I wrote this originally for Jim Bronyaur’s “12 Days of Christmas” in 2010. I thought I’d pass it on, for those serving and those remembering those gone.
Originally posted on 12 Days 2010!:
Janet Lingel Aldrich
Harry McDonald shuffled down the hall to answer the door. He found his regular mail carrier with an oblong box in hand. “Good morning, Mr. McDonald! Ready for Christmas?”
Taking the box, he raised a bushy eyebrow. “Happen I am, lass. Happen I am.” He put the box on the nearest flat surface and took the clipboard he was offered. “Where do I sign, then?”
After he closed the door, Harry stared at the box for a long time before picking it up. I know what it is and I know what it means. Bloody hell. And at Christmas of all times. He was expecting his grandson any day, home from Afghanistan on furlough. I’ll put it aside for now.
As he passed down the hallway, he searched through the framed pictures on the wall and stopped at one of them. He ran…
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This is powerful and very true … Wake up!
Originally posted on Everything Rides on Hope Now:
Burdened is the only way I can describe my heart recently. I have this constant feeling in the pit of my stomach that something is very wrong. It’s a feeling like one of my children is in danger and I am helpless to protect them. I go to sleep at night with the feeling and I wake up with it.
Around the world, Christians are suffering for their faith. They always are, but lately it has been overwhelming to watch and hear about. The headlines on Christian persecution do not end right now.
- Over 250 schoolgirls were kidnapped by a terrorist group named “Boko Harem”. These girls were kidnapped because they attended a “Western”, “Christianized” school in Nigeria. The Islamic extremists forced most of them to convert to Islam, raped some, and sold some as child brides.
- In Iraq and Syria, an evil, twisted faction of Al Queda named ISIS…
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Cunning, Emaciated, Degenerate
Denis mounted the brownstone steps, thinking about the meeting he needed to attend later in the day. I’ve got to block this deal. Yes, it would probably make money — and destroy what’s left of a hundred lives or so. And destroy some greenspace. I don’t want any part of that. Fortunately for him, he wasn’t alone; there was a group at the company who wanted to stage a takeover, and Denis meant to help them.
His grandfather had picked a heck of time to demand a meeting.
He knocked on the door. Delagardie, who was nearly as aged and emaciated as his master, answered.
Before Denis could get a greeting out, Delagardie said in a barely-audible whisper, “Your grandfather is expecting you. Go straight up.”
The young man started for the stairs as the door squealed shut behind him. Anyone expecting warmth and courtesy here had come to the last place where it could be found.
He stood outside the room for a minute. Something about the last minute summons bothered him. He and his mother had been estranged from his grandfather after the death of Denis’ father. While it was rumored that the old man was extremely wealthy it wasn’t an attraction for his grandson. With the idealism of youth, Denis had long ago decided it wasn’t a legacy he wanted any part of. In his eyes, the money was contaminated by the degenerate lifestyle and corrupt business practices his grandfather was infamous for.
“Denis. Come in. What are you waiting for?”
Reluctantly, he swung the door open and entered. Andrew DeFleur was laying in bed, his thin frame hardly seeming to hold the blankets off the mattress.
“Grandfather.” Denis bowed slightly. “You wanted to see me?”
“Yes. Sit down.”
Dennis paused and then sat.
“I’m dying. I doubt that comes as any surprise to you.”
What do I say to that? I’m sorry? What a shame? Should I care?
The old man put him out of his misery and chuckled with surprising strength. “I’ll spare you from trying to find a nice, hypocritical phrase. Your Great-aunt Esme would break into tears and that pious old fraud Uncle Jeffrey would preach a sermon over me. You don’t pretend — it’s one of the things I like about you. ”
“You hardly know me.”
A small, cynical smile came over Andrew’s face. “I know more than you think, young man.”
“May I ask why you had me come?” Denis said briskly. He had other and better things to do.
“Why, for the pleasure of your company, of course. Of course, not!” Andrew grasped a small glass of a slightly cloudy liquid and drank. “No, because I need to discuss my inheritance with you.”
Dennis looked at his watch. He had less than an hour to return to his office. He stood and prepared to leave. “I don’t have time for this, grandfather, and I’m not –”
He did, involuntarily, feeling for the moment that he’d lost control over himself.
“Now.” His grandfather settled back on his pillows. “This isn’t something I can leave to just anyone.” A cunning smile crossed his face. “It requires someone decent, someone who is capable of making money but who doesn’t make money his first priority. Someone idealistic and fundamentally kind. Someone like you, Denis.” The old man paused. “There has to be some sacrifice involved, after all.”
Denis used every bit of his will to get up and leave, but he couldn’t budge.
