But I knew that wouldn’t be the case, knew that this time he wouldn’t get up. Part of me wanted that to happen so badly, even knowing that there would be one hell of a beating involved.
To this day I don’t know how long I lay there on top of Georgie, panting, shivering and in shock. My shirt and hands were sticky with blood, Georgie’s blood. I stood up and walked over to the Tree Man. He was still tied to the tree, but he wasn’t moving, dried blood marked his body and when I grabbed his head in my hands it felt cold and limp. I shook him, told him to wake up, demanded that he answer me.
His silence mocked me and I couldn’t deal with it. I was out of my mind, overwhelmed with emotion and I hit him in the mouth. I felt his head snap against my fist and then the tree and I could swear that he groaned. “Hey, hey asshole, answer me, say something,” I screamed, but no words came out of my mouth and so I grabbed him and shook him again. But again his silence mocked me.
“Georgie, you better stop playing,” I shouted and then I kicked him over and over, slapped his face and grabbed his throat and began squeezing it until I realized it wasn’t Georgie. Georgie was dead, his body lay a few feet away.
I started to laugh and shake, giant gales of laughter wracked my body. There in the dark I stood the world’s newest murderer. Life hadn’t been great, but now it was distinctly worse. Georgie’s death was an accident, it was self-defense. He had been trying to kill me, but the Tree Man, how could I explain that.
How could I tell anyone about this. Who would believe me? When they saw him they would look at me and that would be the end of it. I couldn’t imagine any scenario that didn’t end with me in a cage and that wouldn’t do, couldn’t do, it just wouldn’t.
That sick cackle that had been emanating from my mouth returned, bubbled forth like the hiss of air escaping a punctured tire and then it turned into sobbing. Beneath the moonlight I lay in the dirt and cried. A soft wind blew through the trees and the rustling of the leaves painted a picture of desolation. What else was there besides me and the two corpses, my world was destroyed.
And then I heard Georgie’s voice. Even in death he taunted me, ridiculed me for being weak. I could see him standing in front of me, grinning at my pain, the contempt he held me in apparent for all to see. Except that he was dead and I was alive and in hell.
But like so many times in the past the self-pity turned to anger and I stood back up, sucked up the anger and stuffed it back into the pit in my soul it came from. I had to go, had to get out of there and off of the mountain. Now all I needed to do was figure out what to do with Georgie and the Tree Man and go home.
In A Past Life
In a past life Buck had been someone, but it was a little unclear who.
He was not dumb or slow although some took his reticence to speak as an indicator of such. In a different time and place Buck had been a son, he had been a husband and most importantly a father.
Buck reminded Tom of granite, imposing and forbidding he gave the impression that had he wanted to remain in the bar nothing could have made him move. Tom wasn’t real sure how they became friends or even if they were, but he couldn’t let him stay or maybe he wouldn’t have stayed.
Who really knew what or why Buck did what he did. The reality was that Tom had invited him out, had asked him to join him for a beer and so he felt responsible for the incident.
Their friendship had been a gradual process, not much different than watching a glacier move. Slowly it had evolved from grunts and nods to the odd word here and there. The bar they were currently walking away from had helped to push things along.
One day Tom had decided to stop and get a beer before heading home. Buck was sitting on a stool, alone as usual. It hadn’t been easy to approach him, but he had been afraid not to. So he had walked over and asked Buck if he could join him. An almost imperceptible nod yes demonstrated his approval and so he pulled up a stool and sat down.
For the first ten minutes he hadn’t even tried to speak to him, just sat there trying to figure out what to say. It was awkward and uncomfortable, but the silence didn’t faze Buck. And in truth it was Tom’s decision not to try and force conversation that caused Buck to speak first.
He didn’t say much, but for someone who tended not to say more than three words at a time this was a veritable Shakespearean soliloquy. “You could do better work if you slowed down.” It wasn’t said critically, there was no accusation, it was surprisingly friendly in tone and nature. “If you let the machine do its job you’ll do better.”
Tom suddenly realized that he had been holding his breath and exhaled deeply. “Thanks, I appreciate it.”
And from then on they had an unspoken appointment to share a pitcher of beer each week. Over time bits and pieces came out about Buck. He shared little things about his life, but the pieces of the puzzle were still hard to place. It became more than apparent that there was much more to Buck than it appeared, but still he was a man who did not offer much in the way of answers.
His name was Buck and he was built like a gorilla. It wasn’t an affectionate description, nor a term of endearment. It wasn’t that he looked particularly simian, it was his long arms. Had they been thin they would have been called gangly, they were not.
Those arms were connected to a body that resembled a fireplug and to a brutish looking face. Dark eyes hid behind thick black eyebrows and a nose that resembled a pear.
