(A little creepy Twilight Zone for those who are fans)
The chainsaw slipped easily into the flesh, spraying the meat like so much dust into the air. The trunk was damp and frozen and coated the blade in even more of the visceral sap from the tree.
“Not so far, the harvester is coming.”
“What about those?” the man pointed to the far section of the grove that had even larger trees.
“That area’s apart of the original farm, but for some reason were not allowed to cut there any longer.”
“Really?” Julian Martin stared out at the section. There were some nice trees that would cut down to good fifteen to twenty footers. Further back were some even taller than that. He scanned the grove out along the mountain. The old road was just visible off to the far right. He had an idea and smiled.
The harvester arrived. Each tree was loaded and wrapped. It was two weeks before Christmas and they had already sold out. The economy had come back this year and this wasn’t going to be a lean Christmas after all.
“Christmas Silver Farms… Yes sir. Please hold… Mike. Line one.” Elaine said.
“This is Mike… No sir, it looks like we’ve sold out… Yes, it is a good year… Well, sir I understand that, but… No we haven’t gone that far… But you said… Yes I understand that… But there’s no telling the quality control I mean we haven’t gone that far out since… Yes sir. It’s too dark right now to tell, but I will head out there first thing tomorrow morning and see what we can pull… As high as twenty five feet some of them… Yes… How many? Certainly… Then I should just clear out what I can… But sir, um, the last time we… Yes I understand.” He hung up. “Elaine. Call the guys in before they go home.”
“Sure thing. I’ve got the bonus checks ready and…”
“Hold on to them, if they want their bonuses they need to work for a few more days.”
“Where? We’re plum out.”
“Mr. Silver wants us to go beyond the back fence…”
Elaine almost choked. Her hands started shaking and her voice quivered. “What? She said it almost in a whisper. “But…”
Mike put his hand up. He was visibly upset as well. “We will send them in groups. No one will walk around there alone.”
“But Mike.” She was trying to control a sob.
“I know, but you know how it is, we’re still getting orders and with those trees. Well there’s a lot of money in that back grove. There are some big trees in there and they don’t want to lose any money this year.”
Elaine looked out the window to the section of the farm that reached into the mountain side. It was always sitting in shadow, darker than the rest of the farm. She started ringing her hands and didn’t stop until they hurt. A nasty rash would break out that evening.
The pickup drove with its headlights off. Fred drove his brother Julie and his son Zach. The road had been closed, but the bolt cutters took care of the lock on the fence. They were going to start cutting into the back area tomorrow, so they had to come out tonight. It was short notice, but a nice twenty foot tree would make them the heroes of their trailer park. The whole place could decorate it. They had negotiated free rent for the month which meant for a good Christmas for them as well.
“Can you see?” Julie asked.
“Barely.” Said Fred
The truck was moving at less than ten miles and hour ever since they started ascending the dirt road, but their eyes were starting to adjust to the darkness. The road was bumpy, but it wasn’t bad. It was a wonder why they had closed it off. This route to the farm was actually shorter than the road they took to get to the front gate. Fred steered the truck around a bend and entered a canopy of tall trees.
“This must be it.” Fred stopped.
It was pitch dark. The trees were so thick they even blocked out what little moonlight there was.
“Give me the flashlight.” Fred rolled down the window and checked the road ahead.
“What is that?” Julie asked.
Several yards ahead, a large piece of metal was sticking out of a thick patch of trees and sitting partially in the road.
“I don’t know. Hold the flashlight out the window while I pull up.”
The truck inched up the road until they were close enough.
“Hey that’s Steven Shim’s bronco.” Julie said.
“Didn’t he run off with Willamena Tarkis three years ago? Around Christmas wasn’t it.”
“Sure did. Left her husband with them two kids, the slut. Steven was dating April from the Cozy Corner. She moved on from his sorry ass so fast, she was already shacked up with someone by Christmas.”
The pickup pulled alongside.
“This could be really bad.” Fred said.
Julie and Zach got out. Zach stopped at the back of the truck.
“Are you coming?” Julian called.
“No thanks Uncle Julian.”
Julie moved around the side of the truck that had been overgrown with foliage. The door was shut with the windows up. He tried to shine the flashlight into the cab, but it was too covered in dirt, he took a breath and reached out to the handle as a rustling from behind caught his attention. He turned and shined the light into the trees. He grasped the handle and squeezed. It was unlocked and the door clicked, but didn’t budge. He made a face and pulled hard against the heavy foliage. He pulled again and the door slowly came open. A branch suddenly shot from the open gap in the door and moved right past his face. He screamed and jumped back almost dropping the flashlight.
