Christmas Plays Itself: The Island of Misfit Toys
Criselda’s leather mind was twisted. Twisting spasming back and forth cracked leather tongued by snow demons. Life was becoming exceedingly rare. It was December 24th at 4 pm. The sun was dying slowly – she could see it heave outside her dirty windows. She had just left that room again, the room of 1000 fantasies where she performed for a forum of depraved women who paid her money. Threw it at her and she was supposed to display gratitude. They had liked her last show – a nice big bonus – $100 and mystical drugs to burrow deep into her veins. Christmas was almost here and she had gotten them nothing – no gifts, no cards. Her show gave them numerous pleasures, made them feel whole again – not broken and jaded.
“But they are jaded. Jaded and disgusting. I perform for their pleasures and they feel me up, touch my sweaty albino skin and fondle and taste and smell my long ebony hair. I’m finished. The stink.”
She slowly undulated to the scratchy 45 of Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” in the distance. Her room was bare – only a chair and a blanket for the floor- a dark oak floor stained occasionally with her blood. In the corner were her meager luxuries: a half-empty bottle of Maker’s Mark, a glass syringe (so old), and a hot plate to boil water for her doses and to make syrupy thick coffee from the freeze-dried coffee she loved. She relished taking a couple of shots of bourbon which pushed her into a gentle haze then supercharging the buzz with the coffee. Thoughts of her childhood Christmases started to trickle in and tell her what went wrong. A Mitch Miller sing along thump thump splat. Mommy and daddy fighting throwing a Christmas tree to the ground. Christmas trees were burning in the distance. It was always her fault. That’s why they are gone. Criselda smiled. She boiled some water and made the coffee, then took a shot of Maker’s following it quickly with the coffee. After having her bourbon and coffee she decided to cook up another shot of her favorite drug with the left over water. She continued humming carols to herself as she slammed the syringe into her vein. Pulsations touched the walls.
“It’s all your fault.”
“I know mommy.”
As these last thoughts flew out of her brain in rapid death sequence like the rantings of a masturbating idiot, she shuddered and climaxed. Slowly she cracked the door of her room open and stepped out into the hall. She was stunning. She had done her hair up all pretty swith Bettie Bangs. She had put on her favorite elf-green corset which clung to her like another dead skin, her red Santa hat placed on her head in a jaunty manner, and black shiny pumps vintage 1935. Her shiny shoes gently click-clacked on the spent linoleum as she made her way. The symphony in her head complimented the ecstasy of her body: green, red, albino and black. Their room was at the end of the hall. She slowly and carefully walked down the hall, stepping over the 8 dead reindeer that lay festering under the green fluorescent light bathed in blood and flesh odor. She fought back a gag reflex and soon regained her composure.
She entered their room yet again, this time carrying an antique Gladstone doctor’s bag that had belonged to her father, a pediatrician. She recalled he would be carrying it when he arrived at her bedside to give her the adrenalin shot for her childhood asthma. The first of many fixes for a wheezing child. She relished the lightening jolt.
They were still in attendance: three women basically shadows – only glowing eyes burned in the dimly lit enclosure. The decaying flesh smell made her gag. She dropped the bag to the floor and the sound of metal on leather gave her a slight thrill. She flipped the latch on the bag and reached inside. When her hand emerged it was holding a plastic Santa mask. The women smiled. Criselda placed the mask over the face of the old hag in the center. The women laughed – Criselda was so funny. The were delighted at the prospect of more entertainment from a member of the lower class. Crisleda next produced a spike and a hammer. Slowly she nailed the mask to the middle woman’s forehead. Nail pierced plastic. Bone cracked – a happy sound – and purple – maroon fluid oozed – slowly at first, then more quickly – then stopping as the heart ceased pumping. Criselda zoomed in close for a look and a taste.
“That is delicious baby. A new dolly. Oh dear my corset is stained now.”
The other two women just watched. A surgical saw was the next to appear from her bag of magic. Criselda sawed off the hands, arms, legs, and feet of the old bitch on the left. It was a laborious task once s he hit bone. When she was done she pulled out some fishing line and a needle and sewed the appendages back together making a life-sized marionette.
The babbling bag of bones on the right was decapitated with the same saw. With great care Criselda re-attached the head whose eyes were still moving and tongue still wagging with a spare bedspring she had in her bag.
“A new jack-in-the-box. Dance for me.”
Her victims’ flesh was burning and raw. Chests heaved and fluid drooled.
The 3 women were caught in spasms as life slowly left; their nerves ached -neurons were stretched and broken. Gurgling noises and wooshing flesh noises echoed all around Criselda. The steel floor buckled slightly and the holiday lights outside sputtered and then glowed brighter. Criselda wiped the blood and perspiration from her face. Another Christmas tree exploded and she could hear several of the reindeer carcasses popping from decay.
“Bled white – a good color for all of you – just like me. I am rhythm and I got the beat. A boogie – woogie slaughter. All reet. Compleet.”
As Criselda stepped back and admired her work she heard a faint Ho-ho-ho coming from behind her in the velvet darkness. The floor length mirror displayed a familiar figure with a red suit and white beard – a jolly old elf. Santa approved.
