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This story was inspired by a prompt by Argenti Aertheri, who wanted more of the Tree That Wasn't, and it was sponsored by cloudiah! Happy Spookathon, everyone!

Trick or Tree'd

“So. What are we going to do about the treebeast for Halloween?” Chavela asked.

Maria sighed and crossed her arms. Goofy as the name was, she couldn't deny it was an improvement over 'not-tree.' It had been two months since it'd taken up residence in her yard, and they still had no idea what it was. They had learned it vastly prefered platters of liver and blood to other meat products. Once Maria had started feeding it properly, it had stopped grabbing house pets and birds... but it'd never been surrounded by hordes of sugar-crazed children before, and neither woman wanted to push their luck.

“I think we've come to an understanding. I'll keep plenty of food next to it, so it'll know it doesn't need to hunt,” Maria said. Still. “I should put up a sign, just in case.”

“Like what? 'Mean-eating tree, do not touch'?”

“That'll just insure some smart-aleck teenager will poke it.” Maria thought a moment, then smiled. “Poison oak, on the other hand...”

And so they hammered a little warning sign into the garden. That seemed safe, plus it helped hide the plates of blood and liver, and that taken care of, they geared up for Halloween.

Chavela, of course, dressed up as a ghost, with flowers twined through her braids, powdered skin, white dress, and dark circles around her eyes.

“They don't look like this, by the way,” she told Maria over the roar of the hair dryer.

“No?” Maria asked, brushing her hair out.

“Nah. Most of 'em pass for living, until they opent heir mouths.”

Maria just went “hmm” and kept floofing her hair. She still wasn't entirely sure how she felt about Chavela's perception of things. The treebeast was one thing; she could see it, touch it, feed it liver. Ghosts, not so much.

“How's your boyfriend?” She asked.

For a moment, Chavela's smile faltered. “I... I don't know. I haven't seen him in a while.”

She looked worried, but when Maria opened her mouth, Chavela went into a flurry of activity, pouring candy and going outside to put black fabric over the porch furniture. Maria let it drop for the moment; they could figure it out later.

She curled and dried her hair into an enormous rats' nest, then pulled a pointy black hat over it. She put on a billowing black dress—a nightgown, originally—and pointy black shoes and gloves. She also covered her wheelchair with more billowy black fabric. It'd be a major pain to move in, but the silver wheel rims would stand out like fire in the dark otherwise, and Maria wanted to be almost invisible.

Then the makeup job.

“I actually trained in this, did you know?” Maria said as she smoothed on the concealer. “I wanted to be a makeup artist.”

“Really? I thought you were just an office monkey.”

Maria sighed. “I am now. No work. Oh well.”

To intentionally look like a mannequin was easy. Maria slathered her face in concealer, then put on matte, brilliant red lipstick, eyeliner, and false eyelashes. The hat would mostly conceal the glisten of her eyes, and all that was left was a little brown to put in some shadows around her eyes and nose. By the finish, she looked like a cheap white store mannequin, and she was delighted. She was ready for her trick-or-treaters.

Chavela sat at her own half of the duplex, at an angle that let her keep an eye on the treebeast. Maria sat at her porch, huge bowl of candy in her lap. In the dimness of dusk, she landed square in the Uncanny Valley. Once it actually got properly dark and she turned her porchlight on, she'd look like an ominous black lump with a plastic face. Perfect.

The little kids came first, escorted by their parents or long-suffering older siblings. They were usually a little fearful, unsure whether she was alive or not, so Maria made it easier on them.

“Come here, little children,” she'd say in a creaky voice, beckoning with a black-gloved finger. “Come and have some candy, ee-hee-hee!” Then she'd wink and smile, and the children would be reassured.

One little girl, dressed in a homemade ladybug outfit, paused to survey the plates of liver and blood by the treebeast. “What are those for?” she asked.

Maria improvised. “To feed my vampire bats! Ee-hee-hee!” And that seemed to satisfy her.

