The wind rushed behind him as he wound up a swing.
In this land there were trees.
The wind was cut as the axe flew forward.
In the trees there were stories.
The pop echoed through the forest as the axe cracked into the wood.
No one knew where the stories came from but they learned how to collect them.
By chopping them down.
Climbing through the underbrush was steady work. The difficulty came in the balancing part. She only had one arm and it was too busy carrying her hatchet to help support her missteps. It never helped that she preferred to let her empty sleeve hang loose, and because of that, it got caught on every branch it came in contact with.
But this adventure was too tempting to let a few scrapes slow her down.
Through the empty patches in the trees she could see the sun. It was floating away like a balloon caught in the wind. She hoped the breeze wouldn't carry it too fast or she'd miss her chance. She had to get there before sunset because that was when it was the most beautiful. If the wind could just slow down for a few more minutes she could get over this shrubby hill and into the grove, her perfect spot. It was a good thing she was wearing overalls and her clunky boots or she would be slipping with every step and her legs would be pink from all the scratches.
At the top of the hill she stomped her feet in place, set down her hatchet, and let out an exaggerated, "Phew!" as she wiped her hand across her forehead and threw it out to the side.
She set her hand over her eyes to shade them from the sun and looked far out into the forest. After a few seconds of feeling like she was an adventurer who just claimed the 'mountain,' holding her head high and keeping her expression straight, she looked straight down the hill to a group of trees that huddled in a circle. She believed they were conspiring against the rest of the forest and that's why she picked them. It was the perfect spot to harvest the best story. After all, they had to have the best ideas if they were so secretive.
Picking up her axe, she started to carefully step down the hill. She fell several times down hills while out exploring the forest and she knew better than to rush down one. Once at the bottom, however, she jumped the last few feet and sprinted over to the middle of her prizes. Having only harvested one other year, she wasn't an expert in picking trees but her inexperience didn't stop her ritual.
Dropping her axe in the grass and sliding her pack off her back, she laid down where she stood. It was lumpy and the ground always pushed back when she tried to get comfortable but after a few adjustments to the angle she finally got to how she liked it, with the dusty scent of the soil in her nose and the grass tips tickling her neck and ears. There was also the faintest whiff of nuts to her right where she noticed a pile of acorns sitting at the base of one of the conspiring trees.
Now all she needed to do was wait. This was where she was more than happy for the wind to take the sun balloon away as fast as it could so the sunset would start. But the wind did not take the sun away and time slowed to a rather painful rate. So she stood up and started wandering around the circle to find games to play. She picked up acorns to throw into the branches, she drew on the ground with a stick, gave the grass a haircut in small patches, and even poked at the trees with her hatchet. When the sky turned a yellow-orange she ran back to the middle of the circle and dropped to the ground, grinning from the sparks in her eyes to the dimples in her cheeks. This was the best part of the sunset.
Staring up into the vividly green canopies of the trees, she could see the speckles of orange blinking through the leaves. The sky and leaves were a sherbet background for the explosion the branches made. Each branch twisted and spun as it stretched away from the base of the tree and from those branches there were ten more smaller branches that stretched from them and ten more branches grew off of each of those. They were all like veins on green skin, pulsing with orange lights.
If there was one thing she thought was beautiful, this was it. She took in the show for the few short minutes the sky stayed the perfect shade. But even that became boring.
So she rolled onto her side and grabbed her bag, dragging it closer to her then she swung her body back up, sending her pigtails spinning for a moment. She reached into the bag and pulled out one of the lumberjack's wooden books. It was going to be another long wait so she opened to the first page and started to read.
Even though the sun was setting it stopped growing dark before she would've stopped seeing the words in the book. That's when the green light started to glow onto her sheets of wood. The first time she saw this grove at night, she thought there were fireflies flitting through the leaves but she quickly found out that it was the leaves themselves that glowed. Traveling to the lights that night, she saw that each leaf held it's own small constellation of green lights that sparkled in and out. She loved to watch them at the darkest point in the night when she could look up and see the green mix with the white of the stars.
