Trees as tall as city buildings scraped the grey sky above Eddie as he descended a muddy trail leading to a small stream spanned by a wooden bridge. The rain had stopped earlier, and he was thankful because the trees had a habit of slouching inward toward the trail when overcome by water.
He crossed the bridge and stopped to dip his hands into the cool stream. Small white rocks the size of pinheads rolled quaintly by underwater. The stream was crystal clear and not a single fish did sully the water. Ahead, the path was more open, though as one approached the forest gazebo, they were bound to get stuck in mud. Luckily, Eddie had spent much of his summer running these trails with his friends Rick and Larry. If either of the two had not brought up the hidden gazebo, Eddie would have never known.
He parted ways with the stream and headed into a denser outcropping of trees. The stream, meanwhile, jack-knifed into the woods just beyond a steep cut bank. Though invisible, he could hear the trickling water as it ran over a small waterfall just out of view. Rick and Larry had shown him the waterfall last week, but the gazebo was more interesting.
Nature, Eddie deemed, was a gift, but not a gift from a benevolent angel; rather, a malevolent devil. With that in mind, Eddie thought about the absurdity of the universe—a thought that was typically evoked when he witnessed the beauty of the world shortly before it dealt him a disapproving hand. For instance, the forest was truly beautiful in Eddie’s eyes, but moments after registering this fact, a branch slapped his face and water poured on his head from some high branch. He was sure if he hadn’t already eaten his lunch then an animal would’ve crept up beside him and stole it. An absurd universe indeed.
A fifteen minute walk more and the Gazebo became visible in the woods. It was in an open rock grove in an area that was sunk three to four feet deep. The stairwell to the gazebo ran high up, precariously positioned on shaky posts made of old rock and damaged wood. So, Eddie tightened his straps and began the ascension. He ran his hands across the railing and felt the bumps and notches where the scars of aging proved deep. The stairs he traversed up to the patio were gone and were replaced by stone slabs that protruded like unkempt teeth. It gave the impression that few people cared to give the gazebo an annual checkup.
Entering the gazebo, Eddie found the worn benches he had seen before and the carefully carved wood posts that held the roof up. Architecturally, it was somewhere between a Michelangelo and an episode of “This Old House” with Bob Vila. The absurdity of the universe came back to Eddie as he was assailed by the word “FUCK” painted on the ceiling of the gazebo like an extremely vulgar attempt at the Sistine Chapel. On the floor, the word “SLUT” was scrawled in monstrous red letters next to the word “ASS” and “BITCH.” The primal motivation behind writing those words made Eddie smile, for while the universe was absurd—it certainly had a twisted sense of humor.
From his backpack he produced a single cigarette and lit it with a match from his matchbox. Wind chimed in the heavens, clashing branches together, which caused a great ache in an oak tree in front of the gazebo. This was an ache Eddie he knew all too well, as each hour was a new rock in his pocket, each day was a new stone on his back, and each week a new boulder on his head. His body wouldn’t hold under the pressure forever. He leaned against one of the posts under the awning and let his eyes wander the trees. Sugar maple, hemlock, basswood, and yellow birch all angled themselves in the mud and soil, parted by streams and weeds and their fell brethren. He coughed and spat as he put out his cigarette and the ugliness of his actions made him evoke the absurdity again. Making sense out of existence was difficult enough, but a healthy heap of paradoxical juxtaposition was crippling.
He began to notices the nests at that point, which were formed on the crooks of the shorter, younger trees. White stringy things, like skin pulled too taught over a wound, and inside the blackness of life lingered, moving slowly on the surface but slower in the center where the worms huddled together before the great outpouring that would no doubt feed their insatiable hunger. Eddie’s father used to burn them with a torch and lighter fluid at the family home where the trees grew dense and worms borne too many. Sometimes he thought he could hear them scream as the flames burnt them in a rage of heat and light as their lives were cut short. Sometimes the universe didn’t even give you a chance.
After the passing of his father, the world had changed, but some things stayed the same. Everything moved on regardless. The gazebo had always been here for as long as he could remember and he journeyed to see it often. Always new words appeared and new cracks formed but it remained where it had been planted, like the trees and like himself somewhat. Each one standing as tall as it could until the years made them slouch, until the weather made them bend, until the universe made them yield. Perhaps one day the gazebo, much like the trees, would simply topple over, unable to stand anymore and bear it just as his father had crumpled under the stress. This was Eddie’s theme and the stones in his pockets grew heavier and the universe more absurd. Futility and nonsense and a world plagued by the desperate ache of pain was a gift of sorts, but Eddie couldn’t send it back because there was no receipt and he could not re-gift it because everybody already had one. No one had the fortitude to ask for two.
He left the gazebo and began making his way back home as a few droplets of rain fell on the leaves and dripped into the muddy soil; an ugly soil rich with nutrients but ugly nonetheless. Eddie joined the stream again at the junction where it forked and walked against it, the wind blowing toward him and he pushing on. Always pushing on unsatisfied with sadness but accepting of the absurdity. The rain fell harder as he climbed through the mud and trudged through dirt and stone. Even as he climbed a hill and walked home, the rain never stopped, but he was happy he had revisited the forest he had been to many times.