Daniel I. Russell is the author of Entertaining Demons, Samhane, Retard, Come Into Darkness, Critique, The Collector Book 1: Mana Leak, Mother's Boys and the huge collection Tricks, Mischief and Mayhem. Daniel is a HWA active member and represented by the Tobias Literary Agency, NYC. Daniel has also been the vice-president of the Australian Horror Writers' Association, special guest editor of Midnight Echo, associate and technical editor for Necrotic Tissue, and Shadow Awards judge.
A Gathering of Crows by Brian Keene
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Wednesday, December 22, 2010A VERY ENGLISH CHRISTMAS (a free holiday read)
As it is Christmas (well, near as damn it), I thought I'd repost last year's festive flash fiction.
A VERY ENGLISH CHRISTMAS
Every year the same old bleedin’ shite.
Ken, lying in a recliner, popped the button of his jeans, opened the zipper and exhaled. The pressure on his gut subsided somewhat; the lashings of turkey, stuffing, pigs in blankets and roast potatoes succumbed by the slight extra room. Quite a meal, oh yes, quite a meal. The best thing about Christmas. He’d even eaten the traditional Brussel sprout or two, despite Alice over-cooking them. The swollen things looked like boogers on the edge of his plate. Boogers covered in onion gravy.
He picked up the remote from the arm of the chair and flicked to ITV.
“Oi!” moaned Tansy. “We were watching that!”
“Were you balls,” Ken grumbled at his daughter. “You can’t mess with that thing and watch the TV at the same time.”
She sat perched at the end of the sofa, messing with some pink Japanese bullshit gizmo. An I-something. Everything had to have an I in front of it now. He’d joked to Alice about Christmas being all about the I-wants.
“Haven’t you got it working yet?”
Tansy shrugged her shoulders.
No surprise there then. Even with the few apparent buttons the thing had, it was proving too much for his airhead daughter to understand. Ken studied her for the hundredth time, bemused by her denim miniskirt and tiny vest top. Snow flakes danced past the glass of the patio behind her. The house felt like a bloody sauna.
“Sweety?” Alice called from the kitchen. She’d been up since five, preparing the dinner. Then she served it. Now she was washing the dishes. Ken had seen her for all of ten minutes on this solemn family day.
“Is it nearly time for her?”
He checked his watch and sighed.
“Oh it just makes the day,” his wife warbled. “Have you tried your present yet?”
Ken’s gaze dropped to the black plastic case in his shirt pocket. Darts. New ones.
“Haven’t you seen the snow? Be freezing out in the garage.” He wiped his nose with the back of his hand, checked the contents and then smeared it on the arm of the recliner. “It can wait.”
Alice bustled in, his plump wife wringing her hands on a tea towel. Her thick black hair had tumbled loose and hung messy around her glistening face.
“Phew!” She gasped and fanned her face, dropping onto the sofa next to Tansy, who was frantically shaking the I-gizmo. “Like a greenhouse in here.”
“Then turn the heating down!” said Ken and stared back at the TV. Adverts. He watched out for any mentioning Easter.
“It’s been a tough year,” said Alice, not hearing him. “A tough year for everyone, us included. Must be even tougher for her.”
Ken frowned. “How so?”
“Well, watching the people of your country suffer and worry.”
He snorted. “This ain’t her country. All she does is bloody sponge of us workin’ stiffs.”
And that was when he could work. The building industry was on its arse. Not much demand for plasterers these days. Not like the blessed eighties. The money they’d had to scrimp and save just for Christmas. Tansy’s I-thing coast close to two hundred notes. She also wanted a download of this year’s X Factor winner, predictably, unable to think for herself. Ken had seen him. Some baby-faced whiney crooner. Shit show. Shit singer. Take any old thug off the street, shave him and give a bit of hair gel and put him in a suit. Viola. Frank fucking Sinatra. And a download? When he was a teenager, you had records. LPs. You could hold them in your hands because, guess what? They were real. At least Damien’s PS3 was real. His son had opened the package, grunted and taken it upstairs to his bedroom. They hadn’t seen him since, and that was about seven hours ago.
In hindsight, Ken wished they’d bought him one weeks earlier.
“It’s starting!” said Alice and clapped her hands together.
Ken grabbed the remote and turned up the volume for her.
“And now on ITV1, the Queen’s Christmas speech.”
Bollocks, thought Ken. At least Goldfinger’s on after this…
Onscreen, a cosy drawing room faded in from black. An open fire burned below hanging stockings. A grand piano stood to the left ready for carols, and to the right, the biggest Christmas tree Ken had ever seen, laden with decorations with brightly wrapped presents stockpiled underneath.
Glad to see the economic crisis has touched us all, Ken seethed.
The Queen stood by the fireplace, ever the short, harsh, sour-faced old bat she’d always been. The aunty that made you eat liver and onions and wrapped your knuckles with a spoon should you put your elbows on the table. She peered over spectacles.
