Jeff Parsons has presented us with two versions of the same story. Today is the NICE version. Don’t forget to check back tomorrow for the NAUGHTY version.
The List: Nice
A Short Story by Jeff Parsons
“The end is near,” Alec’s grandmother cackled behind him. She was the only one of his family members he couldn’t see in the living room.
“It’s only a storm,” his Dad droned, sitting next to his mother to the right on the old large print flowered couch.
For no certain reason, an awkward silence followed.
Alec’s brother Brett and sister Diane sat on another couch to the left – they were two and three years older than him, eyes vacuous and bored as hell.
Suddenly, the fireplace popped with a firecracker sounding snap of rising sparks. A quick, cold draft in the flue sucked up the air in the chimney as if the outside air couldn’t abide its surprising burst of warmth, seeking to overwhelm it.
Alec didn’t look up. He lay on his belly on the carpeted floor, facing the television between the decorated Christmas tree and the fireplace. One more section of red to fill in, Alec thought, delighted. There! His coloring book page had a fully colored Santa Claus standing near an evergreen tree full of multi-colored ornaments. Just like their real tree.
His mother a-hemmed and said, “See, mother, the banner on the TV says there’s a winter storm warning in effect.”
Alec looked at the television. There was a red banded strip on the bottom of the screen. Words scrolled, too fast and complicated for his four-year-old mind to grasp. Above that, Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer was talking with a small group of sad toys. They weren’t loved anymore. Even though they were just toys, Alec could relate completely. He used to be the center of his parent’s love. No longer. Slowly but surely, everything had changed.
“It’s fimbulvinter,” Grandma grumbled with a toothless Nordic accent often difficult to understand.
Alec giggled. “What’s fingle fingers?”
Grandma’s chair creaked as she said, “The beginning of Ragnarök. The end of the world as we know it.”
“That’s blasphemy,” his Mom retorted, on the verge of going into a Pentecostal tizzy.
“Shaddap about the religion, already,” Dad said. He took a long a long swig of canned beer. Third can so far this evening.
“You two don’t believe in anything,” Grandma retorted.
Mom tsked at Grandma. “Mother, don’t be vulgar.”
“Why not say the truth? Your choices got you where you are today. With him.” The old woman’s voice dripped acidic contempt. She didn’t like Dad. She always said Mom got married to a poor loser because she got knocked up. Whatever that is, he thought.
Dad went scary quiet, then said, “I provide for her. What has all your wealth done for you? All gambled away by your dead cheating husband. Now you live here by my leave. Guess you don’t really have anything worthwhile to say after all…”
More silence. Stronger this time. Heavier.
Alec didn’t dare look at Grandma. Instead, he watched Santa carrying gifts on the television. Why can’t I have Santa for a Dad? he wondered, feeling guilty about the random thought.
Grandma began to sob.
“Now look what you’ve done,” Mom griped at Dad, angry and exasperated.
“Don’t worry about me.” Grandma stopped crying abruptly. “People get what they deserve. What goes around comes around.”
Brett and Diane were quiet, indifferent, entranced within their own insulated cell phone worlds. Tap-tap tap-tap.
A question rose in Alec’s young mind. He had to know. The gifts, bow-topped and brightly wrapped, stowed beneath the tinsel, ornament, and blinking light festooned spruce pine tree. “When can we open presents?”
Mother sipped from her wineglass, then said, “On Christmas eve. Not before.”
“Is that when Santa comes?” he asked, confused.
“Santa comes the night after. When you’re asleep.”
Huh? His eyebrows knitted together.
“I’d better get what I want,” Diane warned, fingernail daggers stabbing at her cell phone.
The wind rattled the frost-feathered window panes. The storm was getting worse.
Alec’s lips pursed together. His knees were bent in the air, ankles interlocked, slowly rocking back and forth. He realized his coloring book picture was missing something. Santa needed to be delivering something, not just posing by the tree. He began to add gifts, sloppily drawing square bow-wrapped boxes, beneath his tree. In the boxes: for Mom and Dad, a divorce, they always talked about it and said they wanted one, whatever that was; for Diane, a boob job, which caused him to shiver because girls, and especially his sister, were weird; for Brett, a full mustache, huge, long, and curly, to replace the dirt-lip he constantly touched; for Grandma, he wasn’t sure, perhaps like she once said, “peace and quiet”, or maybe what his parents thought she wanted, “to have her way”; for himself, he began to imagine…
“Can we change the channel?” Brett whined. “Claymation cartoons are so lame. He’s not even watching it.”
“Am too watching!” Alec cried, making a point of looking back at the television. He’d been listening, not watching. A song was playing. He liked the words and music, but preferred action.
Mom responded, “Let him watch his show, Brett. You’re busy with your cell phone anyway.”
“Worlds gone to hell,” Grandma grumbled. “No respect for life or common decency whatsoever.”
Dad frowned, shook his head slightly, then took a long gulp of beer. Finishing it off, he placed the empty next to the other ones on the nightstand and cracked open another fresh one.
