Copyright 2001 by S.R. Sudekum
Chapter V - Vozza
Traffic on the roadway outside the tree lot thinned and began to quiet. The light had taken on that deceivingly warm, waning tone, the day is ending supposed Chris. Only to lead to how many more like this one. The spruce had been here for weeks he said...do I have weeks of this to go myself? he wondered. Painfully with black despair he shivered. No. It cannot be. It's unthinkable. I won't even think the unthinkable. But...if it's unthinkable, how can you think it in the first place? If you think the unthinkable it's therefore thinkable and therefore once again it's possible and if it's possible it's likely and then a certainty...
"Nice knowing ya. Say hello to the wood chipper for me."
The spruce's muttering shocked Chris back to his here and now. Before he could ask what did he mean, he already knew the answer before the question could be asked. Close enough to bite was the man with the shining blade. Roughly he grabbed the crossed twine around Chris and pulled him upright, for the first time the entire weight of the tree pressed down on the raw stump wound. Bright red pain washed over Chris and the world swam before him, the twine cutting deeper into his branches. The man hefted Chris, and with methodical swiftness slashed the glittering blade before him. Like magic the twine melted away, and Chris' limbs sprang outwards on their own. A momentary flush of relief was promptly replaced by a glassy agony as the branches assumed their natural positions. From the sharp throbbing here and there Chris knew with despair that those branches were broken, hanging by a few woody strands. Unbelievably the man reached down and with a quick yank and twist, tore them away and tossed them into the aisleway, where they twitched before laying still .
Chris gasped and cried out "Let me die!!! let me die!!! Nooooooooo!!" The man grabbed him around the trunk and half-dragged, half carried him through the stacks of bound trees out into the main lot. Manic terror possessed the tree. Chris gibbered "I don't want new feet! I don't want new feet! O God no let me die now!!! Let me DIEEEEE!!!" The tree's cries rose and mixed with the cawing laughter of the spruce, leaning drunkenly against the chain link fence behind it.
"See you in hell, scrub! See you in hell!!!"
The light was bright, too bright, the space too open, the air too fresh. The world a mass of confusion and noise, bright colors, loud sounds, foul smoking stenches. The man gripped Chris in an iron hand and held him upright.
"Here you go, Mr. Vozza! This one should be big enough for your front room, what do you think?"
"Yeah, okay, I guess...is it fresh? Give it a bounce for me, okay?"
Unbelievably the man lifted Chris slightly and dropped him to the hard pavement. The shock jarred every branch and every needle, and telegraphed the agony of the raw stump to every fiber of his being.
"Sold! Can you put it up on the SUV for me? I'll write a check."
"Sure thing, but I can't tie it down for you, you know that. Insurance liability."
Vozza chuckled "Tell me about it. No problem, I can handle that. I was a Boy Scout once you know."
The world swirled and careened as the man hoisted Chris up in the air and hefted him up over his head. Chris bumped down on something hard, sharp bars cutting into him at two places. He groaned, the setting sun blinding him. The sky stretched infinite above him, some strange shining red thing beneath him, the grey flat ground beneath that. A slight breeze stirred his branches and for a fleeting second he thought himself back in the forest.
Vozza, the new man, reached up and wound twine around his trunk and tied him snugly down to the sharp bars. Once again he was wrapped in bindings, but at least this time his branches could still stretch out at his sides. A faint glimmer of hope...maybe...maybe the worst was behind him now? He had no new feet nailed to him, his needles were still tight and firm, he could stretch out his limbs...the sky and sun were above him...maybe things are looking up?
A strange bouncing sensation beneath him, a vibration, a roar, and movement...the world was moving...no...Chris was moving. The breeze strengthened to a wind that tugged at his boughs, and then pulled and with a mighty roar, he was in a storm of wind, slapping and yanking at his branches, threatening to pull the needles from their twigs. But there was no pain, and Chris could watch the world streaming past him at a blinding pace. A cacaphony of sounds and sights and smells and sensations flooded over him, bouncing and rattling his branches. A feeling of air and weightlessness, of flight. He was flying like the jays and the chickadees. He had become a bird! Into the setting sun he flew, light as gossamer, reaching speeds unknown, his branches flapping in the wind like the wings of the mighty eagle itself! The worries of the lot had vanished, the pain of the binding and the hot ache of his stump forgotten. Now he was flying in the wind, he WAS the wind and into the night he flew, free at last from the binds of man and earth alike.
Chapter VI - Coming Home
So immersed in his escape from the horrors behind him, Chris was startled to find himself once again on the ground, leaning up against something hard. The world had become dark, lit only by floating rectangles of golden light. Here in this new place at least was snow and quiet. Not his forest perhaps, but maybe a new forest. A calm, peaceful forest where he could recover and reflect on the past events. He heard voices, distant and muffled, becoming clearer and louder. One of the floating rectangles burst open and out sprang a small group of humans, bustling noisily towards him. Young ones, and the Vozza. The children hopped and cavorted around Chris, pulling softly on his branches and looking up at his tip. A strange warmth, a glow came over him...how happy they all seemed.
Chris slammed to the ground in an explosion of powdery snow. He felt his trunk being lifted and set on something hard. No...no...not again...not in this happy place....but the ripping pain slapped him back to reality as the man Vozza proceeded to cut into his stump with a small handsaw!
"Can't you people leave me ALONE!!!???? AIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIII NOOOOOOOOOOOOO GOD NOOOO!!!"
In his weakened state, the tree blacked out immediately, mercifully, not aware of the inch long chunk of his trunk falling into the snow surrounded by a small scattering of sawdust.
