A narrow path is forming in the tall grass where I have already stepped. Matted down, like animal fur, but every now and then a single-bladed cowlick creeps up between my bare toes, tickling them.

I pass the crooked old tree and see the deep notch I cut into its already well-weathered bark. I can still hear the scraping sound of my small paring knife, tucked inside my closed hand like a knitting needle, scratching away each leaf-thin layer of green wood. It's bleeding sap now. I wipe it off, the sticky goo seeping, running to my palm. The maple smell clogs my nostrils as it trickles down my arm, leaving a thin, amber snail trail.

Like a cat, I begin to lick, when I hear a rustle in the trees. Two massive hands spread the branches and vines like drapes. A brown-cloaked man, broad as a grizzly bear, pushes through, takes a heavy, awkward step toward me.

But like a magnet of the same polarity, I propel backward into the branchy arms of the crooked old maple. Its yellow, sugary blood, still seeping, glazes my hair and face.

I close my eyes. The bear-man's padded hand swallows mine as he kisses the sap from my wrist, my elbow, my bicep. I can smell his earthiness, like dirt. And then his hot breath climbs up my neck.