Haul Out The Holly - TWB Holiday Scandal Contest
Kendra dropped the dusty cardboard box on the coffee table. She pointed an accusatory finger at it. “You mind explaining why I found that in the attic?”
Gran wrinkled her already-wrinkly nose. With unerring precision, she spat a long stream of tobacco juice into the tin pail beside the rocking chair. “Because that's where it was.”
Pressing her lips together, Kendra glared at the crude letters scribed on the box. XMAS, in fading permanent marker. “You realize how much trouble this could get us in? I'm not joking around, Gran.”
Gran chuckled, stained dentures clattering. “What, you gonna turn me in? Your little old granny?” Her face turned rigid and serious. “Go ahead.”
“No! Of course not.” Kendra massaged her forehead and flopped onto the sofa. Gran was always so confrontational this time of year.
“You look inside?” Gran settled back in her rocker, eyes shut. The ghost of amusement curled at the corner of her mouth.
“Why would I look?”
Gran grunted and more tobacco juice hit the side of the pail. “Maybe you should.” One papery eyelid rolled upward. “I won't tell.”
“I don't even want to know what's in there.” Kendra glanced at the clock, her knee bouncing with sudden energy. “I'm just going to go burn it.”
Gran’s other eye snapped open. Her jaw worked up and down a few times, and she leaned forward. Her unfaltering gaze pinned Kendra to the couch. “You had better look, then. Because what's in there shouldn't be forgotten.”
“Jeez, Gran.” Kendra tried to laugh, but it came out sounding more like a broken lullaby.
“Do what you will.” Slow and deliberate, Gran plucked her filthy dentures out and set them on the side table. A generous pinch of fresh tobacco disappeared into her soft mouth, and she leaned back, feigning sleep.
Fine. Kendra picked up the box and headed through the kitchen to the backyard. It was cool outside, but lighting a box on fire wouldn't take long. No need to stop for a jacket.
After wedging the box into the patio fire pit, Kendra held the flame of her lighter to one of it's corners. The wind kept blowing it out before the cardboard could catch.
“Damn.” Hissing at the cold, Kendra yanked open one of the top flaps.
“IT'S ABOUT TIME!” A bright purple creature erupted from the box, which was somehow much smaller than the creature. Pine needles and candles dripped from its shaggedy fleece.
Kendra yelped, scrambling backwards on all fours. “Holy--”
“Holly’s the name, Holly Llama, that's with two ells, not to be confused with my cousin Dolly, I mean, she's got two ells in Dolly, but only one in her last name, that's because her mother, my aunt, married a camel, so she's Dolly Camel, and camel only has one ell.” Stepping daintily out of the fire pit, the purple llama advanced across the brown winter lawn. “She's also got a terrible back, pays a fortune for chiropractic treatments. Hey, where you going?”
Kendra ran into the house, slamming the door shut behind her.
Gran was waiting in the kitchen, leaning on a chair and wheezing from too much laughter. “Couldn't resist, could ya?”
“I--I didn't! I wasn't trying to look! The box wouldn't--”
There was a loud thumping at the back door. It burst inwards, showering the room with splintered wood. The llama pranced in, knocking old pictures from the walls with its fluffy rump. “There you are! Say, do you have air conditioning? I could really go for some air conditioning.”
“Gran! What--what the hell is that thing?” Kendra pressed back against the refrigerator.
“He's the Holiday Llama.” Gran reached up and scratched the llama’s purple chin. “And I expect there aren't many left alive who remember him.”
The llama bobbed his head. “And is that Penny Macleod? My goodness, how you've grown!”
Gran laughed. “Hastings, now.” Tears glittered on Gran's lashes. “I was only six years old when they put you away. I grew up and got married, had kids, and they grew up, and I've got grandkids now.” She nodded in Kendra’s direction. “There's one of ‘em.”
