Plank

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            I don’t remember my mother…my brother often speaks of her majesty and sway. He remembers, being much older than me. He tells of her strength and beauty throughout the seasons. I can only listen, thoughtfully imagining what she was like. The majesty of the Redwoods is famed by lesser trees…we are a superior breed, lasting and strong. This makes us somewhat popular with the humans, though, and we are often cut down for wood. When my mother was cut down I was a young piece of bark…deep within her protective body. My brother was much older. He had already grown too big and had pushed his way to the exterior bark. He saw everything when the Thanes came to chop her down (he was almost cut himself).

            The Thanes were building a new meadhall for their king Hrothgar. His power was felt all throughout the land…or so we were told by the wind. Fortunately for my brother and me, we were not used as frames for the tables of the meadhall. Those poor souls were banged on and cut into every day by the drunken warriors, their creaks and moans sometimes woke me in the dead of night. Nay, my brother and I were used for the doors of the meadhall. From here we could survey the inside of the hall and the village outside. We counted ourselves lucky to be able to watch the bustling of the village, it kept the boredom at bay. My brother and I learned a great deal of Thane tradition and language in the years we spent sliding open and shut for the Thanes. We began to understand their words and mannerisms. We even discovered the nature of the “mead”, as they called it. The Thanes would leave the spilled mead to leak onto the tables and chairs, who in turn explained to us what they tasted. I cannot attest as to what the mead did to the tables and chairs; I can only say that I will never taste it as long as I live. No sooner had the chairs gotten a drop of it, than they had begun to rot and split. It seemed to have a malignant effect on us Redwoods, and I wanted no part of it. 

            Apart from the occasional drunken fights that caused soldiers to smash into us, life was peaceful and dull my first few years of entry service. This dullness did not bother me, however, for I was content to peer at the bustling Thanes and listen at night to the tales of the log cabins about what their inhabitants were up to. We were secret observers of the Thanes who didn’t seem to realize that we were living and watching them. My brother hated the calmness and hated the Thanes for what they did to our mother and us. He was always resistant to Hrothgar’s men when they tried to enter the meadhall.

“Damn this door! It takes the strength of three men to open it! Unferth! Come here and help me open this damn thing!” (My brother’s resistance was often met with kicks and jabs.)

And so this is how life went on for the most part…we Redwoods just looked on, bystanders in the Thane’s lives. We watched them grow old and die, only to be replaced by the births of new ones…an endless cycle. Five years into my service to Hrothgar, we overheard the Thanes in the meadhall relaying a fearful story to the King. Apparently, at the very parameters of the village, a Thane hunting party had been found brutally killed. The corpses were ripped to pieces and the game they had killed was gone. No enemy in their right minds would have attacked Hrothgar like this. He was puzzled as to what it could have been. Up till now, nothing like this had happened. There were a few cows that had started disappearing, but they could have simply wandered off. Hrothgar, his face lined and his hair thinning, was unsure of what action to take…so in the true spirit of cowardice, as my brother put it, he took none. The attacks did not stop. The mystery deepened. People and animals were disappearing and the log cabins were telling us of a monstrous shape they had seen running off into the woods. I was fearful, but my brother was elated that Hrothgar and his enclave of Thanes were finally being terrorized. He said it was time they finally faced retribution for what they did to the Redwoods. His excitement was short lived, though, because the next night we met Grendel.

Hrothgar and his men sat in the meadhall, yelling and drinking and being rowdy. Though Hrothgar smiled, you could see he was troubled. His eyes stared through the people who addressed him and his mind was far away. I watched the party as always while my brother moped next to me.

“I don’t understand how you can even look at them after all they’ve done to you, Plank.” He said.

“It’s not so bad,” I countered, “at least we don’t have wolves pissing on us anymore.”

“No, now it’s just Unferth.” 

I left him to his grumbling and turned my attention to the outside- and looked straight into a gigantic, hairy abomination. 

“AAAHH!” I screamed, and my brother turned to see what had happened.

In front of us stood a vile monster with huge teeth and claws. My brother tried to speak to it:

“You there! Disgusting creature, how long have you been standing here?”

The creature stared at us, confused. It looked as though it understood my brother. It quizzically looked from me to him, and sniffed the air. All at once it put on a broad, evil smile. 

“Grendel hears a party,” it said, “why wasn’t he invited?” 

Then he lifted his fist and punched my brother straight off his hinges. I screamed as he slammed me open too. I swung around and hit the wall, and felt blistering pain as a piece of my left side was broken off, but I remained attached to the doorframe. My brother flew into the meadhall from the force of Grendel’s punch, and crushed a man who had passed out. He slid even further in and hit a table and lay there, still intact, until Grendel came jumping into the hall, landing on top of him and splintering him into 3 pieces. I watched in horror as my brother lay in pieces on the floor next to a spilled cup of mead. When I could finally tear my eyes away from my dead brother, I saw the carnage Grendel was causing. He caterwauled as he severed the limbs of Hrothgar’s men and dined upon their extremities. The Redwood floor was slick with blood and intestines. I averted my eyes to the floor and tried not to hear the screams of Thanes and Redwoods. I stared at the floor all night, long after Grendel had gone.  

The next few days were spent rebuilding everything Grendel had ruined in the hall, and mourning the victims he had killed…not including the Redwoods. I was patched up and a metal beam was latched to me to reinforce my strength against any more of Grendel’s attacks. A new door was put up in my brother’s place. His name was Carve, he was a modest young piece of Redwood and he did not talk much. I did not talk much either anymore. Instead, I thought of my brother and mother, and wondered who would tell me stories of her anymore. The latch weighed me down and the nails in me hurt. I did not much like being a door anymore.

Tonight is the same as any other night…the Thanes are having their party. Their spirits do not seem to be dampened at all by the tragedy that happened five days ago. Carve has opened up a bit (emotionally, not literally), and is telling me how the Redwood forest was faring with all of Hrothgar’s expansion cutting the trees down, but I am not in the mood for listening. I wonder what my brother is doing now…probably being recycled into the Gracious Mother Earth (I saw the Thanes carry out the broken Redwoods and dump them at the foot of the forest). The Thanes are now asleep. I look back at Carve and notice that he has stopped talking. He is waiting for me to give him an answer to some question before he continues. I nod, but say nothing, not even knowing or caring what the question was. I look out to my right towards the forest to see if I can make out any of my former friends, when I notice that Carve has stopped talking…again.

“What do you want now?” I demand.

He keeps staring, and I see that he is looking past me, not at me. I look back to my right and see a big hairy fist coming towards me. Oh no!

I can’t see and my whole body is in pain. I realize that I am on the ground and that my lower half is still attached to the doorframe. I have no strength to scream, for the metal beam nailed to me is pressing down on me…I can’t breathe. My vision is fading, but I still see Carve staring at Grendel, terror in his eyes. I am glad that I won’t see what happens to him. I see my brother and mother instead.