The boy ran through the woods. His feet naked, like they always were. He never did wear a pair of socks. Long grasses tickled the spaces between each of his toes. And mossy pieces grew from underneath nails. Wet wildflowers would kiss his ankles, leaves sticking to heel.
The woods was the boy’s sanctuary. A peaceful pavilion to roam like a moose, be free like a bird, and sprint like a fox.
The boy’s name was Tucker. His golden curls were that of a cocker spaniel’s and eyes of a teddy bear. His skin, time and time again, had been brushed by sunshine. A warm daily dose to ignite his skeleton and spark his heart to beat.
Tucker was friendless, but he never felt as so. The flowers, shrubs, and trees like gentle giants made him feel as if he was popular and loved. Together, they shared stories and embraced the weather’s elements, no matter what was tossed their way. They greeted all weather systems equally.
Tucker swung from a low branch, hands twisting around the bark, gripping tightly. Like a monkey or a lemur, he swung back and forth a few times. When arms and shoulders grew tired, he released.
Feet back on the ground, a breeze kicked up, as if out of nowhere. Wind, mellow and then ferocious, growing rapidly from the west. Tucker’s hair tousled, an overall strap falling off his shoulder.
“Hello?” the boy called out.
The luminous orb in the sky disappeared behind a gray cloud. Thick, nothing transparent. The trees that had once stood sturdy and motionless, swept in a swirling frenzy. Leaves sent spiraling to the muddy floor.
He tried again, this time louder. “Hello?”
He knew someone was there, making their grand entrance. The temperature around him fell. Five degrees, then ten, possibly twenty.
This visitor was not a human, just an entity of sorts.
A silhouette, even.
An amorphous body.
“Tuckerrr,” his name was whispered, the end of his name drawn out, as if multiple syllables. “Tuckerrr, Tuckerrr, Tuckerrr.”
He walked slowly, a tinge of fear pooled in his stomach. He followed a winding pathway, skipping over a rock, and climbing over a log. Inside, a opossum sat.
A clearing was ahead. No maps were ever necessary. Tucker had memorized every inch of these woods, naming the wildlife that surrounded.
“What are you doing here?” he asked. His neck tilted back, skin pleating. The tip of his nose pointed to the diminishing azure.
“I am here to claim what’s mine.” The voice mimicked something of a witch’s register.
“These woods are mine,” Tucker said, crossing his arms over his chest.
“None of anything truly belongs to a single soul. Or even an entire population.”
“Then why are you taking the woods away from me?”
“Not every single tree, bush, flower, weed,” the entity clarified.
The last of the yellow light had faded away. The woods now filtered gray light, as if a thunderstorm was brewing on the horizon.
“I must take away what has been harmed.”
“Harmed? But I love these woods.” And in turn, they adored him.
“Not everyone does.”
The silhouette moved across the sky, gliding half gracefully. The shape widened, its power expanding.
In vacuum fashion, a swatch of trees lifted from the ground, thick trunks, mile long strings of roots, and all. The floor of the woods shook, as if an earthquake rattled the globe. A hole emerged in front of him. The hole as black as outer space. A chunk of land gone, it was ugly white rabbit magic.
“No!” Tucker screamed, wishing he could latch onto the trees, pulling them away from the entity and replant them into the ground. He was too small for such a monumental task. His brown eyes seemed to burn, hating to witness this nature arena becoming destroyed in front of him. “Stop it! No!”
“This has to happen,” the silhouette said, lightly cackling. The snickering sounded like a lightning’s snap and sizzle. Something electrifying.
“Why?” Tucker sobbed.
Leaves continued to fall around him, forming miniature piles as if he had just raked an autumn bunch.
“This Earth is inhabited by too many people. People who treat the environment unkindly. As punishment, this is what I must do.”
“I never hurt the planet,” Tucker said, a true remark. He always walked gently upon it, as if the globe was sacred land. He respected its routines and enjoyed it in its every phase and face.
“But others have.”
“Punish them, not me.”
“Actions impact everyone.”
The vacuum shrunk, destroying 38 trees. Absorbing a squirrel’s burrow and bird’s nesting space. Next time it would be double the amount, then triple. Soon, hundreds and hundreds of trees would be swallowed in an instant. Consumed from the Earth, the place that benefited from them the most.
These types of devastating things can only become stronger each time.
“I will see you soon, Tucker.” The gray lifted.
The boy kneeled to the ground, sobbing into filthy palms. The sun had only returned long enough before the moon rose, crescent shaped. But everything was worse at night and Tucker felt betrayed.
He knew it wasn’t the fault of the trees. He just wanted them back. He thought to himself, maybe this is what heartbreak feels like.
The next morning, Tucker awoke to chipmunks scurrying nearby. To his left, he heard a rustling, perking his ears like that of a wolf.
He stood to his own two feet, peering into the distance. The day was clear, all of the fog had lifted now. A curl of red hair bounced within his vision.
“Who is there?” He rubbed his fists against his eyes.
“It’s just me,” a girl spoke.
It was not often that people trudged through these woods.
She appeared in front of him, as if by magic.
Her hair was carrot, freckles tossed on her cheeks and nose like constellations. Her eyes were blue like the ocean and lips salmon like autumn.
“What’s your name?” Tucker had surely never seen her before. Everything about her was brand new.
Her red hair made her match the description of a typical Maggie. She was cute, pretty, even.
“Hello, Maggie. I’m Tucker.”
Instead of a handshake, they hugged.
Her shorts were red, shirt white. Just like his, her feet were bare.
She asked, “How are you today?”
He replied honestly, “I’m rather sad.”
“Why?” she angled her head to the side, interested in him and his worries.
“Those trees are gone.” He pointed toward yesterday’s tragedy. Now, the town beside them had appeared through the once thick forest. Road, highways, homes, and strip malls were now visible. Two territories failing to be separate, now joining together. It wasn’t how it should be.
It just wasn’t fair.
“Where did they go?” Maggie had gasped.
“Away. Because of the bad people.”
“Bad people?” She was confused now.
“The people who don’t care about the planet.”
Maggie glanced to the patch of forest floor in front of her. “I don’t like cruel people.”
Tucker agreed. “Me either.”
“I wish I could have seen the trees.”
“It’s too late for everything. These trees will all be gone soon.”
The children admired the pine and jade that surrounded them. It was the happiest color palette that the world had to offer. And rapidly, the palette was turning tarnished.
Cars whizzed by on the highway and all of the streets down below. Car exhaust suspended into the air. Trash bags thrusted in a vertical jet stream, rising then falling, back into its unsightly littered state.
When traffic slowed, Tucker and Maggie gathered garbage, disposing of trash that fell from careless hands and evil fingertips.
Suddenly, the atmosphere swarmed in a gray filter. Tucker looked toward the sky, hearing familiar whispers. “Tuckerrr, Tuckerrr, Tuckerrr.”
“Do you hear those whispers?”
“Return to the woodsss,” the whispers continued.
“Should we go back?” Maggie wondered.
They raced toward the clearing, feet pumping fast beneath them.
Once there, the amorphous shape returned.
“Did you return to steal more trees?” Tucker asked.
“Not this time,” the silhouette spoke.
“Why are you here?” Maggie asked.
“To return the trees.”
The language stunned Tucker. “Really?”
“You helped to clean the streets, preventing those pieces of trash from killing species.”
“Helping is good.”
Maggie nodded her head in agreement.
“Indeed.” The grayness lost its witch’s tone.
“You may have these trees back.”
“Thank you!” the children cried in unison.
The ground trembled as the trees with their trunks and roots returned to the only places they belonged in.
This was their green house.