Oh, Christmas Tree

Trigger warning: excessive gore and body horror


“Mr. Scott, this guy has been slacking off since you hired him. I’ve had it up to here with your charity cases, if you won’t fire him, I’m leaving.”

“Please.” Mr. Scott says, calling what he thinks is your bluff. “You’ve been working at this tree farm for nearly a decade and you’re going to throw away that loyalty over some guy you think you saw steal tips? Everyone deserves a second chance even if that is the case.  This is just not like you. Besides, this is my business and I don’t think it’s fair you’re telling me what to do.” Mr. Scott goes back to making the wreath he has before him without making eye contact. Exasperated, you slap your raised hands against your sides and storm off.

Steel toed cowboy boots pace around the pavement of the parking lot and a stump of cigar hangs from your pursed lips. Puffing small clouds of infuriated smoke, you mutter to yourself about how, for years, you’ve been at Mr. Scott’s beck and call. Now he chooses some charity case stoner who smokes in his fields and steals tips to come back year after year. And as if that’s not bad enough, he expects you to shut up and deal with it You’ve had enough and you know that Mr. Scott won’t fire him unless he leaves first. If this is the direction this place is going, you don’t want to be a part of it.

“Hey man, everything okay?” Your coworker Luke shouts from the cashier barn. “I have a question about a 12 footer in the back, but you look like you could kill someone.”

“Yeah, I’m fine,” you say, his words sparking an idea you hadn’t considered until now. Taking one last drag from your cigar and tossing it to the ground, a smile splits your face and you say “wanna help me with something?”

***

You both glance around the work area behind the cashier’s barn and spy Max, the slacker, resting against the wooden doors, his scarf-covered face illuminated by the screen of his cell phone. He adjusts his crocheted beanie as a cold breeze makes its way through the barn and chills you both through the cracks of your multiple layers. Customers stop coming this time of night, especially when it’s this cold and windy. There likely won’t be any more until the farm closes. The neat rows of Christmas trees on the lot spit needles onto the stony ground as another gust of wind rattles them on their pegs. Branches come loose, pinecones skitter across the concrete by Max’s feet, and some wreaths could be straightened in the barn behind him. Not to mention, pegs from sold trees are still empty and need to be refilled, yet there he stands, phone in-hand and oblivious.

“Ridiculous,” Luke muses.

“Tell me about it,” you reply.

“You really think this is worth it?”

“Hell yeah I do. Scott is an idiot. He thinks he can save the world one person at a time with this place. guess he doesn’t think his reputation as the local tree-seller is worth all that much. He’s gone in an hour, we’ll do it then.”

***

As you wave a farewell to Mr. Scott, he drives off in his old pickup and heads home for the night, leaving you to close as you do every night. You turn off the main lights to the tree lot  by the road and place the closed sign at the entrance.

“Hey Max, would you mind sweeping up those needles and picking up some of those pine cones?” Max takes a few steps forward and says

“You’re standing right there, why should I do it?”

“Because I’ve got to close the tree lot and I could use a hand.” Max claps his gloved hands together and shoots you a smug smile.

“Sweep it yourself, jackass,” he spits. As he goes to rest back against the barn doors, Luke bear-hugs him from behind, pinning his arms to his side and flinging his phone a few feet away. From behind your own back, you produce some sisal twine you nabbed from the cashier’s barn. Max squirms and fidgets, but his skinny frame is no match for Luke’s broad shoulders and powerful muscles. You rush over to the pair and wrap the twine so tightly around Max’s waist and wrists you see red marks appear on the small swath of skin revealed between his sleeve and glove.

“What the fuck are you doing?” He calls, wriggling to no avail.

“Don’t worry about it” Luke says in a rough whisper. Without hesitation, Luke picks him up, his feet dangling several inches above the ground, and carries him over to a baler. Max kicks and squirms but is no match for Luke’s experienced grip. You grab an errant foot making its way towards your head and soon grasp the other in a stronghold around his ankles. Max screams and cries for help as these events unfold, but the farm is too secluded from the main road for anyone to hear him.

Feet first, you slide Max into the tree baler, the metal cold on your own bare hands as you hook the winch chain around one of his bony ankles. Try as he might, he can’t move more than a few feet in any direction thanks to the confining metallic ring surrounding his knees and waist. Luke holds him fast from the other end as you ready the plastic mesh that will soon encircle his entire body and suspend his movement completely.

