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Friday, 18 December 2009

#FridayFlash: Christmas Spirit Parts 1 & 2


As it's nearly Christmas I'm going to do something slightly different with my #fridayflash this week, as a one-off I'm posting an extra story. Consider it an early Christmas present, or a buy-one-get-one-free offer if you like, either way get 'em while they're hot!

The two stories are designed to stand alone, but they are linked. If you fancy something light and fluffy, please have a read of part 1. On the other hand, if you'd like something darker, part 2 will probably be more to your liking. On the other, other hand (what, three hands?!) if you have the time, I'd love you to read both parts; go on, indulge yourself, it is (nearly) Christmas after all!

Christmas Spirit Part 1: The Perfect Tree.

Tom trailed after his father, hands stuffed deep in his pockets and collar pulled well up against the cold and flakes of blown snow, which somehow kept falling down the back of his neck. Nevertheless, Tom was excited. This was going to be the best Christmas ever.

Tom and his father had spent hours trudging through the Pick-Your-Own Christmas tree plantation, but none of the trees his father had selected had met with Tom’s approval – too tall, too short, too crooked. For the first time it was Tom’s job to choose the tree and he was taking it very seriously, the tree had to be perfect.

Finding the perfect Christmas tree was so important to Tom, the tree would be the symbol of their family Christmas, and he was determined things would be different this year. Dad was off the booze, Mum had got a promotion at work and for the first time in as long as Tom could remember, his parents weren’t fighting and he was actually looking forward to Christmas. A perfect tree would be the crowning achievement.

Tom became aware his father had stopped on the path up ahead and was stamping his feet and blowing into his hands in a vain attempt to ward off the biting cold.

‘Why don’t we split up, Dad?’ Tom said, ‘we can cover more ground that way. I know the perfect tree’s here somewhere.’

Dave regarded the look of determination on his ten-year old son’s face, ‘OK Tom, just don’t go too far. And shout if you find one. I’ll go this way,’ he indicated a path to the right.

‘And I’ll try over here,’ replied Tom, a knot of excitement building in the pit of his stomach. They had tried pretty much everywhere, the area to Tom’s left was the only place he thought they had not yet looked; Dad’s path lead back towards the warmth of their car.

Racing off into the nearest stand of Christmas trees, drawn up in their dark green ranks like a winter army on parade, Tom soon came to the end of the rows and noticed there was another path leading off past the last few stragglers, deeper into the older, mature forest, which surrounded the plantation. Glancing back over his shoulder for a sign of his father and finding none, Tom thought he would just have a quick look along the path, only for a few minutes. Maybe there was a tree there that no one else had noticed.

Soon Tom was pushing his way through thick, overhanging branches as the path narrowed. He was on the point of turning back when at last he broke through a thicket of undergrowth into the light of a small clearing. Roughly circular in shape and dusted with only a light covering of snow, the clearing was washed by a watery, winter sunlight.

Tom’s eyes took in the heavily snow-laden trees surrounding the clearing’s edge, and the old stones, half hidden under drifts of snow, which marked the perimeter, and then he saw it.

Standing quite alone in the centre of the clearing was simply the best, most perfect Christmas tree Tom had ever seen – tall, green, a strong, straight trunk and, when Tom buried his nose in the branches, the most wonderful scent of pine.

‘Dad!’ Tom bellowed, ‘Dad! I’ve found it! Come quick!’

Brushing the snow off one of the perimeter stones, not noticing in his excitement the strange, angular symbols carved into its rough, weather beaten surface, Tom sat down impatiently to wait.

A few moments later, Tom’s father appeared, puffing and blowing as he jogged up to his son.

Tom simply pointed. And grinned.

‘There,’ he whispered after a moment, ‘There it is. That one. The most perfect Christmas tree ever.’

Dave ruffled his son’s hair affectionately.

‘OK Tom, that one it is,’ he said and, walking over to the tree, Dave pulled a folding tree saw from his daypack and began to cut.

_________


Christmas Spirit Part 2: Fate is Relentless.

The digital clock on the DVD player under the TV read 03: 09 as Tom crept silently into the living room on Christmas morning. Had He been?

He had!

Tom nearly whooped with delight at the sight of the gleaming red bike propped up on its stand in front of the fireplace, a matching cycling helmet dangling from its handlebars, but he knew he mustn’t. His parents were still asleep, and Christmas would only begin officially when his mother got up to make their traditional bacon sandwiches for breakfast, woe betide him if he woke her.

Inhaling, Tom revelled in the icy clean pine fragrance that filled the room. The Christmas tree stood by the window, its perfect branches festooned with ornaments and twinkling lights.

Gazing at his new bike, Tom jumped at a sudden rustling sound behind him. He swung round but there was nothing to see, just the tree twinkling away next to the window. Tom moved slowly closer to it. The sound had definitely come from over here, he was sure of it. He stopped to listen. Silence. Turning back to the bike Tom jumped as the rustling sound came again. It sounded like a small animal running around in the branches.

