Bob stood at the edge of a field of dead grass. The grass was short and manicured with trimmed edges and a dirt track surrounding it. The field was round with a young oak tree in the center. In the field, trotting around the tree, was a black horse with strong muscles that rippled with impact. It went around tree endlessly, around and around and around.
“You only see it when you pay attention,” said a voice.
Bob turned and saw his father standing off to the side. He was tall and thin and had a raven’s head instead of his own. The beak was long and chipped at the end. His father turned large cranks that drove rusty gears which in turn moved the clouds across the gray sky. Bob watched the clouds pulse forward and slow, pulse forward and slow, as his father struggled to turn the crank.
“It looks slow, but it goes quickly, doesn’t it?” his father asked.
“It does,” said Bob.
“How’s your mother these days?” his father asked.
“She’s dead. Still dead.” Bob felt an uneasiness pass over him as the dust from the pounding hooves drifted up into the still air and the clouds lurched by in the background.
“That figures,” his father said. He pecked his beak on a granite boulder beside him, and Bob saw that his father was chained to it.
“How long do you have to stay?” Bob asked.
The raven head slowly shook from side to side. “Forever.”
Bob looked out into the field and saw that the horse was gone. A man walked toward the young oak, its leaves lush and green and the only thing in sight that showed life. The man was old and hunched over and drug a heavy axe behind him. The clouds pulsed by him in the background as he inched his way toward the tree.
“He’ll get there,” Bob’s father said.
“Yeah, I know,” said Bob.
And the old man did. He reached the tree and rested his palm on its side. Bob could hear the calloused skin scraping against thin bark. They made eye contact then, and Bob was afraid. He was afraid for himself and for the tree, and he didn’t want to see those eyes. But the eyes were kind and blue, and the man simply shrugged. “It comes for me, it comes for you,” he said in nothing more than a whisper. Then he lifted the axe and gave a struggled tap to the side of the tree.
Bob could barely tell if the tree had been wounded.
“He’ll get it down,” Bob’s father said. “He always does.”
“Yeah, I know,” said Bob.
“It goes fast, Bob,” his father said.
“I know, Dad. I know.”
The man labored at the tree, and Bob could see the first layer of bark beginning to peel back. His father continued to turn the crank, and the clouds continued to lurch. “It looks slow, but it goes quickly,” his father said. The raven’s head pecked at the boulder again. The beak chipped, and the small piece that went flying struck Bob on the cheek.
And then Bob awoke.