder though why we’re doing it on a weekday when school’s going to be in instead of on a weekend.” Simon shrugged as he spoke, taking another pull from his bottle.
“Do you think it will traumatize anyone? I mean Old Guard has been there since our parents were young, maybe before.”
“It’s been there for at least close to a century if not longer, I mean they built the damned sidewalk around it instead of taking it out. I can only imagine how far its root system must go.” Kyle said, the image of the large tree coming into his mind easily at that moment.
“Oh well, that’s how things go sometimes. It’s called progress babe.” Jenna said, earning a small frown from Kyle as she reached out to him with her free hand.
“So what movies did you bring over T?” Simon asked, stepping forward to stand next to his wife as she reached back to take his hand. The Feylan’s residence wasn’t any larger than the Roninsay’s, they even had nearly the same size backyard save for the fact that Kyle and Jenna’s was a little wider. Each of them had apple trees in their back yard, though the Feylans’ hadn’t produced anything but green leaves for a number of years now. The apples on Simon and Tia’s tree were often riddled with worms before they could harvest them, though every now and then Tia would make an apple pie that was to die for.
Squirrels and scrub jays darted to and fro constantly along the large expanse of lawn, providing an amusing ballet of sorts as they at times quibbled over seeds and other such edible morsels that lay upon the ground. More often than not they would run in fear or dart about as though to tease Coda, the black and white husky that had been with Kyle and Jenna for three years now. They’d brought the dog home when she had been only four months old and had her flown up from California at a great expense, though each of them had fully enjoyed the husky since their earliest days together. Coda had learned quickly the rights and wrongs within the house, though there had been times when the dog had overstepped her bounds and required some form of punishment. It had been then that Kyle had come up with his method of ‘time out’ for the dog, placing her at the end of the short hallway that led to the house’s three bedrooms.
Coda had learned to sit in time out without a peep until either Kyle or Jenna had told her it was okay to come out, lying peacefully against the door that sat at the end of the hallway. It had been amusing to others to see the husky sitting so quietly in her time out spot like a child, though Coda had had to learn that it didn’t matter if company came over, she still had to mind. Time out was not interrupted for any reason. Thankfully the husky had learned to mind Kyle and Jenna after a time. She obviously had not enjoyed time out.
Currently the husky was outside running around as she terrorized the squirrels and birds that seemed to enjoy the chase as much as she did at times. Kyle had actually seen a scrub jay buzz the dog one day, his eyes widening as Coda had snapped at the bird. He’d know very well from the way the dog’s jaws were formed that the bird would have no chance if Coda got hold of it. A husky’s jaws were designed to work in a scissoring motion, giving them a decided advantage when it came to cutting through anything that was not tough enough to withstand their sharp teeth.
The inside of their homes were similar thanks to the fact that many of the homes around this particular neighborhood had at one time been a part of the army barracks back in the fifties. Many of the homes along their street had been used to house officers and had remained where they were for decades. The Feylan residence had been remodeled almost completely on the inside when Kyle had first moved in, from the floor up. The light blue walls had been Jenna’s idea while the royal blue carpet had been Kyle’s. The kitchen had been redone completely, the appliances were new and the combination living room/dining area was just big enough to accommodate all four of them comfortably. The couch that took up most of the room was a sectional and designed to hold many more, though the two couples found it was just the right size for enjoying what they had come to know as movie night.
“Well, I couldn’t decide whether to bring a comedy or a horror so I brought both. We’ve got Trading Places and Event Horizon to choose from.”
“What’s Event Horizon?” Jenna asked.
“The movie we’re going to watch I guess.” Simon replied, earning him a laugh as he sat down next to his wife. Kyle was slower to sit as his mind kept going back to the tree, thinking of Old Guard as he tried to figure out just why the request to cut it down seemed so wrong.
“Hey you, come sit down.” Jenna said as she tugged on his hand. Shaking his head slightly Kyle went to sit next to his wife, putting any thoughts of the tree from his mind for the moment.
* * *
Hours later Simon and Tia had left for home, leaving the two movies on the coffee table in front of the couch. The four of them had enjoyed the movie despite the fact that it had been a bit graphic for Simon’s taste. The science fiction thriller had been about a killer space ship that had somehow been infested by an evil spirit of some kind and then convinced its crew to murder one another. All in all its special effects hadn’t been bad, though Simon and Jenna had each thought the story to be a bit stretched. Kyle and Tia had enjoyed the plot, thinking it was just deep enough to entertain even if it was slightly demented. The four had agreed that it was at best a B movie, though before they had made it as far as considering Trading Places they had each realized the time. Simon and Tia had walked home not long after the movie had been over, stating that they would see if they could squeeze in any time for a movie the next evening. As far as Kyle knew he and Jenna weren’t doing anything, though he had already convinced himself during the movie that tomorrow he would be taking another walk.
He hadn’t said anything to Jenna or Simon, knowing that they would surely assume that he was going to walk back down to Old Guard, perhaps to spend some time remembering all the moments he’d sat beside the tree. Kyle was just a bit nostalgic, everyone who knew him realized this right off the bat, though he couldn’t convince himself that this was all that his interest in the tree was. Something about Old Guard seemed, different somehow, as though the tree were more than just an overlooked landmark. He couldn’t convince himself of the strange feelings he had for the tree any more than he could tell himself that it was something spiritual, but Kyle knew somehow that it would be wrong to just chop the tree down like it was any other.
