Rows and rows of trees, pine needles bristling with excitement, hard bark bending itself outwards, craning long branches poking the eyes of shoppers. Plastic loudspeakers are set up at regular intervals, playing festive music, wires adorned with white blinking fairy lights. In the centre of the yard stands the Christmas monolith, a pine tree stretching itself twenty feet into the air; thick green bushes of needles, lower branches billowing out like a petticoat, thick ropes of red and yellow lights.
The crowd is mostly couples. A few have brought their children, who weave in and out of the legs and stumps, gathering needles in their gloves, scarves and hats. There’s a low hubbub of chatter, men reach out to shake a branch and murmur to their partners, the salesmen sing the praises of each tree, the tinny music simmers above the low babbling voices. Alex and Jean are no different, taking their time to assess the quality of each specimen – too many needles on the floor, too thin branches, too sparse coverage – and they fail to notice the figure lurking behind them.
The Hunter stands out in this environment. His towering frame puts his shoulders at the height of the tips of many of the trees – he has to duck underneath the lights – and of all the people present, he is the only one that seems hemmed in, caged by the festivities. His black suit heightens this even further, a stark contrast to the puffy coats and casual knitwear of the crowd, and people hurry out of his path when they cross it. As he approaches, his shadow looms over Alex and Jean, obscuring the lights that line the path. He reaches out and grabs Alex’ shoulder.
Alex loses the words in his throat, his eyes widen in shock momentarily. Jean turns around and gasps.
“You! You’re… What are you doing here?”
The Hunter smiles.