A Curious New Year’s Eve.

A Curious New Years Eve Title
The street had been closed off at both ends at six o’clock, and shortly after it had filled with people setting up for the neighbourhood New Year’s Eve party. Tables and booths were placed on the sidewalks. Fire drums and cut wood were set out so that people could gather around them and share the warmth when the night got cold. Excitement was building, especially among the children who were allowed to stay up until midnight on this one magical night of the year.  Fairy lights, Christmas decorations and street lights blinked into action, adding a festive tone to the streetscape as the pale wintry afternoon sunlight faded into evening.

Friday had spent the early part of the evening walking back and forth along the front garden wall, looking at what different folks were doing and enjoying the building excitement.  He now sat on the fence, keeping a watchful eye on the table which Trixie, Kathleen and Tom had set up under a streetlight on the sidewalk with  crock pots full of hot soup to share. Cups, spoons and napkins were stacked nearby.

Kathleen inhaled deeply as she stirred one of the pots. “This lentil soup smells divine, Trixie!”

“I hope people like it. It’s my Grandmother’s recipe – the one she always said would bring people luck.”

“If they don’t like the lentils, they can have some of Tom’s veggie soup. It’s delicious, too.”

“If they don’t like this soup, they’re crazy!” Tom stated between savouring mouthfuls from a steaming cup.

“It will warm them up, that’s the main thing!” Trixie smiled. “I’m glad you’re enjoying it, Tom.”

“The term ‘enjoyment’ doesn’t come close enough, Trixie, my dear!” Tom would have returned her smile, but he was too busy eating his soup.

As the crowd began to gather and wander around, a family of three walked toward the soup table.

“Would you like some soup?” offered Trixie. “We’ve got vegetable or my grandmother’s lucky lentil soup.”

“That would be great, thank you! I’ll have the lentil, please, and these three…” his voice trailed off as he searched the crowd for the third child, who had lagged behind and now stood looking hopefully at the table where Mrs Rizzo was frying delicious smelling donuts. He called out, “Jamie! Come and get some soup!” rather impatiently, then smiled apologetically at Trixie before completing his request. “Sorry, it’s hard keeping track of them all. They’ll have vegetable, please.”

Jamie caught up with the rest of the family as Trixie served the soup. He looked at the pots and at the tall man with the long beard who was licking his lips before his eyes came to rest on the black cat sitting on the fence nearby.

“That black cat is staring at me.”

“I’m sure he’s not,” Trixie replied.

“He is.  And he looks… wicked.”

“You’re imagining things. Have some soup.” Trixie tried to keep the annoyance out of her voice as she handed the boy a cup of soup and a spoon.

“Is it safe?” he asked timidly.

Friday narrowed his eyes slightly at the young boy’s suggestion that his beloved Trixie would feed people anything that wasn’t good. Keen to look anywhere except at the cat,  Jamie looked up at Tom, taking in for the first time the tall man’s long grey beard, black coat and piercing blue eyes that peered out from feathery grey eyebrows.

“Of course it’s safe. We’ve been feeding this very pot of soup to children for six years, and not one of them has died yet!” Tom delivered his answer with a very straight face, then winked at the boy’s father.

Jamie’s hands trembled slightly as he “What’s in it?” Jamie was not convinced.

“Eye of newt and toe of frog,” Tom replied with mock seriousness.

Delighted by their older brother’s discomfort, the two younger children squealed, “Ewwwwwww!”

“The soup is fine, Jamie. What’s not safe is you wandering off on your own. You have to stay close to the rest of us. I don’t want the bogeyman to get you!”

Jamie rolled his eyes insolently at his father and complained, “That’s kids’ stuff, dad. Geeze!” Nevertheless, he took care to stay near his father as they stood nearby and ate their soup, . Halfway through his cup, however, Jamie let out a roar of disgust.

“What’s the matter now?”

“There’s an eyeball in my soup!”

“A what? Don’t be ridiculous.”

‘There is! Look!”

“Jamie, the man was just joking about eyes. He was just having fun with you. That’s all.”

Jamie looked fearfully at Tom and then at Friday, both of whom were staring right at him. Neither one seemed as though they were particularly amused.  Averting his eyes, he turned and timidly put his spoon into his cup once more before dropping his cup in fright and bawling, “It blinked at me! That eyeball blinked at me!”

