“What’s in the bag?” I asked, stopping mid-step on the sidewalk beneath the noonday sun.
“Bonemeal,” Mr. Saunders said, still hunched over. “For the garden. Nothing else makes the plants grow like it. Hard to find good bonemeal these days though.” It was one of those large paper bags that you buy at the hardware store, the kind that come in packs of twenty and are as large as their less environmentally friendly black plastic cousins, and have catchy slogans and marketing messages printed on them in all dark green capitals letters in stylish font: SAVE THE EARTH BY THROWING OUT THIS BAG. Or, BROWN IS THE NEW BLACK.
Mr. Saunders was hacking away at the base of the tree with a hatchet, creating a tiny pile of woodchips at his feet and a growing triangular notch near the bottom of the trunk. The tree was bigger than a sapling, yes, but still smaller than an adult. He’d planted it some time ago with high hopes. But now hack, hack, hack went the hatchet.
“Damn shame about this tree,” he said reflectively, coming up to a standing position and wiping his brow. “Seems some kinda rot gotta hold of it.” The bark was coming off in blackened rigid u-shaped sections of varying length, joining the pile of woodchips Mr. Saunders was making on the lush green grass. “Doesn’t look like nothin’s gonna save it, not even the best bonemeal.”
“That is a shame,” I said, sauntering over from the sidewalk. “Sorry Mr. Saunders.”
He laughed. “Ha, it’s not your fault son,” He wiped his brow again. “Nature does what she will. I’m just trying to have some nice vegetation here on my property. Say, would ya mind going around back and fetching me my spade? I think I left it in the garden. Once I’m done here I’m gonna need it to dig all the roots out.”
“Sure thing, Mr. Saunders.” He smiled at me and I headed back around the side of the house.
As I rounded the corner of grey brick near the hanging coils of garden hose, I heard a horrible metallic snap. The most intense pain I’d ever felt shot up my leg and I cried out. Looking down I saw my ankle was bloody and the flesh was cut to the bone by a pair of rusted metal jaws. I had stepped into a bear trap, hidden in the grass.
“Mr. Saunders!” I cried out, tears streaming down my face. “Help! I’m stuck.”
And then my kindly neighbour came around the corner of his house in his overalls and he looked different than before; he held the hatchet low at this side and his eyes had this far-off look, like he was staring through me. I thought about how I used to see Sarah Fountaine walk past our house every morning to head to school, because she left a half-hour earlier than me, and how I never saw her do that anymore, not for the last couple months, though I’d thought nothing of it; or how our other neighbour Mr. Tran had always been puttering in his garden on the front lawn, with his fat wife tut-tutting from gray breaks of the front walkway while holding the metal and glass storm door open, but I hadn’t seen either of them outside their house in weeks.
Mr. Saunders walked towards me with the hatchet swinging low at his side, and I felt the teeth of the bear trap bite into my leg, and the blood coursing through my veins.
“Hard to find good bonemeal these days though, isn’t it?” he said, raising the hatchet. “Damn hard to find.”