Tree Rings

Flash Fiction Month 2016, Day 1

Challenge #4*: Write a story of precisely 1,000 words, including at least 15 examples of jargon or slang. It must include a flashback and a flashforward, but with the exception of these sections the story must take place within a single day. The story must also include a fossil, an hourglass, a broken clock, an old lady’s wrinkled face, and tree rings.

Ron jabbed his shovel into the earth. Or he would have if there had been any earth available. Instead, for the seventh time in a row, he hit a big rock lurking just beneath the surface. It was like the rocks were following him around. Rocks were crafty that way. Blisters stinging from the sudden jolt, he straightened up to have a stretch. He could remember the conversation that led him here, way out in the middle of nowhere, like it was yesterday…

You know that guy Mike? The one who was all like ‘I’m gonna be a famous footballer, you’ll see!’ and then stopped turning up at school before he even got his GCSEs?” Jenny flipped over the souvenir hourglass Ron had brought her back from the Isle of Wight, watching the sand trickle through.

Yeah?”

He ended up planting trees in British Columbia.”

Hahaha! What a loser.”

Nah.” The sand having run through, Jenny flipped the hourglass once more. “Turns out he actually made a shedload of money doing it.”

Wait, seriously?…”

And that was it. Or at least, Ron was reasonably confident that was it. Now that he thought a little further back, he may also have seen something about the whole tree planting setup on TV beforehand. It wasn’t clear. He’d accidentally swallowed a tiny bit of petrol earlier that day trying to siphon fuel from the generator into the quad bike to avoid having to walk to the planting site, and he was beginning to suspect that it was messing with his brain. It had certainly stripped most of the skin off the roof of his mouth.

Only one thing was certain. You had to be crazy to try planting a thousand trees a day.

“You’re never gonna be a highballer if you keep stoppin’ all the time like a big wet wuss.”

Ethan was a case in point.

“We’ve got all day,” groaned Ron. “Quit hassling me every time I take a two second break.”

Ethan pointed at the smashed-up station-style clock the loggers had left behind while clear-cutting the place. “It ain’t break time.”

“That thing hasn’t worked since we found it.”

“It. Ain’t. Break. Time.”

Ethan was very much a case in point.

“You’re not the boss of me!” It sounded even dumber when Ron said it than it had in his head, but he carried on regardless. “You get paid per tree. That means you can take a break whenever you want.”

“Nope.” Ethan looked insufferably smug. “You get paid per tree. That means you’ve gotta bag out as quick as you can, and bag up again even quicker. Screef for show, plant for dough!”

Ron wasn’t sure what “screef” meant, but he’d heard about enough cache whores and slutty trees (and sexy trees for that matter) to guess that it wasn’t good—though at the same time it probably wasn’t as sexual as it sounded. At least he hoped it wasn’t. However, he couldn’t think of anything to say in response, so instead he just went back to digging.

That was, if anything, the problem. Ron knew he shouldn’t have to actually dig holes to do this: he should just be able to stick the shovel in, push a sapling in beside it, then pull the shovel out, nice and neat. As it was, the whole block was raw land full of red rot, and as a result his work for the day was probably worth a grand total of about eight dollars. Less if the bean-counters decided that the planting wasn’t up to scratch, and some of those trees were looking very slutty indeed.

Ron took a step forward and found that his not particularly neat row of trees was going to be further disrupted by a massive, rotting tree stump squatting right in the middle of his line. The thing was probably a thousand years old. Or a hundred. Or whatever. Ron could see it had a lot of rings, but didn’t know how the whole ring counting thing was supposed to work.

“You’ve got rookie stare,” said Ethan. “What’s up?”

Ron was going to say something about how Ethan should stop watching him and get on with planting if he was so enthusiastic about making all that dough, but instead he just sighed.

“This job sucks,” he said at last. “You come all the way out here, you do the same thing over and over again all day every day, and it’s really hard, and it costs you just to be here. I had to buy this stupid shovel and everything. Even if I stick around until the end of the season, I’m still probably going to end up owing my boss money.”

Ethan put a hand on his shoulder. “Yeah,” he said, consolingly. “This year’s pretty much gonna suck for you.”

“Thanks. I feel loads better.”

“But next year—if you make sure there’s a next year—you won’t be a rookie. And the year after that, you might be a highballer. And then…” he stood up tall, doing a kind of fist on chest salute. “Then it’ll suck less.”

“Great.”

There was a pause. Ron squinted at a rock he was pretty sure was actually a fossil. Although he would have been more sure if he knew anything about fossils, or the geology of this bit of Ontario, or generally anything that would allow him to identify such things. He really wished he hadn’t tried to siphon that generator.

“Look,” said Ethan, “I’ll level with you. It’s this, or head back early and face Ms. Andrews being disappointed with you for the rest of the day. Whaddaya say?”

Forty minutes later, Ron would be trudging back across the campsite, Ms. Andrews’ wrinkled face scowling at him all the way from the hatch of the food truck, her silent disapproval boring deep into his brain.

But he would be planting again the next year.

And the next.

And Ethan would be right: it would suck less.

If you’ve enjoyed this story, you can find my work from previous Flash Fiction Months collected in these books:

OCR is Not the Only Font Cover REDESIGN (Barbecued Iguana)Red Herring Cover (Barbecued Iguana design)Bionic Punchline eBook CoverOsiris Likes This Cover

Click any cover to find that book in your choice of format.

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