It’s the time of year where folks are supposed to be joyous and merry and cheerful and… yeah, whatever. Christmas is not what Christmas used to be. There’s really no need to pretend. Most folks just don’t get into the Christmas spirit and plenty of them have forgotten the reason Christmas is even celebrated.
I must be honest, I’m not a big fan of this season, but not because Christmas isn’t a joyous time of year, but because of all of the commercialism that Christmas has become. It wasn’t like this when I was a kid—or at least, I didn’t notice it being this way.
Since there are only 16 days left until Christmas, I’m polishing off the Christmas stories and writing a couple of new ones to post in the next two plus weeks. Hopefully, you will enjoy them. Please, feel free to comment or share with others. And try and have a wonderful Christmas season.
O Christmas Tree
By A.J. Brown
“It’s the most wonderful time of the year,” Cory sang as he climbed down from the attic. In one hand was a small white box. The other held tight to the railing. He folded the ladder, locked it in place and closed the drop door to the attic. “With the kids jingle belling, and everyone yelling—”
He paused, his song not sounding quite right. Ad the lyrics ran through his head, he tried to recall how the song really went.
“It’s not ‘yelling’ you dense fool,” he said to himself and began singing again. “It’s the most wonderful time of the year. With the kids jingle belling and everyone telling you ‘Be of good cheer.’ It’s the most wonderful time of the year.”
Nodding in satisfaction, Cory walked into his living room and set the box down on the coffee table. He looked around at the other boxes that held lights, ornaments, tinsel and other little knick-knacks. There was a Santa Claus doll and a train, complete with tracks and a smokestack that blew out real smoke, thanks to a sliver of dry ice and a dab of water. There were several houses in little red boxes, a town he liked to put together around the tree, places for the train to pass by as it went along its merry way.
“I love this time of year,” he said and clasped his hands together. “Don’t you, Charles?”
Charles looked up at him from his mat on the floor, his muddy brown eyes holding that forlorn look that all basset hounds seemed to have. His tail lifted off the floor and flopped back down—his best attempt at a wag.
“I knew you did,” Cory said and opened the box labeled LIGHTS. He pulled out several groups of green-chorded bulbs, bundled together and tied neatly with twine. Setting each strand aside, he thought of what he wanted on his tree this year. White lights? Multi-colored lights? The big ones or little ones? Bubble lights or maybe the little twinkly ones? Cory’s eyes lit up when he saw the blue lights. “I haven’t used these in years.”
As he untied the twine around the chord, Cory began singing again.
“Have a holly, jolly Christmas.
It’s the best time of the year.
I don’t know if there’ll be snow, but have a cup of cheer.”
Cory plugged the lights in and smiled when they came to life. “Blue it is this year.”
Carefully, he began to string the lights onto his tree. Though it held only two branches and was bare of leaves and that wonderful pine smell, it would still serve its purpose, even if it was unconventional. Cory shrugged at the unconventional thought. Most new-agers weren’t into all the Christmas tradition, but Cory was, so not having his normal lush green pine tugged at his heart a little.
With only the two branches near the top, Cory had to put hooks all along its trunk. Occasionally a little fluid seeped out where the hooks were, but Cory didn’t seem to mind. Charles always cleaned it up. For some reason, the old dog liked the way it tasted.
As he strung the lights, he sang again, changing a couple of words to reflect his own tree.
“I’ll have a blue Christmas without you.
I’ll be so blue thinking about you.
Decorations of blue on a white Christmas tree,
Won’t mean a thing if you’re not here with me.”
After the lights, he pulled out a long strand of garish yellow garland. He strung it a little more haphazardly, but tried to make sure it didn’t clash with the lights.
“I’m loving it,” Cory said to himself and opened a box of ornaments.
He was searching through them, trying to find the right ones when he heard a soft moan. Cory’s head jerked up and he turned around. A smile creased his face. “Awake so soon, my dear?”
The lady in the corner said nothing, but her eyes spoke volumes.
“Oh, don’t be afraid,” Cory said. “They’re only Christmas decorations.”
