It was a brisk, sunny day in peaceful Onetree County, and Officer Deadwood was settling into his chair at the police department for an invigorating session of seeing how long he could hold a lighted match before the flame reached his fingers. He had just succeeded in singeing the skin off his fingertips when the phone rang.
“Onetree County Police,” he said, flapping his hand vigorously, “is there something wrong?”
“Hi, I’d like to report a robbery.”
“Can you tell me anything about the perpetrator?”
“I think I saw bark, some greenish-yellow foliage, maybe a couple flowers?”
Officer Deadwood tried to process this sentence. It was difficult because he was pretty sure he no longer had fingerprints.
“You got mugged by a…tree?”
“Yeah, a tree. I was just walking past that big tree in town, you know the one—” Officer Deadwood knew. It was the only tree in Onetree County. “—and it took my wallet, my computer and that new bag of industrial-grade fertilizer I just bought.”
“Sure, very funny. You better step up your game, kid, ‘cause I’m not falling for this one.” He slammed the phone down, then winced as his tender fingertips hit the desk. If this was a joke, it hit pretty close to home. He tried to push the dying bellows of his parents, who were lumberjacks, out of his mind, and lit another match off the heel of his logger boots.
The phone rang again around lunchtime. Officer Deadwood was just about to sink his teeth into a particularly alluring hoagie when—
“I was attacked!” an old lady shrilled into Officer Deadwood’s ear. “I don’t know what happened, but I heard this rustling sound and now all my money is gone.”
Not this again. Officer Deadwood tried to quell the images that appeared, unbidden, in his mind. He remembered the creaking of branches bent for the kill, how his parents had shouted for him to get the big axe, how helpless his five-year-old self had felt in his tear-stained flannel shirt and small logger booties. He found himself now wiping his nose on an imaginary sleeve, leaving a glistening trail of snot on his arm. His stomach made a little unhappy gurgle, and he patted it reassuringly. “We’ll get through this,” he whispered to it. Then he hung up on the old lady.
He tried to go back to lighting matches, but his hands shook so much that it took him several tries before he was able to light one.
Two hours and one visit to the Onetree County Burn Center later, the phone rang again. Officer Deadwood eyed the phone, mustered up all the bravado he’d learned at the academy, and snatched up the phone. “I am the law!” he barked.
All Officer Deadwood could hear on the other end was an almighty rustling of leaves, screaming, and the snapping of limbs.
His bravado draining away like flame-retardant foam from a conveniently-placed fire extinguisher, Officer Deadwood dropped the phone and stared at it as if it were on fire, which it was. He swallowed dryly. He’d have to go it alone, as he constituted the entire police force of Onetree County. (It was a lonely job, but someone had to do it.) He set his jaw grimly. One man, one tree, he thought, wasn’t this how it was supposed to be? He tried not to think about his dear mother, who could swing an axe just as lustily as the rest of the men, and also about the grisly end she had met at the branches of a particularly ornery Douglas fir.
Officer Deadwood wedged himself into the squad golf cart and drove. When he arrived at the scene, he saw the tree, which was smugly upright, and the carnage around it, which was not. Branches were scattered about in disarray, leaves papered the pavement like dandruff, and at the base of the trunk lay, inexplicably, a single foot. Just like the night his parents were taken from him.
Tears streaked Officer Deadwood’s face. He had failed his parents again; lumberjacks never cry. Suddenly, he couldn’t take it anymore. He needed to be somewhere without phones, without matches, without any more goddamn trees. Maybe Siberia. Yes, Siberia sounded real nice right about now. He took off running.