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Electric Christmas Card

STAVE I

Marley was dead to begin with. There was no doubt whatever about that. Why Scrooge had decided to name the roach he had just killed after his late partner, he could not say, but Marley he had named it and dead it was, dead as a doornail underneath the thunderously-descended fireplace shovel. Scrooge replaced the shovel in the tool rack and slumped down in his armchair.

For a while he sat brooding over the miserly coal fire, in his cold, gloomy rooms, scowling. But as time went by, the most curious unease overtook him. He thought he heard noises from the cellar. The cellar door burst open and a great sound filled the house, as if a host of phantoms were riding amok. The noise so distracted Scrooge that he did not notice the three-foot long cockroach crawling over the far side of the armchair until its antennae tickled his cheek.

Scrooge yelped. “By Jove! Art thou the ghost of my partner Jacob Marley, gone these seven years?”

“No, I’m a cockroach. Bob the Cockroach, to be exact.” The insect turned quizzical. “Did your old partner look like me? Enough to be mistaken, I mean?”

“Never mind that now! Why do you torment me, oh cockroach?”

“Ebenezer Scrooge, this night you shall be visited by three insects! Well, three additional insects. Four insects counting me, I suppose. One to show you Christmas as it has been, one to show you Christmas as it is, one to show you Christmas as it will be.”

“To what end, oh cockroach?”

“Your soul is in grave danger, Ebenezer. You need to be taught a lesson on the meaning of Christmas.”

“Or I shall be turned into the likes of you?”

“Whaddya mean, the likes of me? What are you implying?”

“Well—nothing–certainly your carapace is most handsome—it’s just–”

“Pay attention, Scrooge! The first insect shall arrive at the toll of midnight.”

Bob scuttled off and disappeared instantly, in that perplexing way roaches have. Unsure if he had hallucinated the entire incident, Scrooge crept to his bed. He pulled the curtains shut, the blankets over his head, and waited.

STAVE II

The distant bell struck twelve, a dolorous sound indeed. Scrooge deduced he must have fallen asleep at some point. He peeked out from under the blankets.Something was moving the bed-curtains. With his heart rising in his throat, Scrooge saw a shape emerge onto the bed next to him, a great beetle, about the size of a terrier, its shell an iridescent eau de nil.

“Are you the insect whose coming was foretold to me?” asked Scrooge.

“I am! My name is Bob, and I am the Insect of Christmas Past.”

“Long past?”

“Your past. Or close enough, anyway.”

Scrooge wrapped himself around the beetle and closed his eyes. There came a peculiar jumping sensation, he was lifted off the ground, and next thing he knew he was standing on earth.When he opened his eyes, he found himself beside a beast, a round beast, a beast the size of a haystack staring at him with mean beady eyes.

“What is that?”

“It’s a glyptodont,” said Bob. “A much larger ancestor of the creature you know as the armadillo. We stand in a pleasant countryside of the Neogene Epoch, 25 million years before your birth.”

“I thought we were going to see Christmases of the past.”

“We are. This day is December 25th—or would be, if there were any human beings to track the time on a human calendar. But there aren’t. Yet Christmas it is.”

Far over the rolling hills, tiny horses gamboled. At a nearby watering hole drank a animal like a rhinoceros on stilts. A gentle breeze wafted over the scene.

“What are those things over there?” Scrooge asked.

“Oh, those are Phorusrhacidae, colloquially known as terror birds. They must be a good ten feet tall. Perhaps these are the ancestors of your own Christmas turkeys!”

“They certainly are well-named. And they seemed to have noticed us. Er—what do they eat?”

“They’re famous carnivores. Strip a mammalian carcass to bone in minutes. Is it just me or are they headed this way?”

“RUN!”

Scrooge and Bob dashed across the prehistoric plain. “At no point in the Yule celebrations of my childhood was I ever pursued by ravenous monsters!” Scrooge yelped.

“Well, Christmas insecting is an inexact science…”

“Get me back home!”

The huge horrible beak swooped down where Scrooge’s head had been moments before, but it closed on mere air.

STAVE III

Scrooge awoke in a bed.

“Was it all, but a dream?” he asked the darkness. Then he realized this was not his bed.

As his eyes adjusted, he found an eerie glow some distance away. Scrooge left the bed and crept toward it. As he grew closer, he saw it was coming from the front of an odd box, a box being watched by a hovering dragonfly a yard long. Occasionally the dragonfly chuckled.

“Excuse me—are you one of my insects?”

“Oh, there you are, Scrooge! Yes, I certainly am. My name is Bob, Bob the Dragonfly, the Insect of Christmas Present. Come in and know me better!”

“Certainly. What are you doing?”

“Just watching a little TV.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“TV—er, television. Television is an invention of the 20th century.”

“The 20th century? But I inhabit the year 1843.”

The dragonfly buzzed angrily about his head. “Well, ooh la la! I think that considering your first insect was off by a scale of 25 million years, I’ve done pretty well to get you within a hundred.”

