BLOG-Mas DAY 16
Today’s post is a Christmas time short story written by myself.
HOME AT THE HOLIDAYS
Disclaimer: This is not a “Happy Ending” holiday story. It is a bit dark. I personally love these types of stories so I decided to write one. If you only like happy endings this may not be the story for you but if you like darker fiction like I do, read on.
PART 1 THE ARRIVAL
Paisley tossed her weekender bag into the backseat of her p.o.s car and drove herself to the airport. If traffic wasn’t too terrible she would get to there with enough time to grab a coffee and some lunch before her long flight home. Unfortunately for Paisley, traffic was terrible. She found herself parking and bolting to her gate. Thank God, she had checked in online. She was the second last person to reach the gate and the last to get on the plane as the final passenger got locked out. Paisley hated travelling.
Paisley took her centre seat, something she always tried her utmost to avoid but had no choice since she booked so late. It was just her luck that she was squished between a man who had zero respect for personal space and a kindly middle aged lady with ample flesh. Whatever, she would pop in her earbuds, put on her sleeping mask and ignore them during the flight.
Four and a half hours later, after having to climb over the lady on her left (aisle seat) three times to let out Mr. “Lack of respect for personal space” so he could stretch his legs and having to repeatedly kick the seat in front of her because the girl sitting there decided to recline to almost 180 degrees, Paisley collected her bag from the overhead compartment, pulled on a thick black sweater and emerged, gratefully, from the plane.
She got out of the terminal in record time and stood in the pickup area waiting for her mother, Rochelle. Damn, she was hungry. Maybe she could get something before her ride came, Rochelle was always late anyway. Paisley set off and stopped off at the first café she saw. It was practically dribbling tinsel and lights, advertising hot cocoa and peppermint flavoured coffee. Yuck. Paisley hated Christmas. She stood in line for what seemed like 3 years because the family at the front ordered just about everything on the menu. She finally got to the till and ordered a chickpea on rye sandwich and a large coffee: black…just like 90% of her wardrobe and like her soul.
It was another thirty-seven minutes of waiting before her mother pulled up in her massive, shiny SUV with her younger sister Alyssa and brother Alex in the back. Her mother made a semi-believable excuse with no accompanying apology and they drove off. Paisley hated her mother. The ride was quiet, thanks to Paisley fishing out her noise cancelling headphones. She wasn’t about hearing her sister go on and on about trivial stuff and the hot gossip on her college campus. Her mother loved this kind of talk of course and she would be chiming in, laughing and acting half her age. Alex, Alyssa’s twin would likely do the same, he just always went along with the flow, like he had no personality of his own. She hated the twin. Paisley couldn’t believe she had agreed to spending five days with this lot. There was a reason she had moved hours away the first chance she got.
They finally pulled into the long driveway and Rochelle parked next to her husband’s,( Paisley’s step father’s) equally gargantuan SUV. Darn, he was home. She hated him too. The only family member Paisley looked forward to seeing was her older sister Drew. Drew was Paisley’s whole sister, both of them being products of her mother’s first marriage if you could call it that. It had ended…badly. Alex and Alyssa were Paisley’s twin siblings that her mother and step-father John shared, a product of her mother’s affair on her father. John was mega-rich, hence much of the appeal to Rochelle and he was nice enough to Paisley’s mother and family but she knew he was a shrewd (i.e. sometimes crooked) businessman and that always rubbed Paisley the wrong way.
She was thinking about this as he greeted her when she entered the great room of the expansive home. After exchanging meaningless pleasantries and taking in the professionally decorated tree, mantle-piece and bannister Paisley headed into the kitchen where she knew Drew would be. Drew gave her sister a warm hug and squeeze and returned to her baking. Her profession as a pastry chef meant that family gatherings were more work than pleasure since everyone wanted to taste Drew’s world renound treats. Drew worked in France as a very sought after gourmet pastry chef, she had her own line of baking equipment. She was the family success unlike Paisley who was a small-time software and app developer. Nothing fantastic had happened yet, so she was still the weird skinny kid who wore black all the time and played with computers. Paisley loved Drew because she knew things, she had seen the world and that made her smart and non-judgemental. Paisley knew the rest of her family probably loved her but they still thought she was a little freak and that made her hate family gathertings especially at this time of year even more.
Tomorrow was Christmas eve and the Agard-Morton family’s massive Christmas party. Paisley knew she was going to be dragged out that evening to buy a “presentable dress”. She hung out with Drew for a bit, helping here and there where she could and genuinely enjoying her sister’s company. Then she headed upstairs to change and get ready for the annual dress shopping fiasco.
