The night had grown dense with snow and darkness when Brigid entered the old house. Curses and reprimands cut through the evening air, reminding her that her parents and brothers were not far behind. This calmed Brigid somewhat, though did not prevent her from looking from side to side as she reached up to grasp the door handle. After what she had seen earlier – or thought she had seen – Brigid was certain that she did not want to be left alone for too long in this horrible storm.
Everything had seemed perfect only a few hours ago. Leaving church, she had laughed at the white blanket that covered the ground and the family van especially when her brother Sean – fourth born children, Mom revealed, were born agitators – had thrown a snowball at Kevin, number seven and the youngest boy, missing him and hit their father instead. Brigid giggled, remembering her father’s face and the scene of Dad chasing Sean through the tombstones with Kevin throwing snowballs indiscriminately at everybody behind a statue of St. Xavier.
At that time, Christmas Eve felt warm and full of promise. Even walking back to the van, shuddering as clumps of broken melting snowballs trickled down her back – Sean and Dad had allowed their battle to spill over into the gallery, so now everyone felt wet and cold – Brigid could smell the food, hear the games, and feel the sweet smoothness of unopened presents. Of course, she could not really feel comfortable until she changed clothes. Particularly her shoes.
“Mom, when we get home can we change? My shoes hurt.” Her mother’s face, now sodden from the fight and shivering as the wind picked up, formed a deep frown. Her eyes seemed to focus ahead of her at the large ambling form of Brigid’s father.
“No,” her mother answered loudly, apparently so everyone could hear. “No, we are all staying dressed up. I don’t care how cold, wet, or unhappy any of you are, but we will take family pictures in front of the tree in our dress clothes. If this is a problem, you can blame your idiot of a father.”
A deep laugh bellowed ahead of them, and Brigid saw her father look back and wink. “Come on kids. The quicker we get home and get pictures, the sooner we can get dressed and over to Pop’s.”
Kevin raced by and jumped in the car shouting at the rest of his siblings to hurry up so that he could feed the cows before it got too dark. Brigid was learning that Kevin did not enjoy the dark much, nearly panicking when a hurricane knocked out the power last August. Sean, president of their local 4-H club, told him to calm down as they still needed to carry a load of hay out to the barn. It would probably be dark by the time they finished anyway. Kevin frowned and insisted that everyone hurry up nevertheless.
“If we had taken my Toyota,” Patrick shouted, across the open doors, “We would be home in half the time.” Kevin shot a vicious glare at his elder brother before growling at the permanent grin transfixed on Patrick’s face.
“Older brothers,” Brigid muttered under her breath.
“Would not,” Kevin replied confidently as his voice climbed another decibel. “Our Ford can outdrive any foreign piece-of-crap on the road. Just you wait ‘til I get my license.”
“Yeah, so we can race my Toyota piece-of-crap and your Ford,” Pat countered. “I’ll wait for you at the finish line.”
“Shut up, ya frickin’ retard.”
“Calm down buddy,” Murph, the eldest of Brigid’s siblings, called soothingly. “Relax. He’s just messing with you. You have to learn not to get so excited.”
“I am calm! Pat’s just being an idiot!”
As Murph sighed, Pat grinned and Kevin calmly explained the advantages of American motors in as loud a voice as he could manage, Dad dropped back to lift Brigid into the car and wait for Mom, who continued to scowl. “I hope you’re happy. You have laundry duty this week.” Dad just smiled and kissed her on the cheek.
“Idiot,” she said, but she did not resist the kiss.
“Kevin, look at the camera! Katie, honey, move to the front, I can’t see your face. Patrick! Will you please stop tickling your sister! Bree, you know we don’t hit and stay still! Kevin, focus! And Shannon for heaven’s sake, smile just a little!”
After much grumbling and shouting – mostly from Mom – all eight of the Murphey children assembled in front of the tree, and Christmas photos were taken. Everyone then dispersed. Katie and Patrick ran into the office to check their email. Murph found a leather chair to read, and the three middle boys, Ryan, Shannon, and Sean, were drafted by Dad to load up the van. Kevin and Brigid were left behind to fight and argue. During the time it took to gather, organize themselves according to height, and take the picture, it had grown dark and Kevin had grown nervous and unhappy. “Bree, if you had stopped squirming, we could have gotten done faster!”
Brigid glared at her brother. Her shoes had itched and scratched her feet all day long, causing her to dance around while Mom took the picture over and over and over again. “My feet are hurting me! How would you like to wear these shoes? They hurt even more now that I’m wet.”
“You’re such a baby.”
“Am not!” And with that she pounded him on the arm.
It was not a very strong hit, and Kevin knew it. Nevertheless, he smiled and began shouting: “Mooom, Brigid hit me! She’s being a brat.”
