The fragments of my something-something dream drifts away when Tom and Rachel start tugging on my toes.
‘Dad?’ said Tom. ‘Dad? Dad? Dad?’
‘There’s a tree in the living room.’
There’s a worried look on both their little faces that tells me that what Tom said is absolutely true. They are both holding small green handfuls of what looks like, at first, grass, but when Rachel holds it out to show me, I recognise pine needles from the forest down the road. I frown.
Slippers, gown, stretch, yawn and a tentative walk down the stairs finds more needles littering the hallway floor. There’s more in the dining room and the kitchen, and some on the table-tops and chairs.
So I push open the living room door and there, propped in the corner, is the top half of a pine tree, strewn with all sorts of brightly coloured rubbish. Big shiny balls, frilly paper… there’s even a plastic star at an angle on the top. I tell the kids to stay in the doorway.
I step forward; crunch, crunch, crunch along the foliage floor until I’m close enough to touch a branch of the tree. It’s real alright; and silently screaming itself into a slow brown death in the corner of my suburban living room.
And underneath it, in the shade, a cube wrapped in colourful paper with a ribbon and bow on the top. I take hold of the cube and pull it into the light. Rachel gasps.
‘Stay there,’ I say, tugging the ribbon even though I know I should be calling the police right now.
But I don’t. The bow unties and ribbon slips quietly off the box. I tug at the paper and it rips easily. Underneath – it’s just a box. Just a plain red box with a lid, which I lift off.
Inside, for just a moment, there is nothing, and then the base glows white and flickers and fizzes and clears, and it shows me a scene. It’s me and the kids in the living room. The tree is there too, and there are a lot more of these carefully wrapped boxes. We are pulling out toys and books and clothes from them with care; each item brings a fresh smile from our bright, glowing faces.
I put my head further inside the box and see more of the scene – I see Lisa, and she is still alive and she’s smiling too. She’s opening a box, a small one containing a silver necklace. Her face lights up and she grasps my shoulder and says something I can’t hear, and then she puts the necklace on.
David Hartley is a short story writer and performer based in Manchester. His collection of dark Christmas stories ‘Merry Gentlemen’ is available on the Kindle.
Photograph courtesy of PublicDomainPictures.net