AULD LANG SYNE • by Michael Snyder

I was born and raised in the forest, among my kind. We lived off the land, the nearby waterways, unmolested and unencumbered, free to enjoy the sun, the stars, and especially the occasional breeze.

Now my ankle hurts. I only have the one, and those bad men sliced right through it. Then they dragged me across the snow as my cousins and aunts mourned my capture, whispering assurances that rang in my ears like reluctant farewells.

It got worse before it got better. My abductors tied me up and tossed me up onto a slab of metal, then battened me down with thicker elastic cables. We sped off through the night and my condition devolved into a kind of shock-induced coma from the icy wind. The abuse continued as I was dragged across a yard, up a series of steps, then over a threshold with no regard for my extremities. The pain was brilliant. It felt like they ripped off a hundred tiny fingers on the sharp angles of the doorway.

For a while nothing happened but blessed warmth. The smells were foreign, but not unpleasant. I was parched but seemingly safe for now. Then the torture began anew as someone began driving metal spikes into my already tender ankle. The rich smell my own blood sickened me.

Eventually, they raised me upright. The two large creatures appraised me. They massaged and cajoled, twisted me one way, then the other. The horde of smaller beings stood by with eager stares, each armed with baubles and small hooks. Only the slobbering canine seemed sympathetic to my plight. The evening passed with my captors adorning me with streamers and jewels and all manner of shiny things. I had to wonder if they were mocking me. But eventually they lit me up and placed a kind of crown on my head and gave me water. Then looked on me fondly before shutting off the lights and leaving me be.

The pain subsided as the days wore on. Or maybe I was just getting used to it. I had plenty to drink and have to admit that I actually liked being the center of attention.

Then came the celebration morning. It was a flurry of sound and song and shredding paper. There were shrieks of delight, tears of joy and disappointment, incessant grinning, and one rather nasty tantrum from the smallest of their species. Throughout the proceedings, I did keep a wary eye on the fire burning in the hearth.

Once the celebration was over they seemed to forget me. There was very little water and my bark began to dry and peel.

A second celebration followed within the week. Glasses clinked and everyone seemed bent on wishing everyone one else Happy New Year! This seemed to fill the humans with a mix of nostalgia and hope, as if they were each on the cusp of some unseen potential. Only the one called “mother” (known other times as “Sandra”) seemed to share my apprehension. Or maybe it was my imagination. I was obviously weak from thirst, and perhaps the wound to my ankle had become infected, thus further addling my overwrought mind. My reverie (and let’s be honest, self-pity) was interrupted by numbers being shouted, slowly counting backward from ten, increasing in a kind of demented urgency. Then there was a detonation of Happy New Year! from all corners of the room. Glasses were raised, hugs and kisses and hand-slaps exchanged. The embrace between Sandra and one of the neighbor creatures seemed to linger.

A quavering voice began a somber melody about forgetting old acquaintances and everyone joined in, mostly off key. As the celebrants stared at the glowing box and sang, the neighbor’s hand kept migrating to Sandra’s round bottom. They sang along, her playfully elbowing him and pulling away, then leaning in and singing louder as his creeping hand fondled at will. I suspected this ritual might devolve into some kind of group fighting. But alas, no one joined the fray. And I seemed to be the sole witness to this peculiar altercation.

The song waned and the humans bid their farewells, all seeming to brace for the new year ahead. I thought of the family I’d left behind, said a quiet prayer for them, then tried to imagine a hopeful future of my own. Mostly though, I just wanted something to drink.

Next afternoon, the family came down to change my dressing. The constant fondling was nice, even tickled a bit. I silently pleaded for water, but to no avail. As I wondered what sort of decorations I would receive next, the boy creature shouted, “Timber!” and toppled me. I was pleased to hear Sandra scolding him and expected an apology. But then…sweet joy of all joys, someone began loosening the spikes in my ankle. The relief was rapturous and all-consuming.

Which is why I barely noticed the one called father dragging me toward the door. I lost another thousand fingers or so, but was too dehydrated to experience the full brunt of the pain. For a brief moment I held out hope that I could somehow be reunited with my roots, maybe even my kinfolk. But then I was simply tossed into a pile of debris along the side of the brick house.

Sometime later I watched Sandra traverse her yard and confront the neighbor again. This time they tussled with hands and mouths but neither seemed worse for wear when it was over. Upon her return, she too seemed reluctant to enter my former prison.

Apparently, I was the old acquaintance from last night’s melody. And as I lay withering in the cold, I took what inventory I could. I had been chosen, adorned, and even praised. A breeze picked up and a mother robin alit with a strand of twine in her beak and began founding her new home. As I nodded off I imagined the dulcet tones of my kind singing me to one final slumber.

Michael Snyder prefers writing to chopping down and/or decorating trees. And would rather nap than spy on neighbors. His stories have (or will) appear The First Line; Cease, Cows; Every Day Fiction; Greater Sum; Relief Journal; Lit.Cat; et al. His first three novels were published by Harper Collins/Zondervan. And with that done, a nap may be in order.

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