Before I dive in: I want to thank everyone who liked my facebook page today. It was the strongest growth in a day since I started the thing. Virtual high five, everyone.
Now, to the task at hand. Chuck Wendig put forth yet another intriguing flash fiction challenge: to write a horror story that is holiday themed in 2,000 words or less.
My first inclination was to write about the Elf on a Shelf, because that thing is creepy as hell (side note: all dolls are, but that’s a different post). But that was too easy. I’m not sure the end result is horrifying. I’ll leave you to decide.
Tinsel, Lights, and Spirits
“Okay, are you set?” I hold the saw against the tree trunk, ready to begin cutting.
“Yeah. Do it,” my wife says from the other side of the full pine. I can’t even see her boots through the thick branches.
I cut through the trunk, freeing the tree from it’s earthy anchor. Rebecca holds onto it, keeping it from falling to the ground. I grab the base, and we lift the tree parallel to the ground and trudge through the ankle-deep snow towards the truck.
“There. Now was that so bad?” I ask Rebecca. She’d reluctantly come with me to the forest to cut our Christmas tree; her plan was to buy a fake one at the craft store.
“I can’t feel my toes.”
I chuckle. “When we get back, we’ll turn on the heat full blast. Deal?”
She twists around and smirks at me. A strand of her black hair hangs out of her hat and brushes against her cheek. “I think you’re literally talking about turning on heat this time.”
I laugh again. I would argue with her, but she’s right. I’d made a point of enjoying as much of our new marriage as I possibly could. Any guy would, if he were married to someone so enchanting.
We get back to the truck and put the tree into the bed at an angle. It fits, but barely. Climbing into the cab, Rebecca cranks up the heat as soon as I have the engine started.
As we drive home, the tree branches scratch at the window behind our heads.
“Maybe we should have kept it away from the window,” Rebecca says.
“I thought we did.” At a red light, I twist around. The branches cover most of the window, something I would have noticed in the rear-view mirror had it not broken off a few weeks ago. “I don’t know. If I cared about the tree scratching the truck, I would have put a tarp under it. This isn’t exactly a luxury vehicle.”
Though we’re stopped, the scratching continues.
“Must be windy,” I say.
Back at the house, I quickly set up the tree stand and place our find into it. I’d been dying to get a tree from the forest since we moved to Montana; our previous Los Angeles home didn’t offer such luxuries. When I was a kid, my dad took us out every year to cut down our own tree. Continuing the tradition seemed obvious to me, once I learned my job was moving us to a mountainous state.
I tighten the screws that secure the tree into the stand, moving from one screw to the next until the tree is straight. I turn each screw one more time to make sure the tree is secure, and something scratches the back of my neck.
“Hey!” I bat at it, expecting to make contact with Rebecca. She likes to sneak up behind me and mess with me. But my hand only meets a tree branch.
I turn around. Rebecca isn’t in the room.
I run my hand over the back of my neck, still feeling the scratch and checking for blood.
Rebecca opens the door to the garage and joins me in the family room. She’s holding a large cardboard box, almost too big for her to carry.
She plops the box on the ground and digs through it. Without looking up, she hands me the items she finds. Ornaments. Packages of tinsel. A strand of tangled lights. I have to set the things on the couch when they become too many to hold.
We spend the evening decorating, and when we finish, we turn off the room lights to admire our work.
I take Rebecca in my arms, glancing at her before gazing back at the tree. “So what do you think? Was it worth it?”
She elbows me. “Yeah. The forest wasn’t so bad.” She twists around to look up at me, and my lips find hers. We end up on the floor, celebrating our new marriage and our first Christmas tree outing at the same time.
“Ow! What the hell?”
Rebecca’s voice pulls me from my sleep. I lift onto my elbow, looking over her and towards the tree. We’d fallen asleep in the blankets we’d set on the floor; now, the morning sun spill through the window.
She’s reaching and twisting around, like she’s trying to see her naked back.
I put my hand on her arm. “Turn over.”
She does, and I gasp.
Long, inflamed scratches run from her shoulder to her hip. The one in the middle is especially pronounced. They are fresh, bleeding.
“What happened to you?” I touch the sides of the scratches, trying to believe what I’m seeing. What would do this?
“I think it was the tree.”
I scowl. “That’s kind of ridiculous, don’t you think?” I stand up and walk to the bathroom. “I’ll get something to clean those up.”
“All right, so what do you think caused them?” she shouts to me as I wet a washcloth.
I don’t have an answer.
During that day, Rebecca seems reluctant to go into the family room and when she does, she sticks to the far wall, far from the tree.
I can’t help but chuckle. “Don’t you think you’re being silly? We were naked under the thing. You probably just scooted against the branches.”
“The scratches still sting.”
I shake my head.
We spend that night in our bed, safe from the offending piece of nature. Rebecca flinches when I touch her back.
