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Tree Hugger

‘I shouldn’t even be here. Neither should you. No, no, don’t ask me like that. It wasn’t supposed to be like this. No, I did not work with the machines myself, the other guys did that. I am – let me finish. Yes, I was getting to that. I was the overseer, I assigned tasks and the machines to my employees. Yes, like a manager, pay attention. I assigned the machines, I only got involved with the actual work if absolutely necessary, like in emergencies. Because I’m getting older, you see, I no longer have the physical condition needed to work the machines. I leave that to the younger guys. I know when I need to step in and help of course, I’m not an idiot. No I am not, that is why I started my own business when I turned thirty. Yes, I am over fifty now, what’s it to you? Well thank you, I do try to take care of myself. The secret is plenty of sun lotion. Very important in my line of work.’

‘But, I know, I know why you are here. You want to know what really happened out there don’t you? Don’t lie to me, I can see the curiosity in your eyes. I bet the investigator’s report didn’t turn anything up, did it? Or maybe, it turned up too much and most of it doesn’t make sense? Well, let me explain then, though I can’t promise that it will make any more sense after I’m done. Look, listen here, is that thing recording? Good, cause I’m not gonna tell you this a second time. Listen to me. Do not go back to that forest! If you take anything away from what I tell you, let it be this. Do not go near it, don’t try to cut into it or burn it. Do NOT touch it. Don’t get all flustered and confused. I spoke clear enough, didn’t I? I’m telling you to cancel whatever plans they had for that forest. Cancel them completely, cut your losses, sell it to the nature conservation people. No other way to stay safe from it. I will tell you why. Yes, I’m getting to it. The reason I’m here is a whole lot more complicated than negligence and “disease of the brain” as your psychiatrist put it.’

‘It was quite the move upwards when we were hired for this job. My investment in bigger logging machinery was paying off. Before, we had mostly done beautification and care of parks and the like. Removing diseased trees and cutting off branches and such. Oh, and hedge trimming of course. Hell, I started as the hedge trimmer for my entire neighbourhood when I was in my teens. Got myself a bachelor’s degree in forestry and worked in the field ever since. No I didn’t want a desk job. Working in the open air with my own two hands has always been my calling.’

‘Now nearly a decade ago, the jobs were drying up. Applying for a logging license was the best way to prevent us from going bankrupt. It was the right call. We did a couple of smaller jobs after we finished the training and it helped pay off the biggest debts. Then we were contacted by Suburban Planners. That would be around two years ago now. They were willing to give us the biggest job we’d ever done. Our accountant negotiated a good deal and once the paperwork was done and signed we got to work clearing 40 football fields worth of forest per month for a year, prepping the land for the big new city project of the century. It would put the company on the map and we would be making a proper profit for the first time in ages.’

‘You have to understand my elation. With the money earned from this project I could send my kids to the best schools and even take that long awaited holiday with my wife. Not that that will ever happen now.’

‘Of course it took another three months before we could actually start,  because of those damned protesters. Not that they’re not entitled to their opinions, but their actions directly caused a delay in the income of all my guys. Do you think they felt concerned for the conservation of the environment, when they heard they would not be working or feeding their families for another three months? I have nothing but respect for the troopers that got those kids out the forest.’

‘So, once that was dealt with, we finally got started. Built the base camp with the portable toilets on the eastern edge near the provincial road. Fences around it to keep the kids out, and the break tent with the coffee machine. Setting up the camp was pretty much routine, similar to the trimming job at the park. You know, the one in the centre of town, near the church? People were angry then too, that we were taking down these old trees, but we needed to cull them or the disease would have spread to the younger ones and seeped into the bottom. They say they want to help nature, but they don’t know the first thing about what me and my boys do. You know Johnny once had a rotten egg thrown at his face for removing a tree from a local playground? I’m getting off track, I know.’

‘Back to the forest. Yes, we started manually cutting down the smaller branches. They were ground down and sold to make chipboard. Then the bigger branches. Those were used for the biomass energy plant downriver. Finally the trunks. I’m not sure what happened to those. The housing company just had them hauled away with their big lorries. I’m sure you could figure out where they went. Just look for a woodworking company where a whole supply of hardwood went missing. I’m sure you know what I mean. It was in their warehouses. Third party contractors had moved them there. They had been signed off by higher ranked employees. And yet, when we went back to work on the first day after a weekend of celebrating our first successful month, the whole area had grown back. Do not look at me like that! You heard what I said! No, we did not spend that month on our asses with our hands down our pants. The proof is right there with the biomass manager’s statement and the warehouse camera footage. We cut down all those trees. 40 football fields worth. We had worked ourselves to the bone and it was all undone in three days. Yes I gave the men that Friday off. We had finished the work early that Thursday, they deserved it. They deserved better.’