Scrooge heard one of the little men in the box address another as “Scrooge.”

“What is going on?”

“It’s a sort of pantomime. This particular story is an episode of a programme titled Love Boat, in which Henry Kissenger learns the true meaning of International Cooperation at Christmas from three spirits played by Erik Von Daniken, Carl Sagan, and Alvin Toffler.”

Scrooge watched the performance to its end, fascinated. Then the Insect produced further “videotapes,” bearing variations of the same tale in different programmes: Barney Miller, What’s Happening, The Jeffersons, CHiPs, Supertrain

Scrooge was astonished to see his very life played out before him, as if on a stage.

“Why, there’s my nephew, Fred—and my clerk, Bob Cratchit—and–and–who is it being played by that amusing Mr. Villechaize?”

“Tiny Tim.”

“Tiny Tim! Yes, we’re all here. But why?”

“You see, Ebenezer, by the Nineteen-Seventies television had grown immensely popular, even more popular than the kinetoscope in your time. The medium required scripts. By then, your story was in the ‘public domain.’ So whenever a struggling young screenwriter needed a little more Yuletide cocaine money, he simply adapted it to whoever his characters might be.”

“Delightful!”

Scrooge watched tape after tape, and grew thoughtful.

“I can’t help, but notice that, whereas I have been visited by insects, all these stories have the Scrooge character being visited by spirits, and—you know—it does make more sense–”

“You gotta problem with insects?” buzzed Bob angrily.

“No! No! Not at all! Insects are much better. Wouldn’t trade it for the world!”

As they watched, the characters walked out of the televisor screen. A party began. The tall woman they called Maude danced with Scrooge; The Bugaloos with Bob. The Waltons brought Grandpa’s moonshine, and the trio from Three’s Company danced on their floor.

“This scene is DY-NO-MITE!” declared JJ Evans.

“Shazbot!” agreed Mork.

“Yes, shazbot!” Scrooge hefted a brimming bumper of port in a toast. “Shazbot indeed, everyone!”

But then a cold wind blew. His new televised friends dissolved like mist, and Scrooge found himself on a desolate plain under a blood-red sun.

STAVE IV

Before Scrooge stood an immense green mantis, taller than he was, dressed in a black hooded shroud that hid its face. It crouched beside a monument of polished porphyry.

“Am I take it you are Bob the Mantis, the Insect of Christmas Yet To Come?”

“That’s ‘Robert’ to you, thankyouverymuch,” said a bass voice from inside the hood, “And yes, I am. See what lies before you!”

Scrooge knew from the television programmes what was coming, and his scrawny body shook with fear. The mantis pointed one immense foreleg at the cold dark stone, on which could be read the words EBENEZER SCROOGE.

“Spirit!” he cried, tight clutching at its robe, “hear me! I am not the man I was. I will not be the man I must have been but for this intercourse. I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Insects of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach. Oh, tell me I may sponge away the writing on this stone!”

“You can’t,” said the Insect. “You are indeed dead.”

Scrooge near to fainted.

Then the mantis gestured all about, and Scrooge saw that there was not only his grave, but a myriad of graves, an infinity of identical gravestones filling a vast plain.

“You see, Scrooge, everyone’s dead. This is Earth, one billion years in your future. You observe how the sun fills the sky? It’s about to explode and engulf the planet. Everyone who has ever lived is dead. This is the end, and it cannot be done away.”

“But—but–then what is that music?”

The pair followed the sound of the tune over a nearby ridge. Not far away an large group of metallic men frolicked around a Christmas tree, laughing and gamboling, singing carols.

“There’s music because it’s Christmas!” said Robert.

“Christmas?”

“That’s right. December 25th, one billion years in the future. This is the last Christmas ever. Let us join in!”

Around a giant hot pink aluminum Christmas tree, Scrooge found a ro-bot with his nephew Fred’s face visible in a hologram upon its chest.

“Uncle Ebenezer! What a pleasure to see you!”

“And you, Fred! But how is it you can still be alive?”

“We are all alive. We have uploaded our brains unto these metal men—called robots—and now live eternally. Every day is Christmas now. We enjoy the last December 25th before the sun explodes, then teleport to one of the infinity of parallel dimensions where the same thing is about to happen. And so on, and so on. It’s Christmas forever.”

To his astonishment, Scrooge saw metal forms of his nephew’s wife, and his clerk Bob Cratchit, and all of Cratchit’s numerous family—including the youngest, Tiny Tim, who now inhabited a spider-form of eight articulated limbs surrounding a central node.

Scrooge lifted Robot Tiny Tim into an embrace.

“Teacher says every time the sun explodes, an insect gets its wings,” said the spider-robot-boy.

“That’s right. That’s right!”

The solar disk began to swell and fill the sky, the most glorious fireworks display ever. The assembled robots watched until the heat wave was almost upon them, then shifted to the next universe.

