A wise woman who was traveling in the mountains found a precious stone in a stream. The next day she met another traveler who was hungry, and the wise woman opened her bag to share her food. The hungry traveler saw the precious stone and asked the woman to give it to him. She did so without hesitation. The traveler left, rejoicing in his good fortune. He knew the stone was worth enough to give him security for a lifetime. But a few days later he came back to return the stone to the wise woman.
"I've been thinking," he said, "I know how valuable the stone is, but I give it back in the hope that you can give me something even more precious. Give me what you have within you that enabled you to give me the stone." - Author Unknown
A bright red Christmas ball shattered against the wall right beside Dean's head. It sounded more like a loud pop than breaking glass, and he stared at the remains in quick confusion before it was time to duck again.
This spirit wasn't pissed. It was enraged. Ornaments flew from the tree like bullets from a gun, each one with enough force to pierce a body. Dean was making damn sure that body wasn't his. And where the hell was Sam, anyway?
He dropped behind the sofa and pressed back against it, breathing heavily, hoping Christmas balls didn't penetrate expensive imitation brocade covering (at least not while he was behind it.) An angel flew overhead, then the onslaught stopped, for the moment. A poltergeist on Christmas. Sure.
And a Merry Fucking Christmas to you, too.
The Altzer family had called them for help, citing a friend of a friend of a cousin's nephew's tailor for a reference, then promptly disappeared to their aunt's house and left the pending chaos up to the Winchesters. All he needed was a freakin' Proton Pack and a shitty looking jumpsuit and he'd be in business, but nowhere did he have a resume which said, "Who Ya Gonna Call?"
His eyes scoured the living room, but he couldn't see much from his vantage point. Sticking his head over the back of the sofa proved to be a bad idea. He ducked as a green ornament sailed overhead and embedded itself in the wall. Son of a – "Okay, look, I got it! You hate Christmas! Ho-ho-ho and egg nog sucks! I'm fine with that!" Another ornament shattered against the wall he was facing. "Hey! I said I'm finewith that!" He never knew of a case where talking down a poltergeist worked, but he couldn't see the damn thing, and he couldn't get close enough to the tree to disarm it. Besides, it seemed to be doing a pretty good job of that itself.
Just as well this was happening in a house, and not at Boy Scout Troop Twelve-Ninety's Christmas Tree Sale four blocks down. Of course those trees weren't decorated.
Where the hell was Sam?
He hadn't been in the house three minutes before the activity started. Sam was supposed to be getting provisions from the trunk. That was the plan. Dean would go in, evaluate the situation because seriously, a tree that threw things? And then decide if it really warranted unpacking the trunk. Well, he went in, he went down, the door slammed shut, and it had been ho-ho-hell ever since. So, yeah, Sam was probably getting the provisions, because his slow ass wasn't trying to bust down the door to come to Dean's rescue. On the other hand, Sam not seeing him cower from a Christmas tree was probably a good thing.
Dean glanced quickly to the side, and dog-crawled to the window. A candy cane hit him in the head. From the small table beside the tree, Baby Jesus came flying and hit him in the ass.
Dean sat back, real quick. "Oh, come on, that's just disrespectful!" he shouted, right as the front door started to shake.
Miracles do happen. "Sam! It's about damn time, get in here!"
The door bowed slightly, then gave under Sam's shoulder. He rushed in, his eyes wide, his head turning to take in the situation. Only there suddenly wasn't a situation to take in.
"Dean?" he questioned.
Dean stayed seated on the floor, ready to butt-scoot where ever he needed to go. He huffed loudly, swallowed hard, and steadied his breathing. "I don't get it."
"Don't get what?" At least Sam hadn't let down his guard.
"That tree hates me."
"Those ornaments. That's where the poltergeist was attacking from, throwing those damn ornaments at me."
Sam glanced around, taking in the damage. "So where'd it go?" he asked.
"It's a poltergeist, Sam. It isn't a matter of where did it go, more like where it isn't." He hesitated, then winced. "I mean, it's here somewhere."
"Doesn't a poltergeist attach itself to a person?"
"Or an object. More likely a person, but since the people that live here are gone I think we can rule that one out."
Sam gave a small shrug. "So. . .if the tree's the problem, we can throw it out front, see what that does."
Oh, that was the wrongthing to say.
"Sam! Look out!" Dean quickly pushed to his feet as the tree dove at his brother. Doveat him, the branches reaching out like crooked arms, the pine rustling menacingly. He grabbed Sam's jacket and pulled him away as the tree creaked, then again launched itself at them.
