we are,” Amber said to Graham. “Welcome to Elm Mills.”
rolled down the window and took in the scenery. The verdure on both sides of
the gravel drive shimmered with the bright colors of an exaggerated Spring.
Everything shouted life. Even the mushrooms and fungus seemed products of
beauty. But the most noted characteristic of the land belonged to the giant
elms shrouding the property from the rest of the world. And to think this was
place is so right, girl.” He looked at her and smiled. “Toto, I have a feeling
we’re not in California anymore.”
love it here. I wish I could live here like Nana did when she retired. Said
they were the best days of her life.”
will be yours one day, right?”
great Aunt Georgina inherited the land after Nana died. But after Georgina
dies, I will be the heir because she never had kids.”
saw a portion of the cabin up ahead tucked behind clumps of foliage. “Nice. It
looks like one of those handmade log cabins that Jeremiah Johnson would build.”
Johnson. Robert Redford. Surely you’ve seen it?”
I’m a girl. Why would I watch a mountain man movie?”
shifted in his seat to face her as the tires crunched over the pebbles. “So
check it. A long time ago there was this dude named Jeremiah Johnson who served
in war. After the war, he didn’t like people anymore. He decided to go up into
the mountains and live with the grizzly bears. He used an ax to build himself a
cabin. It was kick-ass.”
was built with the same primitive tools,” Amber said. “Probably around the same
time Jeremiah Jackson built his.”
She whipped the
Jeep Cherokee into an opening in the thicket. She killed the engine and
released her seatbelt. When she popped her door, Graham felt the morning air,
brisk with the scent of wildflowers.
got out and stretched, then looked at the old structure. Large, but simple.
It appeared to be a
monumental set of Lincoln Logs slapped down in the middle of the Midwest
landscape. He noticed a hammock stretched between two medium-sized elms behind
the cabin. Graham visualized frolicking in it with Amber, swinging in the
breeze, stark naked under a quilt. He considered saying something along the
lines of snuggling in it with her, but decided against it. This was the first
time meeting her in person. It took eight months of internet chat to get here.
Why jeopardize such a beautiful endeavor?
used to swing in that thing when I was a little girl,” she said, as if
telepathic. “Feel like unpacking now?”
we do it later? I’m kind of drained from jetlag.”
course.” She dug in her pocket and pulled out a key. “Let’s go in.”
followed her through the threshold. The first thing he experienced was the
smell. It reminded him of an old library book. That historical musk. Then the
floor squeaked under his feet.
Amber drew back
some curtains to let the sunlight fill the room. “There’s no electricity.
Sunlight by day. Lamplight by night. Jeremiah Johnson.”
“Cool with me,”
said. The cabin looked on the inside as it did on the outside: still and
simple. Wooden furniture with basic cushions. Wool blankets. A dusty bass
mounted on the wall, with an ancient lure hanging from its mouth. An old book
sitting on the dining room table. A huge, worn book—something straight out of
the Wild West courtrooms, the title written in gold bold: Genealogy of North
“Kind of cozy in
here,” Graham said. “I like it.”
“Lie down and rest
if you want. I’ll bring the cooler in and get lunch ready. I’ll wake you if you
“I’ll just sit
down for a minute. I’m fine. I can help you with lunch.” He sat down on one of
the wooden sofas and leaned back into some of the most comfortable cushions he
had ever pressed against in his entire life. “This is so good.”
Amber walked into
the kitchen area and began to inspect the insides of the cabinets. “Sucks not
having a fridge. We usually eat canned goods out here. But that’s not really
legit in a log cabin. We can go fishing later and grill up our catch, if we
“Dude, I’m a
fishing guru. Hank Parker ain’t got shit on me.”
love to go fishing. What does the great state of Kansas have to offer?”
Flathead. Bass. Crappie. Bluegill. The Ninnescah has them all. But we also got
our own lake on a sandpit. The water is so much fresher. The sand filters it.”
“How big is this
acres. I’ll show you all of it later.” She came out of the kitchen. “Do you
remember what we talked about the other night? Wild bud versus homegrown?”
“Yep. I’m still
hydroponics all the way. Why do you ask?”
“Elm Mills is a
special place.” She smiled and stepped toward him. “The plants here are special.
The trees. The grass. The vines. And the bud.” She held out her hand. A nugget
of glistening green herb adorned with orange fibers filled her palm. “Wild Elm
Mills weed. Wanna try it?”
Amber walked over
to the table and sat down, interrupting a beam of light emanating from a
window. The beam lit the left side of her body, creating a theatrical
chiaroscuro effect, giving her the essence of a living Caravaggio painting as
she ground the bud between her fingers. Her short figure dealt her curves,
evident in the white V-neck stretching over her chest. Her large eyes and
cheekbones tapered down into a small pointed chin. Her thin lips matched the
pale hue of her face. Her dirty blonde hair glowed like an angel’s halo.