Paisley, Alyssa and Rochelle drove to the mall leaving Drew in a meeting with the head caterer for the following evening’s event. Alex was hanging out with some friends and John was at the office, whatever that meant. Paisley tried to tune out the lively folksy festive tune blaring out the speakers in the mall and inwardly cringed at all the winter scenes the storefronts held. Paisley hated Christmas. It was so fake. Fake snow, fake happiness, fake, fake, fake.
It was 40 minutes before Paisley gave in and bought a dress. It was a mid-thigh length skater style dress with a keyhole cut out in front and a low back which were both filled in with netting. At least it was black. After that, Paisley endured 2 more hours of Alyssa trying to find the perfect back-up dress for tomorrow just in case someone showed up in something too similar. Paisley finally slinked away on her own telling herself she’d have to buy some gifts for her family since she was being forced by her mother to spend the holiday with them.
She walked in and out all the predictable fast fashion clothing stores, spent a minute in a makeup store buying a new black eyeliner for herself then bolting before she could be coerced into trying glittery shadows. Finally, she stumbled upon an odd-looking hole in the wall store. It was called Genny’s and boasted to carry the most extraordinary gifts you could find this side of the Atlantic. Paisley thought it was a bit of a stretch but went in anyway.
Bells rang as she stepped through the door announcing her arrival. There were two other patrons inside both of whom looked up and cast furtive glances her way. This place was also dripping Christmas, just in a different way to the rest of the mall. Where the mall and most of its stores had oversized shiny balls, and bows with seemingly millions of lights strung up everywhere, this shop had two rows of multi-coloured icicle lights going around the ceiling blinking asynchronously and emitting a soft electronic warped version of some Christmas tune. Behind the cash register was a banner reading “Merry Christmas” in curved gold letters…very old school. Hanging from the ceiling were spiralled spheres made of metallic paper, the kind where one side was gold and the other was either red or green. The air from the ac vents made them spin like crazy. The most eclectic touch of all was the elves. Elf figurines, elf plushies, elf versions of nutcracker dolls jammed and rammed seemingly in every free space the store had, which wasn’t a whole lot.
This was one of those shops where you had to ask someone to get what you came for because there was no hope of finding it betwixt the melee of products. This was definitely NOT the store where she would find gifts for her superficial relatives and she turned to leave when a figure, tall and slim appeared before her, as if out of the air. She introduced herself as none other than Genny, procurer of all things peculiar and asked if she could help her find anything. She explained she never wanted a patron to leave unsatisfied. Paisley thought her definition of patron seemed loose as she had zero intention of purchasing anything in there. Still, she found Genny to be intriguing as she began showing her some of the merchandise: a figurine from a Russian home, sandals made in Botswana, a tapestry bought from a market place in Singapore. Paisley looked and listened to Genny’s story behind each object. It sounded as if she had literally procured each and every item herself. It was all interesting but not very peculiar. That was until Genny took her over to the “dark drawer”. Then the loony bin talk began. She pointed to what seemed like a piece of charred wood and told her it was a root from middle earth with intense magical properties, she picked up a jar of dead, oddly shaped bugs and claimed they were desiccated woodland fairies. Genny could see Paisley’s clear disbelief so she changed tactic. She asked if she was looking for anything in particular, to which Paisley explained that she was but knew her family would never appreciate this type of stuff. Genny asked Paisley if she perhaps wanted a Christmas gift for herself, to which Paisley mumbled she’d like to make her family disappear. Genny paused assessing the response then chuckled as did Paisley. She commiserated, saying that she understood what it felt like to not be crazy about your relatives and they chatted for a few more minutes before Paisley decided to leave. On her way out Genny yelled Merry Christmas to which Paisley responded with Merry freaking Christmas.
She was reunited with her mother and sister in the food court. They asked where she’d been. She told them she had looked around a few stores before ending up at Genny’s the weird store at the end of the mall. Neither Rochelle nor Alyssa had ever heard or seen it of course, it wasn’t their thing.
Back at home Drew had finished up her baking for the night and was already in her pjs watching TV in the bedroom she and Paisley would be sharing. Paisley showered and pulled on her red and black flannel pj bottoms paired with a black camisole and got into bed. She and Drew chatted and watched TV until the wee hours of the morning after which Paisley drifted off.
PART 2- THE PARTY
The next day was hustle and bustle throughout the house. Some of Paisley’s out-of-town family namely her grandmother (Rochelle’s mother), two aunts Annmarie and Jessica and the five kids they had between them as well as John’s parents and sister all arrived early. They would be spending the next two nights there in the multiple guest bedrooms the house had. It also meant they would be in Paisley’s hair asking stupid questions, telling stupid stories…Had she found a boyfriend yet?, Did she have a real job yet? Would she ever be successful like Drew? Why did she insist on wearing black all the time? Was she ever going to gain a few pounds, maybe grow some hips? It went on and on and on. Paisley hated her grandmother, she always acted as if John was a demigod and her and Drew’s father had never existed. She hated Aunt Jessica who was just a slightly younger, ruder version of her mother Rochelle and she hated Aunt Annmarie who despite being tolerable most of the time always let Rochelle, Jessica and Paisley’s grandmother not to mention her piece of rubbish ex-husband boss her around. No spine.
