It's Christmas Again, All Over Again by Kelly Kurtzhals Geiger
There is no real Christmas on the moon, because Santa could never get his reindeer to fly this far without suffocating to death. If they even tried, first Rudolph’s red nose would ice over and shatter like glass and the shards would gouge his eyeballs. Then Donner and Blitzen would freeze up into giant reindeer ice statues and Comet and Cupid would try to turn the whole sleigh around with their three dead friends hanging off the front but they’d end up tipping the whole sleigh upside down and all the presents would fall out. So that’s why they don’t come here. They don’t even try, those earthbound sons of grinches. I shouldn’t swear, but what’s even the point of being good? If the real Santa can’t see me from this far away, I’m sure not making either of his lists that he reportedly checks twice.
I also don’t tell anybody how I really feel about it.
“Happy Lanternium!” My best friend Hellsey holds out her gift to me, a little square box wrapped in traditional Lanternium paper, with little circular colorful parol lanterns printed on it. She’s always so perfect at wrapping presents.
“Happy Lanternium,” I reply, pulling my gift for her from inside my jacket pocket. It’s crumpled, but Hellsey never minds. Her round eyes light up like blue saucers on her smooth porcelain face. It starts snowing right at this moment: timed perfectly for Lunaland’s monthly gift exchange. Bells chime and the people around us in the Luna Square laugh with delight and I am miserable.
There is no real Christmas here, but it is always Christmas.
“Thank you!” Hellsey breathes smoke from her mouth from the cold filtered oxygen. “You first!”
“No, it’s too pretty,” I say, folding her gift over in my hands.
“Go ahead, open it!” Hellsey claps her mittened hands together, still holding my small crumpled package.
I tear the end from one corner and as soon as I see the glint of metal I rip the rest of the paper in a flurry. “Sardines!” I can’t believe she got me such an extravagant gift. “Where on Luna did you get these?”
Hellsey smiles with her perfectly pert bow mouth. “Mr. Omicron at the Mercantile ordered them for me, from the last earthrun shuttle. I’ve been saving up. I was going to wait until Yule to give them to you, but I couldn’t wait. I know they’re your favorite.”
Once Lanternium is over, we’ll be gearing up to celebrate Yule next month. After Yule, it’s St. Nichols Day, then Three Kings Day, Ashura and so on. There is always another celebration for the people of Lunaland to look forward to.
“Thank you,” I say, and I mean it. “It’s the best gift I’ve ever gotten.” Now I’m feeling really bad about what I’m giving her.
“Better than the digger tool your parents just got you?” She smirks. “You’ve been asking for that for years! Though I’m not going digging with you on Ridgeback. I don’t like getting dirty, I don’t care how much you can make for any rare moonrocks.”
She unwraps her present. “Oh, Newton! You shouldn’t have. He’s your favorite!” She twirls the small weathered Santa figurine over in her hand.
“He was my favorite,” I agree. “Now I think you should have him for a while. For luck.”
Hellsey kisses the Santa figurine’s little red hat. Then her blue eyes cloud over with a tiny storm of sadness. “I’ll give him back to you next Lanternium!” She doesn’t add that she’ll give it to me if she lives the full year.
We don’t talk about her sickness, and we don’t talk about my disgruntlement with Christmas. We each have our own burdens to bear but that is why she’s my best friend. I don’t know what I’d even tell her, if I tried. Something about this Santa Claus figurine, gifted to me during Douglas Day when I was five, lodged a wedge in my belief like a broken shard in an interior gear. The idea that all of this, everything, is as fake and contrived as he is.
That, and I think I might be claustrophobic, which is a heck of a thing to be when you’re born and raised inside a sealed container on a dried-up atmosphere-less moon.
“What did you girls get each other?” My Dad’s voice is a trombone that harmonizes with the idyllic chorus of voices surrounding us. My parents approach with their arms entwined, smiling beneath puffed parka hoods.
“Look, Mr. and Mrs. Chi!” Hellsey holds out the figurine. “Newton’s given me her Santa.”
“That’s very Christmas of you, Newton,” my Mom flips her long dark braid over her shoulder. “Hellsey, we’ll see you at the feast tonight?”
“Yes, Mrs. Chi. Happy Lanternium!”
