Five Golden Rings

She looked at her hand, her left hand. It felt heavy, leaden, as if her hand had had been drugged. 

On each finger was a gold ring. Solid gold. Cold, humming, and heavy. 

She woke up on Christmas morning. Color from her room had faded. Snow fell against the window. Fire lit up the distance. 

She couldn’t lift her arm. 

Her fingers felt stiff but electric. Her muscles were sore but the skin  crackled. 

There was a note next to her:

“Which one? You must decide.”

She looked at the rings. They were slightly different. A chip here, a smudge there, just a slight difference. 

Why must she decide? 

What was she deciding on?

As she looked over the rings, she chose one she felt suited her best. 

The four discarded rings fell off. 

She heard shouting outside. 

Looking out the window, she could faintly see five figure in the snow. 

They had hoods. Hands tied behind their backs. 

She looked down at the ring on her index finger. She felt how smooth it was. 

A series of loud cracks. 

Four of the figures slumped to snow. The fifth fell to his knees and thanked god, pointing his prayers to her window. 

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Four Calling Birds

Day 4:

‘Tis the season. 

Duck Season, that is.

 Out of bed and into the gear. Shotgun strapped on my back. Double-barrel obliteration.

 I put the Duck Call up to my lips and sent a quack up into the air. That first one was met with silence, so I doubled up the next.

 Still nothing.  

 I trudged a bit further and tried again. An answer this time. From a beauty of a mallard that ascended into the sky.

 I’m an excellent shot; but I missed this one. And the crack of the discharge didn’t seem to phase that beauty of a mallard. It stayed on his path.  

 QUACK.

 A second one took to the sky. I aimed and pulled the trigger. Zero for two. The two mallards stayed together, floating idle in the air.

 A third joined. The third lived.

 What. The Fuck. Was going on?

 The trio plus one.

 The four ducks sailed in place together. Flapping their wings but going nowhere.  

 The Duck Call, but I didn’t commission it. The four ducks maintained a diamond, squawking at each other like my cousins and I used to when we’d fight over the leg of one of their ancestors every Christmas dinner.

 Foul language among the fowl.

 Four birds calling back and forth to each other.

 Four calling birds.

 They’d evaded every shot. Their squawking was mocking. It carried across the sky.  

 I aimed again. Bit my lip. Pulled the trigger.

 BLAM!

 Right in the back. Obliteration.

 But it wasn’t any of the mallards’ backs. It was my back.

 And it wasn’t a bullet. It was an antler.

 The four mallards continued their frenzied squawking as I fell to the ground. My throat dropped to my balls as I tried to turn on my side to see the beast that had impaled me.  

 Obliteration as I rolled all the way onto my back, onto the shattered skin.

 I kicked and thrashed as best as I could but it was ineffective. I felt the hooves on my gut and the steam from the snout.

 The antler came down again, this time across my throat.  

 Four calling birds. Squwaking and mocking. Having turned the hunter into the hunted.

 The creature burrowed its snout into my shredded throat, then reared its head to look at me again.  

 Blood dripped from its nose. My blood.  

 Never in all those years had I ever seen a reindeer in these parts.

 Those four fucking calling birds.

 Fucking Rudolph.

Three French Hens

Day 3:

The three women shuffled through the darkness.
The three women shuffled through the snow.
The three women spoke in French and laughed to themselves.

They passed a sack of food back and forth. Scattering crumbs to stray dogs and cats.
Their shadows, stretched far behind them, wriggled and writhed in the moonlight – shimmering like serpent scales.

“Ah, this must be it.”
“It must be.”
“It’s Christmas after all.”

The three women stopped in the darkness.
The three women stepped in the snow.
They three women gathered up their shadows and help them close.

The dogs and cats surrounded them, obeying French-commands.
They looked into the windows, peering into houses and cars.
They stood close together, nodding.

“It’s my turn to see.”
“Let me see, let me see!”
“Wait your turn!”

Their shadow began to cry out in multiple, childish voices.
They cooed to their darkness, whispered French rhymes to sooth the black mass.
The taller woman took out thread.

The three women stole more children that night.
The three women stole more lives that night.
The three women wove their yarn, silver and shiny, and cut it with gold scissors that bled.

Two Turtle Doves

Day 2.

Were they birds that swam? Were they turtles that flew?

They loved each other for life.

Mom and dad were turtle doves. Mom told me so. They even called each other ‘Dove’.