Tom could just imagine his mother’s reaction at finding something small and furry loose in the living room. Nothing is going to spoil Christmas this year, he thought, and thrust his head deep into the branches.

The breath froze in Tom’s throat, a cold knot of terror turning his insides to ice water as he came face to face with a pair of piercing blue eyes. He barely had time to register the man’s grimy face, the twigs and pine needles in the bushy hair and long beard, before two immensely strong arms shot forward, grabbed his wrists, and heaved Tom bodily off his feet into the tree. Tom did not even have time to scream.

The Christmas tree swayed slightly, a light shower of pine needles falling onto Tom’s discarded red slipper.

* * *

‘Where’s Tom? Where’s my big lad?’ the smile in Suzi’s voice carried to the hallway where Dave had just reached the bottom of the stairs.

‘He’s not in his room,’ Dave replied with mock concern as he walked into the living room, ‘I can’t find him anywhere.’

Suzi winked and pointed to Tom’s slipper in front of the Christmas tree.

‘He’s hiding,’ she whispered, ‘I bet he’s behind the tree.’

But Tom wasn’t hiding. He sat snivelling in the darkness, knees drawn tight up to his chest, hands clasped in front, his knuckles white. Tom’s eyes were clamped tight shut in the fervent hope that when he opened them again it would all have been just a terrible nightmare. A few paces away, a grimy figure, unkempt and dressing in filthy rough clothes of mainly squirrel and fox fur, stood hidden in the shadow of the branches, peering intently out of the tree at Dave and Suzi.

‘Shhh,’ whispered Dave, pantomiming his finger to his lips as he crept over to the tree.

As he leant over to look behind the Christmas tree, Dave’s hand brushed its branches. Instantly a small ripple of breeze went through the tree as Aerdwold’s spirit rushed into Dave’s body, shredding Dave’s soul into oblivion in a heartbeat.

Stumbling slightly then, straightening up, he looked Suzi right in the eye, fixing her with a piercing gaze, which made her feel suddenly uncomfortable.

‘Come on Dave,’ she laughed nervously, ‘stop mucking about. Is Tom behind there or not?’

Aerdwold tried to speak, but it had been so long, his head was spinning, he felt sick, and his new body’s vocal chords were still unfamiliar. All he could manage was a weak, slurred whisper.

‘Wyrd bid ful araed.’

Suzi’s face darkened immediately.

‘I knew it,’ she yelled, ‘I bloody knew it!’ Her voice had taken on that edge which would have told Aerdwold, had he but known, that the flimsy dam of Suzi’s temper, kept in check for so long living with an alcoholic husband, was about to break. Suddenly, the words came gushing out.

‘You’re pissed!’ Suzi shrieked, ‘I should have known you couldn’t lay off the sauce for more than a week. Once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic! And all that bollocks about letting Tom choose the Christmas tree - I bet that was only an excuse so you could go to the fucking pub!’

‘Well, I warned you, didn’t I?’ she screamed, grabbing him by the arm, ‘warned you what would happen the next time I caught you drinking. Didn’t I? Didn’t I?’

Propelling him roughly towards the front door, Suzi opened it and shoved him across the threshold.

‘Get out! Get out, get out, get out!’ and with that Suzi slammed the door in his face, leaving Aerdwold standing bewildered, dressed only in a pair of Dave’s pyjamas, in the ankle-deep snow on the front step. After a moment, and without bothering to look around him, Aerdwold stumbled down the garden path and shuffled out into the Christmas morning snowstorm.

‘Noooooooo!’ wailed Tom as his mother grabbed the Christmas tree and began dragging it towards the door. She didn’t appear to hear him.

‘And this bastard thing can go too,’ Suzi grunted, heaving the tree, lights, ornaments and all, into the front garden.

Tom sat alone in the darkness sobbing as he heard his mother slam the door again.

* * *

From his place of darkness, Tom occasionally caught a glimpse of his mother through the branches. He saw her regularly for the few weeks after Christmas while the police investigated his disappearance. He saw her when the “For Sale” sign went up outside the house, and again when she left, lugging two heavy suitcases down the garden path to the waiting taxi. Each time Tom called out to her, but couldn’t make her hear him.

Tom was still calling for his mother when the council workmen arrived during the first week of February to dispose of the street’s unwanted Christmas trees which, by now, had turned brown and brittle and had shed most of their needles. As his tree died, Tom grew weaker, only able to manage a whisper of protest as a workman loaded the tree into the jaws of the shredder.

‘Looks like this one was perfect,’ the workman remarked as the machine’s steel teeth began to tear the tree apart.



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29 comments:

Skycycler said...

Was this as much fun to write as it was to read? This is so funny (and dark and twisted!) Suzi has all the best lines if you discount Aerdwold's drunken Middle-English. Fab. But poor old Tom...