Andrew swung his scrawny body up and off the side of the bed. “I wasn’t always like this. I don’t mean my age, but the kind of person I was. We have a great deal in common, you and I — or we did, before my grandfather called me in, just like this.”
He reached out one apparently frail hand and gripped Denis’ wrist. With the other, he raised Denis’ chin so their eyes met and gazes locked.
He has a red highlight in his eyes, the paralyzed Denis thought. Why didn’t I ever notice that before?
A shimmer surrounded the old man and lifted away to form a sphere. It bobbed down the arm Andrew was using to hold Denis’, and slowly traveled up the younger man’s body. It spread thin and sank into him.
The old man released Denis and collapsed onto the bed.
Denis, whose chin had dropped to his chest, slowly raised his head. He looked at the old man with no interest, stood, adjusted his coat and descended the stairs.
Delagardie met him at the door. “Mr. Andrew?”
“He’s dead.” Their eyes met, and Delagardie noted with pleasure the red glint in the younger man’s eyes. He handed Denis a key.
“I’ll make all the arrangements, sir. You will be home this evening?”
“Indeed, I will. But first I have a deal that I need to ensure goes through — and some friends to stab in the back.” He left, a swagger in his step and a cold, cynical smile on his face.
It was three months from the day the lights appeared when the ships appeared in Earth’s skies. They didn’t announce themselves, or even acknowledge any of Earth’s attempts to contact them.
Communications between the planet’s leaders buzzed, the news outlets speculated, and people spent the three months wondering about what it all meant. When the ships arrived peacefully, and nothing more shocking happened, as usual, people got used to them and life went on. People went from watching the skies to worrying about whatever crisis the news media was promoting this week.
Robert Baldwin couldn’t decide if there was any reason to worry. At times, he felt the faint prickle of unease, but for no good reason he could put his finger on. It was just there.
The external appearance of the ships wasn’t cause for alarm, either. In fact, they rather resembled geometric abstractions of the clean white clouds of a perfect summer day. Robert’s upstairs neighbor, Ted, who saw conspiracies in everything, claimed that made them more dangerous.
“Hey, they look harmless and then wham! They go for world domination and use us for soup!”
Robert mused that Ted had probably cornered the market on tinfoil, imagining it stocked to the ceiling in his apartment. “I think you’ve watched too many Twilight Zone episodes, Ted.”
“You wait. You’ll see.”
All he saw, along with everyone else, was nothing. The ships kept hovering in the skies, and were mostly disregarded. There was still no attempt at contact, peaceful or otherwise, no one disappeared and life went on pretty much as usual.
If anything, it seemed as though life was too good. At night, the news had fewer road rage reports, fewer violent crimes, and there hadn’t been a mass shooting for months. Human interaction had changed – this city was generally regarded as a hotbed of anger and “me first”, but Robert thought he heard less swearing (almost none, in fact) and people weren’t so prone to pushing and shoving their way through the streets. He eyed the ships above him uneasily and thought about Ted.
The next morning they met on the stairs. “So, still think you’ll wind up as Cream of Ted?” Robert joked.
Ted looked at his neighbor in surprise. “What?” He paused, a couple of steps below Robert. “Oh. No. You know – I think I overreacted.”
Robert almost tripped as he walked down to Ted’s level. “Excuse me?”
“No, seriously.” They descended together. “I’ve actually got kind of a – I don’t know – good feeling about this?” He looked at Robert quizzically.
Robert returned his look, equally confused and a little concerned.
Ted’s smile was uncharacteristically beatific. “No I’m haven’t been ‘body snatched’ or anything. I just don’t think we have anything to worry about.”
Reynolds’ stock was about to drop, Robert thought, and shrugged. “If you say so.” Maybe Ted was right, but somehow he wasn’t sure.
A week later, he was very sure indeed. Robert woke from a deep sleep with no warning. Two tall, thin, shadowy gray figures stood at the foot of his bed.
The shape on the right raised a spectral hand. “Hush, human.” The voice was thin and bloodless and yet managed to sound like someone’s maiden aunt soothing a child.
“We prefer lulling our herds to sleep,” the figure on the left said in the same kind of voice. “But some sheep, to use a term familiar to you, simply can’t be lulled.”
“Such as you, human,” said Right-Side.
“So we cull our herds.” A twitch of Left-Side’s hand sent Robert flying – right out the window. Even though he was terrified, he couldn’t scream – he couldn’t move.
The couple returning from their date didn’t scream either as Robert landed in front of them, quite dead.
“Poor guy,” the woman said as she stepped over his body, careful not to get any blood on her Manolos.
“Yes. I’m sure someone will take care of this,” her companion said.
They snuggled as they continued down the street, their faces blindly raised to the moonlight reflecting from the visitors’ ships.
