"In this day and age we are faced with the problem of overharvesting our forests. Too few laws are put into place to protect our trees, and the lumber industry cuts down more of them every year. Through the use of questionable ploys and tactics, the lumber industry has been given permission to harvest trees in an old growth located in the cascades of Oregon.
This forest is ancient and has been untouched by man for centuries. There are many Native American stories surrounding the forest, which may be the reason there isn't so much as a path through it. Most stories talk of this forest being a sacred place where the spirits of nature live, and that man is forbidden to enter this sacred place. Yet, these are just stories and superstitions from a dying culture. And so a small group of experienced lumberjacks set up camp at the forest's edge.
It was obvious that the place was ancient. All of the trees were massive, and they all had moss and other flora growing on every limb. Each one could have sustained its own ecosystem with how much foliage. Then there was the dense underbrush that carpeted the ground, making it impossible to see your feet as you walked through. This made for an eerie workplace, and it didn't help that every morning the forest was shrouded in a fog, though it usually disappeared by noon.
We began cutting trees two days after we set up camp. It was a good thing that we began to cut as quickly as we did. The group we had were veteran lumberjacks, but they were a superstitious group and began talking about the woods almost as soon as we got there. Once we began cutting, they shifted their focus from superstition and lore to the work at hand. We had been cutting for two days without incident and were well on our way to filling our quota when that night at dinner, we heard a knock at the door to the cook shack. This startled many because we were miles away from any house, and no one was supposed to be here but us. We opened the door slowly to reveal a Native American man standing on the step.
He looked as if he were a tribe elder. He had to have been about seventy. He was wearing only leather pants and moccasins, very strange attire for fall weather. His bare skin was a deep brown color, almost the color of tree bark, and due to the cracks all over his body, it seemed to be fitting. Then there was his hair. It had dreadlocks, which was very unusual considering his nationality. His voice was raspy and deep, like he needed water. He asked us, "What are you doing in this sacred place?"
"We were given permission by the federal government to clear cut this forest," I replied.
"This forest is not the property of your government. The spirits of the earth demand that you leave immediately," he rebuked.
I told him, "Our paychecks depend on us cutting these trees."
"But your lives depend on you leaving this sacred place. You have been warned." He then turned and left without another word, walking straight into the forest. I tried to stop him, but he vanished the moment he entered the forest. We searched for him for a short time, but couldn't find a trace of him. His warning was disconcerting, but we had work to do, and how much damage could one old man do?
The next two days were a nightmare. It was almost as if the trees suddenly became iron. Our axes could not cut them any more. We even had a few axes that broke when they hit the tree, so we brought in chainsaws, which worked for a day, but then they began to break. I ended up sending two guys to the hospital when their chainsaws broke and the chain links hit them like shrapnel from a frag grenade. One of them would need complete facial reconstruction while the other had to have his right arm amputated. I didn't know it then, but they were lucky they got out when they did.
That night I was trying to figure out how to boost morale and find a way to cut those infuriating trees. Then one of crew burst into my office saying that the Indian was in the forest watching the camp. I jumped out of my chair and ran out to confront him about being in the woods and spooking my men. When I got out there, I was thirty yards in front of him with the whole camp behind me.
"I gave you plenty of time to leave and now you will face the consequences."
"Now wait a minute!" I shouted as he faded back into the forest. Two of my men went in after him. After about five minutes, one come back saying that he couldn't find anyone. We spent the rest of the night looking for the second man who vanished in the forest after going in after the old man. None of the teams of two I sent into the forest found anything, so I made the decision to take the next day off and let the workers recover from their long and fruitless night.
As I went through the camp in the late afternoon, I heard the men call the forest cursed, and they took to calling the old man the Druid. I knew there was no way to stop my men from talking, and I would have to accept it and try and find a way to up their morale before they started walking over me. I decided that I would have to bring in heavy equipment to clear out the trees, so I made a few phone calls and got some bulldozers and other big rigs to be delivered out here. That night I informed my crew that the cavalry was coming in and that in a couple of days we would be back on track. The crew was excited to hear this and that raised morale drastically. We had dinner without incident and for that time it seemed like things were going to turn around.
After dinner we were all going back to our cabins when we noticed a young tree in the middle of the camp. All that I could think was how is this possible? A tree can't just sprout up like this in a matter of an hour or two. As we approached the tree, I started hearing the talk from this afternoon returning, most saying that the Druid had grown this tree in our camp. All the small talk soon came to an end as we gathered around the tree.
The small talk turned into prayers as we saw the worker that went missing the night before. The tree had grown around and through him. His face was frozen in a contorted grimace of unimaginable pain. His arms and legs were encased in the wood of the tree while two branches had burst through his chest and grown up to frame his face in their bark. Confusion and horror filled us all as we looked upon his ghastly demise and wondered how this had come to be.