The llama lurched across the kitchen in Kendra's direction. She screamed a little and tried to escape, but he smooshed her against the countertop near the sink. His long feathery lips snuffled at her face and hair. His breath smelled like warm ashes and tamales. “Hmmm. Hm. Kendra. Nice, most of the time. Wants a new--”
“Get it away!” Kendra swatted and shoved at the llama.
“I'm thirsty, are there any libations around here?” The llama didn't wait for an answer and barreled off to the living room. The sound of several things being broken was followed by a noisy slurping.
“Is he--?” Kendra clapped her hand over her mouth.
Kendra twisted toward the sink and threw up.
When that part was over, she turned back to face Gran. “So. Explain to me what's a holiday llama doing in our living room?”
Gran sighed and took a seat at the table. “It's a long story.” She folded her arthritic hands in front of her. “Before I was born, people around the world celebrated all sorts of different holidays, with different meanings and different dates, and it shouldn't have been a big deal. But some folks thought their holiday was best, and others thought theirs, and so on, and that's when the war started.”
Kendra eased into a chair across from Gran. “What war?”
“Oh, you know.” Gran pursed her lips. “You wouldn't have been upset about the box, if you didn't know which war.”
The Xmas War. Kendra didn't really know what it was, but high school history had glossed over it, so it must have been bad. “Ok, whatever. Where does that purple thing come in?”
Gran chuckled. “He was supposed to end the war.”
“I don't follow.”
“Bah. They don't teach you kids anything anymore.” Gran sighed. “There was a group that thought maybe they could combine all the holidays into one, take the best parts of each, and make a single holiday that would keep everyone happy and stop the fighting. So they did. They gave an AI all the information about all the holiday traditions, and the AI worked on it for a few months, and one day, they showed up to check on progress, and there was the Holiday Llama. Holly Llama, for short.”
Kendra blinked. “What.”
“That's what they said!” The llama tramped back into the kitchen, licking brown sludge from his lips. “Gosh, you look just like them. They were pretty upset about it afterward, because apparently part of a calendar year was deleted during my coalescence. That, and a bunch of copper wire, three flat screens, two rolling chairs, and a partridge in a pear tree.”
“What's a partridge?” Kendra glanced at Gran.
“Exactly my point.” The llama lowered his neon purple self to the floor and nuzzled his head onto Gran's lap.
“Anyway.” Gran stroked the llama's ears. “Holly Llama was supposed to end the war.”
Gran sighed again. “Well, he did end it, just not how he was intended to. Instead of embracing the idea of a single holiday, everyone embraced the idea of getting rid of Holly. Generations passed as they tried to wipe out everything to do with him. Finally, my parents, --your great-grandparents, they were the descendants of those peace-makers who helped form Holly in the first place-- they packed him away in the box, where no one could find him. The world spent a few more years stomping out all the remainders of the Holiday Llama and his inclusive celebration, and that was that.”
Kendra stared at Holly. Her heart felt heavy in her chest. “He's been in the attic all that time?”
“Yep.” Gran snuffled and dragged her wrist across her eyes. “And once Holly was gone, it had been so many generations since anyone had tried to celebrate anything, they couldn't remember their old traditions, so now there's just…nothing.”
Kendra swallowed past the lump in her throat. “That's--that's terrible.”
“Nah.” Holly Llama's head popped up above the table. “I'll tell you what's terrible.” He got to his feet and shook himself. Porcelain figurines and candy wrappers flew everywhere. “What's terrible is having a huge backlog of wishes to grant, gifts to deliver, and candles to light. Among other things.”
Gran stood, reaching for him. “You shouldn't go, Holly. You'll get hurt.”
“Now, Penny.” The Holiday Llama turned his head briefly to spit a long string of tobacco juice into the sink. “You know they can't actually hurt me.”
“Maybe.” Holly winked at Kendra. “But, I think the world might be ready for a change.”
With that, he spun around, lifted his tail, and deposited two gifts on the table.
Kendra blinked. “What the f--”
“Lucky for you, I had yours at the front of the queue!” Holly pranced out the battered doorway and leapt into the sky.
Cover made with Canva, using an image from Pixabay.com.