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Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Klesmer Vampires Steal Christmas

The is the first time I've posted my fiction on my blog, so this is kind of an experiment. I'm pretty happy with the story, but you won't be finding it in Cricket Magazine anytime soon. Not only is it that rarest of all things, a young adult short story, but the language isn't entirely age appropriate and it pokes a little harmless fun at conservatives. Maybe some day I'll write a few more short stories and make an e-book collection out of it, but for now, this will be the only place you'll be able to read it.




Klesmer Vampires Steal Christmas


                “Happy Holidays,” beamed the frizzy haired semi-retiree. She was wearing the store uniform, a red smock with a name tag that read, “Your greeter is Margaret” and a giant red and green “Happy Holidays” button.
                “Merry. Christmas,” Stew’s dad glared, enunciating the words through what would have been a smile if smiles were made of razor blades. Margaret blanched.
                “Did you have to do that?” said Stew’s mom once they were out of earshot of the greeter.
                “What? Heaven forbid I mention Christmas, on Christmas. Heaven forbid I don’t say ‘happy holidays’ like all these other brainwashed atheists,” Said Stew’s dad.
                “But you don’t have to look at them like you’re Jeffrey Daumer every time you say it. Besides, I don’t think she’s an atheist. I think I’ve seen her at our church. I think she’s in my mother’s prayer group,” said Stew’s mom. “They just make them say that.”
                “See? See? That’s exactly what I’m talking about.” Said Stew’s dad.
                Why was it ‘Merry’ Christmas anyway? thought Stew. You didn’t say “merry” anything else. His dad didn’t say, “have a merry day” or anything like that.
 “I’m going to go look at games. What time do you want to meet?” asked Stew.
                “You can, after we get you some sweaters,” said his mom.
                “I have sweaters!” said Stew.
                “They’re two years old and they’re all ratty,” said his mom.
                ‘Can’t you just get them for me?” asked Stew.
                “OK, but you won’t like the ones I pick,” said his mom.
                “OK, fine, I’ll go,” said Stew.
                “First we have to get your father a new jacket,” said his mom.
                “This is going to take forever,” said Stew.
                “If I have to listen to you complain the whole time, I’m not going to get you any videogames for Christmas,” said Stew’s dad, but it was a threat that had lost its potency after he had said it for the fiftieth time.
                “You mean: Santa isn’t going to get him any videogames. And of course he’s going to get his presents. Don’t traumatize him,” said his mom. Even though he was twelve, his mom still insisted on talking about “Santa,” and Stew always felt like he had to go along with it. Whatever made her happy.  As long as he got his stuff.  “Of course, they might be videogames. We won’t know what Santa brings you till Christmas,” his mom winked.  They better be, thought Stew.
Gitty up, gitty up, gitty up lets go, we’re having a ball,” the Christmas music cajoled over the store speakers.  Stew hated Christmas music. He particularly hated the “gitty up” song. What did “gitty up” even mean, anyway?  Why didn’t you just say something like, “go, horse.” And why was it always a “sleigh” and not “sled?” It was like the whole “merry” thing, something you only said on Christmas even though they hadn’t talked like that for hundreds of years or something.  In fact, aside from the presents, Stew wasn’t that into Christmas in general.
His friend Paul was Jewish, and he was supposed to get eight presents on eight days, but they always turned out to be boring, like sweaters and socks. Fortunately his grandparents had what they called a “Hanukah bush” which was the same as a Christmas tree, but Jewish, and they got him all the presents he wanted. They even got him Grand Theft Auto last year, so they couldn’t have been all that religious. Stew’s dad wasn’t all that religious either, for that matter.  He only got this way at Christmas time.  For some reason, every year his dad made this big deal about how the world had it out for Christmas and everyone was going to get brainwashed into saying “happy holidays” and stop celebrating the birth of Jesus. As far as celebrating Jesus went,  they went to Sunday service, and they had a plastic nativity scene under the tree, but that was about as Jesusy as they got. Mostly Christmas was about Christmas music and decorations and getting stuff.
                As they headed towards menswear, his dad scowled at the kosher food section in this super obvious way. Any other time of year, his dad didn’t care about Jews or the kosher section, but now that it was Christmas he had to make a big deal about it. All his dad was doing was making Christmas suck even more, and he was pretty sure that his dad’s obsession with Christmas had nothing at all to do with Jesus, and was mostly just an excuse for him to be a dick. He wouldn’t even let Stew go to his friend Paul’s Bar Mitzvah.
