03 Dec Blood and Broccoli
“Blood and Broccoli”Written by Chisto Healy Edited by Craig Groshek and Seth Paul Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek Narrated by N/A
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🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available
⏰ ESTIMATED READING TIME — 27 minutes
Drew parked in the grass to make sure he was leaving plenty of room for the rest of his family. There were far too many of them as far as he was concerned and they would all be here. They never missed a Christmas or chance to make each other feel uncomfortable, no matter how much they hated the holiday. Drew thought that the only thing his family hated more than the holidays was each other, and still, year after year they showed up to share that hate in the most passive-aggressive ways they could muster.
Of course he wasn’t really one to talk since he had never missed one either and he couldn’t stand a single one of them. They weren’t a likable bunch and every time he had the displeasure of being around them, he wanted to resort to violence, and would often imagine their gruesome deaths in order to survive the holiday. He would smile and keep eye contact while picturing the chandelier falling onto his aunt’s bouffant, or nod with feigned interest as he thought about kicking his uncle’s badly fitting khaki ass into the oven. In reality, Drew wasn’t the violent type though. He didn’t have the option to be. He was the yang to the Chuck Norris yin. He believed all jokes aside, Chuck’s beard probably could actually kick his ass. Drew got in one fight in sixth grade and he lost it badly. He was forced to find other ways to solve problems.
In most walks of life that consisted of talking his way out of things and negotiating, two skills that meant nothing in this family. No one listened to him or anyone else or cared what anyone had to say past their own lips. Just thinking about it was infuriating. Drew took a deep breath and let it out slowly. Then he made his way up the curved cobbled walking path between rows of potted plants and pinwheels that spun lazily in the gentle breeze.
“I’ll be thankful when I don’t have to deal with this shit anymore,” he mumbled as he made his way to the front door. Drew saw the curtain to the left of the door move and felt his aunt Clara staring at him like he was some kind of intruder there to rob the place as she hid behind the Christmas red fabric. Yeah because I’d ever come here of my own accord, he thought. The bomb-ass peach cobbler wouldn’t even get me to come back if I didn’t have to. Why did I have to? Mom. I always came for mom. As horrible as these people consistently treated her, she has always put value on family. That’s part of the reason why she is probably the only redeemable member of this shit clan.
Drew waved at the window and then knocked on the door. It took an absurdly long amount of time for the door to open when he knew his aunt had been nearby peeping at him. He was mid-exasperated huff when it finally came open. There was aunt Clara wearing a Cheshire cat grin that was only slightly more frightening than her ugly sweater. “Dreeeew,” she crooned. “Oh, I’m so glad you made it. Your mother would be so happy.”
“That’s why I’m here,” he said. What he didn’t say was, It’s literally the only reason, and you should quit staring at everyone that walks up like they’re here to steal your plastic Christmas tree that sheds razor needles. I literally hate you.
Drew walked past aunt Clara and entered the house. His uncle Mike was sitting on the couch, beer in one hand, the other lost in his pants, watching a football game. Drew scowled. Is he just petting his beer gut or masturbating to first downs? It really could go either way. “Hey uncle Mike.”
“Game is garbage. Refs must’ve eaten too much turkey and fallen asleep out there for Christ’s sake.”
“Okay then,” Drew said, walking past him. He made his way to the kitchen where he was immediately punched in the arm. “Ow. Dammit.”
“ ‘Sup cousin. You want to get high and visit the land of misfit toys?” He laughed with pride at his own joke and Drew felt the disgust rise like bile in the back of his throat. He watched the man as he continued to nod while he waited for a response, his smile never faltering.
Drew took a deep breath and let it out very slowly to gain composure. “No, no I don’t want to do that, Charlie. We’re actually adults now.”
“Yeah, so? Suit yourself. I think your sister is upstairs. She’ll get high with me. Maybe she’ll even make out with me if I’m good.”
“You’re related,” Drew mumbled quietly. Then more loudly, “Have fun.”
“Haha, I will. Watch me,” Charlie said before running off.
“I won’t,” Drew said as he passed through the kitchen. He headed for the sliding glass door that led to the back porch where he knew his mother would be, chain-smoking cigarettes to deal with the stress of being here. He was patted on the head, back and arm several times on the way, by various family members already deep in the drink. Every touch made him cringe but as he was accustomed to, he didn’t say anything. He just kept on walking. In the safety of his mind his inner monologue wished them all a speedy demise.
He opened the door and stepped out onto the polished wood porch lit by large ornate tiki torches. He didn’t realize how stuffy it had been in his aunt’s house until he was back out in the fresh air. He took in deep lungfuls and relaxed some before moseying over to the steps where his mother sat dragging hard on a cigarette that she held between shaky fingers. “Hey Ma,” Drew said, taking a seat on the step beside her.
His mother reached over and grabbed his hand, giving it a squeeze. “Hi, baby. Glad you could make it.”
“I don’t understand why you come to these things,” Drew said back.