All Dean could see was green. Razor sharp needles pierced his clothing and his skin. He yelled out, heard Sam yell, and blindly pulled him out of the living room and into the kitchen, slamming the door behind them. Holiday napkins fanned out at them from the table top, blinding them with white and red, stopping them in their tracks. Behind them was a strong scent of pine.
"Go! Go, go, go!" Sam yelled. He shoved Dean towards the cellar.
Dean balked and braced himself at the top of the stairs. "What, are you nuts?"
"The only way out is through the woods!" Sam pointed to the only door leading out of the kitchen, which splintered as large branches started to snake through.
"Right." Dean rushed halfway down the stairs, followed by his brother. Sam pulled the door shut, and together they waited.
"Well, this one takes the cake," Dean said, breathlessly.
"Dean," Sam said, trying to catch his own breath, "I don't think we're dealing with a poltergeist."
"Then what the hell?"
"I think it's the tree."
Dean just blinked at him for a moment. "A possessed tree."
"I think so."
"A possessed tree?"
Dean blinked again in disbelief, turning that crappy piece of news over in his head. "A freakin' possessed Christmas Tree?"
"I hate the holiday season."
Above them, branches scratched at the door.
"So what's the worse than could happen, huh?" Dean asked. "We get scratched to death."
"Or pine needles shoved in our eyes, up our noses, in our. . ."
"Oh, thank you, Jolly Ole St Dipwad!"
"We have to figure out what it wants."
Dean snorted. "A tree with a motive. I love it."
"I'm thinking more like whatever is inhabiting the tree."
The door bucked. Dean darted a quick glance at it, then looked around the cellar. "Don't guess it's after the apple preserves."
"Dean. . ."
"Okay, listen, surely it's something pagan, right? I mean Christmas has all this pagan stuff, so it would stand to reason that maybe the kids said something or did something that they thought was in the holiday tradition, and being kids they screwed it up."
"Like maybe a song that's really an incantation under the right circumstances."
"Exactly. A song that just happens to bring a tree to life."
They looked at each other.
"Okay, any other ideas?" Dean asked as the scratching persisted.
Sam shrugged. "Could burn the tree."
"Yeah, could burn down the house!"
The door bucked again, and a branch poked through.
"Shit!" Dean jumped back, pulling Sam with him. He lost his balance and would have tumbled down the stairs, except he found that Sam had an equally strong grip on his jacket. They both guided each other down in the dim light.
The cellar was truly well stocked with jars. Apple, peaches, and a few things that looked like they'd been down there a few years too long, were stacked inside free-standing cabinets and on the shelves that lined the small room.
Dean winced. "Maybe burning this place isn't such a bad idea."
"Before Christmas? Think of the kids."
"Oh. Yeah." There was no way out of the cellar, no small window, nothing. "Okay, genius boy, it was your idea to come down here."
"There wasn't anywhere else to go!"
"There's knives in the kitchen, Sam! We could've cut off a branch, or. . . something." He sighed against Sam's startled look, and continued his search for anything that would work in their favor.
Another thick branch pushed through the door.
"This is ridiculous," Dean muttered. "Killed by a holiday spirit."
A splinter, a pop, and the door exploded.
Both Sam and Dean spun away and ducked, arms covering their heads. The invasive scent of pine caught in Dean's nose, making him sneeze. Again. And again.
He fell to his back. His eyes watered. He couldn't catch his breath. His throat was closing up, and all he could see in the broken light was a giant shape with more limbs than he cared to count. A dark shape, scraping down the stairs, coming for them, towering over them.
Dean clawed at his throat, his eyes bulging in desperation. Sudden movement beside him showed that Sam was in a similar way, and that just wasn't going to happen. This thing wasn't going to hurt his brother. Stupid fucking tree anyway. It just needed to go back where it came from.
Back where. . .
He rolled over and kicked out at one of the many cabinets that held the jars of preserves. He cowered as it crashed on top of him, and that hurt like a mother. Almost instantly he felt the cabinet shift, and saw Sam beside him, moving it, unable to breathe but understanding that Dean had a plan and going with it. He managed a single gasp for air, which was more than Dean could do.
He was blacking out. He jabbed a hand at a large piece of busted wood before everything escaped him.
