Spider fangs glitter as they twitch inside a dead locust. Red goo drips from the tree’s open wound, while a sticky ruby river slithers down the dry bark. Sugary sanguine droplets cling to a twig as a windy whisper ripples along the gooey spherical surface. The droplets shiver and then descend upon the spider—eight legs tangle inside the viscous prison—while the arachnid solidifies inside an amber coffin.
“Oh…my Bobby boy…are you ever goin’ to learn to quit? Huh? You said you were gonna stop three summer’s ago!”
Bobby bites his dry tongue. “Susy Beth, I told ya I’ll stop. Shoot. Just let a man live.”
Susy Beth reaches inside the trash can and pulls out a wad of sparkly cardboard. Bobby rolls his eyes and drags dirty fingertips through a greasy scalp.
“Mr. Grin’s Easy Scratch & Win…well? What did you win? Besides this here fancy cardboard!”
Susy Beth flings the scratch tickets into the air—she crosses her arms as the cardboard drifts toward the oak floorboards.
“Honey, sweets, sugar, sunshine, you know the trees ain’t puttin’ out like they used to! Come on now. A few bucks and a little luck can ease the pressure. Yer cousin, Sandy, remember? She won big. Real big. And if she won, I can win.” Bobby says.
He opens up a newspaper and puckers his fat lips against a crusty ceramic mug. Black coffee surges between the gaps in his teeth.
“What? Oh…is that it? That’s yer plan? Yer gonna spend a fortune to win a fortune? Now that’s smart livin’! Yup. Sure is. You best be thinkin’ about them trees. We need the syrup ready in three weeks. Jasper’s Diner is our best customer, and if we don’t deliver our promised order, then poor ol’ Jasper will buy maple syrup from Grassy Fields Farm. Don’t piss off the locals, Bobby. You hear?”
Susy Beth slams the patio door. Bobby’s eyes focus on a newspaper article:
Storm Flood Reveals Ancient War Artifacts
A recent storm drenched a small town west of Dustin. Water flowed down from Mt. Crag and carved a deep trench into a grassy valley. Scientists reported discoveries of ancient artifacts that have been exhumed by the continuous flood: pieces of armor, damaged swords, and mutilated skeletal fragments. Carbon dating suggested the artifacts are from 1100 A.D.
Bobby drips the last drops of caffeinated sludge into his mouth and chews the grainy goop. Black droplets rain upon the article as the tiny words dissolve into a coalescent wrinkled mash.
Sometime That Afternoon
Mosquitoes orbit Bobby’s head while he rests a drill near a rotting stump. “…Damn them little bastards…don’t know how to quit…sonsofbitches…I’ll soon have no more blood left.”
He swats at the air and cups a hand over his sweaty brow. “Terrence! Boy, you better make sure them buckets are stable! I don’t want to see ’em all tipped over like last time. Don’t forget the cover! Yup. Yeah. That’s right. Just like that. No. Too far. Yup. Okay. Right there. Yup. Stop.”
Terrence rests a bony elbow on the maple tree’s bark. “Like this, Pops?”
The bucket tips over.
“No, no, no, boy…you beein’ too gentle! What did I tell you? Put some of that muscle into it…the little that you got.” Bobby says.
Terrence picks up the bucket as Bobby pokes a finger inside a shallow depression within a piece of bark. He rests the drill bit upon the tree.
“You see? Like this.”
He pushes back the green plastic trigger—spiraled metal borrows into the tree. “Don’t worry! Trees don’t got no feelings, you hear? Just drill ’em, poke ’em, and drain ’em. That’s all. Come on. Let’s do one more.” Bobby says.
Terrence hangs a thumb inside his denim suspenders. “You sure ’bout that, Pops? Is it true them trees don’t feel nothin’? How can we be sure?”
Bobby points at his sweaty bald head. “Tree don’t got no brains…you need brains to feel, my boy. And they don’t got none. They’re just plants. That’s all. Just brainless things.”
Terrence points toward the sky. “But, Pops, I learned, you know, in science class, them plants can detect sound waves, and are able to attract bees when they’re in danger…that seems pretty smart to me, Pops.”
Bobby spits a glob of tobacco-laced saliva. “Huh? Sound waves? Bees? Let me know when you hear one of them trees cry! Shoot…we’re gonna need more buckets. How ’bout you run home and get more?”
Terrence jogs along a dirt path between a row of tapped maple trees. Bobby meanders near a moss smothered log as a soft wind whistles around a looming maple tree. He places a hand over his nose. “Damn skunks…Jesus…Lord have mercy…stinky devils…”
Branches slither down the canopy and arch their hollow heads as if they were vengeful serpents. The branches sway above Bobby while he drills a hole inside the tree. He jams a spile inside the cavity. Bobby hangs the last bucket while twigs open their hollow mouths. A serpentine branch rises behind Bobby’s head.
He smacks the tree. “Yeah. What a day. I can tell this is gonna be a good one. Yup. We’ll make a killing.”
Bobby’s eyes dilate. He drags a hand across his face and studies the familiar substance sticking between fingers. “Somethin’ just don’t feel too right.”
A branch impales his cranium and pushes back layers of sunburned skin. The world blurs as a squawking crow’s laughter echoes upon the walls of his crumbling sanity. Bobby’s mouth quivers—words convulse and spasm inside his throat as remnants of last night’s TV dinner ascend his dark bowels and clog between gargling pleas.
Bobby’s legs dangle in the air while the branches lift him into the tree’s canopy. Twigs drag their hollow mouths across his body and dig inside puffy, purple veins. The serpentine branches contract and pulse—Bobby seizures as sweet blood drip out of the spile.
“Pops! Pops! I got some buckets!”
Terrence runs along the dirt path. He looks past a row of tapped maple trees and sees the drill lying on the ground. “Pops? Are you here? Shoot…he must of went back to the house.”
He picks up the drill and looks up into the canopy. Maple leaves dance as he drags a finger inside the bucket. Terrence dips the tip of his tongue upon the sticky substance. “Yum!”
3 Weeks Later
“I know, I know, pass me the damn maple syrup. Did you read about the war artifacts and skeletons they found near Bobby’s Organic Maple Farm? Scientists and scholars are documenting the discoveries. They say a terrible war-ravaged these lands many years ago. George. Please. Pass me the damn maple syrup.”
George glides a small glass bottle across the table while forking a mouthful of buttered pancake. “Is that all they found, Ernie?”
He pops open the bottle of maple syrup and shrugs his shoulders. “Shit if I know. I turned the channel…when wrestling came on.”
Ernie drips sugary red stuff all over a huge plate of French toast. “Oh! One of the scientist…what was her name…oh! Dr. Razel…ummm… said somethin’ about a bunch of bones being found near a very old tree.”
He chews a piece of drenched toast—the metallic taste of familiarity haunts his taste buds. Ernie smiles. “You need to try Bobby’s Organic Maple Syrup.”