 “He’s deliberately having it on Christmas to spite us,” his dad had said, but it wasn’t like he was having it on Christmas. It was the Saturday before Christmas, and Stew had never been to a Bar Mitzvah before. He knew most of it would be boring, but he had heard that the food was awesome. So while Stew was shopping for sweaters, Paul was having his Bar Mitzvah.
The food was the usual Bar Mitzvah fare. There were latkes and matzo ball soup, and what Paul’s grandmother called, “Jewish nachos,” which were like regular nachos, but with whitefish instead of chicken or beef.  Paul had wanted a chocolate cake, but instead it was some kind of white cake with a fruit filling, but at least it was cake.
He got through his Aliyah without a single mistake. Well, mostly. He’d hiccupped on that first eloheinu, but then it all had gone pretty smoothly after that. Now it was over, and he could finally get all that Hebrew out of his brain and enjoy himself.
Then there was the klesmer band. Paul didn’t used to think he liked klesmer, but this klesmer band was different. This band played a lot faster than the old guys who usually came to bar mitzvahs, and they were a lot younger. The lead singer and dulcimer player was what his grandmother would call “a real shtarker,” and the violin player looked like a fashion model. She was playing so fast, the bow was nothing but a blur as it danced across the strings, making it irresistible not to dance along with it. Soon everyone was dancing, his grandparents, his younger cousins, everyone, even though most of them never did, especially his grandmother. Even Paul couldn’t help dancing. Then Paul noticed something else about the singer. His eyeteeth came out at least an inch over his upper lip, like the plastic Dracula fangs you got at Halloween. The violin and viola player also had fangs. What were they all wearing fangs for, and why hadn’t he noticed before?
 Just as Paul thought this, the singer appeared in the middle of the audience. Paul hadn’t seen him leave the stage, but there he was in the middle of the crowd, sinking his fangs into his grandmother’s throat. It happened so fast that Paul wasn’t sure if he could trust his own eyes. But it was true. The singer was sucking the blood from his grandmother’s throat and draining her pale. But she didn’t scream. No one made a sound. For some reason, all they could do was keep dancing. Even Paul was still dancing. He had to get out of there. He had to run, but all he could do was dance. So he danced out of the temple rec room and down the hall, and out the door until he could no longer hear the music. And that’s when he ran.
The new Halo was pretty sweet, but Stew had barely gotten a chance to check it out. He was hoping to get in a little game play in before they had to go, but instead, his mom kept making him try on sweaters. As far as Stew was concerned, one sweater was as good as another, but at least he stopped her from making him try on one of those, “hello, I’m a dork” Christmas sweaters with the holly and reindeer patterns on it. If he hadn’t been there to say, “no” she might have actually bought it for him, so maybe it had been worth it to stick around. By the time they got home it was already dark, and his mom was starting to make dinner.
“What are we having for dinner?” asked Stew.
“Enchiladas,” said his mom.
“You see, look at what we eat. Mexican food. Everyone eats Mexican food now. This country is being overrun by illegal immigrants, but we all just stand by and eat their food,” said his dad.
“I like Mexican food. You like Mexican food,” said Stew.
“That’s not the point,” said his dad.
“Mom, can I go play games?” Stew asked.
“Sure honey,” said his mom.
“This kid doesn’t care about anything but videogames. I don’t think it’s healthy. He’s probably being brainwashed,” said his dad.
“By Mario Brothers?”  Stew asked.
“No, no, I mean by all these—I don’t know. Isn’t there one about stealing? If he keeps playing these games he’s going to turn into some kind of felon,” said his dad. But before his dad could argue the point any further, the doorbell rang.  When his dad answered the door, he was met by a group of carolers. There were all wearing Santa hats, a man and a women and three teenage girls. They were all blond, and obviously related, a couple and their three daughters. They were singing that “gitty up” song, and ordinarily Stew would have gone to hide in his room, but the girls were pretty hot.  His dad put on one of his fakey smiles, and Stew stood beside him trying to smile too, and also trying not to stare for too long at the girl’s boobs. Stew wasn’t sure what else he was supposed to do when people were caroling at you. He didn’t think his dad knew what to do either. It was starting to get really uncomfortable, and Stew was hoping the song would end soon. When the singers finally finished the “gitty up” song, they all said “Merry Christmas” in unison, and the man held out a coffee can filled with bills and change.