‘I don’t know for certain why we didn’t report that first incident. Same reason the buyers of the wood didn’t I suppose. Denial. We couldn’t explain what had happened, so we pretended that it didn’t. We stuck our heads in the metaphorical sand. Do you know that ostriches don’t actually do that? I heard it in a quiz show once. Don’t you “bullshit” me, it’s true. Look it up. What do they teach you guys these days? Now where was I? Yeah, we didn’t tell anyone about the 40 acres of forest that regrew itself overnight. These weren’t saplings either. Fully grown adult trees, all of them. I’ll bet that they were back exactly the way they were before we cut them down. Anyway, we kept our mouths shut and continued with the next 40 acres that were scheduled to be cleared. I lied to our contact from Suburban Planning who came to inspect and told him that we had some setbacks that made us work slower than we initially planned. He seemed to accept that and we continued our work.’

‘We did actually work slower at first. Paid more attention to what each of our colleagues was doing. We were paranoid you see. Didn’t completely trust the men we had been working with for years now. I tried to calm the situation by paying the logs extra mind. I had one of the guys guard the log piles at all times, and bought some infrared cameras to keep an eye on the forest itself. Buried them real good to see who was on the ground after we had finished clearing that second part. This time the men just went home for the weekend and so did I. I wanted to see my wife and kids. We went to an amusement park that weekend, and I was able to forget about work for a time. Mostly because I was too busy arguing with my daughter, who is becoming too much of a smartass for her own good.  I’m proud of her though. She’s doing well at school and I could have gotten her into that good university if it hadn’t…if they…sorry I didn’t mean to get all weepy on you. I’m only on the second month and here I am already breaking down. But yeah, you know what the reports said. At the beginning of the third month, it still looked as if we hadn’t brought down a single tree in that entire damned forest. The wood buyers were blaming us now, saying that they never got the shipments they had ordered. But the lorry drivers hired by the planning company contradicted that. They showed the shipping forms and licenses they are told to fill in. They showed the footage on their security cameras they have to hang in the holds to prevent refugees from stowing away. I had my own footage. It showed us clearly working on the forest. Clearing away the trees. We did what we were hired to do. The trees were gone. They were. The ground was an empty plain of disturbed eath. I saw it, you saw it. It was right there in the footage, right up until the final weekend of that month and then, nothing. The cameras showing nothing but darkness for two days and then it was back. All the trees. We had cut them down, we had. I showed you, but they were all back.’

‘Well the shit hit the frying pan then, didn’t it? We did the work. There was no denying that. But that second time our work was undone, the planning company sent their minions to check on us and keep us under surveillance while we were working. We had to run everything by their supervisors before we did anything. All the work we did over those next three months was carefully planned and checked and monitored. Because of all that extra bureaucracy and interference it took us three months to do the work that only took us one when we first started. At the end of those three months we had five acres left to do and my men were exhausted and on edge. Getting into fights with the planning company’s supervisors. The tension was terrible. I was at the end of my rope. When we finished those last five acres a moment of relief washed over us. After all, nothing weird had happened in three months, so maybe the strangeness was over. To be certain, the company stationed guards on the cleared out plain at the edge of the forest. Armed with floodlights and walkie-talkies, they were to patrol the area to see if anything strange appeared. That Monday morning they were all found dead among the trees. Poor bastards. You’ve seen the pictures, I assume.’

‘I got sick to my stomach when I discovered them. Went in there early with a strange feeling in my gut. I had gotten no info from the company that weekend, good or bad. No news is good news, right? Well my gut said otherwise. So I took my car to the base camp that morning before dawn. Found the first guy lying dead in front of the toilets. Nothing much strange about him. Strangled probably. That is when the company called me to ask if I heard anything from the guards. I told them I found the body of one of them and they told me to stay put because they were sending someone over. I did not listen, I think that fact will be used against me when they try to make me their scapegoat. Yeah I said it, I know what they’re trying to do. They think implicating me will absolve their guilt in this whole affair. As if hushing it up has ever done anyone any good. And that burning plan the vice-CEO keeps bringing up will not work, trust me.’

‘I walked away from the first body. It was so misty that morning. Fog so thick that it took me a while to see the trees. Long enough for me to hope. But of course there they were again. Towering into the morning mist. As I walked among them I kept seeing body after body of the guards that had been killed there. Not died, killed. It was clear enough from the state their bodies were in. I exited the forest and was sick in one of the toilet boxes. Then the police and the representatives from the planning company arrived. And shortly after that, the press. I lost track of how many times I told them what had happened. Ten times at least. I know I wasn’t consistent each time, but I never told a lie about what had happened. The press release was a nightmare. And the investigation halted any further work we might have done. All my guys were brought in for questioning. I hear you’re still pestering them with questions. You know they’re getting real tired of that shit? I know you’re trying to get to the bottom of this. Well you won’t. The well of this mystery is dark and bottomless and if you truly had the desire to look further than your nose is long then you would have already gotten lost. I’m not being poetic, I’m just warning you. I got in too deep because I couldn’t keep my nose out of something that wasn’t my business. Because I was determined to save my business. Isn’t that Ironic?’