“I have to. We’re family.”
Drew rolled his eyes. “These people have never treated us like family, Ma. You’re miserable. You don’t want to be here any more than I do. Why don’t we go and have our own Christmas somewhere else, literally anywhere else?”
Before his mother could answer, a stocky blonde guy walked over, adjusting his football jersey. “You two have entirely too little beer in your hands,” he said. “Because you have none.”
Did you really believe you needed to explain that? Drew thought. “Hello, Todd.”
Todd turned up a beer of his own. “So how’s work or whatever?”
“Do you even know what I do for a living?”
His mother squeezed his hand again. “ Be nice,” she said quietly.
“Work is fine,” Drew said then.
“Yeah. Cool. Me too,” Todd said. “Cheers.” He sipped his beer and walked off.
A woman in her mid-fifties dressed like a movie star sauntered over to them then. “Did you bring a dish? Everyone was supposed to bring a dish. You know your grandmomma passed and your granddad doesn’t cook.”
“I’m sorry,” Drew’s mother said with a frown. “I’ve been stuck at the hospital all day, every day. I haven’t had any time.”
“Do you think the rest of us don’t have jobs, Theresa? Or do you think they’re just not as hard or important as yours?” Drew remembered similar comments year after year and not just from Marsha, from all of them. They thought they were better than his mother, better than him.
I think I want to stab you in the throat for talking to my mother like that, Drew thought. Behind his eyes he pictured it, a dull butterknife punched through flesh and a fountain of blood spurting past his aunt’s surprised gaze. It made him smile. “I brought broccoli au gratin,” he said, earning his hand another squeeze from his mother.
“Where’d you buy that from?” The woman asked.
“I… cooked it? I am an adult, Aunt Marsha. I live alone and actually eat every day. It’s necessary to stay alive.”
“Hmm,” she said. “Figured you would use your fancy job as an excuse to buy something cheap on the way here like your mother always did.” Then she shrugged her shoulders and made her way back inside.
“I need to say hello to your grandfather,” Drew’s mother said, stubbing out her cigarette and sticking the butt in her pocket.
“The hell you do,” said Drew. “You owe him nothing.”
His mother just met his eyes and frowned. Then she got up and walked inside. Drew sighed and got to his feet as well. A young woman was standing in front of him the moment he turned around and he jumped, grabbing his chest. He almost toppled backwards down the steps in order to not run into her. Drew cussed and glared her way as he grabbed at the railing.
“Sorry,” she laughed.
“Katie. Charlie was looking for you. Something about inbreeding.”
Drew’s sister laughed again. “We’re like second or third cousins or something. It’s not that big of a deal. These things are easier to deal with if you have somebody to kiss.”
Drew’s eyes widened. “You did…no, never mind. Okay. I really do need a drink.”
“Charlie has more bud if you want.”
“That’s alright. Beer is fine.” Whiskey is better, he thought. “Did you bring a dish? Aunt Marsha’s being kind of hardcore about it.”
“I brought a bunch of cans of corn. It’s something, right? Like Mom or whatever.”
“Right,” Drew said, patting her arm supportively. Then he left her there to head back in. He wandered through the rooms of the house, ignoring people and waving at others until he found his grandfather. He was in his chair. He was always in his chair. If he ever did anything else, Drew wouldn’t know who he was. “Happy Thanksgiving, Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year,” Drew said to the man who continued to stare out the window.
Without so much as turning his head, the old man said, “You’re no different than your mother. Go away. My May is gone and she’s the only one in this family I even liked.”
Drew nodded. “Right. Well, it’s good to see ya.”
“No, it’s not.”
Drew chuffed and left the room, almost bumping into his cousin, Tamara. “Sorry,” he said. “Grandpa is even less of a people person than he used to be.”
“Well, it’s Christmas,” Tamara told him. “So let’s try to be nice, okay?”
“Sure,” Drew said with a forced smile as he squeezed past her and moved down the hall. I’ll be sweet as a sugar plum. Wait til you see the gift I brought.
Drew headed back to the living room. When he crossed the threshold, his shoulders were seized forcefully and he thought for a moment that he was back in sixth grade about to get bludgeoned publicly by Steven Wachowski’s meaty fists. Instead, his uncle, Mack, was staring into his eyes. “I don’t think we have enough food. Marsha is gonna kill us all, boy. Is there a store still open? We need more food.”
Drew shook his head slowly. “I have no idea. What do you want to buy?”
“I don’t know man. I just don’t want to sleep with one eye open.”
“I’m sure it’ll all work out,” Drew said. You could do like my mom and not sleep at all because you’re up all night crying after how shitty your family treated you. Drew kept the thought to himself and put on his best game-show smile.
“Don’t you have like some big paying career or something?” Mack asked, nervously. “I mean you could just buy Christmas dinner probably right?”
Drew stared at him. In his mind, he thought, Well I don’t gamble with my buddies and call it a career, like you do. Out loud, he said, “Breathe. Uncle Mack. We’re supposed to be feeling the Christmas spirit. That’s what today is all about, right? Good tidings and good cheer?”
