‘That Danged Hall Tree!’
By Jeffrey Bishop
Tell Time: 3 minutes 30 seconds
Scare Rating: 3/5 Ghosts
Sensing someone crouched in the aisle just outside his peripheral vision, Brett instinctively jumped aside with a shudder, then quickly looked in the direction of what startled him to make a fight-or-flight decision.
He needn’t do either; he recognized the object that had startled him, and approached it for a closer look.
“You’re interested in the hall tree?” inquired the shopkeeper a moment later.
“It’s certainly exquisite!” Brett remarked as he continued his examination of the intricate carvings of the central wood post and the ornate cast hooks springing from the trunk. The item had jumped out at him, it seemed almost literally, as he perused the dusty aisles of the quiet antique store.
“My grandfather had something like this in his home,” Brett continued. “Though certainly not this detailed. Or this dark.”. He was transfixed by the devilish face carved into the top of the walnut post, like a medieval totem pole. Beneath the nubs of two carved horns, the thing’s eyes were inset with red garnets.that seemed to glow as they caught the light in the shop from different angles. The brass hooks extended like claws out from the mast, ready to grab and hold articles of outerwear.
Brett was repulsed by the nature of the object, but also found it uniquely irresistible.
“You generally don’t see these any more, do you?” he asked.
“Indeed you don’t,” replied the shopkeeper, perking up at his guest’s interest. Brett noticed the sudden enthusiasm, but wasn’t perfectly clear whether it was over the opportunity of a potential sale, or over the opportunity to wax professorially about domestic artifacts..
“The practicality of a hall tree — a piece of furniture used in the foyers of homes in the early 20th century, has long been eclipsed by the commonality of small
closets in modern post-war homes,” told the shopkeeper. “As the foyers went, so too did their hall trees … ”
“Well, I don’t have a foyer per se, but I do have the perfect spot for this. I’ll take it!”
Brett jumped at the shadowy figure standing in the shadows of his entryway. He took a second look and saw that it was just his new hall tree. Draped with his hat and coat, the antique took on the appearance of a dark intruder, hiding and ready to strike from the darkness.
“That danged hall tree!” he exclaimed with a nervous titter of laughter. “It’s making me a bundle of nerves.”
Indeed, every time Brett passed near it, the thing gave him a start. Even when he consciously knew it was there, he couldn’t help but react to the half-concealed presence that must somehow resemble a threat to his subconscious self. The same way, he mused, that his ancestors must have instinctively reacted to a mountain lion crouched in the brush. Or to a mountain lion-shaped boulder at rest in the brush.
As silly as the reaction was — and Brett did in fact feel foolish for repeatedly jumping at the peripheral sighting of the inanimate object — he figured that a few days of passing by the hall tree would have conditioned him to its presence; that awareness and familiarity would quiet the warning system of his unconscious mind.. It hadn’t; the sinister feeling that the object compelled persisted, even into mid-week.
“I’ve got to get rid of it,” Brett concluded.
The sudden feeling of dread that overcame him was unbearable.
“Muh-heh!” exclaimed Sergeant Blumford with a shudder, as he noticed the murder weapon out of the corner of his eye. The police had found Brett two days later. Rather, Brett’s cleaning lady found his dead body laying just inside of the house. The new hall tree lay next to him; it had clearly been the blunt object used to take the victim’s life.
Despite no signs of forced entry, the police ruled the crime a home invasion-homicide, surmising that Brett had let someone in, and that that someone did him in before letting his or herself out again.
“Creepy thing, that post. Deadly, too,” said Sergeant Blumford.
Light from the room’s window caught the garnets of the demon’s eyes and refracted into the officer’s.
“But I’ve got to admit, it’s kinda irresistible … ” he added.