The Perfect Christmas Tree

The Perfect Christmas Tree

Wendy and Jason were not happy. Well Wendy more than Jason; he was only six and too young to understand, whereas Wendy, at nine years and eighty-eight days was almost grown up. She had a reputation at school to uphold. However, five days until the big day, twenty-fifth of December, and they still had no Christmas tree and no decorations. Every one in her form had Christmas lights, Santas, snowmen and reindeer on display from the beginning of December.

“Don’t you celebrate Christmas?” they all asked her, and, “is your family too poor to have decorations?” Some had taken to calling her names like Li’l-Miss-No-Christmas. One boy had even offered to share with her a few of the chocolates he expected to receive, provided she didn’t take too many.

It had become an embarrassing situation. She had badgered her parents for almost three weeks without success. Not that it was so much her mother’s fault as father’s. He was the epitome of Mr. Scrooge from A Christmas Carol.

“Christmas is the twenty-fifth of December,” he said. “We decorate on Christmas Eve and not before. There’s too much of this, bombarding us with seasonal glitter the moment Halloween has passed. I’ll bring a tree home when I finish work.”

Jenny, his wife, was not so sure. Although the factory where he worked was due to close for the holiday at mid-day on the twenty-fourth, by the time he had consumed a few celebratory drinks with the lads on the shop floor, he would not be in fit state to buy a tree. “If you leave it so late Brian all the decent trees will be gone. They’ll only have rubbish left.”

“Don’t worry dear. I know where I can get the perfect Christmas tree. After the New Year, we can put it in the garden and then bring it in again for next year.”

Brian was adamant and nothing would sway his resolve.

* * *

With Christmas Day falling on a Thursday this year, the children finished school the Friday before, which left them a weekend and three days of fidget and worry. On the Monday, they brought the box of decorations down from the attic where they had been stored since the previous year. They took out the shiny ornaments and polished them until they gleamed, and then cajoled Jenny into a trip to the supermarket to replace two that had inexplicably gotten broken at some time through the storage period. She also bought for them a selection of chocolate treats to hang from the branches of the ‘perfect Christmas tree’ when it arrived.

With cards that had arrived from friends and relatives displayed on mantelpiece, sideboard and bookshelves, the house began to take on a semblance of the festive season. Television and radio were too, making the most of the period with a plethora of music, advertising jingles and trailers for the coming Christmas shows.

Then dad came home from work with a headache, and childhood laughter had to be reduced to an inaudible level. Wendy was almost relieved as bedtime approached.

Tuesday morning, Wendy again checked the tree decorations; laying them in rows across the lounge carpet—until Jason accidentally trod on two, shattering them into tiny fragments of plastic. Wendy’s tears persuaded Jenny into another trip to the supermarket during which the daughter nagged her into buying balloons to hang around the room.

“We can blow these up this afternoon and hide them under the bed so dad doesn’t see,” she said. By mealtime and before dad returned from work, twenty of the air-filled decorations were secreted beneath their beds.

Wednesday morning, the children were up early and began decorating the lounge the moment dad left for work. With mum’s help, the balloons and paper decorations soon ordained the walls and ceiling of the room. They hung fairy lights around the main window that looked out onto the street and then sprayed glitter to look like frost over the glass. The window at the back of the room only looked out over the garden and the trees leading onto the common, so other than more frosty glitter, mum said there was little point in doing too much.

From midday, they were kneeling in the chairs in front of the window in expectation of dad to appear at the gate. As Jenny expected, three-o-clock passed and he had still not arrived. The agitation of the children became exponentially more acute as each minute passed. It was almost four before he arrived unexpectedly at the back gate, and even more unexpectedly, to Jenny, carrying a Christmas tree under one arm and a spade under the other.

A healthy shade of dark green, the tree was little more than the height of Jason, the base of the trunk wrapped in grey sacking. “I didn’t want to disturb the soil around the roots too much,” said Brian. “Should make it easier for the tree too establish itself in the garden.”

The branches were symmetrical in their arrangement about the trunk giving the appearance of an almost perfect conical silhouette.

“It’s beautiful,” said Jenny. Where did you get it?”

“A friend at work is clearing a piece of land. He told me as long as I dug it out myself to take any one I wanted. There’s a large plastic bucket in the shed we can put it in which, with a bit of tinsel around, will look perfect in the lounge.”

Wendy came back from the shed carrying the bucket, which she placed on the ground. Brian held the base of the tree over the bucket as he removed the sacking and then let the roots and earth drop into the container.

“What’s that?” Jenny asked as loose soil fell from the roots.