“Tell that to someone who ain’t married to a battleaxe.” Drew envisioned an actual battle axe cleaving his uncle’s head off and sending it rolling across the floor to rest against the maroon cabinet filled with the good china. One by one the plates fell and shattered. Drew chuckled to himself and noticed his uncle staring at him like he’d gone mad. Mack released him with a shake of his head and turned to find someone else to solve his problem. Why don’t you ask my mom to go run some errands for you after she worked a triple shift being equally as mistreated? He wanted to say, but he bit it back.
“I really want to get a drink,” Drew said, as his uncle walked away. “If you need help with something, just let me know.”
“Yeah, alright,” his uncle said, without looking back. Then he excitedly hurried off towards another family member. “Jimmy!” he shouted.
Drew took a deep breath to remain calm and walked past the two big men now hugging. His cousin, Trina saw him, smirked and handed him a flask. Drew didn’t even ask what was in it. He just took a gulp. Then he closed his eyes as the warmth of the liquor flowed through him.
“It’s only a little poison,” Trina said with a grin.
“I wouldn’t even care at this point,” Drew told her.
“Where’s your Dad?” she asked, taking the flask back and sipping from it.
Drew shrugged. “Where are the hookers in this town? That’d be my guess.”
Trina laughed. “Still snorting the winter wonderland like a champion huh? What a winner. I always felt bad for your mom.”
“You and me, both,” Drew said back. “I considered killing him a few times.”
“I hope he shows up before you give out your present.”
“Me too. Remember not to eat the broccoli.”
“I wouldn’t eat that shit anyway. It smells like a fart.”
Drew smirked. Then a commotion pulled their attention towards the front door. “What the hell is this?” his uncle, Bill was shouting.
“Settle down Bill, it’s Christmas for God’s sake,” said the man who just entered, holding a tray of food in one hand and a black garbage bag full of jutting boxes in the other.
“I wish he would empty that bag and just smother him with it,” Trina said quietly as they watched the scene unfold.
“Mmm,” Drew agreed.
Aunt Marsha charged forward pointing like she aimed to declare the newcomer was a witch. “You calm down, Larry!” she shouted. “We said no presents! You can’t just go rogue and do whatever the hell you feel like!”
“He literally can,” Drew said quietly to Trina, who laughed. “He’s like fifty.”
“There’s too many chiefs and not enough Indians in this family,” Larry boomed.
“Here comes the racism,” Trina said. “It always shows up at some point.”
Drew turned from the scene and went to see what the alcohol situation was like. He selected a beer and handed one to Trina. Together they popped the tops. In the other room the argument grew even more heated, several more voices joining in. Trina gulped from her bottle. “I almost wore my rainbow shirt today,” she said.
“You should have,” Drew said, drinking some of his own beer.
“I’d be the most colorful black sheep in town.”
Drew smiled. “I’m glad you’re here with me, cuz.”
Trina’s face lit up. “Are you kidding me? I wouldn’t miss this for the world.”
Drew grabbed another beer, opened it and headed outside, Trina in tow, as the sound of breaking glass joined the shouts in the living room. “You’re not gonna be sad?” he asked as they emerged into the safety of the open air.
“Have you met me? I’ve been dreaming about this, like, literally. I wake up disappointed that it isn’t real but stoked that it will be.”
Drew smirked and shook his head. He looked over at his mother who was standing to their left leaning on the railing between two tiki torches, smoking as usual. “And how do you feel?” he asked.
She took a long drag and exhaled a big plume of smoke with a sigh. “I don’t like it, Drew. I spent my life trying to gain these people’s approval, especially his.”
“You don’t have to worry about that anymore, Ma. With or without this, that no longer matters, okay?”
“Yeah, okay.” She went back to her cigarette and stared off. “I think it’s starting to flurry. Maybe we’ll have a white Christmas this year.”
“You alright?” Trina asked, touching Drew’s arm. He looked down at her hand and then lifted his gaze to meet her eyes. He nodded, “Yeah. Yeah, I’m good.”
The back door slid open and Drew’s aunt Marsha poked her head out. “What are you two doing out here? We’re setting the table and getting the food ready. We could really use some help. You’re not children anymore. You’re both adults. Act like it and pull your weight.”
When she ducked back in, slamming the door hard enough to make the anxiety-driven aunt Clara cry out with worry and plead to be more gentle, Drew and Trina looked at each other. “And you thought I’d be sad?” Trina said with a chuckle. “That’s my mother. Do you have any idea what it was like growing up with that woman.”
“I have an idea,” Drew said. “Your father was so worried about her wrath earlier he had a death grip on my shoulders. I’m pretty sure I have a bruise.”
“Impressive that you can be that big and that weak isn’t it? We should probably go.”