She was set to read but the rustling of a bush made her stop and look up to find a strange group of leaves. They clumped together there in the shape of a leaf much larger than themselves and they obviously didn't belong to this thistle-covered bush, since they were made of various tree leaves. There were four large maple leaves that made up the main clusters and they pointed in each direction (up, down, left, right). Then there were bunches of smaller leaves all throughout the center of the cluster. Scanning over those is how she spotted the eyes.
They were staring at her. Peaking from behind the small leaf bunches. She was too stunned to run and too curious to be scared. Once the eyes connected there was a quiet, reverberating laugh that seemed to echo around the eyes. Then the cluster of leaves came out into her circle, accompanied by a child's body. His clothes matched his face with the chaotic arrangement of leaves that jetted out in all directions, like the ruffled feathers of a chicken. He also didn't wear any shoes and his feet were covered in spots of dried mud.
"Hello, dear child," the boy smiled as he flourished his arms in a bow, though they were stiff like a puppet.
With scrunching eyebrows, she stood herself, letting her book drop from her knees, and found that the boy was about the same height, "Child? I'm not a child."
The boy let out another of his ghost-echoed laughs, "You are a child."
She puffed up her cheeks and put her arm on her hip. "Then what are you? You're not a boy?"
His grin was packed with playfulness and tinted with mischief as he took a few steps towards her, "No. I am not. I am a spirit. A god of this little forest. How may I help you today?" He repeated his puppet bow with no more grace than before.
"You may not. I'm here for the stories in the trees. I can't win if you help me," she took a step back, eying him as she did, and picked up her axe.
The boy suddenly frowned, though it was hard to spot through his foliage beard, "The stories?" He looked around the circle at the conspiring trees then laughed again, making the same echo sound, "The trees? The trees are mine. I am the whittler of the words within these woods. They do not tell stories without my help."
Her anger was gone, replaced by that burning curiosity only the young can access. "You make the stories in the trees? But that can't be true. The stories grow on their own," she gave a glance to the wooden book she was reading before the boy came. Did he really make these stories?
"I assure you, they do not grow on their own," he said with an amused chuckle. "Would you like to see how the stories are made?"
She merely blinked in reply but he didn't move. So she slowly nodded her head. She couldn't imagine anyone who would turn down the magic to make stories in the trees. He waved his hand to gesture her forward so she came closer to him, though she tightened the grip on her hatchet. When they were standing right in front of each other, he smiled again then put his mud covered hands over her eyes.
"What do you see?" he asked with his spirit-giggle.
See? What did he mean? She couldn't see anything. Except for the dark splotches of mud on his palms, though, even they were hard to see. But he didn't give her any more instruction. She thought he was going to teach her magic. Like how to make the words in the wood of the trees or how to make the stars glow green on the leaves. That was real magic! Magic like that was easy to see. She could even see it right now, despite his muddy hands. Well, that counted didn't it?
"I can see the leaves. The glowing ones." But then she went further. She didn't just seen the general glow of the tree tops but she could see each little spark on every single leaf. She could feel each grass tip bend to tickle her neck. She could even picture the stars twinkling lightly behind her green glowing leaves. Then she imagined the conspiring trees discussing their plans around her. Everything was so clear.
"You can see now, can't you? You can see the stories, their roots. They are in you too." The boy pulled his hands away, his grin more mischievous than before. The girl just grinned back with that same tint of mischief covering her own lips.
The rest of the night was spent playing with the green boy, that's what she decided to call him. There were so many games to play with their stories. They would become their characters in their games, turning the bushes into the high walls of a fortress or the railings on their ship. The circle made by the trees became the boundary to their kingdom and inside anything was possible. Sometimes they just used his and sometimes he let her take a turn. But most of the time they mixed their stories together, never leaving the small grove.
When the sun rose, the girl was trudging back to her house. She was covered in dirt, twigs, and leaves as she clomped in the door.
'Who needs a story from a tree to win the festival!' she thought to herself as she grabbed some blank sheets of wood and some ink. 'I'll win with my story.'
There once was a boy, covered in green. I met him at the circle of conspiring trees.