Published Issue 094, October 2021
What a nice day it was. The rain had stopped, giving the area a fresh scent and, rather than cold or chilly, it was comfortably warm. In other words, the day started on a quite pleasant note. Only one problem: despite the outdoor cheerfulness it was still Halloween. And every year something very troublesome happened in the otherwise peaceful southern neighborhood.
The family was having breakfast on this sunny morning, engaging in casual, happy chitchat at the table. The main topic was costumes, the favorite topic this week for Jenny, a seven-year-old only child. She was born deaf and due to an early childhood infection had no functional vocal cords left either. But she was the life at the table. She made clear it would be fun to go dressed as an earwig, in fact she thought that to be hilarious. Her parents laughed along, adoring their lovely, kind and beautiful daughter. No ears or voice in the world could substitute for her personality, although she could be a bit of a drama queen at times.
After breakfast, Mother shooed Jenny upstairs to get ready and avoid missing the school bus (again!). She then mentioned to her husband: “John, the weather station predicts a nasty storm, you need to cut down that old tree in the front yard before it falls on the road.” John promised he would ask Ralph from across the street to do this. Due to his experience and tools, Ralph was cutting trees all the time all over. She grumbled because that man was a nasty piece of work. Like herself he was colorblind, except that did not stop him from opinionating about people of color. He possessed neither tact, nor care, nor a bone of kindness, as far as she was concerned.
Early afternoon Jenny returned from school. It had been an enjoyable day and she came away thinking that Jeremy, who was in her class and lived across the street from her house, liked her. She felt that eventually he would gather enough courage to maybe kiss her, which she knew from reading magazines needed to be done by girls and boys. Yuk! But anyway, she was also very excited about the upcoming trick-or-treat adventure that evening, which the mothers (hers and Jeremy’s) had planned for them. In preparation and to put her anticipation energy to good use, she went to her favorite hiding place inside the old oak tree
at the edge of their yard.
Her parents were seemingly unaware of this hiding spot. It was only known to her, so she thought. She liked it because of the musty penetrating smell of decay. This gave her other senses much needed stimulation in absence of sound. Jenny loved poetry and her teacher said she had potential as a writer. Inside the trunk was a great spot for her favorite pastime, just light enough for writing and su ciently dark to spark the imagination. What to write about now? The bus driver had been talking about a bad storm heading this way. This made her think back to last year’s damaging hurricane. She drafted a little rhyme:
with winds so strong
that all goes wrong
oh, how I abhor her
She felt the last part needed improvement, took her pen up again and disappeared into her poetic self, inside that oak trunk.
Ralph knelt down by the old tree, which he knew to be all hollowed out. He yanked his shiny oily well-maintained, large and very sharp chainsaw to a nasty loud whine and got busy cutting the gnarly wood.
Jenny had just fixed the last line of her poem much to her own satisfaction with clever use of the word explorer when suddenly she felt a nasty pinch on her back. She turned around and the pain jabbed at her again, this time with a strange buzzing sensation. Tears came. Then complete agony. Something was wiggling, jabbed again, she was pinned to the side, something was VERY WRONG. NO!!! HELP!!! AHHHHH!!! She screamed as loud as she could without a voice. But to no avail.
A good way in, Ralph’s chain snagged on something and stalled momentarily. Of course, he was not able to determine what color it was, except to conclude a shade of gray with a pungency. Little did he care, nor did he have the patience or interest to investigate, so he re-started his saw and the project. Since Ralph indeed was a skilled woodsman, he was quickly making progress. Within a few minutes he was putting his saw down, done with the tree. Behind him a soft-spoken voice inquired,“Have you seen Jenny? They are calling for her from across the street. What’s that dark, slimy stuff? It smells ironlike. Is that blood? Oh God, Ralph! What have you done!? You hurt something! Oh, God! You, crazy awful stupid man!” Realizing that Jenny sometimes secretively hid in the hollow, a horrible premonition had suddenly stabbed her like a knife. “JENNY!!! …”
Jenny jumped out of her hole at the base of the tree, dizzy, panting, and still trembling from the encounter with the wasps. She noticed the neighbor Ralph across the street cut down his own beautiful tree. Sometimes she hid in there but then occasionally experienced weird vibes that made it a bad spot for poetry. To one side of Ralph, his wife was frantically gesturing and seemed to be screaming as far as Jenny could read from her lips. But once she saw Jenny waving at her, she completely froze.
Jenny felt that so far, this definitely had not turned out to be a good day after all. Thus, enough with all the trickery, off to the treats now. Besides, her mother was calling her. And there was Jeremy heading over. She thought with gusto, Okay, the rest of the day will just have to be great. There’d better be good treats!
Meanwhile, Ralph was staring at the remnants of an old polystyrene tube still connected to a faucet dripping dark rusty water. All this had been encapsulated into the tree over the years from before they moved there. Now he had to sharpen the chain’s cutter teeth all over again before starting on John’s tree across the street. But first he had to look after his wife who seemed to have lost it completely.
Herscho Duds is a pen name for a university professor in biological sciences who has revitalized his interest and activity in creative writing. He publishes in AllPoetry, and also in the Dutch language in newspaper print and online forums in The Netherlands.