It had been a long
eight months since Graham had found Amber by chance on social media. He was
shocked to see that a girl of such beauty was single. Her unconventional
pictures intrigued him. Most girls Graham knew posted pictures of themselves
with their girlfriends drinking martinis like they were the cast of Sex and
the City, standing next to witless boyfriends. Not Amber. She posted photos
of trees and bugs, old highways and truck stops.
Graham had figured
her for an environmentalist, the hippy chick. That’s cool and all. But her eyes
suggested a rebellious conduct that the tree-hugger did not typically possess.
A mystery of sorts, right up Graham’s alley. And he did everything in his power
to keep her interest in him.
Graham was kind of
an unconventional fella himself, a soft-spoken man who had that 90210 face, but
a grunge wardrobe and unkempt hairstyle. He spent most of his time watching
movies and smoking grass—and trying to avoid his stern father. He was highly
intelligent, and the ladies thought he was cute, but most thought he was gay
because of his feminine mannerisms. Graham was hardly gay. Wasn’t a day gone by
that he wasn’t on Pornhub watching the crudest intercourse. But poor Graham
just couldn’t seem to find that one, that perfect girl, peculiar and sexy. And
then there was Amber.
He found that they
had similar interests, such as movies, nature, and getting high. It came to
pass that not a night went by that they didn’t correspond in the wonderful
galaxy of cyberspace. They would have met much sooner if Graham didn’t live in
Cali, and Amber in Kansas. When Amber suggested he come stay a weekend at her
family cabin, he borrowed his mother’s credit card (with vows unto death he’d
pay it back) to purchase a round trip airfare to the Heartland. Now he just had
to play his cards right.
asked, holding a joint between her fingers.
Graham had zoned
out while staring at her sitting in the light beam. He snapped back to reality
and said, “After you.” He walked over to the table as she lit the joint with a
book of matches.
The bud smoking
commenced: Puff, puff, cough, pass.
Amber was right.
The weed was exceptional, ridiculous, unlike anything Graham had ever smoked.
The shit hit him good after about five pulls. His senses became overly acute,
particularly his hearing. He wasn't sure, but he thought he heard something
large outside bang against the cabin. Possibly a swaying elm. On a calm day,
“What do you
think, Jeremiah Johnson?”
focused back to her. A large vein ran down the middle of Amber’s forehead. He
wondered if the vein had been there all along. Was it in the profile pictures,
or did she have it at the airport?
“My head feels
like a helium balloon.” He touched his face. “I bet if it wasn’t attached to my
neck, it would float up and touch the ceiling.”
into laughter, followed by Graham. They laughed so hard they could barely catch
their breath. Afterward, Graham realized he had no saliva in his mouth. His
palette felt like an inverted turtle shell when he ran his tongue over it.
Next, he became aware of the thudding in the center of his chest. Then the
swishing of the internal plumbing in his guts. The tightening of his scrotum.
His moving scalp. His body became a separation of autonomous parts.
“You all right?”
He exhaled and
nodded. “I’m zooted. Got cottonmouth.”
“I’ll go get
cooler. We got water, soda, beer. Whatever you want.” Amber started to get up.
“No, I’m good.
I’ll get it in a minute. Let’s just chill.”
She sat back in her chair and crossed her arms, pressing her breasts upward.
“What do you want to talk about?”
Graham glanced at
her cleavage. He wanted to do a double take, but was paranoid she might take
him as a pervert. “I’m, uh . . . not a hundred percent sure right now. I can
barely see straight.” His eyes scanned the room and rested on the large book in
the center of the table. “That book looks heavy. And old.”
“I love that
book.” Amber leaned forward and flipped it open. A detailed illustration of
some type of evergreen appeared. “Sweet. A Florida Yew. One of the rarest trees
in America. It’s extremely endangered. We’ve got one here at Elm Mills.”
“No way. It’d
during the winters, right?”
“Not this one.
It’s special. We have many unique trees here, some not even recorded by the
Audubon Society. Some that are one of a kind.”
Graham gazed at
her, caught somewhere between her beauty and the mystic nature she spoke of.
“Do you have a
favorite tree?” she asked.
His mind went to
the dense forests in the lush places overseas, like the Amazon rainforest. He
thought of the palms in the Caribbean. And then it popped in his head like a
sudden internet ad. He did have a favorite tree. His folks used to take him to
Colorado for vacations. He remembered climbing a particular tree that smelled
so fresh, so wonderful that he took some of its sap home with him in a sandwich
“A Colorado Blue
Spruce. They’re beautiful. And they smell fantastic.”
