Mom slid to the edge of the couch and rocked back in forth several times. Before I could help, she gained enough momentum and heaved herself to her feet. “If you must. I’m telling you they aren’t going to find anything wrong with them trees. I’ll fix a sandwich for you and another for your friend. Alex, right?”
I nodded and she shuffled off to the kitchen. It would be pointlessly to protest. I’d take the sandwiches whether either of us wanted them.
While she was in the kitchen, I dialed Alex. No answer and the voice mail was full. I texted a message asking to see the unburnt trees.
Next, I opened a browser and typed ‘miracle trees’. The first links that popped up had headlines of ‘Flame Retardant Trees Defy Logic’, ‘Are the Miracle Trees Holograms’, and ‘Are Those Artificial Trees’. Further down the page, ads for plants and trees with ‘miracle’ as part of their name appeared.
Mom shuffled in with two foil wrapped packets. I opened his mouth, but stopped short of saying anything. “You don’t want them to burn up, do you?” She cackled; my eyebrow reflexively raised. “It’s so you can warm them up on the hot coals on the forest floor.”
“Thanks, but I’m not going to get that close to the fires,” I chuckled, taking the sandwiches. I kissed her cheek like I did each morning before catching the school bus.
I tossed the sandwiches into the passenger seat of the SUV, waving to Mom as I pulled out of the driveway. I wound my way through town, to check out the old neighborhood. Normally, I avoided nostalgia and would go straight to Mom’s and only wandered into town if she needed something from the store. The phone chimed and the automated voice read off the message.
‘No clearance. No entry.’
I frowned and pulled over on the shoulder. That didn’t sound like a response Alex would give. Why did he answer like that? My stomach had been hungry, but now it felt tight.
‘Are you okay?’ I texted back. While waiting for a reply, I scrolled through the links about the trees. A video with a headline claiming the trees were indestructible came into view. I tapped the link.
The person filming did no talking as they scurried towards the backside of a black Rover and hid behind it. A chainsaw roared in the distance. The shaky footage panned around the vehicle and towards a small clump of unburnt trees in the distance. Between the camera and the trees were a number of vehicles and people.
A voice whispered, “They can’t get a sample from the ‘miracle’ trees. They’ve tried for the past three days. The chainsaws overheat before they can even make a mark. Someone talked of getting a laser.”
The footage became a chaotic, seasick-inducing jumble. Scuffling. A muffled, “Give that back.” A loud smack and thud. Then the video ended.
They’re clearly not holograms.
The phone chimed with a reply from Alex. ‘I’m fine. Can’t talk.’
I stared until the screen darkened. If I go up there, I might end up in the same kind of trouble as the person that made the video. The foil on the sandwiches glinted in the sun triggering an idea. I put the SUV into gear and drove towards the BWCA.
At the border where the fire had been stopped, there was fencing and a gate. One patrol car and officer were in front of the gate with two additional cars and more officers beyond it. One of them approached as I slowed to a stop.
“Sorry, the road is closed. Need you to turn around.”
Putting on my best I’m-just-a-country-boy-look I said, “Sir, I’m just bringing a sandwich up for my friend, Alex. He works in there.” I held up a foil wrapped sandwich.
“We’re ensure your friend is getting his meals. We have a lot of work to do. It isn’t safe for you to be here,” said the officer.
“You sure there’s no way I can say ‘howdy’ to him? I don’t get to see my classmate, very often. Drove in from two hours away and been staying with my mom because I knew she wouldn’t leave, even if she was told to. I was afraid I might have to carry her out.”
“Look, bud, I know you mean well, but you need to leave. Now.”
“All right, guess I’ll have to eat both of these unless you want one.” I held a sandwich out the window.
The officer shook his head and pointed to the road. Giving him a goofy smile, I put the SUV into gear. Then made a U-turn, waved, and drove away.
They’re definitely hiding something.