(First published by Flash Fiction Magazine January 4, 2017)
By Michael Bloor
The trees should never have been planted in that place: the slope was too steep for a mechanical harvester. Alan’s father reckoned they had been planted in the 80s, as a tax-dodge, with no thought of selling the timber. Now the Estate was wanting the conifers cleared from the slope so that hardwoods could be planted in their place—there were grants for planting hardwoods. So the Estate Factor had called in Alan and his father to do the felling. They didn’t fancy the job, but they didn’t dare turn down a contract from the Estate—the biggest employer on the island.
His father’s chain-saw was out of fuel, so the old man had shuffled down the slope to get a couple of full jerrycans from the pick-up. Alan had watched him go, silently noting that the old man’s arthritis was getting worse. Alan then breathed a deep breath and stepped up to the largest tree left on the ridge. It had grown slightly apart from the others, with plenty of room to grow side-branches. The side-branches sloped downward—so when Alan stepped up to the trunk with his saw, it was as if he was in a green tent.
It was a minute’s work to fell the tree: He took a wedge out on the side where the tree was to fall and then made a cut towards the wedge. Alan withdrew the saw and waited for the tree to topple. But it didn’t topple. To his amazement, the upper trunk slid neatly down the wedge and buried itself in the earth and rocks, just a couple of feet away from him. The felled tree continued perilously upright, shivering on its new base—a one-in-ten-thousand occurrence.
Alan had heard stories about such fellings, but he had never witnessed them. Until now. He knew what he had to do, but it was the hardest thing imaginable. He had to wait.
The tree was quivering on its buried point, it could fall in any direction, crushing a fleeing man: he had to wait until it was clear which way the tree was falling and then, only then, leap out of its way. He glanced upward: the curtain of side-branches cut-off any view of the top of the tree – there would be no early warning of the tree’s movement. Two or three seconds passed and, incredibly, the tree was still upright and shuddering, as if in its death-throes.
The fall, when it came, was astonishingly sudden. It fell away from him, but he leapt aside anyway—both his mind and body needed the motion.
The tree slewed into a companion spruce, toppled off it, and bounced down the slope. Alan cut the motor on the saw and watched its downward progress. Finally, it was stopped by the more recent plantings near the road. It was then he saw his father emerge beside it, a jerrycan in each hand, screaming in rage. Ashamed, relieved and exultant, Alan could only laugh.