“Happy Lanternium. I’m glad you’re feeling better. It’s nice to see you outside.” My Mom eyes me with the authority of a tiger. “Newton, it’s time to go. I need your help undrying the turkey. Big night for the Chis,” she nods to Hellsey, who understands. Her family undried the turkey for our Kislev last month. Hellsey didn’t have to help then though. Her low blood pressure got so bad she was in the hospital through Solstice, Diwali and Kislev.
Hellsey and I hug goodbye, but not too tight, because her bones feel as brittle as a broken china doll. “See you later,” I tell her. “Thanks for the sardines.”
“Thanks for the Santa,” she says. “I could use a good luck charm.”
I walk away, thinking maybe my gift wasn’t such a bad idea after all.
My Mom ropes her arm through mine and our family of only three moves through the Luna Square beneath the colorful flower-patterned lanterns and twinkling red and white bulbs strewn together between light poles and snow-dusted fauxpine trees. It isn’t real snow, of course, because water is too precious, but a synthetic cold concoction made to look like snow. Children swarm about, squealing and chasing each other in circles. We pass steaming metal umbrella stands selling sticky buns and hot chocolate, and my Dad buys us each a bun and a drink. I scarf my bun and wrap my mittens around my warm spicy cocoa, sipping it as we cross the cobblestone path toward our cottage.
We reach our home at the end of the path in the section of smaller cottages on Candy Cane Lane, designed for new couples whose families haven’t expanded yet. The Chi family never expanded beyond me. I duck beneath the mistletoe hanging from our arched white lattice gate toward the white cottage with the red door that’s strewn with neat swoops of fauxpine green garland. I don’t bother to glance at the giant circular parol lantern hanging on the door, casting pretty red and blue lights in the dimming shadows. Tomorrow the lantern will automatically come down, and the Yule wreath will replace it.
It’s truly a beautiful prison, once you realize the Lunar dome is a prison from which there is no escape. Most people don’t realize it though, because they’re too busy celebrating the twelve months of Christmas. One for each rotation around the Earth.
Inside the fireplace roars and my dad moves the multicolored rope-braided rug and lifts the trapdoor hatch in the fauxoak floor. He brings up the dried bird from the airless freeze chamber beneath the cottage, where all our goods are stored. The earthrun shuttles come once a month and families divide the hauls, each taking a turn storing and handling the big dried birds that become the centerpieces of whichever month of Christmas it is. Approximately five thousand families live in Lunaland, which means each month about five hundred birds fly through space unmanned to their destinations. If an alien life force ever came along and caught one of these shuttles, they’d probably wonder what in the heck fifty freeze-dried birds were doing, migrating while dead.
“Whoa,” he exclaims, his body halfway emerged from below deck. The whole cottage rumbles and sways. “Should’ve timed this better with the migration!” He is so good-natured about it I can hardly stand it. The force could have sliced him right in half. I suppose it’s better than the alternative: if our mobile dome didn’t migrate so we remain in the perpetual twilight provided by situating our dome behind the Earth, we’d spend half our days beneath the unwitting glare of the naked sun, trying not to fry inside like ants under a microscope. Talk about ruining Christmas.
“Robego, come up from there,” my mom scolds. We know she means business when she uses his first name. I move to help grasp the turkey so he doesn’t topple backward with the force. The migration makes your feet feel like escalator slides about to suck you up into their grate.
“Thanks, Newton,” my dad is downright sincere as Santa himself. Though Santa would never be a skinny glasses-wearing nerd of distant Asian descent. “You’re a huge help around here. Sure going to miss you when you grow up to start a family of your own.”
“Maybe I won’t,” I say.
“Honey, don’t say that,” my mom is a gingerbread woman with burnt edges come to life in 3-D who breathes frosting and speaks candy. She wraps me in her warm baked embrace. “You’ll find someone!”
Maybe I won’t, I repeat but only inside my head. I help my mom undry the turkey, which involves jabbing it repeatedly with injectable needles filled with preciously prescribed water like we’re performing a medical torture experiment. The turkey gradually Frankensteins back to life, or rather, back to regular normal death, before it’s stuffed up its newly refurbished butthole with fresh freeze-dried herbs and spices. My dad, meanwhile, performs a magical dance with the dried potatoes which involves a deft combination of juggling and stabbing. My dad would’ve made a great criminal, if there were such a thing as crime in Lunaland. He catches me watching him, and he laughs, his eyes crinkling together so tightly it’s a wonder he can even see.
