Thursday, December 23, 2010

A Little Merry for You


And to celebrate, I've changed things up a little for you.  Below are two very different short-stories that I've written with a Christmas theme.  I hope you enjoy them.

I've also included just a few of the digital snapshots I took of the tree I designed and decorated for my friend this past Saturday.  The full array will be posted to Facebook.

Blessings from the insane one,

You Have a Thumb On Your Nose

The day after Thanksgiving

“Trust me, it’ll be great. What have you got to lose?”

As Regina remembered these words spoken by her husband, she was finding it hard to control the urge to shove the remote control up his ass, thus forcing him to change channels only when he had cramps.

Jim had brilliantly talked her into hosting Christmas at their house rather than pile the kids, the dog, and the Iguana into the car and subject everyone to ten straight hours of “Who-Gives-A-Damn How Many Beers’re on the Wall?” Had the law recognised drinking and driving as a viable form of family therapy, the song would’ve gone down much smoother.

But, being a modern-day woman, wife and mother, she loved a challenge.

The first thing she did was organise the celebration, from the time the out-laws arrived, to the heavy drinking that would ensue once they left. With Christmas being on a Saturday, she would invite them to drive in on Thursday. Very wise: By the time they arrived, half the day would be gone, and then bed early.

Friday, they’d all be busy with preparing last-minute packages, leaving little time for curses and reminders of what happened during the great religious debate of 1967.

Which left Christmas day, breakfast, the main 2 p.m. dinner, and mandatory caroling.

Sunday they would voluntarily leave, as Jim’s father needed to be at work the next morning at 7. She’d always found it funny that while he’d been retired for years, that had never stopped him from showing up at his old job anyway.

Next, it was on to sleeping arrangements. They had 4 bedrooms and 5 children, and as she had finalised a plan, she said, “Crap!” She’d just remembered that the last time his parents had visited, Jim’s mother ended up looped like a gymnast on muscle relaxers because of the back spasms.

Onto plan B. If they moved Christina, their teenager into the baby’s room and put her on a cot, then Jim’s folks could move into her room, but that would mean Lizzy would end up having to sleep on the sofa. Yes, that might work.

God, if I could only get them arrested, then I wouldn’t need to worry where they slept.

She then realised it was time to pick up the kids, so grabbed her keys and headed out the door, putting her West Point manoeuvrers on hold.

During her drive to the school, she began running over a possible menu, and by the time the last child was strapped into the backseat, she had chosen full menus for two meals.

Why was I worried?

The day before Christmas Eve

With the children dressed in the hideous matching orange sweaters Jim’s parents had given them for Christmas last year, and promissory notes signed by the children vowing never to disclose what they thought of them except by penalty of a fiery death that would keep them from ever seeing middle school, the grandparents were welcomed into the home with hugs, giggles and much cheek-pinching (this action alone, forced an addendum that promised no artificial or live reptile would be placed between anyone’s sheets without their express written permission).

Jim’s mother spoke first. “Regina! Your home...well, you’ve almost got it. Thank goodness I’ve arrived,” she said, while kissing Regina’s cheek.

Just as Regina moved both hands toward Ruby’s neck in order to choke her, Jim saw it and grabbed his mother away. “C’mere, you sexy thing, I haven’t hugged you all year.”

Regina knew she’d be having sex that night as a thank-you, but it was a small price to pay.

The rest of the evening was fairly civil, with the next day’s itinerary going surprisingly according to schedule, although Ruby couldn’t help but criticise every little thing Regina’d done.

That evening, as Regina sipped her GF International Coffee and celebrated the moments of her life, she felt uneasy, wondering when it would happen, how, and *who* would end up being responsible for screwing up her perfect Christmas. Well, besides Jim. He was always a contender.

Christmas Day

At 5 the next morning, she arose and stuffed the turkey, and put it in the oven for 6 hours. Then concentrated on breakfast, as no doubt, the children would be up at any moment to see Santa’s offerings.

Not more than ten minutes later, she heard excited screams coming from the living room. God, how she loved her family.

At 11, after presents and breakfast dishes, she butter-basted the turkey, now beginning to turn golden brown. However, when she returned for a final baste at 1, she noticed the oven had no heat. Beginning to panic, she checked the burners, but the stove was ice-cold. “JIM!” she shrieked.

