It’s Christmas. Hopefully you’re celebrating it in the manner that pleases you best. For me, that’s a quick trip across town for breakfast with my immediate family, followed by the annual viewing of Die Hard, followed by getting home early enough to fit in a little extra writing and tidy my apartment a big.
It’s also an excuse to break this story out of the mothballs and give it another airing. It was one of the first things I ever had published as a short-story writer back in 2007. It’s…seasonably appropriate.
For varying meanings of the word “appropriate.”
THE YEAR THE ZOMBIES CAME FOR CHRISTMAS
It was Katie that remembered the puppy, trapped in its cardboard box without any air-holes. The fact that we’d forgotten to punch any in came to her at 2 AM, a surge of panic that sent her upright in our bed.
“It’s cardboard,” I said. “It’s not like the damn thing will suffocate. We’ll make sure Steve opens it early, before any of the other presents.”
That calmed her down a little, though only just. She fretted, because fretting is the kind of thing Katie does, but the puppy was downstairs and Steve was a notoriously light sleeper. Another trip to adjust the presents, past the creaking floorboards in the hall, was likely to wake him. We didn’t want that, not when we were holding onto his tenuous belief in Santa Claus by the skin of our teeth.
So we left it; a puppy in a box that was carefully wrapped in a blanket to muffle stray barks and covered with purple wrapping paper.
Neither of us had grown up with pets. The dog was foreign to our experience of the world, an idea embraced for its old-fashioned charm. You give a kid a puppy, let the learn how to take care of it. Teach the how to be responsible for another living, breathing thing.
I imagine that it whimpered in its final moments, before the fear and the darkness overtook it. Before the breath locked in tiny lungs and it lay down for what should have been a final rest. Sometimes, when I remember that last Christmas Eve, I feel a pang of sympathy for the puppy’s lonely death.
Christmas Morning is an insular time, cut off from the rest of the world. We slept late, waking to Steve’s CD full of Christmas carols rather than the six AM news. There were no newspapers to collect, no job luring us out of the house within the space of hours.
There was no reason to suspect anything was amiss when the puppy’s box started twitching…