It was Christmas again. George was spending Christmas Eve stringing up lights as he always did. In recent years he’s had the task of doing all the holiday decorating. He didn’t mind it though, finding the job quite relaxing. Though he was currently living in small quarters, he had managed to put up a small evergreen (plastic, much to his chagrin when it was first purchased, although he had to admit it was practical) covered with a mix of blue and red glass ornaments along with handmade ornaments, complete with a star on top. He had also set up the nativity scene, placed the wreath on the wall and hung up four stockings with care. The only thing left to do was the lights.
George loved Christmas. He loved it so much that when he came to terms with his “situation” (his word for it) he made every day Christmas. After twelve days of Christmas, the luster of it had started to fade. He realized that he had to work up to Christmas; five days before, five days after (he didn’t feel like celebrating New Year’s) to relax. He keep track of this on a new calendar he created. He did it because he could. After all, what is time to a man in a bunker?
The nuclear holocaust happened around five years ago, give or take a few months since George didn’t keep track of the days until sometime after the event. George remembered the date for more than the obvious reason: his wife left him that day. He can remember it all so clearly:
“You’re a loon George!” Cheryl yells at him, standing on the front lawn. Her arms were crossed, there was a suitcase by her feet.
“You throw around that word pretty loosely Cheryl!” George shouts back.
“What would you call a man who spends all his children’s college money on a fucking bunker? You’re nuts!”
“Hey, don’t call me nuts in front of the children!”
Susan and John were sitting in the back seat of his wife Honda, watching the scene unfold.
“You can’t take them Cheryl! I’ll fight for them. You better have a damn good lawyer! You can’t fucking take my kids from me!” George was crying now, Cheryl didn’t bat an eye.
“No judge in the world would give you John and Susan over me! Not after I told them what you been doing over the last two years. Quitting your job, building a bunker, covering up Susan’s bedroom wall with a spider web of conspiracy theories! You’re out of your mind! You need help!”
There was silence, George and Cheryl just looked at each other. After a moment, Cheryl picked up her suitcase and got in the car.
“Cheryl…” George whispered.
“Get some help. For the kids.” She turns her head to backseat. “Kids, say goodbye to your father.”
“Bye daddy, love you,” they said, there little voices so sweet.
George said nothing only watched as his whole life drove away, straight into a mushroom cloud.
It was sheer dumb luck that George decided to go into his bunker to sulk, the bunker that Cheryl tossed the Christmas decorations in to prove that it was a glorified basement.
George finished hanging the lights and stopped to admire his handiwork in the dim lighting of the battery operated flashlight. The Christmas lights were put up just as habit since there wasn’t any electricity to light the multi colored bulbs, but George enjoyed his habits.
After looking at his handiwork he moved to the other side of the bunker and pours himself some eggnog from the drum. When Cheryl first learned of his purchased she thought him insane. “Eggnog” she questioned, aghast. “You moron, don’t you know it’s going to spoil?” Well Cheryl is now a pile of ashes somewhere on the highway so guess who has the last laugh now?
George takes a cup of the powered eggnog and sits in his easy chair. He absorbs the scene before him, paying attention to the handmade ornaments and the stockings. An old familiar pain starts weigh down on his chest. He remember the last Christmas Eve he spent with his family.
“Daddy! Daddy!” His children shout, there little feet running downstairs. John and Susan were in their footie pajamas, large smiles on their faces.
“What are you kids doing out of bed?” George asked. “Don’t you know Santa won’t come until you go to sleep?” He smiles at them.
“But we’re not sleepy daddy.” said Susan, clutching her stuff rabbit in her small hands.
“Yeah, we wanna see Santa!” said John. “Daddy, will you read to us until he comes?”
George chuckled and ruffled his sons sandy blond hair. “I guess I could give it a try.”
Cheryl came out of the kitchen and handed him T’was the Night Before Christmas and a glass of Eggnog. She kissed George on the cheek. This was right before he quit his job at the nuclear plant she didn’t hate him yet.
George opened the book and began to read. He got half way through the book until he looked up and saw John and Susan curled up under the tree, fast asleep.
John would have been ten now, he was a great kid, full of life. He used to do flips on the monkey bars and George would panic that he would fall and hurt himself. Susan would have been twelve, on the cusp of the snarky teenage phase. When he first learned that he was going to have a daughter, he panicked about the teenage years, all the awkward and uncomfortable things he would have to endure. He had often wished he could just skip over that part. He is now careful of what he wishes for.
George was getting lost in memories until a thump sound coming from the roof broke his nostalgia. The noise startled him out of his thoughts but not enough to make him concerned. Then it continued: thump, thump, thump. At first George assumed it was more fallout but it was different this time, it was consistent, almost like knocking. George decided to ignore it, after all, he never was much of a social butterfly; a nuclear apocalypse wasn’t going to change that.
So George stuck to the same old Christmas Eve routine. He made his dinner of freeze dried food that he pretended was Christmas ham and sat back down again but the thumping continue; thump, thump, thump. George was getting annoyed. Grabbing his rifle and headlamp he climbed up the ladder to see what all the fuss was about it.