He and Jenna had gone to bed shortly after tidying up the living room and kitchen, slipping under the covers shortly before Jenna had enticed Kyle into a little late night recreation. Coda had thankfully found somewhere else to be as she always did when the two were engaged in adult activities, leaving them to their shared passions until she had somehow sensed it was okay to come in. The husky had made a practice of sleeping in the same room with her people since she had been brought home, a habit that neither Kyle nor Jenna had ever discouraged. She was after all a part of the family, it would be wrong to simply kick her out into the hall at night like a lowly mongrel. In Jenna’s eyes she was a little girl in all but form, which meant Kyle had to follow along with such a thought.
Kyle awoke to a cold nose nuzzling his shoulder as his eyes opened groggily, a low moan issuing from his lips as he saw a blurry white and black form at the side of the bed. Coda nosed him again as she then backed away, her jaw hanging open as she panted lightly, looking at him expectantly. Kyle could almost swear the dog was grinning as she lowered her eyes slightly, ducking her head as though trying to see if was awake. There were times when the dog was far too much like a human for comfort.
“You know where the dog door is hound.” Coda’s lower jaw shut for a moment as she cocked her head at him, as though she did not understand his words. Kyle knew very well that she knew what he was saying, the dog was smarter than she let on at times, as she had proven in the past. Jenna stirred lightly beside him as Kyle waved his left hand at the dog, turning his head away as he sought to go back to sleep.
Up until they’d put in the dog door Coda had always come to either Kyle or Jenna to be let out to take care of her daily functions. She’d peed on the floor only once before the door had been put in and that had been during a bout when she had been quite sick and unable to move very fast. After the installation of the door just last year she had been faithful in taking herself outside and doing what she needed to do. Why she would be bothering Kyle now was odd, though he wasn’t about to waste much energy on figuring out the reason behind her waking him up. As he felt her nose jab him lightly again though Kyle couldn’t help but groan again as he turned back to the dog, whose crystal blue eyes still looked at him expectantly.
“Is the door stuck or something?” He knew Coda couldn’t answer, though Kyle wanted a damn good reason for being made to get out of bed at this time of night. Closing his eyes again he knew very well that if the dog wanted something she would not quit until he was awake. If the door was stuck though it would be better to let her out rather than deal with the mess in the morning. Looking at the digital alarm clock on his nightstand though he could see that it technically was morning, making him groan again as he slid from the bed.
Jenna hardly stirred as he stood, pulling on a t-shirt before padding from the room slowly, careful not to bump into the walls or the door. He’d stubbed his toes so many times when waking up in the middle of the night that he knew where every edge and obstacle was, though it still hurt when he ran into them. Coda preceded him out of the room as he shuffled wearily down the hall, yawning deeply but silently as he rubbed his arms, feeling a slight chill as he made his way to the kitchen.
Coming out of the hallway Kyle opened his eyes just a little more as he turned to the left, his feet meeting the cold floor of the kitchen as he took the few steps he needed to reach the door. The blinds over the kitchen window and the smaller panes set into the top half of the door were drawn shut, though he could see the darkness behind them as he grimaced\again, dropping his eyes to the large dog door that had been cut into the bottom half of the door. Coda was not a big dog, though the smaller dog doors had not been big enough for her to come and go as she pleased, therefore Kyle had been forced to cut out a section from the middle of the door and spend the money it took to make sure that it was secure and sound. The cost of a larger dog door had been too much at the time, though he’d done well enough in his effort to make a door for Coda. The inner part of the door latched so that at night Kyle or Jenna could lock it, making sure that nothing else decided to come inside. They’d left it unlatched many nights without incident, though every now and then they would latch the door. There was no telling when a stray possum or even a crazed squirrel would seek to find shelter indoors.
The door was unlatched and could therefore be pushed in quite easily by the dog, leaving Kyle to frown at Coda as the husky took her regular spot beneath the kitchen window to the left of the door, grinning up at him in her own peculiar way. Kyle yawned again, not appreciating Coda’s strange antics at that moment.
“The door’s fine you nut, go on and do your thing.” Coda simply looked at him, closing her jaws as her bushy tail wagged several times behind her. Kyle rolled his eyes as he ran a single hand down his face. “Fine, but if I’m going to open the door you’re going to do this my way. Sit.” Kyle’s voice was laced with irritation as he raised his left hand palm up. In response Coda sat, her tail ceasing its cheery wag as she looked up at her “daddy”, waiting patiently for him to open the door. Kyle turned the knob only to remember that it was locked. Unlocking it he then lowered his hand, his palm now facing Coda as he didn’t say a word. The husky was well-trained enough now that he didn’t even need to say anything, she simply knew the commands and knew what to do. Opening the door Kyle felt the chill of the outdoors immediately creep in as he tucked his hands into his armpits for warmth in the next moment, opening the door wide with his elbows as Coda continued to look up at him.
“Go on, do your thing.” Kyle said, standing at the edge of the open door as he allowed enough space for Coda to breeze by. The husky twitched slightly as she had in her earlier months when she had still been acclimating to her training. Kyle rolled his eyes again as he pressed his lips into a thin line. He did not have time for this right now, he could be back in bed, sleeping, enjoying his rest, anything but standing here and freezing his ass off while Coda decided to play.
“C’mon Coda go on and do the do, I’m freezin’ my-“ The husky moved then, almost bounding out the door as she snorted once in what sounded like frustration. Kyle cocked one eyebrow as he stepped into the doorway. As he went to yawn again Kyle’s eye suddenly fell on the roofline of the garage, his eyes widening immediately at what he saw.