Authentic, Enlist, Phobia
When Jeff turned 3, his mother decided he was too big for a nightlight. Even the fact that he whimpered every night for a week, only dozing occasionally and clutching his security blanket, didn’t move her.
He tried to enlist his father’s help, but his father traveled as a salesman and he came home tired, only wanting peace and quiet. Jeff staggered back in shock when his father slapped him. “You’re too big to be such a baby! Do what your mother says!” This was followed by the clink of ice in his father’s bourbon glass and the roar of the crowd at some sporting event or other.
The little boy went to bed with a red mark on his face and a teddy bear with a very soggy head. Again, he huddled under his blanket, muttering can’tseehimcan’tseemei’msafeifican’tseehim over and over about the Thing in his closet and jumping at every unexplained sound.
He never outgrew his fear of the dark — by the time he was a teen it was an authentic, full-blown phobia. He went from room to room, turning off lights only after another light was on. No one complained; these days, his mother was more interested in examining the inside of a bottle than in what her son was doing. His father had met some woman (“some floozy!” as his mother said) on a sales trip five years back and never returned.
One night, his mother having gone to Bingo, he was in the kitchen, making himself a little supper. He started into the hall and flicked the light on. Behind him, he heard a “click” and turned to see that the kitchen light, which he had unintentionally left on, was now off.
He reached back into the kitchen, unnerved, and turned it back on. He was halfway down the hall when he heard the click again. This time, there was also a stealthy scuffling sound.
Jeff didn’t go back to the kitchen. Instead, he walked more rapidly to reach the dining room. Just as he turned on that light, there was another click and the hallway went dark around him. The fork on the plate he was carrying rattled.
He flipped the hall light back on. It went off. He turned it on again. Another click, and darkness.
The plate smashed on the floor as Jeff dropped it. He ran for the living room and lit it in short-lived relief.
*Click* Darkness in the dining room. Jeff sprinted for the stairs, fumbling for the switch that led upstairs. He took the stairs two at a time. Under the sound of his rasping, rattling breath, he heard an eerie little giggle. He didn’t look back to see what was laughing.Can’tseehimcan’tseeme-i’msafeifican’tseehim – Jeff gasped his childhood mantra as he staggered to the top of the stairs.
*Click* Light on in the hallway.
*Click* Light off on the stairs.
*Click* Light on in the bedroom.
Jeff slammed the door behind him, hurdled the footboard on his bed and tunneled under the covers. Can’tseehimcan’tseeme-i’msafeifican’tseehim. Can’tseehimcan’tseeme-i’msafeifican’tseehim.
*Click* The light from the hallway, showing under the bedroom door, disappeared.
Can’tseehimcan’tseeme-i’msafeifican’tseehim. Can’tseehimcan’tseeme-i’msafeifican’tseehim. He was silenced by the sound of the latch, loud in the sudden stillness, and the squeal of the door opening.
For just a moment, Jeff peered out from under the blanket. The light in his room glistened off the polished pointed nails on the misshapen hand that slid into the open door, seeking the light switch.
Credible, Decrepit, Pensive.
It had been more than 30 years since I left my hometown.
Frankly, I never expected to return. My folks had died when I was still in my 20s, my sister left the state, and it was just me. There was little to call me back, even though I was still about an hour away from home. Somehow, the adventure gene was one I hadn’t gotten.
Then a group of my friends found me on Facebook. I don’t even know why I signed up. Curiosity, I guess. I reconnected without any desire to come home, or do the reunion thing. In the span of time, 30 years isn’t much, but somehow time had attenuated my memories and the feelings attached to them. So I did a credible job of responding to the “remember whens” and “whatever happened tos” and kept my emotional distance.
Then, about 2 weeks ago, someone posted that the houses on the street where I grew up were about to be demolished. Some developer thought the small town needed a big-box strip mall and they’d chosen that area for it.
So here I was; I sat in the driveway, pensive, with no interest in going further. No one had bothered me – the houses were already empty – and the place I had called home for 22 years was decrepit. The owners who’d had it after my folks died hadn’t taken very good care of it, I thought.
You’re going to call me weird, but I’ve always thought that an abandoned house was one of the saddest things imaginable. When I was a little girl, my grandparents’ house in the country was a target for people who’d decided to dump their unwanted pets. More times than I can count, I remembered a bewildered pet sitting by the side of the road, waiting for a loved person who would never return.
These houses felt the same way to me – as though they wondered what they had done wrong, why their families had left, feeling cold and lonely as the days passed.
I started my car and put it in gear, backing down the driveway and pulling out onto the deserted highway. On an impulse, I tooted the horn as I drove away; I remember, thanks for the memories. So long.