“That was…great. Just a second,” Stew’s dad said, taking out his wallet. “Uh, all I have is a twenty. Do you think maybe you could make change?” There was a long awkward silence as they all smiled painfully at one another, until Stew’s dad said, “Hey, what the hell, it’s Christmas, why don’t you take the whole thing,” before reluctantly stuffing the bill in the can.
“God bless you,” said the man before they all vanished out of sight, as if they were afraid Stew’s dad might change his mind.
“That was real generous of you, dad,” Said Stew with not quite enough sarcasm for his dad to call him on it.
“You know, you know, you wonder where all that money goes. I mean, how do we know they’re not just keeping it?” said Stew’s dad.
“It’s going to go to their church!” yelled Stew’s mom from the kitchen.
“But how do we know?” Stew’s dad yelled back.
“I don’t think they’re felons, dad,” said Stew, and this time his dad gave him one of those, “you better watch it” glares.
After dinner, stew decided to peek out the front door to see if he could catch another glimpse of those teenage girls and their boobs, but as he had guessed, they were long gone. In the distance, he heard music. It was the sound of a violin, and there was singing, but it wasn’t Christmas music.  At first, Stew couldn’t make out the words, but when he listened more closely he realized that the words were foreign and he couldn’t understand them anyway. He was about to close the door when he saw a kid running down the street wearing a suit and tie and one of those funny little Jewish hats. The kid was shouting. He was shouting Stew’s name. It was Paul. Stew wasn’t wearing any shoes, so when he reached Paul, his socks were completely soaked by the snow, but he was more worried about Paul than his socks. Paul was holding his chest, breathing hard and wheezing.  He looked awful. He looked like he had been running for miles.
“What’s going on, Paul? What are you doing here?” asked Stew.
“Once Paul had caught his breath, he said, “They’re—they’re coming.”
“Who’s coming?”
“They’re…they’re..” started Paul.
“Why don’t you come inside and have a drink of water or something,” said Stew. Paul was so exhausted Stew practically had to drag him to the front door.
“What’s Paul doing here?” asked Stew’s dad. “He looks like hell.”
“I…they’re coming and…my grandmother,” Paul said, not making any sense. Stew could still hear the music from inside the house. It was getting louder and louder.
“What the hell? What’s that? That’s some kind of—dammit that’s some kind of Jewish music. No offense Paul,” said Stew’s dad, not sounding particularly sorry, “What are they…I bet this is some kind of—they’re just doing it to spite us!  Because of the carolers!”
“They’re they’re…” stuttered Paul, trying urgently to get the words out. Then the doorbell rang, and with sudden clarity Paul shouted, “Don’t answer it!”
“And why not?  I’m going to give these guys a piece of my mind,” said Stew’s dad. When he answered the door, the music was inescapable. The three musicians were standing on the porch playing a wild and free and completely entrancing melody, like nothing Stew had ever heard before.
“Hey, hey, I want to—I want to talk to you,” said Stew’s dad, struggling to talk over the music. “I know what you’re trying to do. You’re trying to make some kind of Jewish statement.  You’re—you’re anti-Christmas, that’s what you are!”
All at once, the musicians stopped playing. The singer looked Stew’s dad in the eye and said, “We’re Unitarians,” before sinking his fangs into his dad’s neck.
“They’re vampires!” said Paul, finally getting out the words, and they were the last words that Stew and his parents would ever hear.
The End

This story was inspired by a particularly amazing klesmer band I saw in college, whose name, unfortunately, is lost to me. Of course it's also inspired by the "war on Christmas" propaganda that was popular for a while on Fox News. I'm also particulary fond of contemporary Jewish culture, and the little ways that reform Jews use to get around some of the more stringent traditions without rocking the boat too much. Christmas is simply unavoidable. Kids want the same stuff their friends get. Parents want to please their kids, and unfortunately, kids aren't always as generous.

You may also notice that my protagonist is twelve, but I don't pretend that he's completely innocent, or that he's not sexually curious. The "girls are icky" stage usually ends for boys at about nine or earlier, but for some reason contemporary YA fiction for younger readers still refuses to acknowledge this. When I was in grade school, we used to go to this roller rink called "Roller King", and I was always attracted to the girls with braces. At the time I thought braces made them look more mature, since it usually meant they were older and starting to develop. Teenagers were hot. Even when I was nine. But acknowledging this reality unfortunately causes parents to get nervous. So I wrote this story without regard for market. I was having such a good time that I wrote the first draft in one sitting, and polished it up the next day, which happened to be this morning. I hope you enjoyed it.



               

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