There is a visual suggestion. Not much more than an unexpected movement of the air, a fluttering in the corner of his eye.
Perhaps not even that—it was more like a barky whisper as he strode past the old tree on his left, a gentle tap on his shoulder that didn’t register for a few more steps: words, it said, words carved here in this bark.
At that he stopped and turned. He looked back, then up; took the tree in. An oak it was, old and grand and mum, as if denying having said any such thing.
Trevor retraced his last few steps, then faced the tree again, scrutinized it: the somber trunk, thick and grey and brownly furrowed; no words though. He stepped back a little, looked again, tried to envision the spot that had spoken, as if it had, still no words. He approached the tree again and looked closer. Then he shook his head: no, there was nothing, though he could have sworn.
But as he straightened and turned to go, there it was again, the same whisper, peripherally: yes, definitely something—what was that?
Again he faced it, and again, nothing.
Now he stepped all the way up to the tree, close enough to touch it, scanning it closely for letters. He touched it now, still nothing. He took two steps back to get a different view, scanned the bark again, probed it with his eyes, in depth, asking it to give it up. No, no, still nothing. Strange illusion, though, for he could have sworn.
Looking away now: and there again, letters. Or what very well could be, or at one time could have been, letters. This time he did not shift his gaze back to the tree, instead he held the spot firmly at the edge of sight, and only when he was certain of the spot, he once again approached the stocky trunk, and now, yes, yes, he finally saw them, letters. He placed his finger on what seemed the first of several obscured by bark, buried by years and years.
But now he could see it, as if the tree (having thought things over) had finally given its consent.
The first of four, it struck him like an old wound, a welt, buried within and under many seasons of subsequent bark. He traced it carefully with his finger, the bark as rough as sandpaper under its tip. A vertical line it was, which then, at the bottom, angled to the right, half again the distance.
An L, then.
He looked closer, searched the fine crevices of the miniature landscape, and in the depth of it—underneath both ridge and valley—he saw the foot of the L quite distinctly now. Yes. An L it was. The stem clear enough, now that he knew what he was looking for—or how to look for it, rather, how deeply—and there, yes, the foot.
An L-shaped scar, well camouflaged, but definitely an L. Faintly, as if it had once grown itself into young brown tree-skin, then thought better of it and done its best to vanish.
He stepped back again, farther this time, again taking in all of the tree, all seventy feet of it—at least—soaring above him into an overcast sky still mumbling about rain. It must be ancient. He took in the massive lower branches, giant arms carved as if in rock. Ancient, he thought again. He looked back for the L. For an instant—faintly tinged by panic—he could not find it, but no, there it was. And so were the other letters. He stepped closer again, to about an arm’s length, the right distance, the right depth. Looked. The second letter was a D.
Or an O.