“Newton, what do you think of my potato act? I think I’ll write our next play about a potato who finds his mate and they’re baked together in a pie and live happily ever after. Oh, that reminds me; I almost forgot! Our new one is on tonight.” He flicks on the TV screen that dominates our living room’s main wall. TV is a huge part of all our lives, since everything else besides cooking is completely automated.
Sleigh bells jangle through the opening credits and we pause our work to move to our sofa sectional to watch. When “Teleplay by Robego & Suiran Chi” flashes in gilded white letters across the screen, we applaud. We always applaud, but the last few rotations around the Earth, I have applauded with subsequently less amounts of fervor. Tonight’s program is about a girl, played by Marilyn Alpha, who falls in love with an Earthling she meets online when he promises her a real family Christmas—on Earth. Of course, he’s actually a con-bot the whole time, tricking her; she’s devastated, and she leans on her family for comfort, only to find the man who has truly loved her has been right under her nose, a family friend, and the only life she ever really wanted was in Lunaland the whole time. The stories are always the same, except for the actors and the circumstances and the subplots. They’re always about someone who wants to leave home but discovers that here is the best.
“Nice job on the asteroid subplot, Mom,” I tell her, and she smiles.
“Thank you, dear.” She pats my hand that rests atop my lap next to hers on our fauxleather sofa sectional. “Let’s get back to work.”
“Do you think you might ever write a story about someone who really does leave?”
Her laugh is a a crackling icicle falling on a soft snow bed, and her eyes are twinkling stars. “Newton, why would anyone ever want to leave Lunaland?”
Our dinner is loud and lively, fifteen of us total with Hellsey’s whole family, my mom’s brother and my dad’s sister and their kids. No grandparents, because grandparents do not last very long on Lunaland. My uncle and aunt both bring me food presents, candy and such, and though I offer her some, Hellsey refuses, and then barely eats a bite of her food. I do not think my friend is going to last very much longer on Lunaland either.
I sneak out after dinner’s over and the dishes are cleared and washed, though it isn’t really sneaking because everyone always knows where everyone else is. I bring my new digger tool and head for Ridgeback, the large mound where most of the good golden moonrocks are hidden deep beneath the dust. The earthrun shuttles have scales that detect the size and worth of rocks we find, and they add points to your account so you can order more things. What they do with the rocks when they leave here is anybody’s guess.
The sun is curling its fingers around the horizon and soon it will release its grip and plunge everything into pitch black, but there is nothing to be afraid of in the dark. I walk and walk, taking huge leaps in the lower gravity since I set my boots to make me lighter. Each boot takes its turn launching me into the air, clomping heavy tread marks in the packed, dry, chalky ground. When it’s pitch dark, I lower my visor over my eyes and activate dark-vision, which turns everything as sickly pale green as I imagine the real insides of my brain to look—wormy and festering with negative thoughts that ooze like runny sores.
I reach the edge of the dome and press my gloved hand up to it. The dome doesn’t feel like anything except solid. Not cold, not hot, just solid. Like the inside of a marble, or an eyeball. I scan the distant stars and I wonder if there’s another girl out there somewhere near one of those stars, like me, trapped inside a protective shell, and if she can see my sun as a little twinkling light in the faraway space. If she wishes she could be anywhere but where she is.
I sit down on the dusty ground and pull my present, my can of sardines, from Hellsey from my jumpsuit pocket and peel open the top. Now I allow myself to look at Earth, the glowing blue crystal ball, telling me that my fortune lies only by looking inside myself. That was a line my parents wrote for one of their TV plays once, and it’s so lame I can’t help but think of it every time I look at our mother planet. I taste the briny saltiness of the sardines, which is what I imagine what the ocean tastes like. It’s why I love them so much, sardines.
I polish off the last sardine, grab my tool, and bend down to dig and then I see it.
A tiny crack, like a whisper from a single hair on a feather to another, winding along at my knee-level and just minding its own business. I’ve never seen a crack in the dome before, though I have looked. I’ve heard of them, because everyone’s heard of them, but they disappear so fast into the dome that heals itself, nobody I know has ever actually encountered one before.
