Unending Trails

The Dark Balance

So tell me again, why did we agree to come?

I chuckled to myself as my arms almost gave out. It had only taken quite some time of meager clean up around the house and almost half of a tree to completely defeat me. One thing that I hate to admit, is that I’m too stubborn for my own good. Well… more stubborn than a tree apparently.

There I was, having a battle of endurance, the battle of my lifetime. To see who would prevail, the great and glorious me, or this godforsaken obstacle from nature. The battle of a lifetime I’d say. With each move, both of us came closer to the end. One, to defeat —while the other, to victory; but with each tiring swing, I was for sure gaining the upper hand here.

I stood back to see what damage I had done, breathing heavily and on the verge of panting. My weapon dangled from my hand as it came close to touching the ground… sharp as a blade and as strong as a warrior’s determination. In resenting acknowledgment, I saw that I underestimated my opponent.

I had just wanted to give up. Just to drop everything and admit my defeat.

‘Oh how great it would feel to get that surge of honesty.’

An embarrassed veil went over me, as my own thoughts judged me.

Defeat? You admit defeat?

My dark side questioned me, repeating it in a manner of condescendence. I had felt as if it had growled and grimaced, annoyed with my honesty.

‘Hmm… possibly…’

Weak…

Lord, you’ve made that much progress in how long exactly?

Shush. A fight is not easy, ya know.

It can be. Emplace more strength. Have a little sense, child. Truly realize that it is in your path…

‘I’m gettin’ there, I’m gettin’ there. Looks like we all need patience.’

Disappointingly, my fantasy vanished before my thoughts. It wasn’t so much the “battle of a lifetime” as it was chopping a tree, and even more so that I saw that I had not even cleared one-third of the bark’s total size. It didn’t help that the axe wasn’t clean, while the head had too many scratches and imperfections. The handle constantly rubbed against my hands, and I knew I’d have abrasions and blisters from it.

I can’t tell if you’re having more trouble with the tree or the axe at this point.

‘Shut it. You ain’t helpin’.’

I turned my head to the left of me to see Alton still gone. The front of the house in and around the wooden-stick fence still had been rustled. Fresh dirt had been tilled up from the hoe he had placed against the cabin wall. Strangely enough, it was a beautiful sight to see. The same wild plants I had seen were still standing, while a welcoming hue of the dirt put into my mind that everything would be fine now. As if the cabin had its owner once again, and the plants would live.

Well, only if he’d come back. He had taken a rusty bucket to where he said there was water to fill up. I didn’t bother to ask, but I’m more than curious to find this source, and whether or not it was some kind of river, lake, or perhaps a well.

But this was where I had set myself up for a grand task. When I took that axe from him, I knew I’d go through hell, and I was right. I can’t help but think that I’d take the gardening over this, but I guess cutting down a tree had its merits.

I realize that I had been slacking, and turned my head to the absolute poor job that still —as if I wished for a miraculous change— had only been less than one-third completed.

I lifted the axe and firmly grabbed it with both hands, and placed the head to the deepest and most central part of my cut.

‘Come on now, you’ll fall eventually…’

With a swift motion, I pulled back and swung full force. Once again I begrudgingly felt the pain that still stayed. My arms were not at their breaking point, but they were sure getting there. The rest of my body was tired and weary, and wanted nothing more than to lay across that resilient couch.

A solid and low thud was audible from the tree, as I had felt it not even move from my attempt, as if I was striking a beast’s leg. Not even the hopeful and inspiring shards of wood that would fly in any direction made an appearance.

But this I knew, any swing is a swing regardless, and the tree was shuddering in fear. Rhythmically, I kept swinging and swinging —and before I knew it, I had made a little progress. In actuality, it was realistically none at all, but I had believed it was progress all the same.

I paused to take a breather, and coincidentally, I had heard faint footsteps upon leaves and sticks.

There he is…

Finally.

I turned my head to see Alton carrying the same rusted bucket in his left hand. His body leaned to one side to avoid hitting it with his legs, while his right was balancing him out to avoid falling.

I unknowingly stood there once again in the same position as I was in not long ago, only this time I had been breathing through my mouth. I tilted my head back and looked up at the grand tree, feeling the slow breeze on my sweaty neck and face. It was a pine tree, with its branches sprawling in all directions, but its trunk up to me and a couple of feet higher was bare.

The tree slowly swayed, standing high looking down at me, as if it was also not impressed with my strength. Though one thing I was thankful for was that it was shielding me from the rising sun. Granted, it wasn’t hot like the other days, but it takes its toll when you’re doing laborious work.

“So, any progress so far?” Alton shouted out to me.

His voice was loud and piercing in the breeze. I turned my head to where I was cutting and moved my eyes to my left, staring at Alton.

“Maybe a little. Doesn’t look like it moved at all though…” I said, awaiting a response that I’d thought to be disappointing in nature.

I stared back at him, as he had squatted down and was digging with his hands —sleeves rolled up. He had placed the bucket filled with water next to him. It wasn’t until then that I had realized my mouth had been dry. Seemingly bone dry. I had remembered that we hadn’t eaten or drank anything since the early morning when we had departed the small camp.

“Did you remember what I told you?” He had responded.

“Stay at the center, and keep at it,” I had answered back, thinking back to what he had said when he handed me the axe.

I gripped the handle of the axe tightly and stared at the cut, and then… it had seemed as if my entire focus disregarded everything around me. As if the world was not but this tree and me.

It is in your way… make it suffer.

Hold on now y-

One act by another, en-des tello brâht… see its own fall…

I removed my own senses and felt myself in a plane of my own existence… as if it was just me and the tree. Even my own thoughts had repeated back onto themselves, echoing each time and reminding me of its importance.

Defeat…? You… admit defeat…?
Defeat…? You… admit defeat…?
Defeat…? You… admit defeat…?

Defeat…?
Defeat…?
Defeat…?

See its own defeat…
See its own defeat…
See its own defeat…

…en-des tello brâht…
…en-des tello brâht…
…en-des tello brâht…

See its own fall…
See its own fall…
See its own fall…

I lifted the axe once more and placed it back onto the cut. In my mind, I had envisioned me cutting it with the strength I needed. As if I could do it in one swing. Once more, this tree was my enemy, and once more, I would swing.

One after the other —and with each one, my senses battled between becoming senseless and experiencing pain; but it didn’t matter, did it?

One by one and more and more, I grew even more so delirious. I had a faint hint of pain and complete weariness, but I didn’t stop, and neither did the echoing.

Defeat…? Do you admit defeat…?
Defeat…? Do you admit defeat…?
Defeat…? Do you admit defeat…?

‘No…’

Weak…
Weak…
Weak…

One act by another… see its own fall…
One act by another… see its own fall…
One act by another… see its own fall…

Sound became null, my sight focused only on the cut, and my sense told me only to swing. Nothing else had mattered to me, so why wouldn’t it all work out? Why would I admit defeat?

Defeat…
Defeat…
Defeat…

The echoes had slowed and quieted until they had just become inaudible whispers. The sound of my swings came back to me, each time hitting me slower as I had realized my own numbness.

Worn out from my trance, I completely stopped the swings. I took hold of my surrounding and my full ability to once again feel, to which I heard my own breathing. It was heavy, borderline panting through my mouth.

I looked at the cut and saw it to be a little more than half of the way through. Well… that is the central part. The cut had widened, and pieces of raw wood had hung and protruded as if an amateur was cutting his very first tree.

‘Huh… not bad…’

I had heard faint footsteps behind me, getting louder as it was getting closer. I turned my head to see Alton walking towards me. I shifted my gaze back to the tree, and felt its presence again… staring at me. In my peripheral vision, he stopped next to me, to what seems like with his arms on his hips.

“Hmmm… good progress from the time that you started at.”

I let a tiny grin creep across my face while I stood there, still panting while the axe dangled from my hand. I had long pondered the thought, the very same embarrassing thought that I didn’t like. I wanted to say so badly that I wanted to give up… to admit defeat…

But it was just like me, that I couldn’t resist; but it was also just like me to sugarcoat it. I admit my defeat, but I was too stubborn to put it into words.

“I think,” I paused, letting a couple a breaths break the sentence, “I think I’ll take a break…”

I turned my head to him to see his face, and I was surprised to see his reaction. He just stood there, not even moving a muscle, until he turned his head at me in confusion. A long pause befell us both, and it had made me especially uncomfortable that he was eyeing me up and down.

“Well, that’s fine. I don’t suppose I should’ve thrown a task like this without some routine.”

He turned and started to walk towards the house. As he did, he hollered out the golden question I’ve been wanting to hear all day.

“Hungry?”

Almost instantly, all my thoughts and my entire dark mood disappeared. I turned myself, checking if I still had the axe with me, and started to stumble and drag my feet after him.

“Absolutely,” I muttered out loud.

I had stared up at the sky as I stumbled, seeing the sun was just before evening.

‘Lord, this much time has already passed?’

I’m surprised to see that you haven’t learned that when things like this happen, it does.

“Good,” he responded, “as of now we don’t have much, but we’ll be eating off of what’s left.”

I had made it as far as the entrance to the stick fence and viewed what Alton had been working on all this time. The many plants that I had seen since I’d come, have all been changed or moved. Seemingly as if it was his farm, and at that span, he had done so much. The little upgrowths and saplings that peered above the fresh dirt made no movement, and I had seen that each one had a circle-shaped dug out miniature moat, and that the bucket seemed as if it was empty.

Much more progress than what you’ve done, that’s for sure…

As I was staring, Alton had brought out a pot filled with water and walked around the fence towards the charred wood and pile of ash. The pot had dangled from his hand, where he would lift the wooden pole and put it through the pot’s handle. There, it had dangled above the woodpile. This time however, I had seen more wood had been placed on it, the same would that was stored by the corner of the cabin.

“So boyo, know how to start a fire?” He said as he walked back and past me, going back into the cabin.

“Nope,” I said.

A long pause had come as I heard shuffling inside, right before Alton had come back out, holding a bow drill.

“Really? ‘Tis a shame then. It’s always handy to know the necessities…,” he muttered, walking past me and back towards the woodpile.

I had finally turned and followed after him, curious to see on whether or not he would teach me at that moment.

I stopped a distance away as he kneeled down on both knees and crouched over, to which I saw the back of his arms move and heard an odd sound. Still tired, I had noticed that he had no chairs of any sort around, to which I just decided to sit on the floor.

I stared up at the falling sun, and breathed in, comfortable with the thought that I could finally relax.

“Will you teach me?” I asked out of the blue, still staring at the sky.

“If you wish. Unfortunately though, not today, I have something else planned.”

Confused, I turn my head, and saw him bent over, huddled over whatever it was he was doing. After a moment, a small glow erupted from the woodpile, and a small fire was born.

That was quick. He must be exceptional at doing this.

Makes you just think of what all he’s done, doesn’t it?

I was impressed at how fast he had made a fire. He stood up, stared at the fire, turned and started to walk back inside. Before he did, he paused by the front door, leaning out towards me.

“You fine with just basic vegetable stew?”

I nodded and turned my head towards the glow.

Finally, I was able to fully glare in awe at the full fire —though it was still small. It weaved throughout the wooden chunks and sticks, and slowly grew up towards the pot.

In my awe though, I had noticed that Alton was still gone, and I had just assumed that he was getting the vegetables and ingredients. To my surprise however, it was far from that. This I was curious to know why he had come out with two wooden sticks.

What is this? Are we gonna go hunting for vegetables now?

He walked towards me and lifted out one stick, to which he let a soft smile reveal itself as if he was looking to play childrens’ play. Confused, I looked at him while I reached out to grab it.

“Here, I’ve long awaited to test you,” he said, turning to walk towards the clearing in front of the cabin.

I stood up, brushing the dirt off my legs with my free hand, and followed, only now realizing now that the sticks were almost perfectly sized practice swords.

Why now? I’m already exhausted with that damned tree, and now we have to fight?

Listen, think about how many days we’ve spent at camp. This’ll be a breeze…

I smiled as I inflated my own ego with reassurance; but it wasn’t too longlived as once again, my dark side had come back to pull me back down.

Never underestimate your opponent…

I slowed my walking to a stop, and a feeling of nervousness washed over me. Or was it excitement?

Alton had continued walking until we were both just a few feet away until he himself stopped and turned around.

“Alrighty then… come at me,” he said, getting into a stance and lifting the wooden stick about to his shoulder, while the other hand was raised to a palm for defense.

“Come at you? You aren’t gonna set any rules or anything, that’s just it?”

He nodded and smiled, not moving a muscle. It was then that my egotistical feeling of power completely ceased to exist as I had felt that I had no chance whatsoever. I stood there, still tired and confused as to why I was even doing this.

I stared up at the beautiful evening sky slowly becoming more vibrant and dark, breathed in the fresh air and got into position.

Indeed… let us see all you have learned…

I slowly walked toward him and watched him looking at me. It was so that my dark side had a great balance of both souring my mood and giving me adrenaline because as of now, I had long felt this sort of excitement. Again it had muttered the same words, but this time, I had felt powerful.

En-des tello brâht…