The garage was independent of the house, sitting nearly twenty yards away from the small back porch and close to the fence that separated the Feylan’s property from their neighbors. It was a spacious building, able to house all the various items that Kyle and Jenna had purchased over the years as well as Jenna’s car. Kyle’s own vehicle was in the gravel driveway that lay just off to the left of the main drive, between the house and the garage, though at the moment it looked less like a car than a strange gathering place of the feathered and beaked intruders whose claws were no doubt scratching the hell out of the paint job. Kyle quickly reflected that it was rather odd to worry about material damage in lieu of the sight he’d suddenly been afforded.
There were birds everywhere, on his car, on the roofline and even on the power cables that ran from the top of the garage to the house. Kyle blinked rapidly as he remained in the doorway, not even noticing as Coda seemed to not even mind that there were so many fun things to chase in her yard at the moment. The dog chuffed once, looking first at the birds on Kyle’s car and then to the ones on the roofline. There were even several smaller birds upon the basketball hoop that was bolted to the front of the garage, each of them eerily silent and still as the focus of each beady eye seemed to be upon Kyle.
As his eyes adjusted a bit to the darkness he could identify several of the birds as he stood motionless in the doorway, feeling as though he’d just stepped into a modern day rendition of an Alfred Hitchcock movie. Strangely enough he was not afraid, though he couldn’t help but feel extremely uncomfortable as the cold-blooded gazes of so many birds seemed to pin him in place. Atop the garage there were large, thin-legged birds that could only be herons, three of them in fact that stood near the apex of the roof. Along the roofline he could see owls, hawks and even two other types of birds that he could not readily identify. The roofline was packed with the feathered invaders, though not a one of them seemed to mind the close proximity. Kyle could have sworn that such species did not care to occupy the same space, leaving him to think that this might be a dream, a very lucid and very, very strange dream.
Coda chuffed again as he looked up at the wire that delivered power to the garage’s fuse box, seeing more hawks and a few more of the birds that he could not place a name to. Every last one of them was glaring down at him with their cold eyes, making Kyle feel not unlike a cornered field mouse as a few of them cocked their heads curiously at him.
“Coda, inside girl, c’mon.” Kyle’s voice was just a bit breathless as he kept his eyes upon as many of the birds as he could. The husky showed no fear of the birds nor, and Kyle was thankful for this, any inclination to start chasing them around. Aside from the herons and a few of the owls on the roofline, not a single one of the birds was large enough to give the husky problems one on one, though Kyle could sense that if they were to suddenly turn violent that Coda would have not a chance in hell of getting away before she was torn to shreds. His little girl was tough in her own right, but these animals were still wild and as a result knew how to be undeniably deadly. Their claws would shred the dog into so many bloody ribbons if they decided to take offense to her gentle chuffs.
Kyle was about to call to Coda again when one of the hawks, there was no way to tell which one, screeched aloud, sounding not unlike a set of nails being dragged across a chalkboard. He couldn’t help but flinch at the sound as suddenly each bird took flight, each of them pumping their wings as they ascended quickly into the night sky. The thunder of so many wings unfolding at once caused Kyle to spring forward, seeking to drag Coda inside if he had to. He would undoubtedly take a few nasty cuts and scrapes but he would at least save his little girl from a certain and gruesome demise. The distance to the door from where the husky was standing wasn’t that far, he could make it.
Even as he looked skyward to see how many of the birds would descend upon him at a time Kyle felt his eyes widen once more. A single feather alighted upon his shoulder as he looked up in amazement, seeing not a single winged form as he blinked rapidly, looking down as much as he could at the feather upon his shoulder. He’d reached Coda but had not had the chance to cover her. The husky chuffed at him as though reassuring Kyle that all was well. Brushing the feather from his shoulder Kyle stood absolutely still for a moment, wondering if what had just happened were entirely real or just another part of this strange, very real-seeming dream he was having. His mind wanted to believe that nothing strange had just happened, that he was still asleep in his bed, that there had been no strange gathering of birds looking at him as though he was dinner.
The cold of the night could be explained, the human brain was quite adept at fooling the body into believing it was experiencing certain things even with very little material to work with. He could have kicked the blankets away from himself, thus the inside of the house would be colder than under the blankets with his wife. Maybe Jenna had rolled over and breathed on his shoulder, that would perhaps explain the light touch of a feather on his skin. Kyle began to walk towards the door, barely noticing as Coda followed at his side. The husky had always preceded him or followed behind when he had walked back into the house, she rarely if ever walked at his side. Yet Kyle was in a state at that moment that did not allow him to comprehend this. What about the thunderous sound of so many birds taking flight at once? What about that? How could his brain explain away the roar of the many wings as the small flock had taken off all at the same time? What could have possibly caused that?
Kyle found that he didn’t have an answer. Even when he managed to close the door, walk back to the bedroom and slip under the covers he still couldn’t think of a single thing. Sleep was rather slow in claiming him again as that thunderous roar crowded its questing into his thoughts, seemingly adamant in forcing him to think of an answer for the strange occurrence. What could have caused that?
* * *
Sunday, May 19th
Kyle woke before Jenna as usual, though on this day he gave her only a single kiss on the cheek before rolling out of bed, his body wakening quickly as the thought of what had happened just several hours ago came back to mind. Kyle was out of bed and into a comfortable jogging suit in seconds as he made his way from the bedroom to the kitchen again. Coda did not accompany him this time, remaining on her side as she continued to slumber, barely twitching as he moved past where she lay at the foot of the bed. The husky didn’t even open her eyes as Kyle left the room, though she chuffed once in her sleep as he exited, her eyes moving behind her furry lids as she dreamt of whatever it is that canines dream of.
