A short story written by Siobahn Harris 12/14/2018
“Why’d we come all the way out here?” Liliana asked as she peered into the darkness surrounding the old pickup.
Marcus palmed the keys. The door of the rusty red dodge let out a loud crack as he climbed out.
Liliana whipped her head towards him, “Wait- Where are you going?”
“You wanted a Christmas tree, didn’t you?” He stood in the doorway, only a silhouette to her as the truck’s interior light had been broken for years.
“Right, but I was thinking more like Target or Lowe’s. This is the forest. Babe, it’s snowing. Let’s just hit a store.”
“No way. This is our first official Christmas together, so I thought I would introduce you to my family tradition.”
“Dying in the forest due to hypothermia, doesn’t sound like a lot of fun to me.”
“Just trust me, Lil. Doing it this way keeps the Christmas spirit alive!” Marcus made his way to the bed of the truck. He opened a large silver toolbox and pulled out an electric chainsaw.
Liliana was turned around on the bench seat with her eyes locked on his every move. The moonlight behind him cast an eerie glow on the brightly colored chainsaw. Her shoulders dropped at the sight of it. With Marcus’s door still open she began to breathe clouds of smoke into the truck as she pulled her coat tighter. She raised her voice as she asked, “Are you kidding me?” He flashed her a smile through the back window. In the moonlight she could only see his grey knit hat, bits of his plaid green scarf, and his large blue coat, but his eyes were as dark at the forest. She continued, “This isn’t funny anymore. Let’s go.”
Marcus quickly scuffled back to the door of the truck, “Seriously, babe, let’s go find the perfect tree! My dad and I did this every year, and he did it with his dad, but this year I told him I was going with you. Please.”
His smile seemed to cut through the darkness and she knew she couldn’t resist. “Fine. But next year we are buying a tree from Target the way my ancestors did years ago!”
“Deal!” Marcus slammed the truck door and walked over to her door, practically bouncing. Liliana pulled up the fur lined hood of her pink coat to cover her long dark hair. He opened her door and again flashed a big cheesy smile. Zipping up her coat the rest of the way she climbed out.
Walking between the large trees, Liliana began to feel small. Marcus was not taking her down a path but instead they were making their own. He seemed to know where he was going but there were no markers, no lights, no nothing to point the way, just his eagerness to find the perfect tree.
As they continued, her legs began to weigh her down and she trailed behind him. Suddenly, Liliana felt as though they were being watched. She glanced back, but there was nothing except trees and the deep foot prints they left in the snow.
The crunch of their feet in the snow made her uneasy. Every sound demanded her attention. The crunch of the snow. The snap of a twig in the distance. The rustling of an animal. The sound of Marcus whistling “O Christmas Tree”. Her head spun around as each sound grabbed her. Crunch. Snap. Rustle. Whistle. They grew louder with each step. CRUNCH. SNAP. RUSTLE. WHISTLE. Her heart began to race, and her eyes attempted to track down the origin of each sound. CRUNCH. SNAP. RUS- With her eyes on their footprints behind, it stopped. She was surrounded with silence.
As she looked forward, she was robbed of breath. Marcus was gone. “Marcus?” Liliana whispered. Frozen in place, she called out a little louder, “Marcus?” Her eyes scanned the snow, but his footprints seemed to go in every direction. Her chest twisted tightly. She began to run, screaming his name. The forest blurred around her in a swirl of white and black.
Making a quick turn, Liliana slammed into something and fell backwards onto the snow. She could hear a giggle. It was Marcus. He towered over her with his hand reached outward. She pushed his hand away and began picking herself up off the ground.
“Where the hell were you? Didn’t you hear me screaming your name?” Liliana was dusting snow off herself.
Marcus just stood there pointing at a large fluffy fir tree in a clearing. The only fir tree.
Liliana began to laugh. “You’re joking right? That thing is huge! There is no way it’ll fit in our apartment.”
Marcus walked over to the tree as he explained, “It’s fine. Actually, it’s perfect! If we need to, we’ll just cut it a little higher than the base. Sound good?”
Liliana felt like they were being watched again. The small clearing they stood in made her feel like they were on display. Wind whipped through the tall trees surrounding them and suddenly she could hear a faint voice, “no.”
Her eyes widened, and she looked at Marcus, “Did you hear that?”