She later phoned in her story to the newspapers and local cable news stations. It was a virtuous choice clothed in despair. She had been re-educated by human nature. The story was buried. Outside people moved quickly through the New York City streets on their way to a peep show. It was 1 am December 25th.
By Peter Marra
Red Lights and Jade Paint
He pressed her hard up against the chilled brick building; she felt her arms scratched by the sandpaper surface. He was moving in fast for the kill, pulling at her thick red wool dress, aching to get underneath it. She loved Christmas time and these labored love affairs in cold air. She loved that the colors of the season matched those of dried blood and infected mucus. She loved how deeply he was breathing, trying to keep the icy air out of his lungs because it made the vein on his neck bulge with the effort, and she loved that vein.
They’d met at a party, of course, where it was warm and smelled of cinnamon and pine, dank with apple cider and sweet breads, wafting up through the air. But she also scented desperation, sweat and terror. That was when he crept up and gently placed his big hands on her shoulders.
“I haven’t seen you before,” he whispered into her hair. “Are you a friend of Chris’s or Judy’s?”
“Neither,” she said. “I came with my friend, but I can’t seem to find her. I think she might be occupying one of the coat closets with a Christmas lover.”
“What a wonderful idea,” he complimented. “Why don’t you and I try that?”
“I prefer the snow.”
That led them outside the townhouses, twisting through backyards until she found the perfect aisle of temptation, and the brick wall. They were far away now from the warmth of the fire and the gleaming sparkle of the tree, yet still she could smell the cinnamon, the cakes and eggnog; it was pumping through that vein. And when she clasped her pointed canines onto it, she tasted the holiday season coursing through her mouth, rolling over her tongue. There were the flavors of every Christmas this man had ever had in that bite: the fruitcakes, the chocolate Santas, the candy canes, the assorted cookies, the presents opened, the kind words of friends, the love of family, the enduring prime rib feasts, and the spent relationships. She drank his memories through that vein, drank until the last drop.
Letting him go, his body sliding down into a dead slump, and she noticed the arterial spray from his vein had left a fine mist of red blood cascading over the crystalline snow. She had managed to only spill a little of him on her dress, but no one would ever notice, since the stain matched the fabric perfectly. There had been time taken and lives lost in an attempt to find the perfect red to hide blood shed, but she succeeded and her dress was none worse the wear. She blew her Christmas romance a kiss, as she stepped over his quickly cooling form. No one would find his body until the morning, any passersby would think he was a drunk stumbled out from a party, which he kind of was only a lot more dead. She was off to find her next holiday meal in the comfort of the lights that spelled out Peace on Earth. Merry Christmas, she smiled to herself, hearing the trumpet blasts of Joy to the World echo through the streets from a nearby gathering. Joy to the World, indeed, she laughed, and vanished into the heavy powder flakes.
By Emily Smith-Miller
“So she won’t let you do Christmas – at all?”
“Not even cards?”
“Huh.” This obviously bothered him. I tried not to let it bother me too.
“You’ve got to have some presents – seriously, none?”
I shook my head, fat white snowflakes mixing with the dandruff on the back of my neck. At least they cooled the pus-pearls of acne as they melted. Streetlights cast an orange glow over the path and meant we missed the worst of the dogturds underfoot. The ones on top of the snowfall, anyway. The ones beneath it were long frozen solid and as such were nothing to worry about. Not till the thaw, anyway.
“Man, that’s seriously shit. I gotta have a word with her. That’s child abuse. Deprivation. People should serve time for shit like this.”
I shrugged, half hoping he got the worst of his outrage out of his system before we got back to mine, half hoping he didn’t.
“But… why, man? What possible reason could she have? Did an in-store Santa slip her the finger when she was little? Did she get coal in her stocking?”
I didn’t want to answer, it could only make it worse. Or could it? Tom liked me. Maybe he was it, a Best Friend. Maybe he’d understand. Maybe. I looked at him, taking in his feathered black fringe and scowling face. Scowling on my behalf. I opened my mouth and out it came.
“She thinks Santa’s real.”
“So? She’s a bit old for that, isn’t she, but still, so what? Doesn’t that make Christmas even better?”
I held up a hangnailed finger, indicating I wasn’t quite finished.
“She thinks… she thinks it’s no coincidence that the word Santa can be rearranged into Satan. She thinks the reindeer are vampires and are trying to get in. She thinks the red in his suit is to hide the blood from the children he maims every year – and that the gifts are just an excuse so people will let him in.”
Tom’s eyes boggled and I could see the red lines, like razored cuts through the whites, that showed when we’d been anywhere smoky. Like Ivan’s room, above the record store. A no-go area, according to my mum; a home from home for me.
“Vampire reindeer? I suppose that has a creepy kind of logic – no offense, but your mum’s really weird. Like, Tim Burton weird, but without the cool Hollywood contacts.”
I shrugged again. How could I defend her when he was right? She even had the same kind of finger-in-socket hair.
