Sometimes They Arrive Late

This should have appeared on Christmas Eve. Or Christmas itself.

Or even Boxing day.

Alas, I have blown a deadline. But, as I characterized the story in a previous entry as “gestating”, it perhaps is allowable for the delivery to be slightly delayed. Here it is, then, “Nothing in the World is so Irresistibly Contagious.”

OH, ALSO– I find that an anthology I had thought was on the verge of printing actually got printed almost a whole month ago. Not only a late story, but a late notice of a story: Monsters in Spaaaace! contains, in addition to several other stories, my own “The Moon Forest”. It’s science fiction about as hard as I’ve ever done… and there’s also werewolves. I had a lot of fun writing it.

Inktober 2019 – Ornament

Tobin was reaching into the tree, seemingly up to his elbows when Nadine came into the room. She almost yelled at him, then realized she would likely just set off the catastrophe she wanted to avoid. She took a deep breath and said, in as calm a tone as she could manage, “Please be careful.”

“It’s fine,” Tobin said, muffled by his own upraised arm. Nadine stood rigid, coffee mug creaking in pale-knuckled fingers, hardly daring to breath until with a final jingle he withdrew. He turned with a look of pride, which turned to confusion when he saw his wife’s face.

“What’s the problem?” he said.

“Why were you fishing around in the tree like that?”

“I was moving The Elf.”

Nadine sighed, resuming her course through the room. She resented The Elf, an infinitely worse infiltration of surveillance culture into the festive season than the lyrics of Santa Claus is Coming to Town. The argument she and Tobin had entered when he’d brought the thing home was not a marriage-wrecker, but it was an uncommon point of soreness between them. If he had consulted before he’d brought it home, she would have vetoed, but he’d just hauled it out in front of the kids, who had been amused. At the time.

“Why do you have to put it in the tree?” Nadine asked as she sat. “I thought it was supposed to stay on a shelf.” She  tried to keep her eyes on the TV, but in the end she scanned the tree for it, finding its judgmental little pink face peering from between a couple of silver icicles and… damn it… Nana’s glass ball.

“Oh, they say in the book to do that,” Tobin said, settling onto the couch. “It keeps the kids from peeking into the presents.”

“Have our kids ever…” She cut herself off, making gestures of negation with both hands. If they kept arguing about The Elf, the little beast would start to affect the marriage, and Nadine was entirely aware of how stupid that would be. “Anyway, when you want to move it tomorrow, let me do it.”

“Why?”

“Because if I break Nana’s ornament, then I don’t have to be mad at you.”

Tobin frowned, then became appropriately horrified. He knew exactly how much that big opalescent ball meant to Nadine. It was the only thing either of them had to which “heirloom” could be properly applied. It was not intrinsically worth much at all, as far as either of them knew, but it connected Nadine across a span of three maternal generations. It was a distillation of what both of them understood as the real Christmas spirit.

“You got it,” Tobin said, and then turned on the TV.

The next morning, between breakfast and the arrival of the school bus, Kaori and Devan engaged in the usual sort of pre-Yule speculation common to all children. Nadine looked in on them occasionally as she made got their lunches and hers packed, and saw The Elf Effect at work. Each child would occasionally stop, peering over one shoulder or the other, body rigid with anticipation of spotting the filthy little homunculus.

As far as she could tell, neither of them had actually spotted the thing in its perch in the tree. Their counter-surveillance was broadcast, as it were, taking in the whole living room, rather than focused aloft. She thought of pointing it out to them, just so the anticipation would break, but the demands of the morning preparations kept her from acting on the urge, and soon the bus’s appearance took away the kids and the opportunity.

After supper, the morning scenes began to play out again. Nadine remembered her intention from the morning, and was drawing breath to act upon it when she realized that she couldn’t see The Elf where she expected it. Nana’s ornament was an easy landmark, and the sappy face was nowhere near it.

A quiver of anger went through her, modified by the fact of the antique decoration still being there and whole. She filed the matter until later.

As it happened, Tobin raised it while the kids were brushing their teeth. “Nadine, where’s The Elf?”

She asked him to repeat himself. When he did, verbatim, she said, “I didn’t touch it.”

“Well then where is the little dickens?” Tobin stepped in close, craning to look between the branches.

When he started to reach toward the tree, clearly intent on pressing limbs aside, Nadine stood. “Hold up, there. Let me.”

