They came overnight, and we did not notice. Not at first, no, because their brothers and sisters were already here, a discreet phalanx of unobtrusive invaders. An expeditionary force, embedded deep cover in our towns and cities. Our villages. Everywhere. Waiting for the signal.
No presents. Something needed to be done, so here I am in the back yard of a house far from home, dressed in black and carrying a crowbar. I wait. I’ve been here three nights in a row and I know to wait. The lights on the tree switch off and still I wait. Give them half an hour, 45 minutes to be sure.
In at the window, splintering the wood to wrench up the sash. In. No light but a streetlight a few yards down, doesn’t matter. Everywhere is the same in suburbia. I roll the balls of my feet across the parquet floor, balloon my legs silently across to the tree. There, gifts. Too many for this small family, they sha’n’t miss a few. I pull off and pocket the tags. Someone shifts upstairs. A child sighs in their sleep. I think of Jo, sprawled on the rug, hollow-cheeked and sad-eyed. No presents. Could I disappoint her?
The presents are wonderful. Jo will be happy, maybe she will smile for the first time in months… but something nags at me. A sigh. A tag sat in my pocket. Something needs to be done, or I will never feel well.
So here I am again, in another yard. Waiting for the lights to go off, waiting to go in and take not so many gifts. No need to replace like for like. Then tomorrow; another house, a few less, to make up for this. And then tomorrow.
His mind bled. He held up his hand; it shimmered, each hair picked out in fine spirals of oil-on-water rainbows. His body rippled between states. He was male and female. She could feel each change but couldn’t decide which was true, her own thought process an unreliable narrator.
Seething-black snake-serpent in MY HOUSE keep your distance creature I know you I know where you slither-crawled from where you’ll get yourself back in to curled sleepless round your nest of rotted chalk eggshells hatching only dead cells.
The fading light of sunset suffused the woods with a staggeringly tedious glow. Oh god, he thought, not this again. Not the majestic beauty of nature. The rich autumnal hymn rising wordlessly to the delight of the unknowable cosmos. Christ. Who actually enjoys this bullshit?
The end of the world is always the same; the day dawns downy with ghosts, red sun casting shadows of things that can no longer be seen. Every moment is pressed with meaning, significance, this is the last time this will happen, take in this detail. You won’t see it again.
You only notice in retrospect.
“They said I was mad,” he said. “They said it would never work.” I wondered who ‘they’ were.
“I work mostly in the genre of metafiction,” I said, not looking up from my monitor. “I’m not really interested in your story.”
There were three crows, sat on different branches in the same tree. I lay on the soft grass beneath, staring up as the crows stared down.