Winter Holidays - Story 4 - The Anti-Christmas Tree by Stanley B. Webb

This story previously appeared in the anthology Death and Decorations by Thirteen O’Clock Press, 2017.

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Eugene suffered Christmas Eve insomnia.

From his high-rise bedroom window, he watched the tree in Columbus Circle: a seventy-foot blue spruce, wrapped all over with crisscrossing white and blue lights, and topped with a pinwheel star. The decorations reflected in the river, which curved wide around the square.

He played with the Japanese monster figures that Santa had brought last year, making them stomp across the windowsill. Eugene lowered his perspective, to make it look as if his monsters rampaged across the city’s skyline. He hoped that he would get larger figures this year.

If only he could fall asleep, so Santa would come.

The stores around the square went dark one by one, after weeks of around-the-clock selling. The traffic thinned and disappeared, leaving the streetlamps to guard abandoned parking slots. The utility cables, hung with their own decorations, swayed in a gentle, lonely wind.

A plow truck, amber lights blinking, cruised around the square, spreading salt against the expected freeze. When the truck had gone, the tree remained, a sentinel awaiting midnight.

Eugene finally got tired, and let his monsters fall from the windowsill to imaginary deaths on the carpet. He rested his chin on his forearms, nose against the glass, and had almost drifted to sleep when the silent spaceship dropped from the sky.

It fell so rapidly that he feared a crash, but the ship stopped eighty feet above the circle. Eugene expected to hear distant sirens, while the police and army rushed out to fight the invader, but he was the only witness.

The ship’s bottom hatch opened. A giant robot arm reached down and pulled the tree up inside.

Eugene jumped out of bed and ran to his parents’ room.

“Dad, aliens just stole Christmas!”

Dad groaned. “What time is it?”

“Almost one!”

“…In the morning?”

“Yes!” Eugene pulled his father by the hand. “Come on, before they get away!”

The spaceship was gone. The tree remained where it had stood since the day after Thanksgiving.

Dad stepped on a monster and stifled a bad word.

“You’re supposed to take care of these guys, Gene, they’re expensive.”

Eugene pressed his hands against the window. “But, the aliens?”

“You were dreaming.” Dad tousled his hair. “Go back to sleep, so Santa can come.”

Eugene returned his monsters to their shelves, then returned himself to the windowsill. He felt betrayed; he had been so sure that the aliens were real.

Then, he noticed that the tree’s lights were disarrayed, and hung a good distance above the ground. The treetop star tilted, sparking discordantly. The aliens had been there. They had stolen the tree, but then replaced it with another. The new tree was twice as high as the old. Its boughs were raggedy, long, and bent, almost like a spider’s legs.

The plow truck returned, having completed its route. As the truck passed through the square, the tree suddenly lurched into motion, stilting on its lowest boughs. The truck braked to a hard stop, then turned and fled. The tree caught up easily and seized the truck with a pair of boughs. The driver jumped out and ran. The tree caught him with another bough and swallowed him inside its bristly mass. The tree picked the truck up and shook it. When no more men fell out, the tree hurled the truck down.

The vehicle’s fuel tank exploded on impact. The tree staggered back from the flames and became entangled in the utility cables. The tree seemed to panic, and its thrashing wrapped the cables tightly around its boughs. The cables tightened, stretched, and broke with sparkling explosions. The tree lost its balance, stumbled into the side of a department store, and fell across the roof. The store collapsed. A cloud of billowing dust rose into the cold night, along with glittering fountains from broken water pipes.

The tree rose from the dust. Its boughs stiffened into furious spears. It attacked the store’s remains, raising more dust. The tree severed a gas line, which ignited from the shorting Christmas lights, and a fiery explosion blew the dust away. The tree retreated.

Several police cars entered the square, no doubt in response to the store’s alarm system. The tree tilted at their red and blue flashers. The cars stopped suddenly, turning broadside to the tree. Two officers leaped out of each vehicle. They retreated behind the cars, drew their weapons, and commenced firing over the roofs.

From Eugene’s vantage point, the weapons sounded like popguns.

The bullets had no apparent effect on the tree. It lifted two cars by their roof lights. The flashing beacons ripped out of the metal, and the vehicles crashed aside. The officers behind those cars ran. The tree reached out its boughs, caught them, and ate them.

The other police officers, realizing that they were outmatched, returned to their cars and raced away. The tree pursued, caught the last one, shook it violently, and finally ripped it apart to get at the people inside.