The air was cold, and Sam was yelling his name. Dean groaned, raised his chin from his chest, and groaned again as the back of his head smacked hard against the bark of a tree. "Son of a bitch," he managed to force out.
"Thank god. You okay?"
"Sam?" Dean winced and turned his head to the side. He could just see his brother, tied alongside him against a huge tree.
A very huge tree.
Damn, this tree was huge.
Dean tried to blink away his headache and looked up. Even the topmost branches seemed to be as thick as a house, and as black as night. The moonlight filtered in, just. The base of the tree was thicker than anything he'd seen, of course he couldn't see all the way around it, which pretty much proved his point to his mind. He looked down at his chest, and saw he was bound tightly by vines. The same vines wrapped around his brother, firmly securing them both. "You okay?" he finally managed to ask.
"Oh, I'm great."
Okay, not much enthusiasm there. Dean shifted and squirmed against the vines, but there was no give whatsoever. He sighed and, carefully this time, set his head back against the rough trunk. "How'd we get here?" His throat was scratchy.
"I don't know. You passed out, and I think I was right behind you."
"Hmph. Well. Confirms my theory, anyway."
Damn, he could hearSam wince in disbelief. "What theory?"
"My theory that the tree wasn't just a possessed tree. It was part of something much," he looked up, "much larger."
Sam said nothing for several minutes. Dean felt the vines tighten as Sam suddenly turned to look at him. "Wait. Are you talking about a Demon Tree?"
"If the leaf fits."
"Demon trees are just trees that are really old, they just spook people. They have nothing to do with Christmas."
"Neither do poltergeists."
Both brothers then heard a sound, something like a scrape – thump. "Sam, that sounds like. . ."
"A footstep." Sam sounded nervous. "Dean, something's coming."
"Anyway," Dean said hurriedly, "there's an underground lore, something that spun off this Chinese movie thing I think, that these demon trees feed on the life force of people. Puts their roots in them and just sucks it right out."
"You're kidding, right?" Sam asked nervously. Dean felt the vines tighten as Sam shifted.
"Sam, cut it out, dude. Strangling me here."
"Sorry. Look, best I can tell," Sam managed to crane his neck around to look at Dean, "this tree's dead, right? I mean, look up there."
Dean looked up, again. Stark, skeletal branches tried to grab at the moon. "It's winter. Dark. Hard to tell." He looked down, and moan. "Crap. This can't be good."
A shape appeared in front of them. Then another, and another. All trees. All evergreens, all minus their decorations, but all similarly sized and cut. As they came closer, their branches bunched together to form arms and legs, the smaller limbs curving around them to give a semblance of muscle and sinew. "I think," Dean whispered, "that these things are feeding the big one."
"They're feeding this tree? Getting into people's homes, and bringing the people here?"
"Dean, we're. . ."
"About to become plant food. Yep."
"So what the hell were you trying to do with that cabinet, other than flatten yourself?"
Dean shot Sam a quick look. "Okay, tangent. I was trying to tell you that the tree was a part of a bigger whole."
"By dumping a cabinet on top of you?"
"I missed, okay? I was trying to get a small piece, to show you how it was part of a bigger piece." Dean caught Sam's stare. "What? I couldn't talk, remember? Suffocating?"
"Yeah, and in which universe did you think I'd be able to understand even a littlebit of that, Dean?"
"I panicked, okay? Besides, I'm sure I could've batted it back with the wood, which was my next plan." The tree people were watching them, their leafy hair rustling in the cold breeze. "Next time you think of something!"
"Fine!" Sam yelled at him.
"Fine!" Dean yelled back.
"You think of something yet?" Dean's voice climbed as a tree person walked over to Sam and knelt in front of him. "Sam?"
"Dean?" The anger was gone, and for a moment Sam almost sounded like a true kid brother.
"Sam!" Dean craned his neck, trying to see, but there was only green that flocked the dark tree. He heard Sam scream, goddamn he screamed, and Dean screamed out with him, threatening fifteen evils and every curse he could think of on those damned – trees – for hurting his brother. "Leave him alone! Sam! Sam, come on, talk to me!" But there was just a muted sound of whimpering.
Dean fought the vines, and felt them tighten. One did loosen, but only to snake up over his neck and tighten again, forcing his chin up, threatening to choke the life from him. Silence, he heard, and he was certain it was in his head. It will be quick.This is the trade for saving your life.
