Off it came. Off, right like that, plucked off the earth like a hundred year old daisy. The Giant yanked up the old tree right there, right in the middle of town, right in front of everyone. The ground lifted and split and up came the roots with an ancient soil that rinsed off onto the street. The crowd of people resounded with an arching “Ohhh” before the Giant raised the tree towards his mouth. He bit down on a branch like a brontosaurus, tasting and gnashing the twigs and leaves but then quickly realized ‘no, I should not be eating trees’ and spat with a toddler’s vehemence. The Giant held the massive oak by the trunk and shook it and out came several squirrels and birds that crawled and flew all around his colossal frame, scaring and tickling him equally.
“He doesn’t know what he’s done!” one old man said. “He’s always yanking on things before thinkin’ what they’re attached to.” This thing happened to be attached to the earth, attached to the past, attached to the town in a way the Giant didn’t know, or at least didn’t think about, before plucking it from the hearts and minds of the residents of Ripple Spring, Maine, in this November of 1894.
No one knew what had gone through the Giant’s mind but everyone in town suspected that nothing, nothing went through his mind. He just did it. Just like he always does everything: without any consideration for others. Like the time he went around eating all the deer. He just did it. He just ate all the deer in town. And no one could stop him, because by the time Mary Sampson found him devouring a doe in her backyard, he’d already eaten thirty others. All anyone could say was, “Oh, come on! Now there’s no more deer to look at!” And then they went back to their business jaws clenched, hate brewing.
But the Giant was part of the town, a legal resident. Their oldest resident. Older than the tree, at two hundred twenty-four. And so they put up with the deer incident and all those like them. But this. This was the oak – the Ripple Spring scarlet oak! – smack in the middle of town. This was the tree that turned so vibrantly red in October that from afar you’d think some sacrifice had hovered over it the night before. “More beautiful than blood” the townsfolk would say as they admired it from the tobacconist across the street. And now it was gone. Its life ripped away by some living monument, this Giant, this bumbling piece of bothersome history. How could they put up with this? They couldn’t.
“You’d think he’d have a larger brain, what with that massive body.”
“Yah, you’d think,” all the drinkers at the Cavanaugh Tavern echoed as they sipped their Narragansett ale with squinty and plotting fervor.
“But he’s only massive.”
“Massive and stupid.”
“I’ve always said, ‘There’s nothing worse than someone that’s large and ignorant.’”
“Mmm,” the others agreed.
“Sure he’s been here the longest, and he is one of the last ones – thank God – but why should we put up with this behavior. It’s just reckless. I don’t give a damn if he is a historical landmark: I’d be hanged if I went around eatin’ all the deer, rippin’ up trees, sittin’ on funeral homes.”
“He’s worse than a Massachusettian,” Dick slurred.
“Yah!” they all yelled.
The front door swung open and in came Charlie Franklin and the noise fell and the hearth crackled, caught in the aim of the outer gusts. Charlie had lost an arm fighting at Chancellorsville and had been mostly quiet since. He and his wife Anna lived on a farm just outside town and if he’d known the men’s topic of conversation for that evening he might’ve stayed home. But he was there now so he bellied up without a word to the others.
“Can you believe it Charlie, he’s gone and – hey Charlie, I says can you believe it: he’s ripped up the oak!” said Dick.
“Ah,” Charlie mumbled, “I’m sure he didn’t know any better.”
“You oughtn’t take his side, Charlie. Sympathy is cruel if not matched with Consequence.”
“Well… it’s not like he’s killed anybody.”
The others paused. Charlie was right. The Giant hadn’t killed anybody. He’d only destroyed the town a little. Compared to having the last Giant in the state, a little destruction was surely something to put up with, Charlie thought.
A young wayfaring transcendentalist, who wore a bright green vest and was drinking alone in the corner, suddenly stood up and discovered he was drunk and quickly stumbled outside at a near gallop, as if he suddenly realized he had somewhere better to be. He ran up the road and then veered into the woods as if to escape society into the fold of nature’s bosom. The others jeered the transcendentalist – as they did all of them up there, for good measure – and got back to the business of the Giant.
Charlie sat and quietly listened as the others continued to complain with growing contempt. He gulped the last fourth of his beer and slid on his coat with some awkward extension of his only arm and slung it like a matador around his back and put on his hat and walked out the door and the hearth crackled and the others drank more.
“Well maybe Charlie’s right. He hasn’t really hurt anybody.”
“And even if he had… they’re not gonna lock him up. He’s too big!”
“We’re stuck with him.”
An avalanche of vituperation began to trickle in their brains. They all sat and licked the foam from their lips, a little more hunched than usual, and a quiet befell the bar that felt louder than any noise.
“Well… What say ye we do something?”
Their eyes moved. Their heads didn’t.
“Well… what? What do you think we oughta do?”
Suddenly the front door swung open and slammed against the wall as Charlie Franklin backed in without breath and without voice dragging with his only arm some cumbersome limp and muddy thing that appeared to be a person.
“God, Charlie, what’s this!?”
“I didn’t even see him. He ran in front of the carriage. Just out of nowhere.”
It was the transcendentalist. His sternum was collapsed, crushed under the wreck. They all huddled around. One man crouched down and examined his pulse and opened his green vest to find less than he had hoped and then put his hand on the transcendentalist’s forehead and exclaimed, “He’s dead, Charlie.” And opportunity rang before bereavement.