His mind was still wracked with the single thought that had followed him into a troubled slumber, the issue of what had caused that thunderous noise that had erupted as the birds, there had been birds he was almost convinced, took off at once. Kyle felt tired, worn out and weary, though he still had to know that he wasn’t going crazy in some strange, as of yet undefined way. He had to know that he wasn’t seeing things, or maybe he needed to know that he had been seeing things, whatever the case he needed to know. That was of course the main point.
Kyle was striding across the kitchen floor, ignoring the cold hardwood beneath his feet as he could see the daylight spilling through the blinds. He almost expected to hear the ruffling of wings or an early-morning hunting cry, or something to indicate that the weirdness of last night was about to be revisited. Unlocking and opening the door though he swung it wide to reveal nothing more unusual than his car as it sat in the gravel portion of the driveway. He’d expected, if the dream had been reality, to see his rig dotted liberally with the white remnants of bird crap and perhaps a multitude of feathers, though its normal color was unmarred by a single feather, scratch or even a hint of droppings. Kyle blinked several times as he tried to sort out the events of last night with the absence of any tangible evidence today.
Sunlight streamed down from above, barely warming Kyle as he felt the chill of last night still, unable to break free as of yet from the strange feeling that the dream, had it been a dream?, had elicited. Kyle liked things to make sense, though at the moment this made no sense. Everything had seemed so real, right down to the cold way that the birds had looked at him. But where was the evidence? Where was something, anything to support his case? All he had to go on right now was that thunderous roar that still defied any ready explanation.
Kyle heaved a large sigh as his shoulders drooped, feeling a bit helpless at this point as he cast his eyes down. His eyes widened just a bit as he saw something lying next to his car, something that normally could be easily explained, though at this moment caused his heart to beat a little harder in his chest. Kneeling on the far side of his car Kyle swallowed hard as he plucked the single item from the ground, remembering the slight feel as the object had landed upon his shoulder the night before.
Birds flying over, such as crows and even gulls at times, shed feathers all the time and as a result left them to float randomly into the yards of those who thought them little more than nuisances. Kyle had seen more than a few feathers in his time appear without explanation in his back yard or elsewhere on his property, though this one was far different. He wasn’t an ornithologist, nor was he even that interested in birds, but he knew the feather he now held in his left hand was not from a crow or a gull. The striping and coloration were all wrong for starters, leaving Kyle cold as he realized that here was a small piece of the proof he had needed. Last night had happened.
“Kyle? What are you doing hon?” Kyle lowered the feather quickly, feeling a lump forming in his throat as he looked over at his wife. Jenna stood in the doorway, one hand running through her long brown hair as she yawned deeply. She was clad in sweatpants and a t-shirt, her feet bare as she moved aside just enough to allow Coda to squeeze by as the husky bounded outside.
“Nothing, just thought I heard something nosing around out here is all.” The excuse sounded lame, though Jenna merely shrugged as she turned to go back inside. Kyle didn’t know what was more unnerving, the fact that she had bought his excuse so easily or that he was still trying to convince himself that last night hadn’t happened. Feathers fell all the time, birds flew over homes back and forth at random day and night, it didn’t mean that last night had been real. The feather could have come from almost anywhere he told himself. Looking down at Coda as the dog came to stand next to him Kyle could have sworn, as always, that the husky was grinning at him.
* * *
Kyle found himself at the tree again, though today was slightly different than yesterday. For one thing fewer people were in evidence, even the road was all but abandoned as Kyle sat against Old Guard again. Sunday’s were busy days for some parts of town, though around this part of town things were pretty quiet on a usual basis. Plus at eight o’ clock on such a day many people were still in bed, enjoying their time off or just passed out from whatever activities they’d participated in the night before.
He was an early riser, always had been and most likely always would be. After a quick breakfast of cereal and milk Kyle had made his way down Mcloughlin to where he now sat, finding that just placing himself near the tree seemed to assuage his nerves. The question of last night was still with him, though the walk to this spot and the several minutes he’d already spent seated with his back against the rough bark of the tree seemed to be enough to calm his mind at least in part. Currently Kyle had his eyes closed as he took in the early morning sunlight, inhaling deeply now and then as he could smell the blooms and the scent of freshly cut grass all around him. This place was perhaps one of his favorites within town limits, it just seemed as though it were more vibrant than many others.
There were other spots all over Vancouver that were far more serene and offered a much wider variety of plant and wildlife, though Kyle couldn’t deny that something about this spot was just so, calming. It was almost as though the tree alone were the epicenter of the serenity that this spot offered, its many branches radiating a sense of peace that permeated the surrounding area. Kyle didn’t even try to think in that moment as he leaned against Old Guard, enjoying the feel of its rough skin against his back.
Look at all we’ve lost.
Kyle’s eyes snapped open as he leaned forward suddenly, looking all around as he sought the speaker of the words. No one was around, not even a car could be heard in the distance. But he had heard a voice! It had sounded as though the speaker was no more than a few steps away! Kyle’s heart beat a little faster as he placed both hands upon the ground, listening intently as he slowly rose to his feet. He moved cautiously around the tree, expecting at any moment to see someone sitting on the other side. It was strange to think that he hadn’t heard anyone approach, but then he had been deep in his own thoughts at the time, he supposed he might have missed the telltale sound of footsteps. Except as he came around the other side of the tree there was no one there.
Why do we keep going?