I had never been so confused by a visit with Santa as I was on that day when I was eight.
And the sky smelled sour.

We got home from the mall. Mom and me.
Dad cooked dinner while we were gone and we sat down to eat.

I didn’t know what to think of that visit with Santa. So many questions. I didn’t know what to ask or how to ask it.

So I sang it.

I meant, I hummed it.
(I liked singing more than I’d ever tell the guys in Little League)

Dad recognized the tune and smiled.
Mom recognized the tune and froze.

The words were never sun aloud. But we finished humming the song all together.

I went to school five times and the next time I didn’t have to go, Mom and Dad went to the mall without me.

I knew they were buying me presents.

Mom wasn’t with Dad when he came to Todd Buckley’s to pick me up. Dad didn’t even come to the door; he just honked and Mrs. Buckley sent me on my way.

I got in the car and saw Dad had gotten a new shirt. He wasn’t wearing the white one he’d left in. The shirt he was wearing now was as red as Santa’s suit.

And it was wet.

I asked where Mom was and Dad didn’t answer at first.

The he sad something. But it sounded weird. Because, what he said is something he should have sung.

It was the same thing I was humming that night at dinner.

And he just kept saying it over and over.

“I say Mommy kissing Santa Claus.”

His shirt was as red as Santa’s.

Where was Mom?

Turtle Doves weren’t birds that could swim.
They weren’t turtles that could fly.

And they weren’t Mom and Dad.

A Partridge in a Pear Tree

Day 1:

This must be the end of the world.
It feels like the end of the world.
Snow falls like lazy ash, warm with paper-texture.
It doesn’t melt.

A Christmas tree juts out of the ground like a broken pylon or obelisk – a pagan symbol of Christian faith and social norm. The red bulbs are dull. The star at the top is smoking.

It’s giant.
It’s blocking out the sun, turning the fallen snow into a grey sheet that smells of sulfur and hidden childhood memories.

She stands, facing the tree. Her nose is red and running. Her scarf is loose.
She holds tightly to her boyfriend’s hand.

Just his hand.
After the loud noise and flash of light, that’s all that was left of him.
They have matching mittens.

“Come closer, come closer. Don’t be afraid. It’s Christmas after all!”

The voice comes from the tree.
From a sagging, dead branch – the nettles brown, metallic, covered in rust.

“Yeah, hi, hello, Merry Christmas. My Name is Parix. How are you?”
“Perry?”
“Yeah, sure, close enough.”

She stands, facing the tree. She grips her boyfriend’s hand tighter, wishing for warmth and a reassuring squeeze back.

The man, Parix, is hanging from the tree. He might be naked, but her eyes are having trouble focusing. Christmas ornament hooks pierce his skin, holding him onto the rusty nettles. Scars crisscross his body, looking like white and purple garland left outside until Spring.

“It’s such a beautiful time of the year, don’t you think? The snow falling from the sky, the Christmas tree all lit up and decorated.”

Sparks fly from the branches, some catch fire. The sky darkens. The tree and the man glow a sickly orange.

“What do you want for Christmas, little girl? What would make your heart sing? What would make your faith burst forth in tears and laughter, bubbling up like marshmallow in hot chocolate?

Forgive me…sometimes I get a bit poetic. It’s the spirit of the season, you know.
I don’t have much.”

He reaches out to her, extending his hand and offering a kind smile.

She reaches up, straining to grab his hand.

“No, no. We mustn’t touch! I was asking for that thing…”

He points at her other hand, the hand holding on tight to her boyfriend’s hand.

“We all have to make sacrifices, dear. That’s what Christmas is all about.”

She can feel herself about to cry.
If she lets go of his hand, what does she have left?

She can’t even remember his name.
No name, no face to go with this no-name.
Just his hand.
Just a hand, and now she watches herself hand it over to the man in the tree.

The Next Day: The Morning After Halloween

It’s cold this year.
Halloween usually is.
But, it has never really bothered him.
Cold weather means he can be alone, uninterrupted.

He runs his fingers through his thinning hair and watches the clouds slide across the moon until the windshield fogs up. Tonight is the night – he can feel it.

He stops his car in the middle of the field. Kicking rocks and trash away from him.
He knows the ritual by heart. He can do it all with his eyes closed. He’s memorized the incantations and movements needed.
Tonight…tonight is the night he proves himself right.