I’ve been scratched by branches in the forest. Just brushing against them creates a mild injury, barely noticeable ten minutes later. Rebecca’s scratches are different. They’re deep, like someone wanted to hurt her.
But she was just under a Christmas tree.
The next morning, after I fix a cup of coffee, I make my way to the family room. I glance at the tree and drop my cup, spilling hot coffee on my bare feet.
“Ow!” I hop around for a few seconds until the burning stops, then take a closer look at the tree.
The ornaments aren’t where Rebecca and I placed them. They’re all in the middle of the tree, forming two letters: C D.
The lights have moved too. Instead of being strung evenly around the branches, as I had arranged them, they’re gathered at the top and hanging from the top of the star. They almost look like…a noose?
An hour later, we’re back in the truck with the still-decorated tree in the back.
“Where are we taking it?” She’s nearly yelling as she asks.
“I don’t know. Anywhere but our house.”
“If it’s haunted, should we find out why?”
I glare at her before looking back at the street. “Find out why? No, my first thought was to call a Catholic and perform an exorcism.”
She slugs my arm. “I’m serious. Let’s go back to where we found it. Or talk to someone in the area. Maybe something happened that can explain this.”
We stop in the small town near the place we’d cut the tree. It feels ridiculous, but so is a tree that rearranges its own ornaments and lights.
“Well, I can tell you a girl went missing about twenty years ago. Nice girl. Name was Jessica. She was sixteen at the time. We all thought she ran off with that new boy. What was his name?” The old man scrunches his eyebrows and scratches his stubble. We found him at the small general store in the town. He said he lived in the town his whole life.
After a few more seconds of jaw scratching, I ask, “Did the boy’s name have something to do with C D?”
“C D,” he whispers. “Claude, Kyle…” He sighs, then looks like an idea hit him right in the forehead. “Clyde! Clyde Davis! He moved here with his family about five months before Jessica disappeared. Her poor family never believed she just ran off. Sad story.” He shakes his head. “They moved away a couple years later, after they were sure she wasn’t coming back. She never tried to make contact.”
“All right.” I shake the man’s hand. “Thanks for your time.”
Rebecca follows me to the truck. “How did that help us?”
I look at the tree. “Jessica?”
The tree doesn’t move.
I climb into the truck cab. “Let’s take it back to the site. Is the ground too cold to dig?”
“Wanna try anyway?”
We don’t have to say what we were digging for.
We carry the tree back to the place we’d cut it and set it on the ground about ten feet from the stump. With shovels in hand, we hack away at the ground for twenty minutes before I look up. We’d barely made a dent in the soil.
I lean against my shovel and survey the land.
“Rebecca…” I keep my eyes glued on the tree.
“What?” She stops digging and looks up. “Oh my God. The tree moved.”
It had. About four feet from where we’d left it, four feet away from the stump. There’s an obvious trail in the snow, littered with pine needles.
“I think Jessica wants us to dig there,” I say.
“You have a better idea?”
She shifts on her feet. “Maybe we should call the cops.”
“Sure, because that wouldn’t make us sound crazy at all. ‘Our Christmas tree is harboring the spirit of a sixteen-year-old girl. She says Clyde Davis killed her.'”
She scowls and stomps towards the tree. When she reaches it, she pulls it from its spot and clears the snow from the ground.
I join her, and like we had done in around the stump, we dig. It’s easier here, I think because there aren’t roots to tie up the soil.
After an hour, Rebecca stops me from digging. “Tim. Look.” She’s crouched and holding something that sticks out of the ground.
I squat to get a closer look. Rebecca’s holding what looks like strands. Clearing away more dirt allows me to positively identify the item.
It’s a rope.
Rebecca screams and jumps to her feet. “We’re leaving.”
“What? We can’t leave. Don’t you want to see what else is here?”
“Like what? A body? No, I don’t really-“
She falls to her stomach when the tree rolls up behind her. It covers her.
“Tim! It’s pressing into me!”
I rush to her. “Jessica! Let her go!”
Rebecca screams. “Dig! You have to dig! She’s crushing me!”
My heart is pounding. I try to lift the tree, but I can’t. It feels like it weighs a thousand pounds.
Was my Christmas tree trying to crush my wife to death?
I didn’t take the time to think about it. Returning to the hole, I dig furiously. The cold earth doesn’t want to yield, but I continue. For hours.
Eventually, I find something. A bone, about a foot long. Maybe an arm bone.
I sit back, dehydrated and exhausted. “Rebecca. I found her.”
She doesn’t respond.
I stumble to her and easily roll the tree away from her. She’s unconscious.
Just as I’m about to find a pulse, the tree knocks me down. It’s covering me – crushing me – like it had done to Rebecca. “Jessica. Stop.”
As I lose consciousness, I sense a gritty whisper, but not with my ears. I feel it in my soul.
“My name is Clyde.”