Another moan escaped the blonde’s throat, this one coming out much louder than the first one.
“Please, don’t fuss, sweetheart. It’s Christmas remember? The holidays?”
A third, louder moan that would have been a scream if she could have opened her mouth.
Cory shook his head in disappointment. “I knew you wouldn’t be in the holiday spirit,” he said. “Well, maybe when I’m done, you’ll change your mind.”
Turning away from her, Cory picked up two ornaments, both bright purple with white sequins forming a curly-queue pattern on them. He attached a metal loop on each one and then walked back over to his tree—to the lovely blond who had been less than vigorously ringing the bell outside the department store earlier in the evening. She hadn’t been too cheerful at all and she made it obvious when Cory dropped his change in the bucket. Cory thought it was because of the charity hour she had to donate to the cause of the homeless.
“Have a nice Christmas,” he had said and listened as the coins rattled in the bright red kettle.
“Yeah, right,” she murmured under her breath.
Cory didn’t think he was supposed to hear the comment but he had, and it bothered him. He stopped and looked at the woman, her green eyes underneath eyebrows that were furrowed down, making her look angry. She wasn’t the most appealing woman in the world but there was a certain prettiness even through her cold demeanor.
“Ma’am, would you like to have dinner with me?” he asked.
“You’re kidding, right?”
“No, I’m serious. You seem like you’re not too much into the Christmas spirit and I would like to help change that.”
“No,” she said, flatly.
“Suit yourself,” Cory said and walked off.
By the time he reached his car, Cory was distraught over her reaction to him. “I must change her mind,” he said.
Patiently, he waited until her shift was over and she made her way to her car, a couple of parking spots down from his own. With her back to him she wasn’t able to see him until his reflection appeared in her window. Her eyes grew wide as she spun around to defend herself. Cory grabbed her face and smashed her head backwards into the driver’s side window. The window cracked into tiny outstretched lines, like a spider’s web, as a smear of blood rolled down it.
“You’re a mean one, Mrs. Grinch,” he sang as he lifted her to her feet and helped her to his car. “You really are a heel. You’re as cuddly as a cactus. You’re as charming as an eel, Mrs. Griiiiinnnnnch. You’re a bad banana with a greasy black peeeeeel.”
“Aren’t these lovely?” he said and held the ornaments in front of her. “I think they’ll look great on you.”
He went to hang the two ornaments on the hooks he hard carefully screwed into her flesh. She struggled to move her arms and legs, but the wooden cross she hung on held her arms out and her legs together, making it impossible for her to do anything but shiver and shake. He placed the ornaments, one at each elbow, and went back for more. Again he sung a song as he decorated her body with ornaments of all different shapes and sizes.
“It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas everywhere you go. There’s a tree in the Grand Hotel, one in the park as well; the sturdy kind that doesn’t mind the snow. It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, soon the bells will start. And the thing that will make them ring is the carol that you sing right within your heart.”
He looked up at the tears tracing down his blond tree’s face. Wiping them away, he frowned. “This isn’t working, is it?”
She screamed the best she could, but with her lips sewn shut with green thread it came out muffled.
“That’s okay,” Cory said and pulled the Santa Clause from its box. Lifting it up, he brushed off a year’s worth of dust that somehow got into the box and set it at her feet. It matched her red toenails.
The houses that normally went around the tree, went along the mantle above the fire place, set up in a precise manner that had the town’s small Christmas tree in the center. Santa Claus was on one roof, about to set foot in a chimney. All the while, Cory sang Christmas carols, sometimes stopping to put his hands in the air, dramatizing each movement and word he belted out.
“All that’s left is to plug in the lights,” Cory said, happily.
Carefully, he plugged all of the lights into surge protectors and turned off the overhead lamp. The lights came alive when he flipped a switch on the main power chord and the room became a glow of blues and yellows and whites. Santa Clause danced at the foot of the tree and Charles even sat up for a moment, his tail smacking hard on the floor a couple of times.
“Something is wrong, Charles,” Cory said as he stared hard at his beautiful tree. “What is missing?”
