JAWS THAT BITE
BY PETER J CARTER
After my mom passed, I moved in with my dad on his fifty acres of old farmland outside the 128 beltway. Dad had a chainsaw he had picked up cheap, like everything else, and after coming home from school one late autumn day, I thought I’d use it to cut down a tree. I’d had no formal instruction, but had seen him use it often enough to feel confident.
The idea of metal teeth attached to an insatiable, gas-powered appetite seems to put most people off, but when my dad gave me express instructions for me not to touch it, I had to try.
A spindly-looking scrub pine at the very back of the property was chosen for my clandestine felling and after a couple of pulls, the motor fired. Testing the engine’s RPMs with the prerequisite ‘vroom, vroom’, I set the blade against the trunk. The chainsaw ripped through the wood and once it had ploughed through the other side, I lifted my head to watch the skinny little pine fall.
What I didn’t realize was the chainsaw blade had continued downward into my leg.
My jeans torn apart in a ten-inch gash just above my thigh froze me for a second before I dropped trousers in the woods.
I looked down at my leg and saw barely a scratch matching the length of the tear in my jeans. Drops of blood escaped both ends, but that was it. I waited for the cut to open and gush blood, but it never did.
I pulled up my pants, put the chainsaw away, changed my clothes and buried my torn ones in the bottom of the trash to hide them from Dad. And although I promised that I would never touch a chainsaw again, that slight scar that remained would still ache from time to time for no explicable reason.
It was with that pain in my leg of twenty years earlier, I answered the front door and greeted a man with a patch on his shirt that read, “Earl’s Chainsaws.” The family was away at a swim meet and I had been elected to stay home and take care of the animals after a last minute cancellation from the neighbour.
Where my wife would probably chase him away in a minute, I said, “Hi.”
I’d never heard of a traveling chainsaw salesman. Sure, the Fuller brush people, those guys who deliver selected fine meats on a monthly basis, and even those purveyors of lawn care management, but never a chainsaw salesman.
Perhaps I’ve led a sheltered life.
He introduced himself as Earl and pointed to an old truck that had seen a few hundred thousand parked out at the end of the driveway with the self-same “Earls Chainsaws” placard magnetically adhered to the front door. He was slightly overweight, balding, and the whites of his eyes were as buttery as his teeth. After the required exchange of weather observations, he asked, “I was wondering, sir, if you would be interested in a demonstration of the brand new Hellion 9000?”
Not in the least interested in his wares, scared to frozen death of chainsaws, I found myself compelled, through some flannelled hypnosis, to accept.
He turned to the truck and yelled, “Zebadiah, set it up.”
An impossibly thin man crawled out of the passenger seat. He nodded with a gap-toothed smile to say hello. Zebadiah sported a pointy nose and chin, hair as though it was trimmed with hedge clippers, haphazardly cut-off shorts, and scores of multi-coloured Band-Aids.
They adorned his face, starting at the top of his forehead and continuing onto his face and neck, with reappearances on his elbows, shins and ankles.
I thought he had a fetish for them perhaps, much like my two-year-old son, and if pulled off, would expose the barest of scratches. He pulled the work equipment out of the back of the truck, consisting of a pair of sawbucks, stools, and a couple of planks. He worked with conservation of movement, an odd ballet of steps though well-rehearsed, belied pain.
While I listened in the background to Earl expound the wonders of the Hellion 9000, I watched Zebadiah move about in his strange cantered gait and suddenly thought about that monkey who was a passive member of the family for thirty years until it bit off a lady’s face.
“… and that’s why this new chainsaw is the best invention since the printing press.”
I looked at Earl and gave him the standard answer which I provided when not listening.
“Cool,” I said.
There was something about his speech, although I couldn’t tell you what, that hypnotized, the sort of dull drone apps used to lull you to sleep. The form of speech the doctor gives you before he slides the knife in.
Jedidiah lifted a huge log out of the back of the truck. He picked up one end as if an invisible helper had the other, and dropped them one at a time on the crossbuck for cutting. They were eight feet long and had to be a couple of hundred pounds. The laws of physics seemed to bend a bit in the back of Earl’s truck.
“Let me get it,” said Earl, as he opened the side box of his truck. The Hellion 9000 lived up to its name. It was black and red with streaks of grey that gave it an angry, and hungry, look.