His father looked at the mess on the pavement and then at his tearful son.  “I’m really sorry,” he said apologetically to Trixie, although he couldn’t bring himself to make eye contact with her.

There was no trace of anything untoward in the spilt soup, and Jamie was left with no choice but to follow his father as he walked away, shaking his head.

Friday waved them goodbye with a smug twitch of his tail, fully aware that had he bothered to look under the table, Jamie’s father would have seen the offending eyeball now resting against the curb, gazing unblinkingly at the starry sky.

“I’m going to get some of those donuts,” Tom announced. “Anyone else want one?”

“Oh, yes please, Tom!” Kathleen answered almost before he had finished offering.

“I’m fairly sure those are lucky, too,” Trixie added. “One for me, please!”

As Tom strolled away, Trixie turned to see Rose and Trevor coming out of their house, followed by a third person carrying a large, flat box.

“Hello, Rose! Would you like some soup?”

“Lovely to see you, Trix! Hello, Kathleen” Rose kissed her friends lightly on the cheek as she greeted them. “Soup would be wonderful.”

“Try this. It’s my grandmother’s lucky lentil soup.”

“Smells fantastic! We have a family tradition to share, too… grapes!”

“Grapes?”  Kathleen raised her eyebrows.

“Grapes!” Trevor affirmed.

“It’s a Spanish tradition passed down in my family,” Rose explained. “Everyone gets twelve grapes to eat at midnight. The sweeter the grape, the sweeter that month will be. If your fourth grape is the sweetest, you have every reason to look forward to April.”

“You just want to hope you don’t get a sour one,” added Trevor.

“I can see how that might not be a good thing,” Trixie observed while passing a cup of soup to Trevor. She smiled at the sight of the young man who stood by the fence, stroking Friday affectionately.  “It’s good to see you, Rory. How are things going?”

“Hi, Trixie. Things are– improving. Definitely better than they were on Christmas Eve!”

“Well, that’s good to hear!”

“He’s come to live with us!” Trevor announced, smiling reassuringly at Rory.

“That’s wonderful!” Trixie exclaimed. “You really are making a new start, Rory. I’m very pleased for you.” She smiled warmly at Rory, and felt a lump in her throat when she recognised in Rose’s eyes and gentle smile the radiant happiness of a woman whose long-time wish to be a mother had finally been fulfilled.

“Thank you, Trixie. Did you hear that, Friday? I’m your new neighbour – and Daisy’s new big brother!”

Friday purred and rubbed against Rory’s hand. A tiny mew from inside Rory’s fleece-lined hoodie was followed by a joyful, rumbling purr as Daisy popped her head out  to greet Friday.

“Will you look at that? No prizes for guessing who Daisy wants to kiss at midnight!” The amusement in Rory’s eyes was affectionate and warm. “Why do people do that, anyway?” he asked.

“It’s starting the way you intend to continue, Rory. It’s a sign that our love and affection for one another will continue through the year.” Rose blinked back tears as she explained, realising that the young man before her had probably never been kissed or hugged at New Year’s, and probably hadn’t seen much love or affection on any other day, either.

“And if you don’t get kissed?” The young man’s voice was hesitant.

“It’s said to be a year of being unlucky in love,” Tom offered as he returned with a bowl of donuts. “It’s why I’m still single. I’m too tall for any of the girls I know to kiss properly.”

“And here I was, thinking it was because he was too fussy!” Kathleen teased.

Rory smiled awkwardly as everyone laughed at Tom, and reminded himself that superstitions were exactly that, and not based on any scientific fact. Besides, his luck was certainly changing, and maybe this New Year really would be the new beginning he was hoping for.

“Have some lentil soup, Rory. It’s good luck, you know.” Tom smiled kindly at the young man. “Of course, I believe in making my own luck,” he continued,and winked as he added, “It’s why I’m still single.”

Rory smiled and his shoulders relaxed. After his experiences a week ago when he found himself being confronted and challenged by the Christmas Spirit, he was none too sure how luck worked but knew that he was unwilling to find out the hard way.

“Would you like a donut?”

Rory snapped out of his thoughts.  A short lady wearing an apron stood before him with a large bowl of donuts in one hand and a pile of neatly folded paper napkins in the other. She smiled broadly at him, and for a moment he wondered if  her smile would be as wide if her grey hair were not pulled so tightly into the neat bun on top of her head.

