A CHRISTMAS STORY
You wake up on Christmas morning. Although there was nothing in last night’s weather report, a major snowstorm must have blown through while you were asleep. You look out the window and as far as you can see is a thick, soft blanket of white covering everything. The houses, lawns, streets, and even the trees are completely wrapped in snow. Snow is clinging to the cars and street lamps. When you look down the street a bit you see on the sidewalk some weird snow-covered pillars that weren’t there before. They look vaguely…person-shaped.
You decide to investigate. You bundle up and put on your galoshes and leave your apartment. Going out the front entrance, you can see the snowfall is even heavier and deeper than it looked like from upstairs. Just beyond the awning of the front door it’s at least a foot and a half. There are big drifts up and down the street that you don’t remember seeing from your second floor window. It’s like they had just formed that minute.
You take a step out into the snow, and almost fall on your ass. It’s ridiculously slippery, as if there’s wet ice underneath. You back slowly out of the snow, clumps of it clinging to your boots and pants. Reaching down to brush yourself off, you notice the snow has an odd feel to it, worse than slippery, kind of gross and…slimy. You look back to where you had walked just a moment ago. There’s no sign of your footprints. The snow where you were treading is perfectly smooth and deep again.
You go back inside and, as you watch through the window, one of your neighbors passes on the sidewalk. They approach the parking lot, but as they pass one of the pillars, the snow suddenly bunches up and flows onto him, covering him up. In a few seconds, your neighbor is gone, replaced by another motionless pillar, without a sound.
This level of weirdness means it’s time to get someone else involved.
You wake up your room mate/pizza delivery guy/drug dealer Timmy. If you’ve got a problem, yo, he’ll solve it. In 30 minutes, or you’re money back. Or, he’ll get you high. Win-win, either way.
Timmy responds after 3 minutes of repeated knocking. In an excited tone, you begin to explain about the snow, the pillar. Timmy raises a hand.
“Waffle me,” he says.
“But the snow!”
He shakes his head.
Dutifully, you retrieve a waffle from the freezer, toast it, and bring it to him. He chews thoughtfully while looking out the window.
“Was it even supposed to snow last night?”
“Seemed kind of warm for it,” you say.
He goes to the kitchen, looks out the window there, then his room, then your room.
“Hey bud,” he says. You join him in the bathroom, where he’s pointing out the window.
He points. Just beyond the back of the building, there’s a hill.
“There’s no snow.”
“That’s weird,” you say.
“Also, I just farted.”
“So it’s localized. We just need to get past it.”
“The fart or the snow?” You ask.
“Ok. But why here?”
“Fuck if I know. I just woke up.”
Timmy goes to the kitchen and roots around for bug spray. He hands it to you with a lighter and finds a can of oven cleaner, and heads down to the front door. You follow him. The snow — or whatever it is — looks tranquil. Are your neighbors still alive inside the pillars? Can they be rescued?
“Is this a good idea?” You ask.
“Probably not,” Timmy says. He flicks a lighter, aims the bug spray through it as it flames toward the snow. The snow doesn’t so much melt as shrink away from the flames. “Stay behind me and keep it from closing in,” Timmy says.
Timmy moves toward the closest pillar, burning a path. You keep an eye on the “snow,” but the path remains clear behind you. When he gets to the first pillar, Timmy starts at the base, revealing shoes. The snow clears away. There’s a man you recognize as always smoking in the parking lot. His eyes are open. His mouth moves like he’s trying to speak.
“Are you ok?” Timmy asks.
The man nods. “I feel great,” he says. “I feel — oh, wow. Like, I don’t need a cigarette. And this bum knee doesn’t hurt for the first time in years.”
“Well,” Timmy says. “That’s good, I guess.”
“My pants are falling down. Have I lost weight?”
“I really wouldn’t know.” Timmy has moved to the next pillar, but it’s as if the “snow” can sense what’s happening. It retreats ahead of him. Snow is receding from all the pillars and the victims begin to awake.
“Is everyone okay?” you ask.
They all say they’re fine — better than fine. They’re all amazing. Better than they’ve felt in years. Better than they’ve felt in their entire lives.