“Am not, Mom! Kevin called me a baby. Gosh, dang-it! Everybody always yells at me! HE started it!”
“Geez, Bree,” Kevin smiled, his voice oozing that false-innocence, to which Brigid attributed to all species of red-handed thugs, bullies and older brothers. “Why do you have to be so melodramatic ‘bout everything?”
Mom of course told the both of them to be quiet and told Brigid to behave herself, which caused Kevin in all his pain to chuckle. Brigid stomped away to the hallway, put on her tennis shoes and ran outside slamming the door in the process.
The night had indeed become darker, Brigid noticed, stepping out onto the porch. The lights emanating from the house only appeared to breach the first layer of falling flakes, forming a wall between her and the rest of the woods. She could barely make out the shape of the van. Shouts and yells escaped through the door as the rest of her family scrambled about the house. Yet between the gentle tuff tuff of snow falling on snow, she heard something else. An invitation to enter the darkness and be absorbed by the storm. Something else was out there. Gently and quietly she stepped out onto the brick pathway and scrunched around the corner of the house beside the holly bushes where the old lamp-post had burnt out. Folding herself into the pitch shadow of the house, she stood listening to the two creatures conferring with one another.
“Tonight, sheesh will be the night shheesh, yessss?” The first whispered apparently weezing at it spoke with some difficulty.
“Yessss, indeed. Thesh are the lasth. And then . . .”
“The gnawing, sheesh! Yes, sheesh the gnawing will begin, yessss.”
“Yesss, the meal. They will be broughtsh to . . .”
“Brigid! Are you out here? Bree?!” Brigid jumped at the sound of her mother’s voice, knowing the creatures were so close and unsure what they would do if they saw her. She turned to look where the creatures had been standing, but all that was left was two white holes and a trail of small footsteps that seemed to have disappeared through the white curtain of downy flakes.
Brigid smiled as the warmth of friends, family, and gas stove brought life to the old house and dissolved all her morbid fears and worries. It was a four-oil burner night, she noted, taking a quick glance at the stove which heat the house, before her aunts and uncles and cousins barraged her with welcomes and questions.
“How are you doing, luv?” her Uncle Barry would ask while taking a long draft of holiday punch..
“Where’s the rest of the gang?” her Aunt Nancy said, who had apparently just arrived herself and was warming herself by the stove.
“What did you get me?” her young cousin Molly yelled pulling on Brigid’s skirt. Her older cousin smiled and picked Molly up into her arms where she squirmed and twisted until Brigid gave her a Cheeto. She gooed and crunched on the chip.
Brigid – who had been deciding whose question to answer first – was saved from the chore by the arrival of the rest of her family. The door swung open letting in more wind, snow, and Murphey children.
Outside as the sound more Christmas greetings died amidst the wind and ice. Yet Brigid’s uncles and aunts were not the only ones to welcome the arrival of Brigid and her siblings, other eyes were watching the old house. These were in fact the same kinds of creatures Brigid had seen outside her house. Goblins. With bodies like boulders and fur like porcupine quills, they smiled wickedly in the cold, showing their rows and rows of sharp icicle teeth.
Goblins often strive during the happiest times of the year causing all kinds of mischief. They shine magnifying glasses on our ice cream cones during the summer melting our Cookies N’ Cream into a sticky soggy mess. They love moving back the hands of the clock so school days feel like they will never end, and always just before Mrs. Boddins begins her lecture on transitive and intransitive verbs – always useful, mind you, but never interesting. Goblins instigate arguments between best friends, laugh with great pleasure when you favorite hamster dies, and use their evil nasty magic to transform small mean kids into bigger meaner bullies.
Yes, goblins are wicked nasty creatures, but perhaps their cruelest and foulest acts occur around Christmas when everyone should care about each other most. Nothing causes them more delight than ruining holidays and spoiling others’ happiness as we will soon see this very night in this very house where Brigid had just began her search for her younger cousins.
Crawling beneath tables and between the plaid pants of Uncle Gary, Brigid escaped the kitchen where her parents and siblings were greeting each of her dozen aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents, who seem to love nothing better than squeezing Brigid’s cheeks and ruffling her finely combed hair. Yet knowing they would have already forgotten her, replaced by other older siblings, she stormed through the dining room stealing a slice of ham in the process from the dinner table – a common but inexcusable crime if caught. Casey and Kathleen were already sitting in the yellow carpet room tapping away on their video game controllers. Without a word, she nuzzled up beside them and watched the finale of the match, one between a chubby mustached man in red overalls and a small yellow mouse. Casey let out a shout as the mouse fell into a ravine, signaling the end of the match and Kathleen’s victory. She cheered and then started dancing, imitating the figure of the dancing man on the screen.
