Marlon was a widower. No, his wife had not died; he had, and he did it habitually to boot. His first wife had been an accountant and her bookkeeping soon got on his nerves. A well-planned car accident, body unfound, had left his wife with his insurance and given him a new lease on life.
Perhaps appropriately he had next married a realtor. However, no matter how much he tried to make a home with her, she always found new and better places to move to. When a tornado tore down their temporary home, him hidden in the bathroom while his wife showed a young couple a condo in the city, he decided it was worthwhile to escape before the cops came. Another insurance plan put to good use, another trip to the library to look at baby-naming books and travel brochures.
He fell into a fanciful affair with a student meteorologist on his way to his new life. She broadcast the forecast every day at seven, five, and eleven, then returned home to him at eight, six, and twelve. He savored the spice they shared and took comfort in the covalent bonds that were broken each day at five, three, and nine. He thought perhaps she was the one, but before the thought had flourished, the town had flooded, and seeing as how she was trapped without cell service, he finished his trip to a new life in the mountains and said farewell to tomorrow’s highs, lows, and heat indices.
The problem with living in the woods was that there were few women around to catch his fancy, although an occasional lost lumberjack might frequent his cabin on cold nights or rainy days. Marlon would let the men shower and lounge around on his couch for a few hours while he washed their clothes, neither caring for intimacy in such intimate surroundings, both keeping to themselves as if encounters of these sorts happened every day. After a couple weeks Marlon found word had spread of his open sanctuary, and soon he found his halls packed with naked hairy men supposedly lost in the woods, but really shirking their duties for beer and football games on the television with enough static to make the beer warranted to enjoy them.
This crowd quickly became too much for Marlon, but by then it had become too late. He had already found his next infatuation. She was a lovely lass, her bark far worse than her bite, her skin a little dry, but an earthen brown nonetheless. And as the boisterous lumberjacks took to their own pleasures, he wafted around the window in a daze, entranced with the dancing tree outside.
Yes, you see, Marlon fell in love with a tree.
* * *
Anise was an orphan. Not an only child, in fact her family was so vast if plotted on a map it might look like a forest, but she sometimes felt as if the only lass in the woods, so to speak. Her old and withered parents had recently been knocked off, practically hacked down at the ankles, and while all her brethren mourned with tears clinging to them like dewdrops and frost, Anise felt like revenge. Had she come from other cultures she might have known that revenge is a dish best served cold, but she had no experience in cooking and found her heated anger enough ambition for a cause as good as this.
The problem, she felt, was not being the only one willing enough to step into action, but that the gang that had banged the old trunks down was numerous and armed with large machines. Many of them had blades or chains. Others were just unbearably large brutes. If she had been any less indignant, she might have found the burly and boisterous monsters rather attractive, but despite her spirit being enraged in flames, her sense of attraction was as cold and hard to stir as frozen tree sap.
Not to mention, they kept killing. Just hacking and sawing and taking over her neighborhood as if it meant nothing. So while the others continued to mourn, and mourn more deeply so, Anise just felt more and more enraged.
Until finally the gang began to slow, and then all but disappeared in the end. This intrigued her, as they had been so relentless beforehand, so instead of watching them from her house on the edge of the woods, she slipped out stark naked into the moonlight. The stars shimmered off her supple skin, the wind danced around her subtle curves, and before long she began to find that the gang’s territory was all but empty of the hideous men.
This made no sense to Anise, so she kept looking. After a while she came to a cottage, from in which a dissonant sound somewhere between thunder and earthquakes was emanating. She crawled to the nearest window, out of which poured flashes of grey-blue and low-lit white light, and then slowly peaked inside.
There they were, the entire gang, all twelve of them! They sat huddled together unclothed, sipping from uncorked bottles and bouncing their large muscles off each other as if, from moment to moment, they couldn’t decide if they were twelve men or one. No matter their closeness, their attentions all seemed transfixed on a point somewhere before them, on that box that emitted such strange flashing lights. It draped them all in a vague sort of way, like moonlight over an open lake, and it seemed to turn such monsters into mere children and little more.
Then there was one more, off to the side reading what might have been a newspaper, if Anise would have recognized it from her own culture (and it’s probably best that she hadn’t, knowing what paper comes from). He was scribbling with a small wand on the pages, completely ignorant to the men and their box of lights. The ring-leader, she decided, the wizard who had enspelled them all.
In that moment, in that one fateful moment, Anise found all her flames doused, all her hardened hearts melted, and found that had she any respect for the men on the couch, she might have admired their sparkling and sweat-glistening muscular bodies, for in that moment she grew such a fondness for the man before her that she decided she would never, that she could never return to her home in the tree at the edge of the woods.
For yes, you see, Anise was in fact a tree.
* * *
Marlon was standing in the kitchen, a short walk from the dozen men now watching a romantic comedy, alternatively filling the house with raucous laughter and heartbreaking sob-sessions, when he had just turned on the gas stove and looked up, happening just as that moment before the flame lit, to pause completely as his eyes graced the glass squares of the window frame and the beautiful nude lass beyond.
Marlon just stood there for a while. The scent of gas was growing stronger, though by now he wasn’t sure where it came from and decided it was all in his head anyways. So many man parts had been swinging around his cabin for so long that it had all gone to his head. He was quite literally going insane. A naked girl in the middle of the woods? It was practically unheard of. The fact that a group of twelve naked lumberjacks were watching a romantic comedy in his living room was as equally unheard of never occurred to him as he stared at the girl.
Through the window her eyes seemed to shine like the accountant’s while she was bookkeeping, giving to numbers the attention she never seemed to give to him. And her smile was like the realtor’s when she was enthused about the new property that had come on the market and debating whether or not to sell it for the high commission or buy it for herself. And her demure stature was like the student meteorologist’s when she climbed out of bed each day at four, two, and eight, before she returned to that attitude of perfect presenting, when she was still in that mood of innocence that only seemed to surface in the six minutes after she’d gotten out of bed before hitting the shower, a transformation he had watched once before the flood which had ultimately convinced to leaver her.
This young girl had all of these things, and each of them in turn made Marlon’s heart flutter and fancy her.
He walked across the house, completely ignorant to the now bawling men beside him, opened the door absently, and then let it close behind him. The night was dark and it took a moment for his eyes to adjust and for his body to settle into the coolness of the coming winter.
In a couple moments more he saw the girl follow him to the front of the house and come closer. She was barely corporeal, at least ninety-percent ethereal in fact, but she was beautiful. He opened his arms to her embrace and kissed her, and when their lips touched, he found her liquid airiness suddenly solid, her honey tongue inside him more real than any sex he had ever before tasted.
She led him through the forest, up a nearby mountain, where come morning they had both promised themselves to each other, none to leave the other’s side for anything.
Around noon there was a roll of thunder that shook the earth from a point in the valley around where a cabin had once stood, but was now only a scorching crater in the forest (one of the lumberjacks had tried to make lunch, you see), but neither Marlon nor Anise took any notice of this. Instead they took to the snow that was softly beginning to fall over them, and by evening when they found they were getting too cold, they quickly did something to fix it.