The Tree of Dark Desires
Felix Galt stood at the very edge of his fifteen hundred acre estate, gazing across a low stone wall, into the woods, at a very particular tree. Unlike the thousands of trees at his back, the one he was observing did not belong to him, but he wanted it. The towering evergreen was very likely the oldest tree in the forest. It was certainly the grandest, in his estimation. Unfortunately for Felix, the tree lay just beyond his reach, in the very center of that part of the forest to which he had not yet been able to lay claim, despite his most devious efforts. That section of woodland, a mere ten acres, belonged to his despised neighbor, Roger Cares, who didn’t even have what Felix considered the decency to be a businessman, and would not even meet with Felix to discuss the possibility of selling. No, Mister Roger Cares had merely inherited the land, and lived off of it instead of making a living out in the civilized world; the world which knew that everything had a price.
Felix gnashed his teeth, thinking about the grubby little trailer sitting at the other end of that patch of forest, the grubby little garden that surrounded it, and the grubby little man who lived there; the man who dared to defy the will of Felix Galt! The man who owned the tree, he was a particularly irritating thorn in Felix’s side. There was simply no reasoning with him. Felix had offered a more than fair price for the property, according to the market value. Mister Roger Cares would not sell. He had tried arranging logging rights, to no avail. Mister Roger Cares would not allow it. But, Felix wanted that tree, and he would have it. This grubby little man could not be allowed to defy him so.
As Felix stared at the object of his covetousness, the tree itself seemed to brood. It was an odd specimen. Majestic, of course, but dark and mysterious, as well. It seemed to be the only tree of it’s particular, unidentifiable, species, in the entire forest. It was obviously an evergreen of some kind, over a hundred feet tall, with needles so dark they were almost black, and a thick trunk with black bark as well. Large black cones, a bit smaller than a human head, hung from the branches. There was an odor associated with the tree, which permeated the forest for miles around. It smelled like molasses and roses mingled together with something deeper, earthier, and beyond identification. It was at once alluring and terrifying, beckoning to the ancient memories deep in the core of the human brain, remnants of those aeons before manlike things were blessed with the gift of humanity.
Felix fantasized about what he would do with the tree once he had acquired it, as he surely intended to do. First, he would transport it to his mansion, and set it up in front as a Christmas tree, a rich surprise for his granddaughter. It would be an expensive process, but he could easily afford it, and he intended to make that money back with the wood. Once the holidays were over, he would have it processed as lumber, and build a house out of it. A house made of that wood was guaranteed to bring a huge profit. He had a sample of it, in his hand, a single branch that had been fashioned into a cane by his grandfather. Felix never knew the story of how his grandfather had acquired that branch, but he had always been fascinated by the wood itself. It was dark and reddish, with black striations from the growth rings, and absolutely unyielding. To Felix, this was the most beautiful wood in the world, and he had become obsessed with it at the first sight of that cane, when he was a child.
Felix used the cane to push open the old iron gate which was set into a stone archway in the wall that separated the two properties. An early November snow had begun to fall, and he intended to visit the object of his desire before the snow began to drift. Stepping confidently through the gate, he began to stamp through the low underbrush with his usual unswerving determination. A small minded person might almost think him heroic in his avaricious zeal.
A ten acre plot may be crossed rather quickly, even in an unkempt forest, and Felix was only going half the distance. Still, it took him nearly half an hour to get through. It was as if every weed and vine had conspired to trip him up or hold him back, but he had persevered. He stood at the outer edge of the tree’s perimeter, looking up toward the crown. It was glorious. He inhaled the tree’s exotic aroma. It was intoxicating.
Walking around the tree, he spied the male cones. Some people are surprised to learn that coniferous trees have both male and female cones, but Felix had already been aware. Nevertheless, these particular cones were rather unique, perhaps even a little alarming, in their appearance. They were bright red, like poinsettias, but with a perversely squid like form. There was a lumpy central mass with a dozen or so long, slender appendages coiling outward like tentacles. Each tentacle was covered in fine red hairs. Felix jostled one of the cones by poking it with the cane, and the tentacles appeared to make a sort of flexing movement, like the limbs of a cat while falling and finding it’s balance.
Suddenly the calm of the forest was broken by a screeching voice as something emerged from under branches at the base of the tree. Felix raised the cane to protect his face as gnarly hands swung a needled branch at him. He deflected the swatting assault a second, third, and fourth time, before tripping and falling backward into the brush. A small but powerful foot, just as gnarly as the hands, landed with force on his chest and pinned him to the forest floor. He gasped in pain and surprise. Blinking back tears, he was able to get a look at his nimble assailant. It appeared to be a person, small of stature, dirty, clothed in a short tunic made of squirrel pelts, with matted white hair jutting out from it’s head. The angry, ancient looking face had a petite but misshapen nose, and a withered jaw that held a single long tooth that lay over the top lip and almost touched the right nostril. On top of the head there was an arrangement of long, curved, spiky shapes that Felix first took for antlers, but quickly realized were actually small branches. Just beneath the branches, poking out of the hair on the sides of the head, were a pair of enormous, pointed, ears.