“Yes, pumpkin?”

“Why is my stove as dead as your mother’s eyes?”

“How am I supposed to know?”

“Well, fix it!”

“I’m an attorney, not a caveman. Call someone.”

“Have you been drinking?”

Ruby entered. “What’s wrong?”

“Dinner’s ruined! And I blame you, Jim, just as I did at the birth of our children.”

He merely shrugged.

“That’s it. Everyone in the car.”

“Honey, calm down.”

“Nope. This was the stupidest idea you’ve had, and I went along when you decided to quit law school and sell fake vomit.”

“It’s not so bad.”

“SCREW CHRISTMAS!” She picked up a butcher knife, and said, “MOVE!”

4 minutes later, they were on their way to Denny’s. Ruby leaned up to Jim in the front and said, “Is she okay?”

Jim shushed her. “I don’t think we’re allowed to talk until the festivities begin.”

After a dinner of Rootie-Tootie Fresh ‘n Fruity, and a solemn ride home, Regina was in such a state that Jim put her to bed.

While telling his parents good-bye, he said, “Well, I had fun. Let’s have you here again next year!”

Suddenly from behind, Regina charged at him with an uncooked turkey.
A Sleep to Startle Us

"Do go on, mama!" said Monica, clapping her hands. "You never finish your stories."

"Very well," said Mrs. Dickens. She tucked the blanket tighter around her daughter's rosy cheeks, for their old chambers, while the envy of many, carried winter's drafts in its cracks and sills. "Do you remember where I left off?"

"You were about to tell me the manner in which grandfather happened upon the idea for his now famous story."

"Ah yes, and here we go. Mind! This is the way it was relayed to me by my father, and you, should you have need, shall, hand it down by rote with much the same façon de parler.

"By the year of our Lord,1843, your grandfather's fame had spread throughout Europe and the Americas, his articles and essays appearing weekly in London's periodicals. He was never in want of a story idea, for he loved to take long walks through the city streets, and one would never need ask what it was his eyes saw during those walks, for the details would appear in print in his next work.

"However, just before putting his pen to paper to write his now famous story, a period of time in which no ideas came almost finished him. Nothing flowed; nothing sparked inspiration; no muse touched his shoulder lightly in honour of a fresh scheme. For many months this artistic vaccuum continued, nearly sending your poor grandmother to take spirits, which, she could never do since the Dickens family had long been people of temperance . . . ."

"Mama! Please! Do not torture me further by prolonging the tale!"

"Alright, done. It began on an unusually frigid night in November . . . ."

Charles Dickens sat alone in his drawing room, staring transfixed into the flames, as if, by sheer force of his gaze, maintaining eye contact could draw the warmth from the grate. So caught up in his own thoughts, was he, that his wife's entry behind him went unnoticed.

"Will you spend yet another evening in thought," she asked, "deserting your one true passion, which is to write?"

He said nothing, but continued to stare.

"It happens to everyone, I am sure," she continued.

"Never to me," he said, with much melancholy. "I have made a decision: I will never put pen to paper again for as long as my days on this Earth remain."

Catherine had never heard such lecture from him before, and this news, while possibly nothing more than a plea for sympathy--even though her husband was not prone to it--rattled each sense to her marrow, and she decided it serious.

"I am sure you do not mean this, Charles. It will pass. You must give yourself time."

"Time? One word I have written not these past eight months. I feel as if the well of my very soul has been emptied, for I have nothing left. I have stood idly by, helpless as a newborn, watching the hearts of the thousands of homeless children, wanting for shelter as well as mercy, while many of them remain disabled from ordinary life, who seem to drift across the landscape of the nineteenth century, discarded and forgotten."

"That visit to Field Lane ragged school in Saffron Hill in September really rent your heart," Catherine said, almost in a whisper.

"And did it not yours as well? Pray tell me, why, in God's infinite wisdom, does He allow such rapacity--at the cost of such undeserved suffering? I tell you, I cannot bear it further." He returned his gaze to the fire once more.

"Are you unwilling to allow your pen to feel what your heart is incapable of articulating at the moment? The Charles I married was a radical to the marrow, and oh, my, what power that pen, which you are unwilling to wield, doth possess."

