Sunday, December 18, 2011

A Single Light

A single light.  In a string of fifteen thousand fucking lights, it only takes one to put the whole string out of commission.  Of course, they don't make strings of fifteen thousand, but if they did it would only take one burning out and the entire God Damned thing would go black.  But it wasn't fifteen thousand black that Christmas eve, it was just two-hundred and fifty.  Two hundred and fifty lights just gone out at eleven fifty-five on Christmas eve - the middle string - the ones that draped over the eves in front of the door.
    "Honey," Eileen said, "honey it's very important to the kids that all the lights are up."
    I looked through the window at the small patch of darkness and watched snowflakes slowly dance their way to the ground.  It wasn't like I cared.  Why should I?  We had plenty of lights on the house.  We had plenty of presents inside the house.  We had plenty of everything and Eileen could never see that it was because of me.  I had bought it.  I had worked for it.  I had built it all.  But she would never admit that.
    "Eileen, Sugar, it's one string, okay?  I'll take them all down after the holidays, and next year when I take them out I just won't put up that string.  Simple.  I'm really not interested in going out in freezing weather to fix one damned burned out light bulb."
    "They're LED."
    "They're LED lights," she explained, "they're expensive.  We're not throwing away a whole string just because you're lazy."
    "So now I'm lazy?"  I sighed.  "Fine, I'm lazy.  But I'm still not going out on that ladder and trying to fix one bulb in two hundred and fifty.  I spent the last six hours building the doll house for Samantha.  I'm not going out in that."  I waved an open palm at the window.  Eileen looked at me.
    The ladder was cold and so was I.  Let me rephrase that:  The ladder was colder than I was, so it wouldn't give me back my hand after I placed it under the eve.  I pulled on it - even though I knew better - and ripped a small patch off my hand as the skin gave way before the frost.
    "Stupid," I muttered.
    "What was that?"  Eileen asked.  She had her hands wrapped around a mug of hot cocoa, steam billowing up from it, her body covered in fur.
    "I said this is stupid," I told her.  "It's utterly, and completely, ridiculous."  I stormed up the ladder.  "If you think the kids are going to notice that one batch of lights is out, tomorrow, when they've got a damned mortgage payment's worth of gifts, you're nuttier than your mother's fruit cake."
    "I don't think there's any reason to bring my mother into this."
    "I think there's every reason to bring your mother into this."
    "Oh, yeah."  I yanked a bulb out and looked through it.  Seemed fine so I put it back.  "Because you're her.  You've become her."
    I looked over my shoulder and caught a flash of her eyes and saw her suck her cheeks in against her gums, which two years ago would have meant I had hit a cord and we wouldn't be sleeping together.  That night it just meant we were back into our old groove of not sleeping together.
    "Just like her."
    "And you're just like your father," she told me.
    "I thought you liked my old man."
    "I pretended to."  She dug a furry toe into the powder covering the grass.  "For you."
    "Well."  I plucked another tiny piece of glass and peered through it.  I didn't know what I was looking for, but I was hoping I'd know when I found it.  "Luckily we don't have to pretend any more."
    "This entire night has been pretend."  She straightened her spine, her eyes flashing silver in the light.  "We pretended we loved each other."
    "And the Oscar Nomination goes to..."
    "You're not fucking funny."
    "I used to be."
    "I pretended you were..."
    "A lot of pretending, Eileen."
    "Would you just fix the stupid light so I can go inside!  It's cold as anything out here."
    "So go in."  
    "Not with you on that ladder," she scolded me.  Kicked more snow.  "If you fell no one would know til morning."
    "What do you care?"
    Her mouth opened and closed a few times, and she stared at me.  I felt so small that she could have squashed me with her tiny rubber sole.
    "I just care, okay?"
    "Okay, fine."  I yanked a new bulb and studied it intently.  Clear as anything.  Put it back.  "I'm just wondering.  You've got a life insurance policy on me, right?"
    "You're such a piece of shit, you know that?"
    "You've told me before."
    "And I meant it."
    "I believe you."  I sighed away from her, into the darkness.  I glanced back and saw her standing there, the cocoa cold now, no steam.  Her hands were still wrapped around it for warmth, but none was provided by the mug .  My hands were frozen stiff and the spot without flesh was sore and pulsing as I moved from light to light.  But, still, she looked great.  I couldn't put my finger on why, but she reminded me of the first Christmas we spent together.
