The Holiday Spirit (Short fiction)

This is a short piece I wrote for a friendly holiday contest one of the guys at the Cracked forums are running. The prize: bragging rights. I thought I’d go for a little twist on the traditional seasonal story. It’s actually my first totally finished story in about three years, so I hope you’ll enjoy it. Merry Christmas and all that.

Leonard grumbled as he gathered the holiday decorations. He wasn’t going to half-ass it this year, no way. He was going to show Mallory that he still had some spirit left.

She had turned into a real bitch since she found that new man. Suddenly, nothing Leonard did was good enough for her or the kids. So what if he didn’t have the tree decorated? The kids weren’t coming for the tree, they were coming to see him, right?

“I just want the kids to celebrate the holidays somewhere that’s a little more… festive,” she had said.

Festive. Fuck festive, Leonard thought.

“What happened to all those old decorations you used to put up every year? You had boxes and boxes of things.”

“Those were yours. I put them up because you made me put them up.”

“Well, I left them in the attic. Why don’t you spruce the place up? Come on, it’ll make you feel better and the kids would love it.”

It was true, Leonard did need something to make him feel better. He’d been a wreck since she left, and just when he had started to come to terms with it, “the asshole” had showed up.

Leonard didn’t even know the guy’s name. He was just “the asshole.” Well, that wasn’t technically true. He did know that the guy had a name, Leonard just made it a point not to remember what it was every time he heard it.

Mallory didn’t tell him she was seeing someone, not at first. He’d call to ask if he could have the kids for the weekend and he’d hear someone talking in the background.

“It’s the TV,” she’d say.

Bullshit. Leonard knew better. She’d replaced him that quickly? That easily? It seemed so. He’d never met the guy, never wanted to. He thought, one time, that he’d even heard Julia calling him “dad” in the background.

That son of a bitch. Thinks those are his kids. They know who their father is. If they want to see their dad festive, then that’s what they’ll get.

He pulled a long, red rope out of the box. It was tangled in a few places. He sighed and began trying to untie the shit.

He hauled himself to the top of the ladder, stapling a few places, then climbing all the way back down and scooting the whole operation a yard to the left. What a bunch of tedious crap.

Leonard had tried to date around, but hadn’t had any luck. He’d met a girl who worked in the office next door. She was beautiful, leggy, just the kind of woman he liked. He met her when she was filling up a water bottle at the fountains by the bathroom.

“It’s so much cheaper just to fill these up and put powder in them than buying stuff out of the machine,” she said.

Leonard had grunted agreement. He had to cut corners anywhere he could, since Mallory’s income had just barely put them past the tipping point. Now he had to spend most of his checks on the mortgage. He wanted to sell the shit heap, but he kept waiting to see if the property value would ever go back up.

The woman finished filling up her bottle, snapping Leonard out of his thoughts. She held out a hand. “I’m Rebecca. Becky.”

They met like that a few more times, and finally, Leonard got her number. He called her a few times, went out to see her, things like that. He didn’t think it would work out, though. She thought he was “too intense” or something.

Finally, he had the damned trim put up around the gutter. He looked around for his box of ornaments.

Left it inside, you big moron, he thought. He went back in, passing into the kitchen and opening the cupboard door.

Becky’s skinned body lay crumpled in the corner. Luckily, he’d managed to pull things together with her at the last moment, just in time for the holidays. He’d called her up and breathed heavily into the phone, like he always did.

“Leonard? Is that you? I told you to stop calling me. I’m calling the police. This is the last time.”

After that, he knew she’d be too scared to stay home, so he caught her when she walked by the alley. He stuffed her into his van and took her home.

Now Mallory could see just how festive he was. He had strung Becky’s guts all along the house, dripping and criss-crossed with blue veins. He put lights inside them to give them a nice orange-red glow.

He had tenderly removed her organs and pickled them for a week. Now they were ready to be hung from the big evergreen outside. Her skin made up the tree skirt.

It’s gonna be a hell of a holiday.

Leonard heard a car pulling into the driveway. Mallory’s. She was early. Wait until she got a good look at what he’d been doing.

She turned off the car, too busy talking to the kids to notice what he’d done. She opened the door and stepped out. Oh good, Leonard thought. She didn’t bring “the asshole.”

As she turned from the car, her jaw dropped and her eyes got wide. She stared at the house, then her eyes went to the tree, and finally, to Leonard.

“Oh Leonard… Oh… my… Leonard.”

He grinned his best grin.

“It’s beautiful! Fresh decorations?!”

The kids piled out of the car, Julia and Mark rushing to the gutters to play in the blood that dripped down, Sammy and Thomas going for the tree to get a good whif of the formaldehyde coming off the ornaments.

“I didn’t know you’d be here so early, I’m really sorry. Dinner’s in the cupboard. I haven’t even carved her yet.”

“It’s okay,” Mallory said. “God, Leonard. I didn’t know you still had this much holiday spirit in you. I really didn’t.”