He sat in silence.

Catherine kissed his cheek, and said, "Dearest, retire. Rest will relieve your suffering's severity in the light of morning."

He merely patted her hand and let his eyes stray back to the fire.

Now it is to be said, as you have probably well guessed by now, that Charles did not have fitful repose that night, as he drifted off in that very armchair, and who of us can rest easy in a chair?

He had been asleep not one hour and twenty, when a loud thud startled him to an upright position. He looked around, but finding the drawing room empty of inhabitants other than himself, drifted off again, when a second thud interrupted. Again, a cursory examination of the room yielded nothing but Porkchop, the family tabby, who appeared unaffected by the sound, as cats have never been a worthy barometer for much, other than an empty food pan. Convincing himself that the wind had blown a shutter from the chambres loose, he again stared into the fire. A full five minutes passed before the thud sounded again, and this time, as it did, the flames of the fire rose to a height of three feet and their volume increased two-fold. Charles was unsure if he should run for water, but just as he decided to do so, a strange, ghostlike and grotesque face appeared among the roaring flames, freezing Charles in his seat. As he stared at the face, which was now staring back at him, he realised that perhaps he was still in his dream.

But spirits, being as they are, heard his thoughts and said, "No, Charles, you are not dreaming."

"H-h-how did you know my name?"

The spirit beckoned him with a boney finger. "Come."

Returning to his senses, he replied, "No. Whoever you are, I will not come with you, not for your whim or mine." But as he finished, his body was pulled toward the flames and he could do nothing to stop it. He could feel the heat enveloping him and finding his voice, began to scream, which seemed to amuse Porkchop, as she had never liked her master.

Just as Charles was certain that he would be cremated alive, he heard a whooshing sound, and felt himself falling; falling down a cold dark tunnel, with the spirit flying at breakneck speed in front of him. After what seemed like several minutes, he landed on a pile of straw in a strange field. Pulling straw from his hair, he rose to his feet and said, "And now that I resemble the family ox, I demand that you tell me where you have taken me."

"I am the Spirit of Regret."

"And I am Charles Dickens. Pleased to make your acquaintance. Now what in the name of Victoria are we doing here in the dead of this wintry night?"

"You have a heavy heart.

Startled by this oblique response, Charles said, "Why, yes, I suppose I do. But did you really have to remind me of it in a deserted field? Surely my armchair would have sufficed."

Without another word, the spirit pointed directly ahead of them, and a barn suddenly appeared where there was none before. Intrigued, Charles walked through its open door and espied the scene. A young family--mother, father, and two small girls--were huddled in the corner of a cow's stall. They had no heat, no food, and wore only thread-bare coats.

"Spirit, what is the meaning of this?"

"Listen further," the spirit commanded.

"But daddy, how will St. Nick find us here? We do not have a chimney like we did at our house."
The father looked into his daughter's sweet face. "Do not worry, dearest, he will surely find us. He always does."

This seemed to content his daughter, and she curled her head on his shoulder, shutting her eyes and the cold of the world out with them.

The father looked at this wife imploringly.

She said in a whisper, loud enough for Charles and the spirit to hear, "Dear, you know how the Church feels about Christmas. Why must you continue to placate her fantasies?"

"The Church?" said Charles. "What does the Church have to do with it?"

"You have a deep heart for people in this most dead, most uncomfortable time of year, when they would suffer greatly from their poverty and the cold, yes?"

"Rightly so. If they have not hope, good cheer, warm fires, and Christmas Gambols to support them, they have lost the race entirely. Now, pray tell, what part does the Church play in this poor family's welfare?"

"All in good time," said the spirit. He waved the scene away with his hand.

Next, the spirit showed him a crowded street in downtown London, and this warmed Charles's heart, for he would never live anywhere else. But this London looked vastly different from the one he knew; there were no holly sprigs, no chestnut vendors, no shoppers crowding stores in hopes of finding the perfect gift, no fires for the homeless by which to warm themselves. In fact, it was a desolate and depressing place; the people in the scene appeared to carry nothing but contempt for their neighbor.

"Again, spirit, I implore you: what is the meaning of this?"

