by Janice Clark
Twelve brothers worked the woods year-round, sawing the treetops in teams. Down the tall trunks crashed in a clear-cut path through the Thousand Islands—across the lakes the brothers leapt, pushing ever northward. From stands of pine to groves of fir they swung, never descending, sleeping in beds of branches a hundred feet up, their beards wound around them for warmth. Tiny, still beardless, travelled with them but on the ground. In summer he hooked schools of fat trout from the logging streams and tossed them into the tops, in winter grilled rows of white rabbits over flames showered with kindling and with his slingshot sent them high. Into their wide mouths the brothers shovelled every offering, stoking their furnaces day and night. Tiny sucked clean the fishbones that floated down or gnawed the discarded haunches of hares.
By the time the brothers reached the northernmost edge of Northern Ontario, it was so cold that when they shouted “Timber!” the word froze in the air and shattered like glass, tinkling down through the branches to melt at Tiny’s feet. When the tree trunks froze too many rings deep to chop, when the woodpeckers dropped mid-peck from branches and the sky iced over, the brothers’ joints began to stiffen. Food could not be forced between their chattering teeth. Their beards were boards. When tenderloins fell untasted into the snow all around him Tiny offered himself up.
First the brothers lopped off his longer branches, then trimmed his twigs. To keep their skills sharp and their blood pumping, they took turns tossing Tiny back and forth between the trees. At first alarmed, he soon learned to love the rushing air, the pitchy smell of the pines, the way ice sang and bark cracked when he flew by. He tucked his arms and legs and hurtled higher, faster, bouncing off saplings, snapping off all his points, until at last Tiny was a smooth sphere of wood. When his brothers hurled him he slipped from their grasp. The game was given up.
The twelve brothers descended from the trees. With their axes they cut off their beards and, clean-shaven, made with their whiskers a bed and laid Tiny in it. When the earth thawed they planted him by a stream. In spring he sent forth shoots and in summer grew into a sugar maple. Around Tiny his brothers raised a high stockade that can never be cut. They return each spring and tap him for sap. They make of him candies shaped like a leaf.
About the author:
Janice Clark is a writer and graphic designer currently pursuing an MFA in creative writing at NYU and working on a novel.