Micha loved his forest. His little dark brown wood-plank cabin was thoroughly surrounded by the larch trees from which it was made, their lush green needles interspersed with the white bark of beech trees. Though he had to clear several trees to get any sunlight to shine upon his cabin here on the forest floor – deeper into the wood, midnight reigned eternal – he found his little clearing to be bright and cheerful, with dandelions, buttercups, daisies, and clover forming a green carpet with white and yellow starbursts threatening to consume it. Not far from one side of the cabin lay a neatly stacked triangular pile of firewood, and only a meter or so from that stood a broad round stump, the handled of an embedded axe protruding into the air and a jaunty angle.
Stepping out through his front door into the sunlight, Micha placed upon his head his green wool alpine hat, complete with a hawk feather stuck in the grey band which wrapped around the hat, its base touching the brim. He pulled first one suspender then the other taught, and brushed out the creases on his short-sleeve, white button-up shirt. This was hardly necessary, as he was a large man, and the shirt stretched around his well-defined muscles. His forest green lederhosen were immaculate, and his brown suede boots freshly brushed. He prided himself on his appearance, though he lived alone, and his nearest neighbor was kilometers away.
Today, Micha was going in search of more firewood. He didn’t like cutting down any more trees near his cabin than he had to, so he usually walked a fair distance before picking a tree to fell. Today he had a particular area in mind that was a bit away, down a trail he and a few other woodland residents had worn into existence. Stretching, he casually strode onto the trail, passing the stump and retrieving his axe, the haft of which he promptly rested on his shoulder.
And he was off, cheerily whistling atonally as he jauntily strolled down the path. Around him the trees were filled with birdsong, their twitters and chirps happily accompanying his most non-melodic song. Were a passerby to hear, they certainly would have had no inkling of exactly what it was he was trying to reproduce with his plump puckered lips. The tit-mice, warblers, finches, and wagtails all eagerly offered accompaniment, raising their chirpy little voices in a near-raucous medley of chirps and tweets. This delighted Micha greatly, so he did his best to whistle at an even higher volume, which had the effect of making his whistling even more off key and shrill.
After some time, as he was rounding a bend in the trail, a fat little crossbill with proud rusty red plumage bounded from branch to branch of a small dark pine, and thence upon Micha’s shoulder. Startled at the sudden boldness of the hand-sized bird, Micha stopped abruptly in his tracks. He turned his head to look at the wee flyer as best he could, and greeted him in his deep voice:
“Why, hello there, little fellow! What, pray tell, emboldens you as to land upon my shoulder?”
The russet avian bobbed its tiny head up and down, then surprisingly replied in a high chirpy little voice: “Do not go on today, Micha! Danger lies this way!”
“Ho! Ho! Ho!” Micha laughed, “maybe for you, little fellow, but for me, why I am big and strong! And I have my trusty axe, to boot! There is little danger for me in these woods! Don’t worry your little head over me.”
“You were warned, Micha!” it chirped as it hopped away off his shoulder and back into the trees, disappearing with startling speed.
Shrugging to himself, the burly man shifted his axe on his shoulder, and, with a slight bounce in his step, proceeded once more down the pine-needle covered way. Soon his questionable song once again filled the deep-shadowed weald and he soon forgot about his encounter with the curious little creature.
Some time shortly before noon, he came upon a small lake, with many trees lining its edge, their branches all drooping in towards the dark green water. As he approached, a frog slipped under the water, its brief presence disturbing the surface in ever widening concentric ripples. The route upon which he trod wound right around the pool’s shore, and as he rambled past, the very same olive frog poked its head above the water’s surface not one stride from his foot.
“Crrrooooaaak! This way is not for you today! Turn back whilst you still can! Croooooak!” it opened its wide mouth and uttered.
Astonished at yet another talking animal addressing him, he paused a moment, then responded: “Oh, I’m sure it is, Mr. Frog. There is naught here I can’t handle without my trusty axe,” as he said this, he lifted his axe from his shoulder and gave it a good shake for emphasis. “I can take care of myself, you just see to yours.” And he continued down the trail, giving the articulate amphibian not another thought.
Soon thereafter, he came upon the grove in which stood the particular tree he had in mind for toppling this day. And much to his dismay, someone was already present therein, laying assault upon that very same stout tree which Micha thought would make for such great firewood within his hearth. Only, this individual was not laying too with hatchet, as one would expect. Instead, the curious little fellow seemed to be chomping upon the very bark of the tall-standing oak. And at that realizing, Micha stopped dead and gawped, taking in the bizarre sight.