    We were just out of college, and she and I had rented a house at a ski resort because she wanted to have a white Christmas.   We had laid in bed for hours, watching the snow slowly flutter its way to the ground, playing in the breeze and kissing each individual flake as they made their way together towards earth.  We had gone outside to eat the small crystalline drops, and then we had thrown snow balls at each other and I had chased her down, kissed her, and we had made Samantha, our oldest.
    I checked another light - I was almost ten percent through the string - and looked at her again.  Long ago I had decided this marriage was over.  I hadn't decided it as much as it had been beaten into me.  
    I was told: "face the facts, man, your marriage is over."  "Look, this is as an outside observer, as your friend.  You have to move on."  "It's already a foregone conclusion, the only question is: who pulls the plug, and when."  All good advice, I guess.
    But up on that ladder I felt the familiar pang in my stomach at the thought of losing her.  It wasn't her fault.  It wasn't really mine.  It was a cycle we had drifted in to.  The cycle where every single time I wanted to say I was sorry, she wanted to fight, and by the time she came around to talk, I didn't have anything left to say.  
    That old, recycled cycle.
    I checked the next light and saw a tiny fleck of soot inside it.  I shook it a minute, and looked again.  One small burn mark, just above the base.
    "Found it."  I flicked it at her and fished in my pocket for the spare.  Found it.  Plugged it in.  Instantly the string came to life.  "See, no big deal."
    "That wasn't nice."
    "Throwing the light at me."
    "Oh, come on, it was a joke."
    "You're not funny," she said again.
    I turned away from her and sighed again.  My breath flowed out gray in the cold.
    "Jesus Christ, Eli, what do you want from me?"  I turned back to her as I asked and I caught a flash of white before snow slapped hard against my cheek and I lost my balance.  Crashed to the pavement and felt my bones rattle as my muscle softened the blow.
    "Holy shit!"  Eileen burst.  "Are you okay?"
    I stayed limp until I felt her body close to mine, then snapped forward and grabbed her arms.  Saw the look of abject terror on her face as I tossed her into the snow bank to my right.  Then I hopped up and started piling snow onto her head.
    She burst from the bank in a flurry of powder and flailing limbs, and I turned as fast as I could and jetted back into the house.  She followed me with a snow ball in each hand.
    "You're not funny!"  She lobbed one at my head but it was far right and it splattered against the wall.
    "Yes I am."  I cut around the couch and watched her.  "I'm the funniest man you ever met.  Remember?  You love me so much because I always know how to make you laugh."
    "That was six years ago."  She arched her arm for another rocket, but held it.  "Now you're just a pain in my ass that I can't get rid of without losing my house and half my time with the kids."
    My stomach knotted and my eyes flushed with water.  I let my eyes bore into hers.
    "So that's how it is," I croaked.
    "Sorry, babe," she didn't look sorry, "but that's how it is."
    I rocked back against the wall and stared at her.  The snow was melting in her hand and small droplets of liquid were falling down to the carpet.  I couldn't believe I had let it get this far.  I couldn't believe she was really that done with me.  
    I took my ring off.  Crossed around the couch and set it lightly on the coffee table.
    "Then we'll file the paperwork on Monday," I told her.  "I'm sick of making you miserable.  I'm sick of being miserable.  I'm sick of fighting with someone I used to love so fucking much."
    I left her there, holding what was left of the projectile, and went upstairs.  
    The shower water was hot and it turned my skin red as the blood my broken heart still pumped.  The bare part of my hand burned as the water cleansed it.  I couldn't be sure but I thought I tasted something salty as the water swept over my eyes and ran down to my mouth.  
    Eileen wasn't my first love, but she had always been my love.  I don't believe in love at first sight, but I believe in love, and I love Eileen.  I always have, and I always would.  The truth that hit me so hard as I let the scalding mix of hydrogen and oxygen flow over my body was that I was being totally consumed with fear.
    I wasn't afraid of a divorce.  I wasn't afraid of the legal fight.  I knew Eli wouldn't take me apart too bad.  And I wanted her to have the house, we could split the time with the kids, and I would take care of her, money was never a problem.
    I was afraid of losing her.
    As I stood there, tears washing away under the flow of the shower-head, I realized that any life with her was better than a life without her.  Even if it meant fighting every single night.  Even if it meant I was miserable for the rest of eternity, I would always be happier with her than I would be alone.
    I got out of the shower and toweled off.  Dragged my palm across the mirror to clear the dew and looked at the reflection.  I wasn't impressed.  The man looking back at me was broken.  Not even a man.
    I left the bathroom and stopped halfway past the threshold.  
