I didn’t want to be an elf, but when you’re broke and hungry and it’s Christmas Eve, that’s how you end up—a fill-in, last-minute elf, cold in tights and a jumper, swimming through the squirming mass of screams and germs that is a pile of kids waiting to sit on Santa’s lap.

Me, in tights. Clearly desperation working somewhere. Maybe that’s why the old guy started to screw with me in the breakroom. He wasn’t wearing a wig, or a beard. The belly was his, the cheeks were his; the twinkle was probably bourbon in his coffee. He winked at me when I walked in. He said, “Carol!” and he held out his arm like I was going to sit on his lap or something.

“Yes,” I said. “Hello, Santa.” He knew my name, but that was something the manager of the mall must’ve told him.

“Do you still have that Holly Hobby doll I brought you when you were six?” But he just knew that because every six-year-old loved Holly Hobby.

I was hungover, and I did not need this shit. “No,” I said. “Are you going to tell me what the meaning of Christmas is now?”

He put his finger on the side of his nose and twinkled at me.

“I’m Jewish,” I said.

“Don’t lie to Santa,” he said.

The door banged open and Harry the manager came in and shooed us back out into the sea of snot. I tried not to meet his eyes again all night, but I felt him twinkling at me across the heads of screaming children. The lights spasmed and the tinsel burned and if he was trying to fill me with the Christmas spirit, he should have given me a sandwich.

Once the kids were shoveled out the door and the lights went out, I tried to dodge out of there before he could catch me, but he was waiting by the door, looking tired, still twinkling.

He said, “Merry Christmas, Carol,” and his voice was kind, and he held the door for me. I couldn’t answer him. I ducked my head and I raced home.

I don’t know what I was thinking, but my heart was pounding. He hadn’t gotten to me, but my heart went thump, when I swung the door of my apartment wide. I don’ t know what I was expecting—not a happy ending.

She used to come by every year, in the autumn, never arriving before the change of leaves or after the first snow. We forgot about her the rest of the year; there was always the matter of getting enough to eat, you see. These days my granddaughter Jodie, who works at that flashy company down the road, what’s it called–Innovocor or something, they all have names like Roman gods don’t they?–Jodie just takes her car and brings us home bags of food. I don’t complain, nor Russell neither.

Let Jodie and the rest of the grandkids roll their eyes, I still say they should hope the old times don’t come again. They haven’t lived in a time when gardens weren’t recreational.

Can’t remember her name. Demi maybe. Or Marta. When the nights would draw in, we’d remember her. You’d be sitting on the stoop, carving your jack o’lantern with the kitchen knife you weren’t supposed to use, listening to your mother taking names in vain in the pantry while she tried to figure how to get you through the winter.

The leaves would kick up, a gust of yellow and orange and red down by the road, and she’d be walking along like she had plans, one hand on the fence rail. Some years she had red hair and overalls, other years black hair in those dreadlocks, and a face sweet as milky coffee.

She’d step onto the porch. “For your mother,” she’d say, and there would be two or three big split willow baskets by the door, bags of flour, sugar, potatoes, oats, cracked corn, butter already churned, everything needed, even shot for the Winchester. “And for you to share with your sisters,” she’d add, and hand you a new tin bucket for the well full of apples and gingerbread, maybe even chocolate.

Our neighbors’ boy Carl, who grew up to be Jodie’s boyfriend’s grandfather, he didn’t share one year. You’d better believe we always shared after we heard what happened: weevils in the flour, potatoes sprouting in January, back roof of their chicken shed falling in and foxes to follow, and gingerbread that tasted like potash. Demi never said a thing when she came by next, just gave him the baskets and the buckets just the same. My theory is she saw he learned his lesson.

By Jimmy Clark Bragg
4th Period Composition
Duos are better than monos for many reasons. First, duos can do more things at the same time. This is called multitasking. Monos can do two or maybe three things at the same time, but only with two hands and eyes. Duos can do twice as much as that because they have two whole bodies.
Duos have redundancy. If something happens to a mono’s body, and they die, they are dead for good. Duos can lose one half of themselves and still live. They become a mono then, which is sad, but it is better than being dead.
Duos can remember twice as much as a mono. This is useful for geography tests, because duos can memorize and study twice as fast as monos. Duos are smarter than monos.
There are some bad things about being a duo. Duos have to buy twice as many clothes and twice as much food. It costs twice as much to go to the cinema. It can be very expensive to be a duo.
It is against the law for grown-up duos to have more than one job, so it can be hard to pay for the extra food and clothes. To make enough money, duos sometimes have to take dangerous jobs in space.
Worst of all, it is not acceptable for duos marry or date monos, no matter how much a duo boy likes a mono girl. I don’t know why this is true, but my mother says so.
In conclusion, there are some downsides to being a duo, but the advantages outweigh them. I would not want to be a mono for all the money in the world, but I might if it meant I could take Missy Callahan to the movies. She could sit between me and hold my hands. But that doesn’t matter too much. Some day, I will meet a duo girl and we can go to the movies while we do our homework at the same time. That would be even better.

The town of Antrin Corners sat in hot summer darkness, from Hank’s Auto to Fred’s Coffin Refurbishment. Down at the Clothes Check (“No More Burst Buttons!  No More Teeth Marks!”), Sandrine had just finished mending young Jim Seely’s shirt, placing it in the cubby with the rest of his things, when Officer Smarandescu stopped in.

“Coffee?” she offered, hoping her voice didn’t shake.

“No, thank you; I’m almost ready for the coffin,” he replied, carefully looking into her eyes.

“All quiet tonight?”

“Well, yes, though it’s damned close to full out there.”

She pointed at her mending pile.

“Don’t I know it,” she smiled.

“It’s mostly the newcomers who can’t keep it together in the afterlife. You’re human, and anyway you grew up here. But the new people… Sometimes I think of going to a quieter beat, like New York. I hear there are some—sympathetic—folks in the force there.”

“Dumitru! Even you were new here, a couple of centuries ago. Be nice.”

“True: but that means I know the families. I know who’s carrying a grudge against whom. At least it’s all quiet on the feuding front tonight,” he joked shyly.

He hoped his voice didn’t shake, either. Her coffee might be appalling but her countenance was superb. The way she had looked at him lately, he had begun to hope she might risk the bite. It was a lonely coffin every dawn. Fred would widen it practically at cost, for an old friend.  Too old?

“It’s never all quiet. You know that, Dumitru. Some cub is always falling in love with some young vamp—or worse, fighting over a human—and then the moon goes full and all hell breaks loose. It’s like that Twilight,” she went on, smiling apologetically when he flinched.

“We don’t glow,” he grumbled.

“You do to me,” she replied before she could stop herself. He stared at her.

“Perhaps,” he ventured at last, “You might come for a flight at bat time, some night? If it doesn’t scare you. You’ve always been brave, for a human.”

She smiled at him.

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