Drew nodded. He looked over at his mother. She frowned but waved him on. He took a deep breath and followed Trina back into the house, but not before turning his beer up. When he got inside he saw his uncle Jimmy reaching into the covered pan of broccoli. Drew gasped. It was imperative that they all had the broccoli at once. If he ate it before it was time, he would ruin everything. Drew lunged forward and slapped his uncle’s hand. Jimmy glared at him with a fire in his eyes. “Are you fuckin kidding me?”
“No, he’s not kidding,” Trina said, jumping in. “You’re not special, uncle Jimmy. You can eat with everybody else.”
Jimmy turned his anger towards her. He trembled and stared for a moment, then spun away and stormed from the room. Drew had to fight sighing with relief.
“Where do you think you’re going? Where does he think he’s going?” Jimmy’s wife, Diane, snapped, looking around for answers. She stormed out after her husband. “You need to get in here and help like everybody else.”
“Merry Christmas,” Mike groaned.
“I’m surprised they were able to pry you off the couch,” Drew’s grandpa said to him.
“Game sucked anyway,” Mike replied. “Refball as always.”
“I have literally never cared,” Grandpa said, and Drew and Trina both covered their mouths to stifle their laughs.
“The hell are you laughing at?” snapped Mike’s son, Brian. “Be respectful.”
Because respect is something this family knows so much about, Drew thought but out loud he said, “Brian, hey, how’s school?”
A blonde jumped in front of him and stared daggers at Drew. “You act like he’s a student. Brian is a physical education teacher and a highly respected member of the community.”
Drew stammered for a moment. “Uh… Okay.”
Brian smacked his wife’s arm. “Why do you do that? I said not to do that.”
“I just think you deserve respect. Just like you defended your father. Or is that only for men?”
Marsha yelled, “What are you all doing? Stop standing around. This is Christmas dinner and it needs to be right. Mom would have had it perfect. Get to work.”
“That’s the spirit,” Trina laughed, grabbing a pan and heading into the dining room. Drew snatched up the broccoli before anyone else could touch it and quickly followed her. When they reached the enormous table of finished mahogany, Trina looked at him with a grin. “Can’t you just feel it in the air?”
“I think it’s actually worse than usual,” Drew answered. “I guess when grandma passed things fell into chaos. When she was around, holidays were passive aggressive and now they’re just aggressive.”
Drew’s mother gave a supportive smile and rubbed his back. “They’re jerks but they don’t deserve this,” she said. “It’s not too late to change your mind.”
“Yes it is,” Drew said. He looked away from her and hurried to the kitchen to grab something else.
Before long the table was set, the carols were playing, and everyone was seated. Drew’s grandpa was seated at the head of the table as he had always been. Aunt Clara was seated beside him, the pom pom nose on her sweater reindeer glistening in the light. She took grandpa’s old spotted hand and smiled at him. “Why don’t you say grace, Dad?”
“Grace died with my May. Say it yourself. I just want some God damned turkey.”
Trina spit her drink and her mother kicked her under the table. Drew didn’t understand the tactic. It was loud and he felt it. Everyone knew what she did. She might as well have hit her in the open. Trina flipped her mother the bird and the table went quiet, all eyes on Marsha. Drew watched with anticipation, expecting his volatile aunt to blow her top, but instead, she took a deep breath and said, “It’s Christmas, and we’re going to have a nice dinner. I’ll say grace myself.”
The table remained quiet as she did just that. Then hands came from everywhere to grab and seize ladles and spatulas. Food was going every which way. Drew put some on his plate but he did it absentmindedly. His focus was on watching to make sure everybody took some broccoli. His cousin Tamara was the only one that didn’t from what he saw. “You’re not gonna try my broccoli?” he asked her.
“I hate broccoli, always have,” she said.
“It’s not your usual broccoli,” he said. “It’s au gratin. At least give it a try.”
“I’ll pass,” she said. Drew frowned but what could he do? It wasn’t as if he could force the broccoli down her throat. He just hoped she didn’t ruin everything. A glance over at Trina told him that she was feeling the same. They would deal with it when the time came. They would have to. Drew didn’t want Tamara running to the police and putting them in danger. He planned it this way for a reason, to keep the carnage contained, to make sure that his family were the only ones to die. He picked up a forkful of sweet potato casserole and said loudly, “Merry Christmas, everyone.”
Something changed then as it did every year. These hateful miserable people let it go for a moment. They wore genuine smiles. They talked and laughed and passed food to each other. Drew and Trina did their part and faked it just like they did every year, smiling and laughing with the others. It’s all bullshit, Drew thought. They act like a holiday makes everything better, like they’re no longer terrible people because they’re eating Christmas dinner with Bing Crosby crooning in the background. Sorry Bing, you can’t save these people. No one can.
In the middle of Silent Night heads started to fall. One by one faces collided with plates, splashing gravy and crushing corn, further mashing the potatoes. Tamara realized that something was wrong and dropped her fork. It clattered loudly. She looked around in a panic, her eyes landing on Drew who smiled at her. Then the butt of a pistol cracked against the back of her skull and she crumbled. Tamara hit the table and her plate but kept going right out of her seat into a heap on the floor.