    "I'm not ready for this to be over," Eileen said.  She stood in the middle of the room, mascara tracking down her face in odd angles, twisting my ring between her long, thin fingers.  "Can we talk?"
    "No snow balls?" I asked, regretted it.  She was trembling, and so was I.
    "No snow balls."
    "Sure, let's talk."
    "I mean really talk."  I watched a drop of fluid fall from her eyes and drizzle down her cheek.  It hung on her chin for a moment, before dropping to the carpet.
    I crossed the room and took my ring out her hand.  Brought it over to the dresser - where my coat was laid over the top - and fished out a fresh bulb from the pocket.  I held it up to her.
    "It only takes one," I told her, "to light it all up again."  I smiled at her, and winked.
    "You're still not funny."  Her voice broke as she spoke.
    "I know," I said, "I'll work on it.  Promise."

Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Death of Christmas - By Bill Pryst

Christmas Reed drew hard on his cigar and spit a bit of tobacco juice, letting it dribble down his chin and hang there, gelatinous, before wiping it off with his sleeve.  The stubble made tearing noises as it was dragged over the rough canvas.
    "Got damned injuns," he swore, "if I could I'd kill e'ery one of em."
    "Well, you can't," Kid Krinard reminded him.  Kid was about sixty, with a bulbous stomach and a back that had to be set every time he lifted something heavier than his rifle.  But he was a sure shot with his Winchester and that was good enough for Christmas.  "We ain't here ta worry bout no damned injuns, neither, we're here to do a job.  Now let's do it."
    "Who made you king of this here operation?" Christmas asked.  He was short as an elf and named accordingly, but he was the meanest, most sadistic killer the Arizona Territory had ever seen.  And he was so fast with his peacemakers his victims were full of lead before they heard the leather on his holster move.  "I know what we came for, and I know what we're gonna do."
    "All right, Christmas, didn't mean no harm."
    Before them the town BitterBrew unfurled like a bad case of the Shivs.  Indians and freed slaves and whores and gamblers and cut throats, all vying for their piece of the vice.  It was the kinda place Christmas would love to get lost for a few days, but he knew he couldn't.  Within the hour there'd be a man dead, and he was going to kill him, and even in BitterBrew there was laws against killing a man without due cause.  Laws that said two hundred dollars wasn't good enough cause, neither.
    He looked up at the Kid, and winced.  He was gonna enjoy putting a bullet in the old bastard's head.  Enjoy it something fierce.  Specially since he knew the man was waiting for his chance to end Christmas, and keep the whole bounty.
    "Let's get this over with."  Christmas spit some more bile into the dusty, rock strewn street and started the long walk to the saloon.  A tumble weed the size of an oxen rolled slowly across the path.  Eye's watched the pair as they closed the gap, and then calmly pressed through the double-hinged doors and entered the saloon.
    The place was packed to the rafters with blacks, whites and reds, men, boys, women and more men.  A feral dog scampered about, stealing men's half-turned mule meat as they hit on big busted women who slipped their hands through their pockets looking for loose change.
    Christmas sauntered up to the bar, climbed a few feet until he reached the top of the stool, and dropped a silver on the counter.
    "Whiskey," he said.
    "Mister, that'll buy you a whole lotta whiskey."
    "Keep it, I'm lookin for someone."
    "Who's that?"
    "Man called 'the Sandman.'"
    "An who should I tell him's lookin'?"
    Silence enveloped the saloon like a weight.  The talking stopped.  The laughing stopped.  A Mexican stopped drinking half through his shot.  The dog took the opportunity to scram with a half a chicken in his jowls, ducking under the doors and leaving a rooster tail of dust as he made his escape.  The only sounds were from Krinard's Winchester as he jacked in a shell, and movement from the second story, just above the men's heads.
    "Mister Christmas..."
    "Just Christmas."
    "Christmas, sir, I don't want no trouble."
    "You ain't got no trouble, Sandman does.  If I was here for you, you'da known it when I put a bullet between your eyes.  Now," he leaned forward, "where's the Sandman?"
    "He's upstairs," the barkeep caught on his words, "upstairs with one of the ladies, but..."
    "Good," Christmas cut him off, "then I have time for that whiskey."
    "Let's get this done now," Krinard said from behind him.  "We ain't got all day."
    Christmas spun around, now able to look him in the eye.  "I may be goin to hell, Kid, but I'm not so low as to keep a man from enjoying his last taste of a woman before I plug him.  Now sit down an have a drink with me.  We'll get to killin jus' as soon as I say."