Kyle spun in place, the voice now sounded as though it were right behind him! With eyes wide he raced around the tree, fervently hoping someone was playing a joke on him. It would be a poor jest but it would at least make Kyle feel a little more normal if he were to find someone racing him around the tree. At least a hoax would be real.
There was no one there though. Kyle went around the tree several times before realizing that no one was playing a trick on him, no one was eluding him around the tree. No one was that fast or that quiet. Licking his lips nervously Kyle placed a single hand upon Old Guard for balance, breathing heavily as he looked in all directions. Thankfully no one drove by at that moment, they might well have believed him a madman for playing chase around a tree all by himself.
To stop is to die. The voice came again as Kyle took his hand away from Old Guard, quickly as though as he’d been scalded. He could only wish that such a thing were true after realizing that the voice was not coming from behind him. It was coming from above. Kyle knew that climbing Old Guard was strictly forbidden during school hours, though kids would be kids and after hours, on weekends and even when the teachers weren’t looking kids did what they weren’t supposed to do. Breathing a little easier Kyle looked up, expecting to see someone on the verge of busting up with laughter after spooking him enough to make him chase his tail around a tree.
What he saw though was anything but laughable. A very large owl stood upon the lowest branch, glaring down at him as Kyle’s jaw dropped noticeably. He had no idea how to respond at first as the owl’s wide, penetrating eyes held him in place. Kyle had no words or even a coherent thought at that moment, all was jumbled as he found himself warring with such thoughts as owls being nocturnal, or not prevalent in the surrounding neighborhoods, or even that this specimen was easily large enough to cause him a good deal of harm. The bird never once even batted an eye as they stared at one another, the tufted feathers that rode high above each eye twitching in the gentle winds that blew through Old Guard’s branches.
Was this one of the bird’s that had been on his garage roof last night? Kyle shook his head slightly, that was an irrational thought he wouldn’t entertain. The bird continued to glare at him as he looked upward, as though silently demanding that he state his business here or move on if you please. Kyle almost laughed then as his mind attributed such a human attitude to the bird, though it wasn’t really that funny. The owl looked as though it would swoop down and claw his eyes out if he proved to be rude enough to laugh at that moment.
To stop is to quit, and we don’t quit. Kyle took a step away from the tree as the voice came again, sounding strikingly familiar in that moment as he took several more steps away. He didn’t stop until he was out from under the tree, away from the owl’s somehow damning glare. His heart was beating madly as he continued to look at the tree, his eyes pinned to the spot where the owl still perched, though he could see only hints of the large bird from where he now stood. Blinking rapidly several times Kyle found that after another few seconds he couldn’t see the owl any longer, as thought it had somehow vanished.
Kyle made as though to step forward, wanting to affirm that he was not losing his mind. Yet he made it only one step closer to Old Guard, finding that he couldn’t bring himself to step back under the shadow of the tree once more. Whether it was fear or something else he could not define, Kyle felt that he was no longer welcome in the shade offered by Old Guard, as though he had outstayed his time in its comforting presence. So powerful was this emotion that he couldn’t even walk past the tree, finding the need to cross the street as he began his walk home, never once looking back at the towering form of Old Guard. It was only when he reached the intersection where Mcloughlin met Grand that he finally began to feel better, and it was only after he reached home that the entire incident seemed not to matter anymore. Though it was still there, in the back of his mind, Kyle found that he could for a time put the matter of the tree aside, focusing instead on other matters that needed his attention, at least for a while.
* * *
Monday, May 20th
The proper calls had been made, the right people had been informed and by nine o’ clock that morning a crew of seven men including Kyle and Simon had been gathered in the east parking lot of the high school. The seven men had waited patiently for Jack to arrive, sipping coffee and smoking cigarettes during said time. Kyle had already instructed two men to pick up their butts when they were done, they didn’t need to give the teachers or anyone else any reason to make a complaint. They’d already fielded enough questions and complaints on the fact that Old Guard was scheduled to come down. There had been a great deal of controversy as well as confusion when they had been unable to tell anyone just why the tree had to be chopped down, though with the coming of the first class bell the seven men had been left alone to wait for their boss. Jack Kruse was normally a punctual man, though today he’d had a few minor errands to run here and there before meeting up with his crew.
Kyle and Simon both knew that they should have already been prepping the site for the tree to come down, though as they’d gone to get ready each of them had felt a disquieting sense of wrong, something so disturbing that they’d gladly halted their progress to wait for Jack. The other men had seen no problem in sitting idle to wait for the boss since it was required upon such jobs for a foreman to be present. It had something to do with liability if something went wrong, though Kyle knew very little about such procedures, he just did his job to the best of his ability. Thus far that had kept him well paid and out of trouble. This job just felt wrong though, aside from the sentimental loss of it. He couldn’t help but feel as though they were about to do something that would eventually turn out to be a really, really bad idea. But that made no sense, it was only a tree.
The seven of them were either sitting on or around the work truck that the county had allowed them to use for the day, a one ton monster that was capable of hauling a great many tools as well as more equipment atop the metal racks that extended upward and outward from the bed if need be. Currently it held only a few items such as three chainsaws, one of them a monster with a twenty-inch blade and a gas tank that looked like it belonged on a small car. Kyle would be handling the machine that a few of his co-workers had jokingly named “Big Ceese”, though he’d found that he didn’t look forward to feeling the chainsaw as it bit into the wooded form of Old Guard.
There were axes as well just in case such was needed. It was not uncommon for a chainsaw to jam or suffer some other malfunction, which meant that a backup would be required. Jack had drilled each of them on being prepared at all times, which had eventually reached each man well enough that they knew what to pack for each particular job.