They traded places, and Nadine stood tip-toe to look into the tree. The little lights shed their diverse glows into the depths of the needles, making it clear that The Elf was not just slumped further down the branch. She reached for Nana’s ornament, thinking that she would take it down and set it aside to allow for a more energetic search.

Her hand froze by the hanger. Nana’s ornament was slightly translucent, and normally there was a hint of the lights behind it. Now it was dark, and its usually unblemished surface seemed marked… except the marks were within.

Two blank eyes and a wry smile, The Elf’s features, were just visible through the pearly glass. They lay not at all in their usual relation. Broadened and smeary, they brought the word dissolved rushing out of Nadine’s imagination. Even as she stood, hesitating, one of the eyes disappeared, swirling away from the other and losing coherence.

With the reverence she usually showed it, Nadine took the ornament from the tree. She cradled it in both hands as she moved away. “OK, you see if you can find your Elf,” she said, her back to Tobin.

She dared not let him see the way she was smiling.

“Inktober 2019 – Ornament” ©2019 Dirck de Lint.

Sinterklaasjegeshenk!

Dutch is not the equal of German when it comes to menacingly long compound words, but sometimes it offers up a good’un.

Today is the festival of St. Nicholas, familiarly Sinterklaas to the Dutch, when good kids get a present and bad kids get threatened with abduction to Spain, because we’re still upset about the Thirty Years War and colonialism. We won’t, to avoid roaring arguments about racism versus cultural heritage, think too hard about St. Nick’s sidekick who does the abducting. Let’s just imagine a regional variant of Krampus and leave it at that.

ANYWAY, by way of observing Sinterklaasje and honouring my own paternal heritage, and to also nod to the British seasonal tradition of a ghost story, I’m posting Wassail today. Keep warm, as the sun prepares for its bounce off the southern limit of its yearly wobble, and if you have a sufficiency of bounty please share it with your fellows.

(Not) Alone in the Dark

Alone in the dark?  Oh, heavens, no.  It’s the solstice, and thus dark for everyone in the northern hemisphere… although I guess those below the tropic line will hardly notice.

It being that time of year, I am once again offering a story for Christmas, because it’s something Charles Dickens and M.R. James did; I am weak enough to hope for if not to quite believe in sympathetic magic, and so try to do what they did with an eye to becoming what they were.

…perhaps, now that I think of Dickens’s last days, this is not a great plan.

Anyway, this year’s story is Snowman.  The title is a bit of a giveaway; there is a snowman mentioned in it.  They’re a staple of kids’ songs and Rankin animations, but the snowman is something of a rarity here in the land of the living skies; we get snow, but it’s usually so dessicated that you can’t form it.

I hope you enjoy reading it, and I also hope you have plenty of people of cuddle up with in this season of long nights and chill winds.  The dark is more tolerable when there’s someone to share it with.

A Traditional Holiday Story

Well… not really.

There is the British tradition of creepy stories at this time of year, as exemplified by most of M.R. James’s output, and I can more or less hang Occasional Lapses of Service on that hook.  I suspect James would probably chastise me slightly for stepping away from one of his very useful guidelines in the writing of ghost stories, one which I generally cling to pretty firmly– but it’s not really a ghost story either, so I will nod my head in admission of the departure without feeling that I’ve actually strayed from the path.

It is also not a traditional Christmas story in most other senses of the that phrase, even though there is a passing reference to carol singing.  It is, however, presented only days ahead of Christmas, and is meant as a gift to the world in general.

And now, as last year, it’s time to get seasonal liver damage through the fat and alcohol content of egg nog, and cuddle my son while we decide if that noise on the roof is a reindeer, a lead-footed squirrel (of which we’ve many in the neighbourhood), or something else entirely.  Wæs hæil, everyone!

BASED ON A TRUE STORY!

A quick little Christmas story for those who aren’t completely distracted by wrapping gifts and watching Alastair Sim go bonkers, and it is indeed based on a true story (exclamation point).

If you’re at all sensible, you’re on your guard now.  If one is willing to carefully file facts to fit, every item of fiction can be found to have a real-world foundation… or rather, some real-world event can be pressed into service.

But, yes, this is based on a real-world event.  I was recently in a room with a TV showing a broadcast image of a fireplace.  That actually happened.

Merry Christmas to everyone to whom it is appropriate.  I’ll also wish an appropriate mix of jollity and reflection for any who observe a different solstice-proximate holiday, of which there are many.  Now, I’m off to wrap presents and get goofy on egg nog.