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Electric Christmas Card

“The beasts talk,” Grandmama said. “While we’re down in the village at Midnight Mass, they talk. God grants them the gift of speech. Because they were there when Jesus was born, the beasts, they nuzzled him and loved him and the babe touched them with his hand at that sacred hour, and ever since, at midnight at Christmas Eve, the beasts talk.”

Every year Grandmama told him this, but not this year. Now Grandmama was buried, in the graveyard next to the little church in the village where everyone else on the farm was right now. Josef was not with them; he had told Mama he felt sick and managed to convincingly cough up a gob of vomit (really just old cream from the Christmas Eve cake) and she left him.

Josef was twelve, on the brink of boy and man. Next year he would be too old. He missed his Grandmama, and he would know the truth of what she told him. The midnight hour was near, he could feel it, tucked under the thick feather bolster. He crept out into the freezing room and dressed. He would see if it was true, hear their words with his own ears.

The kitchen was empty, the ovens banked after their Eve feast, preparing for tomorrow’s gorge. The Christmas tree, whose candles had been brilliantly lit an hour ago, sat dark. He skirted through the empty kitchen, though the empty house. Out to the barn.

The smell, the smell of rich manure, the smell of hay he helped cut. The snow stung his face. He plastered himself to the east side of the barn, and listened.

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Helen wasn’t looking for a new job. April of ’95 marked thirty-four years at Shady Glen Rest Home; she was a nurse supervisor and thinking about retirement. But when a man called and offered her twice her pay, she figured she should at least talk to him.

The new rest home was at the edge of town, all by its lonesome in the corn fields. The first thing she noticed was the wall around the place. The second thing she noticed was the soldiers.

The man she had spoken with on the phone turned out to wear a uniform, with stars on the shoulders.

“Mrs. Wisteria, this is a somewhat unusual establishment,” he said as he led her through the hallways. “This nursing home has been built for one patient, a very special patient. He suffers from advanced dementia. Until recently, he was being cared for at home.  The facility will be under the supervision of the U.S. Army, but the staff will all be civilians. We don’t want our man to feel…threatened. That’s why we’re looking to hire you and other experienced nurses.”

He stopped by a door, a door that looked typical of every other nursing home door Helen had ever seen.

“Why don’t I introduce you?”

Inside an elderly man sat in a wheelchair, thin, wrinkled, wispy-haired. He was watching “Gilligan’s Island” on the television. He looked up with a scowl.

Helen gasped. The general shut the door again.

“Isn’t that–”

“Yes. That’s Henry Pearson. Captain Wonder.”

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This ECC was a ‘serious’ one, in that it did not revolve around surreal agglomerations of pop culture references. But that doesn’t mean it was particularly dark & gritty. I was looking to invoke how Christmas feels to a child, in its joys and in its difficulties.  ———————————————————–
The weekly spelling quiz was canceled for the Christmas party. That, more than the party itself, made Chris’ day.  The party wasn’t much.   Mrs Morris brought in cupcakes, white frosting over chocolate with green crystals on top.  Every kid in the class got one and ate it at their desk, arranged in a ring around the tiny Christmas tree in front of the blackboard.  Joey Smith scooped all the frosting off his with his tongue and let it hang there, showing it to everyone, until Mrs Morris made him stop. Read More

Introduction: In the fall of 1996, I began grad school, studying for a Masters Degree in Library and Information Science. At the same time, I found myself immersed in conspiracy theory, back in the days before the subject had been thrashed to death. This ECC erupted almost spontaneously from that reading.

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(DISCLAIMER: Much of this story is tasteless. All of it is strange. However, despite the fact that several of the characters are real live people, it is 100% unadulterated fiction. PLEASE DON’T SUE ME OR ORDER MY ASSASSINATION! Thank you.)

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In college, I had few funds. So few that I couldn’t even afford Christmas cards. Yet the age supplied: at that time, in the early 1990s, there arose this miraculous invention called ’email.’ I took advantage of this technology to send “electric Christmas cards,” emails that conveyed Christmas greetings. Some might accuse me of severe cheapness, but it was all I could do.

A few years later, I was out of college and in grad school, and still didn’t have any money. So I kept up my custom of holiday emails, but decided to add something: humor. Or at least, what I hoped was humor. Christmas-themed humor. I wrote a funny little story, and attached this to the emails, to balance out the outstanding disposability of my missives. Folks reacted positively, and I persisted in this custom.

Almost twenty years now, I’ve been doing this, every year finding some new facet of Christmas pop culture to explore. Sometimes I’ve actually written serious short stories, with varying results. Folks have told me they look forward to receiving them as part of their experience of the season. I hope somebody enjoys them. In any case, I intend to persist in the habit. In addition to posting the new ECCs as they come along, I shall be slowly uploading the accumulated collection to this blog, starting with the following post.