“No live tree!” Mandy yelled at John. “They’re dirty, they’re fire hazards and they have animals living inside them. Do you want a badger jumping out Christmas morning and giving us rabies or something?”
John tried one more time. “But I thought—“
“No.” Mandy interrupted, stamping her foot. “Now please go get my artificial tree.”
John sighed. “Never should have taken a city girl to live in the woods,” he muttered as he turned and left her in the living room. He trudged through the snow to the wooden garage behind their cabin. Exhaling puffs of crystallized air, John climbed the rickety ladder to reach the rafters and grabbed the bagged tree she’d brought with her when they married. Carefully climbing back down, he carried it to the house.
Once inside, he lit a romantic fire in the fireplace.
“I’m sorry,” Mandy said bringing him a hot chocolate. “I’m just not used to living this way. Christmas to me means lights everywhere, music playing in every store and restaurant and the only animals are on leashes.”
John smiled at his new wife, “I understand, you just got to get used to the great outdoors. In a couple of years, you’ll be chopping down the Christmas tree.”
She laughed, “I truly doubt that, but tomorrow, I’ll try baking cookies for you.”
John remembered her last attempt at baking, hid a shudder and forced a smile, “Sounds great.” He turned his attention to the bagged tree and started to pull it out from the storage sack. “Damn, bag’s torn, we’ll need a new one after the holidays.”
They decorated the pre-lit tree and drinking the now cold chocolate, sat on the sofa a few feet away. He put his arm around her and said, “Well, maybe you’re right. The tree is perfect and I don’t hear a badger anywhere.”
As he gazed at the tree, and the dancing flames in the fireplace, he yawned then noticed Mandy snoring softly, her head on his shoulder. He watched the lights flicker and muttered, “I’m so tired I’m seeing spots.” Then with another yawn he shut his eyes.
And woke to morning light.
He stretched and Mandy fell over. The spots before his eyes returned and he realized he was seeing hundreds of spiders crawling on the ornaments, hanging by threads from the ceiling, settling on his head, shirt and jeans. He looked over at Mandy, she was blue and dead, gift wrapped in fine, spider silk.
John jumped up and away, screaming, “Mandy! The spiders were everywhere biting his hands, his neck, his face. In a panic, John lit a candle and threw it. Hitting the carpet, the flames caught immediately and as the neatly wrapped presents under the tree burst into orange flames, he ran outside.
Watching the fire break through the roof of the log cabin, John felt hysterical laughter bubbling up his throat and blurted out, “Well honey, I think a badger would have been the safer choice after all.”
The walls collapsed shooting sparks into the sky as his high-pitched laughter turned to gut wrenching sobs.
Diane Arrelle, the pen name of South Jersey writer Dina Leacock, has sold more than 250 short stories and has three published books including Just A Drop In The Cup, a collection of short-short stories and a new collection of horror stories, Seasons On The Dark Side, released in 2018. She is proud to be one of the founding members as well as past president of The Garden State Horror Writers and is also past president of the Philadelphia Writers’ Conference. Retired from being director of a municipal senior citizen center, she is now co-owner of a small publishing company, Jersey Pines Ink LLC. She resides with her husband and her new cat on the edge of the Pine Barrens (home of the Jersey Devil).