As the children got older and the night got darker, she skipped that part of the act and would sit there, frozen and apparently inanimate until they got close to the candy. Then she'd let out a loud, “EE-HEE-HEE!” and spook them.

At a gap in the tide of children, Chavela came over to say, “You're a real sadist, you know that?”

“Oh come on, it's Halloween! It's supposed to be scary.”

“Just wait till you get an angry parent.”

Maria didn't get an angry parent. What she got instead were teenagers.

Most teenagers, Maria didn't have a problem with. In fact, one teenage boy dressed as Glinda had a lovely conversation with her about their respective makeup jobs. She gave him some pointers on eyeliner and they parted ways happy. But there were a few in the neighborhood who gave adolescents a bad name. They didn't bother dressing up, tried to take more candy than was their due, and people who stood up to them got their houses egged and their cars vandalized.

There were three of them, and inevitably, they arrived when Chavela had gone inside to refill her candy bowl and hit the bathroom. Not that Chavela was physically imposing, but at least Maria wouldn't have been alone. The boys' sole concession to the holiday were Guy Fawkes masks—not reassuring.

Maria went into her statue act as they approached. Though she'd never admit it, she was a little afraid of them, and she considered staying frozen and letting them go without ever knowing she was alive.

But then one of them cried, “Hey, free candy!”

“Woo, score!”

And the entire bowl was yanked from her hands.

Maria's response was reflexive. “Hey!”

“Aw, we ruin your trick? Then it's treats for us!” The bowl-carrier said. Then, in a suddenly cold voice, “unless you have a problem with that.”

The other boys chuckled unpleasantly.

“Look, there are other kids going to come after you,” Maria said, angry at herself for even trying to bargain. “That's all the candy I've got.”

“Gee, sucks to be you, then.”

“Now wait a second--”

The bowl-carrier sighed elaborately. “You know, I'm usually a nice guy. I don't hit girls or cripples. But you really seem to want me to look bad, and...”

Maria tuned him out and looked over the boys' shoulder at the treebeast. In the dark, it was black and spidery. It looked anticipatory.

“Don't hurt them,” she told it, interrupting the boy's monologue. “Just put the fear of God into them.”

“What? Who're you talking to?”

Maria closed her eyes.

There was the groan of wood settling, then the roar of wind ripping through leaves, though the air was still. Sounds indescribable in their inhuman ferocity and rage. Screams.

When she opened her eyes, the boys were fleeing into the night, and the candy bowl was back on the yard table. The candy had been carefully replaced, along with a few pretty stones and leaves that the treebeast had presumably thought equally appealing.

Chavela rushed out the door, bowl under her arm. “What was that?”

Maria explained, then smiled and reached over to give a stray branch a pat. “Thank you,” she told it.

And they settled back for more trick-or-treaters. They were not harassed again.

Date: 2013-11-10 12:59 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] rolodexaspirin.livejournal.com
That is an abnormally well-behaved not-tree.

Date: 2013-11-10 01:26 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] lb-lee.livejournal.com
It knows who pays its meal-ticket!

Date: 2013-11-11 03:59 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Just caught up with this and now I want a treebeast. Just a little one, small enough to fit on a trolley and take on the train, but big enough to scare the crap out of them as need the crap frightened out of 'em.

Kittehs

Date: 2014-09-16 11:56 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] silver-gull.livejournal.com
The candy had been carefully replaced, along with a few pretty stones and leaves that the treebeast had presumably thought equally appealing.

Here via Ysabetwordsmith, and I have to say that I love this little glimpse into the softer side of the treebeast's character. It doesn't really understand Halloween, or candy, but once it was done with its job as protector it gave its benefactors things it thought they might like.
Edited Date: 2014-09-16 11:57 pm (UTC)

Date: 2014-09-17 02:38 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] lb-lee.livejournal.com
Aw, I'm glad! Yes, the treebeast definitely doesn't process the world in a human way, but it tries its best.

--Rogan
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