“I’m sorry?”

“A donut. Have one?”

“Sure, thank you.”

“They’re good luck, you know.”

“Really?”

“Of course. Look at them! There is no end… everything is a full circle. And if you eat enough of them, you end up a full circle too, like me!” Her laughter was infectious, and Rory found himself very much enjoying the company of a group of friends at whom he would have sneered just a week ago.

Standing near the fire drum that Tom and Trevor had just lit, Rory was feeding tiny donut crumbs to Daisy when he heard Friday growling and hissing from the fence, his back arched and his tail puffed out into a bristled brush. As he turned to see what had upset Friday, a shadow fell across his face.

Standing between Rory and Friday was a tall, solid man. Broad shoulders had absorbed the neck on which his head swivelled, and muscular arms ended with his clenched fists. The scowl that darkened his features was focused on Rory, who resisted the urge to take a step backwards as he looked up at the hulking figure.

“So this is where I find you. Out in the street, enjoying a nice fire with other people, instead of  being at home, looking after me.”

“D-d-dad–I–uh–” Rory’s voice faltered.

“You’ve got not business being out here, boy. You belong at home.”

Rory forced himself to stand a little taller and looked his father in the eye.

“Actually, I don’t. It’s no longer home. I’m not coming back.”

“You what?” Rory’s father grabbed him by the front of his sweater. A fearful wail emanated from Daisy.

“Let go! You’ll hurt the kitten!” Rory wrapped his arms protectively around his middle.

“The kitten? You want me to worry about a kitten? You soft little–” Angry words were replaced by a loud bellow of surprise and anger as he swung around, trying to shake off the angry black cat that had leapt from the fence and landed on his shoulders, sinking its claws into the thick muscles.  Then he stood still, glowering at his son. “Get this thing off me. Now!”

“No. I won’t. You don’t get to tell me what to do anymore. I’m not coming back, You’re on your own.”

Trevor stepped forward. “Rory has found a new home, Angus, with a family who respect and care for him. You should be ashamed of yourself, treating your own son the way you have.”

Rory’s father raised a fist and moved toward Trevor, but the man froze in fear when a large, ghostly grey hand, and not attached to any body or being, came out of nowhere and held him by the wrist. He looked around without moving his head, but nobody else seemed to be able to see it.

Furious eyes turned from Trevor to Rory and then to the black cat that jumped from his shoulders.  “How are you doing that? Let me go!” Panic rose in his voice, but the hand held his arm just as firmly. “You little bast–” He got no further, for another hand came out of the air and clapped itself over his mouth. His eyes widened and his breathing grew heavier. He tried to pry the fingers lose and pull the hand off his mouth with his free hand, but it would not budge.

Angus’ eyes narrowed with accusation as he pointed threateningly at Friday. A third hand appeared out of nowhere, seizing his other wrist and lifting him off the ground, leaving him dangling just above the point where his toes could touch the sidewalk. An electric shock of pain crackled into life in his wrist and began to flow into his elbow and shoulder, stretching and straining with all his weight hanging from them.

Rory faced his father. “I mean it. I’m not coming back to live with you – ever. You’re just going to have to accept that.” His father glared at him. “And don’t be angry at me for that. You only have yourself to blame.”  Having said what he needed to say, Rory turned his back on Angus and walked back to the warmth of the fire and the company around it.

His father swung a leg at him, narrowly missing Rory’s hips before yet another hand appeared and caught his foot in mid swing so that Angus found himself fully suspended at an awkward not-quite-sideways angle. He grunted and groaned in protest as the disembodied hands began to carry him toward the fire, yet it seemed that nobody could see or hear him in his predicament.

The prickle of heat from the fire crept upwards from his dangling foot as they held him above it, not close enough to burn but near enough to feel the singeing hot air rising from it.  The hairs on his dangling leg began to curl under his trousers and an urgent, awkward desire to relieve his bladder settled heavily in his loins.

“Wouldn’t it be awful to be so humiliated?” a smooth, suggestive voice  crooned in his ear. “How awful to feel such fear that you lose control of yourself… like you made your son do on occasion. And then you punished him for it. Now that’s fatherhood.”

He looked around but couldn’t see where the voice was coming from. Maybe it’s one of those little horned guys sitting on my shoulder like they show on TV, he thought.