The Santa and Rudolph show blipped off the television screen. Replacing it was a serious looking man in a suit and tie sitting behind a desk. He looked up from a sheet of paper and said, “We interrupt this broadcast for a special news report,” and so on.
“Make it come back! I want my show!” Alec protested.
His Dad answered, “We can’t. It’s a news cast.”
“That’s not fair,” Alec huffed.
“Get used to life, farty pants,” Diane sneered, then went back to her phone world.
Alec stuck his tongue out at her, to no avail, she wasn’t even watching him. He went back to looking at the television.
The newscaster was saying that people were disappearing throughout the country and more of the blahblahblah.
Alec took his red crayon and gripping it in a tight fist, colored Santa’s face hard and fast with red fire, not even staying in the lines, almost tearing into the page. Looking away from his frustrated coloring, he noticed that the newscaster had stopped babbling and a video feed was playing on the television screen.
Everyone watched the footage in naked fear and silence. Maybe even Grandma, too.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” the newscaster said with great difficulty, “I’m not sure what we’re seeing here…”
Alec saw a snowbound city street, with glaring streetlights, being faded out by an approaching dark cloud, like a hazy vortex of ice and snow. There were things coming from the darkness, grabbing people who were running for their lives…and the things, large as an old truck, were ugly with long arms…they were hurting people…killing them. He watched, fascinated with what was happening and, more so, with how people died in such interesting ways.
“Ragnarök. Told you so,” Grandma said with a hint of smug satisfaction.
His Mom had had enough. She said, “Mother, knock it off with that crap! Alec, no more watching this. Go to your room. Now!”
“Diane and Brett get to watch. Why can’t I?” he asked.
His mother pointed to the hallway stairs. “Go! NOW!”
They always treat me like I’m a baby! He threw down his crayon and took his time getting up off the floor, walking to the hallway, and stomping up the stairs to his room.
He threw himself onto his bed and looked out the nearby tall window into the thick snowstorm. Nose pushed to the chilly window pane, his eyes adjusted to the dark; he could barely see the furthest edge of the roof clearly, about as far away as he could throw a rock. He thought he saw movement within the shadowy darkness beyond.
A blaring screech erupted from the television downstairs. Then words: “This is the emergency broadcast system. A nationwide curfew is in effect. Combatants of an unknown origin are attacking citizens throughout the country. Remain calm. Stay in your homes. The military has been activated and is responding to this threat.”
What are com-bats? Really big bats?
Alec blinked in surprise when a flying shadow landed with a thump before his window. His throat constricted. He couldn’t cry out, let alone move. He froze in place.
The nearby darkness receded. A young boy looked back at him. Not much taller than Alec, the boy was dressed like a scantily-clad person from a Renaissance Fair, in brown clothe pieces crudely sewn together, but far dirtier. There was nothing fancy about this boy. He had light-brown, longish mousy-brown hair. His ears pointy at the top, with a button-sized nub of a nose and large almond shaped eyes with deep black irises. Unblinking, they saw everything within their vast, unblinking depths.
Then, the whole house shook. Alec almost peed his pants as he gasped.
His family screamed as a cacophony of wood and glass splintered and shattered below.
The faerie-boy cocked his head to one side as he watched Alec, then gestured for him to come outside into the deadly freezing cold.
“NO!” Alec yelled.
He heard the front door crash in downstairs. Heavy, thunderous footsteps plodded into the house.
“What do you want!?!” Alec shakily demanded at the top of his little boy voice. He had never been so frightened.
The faerie crooned, “Come with us.”
The screams below became mindless raw shrieks.
“You’re going to kill them! Why?” Alec asked.
The faerie shrugged. “They’re not worthy.”
“Please don’t. Please don’t kill them!”
“It’s inevitable. They made their choices. It can’t change. If you stay, you’ll die.”
A tear forming, Alec thought about his family and his options.
“Okay, I’ll go with you, but only if-” he hesitated, voice trembling.
The faerie’s right eyebrow lifted slightly.
“Only if I get to see Santa.”
“Of course,” the elf laughed, “you made the list.”
Jeff is a professional engineer enjoying life in sunny California, USA. He has a long history of technical writing, which oddly enough, often reads like pure fiction. He was inspired to write by two wonderful teachers: William Forstchen and Gary Braver. In addition to his two books, The Captivating Flames of Madness and Algorithm of Nightmares, he is published in SNM Horror Magazine, Bonded by Blood IV/ V, The Horror Zine, Dark Gothic Resurrected Magazine, Chilling Ghost Short Stories, Dystopia Utopia Short Stories, Wax & Wane: A Coven of Witch Tales, Thinking Through Our Fingers, The Moving Finger Writes, Golden Prose & Poetry, Our Dance With Words, The Voices Within, Fireburst: The Inner Circle Writers’ Group, Second Flash Fiction Anthology 2018, and Year’s Best Hardcore Horror Volume 4. For more details, visit his Facebook Author Page.