It’s been awhile since he’d been outside. He only took a peak at the outside world once before. There was nothing but darkness, his house completely demolished. George’s first thought when he saw the rumble was if his insurance would cover it. Then he realized that it was a silly thing to worry about and went back underground. He never checked for other survivors. Now he had time to get a better look. It was still very dark, he couldn’t tell if it was because it was nighttime or the fallout had clouded the sun. The destroyed remains of his former life was there in little stacks of brick, but there was something else; a makeshift shelter of cardboard was placed in the spot that used to be his master bathroom.
George stared at the odd housing until he heard a rustling sound.
“Oh shit!” he heard a voice say. It was the first time he had heard another human’s voice in half a decade. He didn’t understand what they was saying at first, it was just noises until he put meaning to each syllable. Now it was his turn to make noises.
“Who are you?” his words came out horse and strained, the sounds not matching up to how he wanted the other human to hear them. He tried to remember the last time he spoke, ten Christmas’s ago? Maybe? He couldn’t be sure. It’s not like it mattered anyway, the person was gone.
“Wait!” George called out, his voice coming out in a helpless strangle as he got fully out of the bunker and walked toward the direction that the human had ran. Well, tried to walk, he managed to take the first few steps before his legs got tangled up into each other and he fell hard onto the scorched Earth. George found that dirt didn’t taste as he remembered, that may because all the nuclear waste that was now in it, but George wasn’t a scientist, at least, not anymore.
“There’s a man over there!” he can now tell it was a women’s voice, no, not a woman’s, a girls voice yell out to someone. George managed to stand up and put his hands ups to show he meant no harm. He could see the figure of the girl in the distance, she was looking at him.
“I mean you no harm.” he told her, his tongue still not used to making normal sentences, but he had hoped that by him putting his rifle down that he meant peace.
The girl turned over her shoulder and yelled “Yeah, I have no idea what he’s saying Brian. Come down!”
At first he had thought that she was talking to him so he took a small step towards her but took a step back when he saw what was coming.
Nine dogs were charging toward him, each dog hooked to a harness that was attached to a large makeshift carriage. In the carriage was a small boy, holding the reins. It did not stop to pick up the girl; the girl simply jumped in when it passed her. George was frozen in place when the strange dog pack stopped in front of him.
It took a moment for George to gather his wits enough to speak. “John? Susan?” he asked them, his voice barely above a whisper. They looked so much like his children, at least, what he thought his children look like now. It was hard to tell with the dirt on their faces, but they were children. Maybe he was looking at a miracle.
The youths looked at the old man before turning to look at each other. “Who are John and Susan?” the boy asked.
George’s heart sink to the bottom of his chest. He knew it was a long shot, not even a possibility that his children would survive the bomb, but he had hoped anyway. He tried to wipe away the tears before the kids could see.
The girl took pity. “My name is Lucy, and this is my brother Brian.” she told him softly. “And these are our dogs. Well, not technically.”
“We found them so that makes them ours!” the boy argued.
George had yet to recover from his disappointment. “What are you doing out here?”
“It’s mischief night!” the boy said, a wicked grin on his face. “We’ve been going around causing trouble!”
“Well, it’s mostly just us throwing the rotten food at places,” Lucy corrected.
“Where are your parents?”
The kids were silence, not looking at him.
“I lost my family too,” George said.
There was silence before George asked a questioned: “Why are you celebrating mischief night?”
“We love the mischief night!” Lucy answered. “Well, we love all the holidays, so we just celebrate all of them. I mean, its not like time matters anymore. So we celebrate whenever we feel like one! We do Halloween, Thanksgiving, Arbor day…”
“Christmas?” George asked, excitement in his voice.
“Yeah!” Brian told him. “We haven’t done that in a while, but we do it.”
“I’m celebrating Christmas eve right now.” he told him. “I have a tree and a wreath and lights and spoiled eggnog. Please come in. I have food.” he added, the kids and the dogs looked like they could use a good meal, even if it was barely considered food.
Lucy and Brian looked at each other. “Well…Mom and Dad didn’t mention that the no going into strangers houses still applied during a nuclear war,” Lucy reasoned before turned to George “Sure. That sound great. Thank you Mr…”
“Kittridge. George Kittridge.”
So the three humans and the nine canines climbed into the bunker to have Christmas Eve. They ate dinner and George read the kids Twas the Night Before Christmas till they fell asleep, curled up under the tree. George was content, he wondered what else was out there in the new world. He would ask Lucy and Brian tomorrow. Maybe he would go out there with them, celebrate some of their holidays. He had his worries about all these new possibilities, but that would wait, for George Kittridge was experience is first merry Christmas in years.
Bio: Ellen Ricks is a freelance writer living in Upstate New York. She runs the fashion blog Sarcasm in Heels. She has a BFA in Creative Writing from SUNY Potsdam and has been published in a variety of online and print journals and has been a guest blogger for NEDA and a Features Writer for TravelPride.org. She was the 2nd place winner in the 2017 Poetry Matters Project Lit Prize for Poetry in their adult category, and was a finalist for the 2014 Norman Mailer Creative Writing Award for 2-year colleges (creative nonfiction). When not writing, Ellen enjoys consuming pumpkin spice everything, frolicking in fancy dresses and dismantling the patriarchy.
Published in: TravelPride.org NEDA Blog, Gods and Radical, Revolving Doors Lit Zine, Oak Lit Magazine, Potsdam People and North Country Literary Magazine.
fashion blog: sarcasminheels.blogspot.com
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