This is my first attempt at a Terrible Minds flash fiction challenge. The prompt is simply “Christmas in a strange place.”
“I have no desire to partake of the people’s flesh.”
Kinaktak stared at me for the better part of a minute before saying, “You mean of your people.”
“Ah, my mistake. I didn’t mean to imply that your family is a cannibalistic lot.”
She shook her head, then pulled at my arm. “No more excuses, Psann. The only flesh that’s going to be consumed is that of the partridges.”
The people—my people—do not observe holidays. What is the calendar to a seal? There are times when it’s harder to catch fish at our current home, and then the shoal must migrate to new waters. The people of the land used to pack up their tents and follow us; but that was in the old ages of First Earth, and they have long since become a settled country with houses, cars, and gorgeous clothing. Sometimes made of sealskin.
If my mother saw me now, she would wonder whatever had happened to the fuzzy pup she had nursed, but that was another time, when I had been mortal and never known human form.
The porch played host to a large rusk doormat and a porcelain gnome sporting a faux velvet santa cap. I looked in the windows, out of which a warm white light poured, and saw… it.
Kinaktak had spent some time preparing me, but to see the practice was another experience altogether.
“I thought you were joking when you said that your people hunted trees and stood the carcasses up in the living room and strung lights and accessories on them.”
“Decorations, not accessories.” Her breath puffed white in the air.
Her mother opened the door, and greeted us. Once inside, she folded Kinaktak into an embrace. “You never visit us enough.”
“Mother, you know I’ve been busy with my studies. This is Psann.”
I, too, was enveloped in a hug. “So you’re my daughter’s boyfriend.”
Kinaktak’s taller, gruff father stood in the hallway, one eyebrow raised, and grunted. As he took my parka, his eyes narrowed. “You wear gloves beneath your mittens?”
In lieu of an answer, I removed my monocle and buffed it with my handkerchief. By now I was quite skilled with the articulated fingers Kinaktak’s studies in biomechatronics had bestowed upon me. They were aesthetically pleasing, but not in a manner to most people. I set my monocle, and caught her looking at me, her face aglow at the sight of the fruits of her labor.
“It’s a fancy of mine.”
He eyed me up and down, from monocle, past waistcoat and trousers, down to shiny shoes. His eyes stayed narrowed.
Kinaktak took my hand firmly in hers, and looked at her father as if daring him to say anything.
He rolled his eyes, and strode to the living room, where Kinaktak’s extended family was helping decorate the Advent tree. Two older women gabbled away and three tots played with miniature speedcars in the midst of several awkward silences.
I had thought the people of the land would be more genial, but I suppose that seals tend to only have awkward moments when it comes to the mating season.
Father stood on a stepladder and affixed a star to the tree top. He gave a thumbs-up to his son, who plugged in the lights. They started to flash, in slow patterns, and the star twinkled and glowed. The casual applause began all around me, and I joined in, making sure that my intact palms met with a normal clap instead of the clang-clang of my fingers.
“Have a seat, and dinner should be ready shortly,” said Kinaktak. She kissed my cheek, which always quells any protest from me. The siblings and cousins disappeared in the direction of the kitchen, leaving me alone with the gawking aunts, curious uncles, and hostile father.
Oh, and the tots.
“Is it a man or a woman?” asked a small voice around a finger. The little boy was staring at my breasts.
I sat down on an unoccupied footrest, rather than crowd in with the aunts. “I am a gentleman.” I left it at that. It seemed there would be a lot of leaving things at that, this evening.
After introducing the rest of the family, father settled in a wicker chair next to me. “What do you study, Psann?”
“Historical cultures. Twenty-first century.” Under such shared familial scrutiny, “I’m studying to be a god,” wouldn’t have held up.
“There’s hardly any money in that!” exclaimed a random uncle. A random aunt poked him in the side with an elbow. “He might write a best-selling historical like that Winker fellow. What was it? The People of the Car?”
“And do you have a best-selling historical novel draft somewhere?” Father delivered the line in such perfect deadpan that it terrified me. I didn’t even dare to steeple my fingers.
“What a curious ritual you have—interrogating the newcomer to your circle. But!” I pointed a finger up, smiling. “I’m ready for any question you may ask of me.”
“What are your intentions towards my daughter?”
Sharks and orcas, I had really swum into that one.
I gestured towards the window and the snow outside, falling fast and thick. “She is the snow that falls from the heavens. I am the roofs, balconies, and trees she falls upon. I support her, give her ideas shape, and she gives me beauty. Immobile am I, in the quiet snowfall, and I know no better existence.”
Out of the corner of my eye I saw her smile at me from the dining room as she set the table.
“You speak some pretty words there, but I’m a more practical soul. How will you exactly support my daughter? What future prospects are we talking about here?”
Partridges? I knew whose flesh was being devoured here.
The die was cast. The fish was hooked. The War was on.
And I would do it all again for her.
I tend to twist prompts where they shouldn’t go. It seems boring to just take a prompt at face value. And a place is only as strange as the point-of-view character makes it out to be.
Mind you, the second derivative of a prompt is not always the right one to take.