Friday, December 14, 2007
Free Fiction Friday: "Long Night, Holy Night"
Like "The Likeness of a Wolf," which I posted a few weeks ago, this is another story from the old Clockwork Storybook days, taking place in a suburb of San Cibola, and like that one this also features werewolves.
(I've got a few more werewolf stories littering the hard drive, which I may post one of these days. And if the stars align, I may end up writing my "gay werewolf roadtrip novel" eventually, which features the younger brother and grandfather from this story, and the boy's maternal uncle who appeared in yet another. All of them werewolves, naturally. But, to be pedantic about it, not all of them gay.)
Long Night, Holy Night
by Chris Roberson
“I don’t know, Ivy,” Allan Harvey said, running his fingers through his greasy shoulder length hair. “Maybe I should just stick around town this weekend. I’ve got a lot of stuff to catch up on and…”
“No,” Ivy said, with a little too much force. She modified her expression of panic mingled fear into playfulness, and punched the boy lightly on the shoulder. “With the museum closed for the holidays, and Bergier spending Hannukah with his work, you’ve got nothing to keep you in the city. What kind of girlfriend would I be if I left you home all by yourself?”
Allan screwed up his face, obviously trying out a few responses in his mind and rejecting them all. Finally, he managed a weak grin, and took Ivy’s hand in his.
“Alright, alright,” he said. “If you want me to go I’ll go. But you’re sure you don’t want me to look after the bookstore?”
Ivy sighed deeply, seeming to work through a few responses of her own, before pasting on a smile and merging left to exit at Fortuna.
“It’ll be fine,” she said, unconvincingly. “It’ll be fine.”
“Little lamb!” Ivy’s mother shouted from the doorway, beaming. She wiped her hands on her apron and hurried down the walk to the curb, her arms wide. “You’re home.”
“Yeah, mom,” Ivy said, failing to duck the impending embrace. “Thanks for stating the obvious.”
“Don’t be rude,” Ivy’s mother scolded, squeezing her daughter in a bear hug. “And in front of strangers, yet.”
“Allan’s not a stranger, mom,” Ivy moaned, uncontrollable lapsing into childhood patterns of response. “Gah,” she added, rolling her eyes.
“Well, he is to me, missy, until you introduce us,” her mother answered.
“I’m Allan,” Allan said nervously, extending his hand.
“Obviously,” Ivy said.
“I’m Ivy’s mother,” Ivy’s mother answered.
“Duh,” Ivy said.
“But you can call Rose,” Ivy’s mother added, taking Allan’s hand and yanking him into the circle of her embrace.
“Nice… nice to meet you, Rose,” Allan said awkwardly, his cheek smashed up against little sequined trees.
Ivy’s mother pushed Allan away from her, holding him by both elbows at arm’s length.
“Such a nice looking boy,” Ivy’s mother said to Ivy, over her shoulder. “And so polite.”
“Mo-om,” Ivy moaned, “you’re embarrassing him.”
“Pish,” Ivy’s mother spat. “That’s what mothers are for.”
With the deft maneuvering of years experience, Ivy’s mother spun around, linking one arm through the crook of Allan’s elbow, the other through the crook of Ivy’s.
“Come on, you two,” Ivy’s mother commanded, leading them up the walk. “Everyone is waiting.”
Ivy rolled her eyes again, while Allan began to look even more uncomfortable.
“Everyone” turned out to be Ivy’s brother Andy (“It’s Andrew, alright?”), Ivy’s father (“Call me Simon”), and Ivy’s grandfather (“Jakob Stump, pleased to make your acquaintance”). The Koestler family home was cozy and warm, arranged in just such a way to seem lived-in but still presentable. It was enough like the
“Come over here,” Ivy’s father said, draping a paternal arm over Allan’s shoulders and steering him towards the liquor cabinet in the den. “Let me fix you a drink.”
Allan had enough knee-jerk teenage reactionism left in him to find the idea of adults drinking somewhat disturbing, the idea of young people drinking exotic, and the idea of young people drinking while adults watched downright frightening.
“What’ll you have?” Ivy’s father asked, opening wide the doors of the liquor cabinet to reveal an elephants’ graveyard of half-full bottles of every spirit Allan had ever seen. “Scotch on the rocks? Gin and tonic? A screwdriver?”
“Um…” Allan began, licking his lips and wondering just how far he could take this.
“He doesn’t want anything to drink!” shouted Ivy’s mother from the far side of the room, where she was proudly displaying her latest bits of handicraft to her daughter. “He’s only nineteen.”
