A gift of Holiday horror from John Shirley
The small tree had never possessed any kind of self awareness, almost no consciousness, and precious little perception. Perhaps a faint wood-sap alarum went off in it when it was sawed at the base of its trunk. Still, it felt nothing much, even when it was packed with the others on trucks at the Christmas tree farm, and transported into the suburbs. It felt little, until Howie Berger leaked his mind on it, at the tree sales lot.
Working at the temporary tree lot was Howie’s first job in a year. His Uncle Fred ran the annual Christmas tree sale in the vacant lot, and Fred kept a close eye on Howie. But tonight, Uncle Fred was getting drunk with some friends at the bowling alley, and he trusted the Christmas Tree lot to Howie.
Howie Berger didn’t like working any time, and didn’t like the Christmas music playing from the speakers on the little white trailer; he didn’t like wandering up and down in the maze of Christmas trees with old couples who were looking for just the right tree. (Which usually ended up being the first one they’d looked at.) First of all, the rows of Christmas trees were too much like the topiary maze in The Shining. And Howie was getting more paranoid by the minute, because, in the absence of Uncle Fred’s supervision, he’d snorted up two long lines of Something he’d bought on the street; the Something was supposed to be Crystal Meth but it might be “bath salts”, or it might be both. It was making him wired and paranoid and anxious and uncomfortable but it was, Howie figured, better than no drugs at all.
So when Bill Yuss and his wife asked him to put a base on the Christmas tree—which required first leveling the bottom of its trunk with a small chainsaw—he was really quite fried, and hallucinating. He was seeing demon faces in tree branches. The Christmas songs were changing their lyrics into vicious threats. And he couldn’t remember how to run the chainsaw properly. He suspected his problem with the chainsaw was because he was leaking some of his mind. He could feel it—the Something had burned a hole in the cover of his mind and his mindstuff was gradually leaking out in a kind of glowing mist. And it was getting all over this Christmas tree, here. Every time he tried to start the chainsaw, it’d get going for a moment and it seemed to him that the moving chain was sucking parts of his mind away and flinging them onto the Christmas tree. Then–the chainsaw would stop working. And he’d see the Christmas tree sucking the cloud of consciousness into it. And he’d feel tired and dull again. But he’d have to run that chainsaw once more.
It happens that this is the only time, ever, that Howie had a drug hallucination that was insightful. Howie, on this occasion, was entirely correct. What he was hallucinating—wasn’t entirely a hallucination. It was in fact happening.
The harsh drugs had actually caused his consciousness to leak out and the Christmas tree was in fact sucking the mindstuff up.
He finally got the bottom of the tree leveled, the base put on, the tree sold, and was glad to see the backs of Mr and Mrs Yuss. But he wished he could get hold of that tree again, maybe burn it and inhale the smoke, get his mindstuff back.
Howie felt like he was half empty now. More than half. He thought: ‘If I turn the chainsaw on, and run the chain backwards, and aim it at my head…maybe I can get some of the stuff back.’
That’s what he tried to do. It didn’t turn out well.
His uncle heard about it on the late news. “A Christmas Tree salesman appears to have killed himself with a chainsaw tonight…”
“No you are not going bowling, Bill Yuss,” said Sally Yuss, stamping her bare feet. They were remarkably small feet, with red toenail polish. “Not until this tree is finished! We have to get every bulb and decoration off it before my sister gets here.”
“What does your idiot sister care?” Bill asked, plucking a plastic angel from the tree.
“It’s January third. She’ll make fun of me without mercy if the tree’s still up with its decorations.” She plucked a shiny green bulb from the tree. “She thinks she’s so sophisticated.”
Looking from Sally to the bulb in her hand, Yuss reflected that Sally was rather bulbous herself, now, and she wore a dress of shiny green fabric. But he wisely decided not to remark aloud on the likeness.
Instead, he told her, “Dil and Morris and Fred are waiting for me, it’s our bowling night—”
“You mean they’re waiting to drink with you in the bowling alley bar! I really doubt if you guys bowl when you’re there. The bowling alley’s just your cover for more drinking.”
Bill decided not to remark on that aloud, either, because he didn’t think he could deny it convincingly. He was too startled that she’d figured it out.
They had the medium sized tree denuded in twelve minutes, except for the mylar icicles, and Bill toted it out to the green recycling bin. The blue bin was for glass and paper recyclables, the green one was for plant matter. The tree fit in nicely– upside down. Bill considered turning it the other way; he wasn’t sure why that seemed better. Perhaps it was because the tree was yearning for it—I won’t say pining, since it was a fir tree, not a pine—and Bill was unconsciously picking up a hint of that yearning.
“Screw that,” he said. Now was his chance to slip off, and meet his friends at the bowling alley’s bar. The bowling ball was already in the trunk of the car.