"Sam?" he tried again, his voice strained by the grip. He watched, and his panic grew by leaps and bounds as a tree person knelt before him, long twiggy fingers digging into the dirt beside him, until it pulled out a long, thick root. "Oh, no. No, no, no, you don't do this. . ." he screamed in pure red agony as the root was jammed deep into his forearm. For a moment, he thought he heard Sam cry out his name weakly, wanting to help, but unable to, much like Dean himself, so caught up in the pain and faintness of — just faint — just seeing the world fade right before his eyes, seeing this tree-thing look at him, watch him, checking his arm, or maybe planning another natural life force tap.
He was losing blood, or something. There was a rushing noise in his ears, in his head, through his body, his heart was pounding so hard, it would burst through his chest. He tried to move, but he couldn't, he just couldn't, his limbs, no, his arms and legs, they were like lead, he couldn't budge.
And. . .he didn't want to.
Because something about this was peaceful, blissful, natural, being sucked dry and not caring. Feeling his very soul feed this thing behind him, this dark, wrinkled wonder of nature that survived more a thousand years because of the life force it fed upon.
The vines shifted around him, loosening in places, tightening in others, rhythmically massage him. It was pumping him, squeezing out the last good bits, making his whole being limp in a post-sexual manner, like his life force was the best thing to ever happen to this being. Only, Dean was rather fond of his life force, he sort of needed it, and he was feeling like a used blanket, then a paper bag, then just paper, and his vision faded before him, and the tree let him go.
After years, or maybe only a moment, hands were on him, squeezing his arms, patting his cheeks, begging him to wake up. The hands found his chest and hit it, then pressed down so damn hard and so much he was sure Sam was breaking ribs, but he couldn't tell him to stop because in those moments time would darken, then freeze, but he would come back. And each time, things would be a little more clear, but very cold.
"Dean." He finally heard Sam, heard him clearly, and found that his heavy lids would open and close. But son of a bitchhe hurt everywhere, everything that was a part of him hurt, and in this odd shift of space-time-nothingness, everything that ever intendedto touch him hurt as well.
His thoughts hurt. "Sam?"
"Dean!" Sam was right over him, barely able to hold himself up, his face just inches from Dean's own. "You're alive." Sam sounded relieved, but not too convincing.
Dean forced his head to turn toward Sam. His brother's face was bloodless, white, almost grey, almost. . .no, no! Dean suddenly found that reserve of strength he kept in cases like this. Cases where his brother was in serious trouble, cases where Dean was determined he was never going to sit beside Sam's deathbed again.
He pushed up onto his elbows, but only managed to catch Sam as he went down. He landed hard on his side, Sam in his arms. They lay there together weakly, holding on to each other as the snow began to fall.
Dean blinked and sat up quickly, dumping leaves everywhere. Sam slept peacefully, curled up beside him. He was covered with old, dead leaves, and on top of that rested a light blanket of snow. They were at the base of the tree. There was no sign of the vines that had bound them, so tree-people, only the large dead tree behind them. Dean shook his head, trying to clear it, trying to make sense of what he was sure had happened. "Sam?" He shifted and carefully touched Sam's shoulder, the shook him gently. "Sam."
There was a slow sniff, soft exhale, and Sam opened his eyes. He blinked a few times, then turned his head. "Dean."
Dean released his breath. "You okay?" The two words held more concern for his brother than he'd ever let show, and it made Sam sit up.
"I'm good, why? What's wrong?"
"What's wrong?" Dean barked a laugh. "Are you serious?"
Sam's little boy look faded into anger. "What, other than freezing our ass off? I still can't believe you left the car back there and made us walk, Dean." He looked at the ground. "It snowed! It fucking snowed on us! Dean, we could've slept in the car!"
"The hell are you talking about?" Dean asked sharply.
Sam looked at him like he'd lost his mind. "The car, Dean. The one true love that you said you'd fixed, the one that's several miles back stuck on the side of the road. 'Oh, let's walk' you said, 'There's a town down the road, we'll have to get a tow.' And you bitched for over an hour about how these tow truck people messed up your car before and how you were going to personally strap it to the truck so it wouldn't happen again. And the damn town isn't just down the road and we walked for hours and ended up here. 'Get in the leaves,' you said. 'Think of it as camping out'. Ihatecamping out, Dean. And then it dropped eighty-five thousand degrees below fucking freezing and it," he looked around him in disbelief, "itsnowed! I slept in the snow, Dean!"
