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Pine Needles by JD Gillam

Pine NeedlesIt was dark and cold. Lenny had wrapped his dressing gown around him to try and keep warm as he descended the stairs. He was careful where he trod, avoiding the squeaks on the stairs and stepping over the cat that had curled itself into a ball at the bottom. The feline briefly opened one eye and looked at him before sinking its head back under a paw. Pausing to listen for any movement from his parents upstairs, Lenny searched for the bounty that awaited him.

The lounge was dark except for the twinkling lights that adorned the Christmas tree. It towered in the corner of the room, imposing its bulk outwards, its branches reaching for something and nothing in particular at the same time. Golden and crimson tinsel draped itself between the boughs, hanging loosely as the baubles hung silently from the limbs, the colours of the bulbs glimmering off of their shiny contours. The lights ran on a continuous cycle, flashing faster and faster until it started all over again, the silent throb making a strange multi-coloured blend on the walls and carpet, as if the tree had a heartbeat.

It would be at least four hours before he would be allowed to tear the gaudy wrapping from the gifts that sat in small pyramids under the tree but he wanted to touch the packages, to feel their shapes and try to guess what was inside. Each packaged present was a different size and the coloured wrapping paper was almost as varied as a box of crayons; blue, green, yellow, silver and gold. Slowly, drinking in the moment, he crossed the lounge floor and knelt down to survey the sea of gifts. All painstakingly wrapped with bows, the corners perfectly folded. Lenny knew that there was no such thing as Santa Claus and he glanced and snorted derisorily at the animatronic figure on the windowsill to prove his point. Instead, Lenny knew his mother had taken the time to ensure that everything looked as good as it possibly could.

The lights blinked at him and for a brief second or two he looked at them, their myriad of colours seeming to keep beat with a muted song. Except there were two lights that were out of time, as if deliberately out of tandem with the others. Light bulb anarchists. They were dark red with small black piths in the middle and they beamed at him intensely, although they were dimmer than their illuminating brethren. Lenny was transfixed, head tilted to one side. He didn’t notice the elongated and oversized twigs that reached out from the sides of the tree. He didn’t notice them as they encircled his waist and began to drag him closer. His knees dragged along the carpeted floor and knocked the first row of presents over.  The cardboard boxes falling to the floor, inches above the ground, made no discernible noise, and Lenny continued to stare into the tree, past the decorations, into the two round pits of Hell itself.

A branch scraped his cheek roughly, slicing and peeling the skin away from his face, bringing Lenny swiftly to his senses. He was already halfway into the tree, arms pinned to his sides. Trying to break free, he shifted this way and that, as if he were trying to scratch his back on nothing, but found no release and realised that the tree was devouring him. He tried to scream for help, for his parents to come to his aid, but as soon as he opened his mouth, it was filled with pine needles and the taste of wood. Still he moved perpetually forwards, cloaked in the shade of the tree.

Baubles fell to the floor, tinsel ripped and tore and floated down. The lights shorted out and the room was plunged into darkness, the two red saucers of malevolence the only illumination in a sea of black. Lenny struggled some more, his tiny frame unable to fight too strongly against the force that held him tightly. Still he moved deeper into the welcoming embrace of the tree. He could hear nothing but the rustling of the branches, the smell of the pine.

As quickly as it had started, it ended. Lenny disappeared into the gloom of the corner. The tree shook once, twice, thrice and then was still. The cat stirred and glanced over to see what had interrupted his sleep, stretched and then wandered upstairs.

The presents that lay underneath were now all the same glorious colour. Visceral, dripping red.

WRITTEN BY JD GILLAM
ILLUSTRATED BY GREG CHAPMAN

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