The spirit said nothing, but washed the image away, immediately replacing it with a new one. This was of his own drawing room. In the corner was a coffin, and standing over it, a much older Catherine.

"Spirit? Who is she mourning?" said Charles, his breath catching in his throat. A strangled cry escaped him as he realised who lay in the coffin.

The spirit pushed him toward the coffin, and the corpse that awaited him was more horrific than anything he could have dreamed to write about. For inside, staring back at him, was himself!

He let out a startled yelp and stepped back. "That cannot be me, spirit. Oh please tell me it is not. Importune and torture me no more. What have I done to set this course?"

"It is what you have not done that seals your fate."

"Then reveal to me what I have yet to do--and I will but do it, posthaste."

"It was your destiny from birth that you should be a great writer, but more than your amusing anecdotes and stories, that you should champion the less fortunate and indigent against the tyranny of avarice that runs so rampant in society today."

Charles steeled his eyes and refused to be swayed. "Did Catherine pay you to do this? I am not sure how you achieved it, but I know you must be one of her friends. Reveal yourself. I demand it."

"Numerous indeed are the hearts to which Christmas brings a brief season of happiness and enjoyment.... How many old recollections, and how many dormant sympathies does Christmas time awaken!"

"I still fail to see what I have neglected to do that would cause this to pass."

"You revealed to your wife, only hours ago, that you would never pen another story so long as you lived. I am here to show you, that the very next story you write, shall be the greatest champion for the cause you hold so dear to your heart."

"Nonesense. I am only a writer. What can my pen surely do that my radicalism has not?"

"Your pen can do exactly what your radicalism cannot, and that is bind the two together. Remember when your first manuscript was dropped stealthily one evening at twilight, with fear and trembling, into a dark letter box, in a dark office, up a dark court in Fleet Street?"

"I do."

"That young master Dickens wrote with zeal and passion. It was that passion that got your book into the hands of a publisher. And now that same passion shall be a voice for the voiceless; a bludgeon against the rich man's hobby, greed. The first scene you saw this eve was of a typical English family whose Christmas had been removed by the dogma of the Church. Without your story fueling men's holiday hearts, there was nothing to stop it from happening.

"The second scene was of the future streets of London, again--abiding in desolation because no story gave them hope.

"Now listen once more to the scene in your own drawing room."

A young girl approached Catherine, and with tears streaming down her face, she said, "Dickens dead? Then will Father Christmas die, too?"

The spirit wiped the scene away and stood silent.

After a long moment, Charles said, "Spirit, will my work have that large an affect on the people of London?"

"Sir, Dickens, your work will have that large an affect on the people of the world. Happy, Happy Christmas, that can win us back to the delusions of our childish days; that can recall to the old man the pleasures of his youth; that can transport the sailor and the traveler, thousands of miles away, back to his own fireside and his quiet home! But it will never happen, unless you write the story that has been stewing in your breast since September."

At that, the spirit transported Charles back through the tunnel, depositing him in the armchair from whence he had come. Charles opened his eyes. The hands on the clock showed him to be gone a mere five minutes.

"Catherine!" he bellowed. "Do you know not to where my quill and ink have retreated?"

"No, sir, and I assure you that waking the dead will have no more effect," she said, exiting her bedchambres.

"Come here, you saucy wench," Charles said as he hooked an arm around his wife's waist, pulling her to his lap. Catherine shreiked and they both dissolved into peals of laughter.

"What has you in such good spirits, pray?" she asked.

"The world, my sweet; mankind, Christmastide, my ability to write. All of it. For a fire is burning in my belly, and I must needs quench it with ink. I must fulfill my destiny with paper. Lost friend, lost child, lost parent, sister, brother, husband, wife, I will not so discard you! You shall hold your cherished places in my Christmas heart, and by my Christmas fires; and in the season of immortal hope, and on the birthday of immortal mercy, I will shut out nothing."

"Know you what you shall call it, yet?" Catherine said.

"Aye. It will be A Christmas Carol to those with no song in their hearts."


"And that, dear Monica, is how your grandfather wrote his famous story. Now, time for sleep."

"Mama? Do you know what I want to be when I grow up?"

"What is that, dearest?"

"A writer, just like grandfather, for it was he who kept the spirit of Christmas alive for all of us."