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My brother and I are surgeons. We spend our days in the woods by our home, slicing the limbs from eighty-year-old relics, listening to the sounds of splitting wood and retreating birds. Our father did this before us and his father before him.
By our house, at the edge of a lake, we wait until the evening mists rise above the water. We wait until the green and blue pines on the opposite side turn black under the canopy of midnight sky. We wait until we can hear the severed branches of the oaks or the thin fingers of the elms calling. Our father told us that we heard voices because our family is cursed. The old man was mad. And yet still we hear the voices.
My brother pulls a raft to the water’s edge. On it we place the trunks and fleshy leaves that we took earlier in the day. They wail at us, demanding to be returned to the bodies that we left naked and weeping in the woods. He ties them down with rope and cries out in disgust when a gnarled hand touches his own.
Our father told us that on the opposite side of the lake, where the trees give way to rock, a house made of sticks simmers with an ancient need. He told us this when we were young. We have seen it in our dreams ever since.
My brother pushes the raft. We watch as the shape floats away and the water ripples gently beneath its weight.
“Light it,” he says.
I dip the arrow into the fire and aim high. It rises in a sweeping arc, briefly lost amongst the descending fog. As it falls we hold our breath. The raft burns after the arrow lands. A beacon lights up the night sky and turns the water a blood red. Our father told us that if we looked hard enough we would see smoke from the wood make its way through the trees, to the house of sticks.
“I don’t see nothin.”
We drag what we did not use from the back of the pickup and start the chipper. The noise it makes as it crunches and grinds the wood is deafening in the night. But our father told us that we must always tidy up after ourselves. We scoop the remains into sacks bound with string, ready to be sold at the market. It’s good for your garden. We will say this to passersby.
Sack after sack gets filled and when we turn the machine off the silence is huge. Our father told us to be quiet. To never talk of our sacrifices.
“We missed a load.”
The chipper goes back on and eats up the rest with ease. It will go through any type of wood. It will even go through bone. At least, that’s what our father told us.
Jack Wildern is from the UK. He writes short fiction and lives in Hampshire with his wife and two children. His work is published in The Book Smugglers Den, Parhelion, Rue Scribe, Dream Noir and Haunted MTL. His most recent short story Hell was chosen for publication by Night Picnic Press and is presented in both English and Russian.