Underneath The Tree
By Bo Chappell
Originally published on Kendall Reviews December 2018.
Most people ask themselves at times like these what they did to deserve this.
Not me. I know I deserve this, and the worst part is how that acceptance neither alleviates my anxiety nor the throbbing, numbing ache in my leg. I just need a minute to check and see how bad he got me, but there’s no time.
Yes, I deserve to die. Doesn’t mean I’m gonna let it happen. I’ll be damned if I’m dying out here in these creepy-ass woods, lying in the snow. I’ll be damned.
Your leg ever went to sleep? Ever had to immediately stand up on it and run through a foot of snow while someone tried to kill you? Yeah. It’s not the easiest thing to pull, and neither is hauling a duffel bag full of stolen goods either.
“But Tommy,” you say to me with a condescending click of your tongue, “why don’t you just ditch the bag and increase your odds? Maybe they just want what you stole back.”
There’s a few problems with that. First off, you don’t just rob the biggest celebrity on the planet and not keep what you take. I’m not in this for the thrill of it or else this would be the best moment of my life. Instead, I’m pissing myself out of both fear and the need to stay warm.
More importantly, this shit is mine now, especially one item in particular. The rest I plan to push off on some seedy pawn shop owner who doesn’t ask questions, especially around the holidays.
But the one thing…I’ve wanted it since I was a five and never got one of my own. Not in the two dozen Christmas mornings since. Not a single Christmas.
If I get out of this alive, I deserve it. And that big shot who thinks he’s better than everyone else? He deserves to be taken down a notch.
Damn, the stinging numbness in my leg is above my knee now. Can’t tell if it’s the cold or the wound. I am NOT dropping this bag. I gotta stop and check. If I’m bleeding out, I won’t make it anyway.
Thirty seconds. That’s it. Find a decent sized tree with a big enough trunk to hide behind.
I didn’t know I was breathing so hard until seeing my life billow out of me like a damn factory. No blood. That’s good, right? I mean, I’m no doctor but…
What. The. Fuck?
What in the actual fuck?
My fucking leg is wood! MY FUCKING LEG IS WOOD?! OH, GOD!!!
There’s no way. What the hell did that motherfucker do to me?! He barely nicked me with that…whatever the hell he swung at me.
Oh God. He drugged me. That’s gotta be it. Whatever he used to cut me, the blade must have been laced with some sort of hallucinogenic. You can move. Just, bend your knee. Just bend it. Soon as you do that, you’ll realize you can run. Good as gone.
Just bend your knee.
Oh God, there’s no way he didn’t hear me. You gotta get up. You gotta get up NOW! You gotta…
I can’t move. I’m…
I’m fused to the tree.
I just realized I don’t even know where I was running to anyway. I’m beyond lost.
That sound. That is the sound of a creature stirring. One significantly bigger than a mouse.
I can’t feel anything below my waist.
And there he is. No ceremony. No pomp and circumstance. No jump scare.
He just walks right up to me out of the darkness.
A scarecrow. A gypsy ghost. A haunted king of rags and rope. No eyes. No voice. No breath to be seen.
Nothing but a rusty bush axe and an expectancy of relinquishment.
It has to be after midnight by now. That means it’s Christmas morning. I would ask for a miracle if I thought God was paying attention. Not forgiveness though.
I wanna hold it just one more time. Have that magical feeling of being a kid again when I see the glint from its pristine, metallic paint job. I want to push the little, red button and hear the sound it makes. I wanna be that kid on Christmas Day I never got to be.
But I can’t feel anything below my neck now.
Doesn’t matter. The bag is just out of reach anyway. I can see the edge of it sparkle like the North Star, and I can feel the tear in my eye freezing solid as it trickles down my cheek.
I deserve this.
He says nothing as he raises his axe up.
I’ll be damned.
As the morning light spilled from the horizon and blanketed the land, the snow sparkled like a cosmic sea of starlight. Accompanying the waltzing glimmers were the sounds of sleigh bells from above, descending onto the untouched snow.
The massive sleigh towed by nine majestic reindeer pulled into the stable beside a lone cottage in the middle of a wide, circular plain surround on its edges by a tranquil forest. An amber-coloured glow of loving warmth invited all who could see its emission from the cozy home, one that surely had a crackling fire and a hot cup of cocoa waiting inside for the arriving owner.
As he reached the doorstep with an empty, satin bag thrown over his shoulder, he spotted a mysterious assortment awaiting his arrival with a folded note addressed to him resting on top
FOUND THESE IN THE WOODS. THOUGHT THEY MIGHT BE YOURS.
LEFT ANOTHER BUNDLE FOR NEXT YEAR. BE BACK WITH MORE SOON.
It wasn’t signed, but he knew who had written it. It was the mysterious man who roamed the woods and kept him in supply of the finest wood. Wood he used to build his sleigh. Wood he used to make toys for all the good little boys and girls. Wood that kept him and his wife warm.
How the forest stayed so densely populated with all the lumber brought in was a mystery to him. But there it was. Beside a black duffle bag full of mysteriously misplaced toys was another bundle of the most unique, sweet-smelling wood. Rich in color and grain. The most beautiful wood in the world, growing all around him and brought in by a man who asked of nothing in return.
Maybe he’d make the generous stranger a brand new axe handle next year.
He deserved it.
Bo Chappell is a writer and artist from South Carolina. When he’s not backflipping across the clouds of his daydreams, Bo (also known as infrafan) is chasing the ideas relentlessly running around his overactive imagination raised on comics, video games, action figures, cartoons, and VHS.
Eventually his brain came up with the craziest idea to tell its own stories to anyone who wanted to hear them. He has written the survival horror western YEAR 47, his children’s book ONCE YOU GET TO KNOW ME, and is soon to release BY YEAR’S END, an anthology set in the world of YEAR 47. His other works have been seen in The Doctor and I, Dreams of Desolation, Aphotic Realm, and The Grey Rooms Podcast.
You can also listen to Bo on the brilliant podcast MastersOfTheThundernerds
By Year’s End
“Only at the end can we look back…”
Does hope perish alongside God?
From the world of YEAR 47 comes nine short stories of survival-horror in The New West, where humanity is left to judge themselves among the remnants of Heaven and Hell in an amalgamated world orphaned by its creator.
Featuring eight of the most talented writers in the indie horror community, BY YEAR’S END shows us where we’ve been and where we’re going, leading up to the events of the Best Selling Novel YEAR 47 (Named 2016’s Horror Book of the Year by Horror-Writers.com).
So whether this is your first step into the New West, or you’re returning to find answers, prepare yourself for a wild ride filled with adventure, sorrow, and terror on every page.YEAR 47 and it’s bonus book, MISSING DAYS, are available on Amazon.
HORROR-WRITERS.COM’S 2016 NOVEL OF THE YEAR
There once was a creator who watched over you from the Heavens. Who kept you safe from his past and present. Who gave you all that you needed to build your own lives while guiding you home. Who knew your name and loved you.
But He no longer existed, and His three houses were destroyed. Your countless prayers have gone unanswered, and your endless hopes have been buried in unmarked graves for forty-six years.
With the walls torn away, the three became one. And among the blackened skies and arid soil of the New West walked a man with a gun and no purpose. A Stranger to you and everyone else.
But as chance and fate collided, a lonely girl crossed the path he walked, carrying hope that her home was still out there waiting for her.
How long can purpose be denied, and how far can hope carry two heavy hearts in an unknown land?
There is no Heaven.
There is no Hell.
There just is.
And you will bare witness to Year 47.