"TEN MINUTES TILL CURTAIN UP PEOPLE LOOK LIVELY, AND GOOD LUCK!",
The deputy stage manager ran back up the stairs from the dressing rooms and back to her bench back stage to start the pre-show checks, lighting, stage, curtain, music, all on stand by.
"Seriously?", I said to Tom after he confirmed we would be going to the party with the rest of the cast and crew.
"Yeah, why not? Free booze, snacks, the props girl in the mini skirt, booze, booze!!", Tom replied, trying to make the mess of a neck tie he had to wear look as presentable as possible,
"What are you doing?!", Sarah giggled, she crossed the room and started loosening it as the colour escaped Toms face quickly,
"Your supposed to be Jacob Marley!", she giggled, "Not a Victorian fashion model, your dead, remember?!", he turned and flicked the end of her sharp nose,
"How can i forget with you providing us with lessons on the greatest works of Dickens, whether we want them or not?!!", he replied comically.
"But I thought we agreed," I tried to intervene, "that the after show party would suck, like they always suck!",
"You have something better in mind Mick?", Kate had stood up from her seat at the dressing table, full make up applied, looking radiant as the Spirit of Christmas Present, radiant to everyone but me. Me? I could see through the perfect bone structure and blonde hair, past the flickering eye lashes and deep royal blue eyes, she hated me as much as I hated her, since the first show we'd done together, she'd bedded the director at the party following opening night, securing herself the best roles in the next three shows. We may only be amateurs, but we still worked harder and longer than she ever had, plus, she insisted on calling me Mick, I HATE that name!!
"Well, now you come to mention it," Tom, Sarah and Kate all turned their attentions onto me,
"Have you guys ever heard of the Death Welcome Tree?",
Silence in the room, all the remaining members of cast now watching me with anticipation. The room waited, I was about to tell them when a hand clasped down on my shoulder from behind, I spun around and looked up, straight into the empty eye sockets of Deaths hooded white skull.
"Pete", I begun as the room laughed at my jump of fright, "If you ever do that again, you won't have a, Christmas future!!"
My best mate in the whole world, Pete Trevor, the guy who got me through two schools and my first date!
"Ha!", he laughed "Sorry buddy, go on then, what we're you sayin?!",
"I was trying to tell them", I continued, "about the Death Welcome Tree!", Pete sighed, then strolled across the room to lean on Kate's shoulder,
"Seriously? Again, guys, he's been go'in on about this tree since school!", Pete had had to endure years of me going on about it, it had fascinated me for as long as I could remember,
"So what you saying? You finally mustered the courage to actually go up to that old tree?", he was mocking me. It was true, I had never been able to summon enough courage to actually complete the legend.
"So whats so special about this tree, Mike?", asked Sarah, "and why has it got YOU sticking two fingers up at free alcohol?!!", she had a point.
"Look we can get booze on the way, shows done by half ten, I'll be down at the off license before it closes, get some beers, vodka and shit and we can head over there! The pissed the better!", this was my last pitch, would they bite?!
The right lane lay ahead. The wind was seriously picking up some force now. I swing the tube bag further up onto my shoulder and zip up my cotton Diesel jacket. My feet feel like their full of lead, every inch of my body reminding me that this is a really bad idea, but never the less, I take the first terrifying step forwards. It was like an invisible wall had sprung up behind me, blocking me from going back, and at the same time, it felt like if I turned my back on the road ahead, something terrible would happen.
I look down at my feet as i walked, my new Nike trainers, once brilliant white, now torn, scraped and filthy, "Fifty quid down the shitter!", I giggled to myself, it didn't really help my nerves very much, "God I wish I was still drunk!", I thought out loud. On either side of me, tall trees were swaying to a fro in the wind, their thick leafy branches kept blocking the moon and then releasing its shine onto the country road again, its movement causing shadows to appear then vanish into the dark, as if they were darting around the bushes banking the ditch on each side of the lane.
Everything was alive, the bushes, the trees, the fields of corn. All singing their own song to the night. In bed, when its late, I listen to it, it's like a quiet symphony of the night, always relaxing and peaceful, but not tonight, their talking to each other, talking about me, passing it from tree to bush to corn row and back again, all relaying back to the tree, still waiting for me, it's roots are old and thick, they ran for miles under the corn rows and the woods, through the streams and under the houses, the Death Welcome Tree is the oldest inhabitant of the village, and I have enraged it.
Scurrying in the grasses and bushes, I have to maintain the belief that it was nothing more than rodents and larger animals, hastily gathering food before the morning, their nightly pilgrimage for suppliers for them and their young, but then there were the heavier cracks of fallen branches being snapped on the ground, the branches of trees that suddenly shifted in the opposite direction of the wind.
"Badgers", I whisper to myself, "just Badgers!", but Badgers can't move tree branches four feet up off the ground? Every single cell in my brain, well, the ones not telling me to turn and run! Are pushing my thoughts onto the torch in my bag, if i turned it on now, what would I see in those bushes? Did I want to see?
The lane would be turning right soon, the tall bushes and trees blocking all view of what lay ahead, I'm just about to take the turn when I hear a loud crack! behind me. Swallowing all hard, my mouth already dry, I slowly started to turn around on the balls of my feet, already wanting to step back, away from the source of the noise. As my eyes take in the lane behind me, I see it, a large rock, or a small boulder! Rolled down from the lip of the ditch,
"I don't care how big the fucking badgers are!", I exclaim, my eyes moving left to right and back over the road so quickly I couldn't take anything in, "no animal rolled that into the road!", it's the size of a mans head, and looks just as heavy, no animal moved that thing, no way!
I turn back, still holding back on turning the torch on, somethings probably were better left not seen! i would save it till the Village, then I'd need it, if it was anything like earlier?................ I cringed at the memory still fresh in my mind, God, that face?!! That face??!!
"Shake it off, don't loose ya head now, man, your gonna need it!"
The turning looms ahead, the over cast shadow from the trees making it look even more ominous than before, I gulp, no saliva left, but still I have to swallow, the hairs in the back of my neck are now standing on end, tingling in the wind, then something on the back of my ear, a breath! I can feel another presence, someones standing right behind me, breathing so close to me i can feel it, cold, life less air, it smells like rotting apples, I want to close my eyes, but then I'd have to open them again!, Swallowing hard, but as gently and quietly as i can, I summon up everything I have, then, slowly, so slowly, I turn my head, then my shoulders, then my legs, and finally my feet, in the lane, right in front me, lay absolutely nothing.
It takes at least five minutes to catch my breath, I really didn't know how much more I can take?!, Then the faces of my friends come back to me, Tom's face, pure white with terror, and Kate, crying somewhere??!! I picked up the pace, Tom and Pete and yes even Kate the Bitch were my friends and I can't just leave them. I move on, now taking the torch from my bag, and keeping it in hand at my side, I wouldn't turn it on yet, but I want something heavy in my hand,
"All the bloody good it's gonna do you, you complete twat!",
The corner looms again, the darker edges of the lane making me grip the torch more tightly, I keep moving, still trying to ignore the increasing noises all around me, the trees, the bushes the animals the corn rows, everything was becoming deafeningly loud, I picked up the pace, it sounds like everything is moving now, all towards me, as if chasing me to the corner in the lane. I'm running now, my heart in my throat, the sounds all becoming one blur, I hit the corner, and dart round, just as the sounds reach a sudden unearthly end, I see my path ahead, the pitch black on the lane, the trees and all surroundings, blocking any moonlight, no light at all, just the start of the steep hill, leading up, into the dark.