“Quite simply, the tree is cursed,” the priest said.
“I was rather hoping you had more to say than the obvious, father,” the woodsman sighed. “Of course it is cursed. The twisted branches, the strange, bloodlike pools and of course, the dozen bodies littered around it like fallen leaves. How do we rid ourselves of this tree?”
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“Quite simply, fence it off.”
“Quite simply, that will not do, father. Can you not say a prayer, do some hand gestures, throw some holy water or something useful?”
“Is it that urgent?”
The woodsman rolled his eyes and looked at this pocket watch. It was old, passed down from generation to generation, but kept ticking steadily. The heirloom told the woodsman if the sun would set soon. It was necessary to check this fact when one was so deep in the forest they could not tell the time of day. Should the sun fall, they would be trapped by the tree, most likely joining the corpses at their feet.
“Father, I can understand your desire to leave this tree and wash your hands of this mess, but I can’t. By this time next month I need three cabins here, which means the tree must go.”
The woodsman was getting annoyed and the priest was desperate to avoid putting himself on the line.
“It will take more than prayers, child,” the priest said anxiously. “Holy water, I need a few gallons of that, a second, perhaps even a third priest to help me with the stall-I mean prayer and perhaps the local choir.”
“Why? So they can add to the ambience?”
“N-no, their faith would help strengthen the exorcism,” the priest replied. Although, he simply wanted a few rows of the choir to stand between him and the tree. “As you can see, it would take a lot of time to do as you wish, in fact, it is impossible to exorcise the tree in time so you can continue development.”
The woodsman sighed again, but this was a sigh of defeat. His lumberjacks would have to cut around it, work fewer hours and go against the architect's plans completely. He didn’t want to deal with the blueprint-carrying lunatics who were calling the shots but doing none of the work.
The sheer thought of having to talk to the one with the small tie and large glasses was enough to make the woodsman compromise.
“Father, gather our priests, tanks of holy water and gospel singers,” the woodsman said. “My men will continue their work while you perform the exorcism. We can work around you until you are done.”
The priest swallowed his last hope.
“I s-s-suppose that’s sorted then,” the priest nodded.
“Good luck,” the tree creaked.
“Thanks,” the priest and woodsman replied.
The exorcism made it difficult for the lumberjacks to work. Yes, they obeyed their boss’s orders to focus on chopping trees down in the beginning, but the closer they came to the cursed tree, the more they could hear the priests and their prayers. It also didn’t help that the egotistical choir sang louder so they could be heard over the chopping of wood.
After their lunch break, most had paused completely and watched as the unholy spirits circled the tree, above the priests. Each one appeared like a demon from their worst nightmares, their silence was little comfort.
“Is it just me, or are we being cheated?” an old lumberjack said, walking beside a young axe-handler.
“I know what you mean,” the young man said, staring at the horrific display of demons. “These working conditions are hardly worth the pay we’re getting.”
“You can say that again!” the old man grunted. “Where did all the good biscuits go?”
“You know, the biscuits that come with the coffee and tea,” the old lumberjack held up his steaming mug and a crumby, unappetising biscuit. “When I started in this business, you know what we got? Butter biscuits, even biscuits with a smearing of sweetened cream. Sugary, fresh, a delightful accompaniment to a hot cup of tea. It made me forget about the blisters, about the sharp ache in my right arm.”
“Ah, well, I have to agree with you,” the young man nodded, swayed by the old man’s argument. “The last time I had biscuits like this was when I was in kindergarten. The kind of biscuits the government bought in bulk and fed us, even when they became as stale and tasteless as cardboard.”
“Aye, I remember them. Although, when I was your age, conditions were better. It was during the war that times were so tough. I guess we haven’t recovered financially from that horrible time. Mind you, I started this job a few years ago.”
“So, why the downgrade in bickies?”
“Are you quite finished?” a priest asked.
The old lumberjack and the young axe-handler turned back to look at the cursed tree and the holy men. It seemed that all eyes drifted from the demonic display to the conversation between the two lumberjacks.
“Oh, sorry, carry on, carry on,” they murmured, shuffling here and there before they finally returned to their posts.
The tree felling continued as soon as the priests returned to their prayers.
“Well, it’s all done then,” the woodsman said a month later. The cabins were built in the new clearing, the cursed tree burnt and the bodies buried. “If I’m being honest, I thought the tree would be the biggest obstacle, but that ‘biscuit riot’ certainly proved to be a challenge. It’s gonna set us back a bit, having to buy butter biscuits and Romany creams again, but at least nobody was killed.”
“Apart from the handful of choir boys that got possessed,” the priest murmured.
“Well, nobody important got killed then.”
“Indeed. It was an experience, but it’s over now. I expect my fellow priests and I won’t be here much longer.”
The woodsman looked at the priest with sadness and despair.
“Father, don’t tell me you’re dying!”
“No, we’re not dying. The Pope heard about our work here and has given us all a promotion. We will have much better parishes to look after.”
“Are you going to the Vatican?”
“Better, we are going to California.”
The priest and the woodsman shared cheerful smiles, exchanged business cards and shook hands.
Who knew a cursed tree could do so much good?