I trace my finger along the crack, petting it, like the pet mouse I found once in one of the earthrun shuttles and kept alive for almost a whole month until my Mom found it and cooked it as a side dish for dinner. It smelled delicious with onion, but I still refused to eat it. I want to keep this crack too, but it’s already fading. The shaky green line I’m seeing from my dark-vision visor grows thinner, like Hellsey, like everybody really who lives here. There is no avoiding the thinning; everybody succumbs to it eventually at one point.
I take my digger tool’s sharp point and I tap it on the crack. The crack responds with what I would swear is a shiver of delight, so I tap it again. I tap a third time, harder.
Then the crack spreads like a virus. A dancing virus with no hands and eight feet with long arching toenails and tentacles springing it out of its long stretchy thorax.
Uh-oh. What did I just do?
I check the com attached to my wrist and pull up a blue virtual searchscreen. “What happens when a crack in the dome spreads,” I speak into it.
“Fissures in the dome mend themselves,” a calm woman’s voice speaks back to me from my com. An image displays in front of me, showing the process of the dome’s self-repair.
“I know,” I tell the automated voice, “but what if something hits a fissure, like an asteroid, and it doesn’t mend?”
“If a fissure in the dome becomes irreparable, an earthrun shuttle will be sent for immediate evacuation while the Lunar dome is stabilized.”
Evacuation, she said. Meaning we’d all be free!
Why did I never think of this before?
My heart pounds. I pop it again, as hard as I can, right in the center of the crack. I watch its limbs grow other limbs, a spiderweb reaching branches to trap that perfect round blue fly inside: the Earth.
I put my hand up to the dome now, on the crack, and I feel something. It’s no longer a neutral shell anymore—there is a soft movement of air like a stolen secret promise.
I better get the heck out of here.
When I reach my cottage again on Candy Cane Lane, there is a commotion outside. I push my way through the crowd of family and neighbors who bark at me, “Give her space!”
Hellsey has collapsed on our fauxleather sofa sectional. Her breath is short, and her eyes are desperate. She sees me and reaches out her frail hand. I rush to grasp it. “I can’t breathe,” she says. “Newt… I… help… me.” She chokes and gasps, suffocating.
“Somebody do something!” I cry out. “Get her some oxygen!”
My Mom rests her hand on my shoulder. “Newton, I’m sorry,” she says. “You know we don’t spare oxygen for the dying.”
“She’s not dying!” I scream, and then I choke too. The air is really thin in here. How is it all happening so fast? It is just a tiny crack, miles away.
An alarm horn swells from above and around us: a low droning hum that tingles the base of my spine. “Oxygen depletion warning,” the same calm woman’s voice from my com announces, seeming to come from the heavens above. “Remain calm. Oxygen depletion warning.”
The crowd in our house turns simultaneously and moves in an orderly fashion toward out of the cottage and down the walk. We’ve had evacuation drills, but never had to actually do one in real life. I glance at Hellsey. Her face is blue and she is stretched out stiff, clutching her throat. Her eyes are wild and bugged out. “Help,” she mouths, unable to form words.
“Help her!” I choke out but nobody, not even her own parents, turns back for her.
I move to grab her, but my Mom grasps my arm to hold me back. “Leave her,” she says. “You know the rules.”
“I’m not leaving her!” I wrangle out of my Mom’s grip and bend down to pull Hellsey’s arm over my shoulder. “I’m not leaving you,” I tell her.
For a colony that celebrates the giving spirit of Christmas every day of every year, when the chips are down and danger looms, the people of Lunaland really are a bunch of rotten, no-good selfish sons of Grinches.
I force Hellsey to stand, straining under her weight though she hardly weighs anything at all. My strain is the reason helping is against the rules, because any extra effort to evacuate that I take to save someone who can’t make it on their own, takes away remaining oxygen from everyone else who can. “Come on, you can do it,” I encourage her, but she is getting heavier and heavier and I really don’t think I can do it.
