Here’s a quick bit of short fiction I wrote last year. By the time I finished it, it was too late for a Christmas story, so this one’s been waiting all year for its debut. Hope you enjoy.
CHARITY: A CHRISTMAS STORY
Julie was setting the table when the doorbell rang announcing the arrival of her mother’s first Christmas dinner party guest. She rolled her eyes with typical teenage impertinence as she heard her mother put on her Joyful Hostess Voice to greet Mr. and Mrs. Stanson. Julie adjusted the centerpiece in the middle of the table, remarking in her head how silly it was to have a small, candle-laden winter forest scene blocking everyone’s view and crowding out the food.
Twenty minutes later, Julie; her mother, Martha (wearing a smile so plastic Julie was afraid the candles from the centerpiece might melt it); her stepfather, Steve (for whom Julie had developed a particular distaste); the Stansons (so prim, proper and polite they made your teeth hurt); and Ms. Frostberry (the divorced, busybody neighbor who wormed an invitation to Martha’s party every year) had just sat down for their Christmas dinner when the doorbell rang once more.
“Now, who could that be?” Martha asked with a chuckle.
“Well, whoever it is, they sure do have perfect timing!” Steve retorted. Everyone at the table guffawed with scripted merriment, with the exception of Julie, who smiled as politely as she could force herself to.
“Julie, dear,” Martha said, wiping tears of amusement from the corners of her eyes, “be a doll and answer the door, will you?”
Julie did as requested without complaint, more out of a desire to escape, even if only for a moment, than to please her mother. She tried to look out the window to see who was at the door, but it was fogged up due to the stifling warmth inside the house and the bitter cold outside. With no prior warning, Julie was quite surprised at what she found when she opened the door.
Before her stood a tall, clumsy-looking man in a tattered, dirt-covered suit, and she couldn’t help but note the greenish-yellow tinge to his skin and the sunkenness of his eyes in his head. In fact, she noticed, his eyes were kind of just floating aimlessly in their sockets, not bothering to focus on anything in particular.
“Um, can I help you?” she asked.
“Grrraaargh,” the man replied.
The corners of his mouth stretched back into what Julie assumed was a smile, though she was of the opinion that, due to his apparent lack of dental hygiene, he should avoid such expressions in the future at all costs.
“I’m sorry,” Julie said, trying to maintain some semblance of politeness in spite of her grumbling stomach. “I didn’t quite catch what you said.”
“Grrrraaaaaaaaagh!” he said, this time with slightly more emphasis on the “Gra.”
Julie was in no mood for this sort of game, and, if Ms. Frostberry took all the gravy again this year before she could get to it, Julie was going to be quite put out. She opened her mouth to tell the inarticulate man that he would simply have to go away and come back when her parents were not in the midst of a dinner party, but her mother’s hand on her shoulder stopped her.
“Julie, where are your manners?” Martha said, now playing a slight variation on the Joyful Hostess Voice called Concerned Samaritan. “Invite this poor gentlemen in for goodness’ sake! It’s freezing out there!”
She stepped past Julie and put her hand on the man’s elbow, guiding him inside. Julie noticed the man’s knees appeared to be locked as he clunked into the house. Every movement was jerky and straight-legged, and Julie was growing rather perturbed as he slung slush all over the floor she’d spent an hour mopping earlier that day.
“Now, what can I do for you, sir?” Martha asked.
“Grrraaargh,” the man said once again.
“Oh, you poor dear!” Martha exclaimed. “So cold you can’t even get your words out straight. Why don’t you come have some dinner. We were just having a little Christmas party, but there’s always room for one more!” Martha’s falsetto laugh rang through the entryway, and the man looked a little alarmed at the sound. “Julie, go grab a chair from the closet, dear. He can sit by you.”
“Mom, we only made enough food for six!” Julie said, growing more exasperated.
“Shame on you, Julie!” Martha said in her most horrified tone. And then she shifted directly into her Christmas TV Special Voice: “It’s Christmas, and it’s the time of year to be charitable and have good will toward our fellow man.”
“It’s not Christmas yet,” Julie muttered. “It’s December 16th.”
“Oh, you know what I mean,” Martha said out the side of her mouth, sounding like her real self for the first time since guests had arrived. “Just do it.”
Julie turned and huffed her way to the closet as her mother led the man into the dining room. She carried the metal folding chair to the table, where he nearly went into a fit at the sight of the man settling stiffly into her chair across from a very curious-looking Ms. Frostberry. Julie, with as sour an expression as she could manage, unfolded the metal chair next to the man and sat down.
“Everyone, this is…?” Martha paused, waiting for her surprise dinner guest to announce his name. When he didn’t fill in the blank (and indeed stared blankly ahead, which Martha thought a bit rude under her extremely charitable circumstances), she was forced to draw attention to her faux pas. “I’m sorry. I don’t believe I caught your name, sir.”
The man’s gaze shifted to Martha, and, in answer to her question, he said, “Grrraaargh.”
“Greg, is it?” Martha took the man’s lolling head motion to mean, “Why, yes, my name is Greg, and I’m so pleased that you were able to understand me despite my speech impediment.” She beamed and turned to her guests. “Let’s eat then, shall we?”