‘So the preliminary investigation took another three months. They combed through the forest that had grown back, which they never acknowledged or admitted by the way. No matter how much evidence there was. At least that scepticism made the company confident enough to put us back to work. We returned to a spot that had grown back earlier. Yes, grown back. How many times must I say it? We had to clear the same acres of forest as before. No surveillance this time. At least not much. One or two supervisors from the planning company stopped by to check the progress. They seemed dissatisfied with our working speed, not that we could help it. The guys were still on edge from the last half year’s ordeal. Somehow we managed recover the progress we had made in that first month in two months. I was starting to realise we were fighting a losing game here. Emptying the ocean with a bloody teaspoon, we were.’

‘I dismissed the guys early again at the end of those two months and set up a tent for myself at the edge of the forest. I made myself a cup of coffee, and another one, until there was a pile of filters in the waste bin. I was determined to stay awake and see what happened each time the trees had grown back. The first day, nothing happened. Then as night fell and the moon rose I saw a shadow rise from the canopy in the distance. It was a large… something. It seemed humanoid at times. It moved closer and knelt on the cleared ground and caressed the earth with long fingers. I can’t describe exactly what it looked like. You’ll think I’m mad. But it saw me. And when it did, I blacked out.’

‘I woke up the Monday after in my tent. Someone must have carried me there. I knew what I would see once I crawled out. There they were, swaying in the bright morning sun. Green and towering, their summer foliage rustling in the wind. As if they were laughing at my failure. I almost gave up then. Then the guys arrived and saw that once again their work had been undone. They seemed determined not to give in, but to keep going. “Show those trees who’s boss!” they said. Good lads. Not particularly bright, but I considered them family, even the foreign ones. They were so headstrong. They went and got tents to camp out and see this thing through.’

‘And so we went to work one more time. Got the machines repaired and polished up, replaced parts where necessary. We made a new plan to efficiently clear the 40 acres of land like before. The preparation took us a month. The deforestation another. And a year after we first started, we had once again taken down a piece of forest the size of 40 football fields. We stayed up in shifts that weekend. At least six men awake at the time. I made myself drink at least two litres of coffee and stayed up the longest. For two nights, nothing happened. Then on the third, around 11 pm, some of the guys insisted I get some rest and I relented.’

‘It was a deep sleep but not a long one. I woke up before dawn to an eerie silence. I expected the guys to be walking around talking, joking, laughing, but nothing. Just a couple of meters away, the sound of birds. I rubbed my eyes, trying to get out the last of the sleep, then crawled out of my tent. There was no mist that morning. In the east, the sky was just turning grey. It was still dark as could be. I needed to take a piss. So my sleepy head brought me to a tree where I relieved myself. I barely blinked when it struck me that that tree had not been there before. It was too close to camp, it wasn’t one we had taken down. It was new.’

‘Then I saw the birds, black ones. Crows, I think. They had descended in a murder larger than I had ever seen. They were pecking at something, feasting and fighting each other over choice morsels. I approached their feasting spot, and there I saw my guys. All dead and rotting on the forest floor. A nausea and fear struck me as some of the birds looked my way. I turned to run, but then I saw It. It was closer then I had ever seen it. Deep green eyes and branching grey fingers like rough bark reaching out to me. A head like a blooming canopy full of luscious leaves. She grabbed me. I blacked out again after that image. That feeling of thick, wooden branches grabbing me by the throat is the last thing I remember.’

‘I woke up in the policemen’s car. They said they had found me unconscious at the campsite, which had been destroyed and overrun by a new group of young adult trees. I could not explain then. My mind was still too unfocused. They of course thought I had killed them, my boys. I denied it a million times and I’ll deny it again, but you just won’t listen. They brought me into custody and threw me in here. They think my mind is unhinged. Well it is, but not like you think. Isn’t the definition of madness trying the same thing over and over and expecting different results? Well I did that for a full year, and every time that damned forest grew back. Don’t think burning it will do any good. There is something there that will not let it be destroyed. So don’t even think about touching it, you hear me? Let me be the scapegoat sure, but don’t touch that forest.’

– Transcript fragment from the interrogations of Edmund Thatcher, former owner of  Thatcher’s Gardening and Horticulture Entrepreneurs, currently in custody at the psychiatric ward of the Western State penitentiary. 

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