As promised, my little friend and über fan of Underneath The Juniper Tree and sole human inhabitant of The Forest That Screamstrademarked2011 ;} brings you a thought lost Christmas tale in the vain of Tales From The Crypt and Twilight Zone, both of which I am, myself, a super fan.
Not for the squeamish. I give you…
Mr. Cratz kneeled in front of his son and put his hand to his head. “Franklin, I’ll be back within the hour. Right now is the best time to get a tree…because there is magic in the air,” he said smiling. Cratz smiled and stood to his feet. “What I need for you to do is prepare the setting. You know grab the lining and clear the area near the hearth.”
Franklin nodded with a big smile and watched his father walk out of the front door of the little cabin they called home, deep in the center of the Durst Forest. It was a quaint little abode but they cherished every part of it. Franklin ran to a closet off to the side where they kept the Christmas decorations in storage and rummaged through the scattered boxes until he found the one marked, for the tree. He exhaled and picked it up and began taking out the contents of the box: assorted lights, ornaments, and the soft red cloth lining.
Meanwhile, Mr. Cratz trudged through the snow, axe in hand whistling a holiday tune. He pulled his thick wool jacket tighter around him and tucked his neck into it. He stopped after ten minutes or so and looked to the left and to the right. It dawned on him that for the last few years he had taken a tree from the same area. This year, he would go in the opposite direction-to the uncharted wood. Uncharted at least, for him. Beginning the traditional song, O Christmas Tree, he looked into the sky. The sun had long set and he turned his flashlight on and noticed a sign, old and worn. The words of the sign could no longer be read. He shrugged and walked past the sign and continued into the forest, into a circular clearing, looking at the trees up and down, as he passed.
“Franklin. Which would you pick?” he asked outloud. “Hmm, how bout this one, here? Tall, firm…” he stepped near the fir and sniffed the fresh needles. “I think we’ve found our tree,” he said. He ran his gloved fingers across the blade of the axe slowly and thrust it down hard against the tree. He heard a yelp when he struck the tree. He turned and ignored the sound, shaking his head. “Deer,” he muttered. He gripped the axe once again and struck the tree over and over again until it began to lean. He stood straight and put his hand to his hips and mocked an echo. “Timber, timber, ber, ber…” The tree fell and he proceeded to walk to the “top” of the tree and pull it away from the clearing, passed the sign, and back into the forest, towards the cabin.
The tree was tall but thin, making it easier for Mr. Cratz to pull it through the snow. He reached the cabin with Franklin looking out of the window. Franklin ran to the door and swung it open, with the biggest smile Mr. Cratz had ever seen on him. “I knew you’d love it! Now-let’s decorate her!”
They laughed and shared memories while putting all the decorations on the tree. Mr. Cratz even made Franklin’s favorite hot cocoa. A few hours later they went off to their bedrooms.
“Tomorrow, Franklin Cratz. Christmas Day. Goodnight.”
The morning came and Mr. Cratz awoke to the songs of birds outside his window. The sun had not come out yet. He lay in bed for a few moments and smiled. He would surprise Franklin with his first gift, a homemade slingshot. He got it out from under his bed and walked quietly to the living room, expecting to see Franklin there. Franklin wasn’t there. “Still asleep, huh? I don’t blame you, son,” he said walking to Franklin’s room. He opened the door. Franklin wasn’t there. He frowned and called out to him. “Franklin!” Maybe he wanted to see the first day’s snow, he thought, so he ran to the front door, not noticing the tree and everything on it-gone.
He swung the door open…but Franklin wasn’t there. Mr. Cratz’ eyes opened wide. “Franklin! Franklin!” he screamed. “Franklin!” He ran back inside and nearly slipped on something on the floor. He looked down and saw a nearly dried trail of what looked like blood leading to where he had placed the tree. Quickly he turned and looked outside, following the trail of blood. It was faint and nearly covered in snow but it was there. “Franklin! My boy!” he yelled stricken with panic. He ran outside, barefoot, following the trail. Then he saw something else. A different trail, a fresher one, alongside the one from the tree-leadin away from the house. He ran as hard as he could, following it, breathing hard, his heart heavy with grief over what he might find. The old trail and new trail led back to where he found the tree-the clearing. In the darkness he could see faint lights. He found his way to where the sign was and ran so hard he knocked it down into the snow. When he reached the clearing, he fell to his knees and screamed. A scream that would awaken the long since dead. “F-f-f-frank-franklin??” He stuttered as he began to crawl through the snow. The trail of blood led to his son, who was centered, decorated with beautiful ornaments, tinsel, garland, lights…and the soft red cloth lining, drenched in blood. He turned to the left and saw the tree he had chopped down, in the ground, it’s base covered in needles. He reached for the lining. He pulled it away and what he saw was the final blow to his already damaged psyche. He clutched his chest, and fell into the snow. The trees seemed closer to the center than before…as if they were slowly following and watching him. As his heart continued to sieze, he could hear, faintly, a garbled voice behind him, whistling to the tune of O, Christmas tree, o, Christmas tree…
Back at the Cratz cabin were Franklin’s feet, set close together. He had been uprooted, just as the young tree before him.
The moral of the story? Signs, signs everywhere are signs. Do this! Don’t do that! Can’t you read…the signs?