With only the moon above and the headlights shining behind him he gets to work.

It’s easy.

A circle of salt. Any amateur magician knows that.
Candles at the four cardinal points.
But, that’s not enough.
He’s tried all of that before.

In the middle of the circle he sets the most perfect pumpkin he could find. A face drawn on it in blood- his god awaiting animation.

Opening the trunk, he smiles at the sinners, the four non-believers, the wretched and the weak that doubted him for decades.

He hears their sobs. He almost feels bad for what he’s about to do. But it must be done, and it must be done soon. He cannot miss his chance. This is his only chance.

He grabs one of the wriggling bodies and drags them from the trunk. The smell of the crying man turns his stomach. He’s glad he put a sheet over him – they were friends once. It makes this easier.

The man kicks and tries to scream, but he was smart and gagged him earlier.

He lights the candle on the Eastern side of the circle and forces the man to his knees in front of it.

The knife is sharp. It cuts through the makeshift ghost costume, then skin and muscle and finally it strikes bone. The sheet quickly turns red and the cries become wet moans.
The candle flares up.

He smiles.
Tonight is the night.

He lights the candle on the Southern point of the circle. The woman screams as he pulls her from the car by her hair. She tries to fight him off, but years of abuse at her hands gives him strength. The green makeup he painted on her face smears with tears and the witch’s hat falls to the grass. He isn’t kind with her. He stabs her repeatedly and lets her drop to the ground unceremoniously.

The candle flares up.

Tonight is the night.

He lights the candle to West and drags the rotting carcass of a dog to the circle. Bones protruding against wax skin and dying white fur, eyes gone blank and clouded. He paints symbols on the bloated stomach with yellow feathers.

The candle flares up.
He can feel it happening already.

Tonight is the night.

He lights the candle facing North.
He takes his last hostage from the car, wishing he had gagged him.

“You don’t have to do this. We’re friends. We were best friends.
I don’t deserve this.
They didn’t deserve this.
What did my dog ever do to you?”

He pushes the last man to the ground, whispers in his ear as he slides the knife’s blade into his back, between ribs and into his old friends heart. “I’m sorry, Charlie”

Painting his face with blood he enters the circle. Staring at the painted pumpkin, their faces a gross mirror of each other.
He pulls a ratted, blue blanket over his head and begins to chant.
Quietly, at first.
Rocking back and forth on his knees.
His words getting louder as the wind picks up.
Louder as the four flames around him grow.
Louder as the pumpkin in front of him begins to glow…brighter, brighter, then…it begins to rot. Collapsing in on itself. Smoke spiraling from the dried stem.

He can hear birds.
The blood on his face is dry and cracks when his face contorts into a cry.
The sun comes up.
All around him, dying pumpkins, melted candle wax, and dead friends.
He wipes his tears.
Next year. It will happen next year.

Hour 24: All Souls Day

He leaves her body in magnolia leaf strewn grass.
Pure white staining red.

Church bells ring out in sorrow across the night sky.

He climbs into the darkness, whistling a song he learned from the morning birds.

As a kid she wanted to be a mermaid when she grew up.

Did he want to kill her? He doesn’t know.
But his hand felt good wrapped around the knife that, too easily, slid into her soft belly.
He feels remorse, like any good person would. It’s just hidden somewhere behind his heart.
As a kid, she dreamed of dancing on the surface of an exploding star.

His stomach aches like a black hole, a supernova of hunger and nausea.
A car drives by, it’s headlights dim and orange and judging him.

He thinks he’s crying.
Halloween is over, the sun is starting to rise and there are no longer costumed children on the streets.
Her first costume was a bumblebee. She has a picture of herself in that costume on her bedside table.

The streets are empty except for him and his blundering footfalls.
The knife, like a savior, like Jesus, gives him strength to keep walking.

In the middle of the street he falters and drops the knife.
He’s definitely crying now. Not over the girl, over the knife. He’s fallen in love with the knife.

Her first kiss was when she was 12. It surprised her and made her feel happy and sick at the same time.

The sun was up, the streets littered in trash and candy wrappers and toilet paper.
He stepped on a broken eggshell.
He wanted to lie down, to feel the cool asphalt against his cheek.

She wanted nothing more to ride a horse, at least once. She thought it would make her feel like a princess.

Halloween is officially over, he holds the knife tightly to his chest and begins to cry and beg for mercy.