The alien monster followed the other cars, surprisingly fast for its size and shape. The police cars reached the river just ahead of the tree, which followed them onto the bridge. The police had gained the opposite shore when the tree mounted the center of the span. The concrete bridge cracked under the weight and collapsed.

The tree dropped vertically into the river and swayed against the thrusting current. As the monster struggled for traction on the muddy riverbed, a police helicopter approached. The tree steadied itself and raised its boughs, but the helicopter circled out of reach. The aircraft’s side door opened, and a machine gun spit fire.

The tree seemed to be frustrated by its inability to seize the helicopter. It thrashed the water to icy foam, then stiffened its boughs and made a skyward flinging motion. Thousands of needles flew off its limbs and pierced through the helicopter. Smoke erupted from the engine cowling. The helicopter fell in a spiral and crashed in a small park on the near river bank. The explosion made Eugene’s window rattle.

The tree waded ashore and then through the buildings around the park. The flames prevented it from reaching the helicopter, and the tree flung needles in its wild frustration. The projectiles shattered the side of an office high-rise.

Suddenly, sirens filled the night: howling, whooping, and screaming all over the city. The tree monster jumped off its spidery feet, then ran in circles. Finding no source for the relentless cacophony, it lashed out against every building within reach, raging down the avenue, straight toward Eugene’s building.

Eugene sat upright with a gasp.

Dad ran down the hall to Eugene’s room and burst through the door. There he stopped, eyes wide at the horror movie outside the window.

“I thought I was dreaming,” said Eugene. “Should we run?”

Dad shook his head. “Where to?”

Then, a column of police vehicles poured from the side streets, into the tree’s path. An army of officers emerged, all of them armed with machine guns. They lined up on both sidewalks, and opened fire. The onslaught shook the tree. It raised its boughs and shot down salvoes of needles. The officers dropped to their knees behind riot shields. Some officers fell, but the shields saved most. When the needles stopped, they opened fire again. The tree charged at them, its lower boughs smashing down on the nearest cars. The officers fell back.

Thunderous noise swelled from above. The building shook as a flight of helicopter gunships appeared, flying just above the roof. The helicopters opened fire with Gatling guns.

Needles and shreds of bark spattered from the tree. It turned toward the new attack, throwing needles skyward. One of the gunships exploded in a ball of fire. The others replied with a flight of missiles. The rockets exploded among the tree’s boughs, engulfing the monster in fireballs. The tree staggered into a building’s glass side. Shards and firebrands rained on the street below. The explosions dissipated, leaving isolated fires amid the creature’s branches. Those fires died after a few seconds. Dirty smoke streamed from the hot spots. The tree slid along the side of the building. For a moment, the monster seemed ready to fall, but then its strength returned. It leaned down, picked up several police cars, and hurled them across the city.

One car flew at Eugene’s building. Dad pulled him away from the window. The car struck on a higher floor. Debris fell past the window.

Fighter jets roared across the city. The tree paused. The squadron made a wide circle and approached above the avenue.

The police officers hurried to shelter.

The aircraft fired volleys of anti-tank missiles, which exploded around the tree’s base, filling the avenue with flames. Eugene’s window burst, embedding glass in the opposite wall. A wave of hot air entered, followed by cold wind.

The tree stood motionless in the middle of the block, its lower boughs gone, and its trunk severed. The monster slowly tilted, then toppled.

***

That night, Santa did bring larger Japanese monster figures, but Eugene, with his family in a refugee center, did not feel like playing with them.

***

The news later reported that the tree monster was a weapon in an alien attack. Such monsters had appeared in major cities all around the world. All had been defeated after short, but intense, battles. The aliens had designed the tree monsters based on reconnaissance which they had done in the late nineteen-forties. Due to the interstellar distance which they had travelled, their data on Earth weapons was out of date by the time of their attack.

***

On the next year’s Christmas Eve, Eugene entered his parents’ bedroom. Dad awoke at once.

“There’s a monster under my bed,” said Eugene. “But maybe I’m dreaming…?”

“I’ll check.” Dad rose and got his shotgun from the closet.

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Stanley B. Webb is a resident of upstate New York. He and his family live on a small homestead near Lake Ontario. His most recent works have appeared in Unfading Daydream Magazine, the anthology Women Who Love Monsters, and Weird Mask Magazine’s upcoming zombie-themed issues. Stanley thanks all who have read his stories.

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