By: Martin Berman-Gorvine
None of this would be happening if John had only listened to me about not messing around with the fireplace. We've never used it since we moved in eight years ago, buying the old Victorian for a song when I was pregnant at the height of the housing crisis. The previous owners had installed a squirrel baffle on the chimney, before they lost the house to foreclosure.
Little critters used to get in all the time, the Realtor told us as she fidgeted and refused to meet our eyes. But I was so eager for a home to raise our child, and the huge, charming old hulk seemed like such a perfect place to do it, I doubt even being told that it was built atop a Superfund site or an old Indian graveyard would ave deterred me.
Still, everything would have been all right if John hadn't decided we simply had to build real, roaring log fires in the fireplace! He swore he'd do all the work, and he was as good as his word. You wouldn't think a white-collar criminal defense lawyer would enjoy chopping wood and making himself into an amateur chimney sweep, but John is never happier than when he's covered in black soot, joking that at least it's cleaner than his real job representing crooked CFOs and accountants.
He WAS never happier. Oh my God, that jingling is getting louder. Shut UP, Kayleigh! If you're as quite as a mouse, Mommy'll buy you the Xbox 360 you've been nagging me about since you were in kindergarten! Hell, I'll buy you GRAND THEFT FUCKING AUTO to play on it, how about that? Just STOP the whimpering!
It was only last week that John took out the squirrel baffle. He said the old homeowners hadn't installed it right, and it was blocking the updraft. Promised me he'd go to Home Depot the day after Christmas to buy a brand-new, top-of-the-line model, one that would entertain any invading varmints in high style. And he'll do it - he WOULD HAVE DONE it - no question about that! He was a man of his word, was my John. That's why the judges and the bailiffs and even the prosecutors all loved him. That and his dimpled smile.
You're right, Kayleigh, now Mommy is the one whimpering. No Xboxes in my future, I guess. No future, that's the real point! Can't you hear those tinkling bells getting closer?
When it comes right down to it, I can only blame John squarely for one thing - he didn't want to disillusion Kay. "What's the harm, Steph?" he said, smiling. "What do we have to lose? A glass of milk and a plate of cookies every year? She's so excited, thinking a fat guy in a red suit is gonna slide down that space I can barely cram my cleaning brushes into!" Of course I gave in. Who wants to ruin the innocence of childhood? Kay was squealing with delight when she burst into our bedroom half an hour ago and told us the man himself was climbing up the stairs to thank us, combing cookie crumbs out of his tangled white beard. John looked at me, and I looked at him, as we heard each thumping footfall accompanied by a merry little jingle.
My husband doesn't - didn't - BELIEVE in guns. He liked to quote the Woody Guthrie records his hippie-dip parents used to play for him: "Some will rob you with a six-gun, and some with a fountain pen." Unfortunately, you can't stop a seven-foot... flame-suited... maggot-bearded... horned THING with a pen. Not even the expensive Pilot I got him last Christmas. Though who knows if a derringer wouldn't done any better?
This closet door opens from the outside. It smells like nineteenth-century feet in here. And the thing hunting us is getting closer. The floorboards of the guest bedroom creak, the bells jingle, a voice is raised in mocking song. What fun it has to stride and sing its slaying song tonight!
About the author:
Martin Berman-Gorvine is the author of six science fiction novels: Heroes of Earth, Ziona (as Marty Armon), Save the Dragons, Seven Against Mars, 36, and The Severed Wing (as Martin Gidron), which received the 2002 Sidewise Award for Alternate History (Long Form) at the International Science Fiction Convention in Toronto in 2003.
His short stories include: "Of Cats' Whiskers & Klutzes," which appeared in Brave New Girls; "Palestina," which was published in Interzone magazine's May/June 2006 issue, and was finalist for the Sidewise Award (Short Form); and "The Tallis," which appeared in Jewish Currents magazine, May 2002. He is a professional journalist, currently serving as a reporter for the Bureau of National Affairs newsletter Human Resources Report.