The guests began passing around the various dishes on the table, and Julie eyed Ms. Frostberry very carefully as she ladled gravy onto every single thing on her plate. Eyeing the growing ocean with its tiny islands of food sprinkled throughout, Julie had to fight every fiber of her being to stop herself from playing Poseidon and sending a gravy tsunami straight into Ms. Frostberry’s lap.
This train of thought was interrupted only by the passing of Julie’s least-favorite dish from her mother’s hands into her own. “Gross,” she muttered, as she shoved it into Greg’s hands. “I don’t know why you make that every year. No one likes it.”
That notion was immediately proved incorrect as Greg exclaimed, “Braaaaiinnns!” and looked the most animated he had since he’d arrived.
“No, no, Greg,” Martha corrected. “It’s called cervelle de veau.”
Greg gave her a look that resembled one of confusion. “Brains?”
“Well, they are technically brains,” Martha admitted, shaking her head slightly.
“Brains!” And with that, Greg dumped the entire contents of the dish into his mouth, spilling the overflow all over himself, the table, and the floor, as everyone looked on, horrified (except for Julie, who was fighting back snickers and trying to look horrified).
After licking the dish clean with a tongue that was noticeably blacker than that of the average human being, he set the dish down on the table with an unceremonious clatter, leaned back in his chair, clasped his ashen hands on his stomach, and let out a very contented, “Braaaaaiiiinnnnns…”
Julie looked to her mother, whose jaw was hanging open in shock. After a moment, she seemed to recover a bit, and she cleared her throat and continued passing along the now-nearly empty gravy boat to Julie. She took the ladle and pointedly scraped the bottom of the gravy boat, shooting Ms. Frostberry a scolding glance as she managed to dig out about half a ladleful of gravy. Highly dissatisfied with Ms. Frostberry’s willing ignorance of her failed gravy etiquette, Julie passed the boat to Greg.
He grabbed it excitedly from her, but, as soon as he saw the contents, his expression turned to one somewhere between severe disappointment and pain.
“Brains?” he half-growled, half-squeaked, like a dog whose paw has been stepped on.
“I’m afraid there are no more, Greg,” Martha said (and with very little sympathy after his behavior).
“Brains!” he spat out, sending a speck of cervelle de veau across the table onto Ms. Frostberry’s cheek.
“Oh!” she exclaimed, having never been subjected to having brains splattered across her face before.
“Braaiinns!” Greg yelled. He stood and lurched his way over to Ms. Frostberry, where he promptly snapped her neck, dug his teeth into her skull, and began munching on its contents.
Julie’s mother stood and threw her napkin down on the table indignantly. “Now, Greg! I’m sorry to be rude, but this sort of behavior is completely unacceptable!”
Greg responded, but his mouth was quite full, and what came out was even more unintelligible than usual. At that point, Mr. and Mrs. Stanson stood up.
“I’m so sorry, Martha, but I’ve just remembered we have another engagement this evening,” Mrs. Stanson said.
“Oh, please don’t go,” Martha pleaded. “I’m sure we can get this sorted out.”
“I wish we could,” Mrs. Stanson said as Mr. Stanson pulled her toward the front door. “Honestly. We’ll take a rain check, all right?”
The Stansons did not wait for a response and instead flew from the house, punctuating their departure with a slam of the front door. Martha’s shoulders drooped, and she shot an annoyed glance toward Steve who had not come to her rescue and instead was happily wolfing down the mashed potatoes on his plate. Greg looked up from Ms. Frostberry’s nearly empty skull.
“Brains?” he asked.
Martha turned to him. “Greg, it’s been lovely having you here, but I’m afraid I’ll have to ask you to be on your way.”
Julie thought Greg almost looked as if his feelings were hurt.
“I’d be happy to put some ham and potatoes in a to-go container for you, if you wish,” Martha offered, taking pity on him.
Greg turned his head to look at Steve. “Brains?” he asked, looking back to Martha.
“Certainly not!” Martha shouted.
Greg looked to Julie. Julie had never been fond of Steve, and so, she just shrugged.
Greg’s mouth twisted into that hideous grin again, and he got up and lurched toward Steve. Steve tried to push Greg away, but it seemed Greg was rather adept at the whole brains-acquisition thing, and, in a matter of seconds, he was shoveling bloody gray matter into his mouth. Martha promptly fainted, and Julie rolled her eyes.
“I suppose you’ll be expecting me to clean up then,” she grumbled at her unconscious mother. She sighed her typical teenage sigh once more and turned to Greg. “Hey, Greg.” He paused in mid-shovel and looked at her. “Would you mind taking that to go? I’ve got a lot of work to do here.”
Greg shrugged and said, “Grargh.”
“Cool,” Julie replied.
Once they’d shoveled Steve’s brains into a plastic container, Julie walked Greg to the door.
“Well, it was great to meet you, Greg,” Julie said perfunctorily. “Enjoy the brains.”
“Graaaarrgh,” Greg said, baring his yellowed teeth again. He gave a little wave, and then he walked in his stiff-legged way down the drive.
Julie closed the door and leaned back against it. “From now on, charity can begin in someone else’s home.” Her sour expression returned, and she trudged back to the kitchen and began clearing dishes.
© 2009 Elizabeth Ditty