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The Woodcutter by Christian James

Campbell was a man of few words. He was a tall, foreboding figure that favored his left hand. Throughout his life, others looked at him with a disdain that transcended the fact that he was a slave, and an overly clumsy individual. Both his master and the other slaves in their homes disliked him for his grotesque face and gnarled arms and hands. The doctor had written off the deformity as a birth defect, but that did not stop everyone around Campbell from giving him a wide berth.

However, what the man lacked in charm or beauty, he made up for in strength and in diligence. His master at an early age put him to work in the boiler room, assigning Campbell to keeping the fires stocked and well stoked with a healthy stream of chopped wood. The massive furnace was a gluttonous and demanding device, one that kept Campbell away for most of the day, chopping and splitting wood for his master’s needs.

“After all, if it wasn’t for your hard work, the master’s bath would be cold,” the others would say, for they were well aware of the endless hours that the poor, wretched man would spend chopping wood for that infernal machine… all so that the masters could lavish themselves with the spoiled comfort of the upper crust of society.


One cold and harsh winter day, Campbell had fallen ill with a terrible cold and could not chop wood to heat the boiler. The other servants and slaves tried to make up the work but were unable to make up the difference. So when the pompous master of the house arose early in the morning to find his bath was merely lukewarm, he stormed to the servants’ quarters and demanded the reason for the heinous depravity of his workers’ laziness in performing their duties. Fearing their master’s wrath, the servants blamed the slave Campbell.

Aghast at his lack of duty and laziness, his cruel master had Campbell taken from his cot and whipped mercilessly before demanding him to return to work. With an iron will that few men could understand, the beaten and tortured man returned to his station after the flogging, hardly able to move. With every breath a shaking and rattling sounded from his stricken lungs, his open wounds freely bleeding, yet the stubborn slave worked on, every swing of his well-trained axe cleaving the portly stumps of wood in two chops.

As soon as one was severed, another would take its place as the axe came down – chop.

The other servants watched with fear and pity as they hurried to and fro doing their assignments, yet they dared not stop him, for the fire in Campbell’s eyes was like death itself. Rage and anger creased the lines on his decrepit face, as deep and gnarled as the bark of the wood he so maliciously split – Chop. Chop. Chop.

When evening came and the other servants and slaves prepared the evening meal, served it, and ate themselves, Campbell continued his methodical work. None of them dared to stop him as he worked on and on, chopping away the logs and tossing them into the ever-growing pile.

The master of the house was just preparing himself for bed, and had stepped into his bedchamber, when he noticed the rhythmic chopping sound.

“Blasted Campbell, is that witless slave still at it?” he grumbled to himself. He ordered one of his servants to go down and to stop the man. But the sound still persisted – Chop, Chop, Chop. Again he sent another servant down and again, the noise persisted.

Frustrated, the master hefted his girth from his cushioned bed, and marched down to the cellar. “Confound it, Campbell, and that infernal racket you’re making!” he snarled as he descended the stairs with his flogging whip in hand. “For Pete’s sake, enough with the…” Chop. The axe head once more descended, but it was not the wood that it split. It was not the melted snow from outside that pooled upon the floor at the foot of the chopping block. It was not wood that was stacked upon the pile, ready to be burned in the furnace.

“Dear God, man, what have you done?”

Campbell raised his axe and was about to swing it once more, but stopped upon hearing the voice of his master. He slowly turned, the firelight from the boiler casting dark and terrible shadows upon his face. “Why master, I’m readying the boiler for your next bath.”

“You deranged lunatic! I’ll have you beheaded for this cold-blooded murder!”

Campbell only smiled, a wicked grin made all the more deranged by his broken teeth. “But master, I haven’t chopped enough wood.”