ALL THE CREATURES WERE STIRRING . . .
A Christmas Story by John Navroth
Christmas always scared the hell out of him. This one wasn’t any different. After all, what could be more frightening than spending the holiday with Grandma and Grandpa?
Mom and Dad had been arguing again, this time over how to put up the Christmas lights. Well, one thing led to another and he’d wound up here, sprawled on his Grandparent’s smelly old sofa, flat out with a hundred-degree temperature and feeling like crap. No telling where Mom and Dad ended up, but he was sure wherever it was, they weren’t together.
He seemed to always be sick at Christmastime. At first, he thought he was just some wuss who caught everything that came around this time of year. But as he got older he realized he wasn’t getting sick because of any flu bug. It was his parents that were the cause. They were the bugs.
Now he lay here, wrapped up like Im-ho-tep the mummy, in one of Grandma’s ancient and musty quilts. Gramps was nowhere to be seen and he was too tired to get up and go looking for him. Besides, Gram had said “Grandpa isn’t feeling too well, either,” in the apathetic voice she usually reserved just for him. “He hasn’t been well for some time, you know.”
He looked over to the fireplace. The vaguely cheerful flames were tempered by the blackened, soot-stained hearth, looking something like the witch’s oven in Hansel and Gretel, he thought. In one corner of the tiny living room, by the front window, stood a Christmas tree ... or something that pretended to be one. There were a scant few antiquated, flaking spheres of indeterminate color hung haphazardly on its scrawny branches and some equally ancient, gun-metal gray tinsel had been thrown on for effect. Christmas, he thought. Big deal. It might have just as well been any other day so far as he was concerned.
His eyes wandered from the tree to Gramps’ enormous, easy chair, with its time-lacerated arms oozing out its own stuffing -- to the rickety endtable were countless, still-burning cigarette butts had missed the ash tray and created small, black craters. On the wall hung a few paintings (from some dead person’s garage sale, no doubt), including a few yellowed family pictures that looked old enough to have been taken during the Civil War. In fact, everything in here was old -- and disgusting -- to him.
There wasn’t even a damn TV. Gram and Gramps wouldn’t have one in the house. Nothing but “smutty” sitcoms and bad news, they said. Instead, there was a radio -- pockmarked with age and looking like a miniature cathedral -- with the name “Philco” stamped in tarnished brass on the front of it. There had been some kind of noise coming out of it ever since he got here, sounding like a cross between Christmas carols and religious talk shows. He ultimately didn’t care. This sucked.
Grandma came out of the kitchen, shuffling along in her worn-through slippers and moth-eaten nightdress. She gingerly held a bowl in her hands like it was the Holy Grail.
She started to say something, then phlegm caught in her throat -- then, “Here, William. I’ve got some nice hot soup for you.” He hated being called that. My name’s Bill, he thought -- Bill.”
She finally made it to the sofa and set the bowl down on his chest. It smelled like something dead and he couldn’t tell if it was the soup or Grandma. “You need your nourishment, William,” she said, spooning some of it up and thrusting it towards his mouth. “Especially on Christmas Eve”.
The spoon clanged against his teeth and he couldn’t help but to swallow some of the greasy stuff. His taste buds immediately rejected it and he coughed the soup back out into the bowl. He felt a slick dribble down his chin.
“There, there,” Grandma said, and took the bowl away. She shuffled back toward the kitchen, mumbling to herself.
This was just great. He’d always known Gram wasn’t -- “quite right” -- he thought the term was. Ever since he could remember, when she’d say something to him, it was always as if she were speaking to him from some far away place ... like another planet, for instance.
As for Gramps, he was just as weird. He knew he’d had a career with the merchant marine but had been retired for some years. Gramps would hold him down by the shoulder at the foot of his easy chair and tell him about his seafaring adventures, all the while smoking one Chesterfield after another and taking constant pulls from his bottle of “medicine”. He’d go on and on about life on the seas, then he’d pull off his shirt and show off his tattoos. He had an anchor on his chest and a heart with “Mom” written in the middle of it on one bicep. Then, with great aplomb, he’d pull up a pants cuff and proudly display his favorite: a mermaid, smiling and waving on the calf of his leg. “Lady of the Sea!” he’d loudly declare, then would -- more often times than not -- pass out.
Well, he thought. They were both nuts.
He just lay there for awhile. Pretty soon, the kitchen light went out and he saw Grandma’s silhouette pass by, first to the fireplace, then to make its way up the stairs. She stopped for a moment, resting herself on the banister, and looked down to him.
“Christmas is coming soon, William,” she croaked. “I’ve left cookies and milk for Santy Claus.”
Her eyes looked empty in the half-light.
[Copyright (C) John Navroth. All rights reserved. Do not copy or distribute without permission.]