“It’s a tree Kyle, let go of it already.” Simon took deep draught from his thermos as he spoke, though even he didn’t feel right with what they were about to do. He was more practical-minded than Kyle though, he could accept that it was just part of a job. Still he couldn’t deny that it seemed wrong.
“I know, it just feels like we’re tearing down a part of our childhood is all.”
“Aww, poor little baby wants his tree.” The other men laughed as Kyle joined along, shaking his head as he took his ribbing in good humor. The sound of Jack Kruse’s Dodge Ram tearing up the road towards the parking lot caused each of the men to move into action suddenly, those who were smoking snuffing their cigarettes while the others put their coffee away before going to the back of the truck, pulling out the tools they would need to bring Old Guard to the ground. As the truck pulled into the lot Jack cruised close to the work vehicle, giving them each a view of who was in the vehicle with him. Simon and Kyle each rolled their eyes as they saw the slim form of Mr. Solus, the Old Man as he was known among most county workers.
The man had been a thorn in the side of more than a few people, making his “requests” on more than a few occasions when it came to the so-called betterment of the city. For some reason he was listened to closely by those in authority, as though he were some all-important know-it all whose word was enough to get things to happen. It was because of him that Old Guard was coming down, though the reasoning behind this was still unclear. All that any of them knew was that their bosses did very little to work against Mr. Solus and as a result they were given the choice to follow orders or find another job.
“What the hell is that scarecrow doing here?” one of the men muttered, taking a chainsaw from the back of the truck. No one touched Big Ceese, leaving it for Kyle to handle. This was not procedure, it was more like a tradition that the man who got to do the cutting was the only one who handled the tool. The two newbies in the group, they’d been on the crew for nearly six months, had had to learn this the hard way on another job when they’d grabbed the chainsaws that Kyle and Simon had been meaning to use. The overzealous men had been berated and derided, all in good fun, until they had finally learned the error of their ways. In short they had grown so tired of the insults that they had learned to realize just who was going to be using what before they simply pulled tools from the truck.
“Careful, he might hear you.” Simon said to the man that spoke.
“He’s still in the truck. How could he possibly hear me?” Simon only raised his eyebrows at the man, knowing that Sydney was somehow quite adept at knowing when people were talking about him. As Jack and the old man exited the Dodge the men began to haul their tools from the truck, making as though to start heading towards the tree. Old Guard stood several hundred yards away from where they currently were, barely visible around the corner of the school.
“Hold up guys, hang on just a sec before you get going.” Kyle couldn’t help but note that Jack looked as though he hadn’t slept very well, his face was still covered in beard stubble and his eyes were vaguely bloodshot. He looked almost as though he’d been drinking, though there was every sign that he was clean and showered, plus he didn’t stumble or slur his words.
“Mr. Solus is going to be attending today just to make sure the job gets done thoroughly. Now this doesn’t mean he doesn’t trust us,” Jack looked over at Sydney as he continued, “He’s just concerned for our welfare and that of the people who come by here on a regular basis. Now that that’s said and done let’s get the tools and get to it, I want this tree down within the next couple of hours and completely gone by tomorrow at the latest.” The men stepped lively as they gathered their tools, shouldering the tie-downs and cables they would use to guide the tree towards the ground. It had been decided that they would fell the tree towards the school since the space between the brick structure and the tree was expansive enough to offer enough space so that nothing would be damaged.
Simon and another man would direct traffic since they would still be closing off one lane of Mcloughlin. Jack had initially wanted to close off the entire road, though his superiors had seen no reason to divert traffic around the high school if they could drop the tree on its back lawn. Simon and the other man would simply be making sure that if the tree somehow did fall towards the road that damage would be limited to as little as possible.
Kyle shouldered Big Ceese as he spared one glance at Mr. Solus, seeing a slow smile creeping upon the man’s face as Jack turned to speak to him. It was no secret that very few people who worked for the county liked Sydney Victor Solus, he was a strange and fairly off-putting character. Kyle had never spoken to him before but he had been present far too often when Jack spoke to the man and found Sydney’s voice to be unpleasant enough even when it wasn’t directed at him. Turning away he didn’t see as Sydney’s gaze traveled over to him, narrowing imperceptibly as Jack continued speaking to him.
“C’mon man, let’s get this done and I’ll treat you to a cold one at the Hideaway.” Simon said, clapping one hand on Kyle’s free shoulder as they began to walk towards Old Guard. Kyle said nothing, merely keeping one foot in front of the other as they walked.
* * *
Nearly a half hour later Simon and his partner had cordoned off one side of Mcloughlin, directing traffic around their large orange cones as they waved the people onward. The motorists that came and went accepted the blocked lane as they did so many other things in their lives, puttering right past it as though it were of little consequence. Simon watched the short side of the road near its intersection with Reserve Street, holding up his stop sign and switching to show the slow command printed in bold black letters on the opposite side when needed.
Kyle and the others had prepped the tree by this time, lashing several tie downs to its lowest branches and checking their equipment to make sure that they were prepped and ready to go. Jack and Sydney stood far to the right, watching Kyle as he went about the business of priming Big Ceese before approaching Old Guard. Jack looked somewhat conflicted, as though he too were having an issue with what they’d been told to do. He couldn’t go against his superiors, though at that moment he was sorely tempted, though he didn’t know why.