Everyone else has gone off dutifully down the faux-snowy path, so there’s nobody left to give me any more seriously scolding side-eye for helping Hellsey. Something clatters behind us and I turn, almost dropping her, but it was only the Santa figurine falling out of her pocket. I take a quick moment to decide, then I rest her down onto the path to retrieve the stupid thing and stuff it back into her pocket before hoisting her up again.
“You’ll need that,” I say. “For luck.”
Ahead, I see the largest earthrun shuttle land in the center of the Town Square, crushing the biggest Christmas tree underneath it like a giant cat jumping on it for fun and taking it down, balls and stars flying everywhere.
I’m just at the edge of the Square, where the hot cocoa vendor and the sticky bun vendor have long ago abandoned their stations, when I see two armed guards approaching. They’re tall and muscular and they wear clear glass oxygen bubbles over their faces which are a healthy shade of pink. Earthlings.
“Drop her,” the male Earthling instructs, his voice tinny and far away beneath his mask. I gratefully comply and the female Earthling takes Hellsey from me and drags her away toward the shuttle. I sigh relief and then gasp what’s probably the last remaining bit of air left in the dome when the male Earthling claps handcuffs on my wrists.
“Newton Chi, you’re under arrest,” he says.
There really had been no defense to offer, seeing as how everybody knows everybody’s business in Lunaland because there are monitors and cameras everywhere. That, and my search records about fissures were the glue that sealed my coffin. I had ridden the earthrun shuttle in a sequestered pod, wondering what my fate would be when we landed on Earth, but truth be told I was happy.
My parents had not visited me before they left on the shuttle back to Lunaland, once the fissure was fixed. I brought too much shame on house Chi, so they had disowned me without even needing to tell me.
My cell is small and made of cement. My roommate is a burly girl of around my age, with bulbous sores of pink pus populating her face and a jagged scar running across her forehead. She seems nice.
I follow her to the Yard, as they call it, for my first outside time and I’m practically dripping with excitement, and sweat too, honestly, because it is really hot here. I love it. Real air, real heat. Even the food they had given me while I was in solitary holding awaiting my very brief trial was really not all that bad. I can get used to this, which I actually will have to, seeing as how I’m serving a double life sentence. Hardly seems fair to not get at least some leniency, since Hellsey did survive after all, thanks to me. But I guess it was the whole putting the entire colony in danger thing the judge felt was purely homicidal—which it obviously wasn’t, but whatever, I’m not complaining. I’ll miss Hellsey most of all, but that’s what prison emails are for.
The Yard is made of more cement, but it has no cement walls to surround it. A patch of grass and real trees lies in a clearing just beyond, so I move towards it. Why is nobody hanging out by the trees? Real trees with real leaves, oh man, this is the life!
My roommate follows me, picking at the sores on her face. “Where you goin, Moony?” She calls me Moony, which is sort of sweet, I guess.
I make it to the edge of the cement and I’m knocked hard on my head and flat onto my back.
My roommate howls laughter. “What did you think, Moony, they’re just going to let you go play on the grass?” She points to the glass that surrounds us, and only then do I see it when the stars in my head clear from my knock to the noggin. The reflection above from the sun shining down and glinting off the top.
It’s a dome.
I move to sitting and place my hand against it but a huge jolting zap stings me and I jerk my hand back.
“Yeah, it’s electrified,” my roommate confirms. “What are you, stupid too, Moony?”
I look around at the other prisoners, all shrunken back as close as they can get toward the building, fighting for any crop of shade they can find, which isn’t much.
Then I remember something. My stomach churns and twists with dread. “It’s Yule tonight,” I say. “Do you celebrate Yule here?”
“What the frack is a Yule?” My roommate spits a loogie onto the cement. “Never heard of it. But you got here just in time for Halloween.”
“Oh, you’ll see,” my roommate smirks. “Tonight, when the lights go down and the guards go home, you’re going to be somebody’s trick, and their treat.”
Copyright Kelly Kurtzhals Geiger 2019
Kelly Kurtzhals Geiger is a six-time Daytime Emmy-nominated television writer and producer in Los Angeles, currently pursuing her MA in English - Creative Writing from California State University at Northridge. Kelly has forthcoming short stories in The Arcanist and Trembling with Fear. She has published in the anthologies Hell Comes to Hollywood II and Cemetery Riots, and “The Northridge Review.” Find her on Twitter @kellykgeiger.