Let the Trees Be Burning Bright


© Roger Shipp

“I’m sorry but we’ll be needin’ this tree too, younguns.”

“But Pa!”

“Please don’t take it, Pa!”

Jeffrey and Constance wailed at their Father as he and three other large, rough men in heavy coats and workmen’s boots tramped into their one room sod house and took the first Christmas tree they’d ever had in their young lives. Ornaments of paper and tin, woven grass and dried corn shook free and fell to the dirt floor.

Their Ma held them back as the nine-year-old boy and his seven-year-old sister struggled. There were no presents for they were too poor, so their gayly decorated pine fir was their only symbol of hope and magic.

As the men retreated, their wives brought their children in either wailing or mute with terror. The women and their young huddled around the stove, burning hot with buffalo chips.

There were only a few such trees brought in from the mountains leagues afar, but burning them until dawn was the only way they knew to keep the werefolk at bay. Too late had the plains settlers discovered they’d homesteaded on lands cursed by the Heathen gods when the first white men landed in the new world.

I wrote this for the Flash Fiction for the Purposeful Practitioner – 2017 Week #51 writing challenge. The idea is to use the image above as the prompt for crafting a piece of flash fiction up to 200 words long. My word count is 200.

I seem to remember posting stories for this particular challenge in the past, but somehow have failed to do so for several months. I just saw a blog post by someone else which reminded me and also was sorry to see that only one other person responded, even though it first went online on the 20th.

Since we’re just a few days away from Christmas, I have been inundated with Christmas related prompts and it’s getting harder to respond to them creatively. I’ve been writing a lot of vampire-related short stories recently, so I decided to keep with the horror theme though not specifically addressing the undead.

In this piece, I’ve chosen something menacing plains settlers of the 18th or 19th centuries and made up the remedy of burning fir trees, uncommon on the grassy plains, in response to an attack of cursed were-creatures. The joy and glad tidings that Christmas trees symbolize for some had to give way to the practicality of defending against supernatural killers.

To read other stories based on the prompt, go to InLinkz.com.


7 thoughts on “Let the Trees Be Burning Bright

  1. I guess these settlers weren’t yet in a position to grow sufficient quantities of garlic to combat the outbreak of lycanthropic plague that infected their neighbors.


      • Maybe not, but I sense a story in the notion. To wit, a reluctant vampire repents, attempts to make amends, which results in his being killed while saving others from his kind, and finds himself resurrected as an adult human still suffering remorse over the memories of all his prior evil. Story memes of a couple of generations ago would include some sort of heavenly visitation cautioning him that he could yet redeem himself by continuing his quest to make amends that he began as a vampire. I’m not sure what sort of interesting psychological update might be possible on such a plot element, but redemption stories are a timeless feature of western literature.


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