Needle grew up like most trees. He started as a seed from a pine cone. He was raised in a greenhouse until he was big enough to survive outdoors, where he was planted in the ground.
As Needle grew, he heard rustling amongst the other trees, who had been planted in neat rows alongside him, that they lived on what was called a Christmas Tree Farm. Silver, Needle’s sister at the end of the row, tried to point to a sign one windy day, where she swore there was neat lettering that said so.
Needle didn’t know what a tree farm was, but he was happy. He got plenty of water, and humans came by and made sure to keep all of them pruned and healthy.
Trees have no concept of time. Time is a human construct. All Needle knew was that he lived for a time in what humans might call contentedness.
But as the weather turned from hot to cool, there was the horrifying sound of machinery and the wailing of trees in the distance. Rumor flew on the wind, and all the trees near Needle held their collective breath.
But the danger seemed to pass, and life returned to normal. Snow, rain, pollination, and heat. Needle continued to be content, except for every now and then when the sound of horror came around again.
The rest of the time, the trees didn’t think about it.
Until the day they had no choice.
The sound of carnage began early and continued through the day. Closer and closer. Needle shivered in fear. The cries of his brothers and sisters chilling him to his core.
The noise stopped when the sun set, but Needle had already seen what lay in store for him. His brothers and sisters, trees he had known all his life, had been shorn from their root systems and hauled away. All that was left was the heaviness of sap and sawdust choking the air.
Pinecone, Needle’s nearest sister, speculated that maybe they would be spared. Perhaps the humans were done and they were safe.
But Needle knew their fate was sealed. Whether it was when the sun rose or the next time the weather started to turn cool, their brethren’s fate would be theirs.
It was almost a relief when the humans came the next day and began kidnapping his brothers and sisters. He wouldn’t have to be suspended in dread for any more seasons.
When the humans came for him, he experienced pain he never could have imagined. An ice storm had ripped off one of his branches one year, but that pain was nothing compared to the teeth of the loud machine biting into him. It ripped the flesh from his side and tore all the way through his center. And then he was falling over—not the gentle bending when the wind hit, but a sickening plunge that he couldn’t stop until he hit the ground hard.
And then he was still. The humans left him lying there, moving on to Pinecone, who wailed as they separated her from her roots, as well. As the sun set, the humans collected them all on a truck, and for the first time since he was a seed, Needle left the farm. Silver had been right. There was a sign that said Christmas Tree Farm.
Needle dribbled sap across the back of the truck as they bounced along the road. They’d spent the night in the truck next to a human dwelling, and as soon as the sun was up the next day, a human had come back and driven them away.
Nobody knew where they were going.
And all the way, Needle ached as he slowly died.
When the truck finally stopped, they were all unceremoniously tossed into a pile on the ground and left again for an indeterminate amount of time.
Then, there was a shuffling, a moving of one tree at a time. Needle and his family found themselves at a cheery Christmas tree lot. Brightly colored lights were strung up and down the rows of trees, where they were leaned against fake walls upright, in an approximation of their previous lives. A happy couple meticulously spaced them along the makeshift walls and hung streamers with numbers on each of them, but overall, they treated them kindly.
And then, humans with their offspring started to wander around admiring them, pulling them upright, oohing and aahing, and then hauling them up to the cheery couple, who bound them up and let the humans drive away with them strapped to their cars or trucks.
Needle was confused at first, but he kept hearing a word over and over. These humans were bringing them to their homes.
How excited the tiny humans were, talking about decorating the trees with colored lights and ornaments and presents, speaking reverently about some saint called Santa. It all gave Needle hope. Perhaps he would find a new home with a human family. It would be nice to be treated specially for the last of his remaining time. It wouldn’t be much longer now. Already he was growing weaker.
Time moved on and the air grew colder. The Christmas tree lot grew more barren. So many of his brothers and sisters had been adopted. And soon it was just him and a few others left. And then it was just him and his remaining weary companion, a horribly wilted fellow called Green who wailed in a mournful monotone about how close he was to death.
The end was near for Needle, too, and at least he wasn’t complete alone.
And then one day, the people stopped coming. Even the cheery couple who had cared for them didn’t come. Everything was quiet, and a feeling of reverence filled the crisp, dry air. And as one day faded into the next, a light dusting of snow began to fall.
And in that moment, as a nearby clock tolled, Needle reached out to the saint all the children had spoken of in hushed tones, and made his own wish.
Please. Don’t let me die.
The clock finished tolling, and deafening silence fell with the snow.
There was no answer to his wish.
Sometime after that night, a family wandered by on their way inside the building adjacent to the lot. One of the tiny humans stopped.
“Daddy, there are only two trees left. What happens to Christmas trees after Christmas is over?”
“I don’t know. I expect they throw them in the lake with the rest.”
“Can’t we take one home?”
“What on earth would we do with a Christmas tree, honey? Christmas is over.”
“Can’t we plant it?”
Needle strained to hear the rest of the conversation. Could this family somehow revive them?
“No, honey. I’m afraid that’s not how it works.”
The child began to make mournful sounds as sap ran from its eyes, and Needle understood how it felt. He hadn’t figured that was how it worked. Still, he’d hung his hopes on the chance that the humans could perform some magic. Carry out his wish.
He should have known better. All they did was destroy, not revive.
Later, a group of juvenile humans came by and bought Needle’s remaining companion.
“It’ll make a great bonfire. Look how dry it is!” one exclaimed.
Needle didn’t know what a bon was, but he did know fire, and was greatly relieved they hadn’t taken him. Needle knew he was equally dry. It was only a matter of days before he lost connection with his senses.
Perhaps it would have been a mercy for it to end quickly. His wish was clearly going unanswered. How could the children believe in this Santa?
The humans celebrated a new year, which Needle had come to learn was the full cycle of seasons. The day was bleak and dark. And the end finally came for him.
Another truck with stacks of dead and dying trees pulled up. Needle was manhandled onto it. They were driven to an open field with a giant pile of ground up corpses of trees on one end and a horrifying machine on the other.
Needle watched in horror as the dead trees around him were fed into the machine and pulverized. Most of the trees were dead, but when an alive one hit the blades inside, there were squeals of pain, cut short as fine wood shavings spewed into the sky on the other side, settling on top of the pile of masticated trees.
This is how I die.
Needle willed himself to die before entering the machine, but that wish wasn’t granted, either. He hung helplessly as the humans shoved him into it.
The pain echoed being shorn from his roots, but he’d lost so much awareness of his own form that he barely felt it as he was torn apart.
And then there was blissful oblivion.
Needle was aware of the stirrings of consciousness. He no longer had form that he could feel, as such, but he did have awareness. He was everywhere. Spread very thin. Part of so many things. He could feel life. He could sense time passing. But he no longer grew. He felt part of something bigger as something nestled and grew inside of him.
And after a great deal of time, his senses opened, and he was looking up at several gorgeous pine tree above him. They were both part of him and not part of him. Others were part of them, as well. And through the whispering of the trees, he heard that they lived somewhere called a Christmas tree farm.
Don’t worry, he thought to the trembling souls within his trees as the sound of human machinery caused other trees to wail in the distance. You’ll live a happy life here at the farm. And when the time comes, a family will bring you home as an homage to their saint, and they will treat you with reverence until the end of your days.
And if you’re the last Christmas tree on the lot, don’t be afraid. The saint will still watch over you.
Just remember that the end is only the beginning.