Sam said...

Oh yes, I had a bit of a giggle writing this! Of course, soon as I'd posted it I found another quote that may have been even better: Gaéð á wyrd swá hío scel - Fate goes always as She must. Ah, Tom, poor Tom... ;)

Laura Eno said...

Loved both of these! Excellent twisted tale.
Would you please translate ‘Wyrd bid ful araed’ for us in the US?

Sam said...

Ah, right, sorry Laura, "Wyrd bid ful araed" translates loosely as "Fate is inexorable" or "Things always go as they must."

Will ammend my post accordingly. :)

Anne Tyler Lord said...

Sam,
This is so much dark Christmas fun! I couldn't wait to see what would happen next! What a crazy 'ole tree spirit ruining their Christmas! Ha! I like his fouled up plan, who knows what he would have done. And, I wonder where he is now, in Tom's body. Probably at the pub.

I like the clothes Aerdwold was wearing-squirrel and fox skin - You may want to sell him some catskin shoes!

Great work!

Michael Solender said...

wild, #2 was made so much tastier because of #1. great stuff.

Julie (Okami) said...

Sam,

You have found your calling!! This was absolutely wonderful.

Marisa Birns said...

I read the light AND the dark and loved them both!

The twist was so original. Wonderful stories, Sam.

shannon esposito said...

While I did enjoy the lightheartedness of #1, I must say #2 was a wickedly fun read! Thanks for both of them.

Weezel said...

I thoroughly enjoyed both of these excellent Christmas Tales. Well Done!

Deanna Schrayer said...

Maybe I shouldn't feel sorry for Tom, but I do. Bless his heart. Very well told story Sam!

Diandra said...

I like the idea, and I guess they best work together...

Josie said...

Your writing gets better every week. These two sent shivers down my spine - they're really well written and you tell a damn good story :-)

Laurita said...

These were such fun. I'm bookmarking them so I can come back and read again later. Too good for just one go round.

Draco Torre said...

Cool.
I went for Part 2 (I don't have 3 hands.) Stands on its own. Terrific fun, my kind of holiday story.
-David G Shrock

Adrian said...

Excellent stuff Sam. I particularly enjoyed no 2, a good dark, twisted tale for Christmas.

Eric J. Krause said...

Both stories were excellent, though my twisted mind preferred the second because of the weird and dark. Poor family. Guess it wasn't the perfect tree after all, eh?

Karen from Mentor said...

YOWSA. Really really really liked this Sam. Read them back to back.
They're perfect together.
Thanks so much for sharing.
Karen :0)

Sam said...

Thank you to everyone who read and commented on this week's stories.

Just a couple of things I wanted to pick up on specifically...

Anne Tyler Lord - Very probably, I'll ask around next time I visit my local pub! Glad you liked the imagery of the clothes, when you've been trapped in a tree as long as Aerdwold had, haute couture becomes a matter of what you can catch! ;)

Thanks also for the comments about having two stories this week, I did ponder at length whether or not I should post both, and thanks to some wonderful advice (you know who you are!) I decided I would go ahead with the extra story. Glad you all enjoyed them. :)

Marilyn said...

Excellent and twisted. What a great ending but poor Tom. I was just wondering where my cat got to, I better go check out the christmas tree. :-D

Sam said...

Marilyn - Thanks for your comment. Glad you enjoyed the stories, and yes, poor Tom. Hehehe ;)

Oh, so you have the same Christmas tree + cat problems too?

mazzz_in_Leeds said...

ooooh, nasty! Poor Tom!
Read them both, and I agree 2 is made all the better by 1's existence.

Creepy and amusing, nice work!

Sam said...

mazzz_in_Leeds - Aye, poor ol' Tom, tried so hard but his Christmas fell apart anyway. ;)

Thanks for your comment, glad you enjoyed the stories.

Chance said...

I took a coffee break halfway through the second half,came back and picked up from the red slipper line and WHAT!!!

Great stuff, I can picture this story so clearly

Sam said...

Chance - LOL! Thanks for your comment and the great feedback. Sounds like I gotcha with this one?

I did have a clear mental picture of the scene, wasn't sure I'd managed to get it from my brain to the page, looks like I did! ;)

elizabethditty said...

Ha! Just terrible. I mean, in a good way. Terribly funny, and also terribly sad, and terrible me for laughing. Well done, sir.

Sam said...

elizabethditty - Glad you enjoyed the stories. Thanks for reading and for the great comment. :)

Aleta said...

I have to admit, I prefer the first one, but then, I'm more prone to the happy endings kind of thing. At the same time, I've read a lot of Poe and the second reminded me of his work. Well done!

Sam said...

Aleta - Thanks for your kind comment. I was beginning to wonder if the first story only worked as a backstory for the second one, so it's great to have someone who prefers it comment.

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