Size / / /

Every year come the Friday after Thanksgiving, Pawpaw gets to cleaning his shotgun. "Millie Ann," he always tells me, "this is gonna be our best Christmas ever." What he means is we'll eat Christmas sausage for months. That's good. Daddy don't earn much, and we won't take government handouts, so we don't get food stamps or nothing.

Pawpaw is Ma's Daddy. On account of Ma dying when I was four and Daddy's work on the oil rigs keeping him away so much, Pawpaw pretty much raises me himself.

Pawpaw sits there singing "On Comet, on Cupid, on Donder and Blitzen" while he cleans the barrel of his old ten-gauge. He likes carols about reindeer and Santa's sleigh.

"Up on the housetop, click, click, click," as he loads the shotgun shells. Pawpaw smiles at me. "Next year, Millie Ann, when you're thirteen, you can help me with the reloads."

"Thank you, Pawpaw." This seems like a good time to ask. "Can I come tonight? I hate staying with Aunt Gemma. Her trailer smells like cat pee and her cookies are always stale."

Pawpaw smacks his lips as he stares at me. That means he's thinking. "I reckon you're old enough this year, girl."

"Goodie!" Pawpaw doesn't think I'm a little kid any more. I grin so hard my teeth feel like to fall out.


It's real early Saturday morning, so early it's almost still Friday. Our hunting blind is at the edge of some trees above a long, sloping field with more trees at the bottom. There's a few other blinds around. When we got here those folks made a big fuss over my first Christmas season. That was nice, and it made me feel important. Now it's so cold my hands ache. Pawpaw drinks coffee to keep warm, but I can't have none 'cause it'll make me short. After a while, Pawpaw taps his watch. "Coming up on moonrise." He shoulders his ten-gauge.

As the world lights up under the silver moon, a weird barking echoes from the woods. I see a red light drift into the sky, as if an ember had come off a bonfire. Another one winks on, then two more. Suddenly it's like fireflies on a summer evening, only they're big and red, like from a Roman candle. A gun fires. One of the lights drops to the ground with a little shriek, sputtering as it falls. The swarm darts toward us. Pawpaw begins to fire too, blazing away and yelling about Vietcong.

Even with my fingers in my ears, the shotgun is so loud it's scary. I keep looking, though. I don't want to miss any of it. All around, folks are shooting, everybody cutting loose to catch the swarm before it rises too high. One by one they fall, crying like wounded angels, from the moonlit sky.


I weep over a small one. Up close, they're just tiny deer, no bigger than a housecat. Their little noses stop glowing a few minutes after they're dead, looking like cherries set out too long. "It's Rudolph," I say through sniffles. I don't want to cry, because Pawpaw might decide I was a baby after all.

Pawpaw dumps bodies in the back of the pickup. What with all the shooting, there's plenty here for everybody. "Buck up, Millie Ann. You always knew where Christmas sausage came from."

"Yeah." I wipe my nose on my sleeve. "It just seemed to hurt them so much."

Pawpaw sighs. "They breed like crazy, hatch out same as locusts. We kill most of them now, leave just enough to make it north for mating season without wrecking fields and farms along the way. They get a lot bigger up there in the Arctic, come back to breed and start things all over again."

I think about all those other farmers we're helping. I swallow my tears. "We got to eat something, don't we?"

"That's right." Pawpaw smiles. "I love Christmas season."

 

Copyright © 2002 Joseph E. Lake, Jr.

Reader Comments


Jay Lake lives in Portland, Oregon, with his family and their books. So far in 2002, his work is appearing in diverse markets such as Ideomancer.com, The Third Alternative, Frequency, and Beyond the Last Star. For more about him, see his Web site.



Bio to come.
Current Issue
27 Jan 2020

Oozing dripping grey tentacles maim & rip open everyone at the party while you & I keep vaping out here by the garage.
By: Weston Richey
Podcast read by: Ciro Faienza
In this episode of the Strange Horizons podcast, editor Ciro Faienza presents Weston Richey's “Disemboweled Sonnet for Telling Your Crush You Like Him in the Waning Hours of the Party.”
By engaging the vampiric archetype, Butler and Gomez write black queer lives into an eternal future where we can continue our coalition building, our resistance of hegemony, and the creation of chosen families.
Perhaps for every African speculative fiction novel translated into whatever language, the publisher could publish another African author in their own language.
History treated people like me as curiosities, freaks, and monsters of legend. Human monstrosity is something we've been writing about in SF/F/Spec for as long as genre writing has existed, and that's forever. Writing about myself in those terms, at least in my verse, feels like both reclamation and rebellion. 
Wednesday: Mouthful of Birds by Samanta Schweblin, translated by Megan McDowell 
Friday: Fates and Furies by Christine Lucas 
Issue 20 Jan 2020
By: Justin C. Key
Podcast read by: Anaea Lay
By: Jessica P. Wick
Podcast read by: Ciro Faienza
Issue 13 Jan 2020
By: Julianna Baggott
Podcast read by: Anaea Lay
By: Terese Mason Pierre
Podcast read by: Ciro Faienza
Podcast read by: Terese Mason Pierre
Issue 6 Jan 2020
By: Mitchell Shanklin
Podcast read by: Anaea Lay
By: Nikoline Kaiser
Podcast read by: Nikoline Kaiser
Podcast read by: Ciro Faienza
Issue 23 Dec 2019
By: Maya Chhabra
Podcast read by: Maya Chhabra
Podcast read by: Ciro Faienza
Issue 16 Dec 2019
By: Osahon Ize-Iyamu
Podcast read by: Anaea Lay
By: Liu Chengyu
Podcast read by: Ciro Faienza
Issue 9 Dec 2019
By: SL Harris
Podcast read by: Anaea Lay
By: Jessy Randall
Podcast read by: Ciro Faienza
Issue 2 Dec 2019
By: Sheldon Costa
Podcast read by: Anaea Lay
By: Mari Ness
Podcast read by: Ciro Faienza
Issue 25 Nov 2019
By: Nisa Malli
Podcast read by: Ciro Faienza
Podcast read by: Nisa Malli
Issue 18 Nov 2019
By: Marika Bailey
Podcast read by: Anaea Lay
By: Alicia Cole
Podcast read by: Ciro Faienza
Issue 11 Nov 2019
By: Rivqa Rafael
Podcast read by: Anaea Lay
By: Mary McMyne
By: Ugonna-Ora Owoh
Podcast read by: Mary McMyne
Podcast read by: Ciro Faienza
Load More
%d bloggers like this: