Blood Town Forest

Posted on: March 1, 2016


A single letter sat in William Blood’s mailbox, the address for Philip Kaufman, in the corner. His aged hand, still creased from years of labor, shook it open.

“Dear Mr. Blood,” he read. “We regret to inform you that because of your refusal to pay your property taxes, and your refusal to show up in court, the Town of Lancaster, MA is confiscating the stretch of forest on Brockelman Road. Please report to our main office immediately.”

William stared at the letter until the words swam in front of his eyes. After a minute, he took a deep breath, folded it up with care, and marched to his car.

My family’s land, all I have left, and that bastard’s found a way to take it.

The fifteen minute drive felt like five, and then he’d found the building. Inside, he searched every hallway until he reached an open door that read KAUFMAN. A man in a brown suit sitting behind the desk looked up. William introduced himself, and the man got up, beaming.

“Mr. Blood, I’m glad to see you got my letter,” he said, reaching to shake William’s hand.

“You’re the man who’s taking my land.” William crossed his arms over his chest.

Phil shook his head. “I promise you, Mr. Blood, we wouldn’t do this if we had any other choice. Please, have a seat.” He turned back to the desk, getting a corner ready. “I’ll take you through the paperwork, and answer any questions you have.”

William took forever walking to the desk. Once Phil began explaining, William stopped listening. His body numb, he signed every dotted line until Phil clapped him on the back and thanked him for his donation.

“So that’s what you’re calling it?” William asked. “In your letter, you considered this ‘a confiscation.’” He pulled the paper from his back pocket.

Phil kept smiling. “Mr. Blood, you’re a respected man in this community, but you haven’t paid your taxes in full. Now, we could print that in the papers,” he said. “But you’re a good man whose only crime is not having the money. We wouldn’t do that to you.”

William scoffed, turning for the door. “Good day, Philip. Thanks for your time.”

That week, an ad in the paper declared that some hiking trails had been established in Lancaster Blood Town Forest. Seeing his name stuck in there, like he’d just handed the property over instead of fighting for it for years, left William struggling to sleep. The next night, he grabbed his sturdiest shovel, jumped in his car, and drove to Town Hall.

If he wants to treat my family’s history like a tourist attraction, then he’s got another thing coming.

Five minutes passed before Phil walked out. William waited until he rolled off down the road, and then followed, keeping ten feet behind until the man pulled up to a half-lit home. Parking along the road, William got out when Phil did. The man locked eyes with him and jumped.

“William! Are you well?” Phil asked.

“I’ve been thinking about the forest,” William said. He nodded to his car. “Come for a drive?”

Phil gaped, and then gave a nervous laugh. “That’s kind of you to ask, but I -- I’m expected, see.” He pointed to the house. The silhouette of a woman and child glided by the window, their laughs muted by the glass.

Just like my family, once.

“Won’t take a moment,” William said, and sat back down.

Phil hesitated, and then jogged over. “I have to say, I’m surprised to see you here, William,” he said when they headed down the road. “You know my office hours.”

William gave him a tight smile. “Yes, well, some things can’t be talked about in a mere fifteen-minute meeting.”

Phil twitched a nod and his Adam’s apple bobbed. “Of course. So, what’s on your mind?”

William turned onto another road. Finally, he drove them down the half-paved path to his “donated” forest, the trees thickening around them. Phil’s Adam’s apple bobbed again.

“I just wanted to enjoy the quiet here one last time,” William said, pulling over. His foggy headlights passed over a sizable rock beside them, his name engraved there.

“You’re really attached to this place,” Phil said, his voice a little too high.

William handed him a cigarette, wearing a real smile this time. “More than you know,” he said and nodded to the woods. “Shall we?”

Phil choked, smoking up the whole car. “What, hike? I just came from work.” He gestured to his dress clothes.

William shrugged. “If you look west, the trees fall away and you can see the sky. Good sight to smoke to.”

Phil hesitated, and then got out to lean against the hood.

William grinned. “Good man,” he said. He followed, pulling out the shovel behind him and rounding the back of the car. At the rearview mirror, he hung back. Phil sent another stream of smoke to the sky, the stars flickering behind it.

“You’re right, William,” he said. “The stars are beautiful here.”

William nodded. He expected his heart to pound, his hands to shake, but as he lifted the shovel and whipped it down onto Phil’s head, neither happened. The man just dropped to the ground like wet laundry, his cigarette a few inches off to the side.

With a deep breath, William stuck Phil’s cigarette in his mouth, opened his trunk, and looped a long twist of rope over his arm. Hitching up his pants, he hauled Phil up over his shoulder.

His knees shook with age. Sucking a breath through his teeth, William marched into the forest, counting to one hundred before dumping Phil at the base of a tree. A cool breeze blew by, but he didn’t shiver. Unfurling the rope, he tied a noose around Phil’s neck, and pulled tight, craning his neck to study the branches.

One loomed close, thick at the base and high enough that he could reach it without climbing. Standing back, he tossed the rope three times before it caught, allowing him to wrap it around the trunk for leverage.

Slowly, he pulled Phil up. His body jerked and twitched while he hanged, but by the time he got high enough to be out of sight, he stopped moving. The branch groaned as the body swayed.

Sighing, William tied a knot, and pulled a fresh cigarette from his pocket. The breeze cooled the sweat on his forehead.

“Oh, yes, Philip,” he whispered. “The stars above my land are the best.” Hitching his pants up again, he wandered back to the road.

Written by: Caitlin Mannarino
Photograph by: Kayla King

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