“What? Is it gross?” Zach called.
“Well what the fuck is it?” Fred called from the truck.
“Nothing, shut up.” Julie steadied himself.
He pulled on the door and shined the flashlight into the cab. The windshield was broken and several branches had grown into the cab ripping right through the seat. Other than that it was completely abandoned. He shined the light into the back checking the camper shell. It was completely filled with branches as well and looked as if a tree was growing up right through the bottom of the truck. He could see a sleeping bag and beers scattered around. Unopened. He yanked on the door and got it open enough to climb into the cab. He reached the glove compartment.
“What did you find?”
“They weren’t in there, but it’s registered to Steven Shim. Here.” he handed his brother a beer.
“Only you would find a way to go on a beer run in the middle of nowhere.”
“Hey they’re free and I guess three years old, but they’re cold.” Julie popped his can and took a sip. “Nice. I got one for…” he motioned to Zach who was still standing outside.
“Zach!” Fred called.
Zach opened the back and got in. “Yeah dad?”
“I wanted to ask you something last week. When you went off with Robert on your birthday I found beer cans behind the shed. Now I’m not mad, I want the truth.”
Zach physically shrunk in his seat.
“Your sixteen and I know how it is, so you know anything about that?”
Zach cowered in the back seat then suddenly started talking, “Robert got them and we drank them behind the shed. I just wanted to try it.”
“That’s why you were sick the next day. Too much cake my ass.”
“I’m sorry dad.”
“It’s okay. I’m just glad you told me the truth. Here.” He motioned to Julie. “This isn’t an every time thing.”
Julie handed Zach the beer.
“I don’t want you doing it without me knowing about it until you’re eighteen. Understand?”
“This is your thing Julie, so what do you want to do about the Bronco?” Fred asked.
“Nothing. The sheriff will get a note Christmas morning. Let’s go.”
Fred turned on his fog lights to get some illumination on the road and the truck moved forward. Julie held the flashlight out the window and looked for a nice tree they could get from the road. The further they went, the forest seemed to get continually darker.
Julie looked up, “Wow there’s a thick fog above us.”
“Yeah, there is something about this area of the mountain. It’s always in shadow and it’s always cold. Even at noon it’s like the darkest part of the forest. That’s probably why the beer stayed fresh.”
“How you doing back there?” Julie asked.
“Fine.” Zach drank his beer and looked out the window for no real reason. There was literally nothing to see. It felt as if they were driving through a tunnel that was closing in on them.
“Pull over anywhere, we can find a tree. There’s a bunch on the side right over there.”
“Let me turn around.” The road was narrow, but the raised four by four was able to go up the side of the hill a bit to make an easy three point turn. “Hey Zach there are two more flashlights back there.”
Zach handed one to Fred, got out and started shining his light around. The fog was descending. Even with the flashlights it was dark.
“You know I can see the top of this one and she looks pretty good. I don’t want to be hauling a twenty foot tree to the car. This one is fine.” Julie said.
They got the saw and the ax out from the truck. Zach let the bed down and started clearing away the brush.
Julie blew into his hands.
“Wonder why they don’t get these trees.” Zach said.
“Because a kid killed himself up here.” Fred said.
“Yea, it was about ten years ago or something. Some high school kid. You don’t remember? They said he was having trouble at home or something like that. There’s always been things that happened up here. Workers hurt, machines malfunctioning and some shit and since it’s a Christmas Tree Farm it always seemed to happen around Christmas time. So the kid, I don’t know his name he was being abused at home and he runs away right around Christmas. Apparently he comes up here to live. They were cutting into the trees then. Well one morning they find him hanging at the top of a thirty foot tree. Hung by branches twisted around his neck. They called it murder, but when they found the kids camp they knew he was living up here and they figured he got depressed or something and killed himself. I think Jennifer’s father was one of the deputies on scene.”
“Yeah.” Julie said remembering. “He tells that story around Halloween. I thought it was just a legend. He says he don’t care what anyone says, that kid didn’t climb no thirty foot tree and hang himself by the top branches. They cut the tree down and burned it.”
“Well,” Fred continued. “That same year a worker was killed and his family sued the farm. They got control of part of the land or something, but since they didn’t have any equipment to harvest they could never make any money. They supposedly got a free tree from their land every year, but then there was some accident at their house or something. That’s just town bullshit though. If they are cutting into this tomorrow they must have got the land back or something. Or maybe they are just gambling on people not asking questions.”
“Everyone on the farm says it’s haunted up here,” Julie added.
