Flash Fiction Friday: The Jeremiah Tree
by Constance Ann Fitzgerald
Asleep in my bed, the sound of the front door latching shut woke me. I lay there, staring off into the shadows that were fractioned by the slits of light cast by the blinds.
Then came a rustling sound, like that of a long exasperated breeze through a forest of Ponderosa Pine. Unlike the soft sounds of the needle pricked winds of my childhood, it didn’t fade away. No slow hush to a desperately dry silence. It just got louder. The sounds grew more intense, more like movement of shifting branches fighting for space, pushing passed each other. It wasn’t until I heard the faintest scratching of these needles against the walls of my stairwell that I sat up.
Was something in the hou..?
It was too late to finish the thought. Before the last of the words could even form in my mind, my bedroom door swung open and something large and dark filled the only exit to the room.
Something bristly. Something reeking of pine.
“This one looks good.” I heard a gruff voice say. I recoiled into the corner of my bed and heard a small child’s voice joyously say “That’s it, Daddy! Get that one!”
The looming, bristly shadow twisted through the doorway. It was followed by what seemed to be a smaller version of its self. I cowered deeper into my blankets, grinding the palms of my hands deep into my eye sockets, “Oh, Lord. I must be dreaming. This isn’t real. This CAN’T be real.”
“What is it doing, Daddy?” the little one asked, it’s needly shadows bobbing through the strips of light beaming through the window, reflecting the green hue and shine.
They were trees.
“Never mind, Junior. Just hand me that rope.”
Suddenly I was engulfed in the prickling points of pine needles. They scratched at my face, arms and the exposed portion of my stomach where my shirt had risen while trying to wriggle out of the foliage that was attacking me. In my own home.
During my struggle the little tree picked up a small statue from my bookshelf and brought it swiftly down over my head. While I was seeing stars, I tried once more to free myself from the pine scented nightmare. I opened my mouth to scream and choked on pine needles as they stabbed and scratched the inside of my mouth and throat.
The large tree stepped back, took the statue from the little tree and said “Let me show you how to do this, son.” and swung down, hard. The sound of the wind in the tree tops returned briefly before the black settled in all around me.
I woke up, bound with a length of rope spiraling round and round my frame. I was lying on my side in the soft damp dirt. It was cold.
I was outside.
My eyes adjusted to the night and I could assess that I was in a clearing. A very small clearing, with trees towering all around me. It wasn’t until I heard that small child’s voice again that I remembered the needle-scratching home invasion.
“Daddy, its wake.”
“Hush, I’ve got to clean up the stumps.” Said another voice.
I became aware then of the fact that not only was my entire body was bound, but that there were also make shift tourniquets wrapped tightly around each ankle. My feet had been cut off. I wanted to scream, but instead choked on the rough bark and thorn taste of the pine cone that had been shoved between my teeth.
A gag, Au natural.
I began to panic. Struggling against my restraints, the voice of an old woman drifted out from a thinning brown pine. As it moved closer it shed more needles in a trail behind it.
“Now, now. You mustn’t struggle. You’ll positively ruin your limbs. Let me give you something to calm you down.”
I began to thrash wildly, trying to stave off another round of needles in my face and eyes. The dried and brown tree extended a branch with one long green pine needle adoring its end. A green reflected by the moonlight, made all the more vivid by dead and dried needles all around it.
The tree slipped the length of the green barb into the crook of my elbow, penetrating into my vein. A slow surge of sap oozed and twisted its way along the branch through and over the rest of the foliage until it made its way to the solitary green needle and into my veins. The dried up tree backed away, hushing my whimpers with soothing grandmotherly tones.
“You’ll make a lovely Jeremiah tree, my dear. Just you wait and see. Lovely.”
My thoughts and vision dulled, moving in slow motion through the sludge and sap now mulling its way through my blood stream. Its bitter-sweet, sticky-thickness left me still, sleepy, and serene.
“Isn’t that better?” the old woman’s voice cooed, as it brushed brittle branches across my forehead, pushing my hair away from my eyes.
The first tree shoved passed the oldest, its voice growling that I had been coddled enough.
“It’s time to string it up. Prepare the nutrient bath. Don’t want it to rot. That smell they get once they’ve turned? It just takes the holiday spirit right out of me.” It said.
I wanted to object. I wanted to get up and run. But that syrupy sludge was making it impossible for me to focus or even roll over …and they had cut off my feet. Several thick-trunked trees hoisted me up. They held me upright, wrapping their wispier branches in loops around my arms, while another removed the ropes and carried me to the center of the clearing where a large tub of murky liquid sat, steaming in the cold night air. The trees propped me up against some sort of easel and tied me to it. My stumps dangled in the warm, bubbling liquid. It burned. It stung. It smelled like the toxic bi-product of fifty women stolen from their beds before me. I couldn’t help but wonder if they all tried to convince themselves that this was a dream. That it couldn’t be happening. Bound to a wooden fixture, put on display, I felt – in the most blasphemous way- like Jesus Christ himself.
The trees adorned me with ornaments. Large glass bulbs hung from wires which they pushed through layer after layer of my flesh. With each new shining orb, a small stream of my blood would trickle across my skin and eventually fall into the pool below, where I would absorb it along with the foul smelling fluid.
They wrapped string after string of lights and garland all around me, and for all the pain and loss of consciousness; I was certain that being decorated in their holiday finery was making me beautiful. I was sure that the electric glow emanating from me would be visible from space, that I was a distant shining star to someone, somewhere. That they were making a wish.
My suffering was something to be lovingly admired from some place far away. If they knew the source of that warm, amorous apparition on the horizon, they would more than likely not hold that glow in the same special romanticized place.
So, I kept my mouth shut. Even when the sun began to rise in the early hours of dawn and I could hear the cars on the highway passing someplace nearby. For that one night I was a part of something created for the sole purpose of splendor. I gave something back to the world. After all… ‘Tis the Season.
Constance Ann Fitzgerald is author of Trashland A Go-Go and an editor at Bizarro Central. She lives in the Bay Area where her happiness is wholly contingent upon whether or not there is a dog in the room.