Down the street comes a trio of carolers, hymns swirling with snow. They leave each twinkling house and tip-toe up the next set of steps to wait. One song. Two songs. However long it takes. The door opens and out wafts the tang of chestnuts and rude bursts of log fire. Apologizing, the carolers push into the foyer where they stomp away slush. None remove their gloves. Eyelashes glitter with white as they smile at the daughter.
A caroler waggles her thermos at the girl. Go get some mugs, hon.
Her parents laugh nervously and protest, but the carolers say, No, no we insist.
Could there be a safer night to accept the generosity of strangers? Polite, the family take the mugs and sip eggnog spiced with cardamom and something more difficult to place. In divine sopranos and one transcendent tenor, the carolers’ mouthparts pull back and the trio begins to sing.
The eggnog is blissful; the music, serene. The family teeters on their heels. Won’t you come into the living room?
The carolers each take a hand. Well, yes, it has been a long journey, but one more song won’t hurt. They lead the family to the couch. Gloves gripping gloves, the carolers stand while the family sits in matching ugly sweaters, listening. Drinking.
Heads nod. Droop. Empty mugs tumble between the cushions. The logs are minor, popping volcanoes when the carolers refresh the chorus of We Three Kings, their favorite. Discreetly, they scratch the chapped scales under their gloves.
Lulled by the gravity of their bodies, the parents stretch out on the floor. The husband’s sweater rides up and the hair on his stomach mashes into the carpet. The wife slips off her heels, no longer self-conscious about the rich funk that leaks from the sweaty soles of her stockings. The daughter, meanwhile, sinks down and, even though she is not a baby, she crawls, making it as far as the Christmas tree where she grasps a green and silver box with her name on the tag.
In the warm room, the carolers’ eyelashes are still caked with white. They blink and clumps of roe drip to the floor. For a moment, nothing stirs. Melting, the eggs sacs glisten, and under the Christmas lights, the larvae shine blue and orange, pink and gold. Then, between pine needles and runaway tinsel, feelers rise from the carpet. They sense the heartbeats of larger bodies. With a hungry whine, their tiny jaws inch closer, closer towards a stomach, a leg, a small fist.
The carolers watch, proud, their cheeks ruddy with the success of the births. Satisfied, but quashing a sniffle or two, they shut the door behind them. As they select a hymn and tramp towards the next house, their eyebuds already trickle new yolk-jelly that crystallizes in the cold.
Hovering above, other eyes watch. Human. Venison. Boots and hooves test-tap the roof to make sure that none will fall through. The boot-wearer, a man roly-poly in red, squeezes down the chimney, and with a grunt and black puff of dust, he hops over the flames. From his sack, he extracts a bottle and spritzes the larvae with a potion of reindeer musk mingled with orange and clove. In death throes, the small, hungry bodies jingle like bells.
The girl rolls over and snuffles. Both parents sigh, and the one who would be most embarrassed to, farts. The man-in-red parkours up the chimney, chuckling at how very much like an orifice it is.
The family sleeps off the eggnog, and in the morning, the daughter wakes first. She winces as something pierces her sock. A pine needle? She pinches it. Maybe not. Stiff, it is old and dead. She flings it away, shouting for her parents to wake up, it’s Christmas! They groan and pull each other upright. Vacuum as they will, they’ll complain how the pine needles linger for weeks, how they should’ve bought a fake tree, how isn’t it a good thing Christmas comes only once a year?
Kathryn McMahon is an American writer living abroad with her British wife and dog. Her stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Booth, Passages North, The Cincinnati Review, Jellyfish Review, Split Lip, FLAPPERHOUSE, Third Point Press, Atticus Review, and others. Her work has received nominations for Best Small Fictions, Best of the Net and the Pushcart, and has been selected for Wigleaf’s Top 50. She was recently a finalist for the first-ever SmokeLong Quarterly Award for Flash Fiction. On Twitter, she is @katoscope. Find more of her writing at www.darkandsparklystories.com.