Black Christmas

by Colin Alexander

“It’s not right,” said Dad, mashed potatoes pink in his mouth from the equal serving of red wine.

The crystal rang as he plonked his glass down on the table, wine sloshing onto the black tablecloth. David busied himself lighting the candles surrounding the centerpiece of poinsettias, which Charles’s mother had loved. He’d cooked all of Charles’s favorites, which remained untouched on Charles’s plate.

“Your lifestyle. Changing your name. It’s not right,” Dad continued. “Haven’t been right since you were a kid.”

Charles sighed.

“Dad,” he said. “You promised to be civil. To talk about good things. The future.”

“I’m the only one here who remembers the past,” said Dad. “Respects it.”

Charles shook his head. Mom had always calmed Dad down, kept him respectful, kept him tethered. But now she was gone, and this was his third glass of wine.

Dad reached out and began pouring himself a fourth, his reindeer tie askew.

“You’ve had enough,” said Charles.

“Aren’t you a little young to be ordering me about?” asked Dad, smoothing back what little white hair still clung to his scalp.

David reached out to take the bottle, but Charles waved him off. Let the old man have his wine.

“More peas?” asked David.

“I remember putting bags of peas on Charles’ black eyes. Town could smell it on him then, even if I couldn’t.”

“No peas, then,” said David, picking up his own glass and draining it.

“Everything changed when you found that damned book.”

“That book saved me,” said Charles. “Saved all of us.” He spread his hands wide to the assembled guests, who had been awkwardly awaiting the main course, avoiding eye contact.

“Didn’t come down from your room for a week. All the candles in the house disappeared. Then the neighborhood cats went missing.”

“Not this again,” said Charles.

“Might be my last Christmas,” said Dad. “I’ve earned the right.”

Charles’ expression didn’t change, but the knuckles on his right hand, holding the serving fork, went white. David put a light hand on his shoulder, and Charles released the silverware.

“I found the star in the driveway when I left early for work, in the center of a circle.”

Charles rubbed his temple.

“It was a pentagram,” said Charles under his breath.

“Who’s telling this story?” asked Dad, shoving down another mouthful of mashed potatoes. Charles turned back to his own meal, largely untouched.

“I told you then it wasn’t right. Told you to cut your hair, wash off the makeup, get rid of that damned book.”

David hadn’t noticed the muscles tightening in Charles’s shoulders, so he was just as startled as the rest of the guests when Charles’s hands struck the table, shaking the glasses and the silverware.

“What do you think paid for the roof over your head?” asked Charles, gesticulating upwards with the serving fork.

Dad shook his head, lower lip quivering.

“What do you think put food on this table?” asked Charles, pointing towards the porcelain terrine of mashed potatoes.

“Charles…” said David.

“I’m not finished!” said Charles, shaking off David’s hand.

“What about the wine in your glass?” asked Charles. “How do you think it got there?”

“Evil,” said Dad, raising his glass. He tried to raise his left hand too for emphasis, forgetting it was chained to the arm of the chair.

“Your mother was ashamed,” said Dad, staring at the angry red bruise encircling his wrist.

“She gave birth to a new age,” said David.

“I can defend myself,” said Charles.

“You’ve got them fooled now,” said Dad, “but eventually they’ll see through you and come with pitchforks.”

“I’ve taken care of that,” said Charles. “You can’t just call yourself Charles Mason III,” said Dad. “I was the first, you were the second. They’ll see you haven’t aged.”

Charles looked at himself in the gilded mirror opposite the head of the table, behind his father’s head. There wasn’t a crease on his pale skin; he didn’t look a day over twenty-two.

“The pact paid for the house. It puts food on the table. It’s what keeps me from aging, and it’s what will allow us to shape the future.”

“Fire,” said Dad. “Fire has no shape.”

“Can’t you just support me?” asked Charles. “Isn’t that what fathers do for sons?”

“You can’t just change your name,” said Dad. “I was the first. You were the second. Your son is the third, even if you refuse to allow him at your table.”

Charles was silent for a moment, then the corners of his mouth drew upwards. There were no lines in his reflection when he smiled, no crinkles along the translucent skin under his eyelids or creases at the edges of his mouth. Just a curve of red lips, and the shine of bleached-bone.

“I’ve taken care of that,” repeated Charles. “Today the pact gave me youth, a new name, and this meal—all for the same price. And technically, my son is at the table.”

Charles looked down at his largely untouched plate and cut off a long strip of fatty meat, raising it to his lips with the serving fork. If he hadn’t been the farmer and the butcher, he could almost convince himself it was a simple, nameless turkey. But turkeys didn’t live eighteen years, and this wasn’t white meat. He opened wide, giving the creature inside him enough room to extend its black tentacles, drawing the meat back to its serrated mandibles.

Dad dropped his wine glass, sending shards of crystal across the black tile and a spray of red wine.

The creature tore apart the tender meat, releasing a high-pitched chitter of pleasure which rebounded off the high ceilings and was echoed by the assembled guests as their own tentacles reached out towards Dad, rending and tearing their part of the offering.

Through a writhing mouth, Charles blurted out:

“We’ll miss you next year, Dad!”

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