Too much warmth. Hot. Stifling hot. Desert dry...
Uncomfortably Chris stirred. It was daytime again. A strange, yellow daytime. The sky was low, almost touching his tip. The earth had been corrupted. It had turned deep red, the color of the blood that dried on the fur of the gutshot deer that died beneath his branches in the forest. The sky was white, flat white, and the sun hung impossibly low, just a small distance away. Queer trees filled the landscapes. Lumpish ugly things with no branches or leaves or needles that squatted in the shadows.
A dull throbbing ache filled his trunk. He had been cut again. Is that how it's to be? They cut and they cut and pretty soon there'll be nothing left. Despair washed over the tree yet again and quietly he began to weep. Sharp twinges surrounded his trunk low down. Afraid to look, yet powerless to resist...he saw he had been given new feet after all.
No crude crucifix of fresh bleeding boards this time. It seems Chris was deserving of a special treatment. Surrounding his shortened stump was an ornate contraption, a gaily colored torture device in bright red and green. How festive, he thought, except for the long metal screws screwed through the base and jammed deep into his soft flesh. Sluggishly, sap oozed out around the screws and congealed into a stinking crust.
Beyond panic, beyond outrage, beyond fear. Chris didn't care any more. This was it. Enjoy the pain, Chris my friend, he thought. Embrace it, hold it in your boughs like you used to hold the chickadee nests full of young ones. Shelter it and keep it yours alone. For it is yours and no one else's. It's all you have now. Come, Friend Pain, come dance with me. Sigh through my branches like the breeze used to. Play with my needles and scrabble up my trunk, little squirrel of pain. I welcome you.
"Oh, Tony, it's beautiful!!"
"Thank you, honey. It was the tallest one they had, but I think it fits perfectly in the room! Look, there's still room at the top for the angel to sit without us having to prune it any!"
"Dad, are we going to decorate it tonight?"
"Are you girls done with your dinners? Okay then. Help me find where we stuck the decorations last year!"
"Did you give it any water yet, honey?"
"I'll take care of that. I think the decorations are in the basement on top of the freezer!"
Alone again. Distant sounds, anger, fear and sadness twisting through his branches, cavorting with the ache in his trunk and his spirit. Do your worst, you two legged voles. The spruce was right. May your children stab themselves bloody on my needles. May your pets choke on them. May you step on them and get an infection, you-
"I get to put on the first ornament!"
"No, I get to! You got to do it last year!"
"Nobody's decorating anything until I give this poor tree something to drink! Girls, go fill up another gallon jug in the sink, a tree this size will be pretty thirsty!"
An unbelievably cool and ambrosial sensation flooded Chris. WATER! Oh God how long had it been since he'd had anything...greedily he sucked at the water that now filled the base. He drank and drank, not daring to pause fearing it might stop at any second. Parts of him that were beginning to shrivel swelled until they were turgid. He could feel his needles straightening, his trunk welcoming the liquid, he drank like a tree possessed. More water flooded the base, he ignored the laughing comments of the humans, he didn't care. Later he might have time to contemplate the paradox of humanity, but for now all that mattered was the water.
Chris had drunk his fill, and the remaining water in the base was soothing on his cut stump. He became aware of a weight on his boughs. Not much of a weight, but a weight all the same, all around from tip to the lowest remaining branches...those not ripped off by the lot man, he thought bitterly. Strange green twine encircled him, not tightly, but as light as a sparrow's tread. Green twine with dark colored jewels spaced along its length. As he regarded them they suddenly burst into light. Bright needles of color, everywhere, all around, inside and outside his boughs. Chris himself was the light. A rainbow brought down from the sky and wrapped around him, warmly and brightly.
"Beautiful, Tony, it looks simply beautiful!!"
He became aware of the humans, standing before him, looking at him with wide, admiring eyes and great smiles on their faces. One of the children came forward, and with great deliberation reached up and carefully placed a glittering object on one of his branches. The weight of it tugged it downwards ever so slightly. The other child came forward and placed another object, a different color and shape, on another branch further up. And so it went. For what seemed like forever object after object was hung from this branch or that, sometimes clipped on, sometimes hung by a ribbon, or hung by a hook. Clattering garlands of gems were gently laid across his boughs, and cool feathery leaves of silver were draped from his needles. At last the Vozza carefully placed something on the tip of the tree, and Chris found the weight strangely comforting, like a bird perched up there, on the lookout for danger or prey.
One final time the humans stood before him, and ooed and aahed and proclaimed how beautiful he was before they left him. The light suddenly dimmed to near darkness, lit only by a faint glowing star off to the side.
A strange quiet fell over this new forest. Chris stood there, the ache in his stump quieted by the coolness of the water, a familiar and pleasant weight on all his branches, and the strange bird atop his highest bough. The tree was confused and perplexed. Upright he stood, as upright as he ever had been, no longer leaning to the side, bound with twine and sorrow. He didn't know what to think now.
He looked around, his sight altered by the shimmering fruit he now bore. The strange lumpish trees in the gloom had disappeared into the greater darkness there. Only the dull light from the side could he see. And the strange vertical pond upon which that light fell. Chris could see his reflection in that pond across from him. With a start he saw himself as the humans must see him. Tall, dark, upright, yet a bright glittering thing even in the darkness. Objects...the field tree called them gewgaws, did he not...fairly covered him. The silvery feathery leaves fluttered gently in an unfelt wind current. And the bird perched on his tip was indeed a bird, a human-shaped bird with wings spread wide and proud.
Like the sun emerging slowly over the tallest trees in the forest, it dawned on Chris. He was to be a Christmas Tree.
To be continued....