Gnawing upon his targeted tree was a man who seemed, were he upright, to only stand about 1 meter tall. No sprite, this one, he had the girth of a gnome, all round and wide. Garbed entirely in green, except for his hat, which sat heavily upon his head such a deep dark red, it seemed almost a seething black instead. His wide, wide mouth seemed filled with an uncanny array of endless sharp teeth, which bit deeply into the tree’s thick trunk.
Shaking his head, Micha finally found his voice, “I say, there, man, just what is it you’re doing there?”
Apparently surprised at the sudden interruption, the masticator quickly jerked his head away from the tree, and turned to look in Micha’s direction without so much as straightening up. This made for an awkward, feral-looking stoop of a pose. After eyeing the axeman for a moment or two, he finally gruffly spoke up:
“Armm… hrmmm. Err… Well, Not, hrmm, anything in particular, hrmmm, that you should be too terribly concerned with. No, hrmmm, not at alllll…” his sentence trailed off.
“Well, then, might you mind if I chop down this tree? Gnawing at it certainly won’t succeed, and it would make for such great firewood.”
“Well, then, hrmmm, ermm… certainly, go right, hrrmmm, ahead,” the short one said after a short spell of consideration, and then stepped aside, out of Micha’s way.
While they were speaking, a diminutive red squirrel had been slowly slinking closer and closer, until, just as the woodsman stepped up to the tree and raised his axe, it squeaked:
“No, Micha, do not swing that axe! Do not continue down this …” but before it could finish the fierce-mawed dwarf snatched it up and swallowed it whole with a gulp and puff of fur.
Micha stopped mid-swing and turned to ask, “Did you say something?”
After a pronounced swallow, the gnomish man said with a choking growl: “hrrmmm, no, nothing at all.”
Shrugging, the axeman swung again, and with a resounding WHACK the blade bit through the bark where the red-capped dwarf had previously been chewing. All around, the birds of the weald took to the air with a sonorous susurrus of flapping wings and sharp cries of distress. He swung again and with another THUNK the axe bit deeper. The four-legged creatures of the wood took flight, filling the air with a raucous rustle from all directions. Again and again he raised the axe and again and again it cut deeper and deeper into the age-old oak. Soon, he was through the bark and far into the core of the tree, and with each strike, the tree began to bleed. Not golden sap, as one would expect, but deep red blood, as if it were some wounded animal. But the blood did not stop Micha’s axe, for he seemed not to notice the out of place substance.
He continued his attack upon the tree, each chop landing loudly and each chop spraying him with the tree’s crimson blood. Unseen behind him, the little sharp-toothed man danced a dance of joy, spritely leaping from one foot to the other around the glen. And with each resounding THUNK of the axe into the oaks wounded flesh, he seemed to grow a little at a time. Hardly noticeable at first, by the time Micha had cut near a third through the tree, the dwarf was no longer a dwarf, but easily as tall as the woodsman, though much broader by far. With a CHOP and a CRACK the bite into the tree grew ever deeper and wider, more and more of the scarlet fluid flowed, and bigger and taller the former fell-mawed man grew.
Sweat mingled with the tree’s blood upon Micha’s brow, smearing down his face in sickening darkening red streaks, matting his hair in tangled black clumps. His relentless assault never ceased until, just over half-way through the ancient oak’s core, a loud creaking shredding crackle began to emanate from within the tree. Taking a leap back, with a satisfied grin, Micha yelled:
And the once proud oak began to fall. A thunderous crash echoed throughout the forest, then, silence reigned.
But not for long, for soon the malevolent mouthed man’s gruff voice filled the air in a savage song:
Miss? Lead? In?
I. KILL. YOU!
Bemused, Micha turned to face the gnome, only to see that the man had grown so vast that he now towered over him twice his size. Micha dropped his axe and gaped at the dumbfounding sight of such a giant where before there had only been a dwarf. Grinning, with a maw now reaching from ear-to-ear, the red-capped stranger reached down for Micha who vainly turned to flee.
Before he could take a step, he was enwrapped in massive digits, upon which he began to pound in equal pointlessness. And despite the futility, he fought nonetheless, until, as the creature’s impossible jaws opened wider and wider, he was dropped inside like so much popcorn.
Silence once again filled the wood.