This was one of my favorite tales from Northern Haunts, but unfortunately a few lines in the middle were truncated as a result of a layout error. I wanted to make sure that this wonderful and creepy little tale was available in its entirety.
The Trees Ran Red
By Joel A. Sutherland
It’s been over ten years since that day, and I still haven’t forgotten the smell of boiling blood. Don’t think I ever will.
The previous night my truck had run out of gas and I coasted home on fumes. It didn’t bother me much, since I lived close to my sugar shack and I kept plenty of filled gas canisters there for the equipment, but it meant a walk to work the next morning. I set out before the sun was up, completely unaware of the horrors that awaited me in the bush.
I was a little late by the time I got there. A beat-up 1989 Ford Ranger was parked next to the sugar shack. It was Derrick’s, the Irishman I had hired the month before. I poked my head in the shack but it was empty. I assumed Derrick must be out in the bush, so I set out to join him and begin the day’s work.
I strolled leisurely through the black maples on my Vermont property, trailing frosty clouds of breath as my feet crunched through the snow. I stopped and inhaled deeply, reveling in the clean smells of the winter woods as my lungs burned from the frigid air. Something odd dawned on me. Other than the sound of the wind, the forest was perfectly silent. I checked my watch: 5:35. The woods should’ve been teeming with animal life. My heart sped up and my breathing suddenly sounded very loud in my ears, but I shook it off and focused on my work.
I neared the section of maples Derrick and I had tapped the day before. The air smelled vaguely of copper. A chill shot through me and my skin prickled with gooseflesh. There was still no sign of life.
I removed the metal bucket from the nearest tree, turned around and dropped it with a curse. Instead of maple syrup, it was filled with blood. It coursed over the white snow, melting it with a crackle. I stepped back involuntarily and bumped into the tree. It seemed to bulge upon contact. Blood still dripped from the tap, forming a small red circle below like a pox.
Desperate to keep a grip on my sanity, I paced around the maple. Its back bore an irregular crease unlike anything I had seen before. It ran from top to bottom and looked like two lips pressed firmly together.
In a daze I prodded back to the shack, grabbed an ax, and returned to the bleeding tree.
If I had paused I think I would have lost my nerve, so I swung the ax over my head and landed it in the middle of the crease. The tree groaned with the sound of wood being split. I wrenched the ax head free and raised it again, then hesitated. Blood gushed from the cut in torrents. I don’t know why, but I laughed and swung the ax again and again, spraying myself with blood and wood chips.
Flinging the ax to the ground, I stared into the gash I had made, terrified I’d see a wooden heart pumping blood through the tree. But the maple hadn’t produced the blood that had filled the syrup bucket. It came from the creatures the tree had fed on. Inside the trunk were two raccoons, a rabbit and a dray of squirrels, all in various states of digestion. Blood seeped from every pore of the animals, good God, so much blood...
I checked the other buckets. They were all brimming with blood as well. The other trees had similar creases, some with fur, tails, or antlers sticking out. My head spun and I didn’t know what was real anymore. I had no idea what to do.
And then I saw Derrick’s hand, identifiable by the Claddagh ring on his bone-white finger, sticking out from one of the trees.
Suddenly all became clear. I knew what had to be done.
I walked to the shack as if in a dream. Picking up a gas canister in each hand, I set out back into the woods, ready to burn down my livelihood.
Ready to boil some blood.
Read more of Joel's work in Issue #7, and find him online on his Website.