“Oops,” said Trina with a giggle. “That works better in the movies.”
“Worked perfectly to me,” Drew said with a shrug. He pushed his chair back and got to his feet. “Leave it to Clara to put raisins in the sweet potato casserole, disgusting.”
“That was nice timing, by the way,” Trina said, getting up from her seat as well. “Did you plan that?”
“What? Silent Night? Ha. No. Pure coincidence.”
“Just evidence that the universe is on our side.”
“Maybe it’s Christmas magic,” said Drew. “We’re eliminating some names from the naughty list.”
“Won’t this just add us to the naughty list,” asked Trina with a grin.
Drew reached into his coat and retrieved a syringe. He held and walked around the table looking down at his unconscious family. “Now who should be the monsters and who should be the victims,” he wondered.
“You definitely have to make my mom one of the monsters. She’s halfway there already.”
Drew thought a moment and scrunched his face. “Yeah, but on the other hand, she probably has the best chance of survival. Think about it. If anyone here is meaner than a monster, it’s your mom.”
Trina gave a mock shiver. “All the more reason. Can you imagine if she did make it through? The thought of having to still deal with her after this is terrifying.”
Drew bit his lip and mulled it over. Then he nodded. “Fair enough.” He walked over to where Marsha sat, her face in a mess of cranberry sauce of her own creation, and he stuck the syringe into her neck, emptying its contents. “Who’s next?”
“I’d say if we want to make sure that none of them get out, we go with Uncle Jimmy. Add your little serum to his already fuming aggression and it’s bound to make for a wild party.”
Drew sighed. He shifted and stood with his hand on his hip. “We’re thinking of this completely differently. You want to see a slaughter, a quick and efficient bloodbath. I want to see them have hope, to fight back and believe they can win, and die anyway. Jimmy as a victim gives them a better chance.”
Trina blinked several times. “Wow. You are more fucked than me. I had no idea until this moment. Alright, we’ll do it your way. How about we do the opposite then and make a monster out of the least threatening person? Stick Grandpa or better yet, Charlie.”
Drew tapped his finger on his lip. “Grandpa would be a more intense monster than you realize, I think. What about goofy ass Todd?”
“Or Uncle Mike. He’ll just be like raawr, football!” The two shared a laugh together. “Or your sister.”
“I kinda wanna see Uncle Mike face off with one of the monsters. If he loses, he’ll blame the refs.” They both laughed again. “Alright, I’ll stick Charlie.”
Drew walked around to Charlie’s seat. He saw that his cousin had an erection when he passed out with a wad of turkey stuck to the fork he still clutched. Katie was seated next to him, her face in the mushy mushroomy goodness that was green bean casserole, and her hand was draped over his thigh. “Oh come on!” Drew shouted. “For God’s sake. Gross.” He took a second syringe from inside his coat and stuck Charlie quickly, moved his sister’s hand to let it hang at her side and then hurried away. “One more,” he said.
Trina was chuckling and trying to fight it. “I’m sorry,” she managed between laughs. “Our family is just so fucked.”
“Who should be the last?” Drew asked, trying to stay on subject.
“Haven’t you done enough?” his mother asked him. “Leave it, Drew. Don’t do any more.”
“What are you still doing here?” Drew asked. “You need to go.”
His mother just frowned and sauntered off towards the kitchen. Drew shook his head. Trina rounded the table and put a supportive hand on his shoulder. “Stick Aunt Clara,” she said quietly by his ear. “She’s afraid of everything, and the idea of the ugly sweater queen going full brutal is honestly awesome.”
Drew smiled then. “You’re absolutely right.” He walked over to Clara and gave her the injection. “Now we just have to wait for them all to wake up. Turn up the music.”
Trina took a swig from her flask and danced her way to the stereo, waving the gun in her hand. She turned the volume knob and Drew started dancing as well. Together they sang and danced to all the classic holiday favorites. They broke open the champagne that was meant for later, shouting and laughing as the popped cork flew across the room to shatter an age-old ceramic decoration. They drank and danced until they were sore and out of breath. Then they stopped, panting and smiling at each other.
Over at the table, they heard a groan. “Perfect timing again,” Trina said. Drew hurried over and stopped the music. The house fell into an almost tangible silence that was broken only by the stirring and moaning of their waking family. Trina went and stood by the door. Drew climbed up onto the table and stood right in the opened chest cavity of the turkey.
“Listen up,” he said. “We only have time for me to explain this once.”
“Did you do this?” Brian growled. “Who the hell–”
“Shut it,” Drew said. “You all need to listen now. Year after year I’ve watched and listened to the way you treated my mother.”
“Your mother is dead,” snapped Marsha. “She cared more about that damn hospital than her family; she gave it everything and it killed her.”