STAVE V

From that day on, Scrooge was a changed man. For one thing, his consciousness was installed in a robot, that he might cheat death. And for another, he became quite a merry fellow indeed, always the first to celebrate Christmas. Tiny Tim did not die, but also enjoyed metallic immortality.

“Merry Christmas!” said Robot Tiny Tim, clacking his tungsten mandibles with joy. “God bless us, every one!”

THE END

MCU VS DCU: A TIMELINE

2008: Movie studio Merry Christmas Pictures, having sold the film rights to their major intellectual properties Santa Claus and the Grinch, releases “Blitzen,” centering on a third-tier character. Former child star Danny Bonaduce, desperate to restart his career and willing to work for scale, stars. The film is an unexpected critical and commercial success, collecting $400 million at the box office.

2009: Buoyed by the success, Merry Christmas tries again, releasing “Hermey the Elf” with Peter Dinklage in his first lead role. Again, the film wows audiences and critics alike, taking home $450 million. Enthused by the response so far, MC screenwriters promise to give their next villain a name.

2009: In response to the burgeoning popularity of the Merry Christmas films, rival studio Delightful Christmas Pictures revives their Grinch franchise, which was allowed to lapse after the infamous Who-nipple failures of the late 90s. In a dramatic reimagining, “Grinch: In The Cave” is a dark window into obsession, hedonism, and cardiovascular giganticism. The movie performs well at the box office, but not quite as as well as the MC pictures.

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GAME OVER, the Stargate machine told Bobby.

Bobby didn’t mind. His initials ROB (easier to input than RWW) were already in the top three spots of the high score list. He eased off the controls and looked around the arcade, wondering what game to play next.

He could have his pick. Two years ago, when he had first started coming here, Video Worlds was jumping every night of the week. Lines were three deep at the machines. Now only a few were occupied. The sound of the handful of games operating seemed far away, lonely.

The Pac-Man machine stood open. You could walk up and start playing. There had been a song, a big hit, “Pac-Man Fever.” In 1982, everybody had Pac-Man Fever. Well, science musta found a cure, because in December of 1984 nobody was playing Pac-Man.

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Have yourself a merry little Christmas,” Nat King Cole crooned out of the car radio.

Bob Smith angrily snapped it off. Snow was falling on the Long Island Expressway, traffic was thick, and he was distracted enough. He had received a phone call at the office from his wife.

Dear, I want to warn you-“she had said.

“About what? Did Mark’s bus get in all right?”

“Yes, dear, that’s what I’m calling about. He…he looks a lot different than he did at the beginning of the semester. And I don’t think you’re going to like it, and I think you need to prepare yourself for a little surprise.”

“Oh, for pity’s sake, Mary, I’m a grown man. I can handle it.”

“Bob, remember your blood pressure. That’s all I ask.”

He remembered it now, and unclenched his fingers from the steering wheel. What had his idiot son done? He knew he should have forced the boy to get a haircut at Thanksgiving.

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Stewey, Dewey, Hewey and Mooey, the Christmas elf marketing & design team, sat around the conference table, staring with equal suspicion at their cups of coffee and each other.

“All right, ‘fess up.  Who thought it would be funny to put a dead lemming in the Keurig machine?” said Dewey

The door slammed open. Santa entered the room.  “Ho, ho, ho.  Merry Christmas,” he said as he hooked up his laptop and fired up Powerpoint. The first slide flashed on the exposed ice-brick walls.  A red line was marked “Requests.”  It was in decline.  A blue line was marked “Complaints.” It was in steep ascent.
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So this year, in a desperate search for material to use in my Electric Christmas Card, I turned to my trusty “Boston Globe,” the nation’s most globular newspaper. Let’s see…PATRIOTS PLAN MOVE TO MEADVILLE, PA…No…MONICA LEWINSKY TO BECOME NEW FIFTH SPICE GIRL…No…GUS VAN SANT, FOR NO IDENTIFIABLE REASON, REMAKES PSYCHO EXACTLY THE SAME AS THE ORIGINAL EXCEPT WITH DIFFERENT PEOPLE.

Hmmm. That has potential. What if I remade the classic animated special “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” except with new cast members? Yeah…

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Rudolph smashed the bottle against the icy cold wall of his studio, showering cognac across the blank canvases propped nearby.

“Damn Santa!” he screamed at his guests. “Damn him and his stultifying, bourgeois ideas of art. He’s holding us back this Christmas!”

The reindeer picked up a hand mirror topped with lines of snow and snorted them up in one breath. His red nose glowed with new energy.

Yukon Hemingway, the grizzled prospector and author of the short story collection Snowmen Without Snowwomen, snatched up another cognac bottle to save it from Rudolph’s ravages—and then, to make doubly sure its contents were safe, deposited them in his belly.

“Your art will never win acceptance by Santa and his Académie Pôle Nord. Why keep trying?”

“Because those accepted by Santa get their artworks distributed across the world by Santa on Christmas Eve!” Rudolph ranted. “They are seen by millions! The very course of art itself feels the effect! I must have that power!”

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“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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