There were many faces pressed to the windows despite the urgings of the teachers to sit down and pay attention, as though the cutting down of Old Guard was such a monumental act that those who watched could not bear to miss it. Even a few teachers were interested enough to stop their daily lessons and watch what seemed to be one of the worst ideas in the history of this school. No one at that time could have said just why this seemed so wrong, though each one of them felt it so acutely that they could not tear themselves away from the windows.
Kyle couldn’t help but feel a tremor run through his body as he approached Old Guard, his muscles tightening just a bit as hefted Big Ceese. This didn’t seem right, but he was being paid to do a job, that was all there was to it. As he reached for the cord of the chainsaw he felt his heart clench just a bit, his fingers pausing on the pull cord as he closed his eyes. He wanted to apologize, to say something, but he never got the chance.
A screech that was hauntingly familiar rent the air as Kyle and the other men were startled from their places by the sudden flapping of wings as they stood out from underneath Old Guard, looking skyward as they did. What they saw was so unbelievable that each of them knew they would remember this moment until the day they died.
The sky off to the west of Old Guard had suddenly grown full with uncounted forms, each of them winging swiftly towards the massive tree, their wings beating loudly as their great mass rose over Old Guard’s highest branches. In the next moment the massive, integrated flock of birds, there were everything from sparrows to great blue herons, dove headlong into the concealing branches of the tree, causing it to shake from its top to lower branches as they settled. The swaying motion of the tree was so violent that Kyle, Simon and the other five men stood well away from Old Guard, their eyes widening as the sounds of wings rustling and claws scratching wood drowned out nearly everything else.
No one spoke for several moments as even the traffic along the road stopped, startled onlookers glancing in either awe or outright fear upon the tree as it slowly began to settle, its many branches creaking under the weight of its current occupants. Kyle swallowed hard, there were far more birds now than there had been atop his garage just the other night. The memory of all those cold-blooded eyes, the eyes of remorseless predators, staring down at him froze Kyle in place as he just barely heard footsteps approaching him from the right.
“When you’re done staring young man perhaps you’d like to do your job.” This was not the first time Kyle had heard the man speak, though he still found his voice severely unpleasant. To Kyle it sounded as though Sydney had swallowed a razor blade and gotten the razor lodged in his throat. The resulting sound was almost akin to a savaged voice box trying to function as though nothing had happened.
“Hang on there Sydney, I tell my guys what to do. Remember?” The old man nodded as he stepped aside, allowing Jack to step closer to Kyle.
“I do apologize, but I would very much appreciate if you tell your workers to go on about their business. I understand that this is indeed strange but it in no way should hamper your ability to work.” Jack eyed Sydney carefully as the old man spoke.
“Actually it does.” The voice came from behind Kyle as all three men turned around, seeing a short, balding man standing not too far away. His eyes were just as wide as anyone’s though Kyle could see a gleam in them that matched the small grin he wore very well.
“I’m sorry, who are you?” Sydney asked, his eyes narrowing as he frowned at the smaller man. The balding man grinned up at Sydney as though in recognition. Kyle wouldn’t have been surprised if the man did know him despite being new to the school.
“I’m Harold Allman, Mr. Allman to my students, I teach Environmental Biology here.”
“And your concern with this is what?” Sydney pressed on, folding his arms over his skinny chest. Kyle was beginning to like the old man even less if that were possible, his condescending manner was simply too much to weather. Harold didn’t seem to mind though.
“Well, as a part-time activist and a supporter of PETA I can assure you that if you go ahead and chop down the tree now the county will be dealing with a whole slew of legal matters that will no doubt tie this matter up in courts for some time to come.” Harold continued to grin as he looked from Sydney to Jack to Kyle, still grinning as his gaze lingered on Kyle for just a moment. Kyle couldn’t help but grin back, though he turned his head away as he felt Sydney’s gaze on him in that moment.
“This is absurd. Jack, order your men to cut this tree down. If there are any legal ramifications I will deal with them personally. In the meantime, good day to you sir, Jack, let’s get to work.” Sydney turned around then, guiding Jack along as Kyle stood looking at Harold, who simply shook his head.
“Don’t do it kid, I’m telling you now that if Old Guard comes down you’ll never live it down.” Kyle nodded as he turned around, noticing that Sydney and Jack were waiting for him. His boss’s gaze was reluctant, though Sydney’s was almost murderous as he glared at Harold, who simply kept grinning. Walking back towards the two men Kyle didn’t say a word as he walked past them, shouldering Big Ceese once more as he kept his eyes upon the concrete pathway. Harold Allman stood there staring at the three of them, his grin never once wavering as he kept his hands in the pockets of his tan slacks. It was almost as though he knew what decision had already been reached. Jack and Sydney turned away then, remaining where they were as they watched Kyle approach the giant tree.
Kyle was beside himself as he approached Old Guard, barely seeing the other men around him as he approached the old tree. His mind was taken back to just yesterday when he’d sat beneath the tree. The voice that had seemed to come from just behind him and then above him returned, still fresh in his memory as he came to stand beneath the bird-laden boughs, looking up into the many eyes of the predators that now glared down at him. The chainsaw was in his right hand as he stepped close to the tree, placing his left hand against its bark as he closed his eyes.
Look at all we’ve lost.
Why do we keep going?
To stop is to die.
To stop is to quit, we don’t quit.
Why do we go on?
There’s no other way, we go on because we must.
Kyle opened his eyes as heard the voice again, his heart swelling as he came to a decision that he somehow knew he would have done in any case. Looking down at the chainsaw in his hand he grinned, dropping the heavy piece of machinery to the ground.