It's not possible for a tree to suddenly sprout, let alone encase a living being like this. Then there was the question of how it had gotten into the middle of camp. We hadn't heard anything, so it couldn't have happened in the camp. And to have moved it here by hand would have taken too much time and there would be marks on the ground from people walking and digging. But the earth was unbroken as if the tree had been here the whole time. We sat there staring at him for nearly an hour in silence from the shock before someone shuffled off to return with a can of gasoline and a lighter.
He doused the tree in gasoline and then lit it on fire. We all watched it burn in silence for a time. then many began to pray or sing hymns to a multitude of deities. When the tree was nothing but ash, we finally came out of our stupor. Almost my whole crew left right then, and I couldn't blame them for leaving. I would too if it didn't mean being crushed under gambling debts when I got back. The few that stayed were in the same boat as me, where if they returned they knew they would be damned, but if they stayed, who knew what was going to happen.
In the small hours of the morning and with half a bottle of Scotch I decided I was done waiting on the Druid; I was going to take the fight to him. I rallied the remaining workers and armed everyone with axes, gasoline and lighters and set out into the forest. It was nearly pitch black in the forest and the morning fog had begun to rise making it nearly impossible to see farther than a foot in front of you. Disregarding these impairments we went deeper into the forest. We were all on edge. We couldn't discern anything, and we jumped at every shadow and noise from the creaking wood. After about twenty minutes and my wits somewhat returning, I decided that it would fruitless to search for the druid and that we would have to lure him out. So I gave the order,
"Boys, burn it to the ground."
Many of them shouted their support as they began splashing the gasoline on everything around them. Soon all our gas cans were empty, and we had regrouped a short distance from the doused area. Then we all lit our lighters and threw them into the saturated wood. The moment the lighters hit the gas, the forest turned into a ball of fire and in seconds was a raging inferno spreading rapidly from branch to branch.
I don't remember when we all started to run, but we were running as fast as we could through the blazing wood. Then there was primal shriek that was filled with unimaginable rage so loud that we all fell to our knees, gripping our ears in agony. In that same moment the forest returned to the darkness we had replaced with a blazing bonfire. As we shook off the pain of that shriek, the forest began to take on an ethereal glow and in the middle of it all was the Druid, who was the image of rage in that moment before he was swallowed up by the forest.
The forest came alive around us we started running for our camp. As we ran I saw a man grabbed by a vine and lifted into the trees to an unknown fate. The man that was in front of me was swallowed up by the earth as the trees moved their roots and was crushed when the trees moved their roots back into place. The last of my men were impaled by branches and carried off into the canopies while I continued to run. I didn't know why I had been spared when everything around me seemed to want me dead. Then I stopped running. I had been turned around and was returned to the place we had tried to burn. In the middle of the scorched earth was the Druid sitting with his back to me.
I pick up a stone on the ground meaning to end this once and for all. As I crept up behind and raised the rock above my head. As I brought it down for the killing blow, greenery exploded from the Druid and the scorched earth was covered in foliage and young trees. In that explosion of greenery I had dropped my rock and was about to search for it when the Druid spoke.
"I warned you that this was a sacred place and that if you didn't leave you would die."
"We couldn't have left even if we wanted to," I responded.
"Would the consequences of you leaving been worse than what you have suffered here?"
At this remark, I kept my silence unable to come up with an adequate response to someone who knew so little of our lives and society.
"If you would have left, you would have kept your lives and sought out other ways to feed your greed. But your greed kept you here and made you believe this place was your way to wealth, and for that your men have paid dearly."
I couldn't speak and he slowly approached me with a look of contempt and sorrow.
"For what you have done here many have died and you await your punishment, but before I can punish you there is something you must do. You must go back to your people and stand as a witness to the powers of the earth and warn them of what will happen should they ignore you."
At this he motioned to the trees around him and several young trees came to him gliding on their roots over the earth. Each tree had one of my men that had come with me into the forest their faces in wrought with the agony of their dying moments. Then with a second motion they went away back into the woods. He then opened his hand to reveal an acorn in his palm. He took that acorn and pressed it into my chest. I could feel it burrowing into my flesh. I would have collapsed from the pain if it weren't for the Druid holding me up with his other hand.
"With this seed in you you will face the same fate as those you led to the slaughter only after you bear witness to the things you have seen here tonight. Then you will stand as a warning to them like those you just saw. Now, away with you."
He shoved me roughly through the woods stumbling right into the middle of our camp, if you could call it that anymore. The forest had reclaimed everything what wasn't destroyed. That is when I realized what he meant about my men standing as examples. They stood at the edge of the forest as sentries warning those who would dare to enter the forest against the will of the earth spirits.
And so that is how I came to be the last man to leave my camp alive. I came here right away to report my findings and advise the board to leave the forest alone and keep anyone else from entering it."
Before any board member could respond, I felt the acorn begin to grow inside me. I knew then that the end was near. With that, I died in the middle of the board room to the sounds of screams and rending flesh as the tree burst through my chest, ending my life with the beginning of a new one.