“Okay guys, I get it, haze the new guy into doing the grunt work” Max nervously laughs. “Let me out and I’ll get those needles swept up for you, no problem. This really isn’t necessary.” Shaking his head frantically from side to side, he loses his hat and his scarf unfurls a bit to reveal greasy red hair and a sparse mustache.

“Shut the hell up, idiot,” you cry, cranking the winch with a lever at the base of the machine. The chain pulls on his ankle and the rest of his body slides through the metal ring with each crank of the lever. He attempts to kick at you, but the netting keeps his leg confined.

“Goddamnit, guys! Stop this!” He cries to no avail. His knees pass the precipice of the ring and he’s tightly wrapped from the waist down. Almost dislocating his shoulder, he breaks free from the twine binding his hands to his waist, losing his gloves in the process, and grabs onto the metal ring. Holding on with white knuckles against the force of the winch, he cries in pain as the cold metal burns against his hands; he winces.

“Hm, looks like a few branches are out of place up here, let’s take care of those” Luke mutters, reaching for his snips. The cold metal touches Max’s thumb and with one swift movement, his thumb is snipped off. In the moment it takes for his hands to retract in pain, Luke grabs them and holds them tightly in his own, blood soon covering them both entirely.

“Crank that shit, let’s see if we can add a few inches to this guy” he calls. You gladly comply and crank the winch several times, the snapping sound of a bone rings out through his screams which then intensify. Driven by hot anger, you and Luke maintain this position until Max’s body raises up between the two of you, suspended only by the chain and Luke’s grasp.  One final snap can be heard, an ear-splitting scream, and suddenly Max’s leg rips from his body in a gory display of blood and bone.While bleeding profusely and obviously down a limb, the appendage stays put next to the one still connected thanks to the netting around his legs. Max passes out from the pain and lolls his head to one side.

“Oh my god, what just happened?” Luke cried, a bit shocked yourself, you reply

“I think his leg just came off.”

“I thought we were just going to mess with him a bit, cut off a fingertip or something. Dude, I didn’t sign up for this.”

“Then leave” you say, staring at him with dead eyes.

“What? Why? What are you going to do?” He stammers.

“Leave. Luke.” You reply through your teeth. Terrified by the look you’re giving him, he takes off through the parking lot and drives off into the night.

***

Moments later, Max comes to. Though groggy and confused, you’ve been waiting for him to  wake so you can watch him suffer as much as possible. He’s bleeding into a puddle forming on the ground below him, ghostly white, and shaking. His lips are a dark blue and his foot has swollen inside of his shoe. In the time it’s taken for him to regain consciousness, you’ve encapsulated him in tight plastic netting and suspended him against the back pole of the tree drilling machine; his arms raised above his head, slowly turning purple.

“W-Wh…” Max tries, but his mouth is too dry and his lips too cold to form words; his eyes barely open. Through the netting you can see the layers of his clothes soaked with blood start to form ice crystals and can only imagine how deep they go in this freezing weather. Sure he’s not only suffering from an amputated leg, but also hypothermia, you make quick work of taking off the shoe to the other leg that’s suspended just above the hole for the drill bit.

“Now, what kind of tree would you be if you didn’t have a hole for your stand?” You say, your voice laced with a sadism you didn’t know you were capable of. Fueled by anger at his lack of character, work ethic, and morals. Furious that he would treat the man you consider a father figure in such a way. Ashamed that Mr. Scott could hire such a whimpering fool and force you to work alongside him. You’re beside yourself and channeling it in the only way your rage filled mind will let you.

You power up the drill and stare into the closing eyes of a man you hate with every fiber of your being. All it takes is one pull of the lever to destroy his other foot and prop him up like the good little employee Mr. Scott thinks he is. You don’t think twice and pull the lever slow enough to penetrate the arch of his foot in one go. You watch it bubble up through the skin, stretching it, cracking it, and moving tendons and veins from its steady path. Max is too unconscious to scream, but his face is contorted into a lazy wince and tears fall from his eyes. His mouth opens and closes slowly. Blood fills the hole and the bit exits the wound as you lower the lever.

You grab a stand from the cashier’s barn and set it up in the center of the floor. Slicing through his restraints, you prop him up on it, rigor mortis likely setting in rapidly thanks to the cold. The wound on his hand gushes blood from the sudden release of tension and his leg hangs on with only the help of sinewy skin. You glance at your handiwork before writing the words “I quit” on a piece of paper and tape it to him with a price tag sticker. Feeling as if words could not properly describe the joy that has suddenly overwhelmed you, you turn off the lights and lock the barn door.


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