"So. . .you're saying we should've stayed in the car?" Dean asked half-heartedly, looking up at the large, dead tree. "No power. We wouldn't have been any warmer, Sam." Come to think of it, they really wouldn't have been warmer. He was pretty damned comfortable.
"We'd of had blankets, Dean." Sam stood angrily, dusting the snow from his jacket.
"And I'll have you know that it's only thirty-six out here, smart-ass. Snow's melting."
"Ah. Must be why I'm wet andfreezing. How the hell do you know that?"
"Because my nose gets cold when it's below freezing."
"Ohreally? It gets cold?"
"Proven fact." Dean was still staring at the tree.
Sam just huffed. "So, are you coming or what? And what's so damn fascinating about this tree?"
Whatwasso fascinating about it? The fact that he dreamed that it tried to eat them? Dean tore his eyes away. "Nothing, Sam. Forget it."
"Right." Sam curled his arms around his torso.
"Not far until the town, Sammy."
"And how do you know that? No, wait. I don't want to know. What I do want to know is how we managed not to freeze to death."
"Just that good ole Winchester luck, I guess. We found the right tree to sleep under." And Dean reached out, touching bark that radiated warmth like a heater.
Life force. Feeding each other.
"Yeah, well." Sam groused. "To tell you the truth, I'm not as cold as I thought I'd be. Not as cold as I should be." He took a moment to think, and assess the situation. "Actually, I'm not cold at all." He was puzzled. "Wait, Dean, last night. . .were you praying?"
"Are you crazy? No." He glanced quickly at his arms, then looked at Sam's.
No wounds. Nothing.
"I just. . .I remember waking up and you were shivering and saying," Sam paused, "damn. You apologized. You said you were sorry for making us walk. Dean, I. . ."
"It wasn't that cold, Sam." Dean ran his fingers over the bark. "You were dreaming."
"No, I. . ." Sam started, and his voice was softened "Look, unless you have a real affinity for this tree, I just as soon not spend another night under it."
"What? Oh, right."
"You okay?" Sam stepped closer, obviously sensing something was up. Damn his spidey-sense. "Something happened, didn't it?"
"I just had a weird dream, Sam. That's all." Dean nodded. "Bizarre, strange-ass dream."
Sam looked up at the thick branches. "You know, it really is warm right here, isn't it?" He suddenly seemed uncomfortable. "Dean, that tree is dead."
"And, look." Sam pointed to the base of the tree. The leaves had fallen in a large perfect circle around it.
"Means nothing, Sam." Something about seeing that circle cleared Dean's head. He clapped his brother on the arm. "Come on. I want my car back. That, and I see something now that we couldn't see last night." He pointed to the very top of a distant building, barely visible over the low ridge. "Told you we were close."
"Trees obscured it, I guess." Sam started walking. "You coming?"
"Yeah." But Dean reached out, and touched the tree once more. Now he understood the dream. The tree had given them protection, mingling their own warmth and energy with its own. And in his crazy, fucked-up mind, he translated it the only way he knew how, by having something taken form him.
It saved their lives.
He quickly glanced back, to make sure Sam wasn't watching, reached into his jacket pocket, and pulled out a small wrapped candy cane. He tossed the offering at the base of the tree. "Thanks," he muttered, feeling a little embarrassed. "For whatever you did. Just – thanks." He hurried to catch up with Sam.
The gesture proved to be enough. That spring, the tree blossomed.
I decided to write a Holiday story today. Instead, this story is a mind-trip. I write a lot of mind-trips. I've decided I have a bizarre way of thinking, and I've given up trying to explain it to people.
There is a tree, called the Demon Tree, in Carlisle, Ohio. I can only find one reliable listing for this on the net, and it is taken from the book "Weird Ohio". The story is, a very old tree was discovered across from the Carlisle Apartments. A dead tree. A very old, very dead, very scary looking tree that, despite being dead, seems to grow larger and larger. It is also said that beings haunt this tree, and won't let anyone get to close to it. If anyone that reads this knows where I can find a picture of this tree, I'd love to see it.
I combined the Demon Tree with the notion of a soul-eating tree found in Chinese myth, threw in a little yuletide care, and voila: a one-hour and forty minute scramble to write something and a bit longer to clean it up. So if it sucked, just take that hour and forty minutes into consideration, will ya? Cause I usually take a lot, LOT longer. Heh. Oh, and due to holiday time constraints...no beta. Yeah. That's what I said.
Thanks for reading! And please leave a comment...