A CHRISTMAS OPPORCHANCITY

A CHRISTMAS OPPORCHANCITY

BY IAN HUNTER

Jeez-oh, £34.99 for a real Christmas tree, Andy Taylor thought as he stood outside one of the large garden centres in the ClydeValley. He took out his battered notebook and wrote down the heights and costs of the Christmas trees he could see. Some people would buy one of these real trees, even at these inflated prices and he knew just how to take advantage of it.

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He was sitting in the snug of “The Thatched Roof” and took out his notebook and flipped it open.

“Look at that,” he told his friend, Davie Smith.

Davie leaned forward and peered at the page he could see. “Terrible,” he said, even though he wasn’t sure what he was reading, such was the price of buying glasses from one of the discount shops in the high street.

“And it’s even worse at other garden centres,” Andy said, flicking through his notebook. “You should see the prices of Christmas trees at Sandybank or Silverholm, Daylight robbery.”

“Right,” said Davie, nodding, realising what his friend was on about. “But it is Christmas, what do you expect?”

“It’s been Christmas since September,” Andy complained. “Beattie’s had a “Christmas Crackers” sale back then, probably getting rid of last year’s stock.”

                “I thought you weren’t into Christmas?”

“I am when it’s about making a few bob.”

“How?” Davie asked, interest aroused by the thought of making money

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Andy had a beat up Land Rover with a trailer he used for odd jobs. He was always ducking and diving and part of that took him occasionally along Old Blackthorn Road, which supposedly led to the little hamlet of Blackthorn, which was long gone and the road was a pitted, potholed mess. No-one went there, except him. Poaching, trapping grouse or pheasant and taking the odd sheep when he felt like it. No-one ever came here, not even to service the wind turbines that had been erected beyond where Blackthorn used to stand. To do that a new road had been built, branching off from the main road that led to Thrice, the next town on the way to Edinburgh. But coming up here, that’s how he knew about the firs, rows and rows of them.

“We’ll take as many as the trailer will carry down to the car park at the leisure centre,” Andy explained. “Stick up a sign on a couple of lamp posts. Cheap Christmas trees this way.”

“Cheap? I thought we wanted to make money?”

“Listen, we’ll sell them for thirty quid each, that’s more than half the price the ones the garden centres are selling. They’ll go like that.” He snapped his fingers. “We’ll be gone before the cops can arrive, or some busy body sticks their nose in, asking if we’ve got permission to sell them, with a license or something.”

“Sounds good to me.”

So they waited until it was dark and headed along the road that ran above the valley, lights from little villages twinkling down below next to the river that flowed silver in the light of the moon before turning uphill, on some farm road until they reached a road on the left with a dangling sign attached to a telegraph pole that said OLD BLACKTHORN ROAD.

“Crikey, this will do your suspension in,” Davie said as they bounced from one pothole to the next.

Andy stopped the Land Rover as the road seemed to end and became two ruts going through some grass into the distance. “This is it.”

Davie stepped outside and shivered. He looked round. The land sloped high on each side of him, lined with rows of firs, like soldiers, he thought. Straight ahead loomed six wind turbines, their blades whipping round silently, blue lights flashing in the middle where the blades met. Alien invaders.

The remains of a fence lay across the ground, all rotten stumps and rusted wire. Andy stepped over it carefully holding his chainsaw and marched towards the nearest tree. He crouched down and inspected the trunk. Slim enough for the chainsaw, although there was some long knobbly growth on quite a few of them, clinging to the bark, a bit unsightly, but he reckoned he could chop it off later. Who cared what the middle of the tree looked like anyway? It was the branches for bearing decorations that were important. He started up the chainsaw and scythed through the first of the trunks, cutting into the knobbly bit, face screwed up in disgust as pulp went everywhere. The gunge seemed to be hampering the chainsaw, making it emit a high-pitched whine. Davie dragged the felled fir away and tossed it on to the trailer. It was funny, Andy thought, the next growth seemed to be higher up, almost lost inside the branches, as if hiding from the bite of the chainsaw.

            They worked quietly and quickly, and Andy wondered if Davie felt the same way he did. This place was eerie, with all the stillness, the moving blades of the wind turbines and the rows of trees. He thought he could hear something moving in between them. A badger, or a fox, watching him. That was it, he realised, he felt watched.

            Eventually, the trailer was loaded, the trees tied on and after a thirty-point turn they were heading down the farm road again and back along the main road that ran across the top of the valley.

            “What’s wrong with you?” Davie asked.

            “What?”

            “You keep looking in the mirror.”

            Andy shrugged. “I can see something in the trees, like little lights moving about. Probably the reflection of the moon off something. You sure you tied those trees down tight? I can see things moving.”

            “Of course –“ Davie started as he rolled down his window to throw his cigarette out, while little shapes slithered in through the gap and over his body, tearing at his face.

            Andy almost crashed the van as he looked at his friend and realised the little brown shapes were the lumps that had been growing on the trunks of the trees. Clinging to them more likely.

Davie had given up the ghost and was soon on the way to becoming one. His body managed the odd spasm, occasionally jerking as if jolted by electricity while one of those things tore at his throat as another feasted on his cheeks and a third tried to burrow into his chest.

One leapt over and tried to do the same to Andy, but he grabbed the gnarly thing by the neck and battered it off the steering wheel, which only seemed to enrage it further. He didn’t know what to do, except keep driving and keep fighting. If he stopped they would be on him, and he daren’t stop and go outside because there was probably more of the creatures in the branches of those dammed fir trees.

One scurried up his leg, and he shrieked, kicking out and the land rover lurched forward, mounting the pavement. Before he could react the land rover crashed through the fence and bounced down into the valley. We’re going to roll, he thought, fighting with the steering wheel with one hand while he tried to batter the thing gnawing at his belly with another one of its own kind, and as the land rover slid to the side and began to roll he wondered what was going to kill him first: the inevitable crash or the little tree huggers.

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            You can’t look a gift tree in the mouth, Phil Baker told himself, pulling his car to the side and putting on his hazard lights. He marched down the hill to where the fir tree lay at the side of the road. Well, that’s Christmas sorted, he decided, dragging the tree back to his car. He opened the rear passenger door, and pushed the back seats down then opened the boot. It took a bit of shoving but he jammed the tree inside despite the sticky gunge he got on his hands. Sap, he reckoned, but it didn’t half stink. Still, that was at least fifty quid saved. Result.

He closed the boot and slipped back into the driver’s seat and switched off his hazards then put the foot down as the car wound its way up the hill. He looked in the rear view mirror, barely able to make out the nearest branches in the back of the car.

Was something moving in there, he wondered, or were the branches settling or trying to regain their former shape?

Terrific, he thought, looking back at the road ahead. It would be just his luck to get home only for a bird to explode out of the branches, or even worse, something like a squirrel. Now they could really do some damage.