He had just opened the door of the car when his wife stepped out on the balcony and yelled, loud enough for the neighbors to hear, “Bill Yuss, you are not going to that bowling alley to get drunk with your friends! Get back in here!”
In a fury, rather than out of an impulse of obedience, Bill went back in the house and shouted at his wife, and they got in another long, convoluted argument.
They were always bickering, which is one of the things the Christmas Tree hated about them. It could yearn, and hate, now, because it had absorbed some of the simplest, rawest mindstuff from Howie’s leaking mind. It had a soupcon, a tad, a mite, a mort of consciousness now. It could suffer; it could feel a little pleasure—it had felt that when they’d put it in water, before they’d let the water dry out and half its needles fall off—and it could feel anger. It was quite angry with Bill for putting it in this receptacle upside down. It wanted to feel like it was growing toward the sky. It hated the Yusses anyway—their constant seething of inward resentments. Nasty, nasty creatures. It truly hated them…
In many modern landfills there are recycling areas, and among some of them can be found “green waste” repositories. This is turned into benevolent landfill, and may be recycled into other products. Mostly it’s just a big mass of green stuff dumped from garden cuttings. There was a small mountain of it at the local dump where the tree was deposited and because of the vagaries of the bulldozer used to push the edges of the mountain of decaying greenstuff back from the dump’s road, the tree was eventually forced to the top of the pile. And there it was now pointing at the sky.
Though it was mostly dead at this point, the tree felt a frisson of happiness at this. It was encouraged to try to grow…
Time passed, and the tree felt another kind of thrill, in the spring, when it returned to some sense of itself, having almost died completely, and found that it had sprouted roots. It was coming to life again–more than ever. The mountain of mulch was somewhat nourishing but the real secret was the chemical fertilizer that had accumulated in it—this new fertilizer altered the tree physically. It not only had a bit of mindstuff, it had developed powerful roots, and accelerated growth. It had grown, and grown incredibly. It was the wonder of the dump and the landfill workers were amused by it, enjoyed seeing how big it was getting. It was doing more than growing–indeed, it developed the ability to willfully move its limbs and roots about…
And so it was that when Bill Yuss and Sally Yuss bickered their way to the dump, in the late summer, so they could dump some old broken furniture, they encountered the roots of the now-gigantic Christmas tree.
The Christmas tree knew they were there. It sensed them—and it moved its roots to intercept their pickup truck. The huge roots tore from the ground and blocked the truck, so it spun its wheels helplessly on the gravel road. Then the roots stretched out, creaking, tore off the doors of the truck and twined about the screaming couple. The tree dragged them free of the truck, and it passed them, alive and struggling, up to its branches. The branches took over, and passed them up higher, and higher yet, to the top of the Christmas Tree—which was now one hundred feet high.
The branches passed Mrs Yuss up until she was at the very top. There, she was quickly impaled, from below, in a rather messy Vlad the Impaler sort of way, and she died becoming the “angel” atop the Christmas tree. Bill Yuss was strangled by a branch, then hung from it like an ornament, twigs dangling him by the neck.
Several dump workers were soon aware of this grotesque decor—but they thought some prankster had hung dummies up there. They went to look closer—and were grabbed, themselves. Their bodies, too, soon festooned the tree.
A co-worker called the police—and the dispatcher called him a liar and a hoaxer, and hung up on him.
Word got around, however, and numerous people came to take in the spectacle of a giant Christmas tree decorated with dead bodies. Soon, many more people got too close. The tree was ever more festooned with bodies. The police finally realized there was a problem but it was so dangerous to approach the tree—and so bad for the reputation of the town—that they were persuaded to ignore it.
The local Goths, however, loved the giant Christmas tree. The decorative bodies soon became mummified and skeletal, and it looked “so fucking awesome”, as one of the goths put it. Since that particular goth didn’t want to live, himself, he deliberately approached the tree, climbed up into it…and was delighted when it strangled him. Soon his body, in its lacy black regalia, was hanging near the remains of Bill Yuss.
The tree became a site of pilgrimage, an icon visited by fans of the morbid, from around the world. Many of them gave their bodies to it—some because they were dying of cancer, or old age, others basically just to piss off their parents.
The tree didn’t care why. The bodies helped nourish it, it was growing, it was aware, it was pointed at the sky, and it was getting bigger every year.
Its roots stretched out farther, and farther—concealed under the soil, under the streets, the giant prehensile roots flourished in secret…until they’d taken a grip on all of North America. And then, on one glorious Christmas morning, they burst from the ground, and began to feed.
There wasn’t room on the tree for millions of new decorations.
So it simply changed the decorations, every year, except for favorites—like Bill and Sally Yuss.