THE CHRISTMAS TREE
That year, Sarah decided to avoid the expense of a shop-bought Christmas tree. She would source one from nature. Accordingly, she trudged on her own into the forest, dragging her toboggan behind her. She received some strange looks, as there was no snow. At last, deep in the wood, there it was: the ideal tree. Three feet high, sturdy, with a strong trunk and plentiful needles. Perfect. She dug it out. The tap-root was long and powerful, and she had to take her little axe to it. She fancied that she heard something like a groan as she chopped the root and pulled the tree from the earth. “Don’t be silly, trees can’t groan”, she said to herself.
She put it into a pot in the corner of the living-room, and settled it in with soil and fertiliser. But the food must have been too rich, as the tree started to grow very fast, at least six inches a day. It seemed to have a will of it own. One morning she came downstairs and found that the tree had somehow moved nearer to the window. It also had strong opinions about the ornaments it would allow to be placed on its boughs. Sarah liked her baubles to be bright and traditional: Santa and his sleigh, holly sprigs, poodles holding parcels, all that. But every morning she came down to find her ornaments unaccountably smashed on the carpet. The tree seemed to have austere tastes, and it began to put forth ornaments of its own: glistening red yew-berries (this was odd, since it was not a yew) and brown acorns (it was not an oak tree, either). And the scent! It exuded a smell she had never experienced before. It was rich and musky, with a slight undertone of rot. It was like a glorious but malevolent fungus. Everyone who came to the house commented on the smell as soon as they came in the door. They never visited a second time.
Worse was to come, though. When Sarah reached behind the tree to adjust a picture on the wall, she could have sworn that it tried to embrace her. Certainly she felt enclosed, and the pine-needles pricked her skin. She had to struggle quite hard to get out. Was it possible to be raped by a tree? When she stepped back, she saw that the tree had grown apace. It was pushing through the ceiling, and in the next few days, the joists of the house were compromised. This was going to be a terrible Christmas.
Clearly, something had to be done. Sarah got her little axe out again, and found a saw. She proceeded to destroy the tree, cutting off boughs and sawing into the main stem. Her activities were met with the most terrible screams; the tree was protesting its own execution. Sarah managed to drag the segments out into the garden.
She set fire to them on Christmas Eve. The twigs crackled as they took the kindling. The flames gave a roar and then the whole tree was alight. But it seemed to have a will of its own in death, as it had had during its lifetime. The flames leapt across to Sarah’s garden shed, and engulfed it instantly. Worse, the intense heat made the conservatory windows shatter into a thousand pieces, so that the air was filled with shards of glass, as well as scorched pine needles, resin and ash.
The fire-engine’s siren didn’t sound much like “Jingle bells”. Ruefully, Sarah wondered what she had done wrong. Had it been vandalism to uproot the tree? Had she effectively stolen it from its woodland home? Should she have used fertiliser on it? Should she have worshipped it as a pagan deity, rather than using it as a festive backdrop? One thing was certain, though. The tree had had a spirit of it own, and it had taken its revenge.