The family arrived, the caterers arrived. The caterers left. The serving staff arrived. The guests arrived. By 7pm the house was swinging. Paisley was always stunned at how such a large house could appear so packed. She guessed when your parents invited everyone in the town who “mattered” that’s what happened. She also knew that it was a big thing to get invited to John and Rochelle’s Christmas affair and all the snooty would be social climbers grabbed at this opportunity to rub shoulders with the who’s who. Paisley hated this town. The people were so fake, half of them probably couldn’t stand Rochelle.
Paisley walked around in the form fitting black dressed she had been guilted into buying and the 4 inch heels her mother had forced her to wear. She felt out of place, miserable and at this time of year she would always have flashbacks. Eighteen Christmases ago when she was just a little girl… her parent’s fighting, (they often fought), her mother throwing bags into her beat up SUV and telling her and Drew to get in quickly. Her father running out after them screaming obscenities and asking why. Paisley had no clue what was going on at the time. All she knew was that soon after, they were living in a large cushy apartment and her mother was going to be having babies. Over the course of the pregnancy, “Uncle John” kept visiting bringing her and Drew gifts, laughing and talking, kissing their mother. Paisley didn’t see her father for an entire year. The next time she saw him was in fact the last time she saw him. He had driven up to their apartment building just as Paisley, Drew and Rochelle pushing the twins who were by now a few months old were going inside after a supermarket trip. Paisley remembered her father’s eyes were red, his shirt was unbuttoned half way and he looked crazed. She and Drew dashed to him, relieved to be reunited with their daddy after all this time. He had hugged them and for a few moments it felt normal. He kissed them both on the top of their heads and told them he loved them so much. He then looked at their mother who was frozen in place an inexplicable (to Paisley at the time) look of fear in her eyes and told her he had loved her too. He continued to tell her that she had ruined his life, taken away his family, drove him to drinking, cost him his job. Then it happened…
Paisley, in her flashback reverie had walked all the way through the party from the pool deck out back through the family and dining rooms and into the entry hall. She found herself standing by the Christmas tree. She stood there for a bit looking at the gold and silver antique style baubles Rochelle had no doubt instructed her decorator to pick out. Everything was coordinated and they were genuinely beautiful. Probably cost a small fortune Paisley thought discerningly. Her mother sure knew how to be wasteful.
Paisley’s vision was suddenly darkened and she looked up to see a tall, very attractive man in his late 30’s standing in front of her. He looked somewhat familiar. He then introduced himself as Johannes Ronson, oh yes the son of one of her step-father’s biggest investors. Johanes had a bit of a playboy reputation but rumour had it (according to Rochelle) that he was looking to lay some roots, trying to find a suitable match. Johanes held out the glass of champagne he had brought over for her. Paisley never accepted drinks from men, especially ones looking at her as lasciviously as this jerk was. Besides, she didn’t drink and told him as such to which he seemed a tad put off but rebounded easily by saying he’d just have two drinks. He forced polite conversation asking her about her work and hobbies as if this was a girlfriend interview. Paisley looked up briefly to catch her grandmother and aunt Jessica looking over approvingly and she figured they were the ones who sent him over. How could they even think she would be interested in this man. Finally, likely realising he would have more success with Christmas tree Paisley was intently studying, he politely excused himself and walked away.
Jessica and Grandmother Tina walked over eager to hear how things went. Paisley quietly told them exactly how things went much to Jessica and Tina’s chagrin. They were soon joined by Annmarie, Rochelle and Alyssa as well as Lizzie and Nina, two of Paisley’s cousins. They all wanted the scoop and it became evident that this entire gang was in on it. Paisley was sick of this. Every family gathering was the same, unbearable nonsense. Paisley looked up to see John ambling over with a class of diet coke, Paisley’s favourite. He handed it to her laughing and mentioning he knew she didn’t have anything to drink recently what with the rejection of his good expensive champagne. God, he was in on it too. He and Tina began babbling about how important it was to make the right connections early in life and Alyssa, Lizzie and Nina were chiding her about turning down the hottest man in the room when Paisley could not take it anymore.
She had tossed the glass of coke at the wall next to her. Black fizzy liquid ran down as Paisley let out an exasperated mixture of a scream and a sigh. She yelled that they were hateful animals and inconsiderate especially at this time of year. Then she retreated to her room.