Amber’s eyes lit.
“No way. I love those. They’re coniferous trees that grow fifty feet tall and
have four-inch cones. We got a few that are lively here. They love to see me.”
What the hell was
that supposed to mean? Graham didn’t ask. He just nodded and smiled. In the
moment he didn’t care what she said—he wanted to lean across the table and kiss
She stood up. “I
want to show you something. Are you up for a walk?”
Graham had been
weed-stuck in time and space, but her words freed him. He jumped up. “For sure,
He followed her
outside. The sun had already climbed in the sky. And what a pristine, blue sky
it was. They circled around to the back of the cabin, then crossed a hand-built
wooden bridge stretching over a thin stream. Amber led the way through a pathless
forest of mighty elms teeming with life. In California, Graham was used to all
the pigeons and seagulls, and all the birdshit they left behind. But the birds
fluttering from tree to tree above his head glimmered in the streaks of light,
from yellows to blues to oranges, some with iridescence.
“This place is
like an enchanted forest in a movie. They could have filmed Lord of the
Rings here, or Harry Potter,” he said. “You ever think about leasing
out a section to Hollywood?”
“Wait until you
see where I’m taking you. It’s even cooler’” she giggled. “It’s up ahead.”
“Is it the
Fountain of Youth, here in Kansas this whole time?”
Hey, what kind of music did you say you like?”
How could she
forget? They had talked about it dozens of times. Oh, well. “Here lately I’ve
been on a Tom Petty kick. Why?”
“It could come in
handy one day,” she said, and then stopped to face him. She stepped into him
and pressed her lips on his. Graham felt the poke and sensual movement of her
moist tongue. She pulled back and smiled.
nothing. All he could do was stare at her, bug-eyed.
“Well, do you
wanna see?” she inquired, still smiling.
He finally blinked
and said, “Well, yeah.”
She turned and
continued walking through the woods. Graham followed closely, mentally praying
that she would whip around for round two, and then some. He considered taking
on the role of the man, grabbing her by the arm, spinning her around into his
body, and pulling her to the ground, like some forest porno video. But he was
fantasized, the large elms suddenly ended, and a new forest began. The grass
under his feet changed to a brighter, almost emerald green. An eclectic display
of trees spread out before his eyes, all shapes and sizes. A variety of
dazzling leaves flickered in the breeze; colored blossoms flaunted their beauty
as if in a competition.
“Dude, it's like a
magical forest within a forest,” he said softly.
Sargasso. A sea within a sea,” she added.
He pointed at a
tree as wide as a truck and as tall as a four-star hotel. “What the hell is
“That’s a sycamore
hybrid. His name is Edwin.”
He pointed to
another tree, tall and lean with silver bark. “And that one?”
“He’s part River
birch. That’s Bowden.”
“You named them
“Kind of.” She
smiled. “Hey, come over here.” Amber led him deeper into the sensational woods.
“How did these
trees get here?”
grandmother planted the old ones, the bigger ones. But Nana and Georgina
planted the majority. I’ve planted about a dozen myself. The younger ones—I’ll
“You mean you went
and got the seeds and dug the holes?”
“Yeah, I guess you
could say that.”
The two walked a
little farther until they came to a cluster of saplings. “Are you ready to see
something that is going to blow your mind?” Amber leaned toward one of the
small trees and began snapping her fingers and stomping her foot on the ground.
She started singing: “Oh I heard it all before, so don’t knock down my door.
I’m a loser and a user, so I don’t need no accuser, to try and slag me down,
because you know where I’ll be found, when I come around.”
“Dude, are you
singing Green Day to the baby tree?”
do what you
like, make sure you do it wise. You may find out that your self-doubt means
nothing was ever there. You can’t go forcing something if it’s just not right.”
Graham thought the
wind picked up when the saplings began to move, swaying left and right. But he
felt no breeze.
the world around, ‘cause you know where I’ll be found, when I come around.”
dropped. The saplings swayed independently to Amber’s song, like rebellious
youth at a rock concert. Not just the saplings, but other larger trees around
“When I come
A large Autumn
Blaze tree contorted its large branches like a stationary ballerina, shedding
some of its brilliant red leaves. A Magnolia rattled so violently its massive
yellow flowers dropped to the ground.
Amber started dancing,
clapping and twirling through the saplings. “Come on, Thomas! That’s right,
Tucker!” She looked at Graham. “Come on, you! Dance with us!”
She darted over to
him and grabbed his hands, pulling him into the excitement. The joy was
contagious, and he found himself swaying with her rhythm. The two pranced through
the dancing trees. She let go
of his hands and veered off to circle around a large cottonwood.