“What’s what love? Where?”

“Something white in the earth among the roots. I saw it as you took the sacking away.”

“That will be bits of rock. There were many grey and white marble fragments in the ground as I dug. Now, with a bit more earth from the garden to pack around the base, it will be perfect.”

While Jenny held the tree in position, he dug more earth from the garden, tamping a further six spades full around the trunk. Leaving the spade beside the door, he carried the ‘perfect Christmas tree’ into the house and placed the bucket on newspaper in the lounge. By Wendy’s nine-o-clock bedtime, they had finished decorating the tree with the glittery ornaments, chocolates and flashing lights. It looked stupendous with so many intriguingly shaped presents wrapped in Christmas paper arranged beneath its branches.

* * *

The perfect Christmas tree shone in all its radiant glory in front of the window that looked onto the garden. Christmas was a success. The best Christmas Jenny could remember. It was eight thirty on the following evening. After a superb Christmas turkey dinner, she curled up on the settee with her wonderful husband, wondering how she could have doubted his ability to find such a perfect tree. She was watching the Christmas special episode of her favourite soap on television. Brian was asleep snoring, and Jason was in his bedroom playing his latest computer game. Wendy was sitting on the floor in front of the tree rearranging the clothing of a new doll given as a present by Brian’s mother. It had even snowed that afternoon.

Jenny felt so warm and cosy that she too could fall asleep. The room was dimly illuminated. The flashing fairy lights, the iridescent red glow of the gas fire and the flickering television screen gave an atmosphere of relaxing peace.

Then an ear-piercing shriek erupted from Wendy and startled both parents into shocked waking state. Jenny almost fell from her reclining position while Brian’s snores turned to gasping sharp snorts of breath as he struggled to regain awareness.

Wendy sat gaping in a wide-eyed stare at the window. She pointed a trembling finger at the glass.

“What is it? What’s the matter?” Jenny leapt from the settee, and rushed to her daughter’s side.

Wendy could say nothing, staring with mouth wide open. Jenny looked at the glass where she was pointing. “There’s nothing there Wendy.”

“A face mum, a horrible face…”

“Don’t be silly. It’s your imagination.” She stood, walked to the glass and looked out into the dim shadows of the moonlit garden. “It must have been the reflection from the tele… A Face

She never finished the sentence. There was a violent explosion and glass shattered inwards. Flying shards of the pane enveloped her as she staggered backwards. Her hands flew to her face as she fell to her knees. Ruby red fluid began to ooze between her fingers. She too screamed, but her cries were from pain of the lacerations.

Brian, now awake, stared in horror as Wendy scuttled backwards away from the falling shards. Cold air swirled into the room carrying flakes of snow. More glass fell onto the carpet as the blade of the spade pushed the remaining pieces inwards. A heavy boot with a broken heel and covered in mud and snow swung over the sill followed by a gaunt leg in mud-caked trousers. Grey slime dripped from tattered brown clothing as an arm and shoulder appeared, and a nightmare creature heaved itself into the room.

The rotting threads of clothing hung on an emaciated frame, almost like a scarecrow. Between the shreds of mould and lichen covered shirt, protrusions of white bone were visible in the dim light. The hand extending from a torn shirtsleeve was pallid, scrawny, little more than skin and bone.

There was no flesh on the face. Parchment yellow skin stretched over the skull, it had one eye that glowed with a sickly yellow-green luminosity and a gaping void on the side of its face where the other should have been. A lipless gash beneath the dark cavity that had once been a nose, showed jagged yellow teeth forming a sneer of malicious intent. Several tiny white worms wriggled and fell from the tip of its blackened tongue. Strands of lank black hair dripped moisture around its shoulders and fell like spittle onto the carpet.

The other arm, swinging in circles in attempt to retain its balance, ended in a stump of white bone protruding from the torn sleeve. A stench of cemetery earth and stagnant slime accompanied the terrifying spectre.

It lurched across the room to the Christmas tree, before raising the same broken boot against the rim of the bucket to send the tree toppling backwards. Kicking the bucket away, it fell to its knees, where, with its one complete hand, it scrabbled among the tree roots clawing at the earth like a dog searching for a bone. It dragged something white, skeletal from among the roots—its missing hand. Clutching the severed appendage to its chest, it stood. It swayed from side to side as it glared with its single, baleful eye into the face of the man staring in terror from the settee.

Eventually the abomination turned and staggered back to the window, past the trembling whimpering mother. It hooked first one leg and then the other over the sill, heaved its torso off the ledge and lumbered away into the darkness.

© 2008 Robert A Read. aka Mysteral.

 

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