Zach was standing close and looked a little nervous
“Ain’t no such thing as ghosts though.” Julie said. “Well this one will do fine.” Julie raised the ax and felt something scratching his neck. He swiped at it and raised the ax again. It happened again and he stepped back, turned and was suddenly face to face with a large tree that shook as it roared at him.
Julie swung the ax and jumped back screaming as Zach started laughing.
“You shithead! Quit screwing around and get over here and help me.”
Fred dropped the branch. Smiling.
“See what kind of present I get you this year.”
“Thanks, but I can get my own beer.” Fred said.
“Zach, clear all that shit away so I can get to chopping. Fred, hold the light high so I don’t hit your head with this thing. Wouldn’t that be a shame?”
“The brush around here is really thick. My feet keep getting stuck in it.” Zach said.
Julie made short work of the tree and it toppled into the forest with a crash. “There we go. You two get that end.”
Fred moved around and started to lift.
“My foot’s stuck.” Zach complained.
“Well Jesus, get fucking unstuck.”
Zach made some grunting noises. “Man I’m really stuck,”
“Hey dumb ass, what’s in your hand?”
Julie looked over at his brother.
“He’s his mother’s son.” Fred said.
Zach stuck the saw down into the brush and his foot came free quickly.
“Yeah you was really stuck.”
Zach snuck around the tree and as he moved past Julie, pounced with a shriek.
Julie jumped. “I’m going to beat your little ass when we get out of here.”
The three of them lifted. The truck was about 5 yards away with the tail gate down.
“Zach you want to climb in and start pulling.”
Zach let go of the tree and… “Now my arm’s stuck.”
“My foots going to get stuck in your ass in a minute.”
Fred moved around and lifted as Zach got unstuck. The tree slipped easily into the bed.
“Throw the strap over.”
“It’s really sticking out, but screw it. There’s no one on the road. We’re taking the back way home anyway so no one see’s nothing.”
The truck engine turned over once and stopped. Fred turned the key again. It turned over, started then sputtered to a stop. “It’s just cold.” Fred said. The engine turned over again. He revved it hard. It sputtered then roared as a tree branch shot out of the tail pipe. “Alright then.” Fred put the truck in gear. It pulled forward a few feet then stopped. “We must be on a rock or something.”
Julie got out and checked the tires. “No rocks or nothing, just road.”
Fred revved the engine and the tires began to spin.
“There was no mud that I could see.”
Fred revved the engine as all four wheels continued to spin. He turned the wheels back and forth as the truck lurched and fell, and lurched and fell, again and again. Suddenly the tires found purchase and the truck jumped forward. They drove several feet then came to a dead stop as they hit something.
“What the hell?”
“Turn on the head lights.”
Fred flipped the headlights on.
The light reflected into the windshield and illuminated the cabin of the truck as the three men stared into a thicket of several trees.
“What the hell? Where’s the road?”
“You must have got turned around.” Julie said.
The truck suddenly sputtered and stalled.
“What’s going on?” Zach asked. His voice was moving into a higher pitch. The cab was quiet enough that they suddenly heard the scratching. Zach looked to the side window where he heard it. He turned on the flashlight and shined it at the window. It was covered in branches. “Dad?”
“What?” Fred turned and looked and saw the window. Then he hit the cab light and… “What the hell?”
Suddenly the scratching began all around the truck then. The truck started rocking back and forth shaking the three of them around.
“What the hell is this?” Fred called as he attempted to turn the truck over.
“I don’t know.” Julie grabbed his ax and held it. He grabbed the handle and pulled. The door released, but it wouldn’t open.
There was a bang on the back window. Zach turned just in time to see it explode. The trunk of the tree they had just loaded shot through the middle of the cab to the windshield. Julie was doing his best to get his door open when the branches from the big tree started to reach for them. Zach was the first one to really begin screaming.
Outside, the canopy of trees muffled any sound that would have traveled out, but more importantly it blocked out the illumination from the head lights that lasted all night until they killed the battery and the truck itself was also dead.
“No problems or casualties.”
“Not a one.” Elaine scratched the rash on her hand.”
“How much did we pull?”
“About half way up the slope. Some nice big ones too.”
“Good, that’s enough. I spoke to Mr. Silver. He was fine with just a few more days work. How many didn’t show up?”
“Just one. Julian Martin.”
“Okay then. Divide his bonus between the rest of the workers. Get them paid and thank them for coming back another few days.”
“Will do. Where’s all that headed?”
“The big ones are special orders, town squares, and city halls. A couple of them are headed to mansions for some rich pricks that can handle a nice twenty foot tree.”
“Looks like it’s going to be a nice Christmas sir.”
“Yes it does.”