“Eighteen, actually,” Allan said awkwardly below his breath. “But come to think of it…”
“Mo-ther,” Ivy called, stepping away from the macramé and festive ornaments, “Allan can have a drink if he wants to. He’s an adult, you know.”
“Right, Rose,” Ivy’s father answered, slapping Allan on the back with a thud. “It’ll do the boy some good, put some hair on his chest.”
Allan looked nervously around the room, remembering where he was, and who he was with. He decided he had quite enough hair on his chest as it was.
“Um…” he began, scratching his neck, “I’ll just have a soda.”
Around the dinner table, before Ivy’s mother set out the first course, everyone held hands and listened as Ivy’s grandfather made the traditional remarks. Allan, despite his best efforts, was positioned between Ivy’s brother and Ivy’s father, and let his fingers lay limp in their grips, his palms sweating.
“The Creator made the Volkdlak in Its own images,” Ivy’s grandfather said, “and made for them the day and night to live in. Two forms, two worlds. The Volkdlak were the first men, the True Men, who lived in peace in the Forests of Paradise until the coming of the False Deceiver. The Deceiver was a twisted, mirror image of the Creator, frozen in a single form.”
“Amen,” Ivy’s father said absently.
“I’m hungry,” Ivy’s brother said.
“Andy!” Ivy’s mother scolded.
“I’m not finished, you know,” Ivy’s grandfather said. “If your minds aren’t too terribly rotten with television and filth, it might be nice if I were able to finish before the Long Night was over, yes? Or would that be too much trouble? Maybe I should just go live with your sister after all.”
“Pop,” Ivy’s mother said, “don’t be like that. Simon was just teasing. Weren’t you, Simon.”
“Sure, sure, of course I was,” Ivy’s father answered. “You take your time, Jakob.”
“Take my time?” Ivy’s grandfather snapped. “I’ll take my time.” He paused, closing his eyes and letting out a dramatic sigh. “Now, where was I?”
“Frozen in a single image?” Allan offered helpfully.
“Exactly,” Ivy’s grandfather answered triumphantly. “Nice to know that someone was listening.”
“Grandfather, I was…” Ivy began.
“Not you, dear heart,” Ivy’s grandfather soothed. “I knew you were. It’s the rest of this family…”
“Jakob?” Ivy’s father prompted. “Maybe we could…”
“Right, right,” Ivy’s grandfather said, then shushed him. “Keep your shirt on. Now, ‘Frozen in a single image’. Right. Out of jealous rage, the Deceiver created the False Men and Animals. They were like the Deceiver, frozen in a single form. With the help of the Deceiver, the False Men drove the Volkdlak out of the Forests, and hounded them to the ends of the earth. Even now, generations later, the true children of the Creator are made to cower, hiding, for fear of the False Men.”
“Am…” Ivy’s father began.
“Simon!” Ivy’s mother hissed.
“Sorry,” Ivy’s father answered.
“Now,” Ivy’s grandfather continued, unabated, “each year, on the longest night of the year, the true children of the Creator gather together, to celebrate their varied forms and to remember the many gifts of the Creator to them. On this Long Night, we Volkdlak remember our heritage, remember where we have been, and look forward to where we are going. Look forward to the day when the Creator will finally defeat the False Deceiver, and the Volkdlak can return to the Forests of Paradise.”
Ivy’s grandfather paused, and dropping his granddaughter’s hand lifted up his wine glass.
“Next year in the Forests of Paradise,” he said, his voice cracking.
Ivy’s mother set the trays piled with blood red meat along the middle of the table, and lay a plate of pasta in front of Allan.
“I went ahead and made this up for you, dear,” Ivy’s mother said. “Ivy didn’t say, but I figured you wouldn’t want to eat with the rest of us.”
“Thank you, Mrs. Koestler,” Allan answered.
“Rose,” Ivy’s mother gently scolded. “Call me Rose.”
“Mom, is there any more of that?” Ivy asked.
“Well, no, but I could always make another batch,” Ivy’s mother answered. “Allan, don’t you think that’ll be enough?”
“No, mom,” Ivy said, “I meant for me.”
“Well…” Ivy’s mother said, flustered.
“What?” Ivy’s grandfather shouted. “And not eat the flesh?”
“I’m a vegetarian, thank you,” Ivy announced to the table in general, not meeting her grandfather’s eye.
“A vegetarian?” Ivy’s father said, bemused.
“Do you see?” Ivy’s grandfather ranted. “Like I’ve always said. You raise them outside the faith, you see what happens?”