He would never be called pretty, handsome or complimented for his looks. But neither would he ever be teased as it was apparent to even the animals that he was not to be trifled with. It was one of the things that set him apart.
Dogs avoided him. Big dogs, little dogs, Rottweiler, Pit Bull, Schnauzer, it didn’t matter, they stayed away from him, as if they could sense the violence that lay just beneath the surface.
Tom had seen it surface a couple of times. They had finished their shifts and walked over to a local bar for a beer. A couple of locals had the misfortune of poor judgment. He had sneezed and knocked over their pitcher of beer. They immediately began berating him and when he didn’t respond they grew more aggressive.
They mistook his inactivity for fear or who knows what. Had they looked more closely they would have noticed that his large hands were scarred and callused. A person doesn’t get those marks, they earn them. And those that earn them have a certain something that they bring to the party.
Tom was surprised, really shocked was more like it with the speed at which things happened. The man closest to Buck grabbed his collar and demanded that he spring for a new pitcher of beer. One moment he was standing in front of Buck, hands wrapped in the collar of a dirty blue jumpsuit and the next he was writhing in pain on the ground, one arm dangling uselessly from his body.
The second man didn’t have time to do anything before Buck and picked him up and slammed him face first on the floor like a cheap rag doll. The only saving grace for him was that the impact knocked him senseless, would that his sense would have flitted over to the first man.
If it had he might have lay still. He didn’t, opting to grab Buck’s leg. Perhaps he did so unconsciously, perhaps not. It doesn’t matter what the reason was, because Buck fixed his arm so that there was a question of whether he would ever be able to feed himself again.
Tom looked at his watch. It was 5:37, their shift had ended at 5:30. It had taken at least five minutes to leave the plant and walk to the bar. How did this happen so quickly and what was he supposed to do now.
Buck was a bit of an enigma to Tom. The fury with which he had dispatched the two men has dissipated into the ether. It was as if it had never happened. The only sign of his anger were the broken bodies of the two men and a couple of rivulets of sweat upon his brow.
Beyond that it was hard to determine if anything unusual had happened. He wasn’t breathing hard and his behavior had reverted back to the passive state in which most people usually saw Buck. Tom knew that this wasn’t what most people considered normal behavior, but he also knew that Buck had not gone looking for trouble, it had found him. And he also knew if they stayed there until the police came Buck’s trouble would include Tom and he wasn’t willing to let that happen.
So he grabbed Buck by the arm, taking care to make sure that Buck saw that it was him and not some stranger and suggested that they leave. And so they did, their progress was unimpeded by the other patrons of the bar. They were not people who had a great love for the police, but they were people who appreciated having two functional arms and after what they had just witnessed no one dared to challenge their departure.
Back on the street Tom considered what he knew about Buck. When Tom began working at the plant Buck was a Chief Machinist. Not that the “chief” part of the title meant anything, but in the 10 years since Tom had begun working at the plant he had yet to meet another Chief Machinist. Nor had he met any other machinists besides himself.
It was kind of queer. There was room for at least another three full time men, plenty of work to go around. Best of his knowledge the company was making money, so it seemed strange to him. But he had learned not to ask questions, what another man did was his business and it was best to stick with people of the same pay grade as your own.
What he did know was that Buck never missed a day of work. He didn’t call in sick, he didn’t take vacations either. He came to work and he did what he had to do. But that still didn’t tell the story. He was fast at his work, but not in a flashy way. His speed was deceptive, he always appeared to be moving at half speed, yet his production was faster than Tom and error free. And as Tom had heard, Buck had worn out at least three other machinists.
Each one had tried to match his production and precision, but none could.
Tom didn’t know this because of Buck, you could say that he knew it in spite of Buck.
Buck didn’t speak much and when he did it never was about his work and rarely ever about himself. Most of the other employees at the plant avoided interacting with Buck, he had a look about him that made people second guess themselves, double check their self-confidence. The thing was that Buck didn’t try to make anyone feel anything, the feelings were just a response to Buck. It was part of who he was.
During the first few years Buck didn’t say a word to Tom. The only way he knew that Buck was even aware of him would be when Buck came to his position to exchange a part or check the inventory terminal.
Clad in blue coveralls and safety glasses he would shuffle over and sniff around for whatever it was he needed. Tom knew that it was a little unfair to describe Buck in terms best used for a bear or gorilla, but it was hard not to. Buck had repeatedly demonstrated that he was abnormally strong and while he may have shuffled while he walked it was deceptive. He was fast and agile, his movements were actually measured and precise.
Old Buck didn’t waste energy with unnecessary movement or gestures.