“How dare you? I’m no devil,” the voice continued. “In fact,  there’s only one devil here.”

A swirl of red sparks burst around him, enveloping him in a fiery shroud. He cringed at the sting of thousands of sparks on his skin, and opened his eyes to find himself face to face with a horned beast, covered in cherry coloured skin that looked like scales of leather, and deep black eyes that bore into his soul. It opened its mouth and smiled at him, releasing an acrid smell of sulfur and brimstone that made his stomach heave and his bowels quicken.

“Feeling afraid? You poor thing.” He tried to pull away from the clawed foot that stroked his face in mock sympathy, but the hand over his mouth held his head firmly in place. “It’s not nice to face a monster, is it? But you were never ashamed to make your own son fear you.  Now you know how he felt when you shouted at him and threw things at him.  Sometimes those things hit him. Some of them… cut his face.” The monster looked at Angus in mock sympathy as it suddenly drew one of its claws across the side of his forehead, slicing skin and flesh open. Blood washed over his right eye, turning his vision as red as the beast that taunted him.

So, that useless kid leaves home and it’s my fault. I try to get him to come home, and I end up in the clutches of some monster. Could this night get any worse?

“How dare you? I’m no monster.” The beast snarled at him, its nostrils flaring. “There’s only one monster here, Angus.”

Tears of self-pity stung Angus’ eyes.

“Don’t cry, or I’ll give you something to cry about.”

A memory – and then another, and another – of himself saying that to Rory played out in his mind.

“Or would you prefer a beating, anyway? That’s quite your style, isn’t it?” The monster raised its paw  and slapped him soundly on the side of the head. “You had that coming, didn’t you, eh?”

More memories plagued his conscience as the monster continued with the next slap, “Oh, you asked for that.” The hands that held him turned him around so that the monster could kick his backside with its foot, but his cries of outrage and pain were suppressed by the hand that still covered his mouth.

“You’re pathetic. You disgust me. Get out of my sight!” The monster roared, and his mind filled with echoes of the many times Rory had begged for mercy, pleaded with his father not to hit him again, and sobbed as he tended to his own cuts and bruises.

The monster’s face morphed and Angus found himself staring at his own face, contorted with rage and malice. It spoke one word, its voice laced with contempt: “Monster.”

Hatred emanated from Angus as he stared at the face before him.

“Do you feel no shame?” it asked him.

Shame is for the weak. No sooner had the thought crossed his mind than Angus regretted it. Nice work, Angus. Give it something else to take exception to. 

“Let’s just see how strong you are, then.” The monster wrapped its talons around his only free ankle as the hands that held him began to pull slowly in opposing directions. His joints screamed in agony as ligaments and sinews strained to hold bones together, while flesh seemed to ignite within him as his muscles and skin extended to their limits. Lifting him higher and higher into the dark sky, the ghostly hands continued to slowly stretch and pull his limbs from his body, setting agonising flames alight in his joints and flesh. Looking down at the tiny street below him, lined with doll houses with miniature cars in their tiny driveways or garages, and filled with people the size of ants, dread coursed through him in anticipation of the pain he suspected was yet to come. By the time his bladder released its burden, he was past caring about that.

As high in the sky as he was, he was convinced that he could hear a tiny bell in the miniscule church below striking midnight. He thundered with rage as a paroxysm of pain exploded in him when the ghastly hands finally succeeded in pulling his limbs from his body, causing him to burst into a million tiny pieces that flew through the sky.

Rose smiled at Rory as she opened her arms for him when the church bells rang out twelve peals for midnight, kissing him warmly on the cheek. “Happy New Year, Rory. We love you.”

Blinking back tears and swallowing the lump that had suddenly appeared in his throat, he could barely whisper “Happy New Year, Rose,” in response. Trevor’s arms wrapped around them both as the final bell pealed and the first firework exploded in the sky above them.

“Right on time!” Trixie said, looking up at the sky.

“That first one didn’t seem so bright though, for some reason,” Tom observed.

“You can’t win them all, I suppose! Happy New Year,Tom!” Kathleen added as she wrapped her arms around her brother and cousin and hugged them close to her. “Here’s to new beginnings!”

“New beginnings indeed,” replied Trixie, smiling as she watched Rose and Trevor enfold Rory in the most loving embrace he had ever known.

Promo A Curious NYE
©2017 Joanne Van Leerdam
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