“It’s not like that, grandfather,” Ivy said. “It just seems… wrong… to eat animals if we don’t have to.”
“Oh, wrong is it?” Ivy’s grandfather wheezed, waving Ivy’s father silent with frantic gestures. “Less than a year out in the world, and the traditions of your family for generations are wrong all of the sudden.” He turned to Ivy’s parents. “See, like I’ve said.”
“No, grandfather,” Ivy said. “The traditions aren’t wrong. Not really, anyway.”
“Not really?” Ivy’s grandfather aped. “Not really? So why don’t you explain to me how not really the Deceiver betrayed the Creator. Or is that wrong, too?”
“Not wrong,” Ivy answered. “But not true… That is, I don’t think it’s literal truth. But it has some basis in fact. I’ve been doing a lot of reading this year, and I think that the stories are really just an allegorical representation of evolution. See, we evolved first, and then the other species... man, included... started as evolutionary offshoots from us. “Twisted mirror images,” you see. Anyway, all of these offshoots eventually forced the Volkdlak to near extinction, somehow beating them out of food resources and such. Now, millions of years later, we’ve still got a pretty precarious place in the ecosystem.” She stopped to take a breath, and looked around the table to take in the blank stares directed her way. “That’s what I think, anyway,” she added.
“Sure,” Allan said, trying for helpful. “That makes sense.”
“Makes sense?” Ivy’s grandfather answered, fuming. “What do you know about it?”
“Um,” Allan stammered. “Not much, I guess. I was raised Methodist.”
“Isn’t that nice?” Ivy’s mother said, valiantly trying to steer the conversation away. “So? Who wants haunches?”
“Me, me,” Ivy’s brother said, bouncing up and down on his seat. “I do, I do.”
Later, around the seasonal tree (Allan had made the mistake of complementing the family on their Christmas tree, and only quick thinking on the part of Ivy’s mother saved Ivy’s grandfather from having to give another lecture), the family opened their gifts and sang traditional songs. While Ivy’s grandfather preferred to sing in the original tongue, the rest of the family insisted on the translated versions, which did little to put Allan at his ease, especially when the chorus about breaking bones and sucking out the marrow came around for the final refrain. Allan made a conscious effort not to notice the blood stains Ivy’s grandfather had let dribble down the front of his vest during dinner.
When the last song was sung, and the last present opened (a tasteful sweater Ivy’s mother had picked out for Allan, which didn’t really suit him, or even fit, but everyone agreed that it was the thought which counted), Ivy’s grandfather rose to his feet on creaking knees and raised his hands high over his head.
“Now, midway through the Long Night,” he intoned, “comes the time when we celebrate our diversity of forms, the truest sign of the Creator’s love.”
Ivy’s grandfather paused, and cast a charitable glance at Allan.
“Er… if you want,” Ivy’s grandfather said, “there’s a t.v. in the family room. They’ve got cable in here, you know.”
Allan looked to Ivy, who took his hand in hers and smiled.
“Well,” Allan said, “if you’d prefer…”
“It doesn’t bother us if it doesn’t bother you,” Ivy’s father said.
“Whatever makes you more comfortable,” Ivy’s mother said. “You can use the phone in there to call your parents if you like.”
“It’s up to you,” Ivy said in a low voice. “Whatever you want is fine with me.”
Allan looked from face to face, his eyes widened more than he’d have liked, and managed a smile.
“My folks aren’t in town,” Allan said with a sigh. They never were, he thought, had always preferred skiing with friends to spending the holidays at home. “But I’m here, and if you’ll have me, I’d be glad to stay in here with you folks.” He paused, and then added, “More than glad. Honored.”
“Such a nice boy,” Ivy’s mother beamed, wiping at her eyes.
Ivy gave Allan’s hand a squeeze. She leaned in close, and kissed him lightly on the cheek.
“Thanks,” Ivy said hardly above a whisper.
“Okay, then,” Ivy’s grandfather said, and clapped his hands. “Our blood run deeper than time, the ties of family stronger than any bond…” he began, and continued as long as he was able.
When it became necessary, when her nails grew to claws and cut into his palm, Allan let go of Ivy’s hand. But he petted her coat when he was able, and when the family (now a pack? Allan wondered) raised their howls in song, Allan broke into a wide, open smile. Above the din of the wolves’ song, Allan threw back his head and laughed.
“God bless us,” he said, holding out the palm of one hand for Ivy’s brother to lick and running the fingers of the other along Ivy’s father’s glossy pelt, Ivy curled up into a tight ball at his feet, her long tongue lolling contentedly. “Every one.”