    "You're the man, Christmas," Krinard grumbled.
    "I know."
    The bartender brought over two glasses, cleaned them with his towel, and poured the whiskey.  He slid the silver back to his guest.
    "On the house, Christmas, sir."
    "Keep it," Christmas said again, "for the damages."
    The barkeep tucked the silver into his pocket and disappeared.  Christmas tossed back the shot and lit his cigar.  Behind him the patrons had either shuffled out, or gone back to drinking.  
    "How long do we give him?" Krinard fussed.  "I wanna get outta here and get my money."
    "You'll get your money.  Let's give him a minute.  Some men take longer than a few seconds, you know?"
    "I hear there's somebody lookin' for me," a voice came from behind them.  
    Krinard snapped around, his rifle held ready.  Christmas calmly leaned over and took the Kid's full glass of whiskey.  Downed it.  Then turned and looked at the speaker.
    The Sandman was young, younger than Christmas imagined a man who'd killed twenty could possibly be.  He might be thirteen.  Maybe sixteen.  Maybe five.  But he was built alright, standing a good five eleven with long, thin appendages that come from growing too fast, too soon.  He was wearing his gun belt like he knew how to move.
    "Yeah," Christmas said slowly, "I'm lookin and I guess I found ya, Sandman."
    "Too bad for you," he said, "you'da lived a lot longer, you hadn't."
    "Wanna do this here?" Christmas asked.  "Or outside?"
    "Up to you," Sandman told him, "you wanna die in the shade?"
    The crack of gunfire came from Christmas's right and Krinard fell in a spray of blood, his rifle dropping to the floor with a thud.  Christmas was off the stool in a flash, his peacemaker already in hand and firing.  
    His first two shots went wide left but not by much, and the third caught the Sandman in the shoulder.  But he had his piece out, too, and put a hole in Christmas' thigh as the little man backed out of the saloon, firing.
    He tripped down the stairs and landed on his ass in the dirt.  The peacemaker went back into the holster and the left one came out.  He scuttled backward and scanned the windows of the saloon, but saw nothing.  
    He was in trouble, and he knew it.  Two against one were bad odds.  He had counted on that when he brought Krinard.  But it was obvious to him now that the Sandman had another gun with him, and Christmas was down his extra hand.  
    A bullet struck dirt beside him and he rolled and saw the Sandman standing in the middle of the street to the west.  Before he had a chance to fire, a bullet cut through his shoulder and he spun to find the Sandman standing in the middle of the street to the east.
    "What?"  Another bullet caught him in the opposite shoulder, and he spun again, and again the Sandman was to the west, but the man in the east hadn't moved.  "How?"
    "They call us the Sandman," one explained, "because we put so many people to sleep.  But they call us that, too, cuz the Sandman can be everywhere at once, and so can we."
    The Sandman walked calmly up to five paces away from Christmas and smiled.  He raised his pistol.  "But it ain't easy being the Sandman."  
    The gun bucked and spit fire and the Sandman to the east buckled under the weight of a bullet tearing into his shoulder.  
    "Sometimes," he wheezed, "it takes sacrifices."
    The western Sandman adjusted his aim, and pointed the long barrel at Christmas.  "Merry Christmas, midget," he said.  Fired.  
    The blast knocked Christmas' head back as the bullet tore through his brains and burst from the back.  He collapsed to the ground, blood pouring from his wounds and mixing with the dry soil.
    "You know," the Sandman said, "eventually word'll get out."
    "Bout Christmas?" the Sandman asked.
    "No," he told his twin, "bout the fact that there's two of us."
    He lit a smoke, and smiled, again.  "By then, we'll have killed so many they'll stop coming."
    His mirror image frowned.  "They'll never stop coming.  No matter how many we kill."  
    "Well then, we never have to worry bout gettin bored, do we?"  The Sandman turned and started towards the saloon.
    "How's the girl?" his brother asked.  "She's awful purdy."
    "You wanna have a go at her?"
    "Hell yes," he patted him on the back, "if you don't mind it."
    "Nah, she won't know the difference."
    "Oh yes she will.  When you was in San Antonio, I went and got myself circumcised..."

Friday, December 9, 2011


Stay tuned for Christmas stories from Bill Pryst and Damien Wright.  We just have to get our facebook page in order (i.e. to fucking work... piece of shit... only works when it wants to) and then we'll have a short a week for your enjoyment.
Merry Pagan Holiday Turned Jesus Day
The Brothers Finn