“This is amazing,”
Graham shouted.” He hopped about like a child filled with sugar. “These trees, these
trees are alive! I mean, they’re really alive!”
The two clapped
and danced as they meandered through the swaying thicket until they were out of
breath. Amber took Graham by the hands. “I told you Elm Mills is a special
The two kissed,
beautifully, urgently. Hands stripped his shirt from his body. Off came her
shirt. They dropped to the ground, flesh caressing flesh. And right there under
the dancing trees, Graham and Amber made love of a historical kind.
around dusk. He sat up with sluggish movements and looked around. The woods
stood still. He saw that he was naked. No, it had not been a dream. But where
He floundered to
his feet. “Amber?” He said, anxiety brewing in his gut.
He turned to see
her standing next to a cluster of colorful leaves. He started toward her. “How
long was I out?”
“Most of the day.”
She motioned to him. “I want to show you something else.”
“Look, I know we
smoked something. But we danced, and then we—didn’t we?”
“Yes, we did.”
“The trees danced
“Yes, they did.”
happening was now a bizarre memory to Graham. It couldn’t be possible. “Did we
take some acid, also, or something?”
“No. It was Elm
Mills weed.” Her face seemed somber.
asked as he approached slowly. She was perspiring, and her shirt was covered
“I’m a little
That’s all. It’s nothing.”
“Why are you
sweaty and dirty?”
She pointed to her
left. Graham’s eyes followed to a hole in the ground, a fairly large hole the
size of a hula hoop, with a massive mound of dirt next to it.
“Will you help me
plant another tree?” she asked.
“Okay,” he said,
his brow furled. He walked over to the hole and looked inside. It was deep,
about four or five feet. He turned back to look at her, but instead saw a
swinging shovel an instant before it bashed his face.
The blow buckled
his legs and shot him backward. Graham’s body crashed to the ground. He grabbed
his face, but before he could even moan, the shovel hammered down on his left
knee, causing a bone to snap. His right knee followed suit, and this time
Graham let out a curdling shriek.
although blurred and spotted, focused on Amber standing above him, a shovel
held above her head. “I’m sorry, sweet Graham. But I can’t kill you.” She
circled around him. “The ground needs you alive.”
She dropped the
shovel and knelt by him. Graham spit some blood from his mouth, along with a
tooth. He watched her as she lifted a knife. “Why?” came from his mouth, almost
I’ve got to make sure there’s enough blood. The blood activates the soil, and
your body becomes the seed. This will be quick.” She sliced fast with the
serrated blade, opening tissue on his thighs. Graham gave a pathetic whimper
Amber dropped the
knife, then embraced him. “I love you.” She stroked his hair as she held him.
Graham didn’t fight. Instead. he gazed at the forming moon as his body went
into shock. The trees around them seemed to droop, as if listening, watching.
She let go and
pushed his body, rolling him into the hole. Graham dropped like a stone and
landed on his back. Amber straightened up. He could now see her face in the
fading light. She looked so beautiful. So lovely.
She picked the
shovel up and plunged it into the mound of dirt. As she dropped the first load
on his body, he began to fade in and out of consciousness. “You will come back,
sweet Graham. You will have a new life, with lots of friends. They will be so
happy to have you, and you them.”
Another scoop of
soil landed on Graham’s chest.
“I will come visit
you. We will dance together. It will be perfect.”
Graham began to
“Just close your
eyes, dear. Let it take you. When you awake, you will know bliss. You will be
happy. You will have peace like the others.”
face faded, and so did Graham.
The dew in the
grass wet their feet as they walked. The young couple stopped and embraced, a
glorious forest surrounding them. She kissed him, then backed up.
“Here we are.
Watch closely.” She twirled around to face some saplings. The young woman
snapped her fingers and tapped a foot. “She’s a good girl, loves her mama,
loves Jesus, and America too. She’s a good girl. She’s crazy about Elvis, loves
horses, and her boyfriend too.”
The young man
smiled and snapped his fingers as well.
day, living in Reseda. There’s a freeway runnin’ through the yard. And I’m a
bad boy, ‘cause I don’t even miss her. I’m a bad boy, for breaking her heart.”
One sapling out of
the bunch began to sway. Amber matched its motion, rocking back and forth. The
boy stopped smiling and snapping.
free fallin’. Yeah I’m free, free fallin’.”
The little tree
jerked as if trying to escape the ground and jump into her arms, whipping its
delicate branches about. A few more of its kind joined in the festivities,
swaying and dipping to the lyrics.
The girl clapped
and stomped her feet. “That’s right, boys. Tear the roof down!”
The boy took a few
steps back, his eyelids peeled back.
and stroked a branch. “I told you I’d come back.”
Mack Severns is a studio
artist from San Diego, who loves the great outdoors.