Drew stomped his foot down making plates jump and rattle. “She did give her everything to her job, to taking care of the sick and still she tried so damned hard to earn your favor, and never ever did. Even now, listen to you. You make me sick.”
“Too bad Nurse Mommy isn’t still around to make you better then huh,” said Jimmy.
Drew wanted to kick him in the face but he knew it would be a bad move. Jimmy would wallop him good unless Trina shot him and that wasn’t how this was supposed to go. He took a deep breath to try and steady his nerves and then he said, “I know none of you care enough to know what I do for a living, but I work for a very powerful company creating new biotechnology. I’ve brought our newest here today. I know we weren’t supposed to bring gifts but I couldn’t resist.”
“The hell are you talking about?” his Grandpa snarkily asked. “You some kind of terrorist? You anthrax us on Christmas?”
Drew laughed. “Better,” he said. “In another couple of minutes, three of you are going to change. You won’t be yourselves anymore or remember who you were or who you loved. You will only know hunger and bloodlust. The rest of you… well, you’re screwed. Good luck.” Drew hurdled his Grandpa to hop down from the table.
“Forget this,” said Brian. He shoved his chair back and stood. “I’m leaving.” He glared at his wife and commanded, “Come on,” but she didn’t move. She looked terrified and Drew loved it.
“No one is leaving,” Trina said from over by the door. “If you try to, I will shoot you. Please don’t doubt me.” Faces turned towards the kitchen but Drew was now standing in the doorway waving a gun of his own.
“This is insane,” said Jimmy’s wife, Diane. “What is this all about?”
“Just making a little boy’s Christmas wish finally come true,” Drew answered.
Clara’s arm shot out and smacked the table. She moaned and her body twisted. Bones snapped and flesh stretched with a shrill squeak to fit her new skeleton. “What the hell?” shouted Brian as he turned towards the front door once more. Trina pointed the gun at him. Brian shook his head. “Hell no. I don’t care.” He looked back as Marsha and Charlie began to contort and change as well with the sounds of popping joints and tearing flesh, and he shook his head again. When he looked back at Trina, he said, “Nope. Shoot me.”
He took one step before Trina said, “Okay,” and did as he asked. The bang was loud and the bullet went through his thigh, dropping him to the shag carpet. He cried out and so did his wife. The rest watched in stunned silence. “I didn’t say I’d kill you,” Trina told them. “I said I’d shoot you. Clara and the others will be the ones to kill you. I will just make sure you can’t run away.”
The chaos was what Drew needed. He ran out the back door. When he did, he applied a padlock and tugged the door to make sure it was secure. There was no way to stop them from trying to climb out the window but he believed they wouldn’t make it that far. He ran around to the front of the house to go in and stand beside his cousin so they could watch the destruction of their family together, but he stopped when he was hit by a snowflake. Drew smiled and held out his hand, letting the small flakes fall into his palm. He stuck out his tongue so he could catch them as they drifted from the pale sky. He took a deep breath then, breathing out plumes of steam and said, “Merry Christmas, Ma.”
Then he ran up to the front door of the house and tore it open. He jumped inside and immediately slammed it closed because he didn’t know what might be trying to get out. What he actually saw made him laugh with amazement. The Christmas tree was down, the dining room table was overturned, chairs were being swung as weapons while the now lupine Marsha and Charlie leaped off walls and swiped with clawed hands at the people they loved. Giant wolf jaws snapped and sprayed spittle. Everyone was screaming. And there, right there in front of Drew, sweet paranoid Aunt Clara was eating the wounded Brian, tearing into his midsection, chewing the meat and throwing aside the guts and bits she didn’t want.
Mouth agape, Drew looked at Trina. She smiled back at him. “It’s magnificent,” she said.
Drew just nodded. He was in awe. It was more than he ever could have hoped for. He only wished that his drunken useless father had shown up for the party. Jimmy leaped on the wolf Marsha’s back and started punching at her head. Trina hooted. Then she noticed Tamara under the table and gestured towards her with the gun in her hand. Drew glanced that way and frowned. She’d been sufficiently chewed on, her intestines strung about like garland for the tree. “I feel like we didn’t give her a fair chance,” Drew said.
“She chose not to eat the broccoli. That’s on her,” Trina answered with a shrug. Can you believe Brian’s wife is over here and not running.”
Drew looked down and saw the sobbing woman reaching out towards her husband who had long since left this world. Monster Clara would glance over and she would pull her arm back, but she couldn’t seem to bring herself to leave her husband’s side. “She must have really loved him,” Drew said,
“I wonder what that’s like,” Trina said thoughtfully. Mom could tell you if she was here, Drew thought, she was the most loving person of all. Love doesn’t get you anywhere but hurt though, does it. Just as he thought it, Clara looked up at them, judged their guns to be a threat and leaped onto Brian’s wife who gave a short pointless scream before her throat was removed and Christmasy red was splashed over the fallen green tree.
Mike joined Jimmy in trying to take down Trina’s mom. Her husband, Mack actually started trying to pull them off. “That thing is still my wife!” he cried.