A few hours later, Drew came up. She had been working like a dog all night and had escaped as soon as she could. Of course she had heard what went down after the fact.She didn’t know they were planning on setting up Paisley, she wouldn’t have allowed it. After a shower, Drew sat next to Paisley in bed. They had light banter over the tv show they were watching then Drew turned to Paisley in complete seriousness and told her she understood why she hated Christmas so much. After all, she had witnessed their father put the gun to his mouth too. Only she was older, and it was way more vivid. Christmas was rubbish for her as well and despite her pretence, it couldn’t have been that great for their mother either. Drew admitted she felt better just throwing herself into work which is why she was so happy to be chief cook and bottle washer every Christmas party.
Paisley started to cry, she was so caught up in her own misery she never considered anyone else’s feelings. A major part of this holiday was about family and love and she had rejected it most of her life. In the morning she would apologise because no matter how much she wanted to blame John and Rochelle because of their affair, and how much she resented the twin for being born, it was her father who had taken his own life on Christmas eve, not them. And she had spent a lot of energy on hating everyone around her because of it. Paisley knew it was time to change. Drew leaned in and hugged her younger sister. When she pulled away there was a darkened patch in Drew’s red “Campbell’s fine chicken fried steak” t- shirt, a souvenir from their road trip last summer. They giggled at the splotch for a moment rehashing a few memories from the trip then Paisley drifted into a deep dreamless sleep.
PART 3- CHRISTMAS MORNING
When Paisley awoke it was dark. Strange, she felt as if she had slept all night, the sun should at least be peeking through the blinds by now. She looked across the room and saw Drew’s bed was empty. She must have gotten an early start to make her world famous pancakes. Paisley slid on her slippers and headed out the door. She would speak with Drew first, tell her Merry Christmas and how much she loved her. Then she would apologise to her family for last night. After all, they were family and she knew ultimately she loved them in her own way.
Paisley was so deep in her thoughts she barely realised she had walked past Alyssa’s and Alex’ empty rooms. She also barely noticed that there was fog throughout the house. She was broken from her thoughts when she reached the bottom of the stairs. Outside was a dark overcast grey and the haziness in the rooms had thickened. She was also struck by how unnervingly quiet it was. Where the hell was her family?
She checked the kitchen certain Drew would be in there but it was as deserted as the dining room, family room and office had been. Surely they wouldn’t all have gone out and left her. Her mother in anger maybe but not her grandmother and definitely not Drew.
Paisley made her way into the entryway, where the oversized tree sat light twinkling away. Paisley noticed a few scraps of wrapping paper but other than that no presents. Strange, under the tree was brimming with gifts last night. Paisley began to genuinely wonder if she had slept through the entirety of Christmas day when she spotted a lone gift around the back of the tree. It had a massive tag on it that simply said “PAISLEY”. She grabbed the small red box and opened it. Inside lay piece of white card and written on it: “Merry Freaking Christmas” Okay weird, Paisley thought to herself.
She replaced the box cover and was about to bend down to put it back where she had found it. She was fast becoming convinced that one of her younger siblings or cousins had pranked her and this whole charade was to teach her some kind of a lesson when something shimmery caught her eye. It was a tree ornament that she didn’t remember seeing before. It was the weirdest ornament she had ever seen: it was a woman holding a frying pan as if about to flip what was in it…pancakes. Weirder still, the figure was dressed in a red shirt that said “Campbell’s fine chicken fried steak”. As Paisley leaned in closer she realised the figure had short wavy dark hair and fine features…it looked exactly like Drew.
Paisley racked her brain. She was certain she would have seen this ornament before and how did it get the clothing so precise? She lifted the “Drew” ornament off the tree and held it up turning it over in her hands. She caught her breath for a moment when she looked more closely at the face. It was contorted, as if screaming in horror.
Paisley dropped the ornament in surprise and it shattered. As it did so, an agonising scream rose up as if coming from the ornament itself. Paisley saw that snaking up from the shattered glass was a very thick smoke which twisted and turned as it slowly dissipated all the while Paisley looking on open mouthed. She was truly horrified when the smoke, almost completely gone briefly took on the form of Drew’s face.
Dumbfounded, Paisley returned her gaze to the tree, a million questions tumbling about her head. She looked back at where she had found the “Drew ornament” and saw just below it another figurine. This one was sitting, legs crossed in peppermint striped leggings and a red and white Santa hat on its head. Those were Alyssa’s leggings. Paisley grabbed the ornament inspecting it. She saw a figure resembling Alyssa , unwrapping a gift but looking upwards at something in surprise.
Paisley looked at the tree again and saw more figurine ornaments resembling her relatives. Realisation hit her like a train. These weren’t figurines of her relatives, these were her ACTUAL relatives! Paisley started grabbing all the figurine ornaments off the tree and delicately placing them on the carpet. There was still the shattered glass from Drew. Oh no, poor Drew Paisley thought, not Drew! Paisley sobbed, she didn’t even realise when she had started crying. What had she done! What had she done to her family! She exploded into fresh tears and then collapsed under her sobs.