“Why did you wake us up?” One woman asks. You recognize her as this woman whose yappy dog is always barking whenever she’s not home.
“Hey! We saved you,” you say.
“From a good time!” another neighbor says.
“Uh, bud,” Timmy says. “I’m running out of bug spray.”
The woman, the parking lot smoker, and the rest of the victims give you both dirty looks and start running after the retreating snow, shouting, “Wait, wait, don’t leave us!”
At this point, you expect Timmy to say what he says 98% of the time in any given situation. “Fuck it, man. Let’s get high.”
Instead, he turns to you and says, “We’ve got to find the thing’s central brain. It’s going to be holed up somewhere safe, an attic, a sewer, a Denny’s, any sort of dank bunker. Get your car battery out of your car. You have a pair of jumper cables?”
“Good. Get those too. And, let’s see, get that big bag of rock salt around the side of building, and any more flammable spray cans you can get your hands on in the next, hmm, 20 minutes.”
Suddenly you’re a little suspicious of Timmy, who is probably the most unmotivated person you’ve ever met. His only expertise is getting lukewarm pie from Pizza Galaxy to anywhere in the city in 29 minutes, and his consummate taste in weed.
“Timmy, what the fuck are you talking about?”
Timmy takes a deep breath, “You went to college, right? What did you take?”
“English and creative writing, but I got minors in political science and psychology.”
“Uh-huh. And you work for that start up, OmniThink, doing coding?”
“And I’m writing marketing and outreach to investors.”
“You’re doing well. And I mean that. But while you were in college I was working full time at that sci-fi comic book store downtown, The Urban Spaceman. I started there freshman year of high school. I still fill in sometimes when the manager’s out sick.”
“The point is I read everything in that store multiple times over a lot of years. It turns out you can’t read every issue of Mystery In Space, The Cosmic Flame, Strange Adventures, Challengers of the Unknown, Planet Comics, and…well..lots and lots more… repeatedly, for years, without realizing how the universe *really* works. Anyone might read a few of them or read them for a couple of years when they’re a kid. Eventually most people stop because comic books start to seem stupid and ridiculous. But if you read all of them, really read them, more than once…the patterns emerge. They’re not telling the story. But they’re all pointing to The Story, from different directions. After a while you can triangulate the truth. The real Truth.”
“What I’m saying, dude, is I’m ready for this, and — in my humble opinion — being ready for anything other than this is kind of a big waste of time.”
You want to say something about the fact that Timmy smells like sweaty socks, but instead, you ask, “But what the fuck is this?”
“Off hand, I’d say it has all the hallmarks of an intergalactic slime monster with the abilities of environmental mimicry and the induction of narcotic addiction. Probably feeds off energy, or some element that’s rare from whatever part of the universe it comes from.”
“You’re saying it’s an alien?”
“I’m saying it’s an alien.”
“Look, we’re wasting a lot of time here. Get going. I’m going up to the roof and see if I can scout out any likely hiding places for the central brain.”
Inside, you hide in the bathroom to catch your breath. It takes a solid three minutes to get your shaking hands under control. You almost convince yourself Timmy is just a stoner freak, this is crazy, no way is any of this real. But you saw what you saw. Slime-snow. People turned into pod people. Out the window, you can see some of the “snow.” It looks serene. Inviting. It looks like Christmas. You can almost taste the hot chocolate. It’s tempting.
Twenty minutes later, you both meet in front of the apartment building. You’ve stolen some kid’s sled and have it piled up with the car battery, cables, bag of salt, and a box full of spray cans. The slime-snow monster has retreated from the street and ground, but is still thick in the tops of trees and on the roofs of the surrounding buildings, where it seems to be moving. More disturbing, there are thin ropes of snow-slime connecting all the trees and building to each other, and at the very top of each building and tree are short undulating tentacles.
You follow Timmy through the streets until you come to a dead end. There’s a high fence topped with razor wire and behind that a large brick building without windows and just one steel door in front. Overhead, the slime ropes have woven themselves into a kind of spiderweb, and the tentacles are now long writhing arms with blue sparks shooting up along them.