“Kyle, what are you doing?” asked one man to his left, no doubt sensing that something was wrong. Kyle didn’t respond for a moment as he took a deep breath, letting it out as he looked up again to the many birds that continued to look down at him. As he did this he could almost believe that their deadly stares had softened somewhat, as though relinquishing the killing tool in his right hand had caused him to rise in their estimation just a bit. It was a ridiculous thought of course, though Kyle couldn’t help but entertain it nonetheless.
“I can’t do this, and neither can any of you.” Kyle replied, turning around as he took a seat upon the base of the tree, grinning as he leaned back against Old Guard, casting only one more glance up at the fierce birds of prey that were even now staring down at him.
“Kyle, hey bud, what are you doing?” Kyle just barely glanced at Simon as his friend came striding over to him, “I mean I know how much the tree means and all but is it worth your job?” Kyle shrugged as he continued to smile, turning his gaze from his friend as he saw Jack and Sydney stride up to him.
“So ah, what are you thinking Kyle?” Jack asked, looking at him evenly as Sydney looked ready to foam at the mouth.
“I can’t do this Jack, I’m sorry but I can’t. Old Guard needs to stay right where it is.”
“The tree is diseased! It needs to come down now! I, Jack, discipline this lazy ass!” Sydney yelled, pointing a bony, accusing finger at Kyle. Simon frowned at the man as his chest puffed out slightly, his sign dropping from his fingers as he took a seat next to Kyle.
“You’re gonna have to discipline me too then Jack. This old fart ain’t our boss, you are.” Simon sat next to Kyle as the two men exchanged grins, lightly pounding their knuckles together in friendship as they then looked towards their boss and the old man.
“Me too Jack.” One of the other men sat on Kyle’s right as he looked to both Kyle and Simon, nodding that he was with them. The other four men joined the three of them quickly enough as they sat around the tree, informing their boss that he would have to discipline them all. Jack looked as though he had no clue what to do, while Sydney looked ready to commit murder
“Guys c’mon, it’s one tree for God’s sake, just get up and let’s get this done. I’ll worry about the legal issues, I just need this done.” Not a one of them moved as Kyle looked up at Sydney, finding it difficult to even meet the old man’s hate-filled gaze.
“This tree isn’t coming down old man. If you want it down so badly you’ll have to cut it yourself. But we’re not moving.” Kyle smiled as Sydney glowered at him, making it seem as though he would do just that if his demands were not met in the next moment.
“The tree is a health risk. It needs to be cut down and uprooted before it affects others.”
“Well unless you’re a tree doctor I think we need a second opinion. So long as this equipment is out though I’m not moving.” Kyle said, letting Sydney know with the tone of his voice that he meant every word.
“Me neither.” Simon said. The other five men voiced their assent, though Kyle wondered if they knew why they were agreeing to such a thing. Hell he wasn’t even sure why he was doing this.
“Guys please-“ Jack started.
“If you pursue this I’ll make sure each one of you are fired, reported and ruined in this city, this county, hell this state if you push me far enough. No one goes against my word boys, so if you’re so eager to throw your futures away for one old, diseased tree then go on and test me, because I promise you-“
“Now hold on there Sydney. No one threatens my guys, not even you. I agree this needs to be worked out, but there’s no need-“
“Oh shut your mouth you washed up excuse for a foreman. I should have known you would eventually back these lazy, no good slackers. If I were you I would fire them and take on this job yourself or find another crew, because I can have your job as well you hack.” Jack’s jaw hung low as he stared hard at this man who had been such a good friend for so long. He could hardly believe that Sydney was speaking thusly to him. His decision should have been greatly muddled by the many years he’d known this man, though in that moment Jack felt a strange liberation as he stepped away from Sydney, closer to his crew as he openly glared at the old man.
“I guess we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it then Syd. For now I feel the need to stand with my guys on this. Old Guard isn’t coming down today.”
“You’re going to break your word?” Jack nodded as Sydney glared at him, smiling slightly as he did.
“One of the only times I’ve ever done it willingly Syd, but this time it actually feels right.”
“You’ll regret this Jack, I promise you that.”
“Oh, I somehow doubt that.”
* * *
Tuesday, May 21st
Kyle and Simon went back to work the next day. Old Guard was tested by a specialist that was brought in due to a differing of opinion between Jack Kruse and Sydney Victor Solus. In the end the tree was given a clear bill of health and deemed suitable to remain where it was, a damning claim that seemed as though it would ruin Sydney’s credibility in the town of Vancouver since it was the first and only decisive dispute that the old man had ever lost. Jack had unfortunately been given the duty of delivering the news to the old man, though Sydney had not received the disruptive message. Strangely enough the old man had disappeared.
In all honesty no one had minded all too much when they’d heard the old man was gone, many figured he would pop up again at a later date, perhaps to demand that something else had to be torn down. Jack Kruse was questioned thoroughly by the unfortunate police officers that were put in charge of the old man’s disappearance, though when no damning facts or pieces of evidence were found Jack was allowed to go back to his life as usual. He did wonder where the old man had gone, though like everyone else he found that he didn’t really care. It was a strange attitude to have towards someone that had been around his family for so long, but after yesterday’s outburst he couldn’t help but feel a little grateful to Kyle for his quiet refusal over the cutting down of Old Guard. Such acts of kindness were often thought of as rather eccentric, things that activists who routinely supported organizations like Greenpeace might practice, but Jack couldn’t help but think that Kyle had known exactly what he was doing. Whatever the case he believed he’d done the right thing in backing his crew instead of his old family friend. He was just grateful that his bosses thought the same.