The truck bounced along the inward road, humming by the bare trees of the Herd’s woods north of their home. Two children, Denny and Paul, swayed in their bulky winter outfits, scarves wound round their necks, while their father jerked and guided the truck over the frozen road. Trailing behind them, the family wagon that sometimes hauled the lawnmower, manure, and, today, cut wood, jumped a jutting gray rock just before the truck pulled to a stop.
“Come on boys. Paul, grab the saw. Denny use these.” Denny grabbed the lifeless brown gloves from his father and slowly pulled them over his hands.
“Why do I always have to carry?”
“Because. We all carry, buddy. Your brother carried once.”
“You’re a runt. That’s why.” Paul strutted to the back of the truck, legs a little rubbery, his build not much heftier than Denny’s.
“Someday you will, Den,” Denny’s father said to him as he rested his broad hand on his son’s shoulder. “Paul, start cutting that fallen one over there. Denny and I will get the tarp.” Paul grabbed the orange chainsaw from the back of the truck and leaned to the left as he carried it to the fallen tree. It looked like a storm had taken this one out; a jagged, bright cut was made about midway up the trunk. Lightning. Denny and his father stood on both sides of the white board wagon. They rolled the blue tarp up so the inside of the wagon, scattered with wood debris, could be filled with fresh wood.
As Paul yanked and yanked the machinated uttering of the cold inner workings fought to come alive. He choked the engine and pulled hard on the cord, shattering the silence of the forest with startling white noise. Denny and his father began scouting around their vicinity for more trees to be cut, so Paul could work on them while they carried the cut wood to the wagon. Every Saturday the routine was the same: pull out from the house around eight and make it back by noon for lunch. Then in the afternoon the wagon would be unloaded into the old coal chute in the back of the house. They would stack it along the limestone rock walls in the small room with the dirt floor, spider webs, and sixty-watt bulb swaying in the dust.
Later, Denny would say he heard his brother yelling as if in trouble. But they had walked farther away from the truck in search of the fallen tree and he at the time couldn’t be sure if he heard something or if the muffler warming his ears had fabricated the sound from the snapping of limbs and the crunch of snow. They kept on searching until Denny’s
father turned to him and said they should get back, they would drive a little further to find some more wood. They walked back. Denny searched the slatted trees for any sign of an antler. He liked to track, to find the hoof prints of deer, imagining himself a superior hunter, heading through a mountainous region, scouting, eating off the land, noticingsigns of disturbance in the trees, being able to smell the descent of his prey. He thought of these things as he and his father curled down the small slope back towards the truck.
From their angle, they couldn’t see the tree that Paul was working on, or the trunk that was split in like a V, jagged and snow covered. Denny’s father couldn’t hear a revving saw and Denny noticed that spindly limbs were still poking out above the truck cab, reaching into the morning sky. Denny’s breath was warm, as it filtered through his scarf. He pulled the scarf down and asked his father if Paul had stopped working again.He was known for that. He was a slacker. Denny knew he would never stop working if he were using the saw. But carrying wasn’t an all the time thing. The wood didn’t come fast enough, so eventually a break came.
The father and son walked around the cab of the truck and they heard the idle saw before they saw it resting a few feet from Paul and the blood soaked snow. They noticed the deep gash in Paul’s left arm, near his bicep. After Denny’s father lifted his oldest son’s limp body from the snow, Denny saw how the blood had warmed the snow, melting it down to the forest floor. He saw the remains of a Sycamore leaf, brown and yellow, pooling the blood in and around its dried veins. He heard his father yell at him, a distressed look peeling across his face, as he carried Paul in both his arms. Paul’s blue striped stocking cap, falling off one side of his face. Snow speckled the cotton pattern of his jacket.
“Take your brother!” Denny’s father laid Paul across Denny’s outstretched arms. Paul was heavy, heavier than Denny expected. His knees almost buckled as his father went and started the truck to back it around, so they could head for home and call for help. Denny watched as his father struggled with backing the wagon up. He could feel the warm blood trickling down his left hand, seeping through his brown gloves. His father was frustrated and unable to back up the truck. The trip straight ahead would lead them miles away from the house that was only a mile away if they could get the truck turned around. Denny started hiking towards the house, talking to his brother, telling him everything would be all right. He was in the hands of an experienced carrier.