Trina laughed and Drew just shook his head. Charlie was making quick work of the others, claws and jaws tearing through their family. Drew’s sister who had been fond of Charlie earlier was now screaming and throwing Christmas balls at him. He would swat them down with his claws or catch them in his enormous maw and crunch them between his jagged teeth. Trina started singing, “Deck the halls with blood of family, Fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la!”
Their attention was drawn from the battle as Aunt Clara left Brian’s now headless wife to leap their way. She must have decided the guns weren’t scary enough to avoid. Trina raised hers anyway, but Drew pushed her hand down with his own. He grabbed a whistle hanging around his neck and blew into it. The wolf fell in mid-jump and whimpered in pain. Then it scurried away still whimpering.
“Holy shit. I didn’t even hear anything,” Trina said with a shocked laugh.
“It’s like an extreme dog whistle. Humans can’t hear it, but the pitch is extremely painful to the monsters.”
Trina laughed. “So you can totally keep them when this is over and train them. You can make my mom go fetch your morning paper from a terrified paperboy.” She laughed hysterically at this.
“Nah,” Drew said. “It’s temporary. It will wear off eventually and they will return to their original forms.”
“And they won’t like turn back at the next full moon?”
“No. It’s a drug, Trina. They would have to administer more to turn again.”
“Holy shit,” Trina said. “Mom’s on were-crack and you have the coolest job ever.”
Drew laughed and blushed. “I can only imagine what this formula is actually going to be used for when it makes it to the prospective buyers.”
“Does that bother you?”
“I try not to think about it. They actually know I’m here doing this.”
Trina’s eyes widened. She stared over at him as Jimmy flew by crashing into a painting of a frozen lake that hung upon the wall. “You’re kidding me,” she said.
“Nope. They’re taking it as a field test. When it’s over, it will be cleaned and erased. The neighbors have already been removed.”
“Jesus,” said Trina. “They didn’t do anything to us.”
“Collateral damage and whatnot.”
“Damn. That’s cold.” She turned her head. “Dude, look at Grandpa.”
Drew turned and gulped. Sitting right in the middle of the transpiring horror was his grandfather. The table had been overturned but the old man remained in his chair at what would have been the head of the table. People were screaming and running around him, flying by him and falling past him. Their blood sprayed his pinstriped button down and darkened his green suspenders. He just sat there, staring forward, his eyes like knives pointed at Drew and Trina.
Drew looked away. He was glad he did. Charlie was charging towards them wolf jaws opened wide and strands of spittle like tinsel hanging from its loose lips. The blinking Christmas lights flashed in colors over his fur. Drew fumbled for the whistle and Charlie made it close enough that he could taste the monster’s foul breath before the sound only the beast could hear drove it away. Drew shivered. “That was close,” he said.
Trina didn’t answer. Drew turned her way and saw her own mother ripping at her like she was the wrapping paper hiding away the present the beast had been waiting for, shreds flying in every direction. “Damn it, Marsha,” Drew said with a snarl of his own. “You ruin everything, you insufferable beast.”
The wolf looked up from her daughter’s mangled body, its eyes blazing with fury. “Go to hell,” Drew said. He didn’t bother with the whistle. Instead he lifted his gun and squeezed the trigger. There was one short yelp and the wolf’s brains were scattered over a family of decorative snowmen.
“What did you do?!” Mack screamed, punching Drew in the jaw with a meaty fist. Drew crashed into the door, seeing stars.
“She killed your daughter,” Drew cried as the next fist came and collided with his temple, causing a pounding headache instantly.
“You killed us all!” Mack screamed back. “You’re as terrible as your useless mother!”
There was a bang and Mack fell to his knees clutching his abdomen as his innards spilled past his thick fingers. Drew didn’t think he pulled the trigger. Then he felt a draft and realized the door behind him was open. He turned and found his father on the stoop. He was standing in the increasingly downpouring snow, holding a smoking gun. His clothes were twisted and disheveled, his hair a mess, he looked like he hadn’t shaved in weeks and he stunk of booze and sex. “Dad?”
Drew dropped down and covered his throbbing head. His father raised his gun and fired again. Drew couldn’t resist looking back and peeked over his shoulder in time to see Jimmy’s wife, Diane, wielding the turkey carving knife. The bullet threw her backwards. She spun in the air before landing face down in a pile of someone else’s insides.
Drew turned back and looked up at his father. “Don’t you want to know what’s going on?”
His father gave a lethargic shrug of his shoulders. “Don’t really care. I always hated these people and how they treated your mother.”
Drew felt angry then. He got back to his feet and glared at his father. “You didn’t treat her much better.”
His father gave a subtle nod. “I know. That’s why I planned to wait for the cops when I was done.”
Drew’s eyes widened. His lips moved for a moment before he found the words. “Wait. You were coming here to kill them?”
That slight nod came again. “I’ve been thinking about it for months. I wish you had let me; kept yourself out of trouble. You deserve better.”