You turn to Timmy. “What is this place? Some kind of top secret government installation or something?”
“Nah, it’s just a residential electrical substation. They’re all over, but people tend not to notice them. I’m pretty sure the central brain has got to be in there.” He pulls out a pair of bolt cutters from under his army surplus coat and starts snipping away at the chain link.
You get through the fence, and Timmy cuts off the padlock. The two of you walk slowly inside. It’s pitch black.
Timmy says, “Gotta be a light switch here somewhere.”
“Won’t that let it know we’re here?”
“Oh, it knows we’re here.” He finds the switch and banks of blinding fluorescent lights blink on.
Sure enough there’s an enormous throbbing white sphere suspended in the middle of the room, shimmering, and attached by hundreds of white cables to the walls and high voltage reactors. Also, your mom is there.
“David, what are you doing with that awful Timmy? How many times have I told you what a bad influence he is? Oh, I can’t even stand to look at him. Oh, well. Come over here and give your mother a hug.”
You start to walk towards her and Timmy grabs your arm, hard. “Not your mom, man.”
“For fuck’s sake. How likely is it your mother is here, under her own steam? Look behind her.”
You look and see a thick white rope coming from the central brain sphere along the ground to your mom and then up her back. It looks like it’s plugged into the back of her head. You turn around. Timmy is dumping the salt into a spreading pool of water in the center of the room.
“Yeah. Look, either that is your mom and the slime monster has taken her over, or it’s picked your brain and made this duplicate of her. But either way…”
“Either way what?”
“Either way you have to electrocute and then incinerate your mother.”
“But,” you say.
“It’s not her, man. It’s not her.”
Timmy hands you the jumper cables and starts moving forward, stuffing spray cans into his pockets and flicking on the lighter. You join him.
Then from behind you. “Whoa, whoa there, son, is that any way to behave on Christmas day?”
You both turn around. It’s Santa Claus.
A jolly, tinkly version of “Jingle Bells” begins to play from somewhere. There are twinkling red and green lights. Santa swings a bag off of his shoulder, puts it on the ground, and starts rummaging through it. Chuckling, he says, “David, here’s a publishing contract for the novel you finished in college. It’s being picked up for a high six figure advance by Simon and Schuster. And, Timmy. Oh , you’ve been a bad boy, but…ho, ho, ho, let’s let bygones be bygones, here’s the deed for that cannabis farm in Northern California you were reading about.”
Timmy’s eyes narrow. “Why you slimy sonuvabitch bastard. Why don’t you go back to whatever galactic butthole you crawled out of?” He lights up two of the cans. Jets of flame shoot out of them, he points one at your mom and one at Santa.
They both let out piercing screams and hundreds of wriggling tentacles burst out of their eyes, headed for you and Timmy.
“MOM!” You scream. Shortly followed by “SANTA!”
Timmy looks over at you. “Dude, this might be a good time to toss those cables into that pool of salt water and, you know, light this fucker up.”
At first, you’re frozen. You look down at the cables in your hand. You shake yourself and heave them into the pool a few feet away. Then…
Sparks, flames, and smoke are everywhere. You can’t see, or hear, or breathe. Someone grabs the back of your jacket and starts pulling you in a direction. Through the smoke you see a vague square of light. It’s the door to the outside. Timmy is half holding you up and you both stumble out of the building.
Outside, everything is dripping with what looks like green corn syrup. It smells bad, real bad. People are wandering out of buildings, dazed and dripping green syrup.
Timmy shrugs, “Dead slime.”
You look at him, “Fuck, Timmy, that was…beyond fucked up. For starters, we just electrocuted my mom and Santa Claus. Sent them up in flames. And now. I mean, how am I supposed to deal with shit like that? And what about what’s out there, some insane madhouse of, of slime monsters and who the fuck knows what? And it’s Christmas. You know? God bless us one and all? And all that? What are we even supposed to do now?”
Timmy looks thoughtful. He stares up at the sky, as if contemplating the mysteries of the universe, some of them horrible, some of them maybe too wondrous for words. He looks at you, his face grave and concerned, and puts a hand on your shoulder.
“Fuck it, man, let’s get high.”