Alexandria Velthuis, afternoon supervisor of Quisenberry Lumber Corporation, zipped along the road on her bicycle, dodging potholes and keeping an eye out for lumber poachers. She had not seen any since she'd started working in 1949, but who knew when the evil that dwelt in the hearts of all mortals might overtake them? Certainly not Al, and so she watched and waited with axe slung across her back.
For the last mile or so she had not encountered a single soul on the back roads of Baker's Crossing. This in itself was not surprising, for Baker's Crossing had only about 500 people, and fifty of those were hobos living a wild and untamed life on a stolen raft the size of a small town in the river that divided the town from the county seat. What surprised Al was the fact that she had not yet encountered a single lumberjack returning to their sylvan homes from the lumberjack camp.
At last she rounded the large oak tree that sat stubbornly in the middle of the road and came into view of the main office. It squatted in the middle of the emerald woods like a toadstool in a desert community, all plastic siding and crumbly brickwork. It was not the most representative of Baker's Crossing buildings. Al had to lean her bicycle on a nearby beech tree, for to touch the walls was to flirt with poor masonry and head trauma.
Then Alexandria Velthuis kicked down the front door, flung her axe into a corner, and swung around the corner to the accounting closet. She was mildly annoyed to have garnered no reaction from the accountant therein.
"Oi," she started to say, but her sister, whose head rested on the desk, raised a finger in her direction.
"I must have silence," she said.
Al, as she was called by friends and family, observed the scene carefully for a moment. Although Marley Velthuis' head seemed to be firmly attached to the desk, she did not seem to be hurt. Sitting before her, balanced on a stack of tax forms, was a triple decker house of cards.
"Is this…" Al began to ask, and Marley shushed her again.
"I have to finish these return forms. Andiline might be back any minute.
Al waited again and was astonished to observe no forms being completed. This lack of productivity continued for a while, until a bit of dust floated down from the ceiling and landed atop the house of cards. The cards were still for a moment, and then went crashing down to the desk. Marley flung her hands into the air.
"I'm sorry," said Al, who was not in fact sorry at all.
Marley did not respond. Instead she placed her head back down upon the desk. Al waited for a moment.
"Five o'clock, Marl," she said after that moment. "It's time to go home."
"No," said Marley. "Andiline'll be back any minute. I have to have the tax forms done."
Al looked at the piles of forms and then at the cards. "So are you going to do them?"
"I don't think so."
This made sense, in Al's opinion. She nodded seriously. "Then let us away in a homeward direction."
Marley flung an arm across the tax papers, and even more cards fluttered to the floor.
"Is someone in a bad mood?"
The only response was an unintelligible muttering noise. It could have been an opossum stuck in the outhouse again—Al had studied this phenomenon long ago, and it was the primary reason she'd had indoor plumbing installed in her house—but knowing Marley as she did, she was not concerned.
"I know how to cheer you up."
Al pantomimed pulling out a guitar and strumming. "Come, all you sons of freedom, let run the Saginaw stream…"
"I am trying to be a productive member of society."
"Come all, you roving lumber boys, and listen to my theme…"
"Al. You will not get away with this."
"We'll cross the Tittabawassee, where the mighty waters flow…"
"I will make it look like an accident."
Al paid her no mind and instead scooped her up under one arm and turned to leave. Marley latched onto the doorframe.
"Al, I swear…"
"We'll range the wild woods over and once more a-lumbering go, and once more a-lumbering go," sang Al, tugging her easily out the door.
"Okay. You win. But this was not my doing."
"But of course," said Al. "To the music of our axes we'll make the woods resound, and many a tall and lofty pine come tumbling to the ground. At night 'round our good campfires we'll sing while cold winds blow, and join me on the chorus."
"We'll range the wild woods over and once more a-lumbering go, and once more a-lumbering go."
The front door, set at exactly the kind of angle that let in six inch snow drifts in the wintertime, had swung closed again. Al kicked it open once again.
"To the music of our axes," she sang, taking up her own axe and swinging it merrily. Marley covered her head and made herself as small as possible. "We'll make the woods resound, and many a tall and lofty pine come tumbling to the ground. At night 'round our good campfires we'll sing while cold winds blow, and take it away, Marley!"
"We'll range the wild woods over, and once more a-lumbering go."
"I'm not singing, Al."
"You may ask about your parties, your parties and your plays, but pity us poor lumber boys a-jouncing on our sleighs. But we ask no better pastime than to hunt the buck and doe, and…"
She looked expectantly down at Marley.
Marley gave the kind of sigh one would expect from an ancient oak tree watching its younger mates being chopped down to build a poorly conceived soap box car.
"And once more lumbering go," she said to the ground.
Al laughed mirthfully and was about to start in on another verse when a familiar face rounded the corner of the offices and stopped dead in its tracks. The face was attached to a body clad in flannel pajamas, and the body held in its hands an outdated newspaper and a cup of cold coffee respectively. This was Andiline, secretary and practicing head of the Quisenberry Main Lumber Camp.
"Hi there," said Al. Feeling Marley squirm to get free, she let her down on the forest floor.
"Eh," said Andiline, giving her a good eyeballing. "Dare I ask what's going on here?"
"'s five o'clock," said Al, reslinging her axe. "Quitting time."
"Uh-huh." Andiline turned her skunk eye upon Marley. The accountant shrunk down a good five or six inches and stared at the ground. "Are the forms ready?"
Marley opened her mouth in response. No sound matched this gesture, but that was all that Andiline needed. "We need those yesterday, Velthuis."
"She'll get it done," said Al. The level of chipperness in her voice was disproportionate to that of the others in the conversation. "But for now, we have woods to patrol."
Andiline frowned, this time at her cup of coffee. She dumped it into a dead mum in the office's window box.
"Come on, Marl," said Al. She lifted her up and deposited her in the bicycle's basket.
Marley grabbed onto the tree to keep her from pedaling away.
"Sorry," she said to Andiline, very, very quietly.
"Uh-huh," said Andiline. She stuffed the newspaper into the hole in the office window.
"Have a lovely evening," said Al. She hopped upon her bike and sped away.