“I s’pose they do only come out at night. And they have odd names. And they’re ageless. Yeah, I can see where she’s coming from with that. Okaaaay. But Santa as Satan? Nuh-huh. No way. We’d have heard about those kids. Wouldn’t we?”
I couldn’t tell what he wanted to believe, so I raised my eyebrows, noncommittal.
We rounded a corner, passed a graffiti’d grey wall, and that was it: we were home. The poorer the area, the brighter the decorations, the keener the need for a wonderful time. My mum’s place was a black hole of Humbug amongst the pzazz of our estate. She salted the path regardless of the weather, her hatred of slugs and snails meaning the path was clear of both them and snow no matter what mistakes the weather lady made. Candles flickered in the window. We’d run out of electric again.
“It’s more like Hallowe’en than Christmas here.”
I smiled at him, his tone had been positive, not nasty. This might just work.
The place stank of garlic. Tom wrinkled his nose at me as I shut the door, the key turning easily in the lock. I could have mentioned to him that his room smelled of damp trainers and dogfood, but the etiquette of friendship forbade it. My very soul ached for a friend. I did NOT want to fuck this up.
Something was dripping in the kitchen. We headed toward the source of the smell. I was so thrilled Tom was here, so glad of company, finally, that I forgot to warn him. I forgot to say. Not that it mattered, in the end.
“Did I tell you I got a tree out of her this year?”
His mouth made an ‘o’ like the blow-up doll Curly had smuggled into school last year. “That’s progress, mate – well done you! What’d you say to her?”
I opened the kitchen door, ushering him into the darkness as I fumbled for my lighter, sparking it between shivering fingers as I muttered: “Well, it wasn’t so much what I said as what I did…”
I touched the flame to the nightlight on the table, just as Tom’s eyes grew accustomed to the darkness and he filled his lungs with Italian air, panic and disbelief.
“WHAT THE FUCK?!”
What the fuck indeed? I thought the tree had turned out quite nicely, but apparently not.
My mother was a small woman, all skin and sinew – though I’ll admit she had great guts, too. They looked quite good, looping in fat pink tubes instead of tinsel round the damp red walls. I’d had to use a few nails every time the intestine threatened to sag too low – I’d found to my annoyance that just one would make it tear, and I’d wanted to make the place just right for my new found friend. He was very pale, wheezing at my side. Asthma was making him her bitch. I’d picked the inhaler from his pocket on the beanbags at Ivan’s before. His eyes had bugged out so far they looked as if they might burst out of his face any minute now. If they did, they did – plenty more room for baubles on the tree.
I’d nailed her to the mantelpiece, ready for Santa, crucifixion-style. There was just enough flesh on her bones to keep them together, but I’d pared it back along the uppermost stretches of bone to give an impression of snow to the casual observer. White strips sloped up to her lolling head, the sockets dark and staring. Flesh and skin draped in swathes round her feet, tied together with twine and the filleted skin from her shins. Her knees bowed out to the sides, her legs secured in a diamond shape against the wall. Those big long nails had been expensive – but when I looked at her, I knew it was worth it.
Her shins were all red, but her thighs glistened white on top, the bones again serving as snow. Quite well done, I thought. Especially the ribs. I’d splayed them out like straightened fingers, hooking an eyeball from one on each side. They were so slippery, but beautiful, and again totally worth it. I’d never noticed how blue her eyes were till I’d clawed them from her still twitching sockets. Tom’s were green, and starting to roll back, the red tracery still vivid against the whites. Very festive.
I nearly slipped on the red-puddled floor. Tom was slowly sagging against the wall. All I could hear was the drip-drip-drip from what was left of her chest cavity, his throat must have totally closed. Oh well, on to the piece de resistance!
It had required the last of the hairspray and the use of her hairbrush for something other than spanking my bottom. But I’d left her scalp intact for a purpose – and it looked fantastic! A flick of the lighter and boof! up it went. A flaming star atop my terrible tree.
I turned back to my friend, crouched beside him to lift his head, giving him a better view. He had much better skin than I did. It would look great on my wall.
Then – disaster. I’d forgotten about that knife. The cheese knife with the manky wooden handle I could never quite get clean, and the forked swoop of prong at the end. The one that I’d chucked over my shoulder so carelessly when I was looking for the bread knife to saw the sternum of what had been my mother. That one.
I’d never experienced such pain before. He got me right on the chin-rest, as we’d called after school. Talk about ripping me a new arsehole – now I had another two! I kicked him over, throwing myself backward, yanking the bastard knife out as I did. My fingers fumbled at my fly for ages till I finally managed to yank them down. The room was darker despite mum’s flaring hair and stank of burnt hair and sweet meat. Better than the bloody garlic. I couldn’t get up from the floor again, and my jeans stuck at my ankles: I just didn’t have the strength to toe my boots off. The cloth was sodden with blood, and it warmed me where I lay. Tom was still. Not even a quiver.
Something gave within me, and I laughed. A new scent filled the room as stars sparkled near my eyes. Another item off the wish-list: finally, a Yule Log.
By Gill Hoffs