Discover more from The Sprawl: Speculative Fiction
Good Cheer Forever
Hi folks, just a goofy Christmas-themed short this week. Happy Holidays and hope you all have a safe and great New Years.
When the separatists went rogue and doubled down on Christmas, the Little League wouldn’t stop playing.
I stood at my kitchen window and caught glimpses of the field through the trees that lined the edge of my back yard. In the suburbs, trees were less natural occurrence, and more demarcation. The kids were out there all day and all night, throwing, running, sliding, hitting. The coaches brought them meals on tiny trays, and they ate huddled in small groups scattered around the diamond. The dugout became their home, and the sounds of rifle fire and low-flying drones couldn’t stop batting practice.
One afternoon, the separatists dropped bright blue ornaments onto the field. Fake snow and tinsel exploded outwards, covering everyone. Their clothes turned green; their ears swept back into long, sharp points; their tiny voices chirped about toys.
I went out there, a few days later. The tinsel still covered the grass. Dew reflected off the strands in bright glitters. I could still smell gingerbread and pine in the air, but all the children were gone, and the coaches had been rounded up by then.
I wondered about the noise in the distance, the groaning, thumping, chest-curdling bass that rattled in the night, and the rumors about workshops churning out necessities: bread, milk, cheese. I wondered about those kids, and those coaches, but went back home, careful not to track any tinsel with me.
Their tanks were bright green and red with twinkling white lights wrapped around the bodies. Mel stood in the front doorway and watched them roll down the street. “It’s propaganda,” she said.
“All of it.” She gestured. “They’re starting a war.”
“They just want year-round Christmas.” I didn’t know why I defended them. Life was harder with the constant ornament bombings.
She looked over her shoulder, big brown eyes sad and angry, and shook her head. “You’ll see. It’s propaganda.”
Maybe she was right. That night, the tanks kept coming, long lines of them wrapped in festive garb like so many sleighs. They crawled along until I heard the heightened percussive report of cannon fire, and I knew they were attacking the government depot a few blocks away. I sat in the living room and played Christmas music to try and drown it out, even if that was dangerous these days. Christmas was subversive. I just wanted to feel festive.
In line at the grocery store, a man smashed another man in the chest with a frozen ham. A woman howled about reindeer. Most folks gathered whatever non-Christmas food was left, studiously ignoring tree-shaped sweets and candy canes, and tried to get out of there without too much hassle. In the parking lot, the separatists handed out their literature: Christmas today, Christmas tomorrow, Christmas forever. I was a tempting offer. I declined a pamphlet.
Mel wanted to move up north. “Christmas isn’t such a big deal there. They have a tree, and some lights, but nobody’s trying to the turn the population into mindless elf slaves.”
“That’s an exaggeration.”
“You saw it happen. You saw them take the Little League.”
“I don’t know what I saw.” I turned away from her and made myself a plate of cookies and poured myself a tall glass of milk. “And besides, it’s not like those kids are dead. They’re just— changed.”
She stared at me and shook her head before leaving the room. A difference of political opinion, was all. We’d be fine. I was positive.
The separatists released films on all the major channels: How the Deep State Stole Christmas was my favorite. I sat back in my recliner and flipped through the channels. Reindeer running through a clear blue sky, their sleigh bells jingling. Presents stacked miles high under enormous redwood trees. Cheerful boys and girls with their pointy ears icing Christmas cakes in an enormous factory somewhere in the Midwest.
The planes flew lower than usual three days later. I heard from a neighbor that the separatists bombed the government position along the river. I hadn’t heard any explosions or gunfire, I told my neighbor. There was only Christmas music in my house these days, merry and jolly and joyful. My neighbor gave me an odd look and want back inside. There were no wreaths on his door, which I thought was strange.
News came fast in those days: separatists overran government defenses in New Mexico. It was going to be a white Christmas in Milwaukee, indefinitely. Santa Claus had come to town in Pensacola. The world looked jollier by the day as more cities fell all around us.
“You have to turn that off,” Mel said one night as I reclined in front of an open fire while Mariah Carey sang her Christmas best.
“The music?” I frowned at her. “It’s just music.”
“You know what that stuff means now.” She knelt down next to me, eyes pleading. “This wasn’t supposed to happen.”
“It’ll be okay. Once the deep state is gone—“
“There is no deep state.” Her voice turned icy. I wondered if she’d been watching too much Frosty the Snowman. “Listen to yourself. The world’s going insane and all you can do is buy into this crap. We need to get the hell out of here before things get worse.”
“I don’t see it that way.” I stretched my legs and yawned. “And besides, without the Little League playing all day, it’s quiet around here again.”
She stood and moved a few feet away, staring down at me like I was the monster. “I’m leaving tomorrow. If you want to come with me, you can. But I’m going.”
“Don’t be dramatic. Relax. It’s Christmas.”
“It’s July.” She went upstairs.
I showed my ration card to the little elf. He beamed up at me and tapped at his nose. “Merry Christmas, brother.”
He moved on to the old man behind me. Drones hovered overhead, formed and reformed Christmas shapes: a drummer boy, a star, a wreath, Santa’s laughing face. The lightshow kept me occupied as the line moved forward, bit by bit, until I reached the elves manning the food.
I recognized the boy on the right. He played in the Little League, back when that was still going. I smiled a little; I barely remembered that time. It was months ago, before Mel left. He thrust a loaf of bread into my arms.
“Merry Christmas,” he said, avoiding eye contact.
Before, there had been no Christmas. Now, there was only good cheer. I took the rest of my rations, a bit of butter, half a cupcake, a jug of potable water, and carried it back to my home. The lights on my porch twinkled. The wreaths on my door and windows were dirty and brown, dead from months of exposure and weather. I should’ve taken them down and replaced them with something new, but the wreath market was absurd and I couldn’t afford it.
I sat down in front of an open fire and stretched out my legs. I turned on my stereo and used a bit more of my electricity ration to put on Mariah Carey. That meant the lights might go out later tonight—but it was totally worth it.
‘Tis the season, after all.