He held it up to the warm autumn sun, paying homage to Ra, dropped it down to knee level, and pulled the start cord. It bounded to life like a soul released from torture; finally breathing as if held underwater just short of drowning.
A smile cut across Earl’s face and he looked at Zebadiah who nodded knowingly as if the wood should fear his boss.
Earl moved to the first log and sliced off an impossibly thin coin of wood that seemed to flutter as it fell to the ground. On his second swipe, he turned the chainsaw parallel to the jog and sliced a slab lengthwise. This was contrary to every chainsaw safety rule that I’d ever heard. Earl sliced the length of the log and nodded to his helper to lift the roughhewn board off the top and held it up for my appraisal. He waited for me to acknowledge the feat with a smile and then leaned the piece of wood against the truck. Earl went back to his carving.
The sawdust rained on the sweaty workman, creating a type of snow globe one couldn’t escape.
He again set the blade parallel to the wood and began cutting. About two feet in, he moved the blade back and forth, up and down in a regular pattern before letting the blade out. Zebadiah lifted the slab off and placed one end on the ground, holding the top with two hands. Earl approached the wood with a couple of ‘vrooms’, set the blade mere inches away from his assistant’s hands, and started carving.
The sawdust billowed across the grass. To his credit, Zebadiah didn’t flinch once as the blade came a hair’s breadth of his fingers. He finished and stood back to appraise his work and with a wave of his hand had Zebadiah turn the work towards me.
There was a face on it. My face.
My wooden face held its mouth open in a rictus “O,” which was probably my expression when I looked at it. My wooden visage’s eyes were slitted with hollow cheeks and my face was turned slightly to the sky.
Earl turned off the saw, “Wadduya think?”
It took me a minute to clear my mind. “Wow.”
“Wow indeed, neighbour,” Earl said, wiping the sweat and sawdust from his face. “Guaranteed to cut through any wood any way you want. The chromium-carbide blade will cut through nails like butter. I could cut through your front door like a hot blade through ice cream without a cough or a fart and the most unbelievable thing is that we’re selling these at a fraction of the showroom price. Only $349.”
“I’m not sure…” I began, as a knot of pain crossed Zebadiah’s face. I hadn’t noticed before but a trickle of blood escaped his thumb and began rolling down my wooden cheek.
The scar on my leg began to throb.
“I’ll take one.”
I went into the house to get my chequebook and pulled the pen from my pocket. I realized it was my boss’s pen, his favourite gold filigree pen, and I had no idea how it had got into my work pants pocket. For a moment I stood there, leg aching, feeling the sweat roll down my forehead mixing with the fine sheen of sawdust. I hastily scrawled a cheque and went back out to hand it to Earl. Zebadiah was applying a new Band-Aid after having finished loading the truck. I saw the new chainsaw box waiting on the walkway.
“We’ll leave you this board so you can show your friends. Sorry about the blood on it, Jeb’s a bleeder.”
“If you’d like, we could stop by from time to time and check your saw to make sure it’s in perfect working order or maybe help you set it up?”
“Naw, that won’t be necessary.”
“It’s free of charge.”
“Don’t worry about it. I’ll be fine.”
They got back in the truck, and with a band aid wave left in a cloud of smoke.
I picked up the box and I swear I heard a whimper. The type of whimper you hear from a mouse in a trap. Suddenly, images flashed before me of severed limbs, piles of hands and feet, a deluge of blood and pain. The screams.
I dropped the box.
I stood there for a minute waiting for the box to erupt, waiting for Mephistopheles to leap out and tear out my soul. When nothing happened, I put on some work gloves and took it to the top floor of the barn and shoved it in the very back. I decided to pile a box of old books on top of it.
That done, I pulled an old 55-gallon drum used for spring burning and put the totem in. Earl’s work was still green, so I added some kerosene. As the totem burned, the wood popped in a ‘Tsk, tsk’.
I would dump the cooled coals in the garden before my family came home tomorrow and return my boss’s pen on Monday.
I never opened the box, no matter how the cardboard peeled to expose its wavy inner skeletal parts. Dead mice would still be found scattered about the second floor of the barn and on some nights when my leg aches, and the moon hangs low, I even see a glow up there.