Marcus mumbled while examining the tree, “No.”
“Yeah, it was like a tiny voice or something saying ‘no.’ What was that?” She began looking around for a person within the forest, but again was only met with darkness.
“No. I meant, ‘no’ I didn’t hear anything,” Marcus looked back at Liliana from the large snow-covered tree. She was almost hugging herself as her head darted wildly as if she were searching for something important she had lost. Dropping his arms to his sides he walked over to Liliana and put his hands on her shoulders. “Babe, you need to relax. It’s just the sounds of nature.”
Her eyes met with his and she let out a large sigh, “Right. Just the wind or something, right?”
Marcus smiled, “There ya go! Now, we need to check the tree for wildlife. Don’t want to bring a bird nest home.”
Marcus began dusting snow off the tree as he examined each branch. Liliana let out a small chuckle watching him attempt to reach the higher branches. Marcus stood at 6’3” but that tree still had a good two feet on him.
He finally just gave up. He looked back at her and giggled, “That’s good enough, right? Besides, you like birds.” Marcus leaned down and picked up the neon green chainsaw he had been lugging along. He grabbed the tree about a foot off the ground, “What do you think, babe? Is this a good base?”
Liliana shrugged, “It’s still tall, but yeah, I guess.”
A large gust of wind ripped through the trees above. The sound of settled snow raining down circled them and with that another voice, “please.”
Marcus jumped that time and then quickly focused on the tree again.
“Hey!” Liliana pointed at Marcus, “You heard that one!”
Marcus spun around and locked eyes with her again, “Yeah, I heard that wind getting stronger-”
“No. You heard the little voice that said-”
“I only heard the sound of the wind in the trees, babe. The forest can be creepy, I get that, but you’re more jumpy than normal. You may not have done this before, but I have. It’s okay. Let’s just do what we came to do, okay?” Marcus rubbed Liliana’s arm and turned back to the tree.
He eyed the tree for a second more before turning on the chainsaw. The forest around them seemed to moan with the loud buzzing of the saw. The closer Marcus got to the large tree the more Liliana felt like the forest was closing in on them. Small voices came from every direction, some like whispers, some like distant screams. Trembling, Liliana stepped closer to Marcus and grabbed onto the back of his coat.
The chainsaw met with the base of the tree and suddenly the buzzing sound turned into a loud grinding as bits of tree flew in every direction. As he tore through the base of the tree a deafening scream pierced the forest and blended with the grinding of the saw. Marcus seemed unfazed by the sounds, but Liliana couldn’t bear it. Her hands shot up to her ears to mute the world around her, but it only muffled the terrifying cries and the grinding of the chainsaw.
Liliana’s eyes widened as she watched the tree tremble with Marcus’s movements as if it were in pain. A thick dark sap began to pour out from under the tree. Marcus quickly cut a wedge into the base of the tree and then pushed it over. The fluffy tree landed next to Liliana and the forest, once again, grew silent.
“We’re gonna need to lift up the base of the tree, okay? Keep it as high as you can.” Marcus said making a gesture towards the tree base.
Liliana crossed her arms over her chest, “Why?”
“To save all that wonderful Christmas spirit, babe,” Marcus smiled. “Wouldn’t want it to drain out, then all of this would be for nothing. Now just grab it over there.” Marcus pointed towards a few branches at the base, but Liliana could barely see anything.
Reaching into her warm coat pocket Liliana grabbed her cellphone. She switched on the flashlight and walked closer. The almost blinding light scanned the tree. It was lying in a thick pool of red that stained the snow beneath it. Liliana let out a yelp and dropped her cellphone. The flashlight made the snow it landed in appear as if it were glowing. She crawled across the cold ground towards the light and grabbed her phone. She began to dry it off, but the light caught a face close to hers. Liliana let out a gasp, but quickly realized it was Marcus. The angle of the light twisted his features. He was kneeling in front of her with a plastic smile.
“Marcus! What the hell is that stuff?” Liliana glanced back at the lifeless tree behind her.
“Babe, that’s the Christmas Spirit I told you about. We have to make sure to save as much in the tree as possible until we get home.”
Marcus stood up and made his way over to the tree. He picked it up at the base, grabbed his chainsaw with his other hand, and began to whistle “O Christmas Tree”. He dragged the tree past Liliana leaving a trail of sticky red Christmas Spirit behind him.