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He drove past the spot, then found a place to turn his pickup and trailer around. “Not like I’m poachin’ a deer,” he muttered, “just a dang tree.” He was barely keeping up with the payments on the single-wide and the boat; he couldn’t afford to buy any firewood or use the gas furnace.
Bubba parked the truck a safe distance back, topped up the chainsaw’s fuel and oil, and hiked over to the tree he’d found during Monday’s hunting. “Perfect size, perfect location,” he said, walking around the trunk. “Drop it right along the track here, cut it up, toss it on the trailer.” It was even leaning in the right direction. This was going to be easy.
Those stupid safety and whatever regulations aside, the silencer came in handy. Bubba started the saw and revved it; even standing right at it, it sounded a long ways off. With any luck, nobody else would hear the thing. He checked his angles one more time, then got to work.
It took only a couple minutes to cut the notch, despite the acorns raining down on him. But it came loose, and he knocked it away and threw it toward the truck. He turned off the saw and listened for a moment: nothing. No motors, nobody tramping through the woods, and even the acorns stopped dropping.
Now for the main event. Bubba went to the other side of the trunk, and started cutting at an angle, down toward the notch. More acorns rained down, and a dead limb landed a few feet away. He never used a spotter, but wouldn’t have for cutting a tree in the state forest anyway.
He heard that first snap above the muffled chainsaw motor, and took a step back, letting the saw idle down. Above him, the treetop swayed, dropping more acorns and limbs—
“Whoa!” For a moment, he thought the tree had a face, glaring down at him. But then he heard that ripping crack that said the trunk was splitting up the middle. Always a bad sign; the tree could buck backwards, then roll sideways. He turned, and tripped on a root that hadn’t been sticking up just a minute ago. Trying to keep his balance, he let the saw tumble away, then scrambled to his feet. He ran until the snapping sounds died back, then turned.
The tree had split up the middle, all right, but instead of falling, the whole thing seemed to step forward, away from the stump. Then, to Bubba’s horror, the trunk still attached to the stump twisted. Back and forth it went, until it broke free and stood on its own on what looked like two legs.
“I’m seein’ this, but I ain’t believin’ it,” he whispered. Then that face turned toward him, looking angry. The tree raised one leg, half its trunk, and stomped Bubba’s chainsaw. Then it turned and ran. Ran! “Not my truck!” he yelled, but breaking glass and groaning metal told Bubba the worst. Not thinking, he ran to see.
“Oh, man,” he groaned. “How the hell am I gonna explain that?” The truck and trailer were flattened—just like a tree fell on it, he thought hysterically—but only a few splinters and acorns were on it. At least he only had liability on the truck; it wasn’t like a ’92 F-150 was worth anything.
Hard fingers wrapped around Bubba before he could think, and the tree yanked him into the air. It lifted him level with that face, scowling at him. Before he could even think to plead for his life, he heard a voice in his head: I am the Guard Tree. None shall disturb the peace of this place again. It lowered him to the ground and let him go, before it ran into the woods and disappeared.
And as always, Mason’s original:
Once upon a time, there was a tree. A man cut it down. And this is the scary part: it had a ghost face on it. Then it jumped up and ran through the forest, because it was a Guard Tree, and smashed a car!