August William Orange woke to the clatter of angels bowling, as his mother used to say. A storm had rolled in while he slept. It threw down its white fangs to the earth as it rolled across the low country that he called home. The drops of rain clanged on the tin roof in tight, hollow taps. August slipped back down into his cot and pulled his single wool blanket up around his chin.
The atmosphere teemed with fury, slowly collecting the energy of a million atoms in the dark sky. A bolt of lightning peeled out of the clouds, ripping into the huge, old oak that stood next to August’s small shanty. August’s eyes shot open as he scurried to the window. Looking out, he saw a large branch swing wildly from the wooden monster, break free, and plummet to the ground beside the window. Looking back up to the glowing embers of the canopy, August could make out the altered physique of the decimated tree. The core was split open, a wide crack ran down the middle of the trunk, and the flaming upper reaches bowed outward, away from the clean, crisp cut of the bolt. The oak groaned under its new strain, fighting to keep upright. The fire in the upper reaches soon went out with the falling rain, and all that remained was the wounded tree, teetering above August’s only home. It is not angels, August thought, but the devil who bowls tonight.
August crossed his shanty in five steps to the front door. He threw it open and ran outside to inspect the threat. The devil’s bolt had inflicted a devastating wound upon the large oak that shaded his plot of land. He silently cursed the bowling devil as he mentally calculated the probable angle of descent; the tree was bound to fall. It swayed with the flowing winds, and screamed out in pain with every movement. It transformed before August’s eyes from a wounded protector of the shanty to a possessed creature of hell. He turned away from the black-barked horror and set his mind to the salvation of his shack.
Wheels! Why didn’t I build wheels onto this little shack! August lamented. Rain dropped onto his balding head and soaked his ratty clothes. His left hand went to his chin in thought. I could pull it out of the way, maybe, if it had wheels. Could I put wheels on it now? Is that possible?
The tree groaned its mocking disapproval above him. More forks of lightning shot down from the sky, illuminating the other trees that stood around his property. They seemed to be waiting, like morbid soldiers, for their oaken commander to commence the attack upon August’s shanty.
August thought over his options: Try to roll the shanty over, pushing it out of the way? No, impossible for an old man, maybe if I was younger. Take out the valuables in the shanty? No, I’d have to leave them out in the rain; they’d be ruined anyway. Let the tree fall on the shanty? No! I can’t just give up!
Wheels! he cried out again. Why did I not put wheels?
August looked up at the oak in despair. He could have done so much if he had put wheels on his little shanty. He could have hooked it up to a truck every once in a while and moved all around the country. He could have seen so many things: Niagara Falls, the Grand Canyon, the Rio Grande, the Black Hills, the Pacific and the Atlantic. He could have gone anywhere he wanted. Now he was stuck on a plot of worthless land in the backcountry, helpless and immobile. He grew old in a place that meant nothing to him. He saw nothing new, did nothing special, and felt nothing inside. If only I had put wheels on this thing, he muttered. I could have been happy.
A hollow crack split the air as the tree’s gaping chest wound opened wide. Droplets fell from the jilted leaves, sending down an advance army of blinding rain into August’s eyes. The giant oak began to bow toward the shanty — a hideous servant of Satan. August shielded his eyes from the onslaught, but a smile of hope grew on his face. I could still put those wheels on, he thought. Get wheels, move around, see things. I’ll cross this land from Pacific to Atlantic. I will be happy. He hobbled like a wounded crusader to the base of the tree, placed his hands against it, and pushed with all his elderly might, hoping to divert the course of the oak away from the shanty. His feet dug in to the muddy earth, his veiny hands pushed at the black bark, his head pulsed with the blood of exertion. The tree began to twist upon the axis of its wound. It spun like a tortured demon breaking free of its chains; howling and turning, it made its unholy descent toward earth.
August didn’t just push against a dying oak, but the designs of the devil who bowled in the realm of angels. He pushed until he lost his footing and slid beneath the towering trunk. The tree plummeted toward earth, falling along the cursed line of descent that August had fought to alter. The shanty’s tin roof dove in upon itself, crumpling to the ground along with all of August’s earthly possessions.
The storm passed east over the open country, floating toward the Atlantic. A neighbor, out to survey the damage the next morning, found August. A smile crossed the face though the body was broken. They scattered his ashes to the wind; August William Orange was carried on wings of angels across the country, from Pacific to Atlantic.
Image courtesy Library of Congress; Old oak trees: MN Moran