“Haha!” the little person crowed in it’s screechy voice. “Hasitnow! Killaneatit! Killaneatit!”
Felix’s mind reeled. He kept trying to decide if his attacker was male, or female, as if it would help him determine the level of danger he was in. He soon decided that he was under maximum threat, and swung his cane into the little person’s side. It rolled off of him with a howl. Felix scrambled to his feet and brandished the cane like a rapier, shouting.
“Go on then, you miscreant! Give it your best shot! I’m not afraid of you!”
“Ohohoho, notafearednotafeareditis! Doesnotknowitthendoesnot! Noknownoknownonono!”
“What the hell are you, anyway? Did Cares put you up to this? Are you his guard dog? Well, you can tell him he’ll have to do a hell of a lot better than this, to stop me from getting what I want!”
“Ohho! Hellthehellthehellyousay! Hellitisanhell Hellandgothehellwithyou!”
Felix roared and charged the little person with his cane, missing completely as it leapt over his head and disappeared back under the branches of the tree. Felix chased after it. The ground beneath the branches was devoid of other vegetation, but there was a thick buildup of needles and cones. It was difficult to see very far because of the heavy shade of the branches. He stepped close to the trunk of the tree, and the toe of his boot collided with a large, flat stone. Taking a closer look, he found that the stone was covered with some kind of runic inscription, and that it was arranged with several other identical stones around the base of the tree. He noticed that all of the stones were at a slight upward incline to the trunk, which bulged slightly over top of the edges. They seemed to have been purposefully placed in a tight ring around the tree, possibly many centuries in the past. Felix followed the stones around the trunk, and nearly crashed into a small hut that was built around the side of the tree, using it’s own branches. It was a highly effective camouflage.
Suddenly, the little person leapt out of the shadows, smacking Felix in the face with a handful of red dust. It danced around, cackling maniacally as Felix sputtered and coughed.
“Oogity Boogity Boogy Bee, Yiggity Draggoty Seely See!”
The acrid powder stung his eyes, nose, and throat. Tears streamed down his face, leaving trails in the dust.
“What the godamn hell, you little fucker! What are you trying to do to me?”
Felix struggled to see, and stumbled out into the more brightly lit forest. His head was swimming with strange sensations, and he could see several dark shapes approaching him through the falling snow.
“Who’s there? More miniscule miscreants? I’ll kick your asses!”
The shapes came closer, and he could see that the newcomers were very different beings from the little person. There were three of them, standing seven feet tall, skeletally slender, seeming to merge with the shadows like thick billows of smoke in the shape of something almost human. The snowflakes seemed to pass through them. He couldn’t discern any facial features, but he could feel them leering at him malevolently.
“So what do you want? Is this the part where you tell me the true meaning of Christmas? Hah? Are you going to offer me a chance to mend my wicked ways? Or tell me I’m being tested? What?”
“You perceive us,” a sepulchral voice rang in his head. “Interesting. But you are mistaken. We do not offer redemption. Your fate is sealed, Felix Galt. The suffering you have caused in the world has drawn us to you, and you belong to us. We will feed.”
Felix felt the blood drain from his face. For the first time, he was truly afraid. He did not know how to fight these mysterious beings who laid claim to his life. He realized in horror that he was facing a power far greater than his own, greater than any he had dreamed existed, and was helpless. A scream of terror erupted from him as his mind shattered. The dark beings closed in on him.
A voice called from the forest. It was a human voice, and that of a man. Someone was calling Felix’s name. He looked out in the direction from which it came, and saw the man approaching. It was Roger Cares, rushing toward him. Felix laughed. It seemed somehow absurd to him that another human being should, at this very moment, intrude upon this macabre scene. But here was Mister Roger Cares, not grubby and small as Felix had portrayed him in his mind, but tall and hale and heroic. Felix felt a rush of relief and gratitude. Roger Cares would save him, surely, and in return Felix would abandon his designs on the cursed tree.
The little person in the squirrel skins and branches suddenly emerged, and placed itself between Roger and the dark beings, chattering incoherently. The dark beings took their chance, and pounced on Felix, entering him through his every orifice, like smoke into a chimney. Felix screamed and screamed and screamed, as his body was swiftly digested from within. In a moment, nothing remained of Felix Galt but dust. The dark beings dissolved into mist and were seen no more, having obtained that for which they had come.
Mister Roger Cares sadly picked up the cane that lay within the pile of dust. He looked at it for a moment, and then presented it to the little person. The little person snatched the cane, and disappeared into the branches of the tree. Roger watched it go, and then sadly walked away from the tree.