Drew blinked. He didn’t know what to say. He turned back towards the inside of the house and found it eerily quiet. There were limbs and gore and broken furniture everywhere. Marsha wasn’t the only dead wolf. Charlie was sitting up against the overturned table, Christmas light strands wrapped tightly around his neck, his eyes bulging out of his lupine skull. There was a knife in his chest for extra assurance. His tongue lolled out of his long open jaws.
Drew’s gaze searched the room. Aunt Clara was still around somewhere. As he looked over the grisly details of the scene, his father stepping into the house beside him, Drew felt a lump rise in his throat that he had trouble swallowing. His grandfather’s chair was now empty. Did Clara take him or did he get up and go somewhere on his own? Drew wondered. He didn’t know why he was so afraid of the old man. He barely moved. How much of a threat could he be?
“Come on,” he said to his father. He stepped over Brian’s remains and slipped on a still-beating heart. His father caught him at the elbow.
“You made a pretty good mess here,” he said.
“I’ve got cleaners.”
“You have cleaners?” his father said quietly, more to himself than actually looking for an answer. Maybe he was finally realizing that he didn’t know shit about his own son. Too late now, Dad.
Drew made his way to the kitchen and found that poor Todd had tried to get out the window. His back half was still there, spine protruding like a small pitiful Christmas tree in a pot that was far too big for it. Drew assumed the rest was in the yard beyond the wall. Behind him he could hear his father vomiting and adding to the mess. He couldn’t help but smirk.
“Sorry,” his father said. “It’s not the sight. It’s the smell. I could taste it.”
Drew turned to tell him it was okay when something wet dripped on his face. It smelled like stale breath. He wiped it away with a disgusted grimace on his face and then looked up. Clara was on the ceiling, claws dug into the plaster to hold her there. Her open jaws dripped drool. Another gob hit Drew in the face and he groaned. His father looked up and his eyes widened in terror. Drew was looking down, wiping saliva from his eye when Clara dropped. He felt the monster’s looming presence rather than saw it, and when he looked up, she was already landing on his father. The old man’s gun went off and a puff of fur exploded into Drew’s face. He coughed on it and swatted at the air.
The shot wasn’t enough and lupine jaws closed on his father’s face, giant razored teeth pushing through each cheek until they met in the middle. Bones crunched as she chewed. Drew raised his gun, but he didn’t fire. His eyes caught the clock on the wall and he sighed. Another minute, Dad, and you would have been fine, he thought.
As the wolf pulled its jaws from Drew’s father’s crushed head and turned to face her creator, her body cracked and twisted with snaps and pops. Fur fell away in clumps and Drew saw what he found to be the most disturbing thing he’d looked at all night, his aunt Clara naked. He winced and tried not to look at her private bits. Clara stared at her hands.She wiped at her mouth and started spitting on the floor. “What have I done?” she cried. “What have you made me do?”
Drew was still watching aunt Clara’s pitiful display so he didn’t take notice of the pantry doors coming open until his grandfather was already upon him. His mouth fell open and his eyes widened as the blade pushed into his back. The pain was intense and the gun fell from his hand to clatter on the floor. He kicked it away so the crying Clara wouldn’t grab it and shoot him with his own weapon. “My May was the only person in this family worth a damn and God took her from me,” his grandfather said into his ear. Drew felt the knife twist inside him and he screamed.
Then there was a loud bang and he felt the knife stop moving. A second pop came and Clara fell still on the wet kitchen floor. Drew fell to his knees and then his side, beside her. He saw his grandfather laying on the floor as well, a large cavernous hole between his hateful eyes.
“Get a medic in here. The doctor is down,” a voice said.
Drew looked up, still wincing at the pain in his back and gut. He saw flashes like blinking Christmas lights and felt like he was going to lose consciousness. Silently he begged himself to hold on. There was a man in an expensive black business suit holding a gun. He was speaking into a Bluetooth headset. Behind the man, there was a crowd of people in white suits with face shields. They had buckets and mops, and bottles of spray and immediately got to work.
The man looked down at Drew, and placed a supportive hand on his shoulder. “Don’t worry, we’re gonna take care of you, doctor,” he said with a smile. “You’re way too important to lose. Just relax. Help is on the way.”
Drew watched through his waning vision as the man patted his shoulder and then stood upright. Speaking into his headset, he said, “Yes sir, it was a success. We can contact the buyers and tell them it’s a go. Of course, sir. We’ll clean it from top to bottom and then burn it. See you soon, sir. He did well.”
Drew tried to sit up, but it hurt too much. He laid back down just as a man and a woman ran in and squatted beside him. “Take care of him. Do whatever you need to, but don’t lose him,” the man in the suit said to them. Then he looked at Drew and gave him another big smile. “Merry Christmas, Doctor,” he said. “This is a Merry Christmas indeed.”
🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None AvailableCraig Groshek and Seth Paul Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek Narrated by N/A