Some people would find the idea of sitting in a van eating a packed lunch in the middle of a graveyard an eerie thing but, after three days of doing just that, Glenys had got over the strangeness of it.
As she sat, huddled on the bench-seat next to her husband, John, she stared out of the windscreen, and noticed a bright yellow van just parking in the lane besides the low stone wall that bounded the graveyard. It looked like an old postal van, and she nudged John gently to get his attention, then nodded out of the window, indicating her interest.
As she did, a very short, rather scrawny man, wearing greasy-looking overalls, wellington boots, thick-lensed, horn-rimmed glasses, and a cloth cap which covered overly-long, unkempt hair, got out of the driver’s side. He walked to the back of the van and opened it, and then lifted out the largest, dirtiest, and most dilapidated chainsaw she’d ever seen.
‘What on earth . . .’ John sounded both amazed, and amused, at the sight of the saw. ‘I can’t believe he’s even going to attempt to use that old DanArm . . .,’ he said in a disbelieving undertone.
They sat, watching intently, as the man hauled the chainsaw through the Lych-gate just ahead of his parked van, and then went directly to the huge old Sycamore tree that stood parallel to the van, on the other side of the wall.
After the big storm a few days previously, the local pastor had hired them to work on the trees in the graveyard. The Sycamore was one they had planned to do something about the next day, after they’d cleared more immediately dangerous tree work. Lightening had split the trunk almost a third of the way down and, while in no immediate danger of splitting the rest of the way, it was still in need of careful dismantling, before it could become a danger.
‘What’s he doing there?’ Glenys asked John. ‘I thought we were going to be dealing with it?’
‘Sorry, love. I should have told you. Hugh phoned last night to say he’d promised the tree to one of his parishioners, and that the man – a Mr Horricks – had his own saw, and would deal with it. I’d forgotten all about it until I saw him.’ He nodded towards the figure, who was now carrying a petrol can taken from the van, along with a miscellaneous armful of tools, that he then dumped a few feet away from the tree.
‘He reminds me of Mr Magoo from the cartoons!’ Glenys giggled. After John gave a quick snort of laughter, there was silence in the van as they sat watching the strange little man bustle about his business.
‘Should we offer a hand?’ Glenys asked, through a mouthful of sandwich.
‘I don’t think so,’ said John, thoughtfully. ‘It doesn’t do to encroach on another Feller’s turf, unless asked. But it won’t hurt to keep an eye out, in case of need, especially as we’re just sat here eating anyway!’
They continued to watch, chewing slowly on their sandwiches, as Mr Horricks set up his equipment ready to deal with the tree. John kept muttering under his breath at the way the man was dealing with his tools and, even from the van, they could see the shoddiness of them all.
‘John, if you’re worried, don’t you think you should go out there and offer to help?’ Glenys was getting fed up of listening to the drone of John’s muttered complaints, and wanted him to either stop, or do something about it.
‘I’ll just see how he’s going to set up for dismantling the tree,’ he said. ‘If I see he’s not doing it safely, then I’ll go out there, okay?
‘Yes,’ said Glenys, feeling relieved. ‘ I’d feel better about things, love because, to be honest, he doesn’t look very competent, does he?’
‘According to Hugh, he’s been in the felling business for years so, as he’s still alive and in one piece, he can’t be too bad!’ John shook his head in disbelief, as he watched how the man was attempting to start his saw. ‘Although, watching him now, I do wonder just how he’s survived this long.’
Before either of them could move, the chainsaw roared into life and, before they had drawn their next breath, Mr Horricks had swung it around and, without a pause to don safety gear, or to create a directional wedge, held it at almost chest-height, against the trunk of the tree, and started to cut.
‘Bloody hell . . .’ John flung his sandwich onto Glenys’ lap, then quickly grabbed for the door handle to open it and get out but, in those few seconds, he could see he was too late, and the saw had cut half-way through the trunk.
With the weight of the tree above, the lightening-wrought split that had weakened the trunk gave way and, to their horror, it suddenly started to plank and, with a sound like the scream of a banshee, the split rapidly grew larger. The planked end sprang upwards, and caught the chainsaw, spinning it out of the man’s hands, which then threw him across the grass in reaction. The chainsaw flew in a parabola that took it half-way across the graveyard, where it impacted against a large gravestone, cracking the stone clean in half, crumpling the side of the chainsaw, bending the bar, and snapping the chain in half, which then flew up in the air, and wrapped itself around the neck of a stone angel that guarded the tomb next to it.
The main bulk of the tree seemed to move in slow motion. It spun in a lazy half-circle, then toppled over the graveyard wall, and fell, with what seemed to the watchers an agonising slowness, upon the roof of the little yellow van. Once. Twice. Three times it bounced on the roof, and each impact forced the roof down more until, as the tree finally settled, there was a giant U-shape, into which the tree seemed to snuggle, like a plump old lady settling into a much-loved old mattress.
As all motion ceased in the graveyard, they sat still with shock. The swift violence of the events had taken barely seconds, but it seemed to them as if an hour had passed. Shaking himself out of the shock, John wrenched open the door of the van, then raced over to where Mr Horricks was lying on the ground. Glenys hurriedly grabbed their first-aid kit, and jumped out to join John, hoping against hope that the man was still alive.
As she reached them, she saw to her relief that Mr Horricks was still breathing, and that there was no sign of blood. She placed a stilling hand on John’s shoulder as he was about to help the fallen man sit up.
‘Don’t love, there might be internal injuries.’
‘There’s nothing wrong with me. Help me up!’ The gruff voice issuing from Mr Horricks was full of strength and vigour, and Glenys couldn’t believe that it came from this little – and very smelly, she noted – man. Showing no sign of any injury, he sat up quickly and, with barely a hand from John, was instantly on his feet, and brushing himself down.
‘Don’t you think you should be careful? There might be injuries that you’re not aware of!’ Glenys said, worriedly.
‘And don’t you realise you’ve just broken every rule in the book!’ John interjected angrily.
Totally ignoring them both, Mr Horricks immediately started walking back over to where the tree rested, balanced between the stone wall and his van. John and Glenys slowly followed him, both of them totally bemused by the man’s actions.
When they reached him, and saw just how much damage had been done to the van, they both winced in fellow feeling.
‘Have you got a turfer-winch in your van?’ Mr Horricks looked up at John, squinting with the sun in his eyes.
‘Yes, I have, but it’s certainly not man enough to move that tree!’
‘But I’ve got to move it. I need to drive the van home.’
John and Glenys stared at each other over the man’s head, both feeling an amused shock at the man’s blindness to the wreck of his van.
‘Look, I’m sorry mate, but your van’s a total write-off.’
‘Blast! That’s the third one this year!’ His words caused them to look incredulously at him.
‘All I can suggest, is that I fetch my friend Owen. He lives nearby, and owns a tractor with a winch that’s strong enough to shift the tree. We’ve got to do it before anyone gets hurt.’ John looked briefly at his watch. ‘It’s still lunch time, so I’m hoping Owen will be at home. I’ll just run over to his house and see, okay?’
‘ Okay,’ Mr Horricks agreed. ‘But I’m going to have to get back to my sheep, as they’re lambing. Once you’ve got your friend to clear this up, could you give me a lift back home?’
With that, he casually walked away from the disaster he’d caused, and then leaned against a convenient gravestone to await his lift.