It was as if fate dropped into their beer mugs and they stared at it as it swirled into some cruel divination, which they imbibed with the relish of a cup everlasting. Here’s to Opportunity. Here’s to Recompense. Here’s to the chance for Ripple Spring to at last be free from its primordial, clumsy Colossus.
“Now… We don’t know this poor young man. Nobody knows him. But I’ll say this…” Dick exclaimed, with the index finger of a politician. “This looks like the work of a Giant.” Dick pushed back his shoulders, his eyes stony, his mouth resolute, with the confidence of Satan himself. “Wouldn’t you say?”
“What?” Charlie asked. “No, this man ran in front of my horse, this isn’t–”
“Yah,” a fat man interrupted. “I think you’re right, Dick. In fact before I was here I think I heard that Giant stomping down that very road.”
“Yah,” a few others agreed.
“Just look at his chest! Sure, that’s the work of a Giant, then.”
“Well, then we need to find him!” said Dick. “He won’t get away with this, men.”
“Now listen, this isn’t right,” said Charlie. “I’m tellin’ you: he was struck by my horse.”
But it was too late. The men shouted at Charlie to hush up and think of the town and if he didn’t want any trouble himself he’d stay out of this. They pushed Charlie aside and stepped over the transcendentalist and ran into the town screaming murder and indiscretion and beckoning others to join their bitter scission. On Main Street, windows lit up in near rhythmic succession, accompanied by excitable eyes and such a cacophonous sounding of rumors that even the cows began to low of legends. Charlie watched their gathering storm, as their ten became twenty, and soon their twenty, fifty.
And then, amidst the melee, came a rumbling that only Charlie heard. In a giantless town you’d think it was a far off thunder, but this wasn’t that. Another succession of soft booms sounded, the growing and noisy crowd still unaware. Boom, they sounded again, and soon after became felt. Charlie looked out across the trees, whose moonlit tops rustled and spread. The Giant had awoken, made curious by the worst curiosity, and was walking towards the town perhaps expecting some better festivity. Soon one little girl looked at Charlie and saw what Charlie was seeing. “Look! In the woods!” she screamed. “It’s the Giant!” Charlie quickly unhitched his carriage and mounted his horse and galloped out into the woods, as the little girl watched him and then ran off to her half-drunk father, Dick.
As Charlie rode, the terrifying adrenaline of a veteran’s valor was resurrected in his soul. He felt transported back to their cavalry’s retreat at Fredericksburg, where once before he rode away from the same hyena-like yapping of a rebel yell. He missed the weight of that history, violent as it was. For a second he thought he felt a muscle in his phantom arm before being brought back to reality, where he was charging a Giant.
He met the Giant and halted the horse and the horse stamped and whinnied with wide eyes as it sidled at the feet of a less graceful beast. Charlie raised his one arm and yelled, “STOP… YOU NEED TO COME WITH ME. YOU NEED TO BE PROTECTED. DO YOU UNDERSTAND?” The stupid Giant didn’t understand, but he followed Charlie anyway because he was hungry and the horse looked good.
Charlie led him through the woods and across the plain to his farm and then dismounted his horse. He opened the doors to his barn and then turned around to find that the Giant had eaten his horse. Charlie yelled, “Ohhh, dammit. Now don’t! If you’re hungry I’ll give you some food, but you can’t eat my animals. Now, get in the barn.” The Giant hunched down and entered the barn and sat on the ground as roosters fled from his crushing haunches.
Charlie got a bucket of oats and brought it to the Giant. “Here. You can eat this.” But the Giant didn’t. “I’m trying to protect you. I’m risking my life for you, you hear?” Charlie said, looking into the Giant’s cavernous nostrils. The Giant breathed out his nose with childlike diffidence.
Charlie climbed to the top of a stack of hay and met the Giant at eye level. “People don’t like you. Do you know that? You can’t go around pullin’ up trees or eatin’ whatever you want. You can’t do that. People don’t care that you’re a part of history. Not anymore they don’t. You’ve gotta be worth somethin’ to them. And right now, you’re not. You’re worthless. But if you were a little less stupid, people might change their minds. They might want to get to know you. They might ask about who you are, what this place used to be like. Understand? DO YOU UNDERSTAND?” The Giant vapidly nodded his head in apparent affirmation, but it was unclear if this communication breakthrough was mere coincidence or truly a step forward in reconciliation. Charlie took it as the latter.
“Now look, I brought you these oats, you can eat these oats. See? Eat. They’re good.” Charlie put a few oats in his mouth and chewed them, and the Giant, now eye to eye with Charlie, appeared to start to grin. “You can eat them.” He reached a handful of oats towards the smiling mouth of the Giant. “Open your mouth and eat. I’m trying to take care of you. I’m trying to protect you. Eat.” The Giant opened his mouth and before Charlie could pull away the Giant quickly chomped down on Charlie’s arm, severing it at the shoulder. Charlie screamed and fell backwards and his armless body toppled to the ground and dyed the hay before he passed out at the feet of the Giant.
The barn was still. The Giant gazed at nothing with bovine daftness as Charlie’s bicep dangled from his lips. He peered out the opened barn door. Off in the distance he saw a collection of fired torches, hurriedly bopping towards him on the plain. Under the flames came a hollering chorus of voices. It rushed forward and away from the past with a recklessness that saw only Tomorrow and knew only Now. The torches advanced like savage rockets. The old Giant turned his massive head to listen to the rising clamor, and for the first time, dread befell him, and his ears perked from the venom of their sound. Charlie’s body lay helpless in a spreading pool of scarlet, as the oncoming voices mounted in the darkness, calling for the Giant, chanting “justice… justice… justice.”