"Christmas is a time for celebration,” she said, as wooden and miserable as the chick from that Twilight movie, “but this year it is a more sombre occasion for many. Some of those things which could once have been taken for granted suddenly seem less certain and, naturally, give rise to feelings of insecurity.”
“Amen to that,” Ken told her. “No Corfu this year…”
“Ken!’ Alice shushed him.
"People are touched by events which have their roots far across the world. Whether it is the global economy or violence in a distant land, the effects can be keenly felt at home.” Her eyes glimmered gold.
Ken leaned forward slightly, gaze fixed to the screen. “Did you-?”
“For the last time,” Alice moaned. “Shush! This is our majesty speaking.”
The Queen winked, quite cheeky for a lady of her standing. Those eyes flashed golden, like two shiny pound coins, behind her glasses. Ken felt a little better and settled back down, transfixed by her kind, loving expression.
“But I have a solution,” she said, a little knowing, like Anne Robinson before she booted someone off The Weakest Link. In an instant, the tiny pensioner ripped a poker from the stand by the fire place and plunged it forward.
Tansy and Alice glanced at each other.
“Is this some kind of joke?” Tansy asked.
The camera angle slid to the side and plummeted. Viewers now saw a side view of a plush, elaborate carpet. A bloody hand – the cameraman? – flopped into the picture.
“It has to be,” said Alice, hands rising to cover her mouth.
Ken remained in the recliner, watching nonchalantly.
Two pairs of feet emerged from the right, circling each other like they’d waltzed in. A gurgling choke, and another body fell to the floor, a man in a light blue shirt with large earphones clamped over his head. A boom, a guinea pig on a pole, fell from his hand. A knife, or perhaps a letter-opener, jutted from the scarlet geyser of his throat.
Tansy and Alice screamed.
The Queen, still smiling and with her eyes still shimmering, leaned in close and leered out of the TV screen. “I have the solution,’ she said again, her grin amplifying the cracks in her ancient face.
The picture suddenly clicked off, immediately replaced with the ITV1 symbol.
“We apologise for the loss in picture and sound,” said the mellow announcer. “We’re working to rectify the situation, and in the meantime, here’s some music.”
The whiney X Factor winner again.
“It…it has to be a joke,” whispered Tansy.
“Or terrorists,” added Alice.
Ken reached for the black case, popped it open and removed his darts, poking the Union Jack flights into the tungsten stems. He forced the recliner to the upright position and stood, scratching his balding head.
“Jesus. Well…she had one thing right…”
Alice placed a shaking hand on his shoulder. He turned his head and stared at it through a hazy, golden hue.
Ken smiled. “I have the solution.”
The darts, clutched together in his sweaty right hand, slid through her eye ball like a cocktail stick pronging a pickled onion. The membrane popped and vitreous humour ejaculated from the socket. Alice flew back, clutching her face, wailing. Ken stayed with her, gripping her jaw and pummeling the darts into the vacant hole, sometimes driving the needle-sharp points through the flesh of her defending fingers. The tips pounded the squishy brain matter behind the remains of her eye, and Alice gave up the fight, choosing to fall to the floor and jerk around like a fish out of water.
Eye… he thought. Eye…I?
Ken, enjoying Christmas and full of festive cheer, spun to face his daughter. She cowered against the front door, which remained locked since the night before. Of course, her slutty miniskirt had no pockets. No pockets meant no keys, but the moron didn’t realise you needed keys to open a door. Her hand slid around the door handle in vain attempt to turn it.
In one fluid motion, Ken grabbed her I-thing from the I-sofa, and rammed it into her I-mouth, knocking out several of her I-teeth. She cried, her lips pulsating around her Christmas gift.
“Shhhh!” he cooed. “It’s Christmas. You know what that means?”
He stared at her. She whimpered.
“Do you know what that means?” he asked, louder, squeezing her throat.
She frantically shook her head, tears cascading down her cheeks. Her eyes bulged.
Ken leaned in close to her.
“It means…James Bond’s on the telly. Goldfinger this year. You gonna be quiet so dad can watch it?”
She sniffed, yet a trickle of clear snot escaped her nose. She locked eyes with him and nodded.
“Good,” he said, relieved. “Sing with me. Si-lent niiiiight…”
He smashed her head back against the door. Her body swayed in his grasp.
Blood marred the white paint of the door. It looked like a face. Wilson from Castaway. Ken had it on dvd.
“Alllllll is caaaaalm….”
He put a bit more effort into this one. Her skull cracked with the sound of breaking a hardboiled egg.
“Well it is now,” he said, out of breath and dropping his daughter’s lifeless body to floor. “Now. The solution.”
He approached the window.
A man ran past, a hand pressed to a bloody wound in his head. He left a delightful pattern in the snow. A woman ran after him, brandishing a rolling pin. Good old Mrs. Perkins, making mince pies again, Ken guessed.
Ah Christmas, he thought wistfully. My favorite time of year.
Humming Jingle Bells to himself, he strode over to his wife and plucked the darts from her face. Sighing in contentment and filled with Christmas spirit, he wondered if Damien wanted a game, and headed upstairs, unaware that his jeans had fallen around his ankles.