Charles only glanced up before lying back down on his mat, closing his eyes, as if to try and forget what his master was doing.
“A-ha,” Cory shouted in elation. “There is no star on top of the tree.”
Cory knelt down and rummaged through several of the boxes. Standing up, he walked over to where the little box he had pulled down from the attic was. Opening it, he took out a silver star.
“I thought I cleaned this, last year,” he said and began to wipe the crusted red flakes from its sharp steel tip. Underneath the flakes was rust that had set in and wasn’t coming off easily. “Oh, well, I guess she’ll be the last one that gets to wear this star, Charles. It gets tossed out with the tree this year.”
Cory stood and walked back to the tree, singing.
“O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree, how steadfast are your branches!
Your boughs are green in summer’s clime
And through the snows of wintertime.
O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree, how steadfast are your branches!”
“You’re going to be so beautiful,” Cory said and stepped onto a step stool.
Charles sat up, his tail wagging faster than it had in a long while.
“O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree, what happiness befalls me
When oft at joyous Christmas-time
Your form inspires my song and rhyme.
O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree, what happiness befalls me.”
The woman let out a loud muffled scream that tore part of the green stitching away from her lips just before Cory drove the star into her skull. It cracked and then gave way under the tip’s pressure. Blood trickled from around the star and dripped down her face. Her body convulsed, violently at first, slowed and then ceased moving altogether.
Cory stepped back and wiped a speck of blood from his brow. “I almost toppled the tree this year, Charles,” he said. “That would have been a terrible thing, don’t you think?”
Charles stood and walked over to Cory, his eyes fixed on the small puddle of blood underneath the woman. He lowered his head and started lapping at the puddle.
Looking up at his work of art—the woman with no Christmas spirit—Cory began to sing once more as tears brimmed in his eyes.
“O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree, your boughs can teach a lesson
That constant faith and hope sublime,
Lend strength and comfort through all time.
O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree, your boughs can teach a lesson.”
I hope you enjoyed O Christmas Tree, and for anyone who knows me, then you know I like telling folks where story ideas came from.
O Christmas Tree is a product of the blond-haired woman portrayed in the story. One evening in 2006 (when this story was written) I exited the local Wal-Mart with a bag in hand and in a bit of a festive mood. The woman stood outside the front doors, bundled up and barely ringing the little hand bell that comes with the hour long commitment to The Salvation Army charity that happens all along the country. This ‘commitment’ is voluntary—unless of course, a business sponsors it for a day or week, then the workers get ‘volunteered’ to do it, which I suspect is what happened in this case. None-the-less, if you are going ring the bell for an hour, the least you can do is appear that you want to be there. I generally give to those who are singing and saying Merry Christmas and are smiling and saying thank you and all that good stuff. It’s harder to give to those who just stand there like our Mrs. Grinch.
I placed a dollar in coins in the bucket, said ‘Merry Christmas,’ and proceeded to walk away.
‘Whatever,’ came mumbling from her lips. I honestly don’t believe I was supposed to hear the comment, but I did. I turned and looked at her. She glared back at me, as if daring me to say something. I smiled, though my head was shaking from side to side and my lips were somewhat tucked in against my teeth. ‘That’s sad,’ I said and walked off.
I would love to say I brushed this off and forgot about it, but I didn’t. I was disappointed in the attitude of the volunteer and just couldn’t let it go. I started to go back and say something when I noticed someone was standing beside her. She handed the bell to an older black man, and then walked away, her hands shoved into her pockets, her head down and a somewhat relieved, yet angry expression on her face.
There was no need to say anything to her. She struck me as an unhappy person who would just argue anything I—or anyone else, for that matter—would have to say. Instead, I walked off, reached my car and went to get in. That’s when I noticed her car was only a few spots away from mine. No, I didn’t go over to her and smash her head against the window, but right then the story came to me and I knew that one of my favorite character’s, a guy named Cory, would make another appearance in a short story. I went home that night and wrote O Christmas Tree.
I hope you enjoyed the read, and until we meet again, my friends…