“No fair! You used the same cheap move all the time!” Casey shouted, throwing the controller down on the ground.
“Well, that’s the only move I know,” Kathleen said jeering, “besides if you knew I was going to punch you, you should have avoided it.”
“I did avoid it,” Casey returned, motioning to the screen.
“Ha, not very well apparently.”
“I know how to rush, dodge, summon lightning, spark, and power charge my normal attacks. All you can do is punch and spin.”
“I can do this too . . .” Kathleen started hitting random buttons making the mustached man move all around the screen until he stopped, stuck out his tongue, and gave the viewer a big raspberry.
“Taunts don’t count! And you don’t even know how you did that!”
“Maybe if you didn’t know as much as me, you’d win more,” Kathleen answered back sticking out her own tongue.
Casey said nothing but crossed his arms and frowned angrily. Giggling at her cousin’s foul but clearly exaggerated mood, Brigid picked up the controller and asked if she could play. Casey grumbled about being hungry and about too much cheating, which Kathleen ignored eager to win another match. He asked if anyone wanted any purloined food from the dinner table. Kathleen complained about finding some hair in her turkey, and Brigid asked for more ham. Casey shuffled off until he was tackled by a two-foot tall boy, who laughed pleading with his older cousin to play stunt driver. Brigid paused the game to watch the boy gather a running start and rush toward Casey, who remained motionless on the floor; a loud cough reminded her of the video game, and she turned to choose her fighter. Behind her, a loud ‘OOF!’ signaled the jump had failed.
Brigid chose the small mouse as her fighter, and Kathleen picked a large dragon-creature with long horns and a thick spiny shell. Brigid paused as the monster roared on the screen, recalling the creature she had seen earlier that night.
“Hey Kathleen, did you seen anything weird tonight? After mass?”
“Weird? Like what?” her cousin said leaning to one side as if she was steering a race car.
“Like, I saw these two things today, they looked like little boys, but I think they . . .”
“Hey, Weeny-head!” Someone spoke from behind the two girls, and Brigid smiled noticing as Kathleen winced at the voice of Brigid’s eldest brother, Murph. “So, how’s my favorite cousin-slash-girlfriend doing on this most wonderful of nights? Getting her butt kicked in video-games?”
Without pausing the game, Kathleen turned around to glare at Murph, who was crouching down and smiling at the two girls. Both being avid readers, Mike never lost an opportunity to irritate or tease Kathleen, who would only spur him on further by shouting and trying to sink her nails into his arm (At an early age Brigid had quickly learned that in the Murphey home, love manifested itself in form of teasing and practical jokes. Pet names, gentle poking, and even public humiliation were okay, as long as it provoked a reaction).
This suited Brigid just fine as she used her brother’s distraction to electrocute her cousin’s character, sending the large turtle-monster flying off the side of the screen. “I’m fine,” Kathleen said, “I beat Casey three times before you showed up. What do you want?”
“Just here to wish everyone a most wonderful holiday, Weeny. Nothing more,” he said while rigorously ruffling her finely combed hair. “If I cannot openly tease my favorite cousin, the holidays would be far from wonderful.”
“Don’t touch me. And don’t call me Weeny,” Kathleen shouted, pushing her hand away and turning back to the game – Brigid had gained another two points in the interim.
“Hey, did you read that D’Engle book I gave you last week?” Murph said winking at Brigid. “When you get a chance come and see me I’d love to hear what you think. The author really moves the story along quite well, and I love the dynamic between the two siblings.”
“Uh huh . . . I didn’t understand it,” said Kathleen trying in vain to concentrate on the game. Murph laughed again.
“Well, if you want to talk about the book, I’ll be at the card table playing pitch with the boys, Weeny-head.” With that, he knelt down kissed Brigid on the head, whispering, “Do not push the buttons so quickly. The strong show their strength by resisting. Choose your attacks.” And with another long pat on Kathleen’s head where he stuck a bright red bow, he sauntered off.
Kathleen won seven out of eight games as it took Brigid seven and a half games to figure out what exactly Murph had meant – which was usually the case with anything Murph said. Waiting for her little mouse to attack the giant turtle when he was most vulnerable allowed her to deal out much more damage; however, it was Kathleen’s discovery of the bow on her head which helped Brigid to win the last game as her opponent quickly jumped up screaming for Murph’s demise.
Feeling hungry Brigid walked over to the dinner table to steal more ham slices before everyone gathered in the carpet room – so named as it was the only room with wall-to-wall carpeting – for presents. Sounds of Kathleen beating Murph were quickly swallowed up by the throng of family chatter. Brigid sat down on the floor near her mom and sister, both in the midst of a heateed debate which ended as more people filed into the now crowded space. Cousin Chris sniffed loudly near Brigid almost bumping elbows as he wiped his nose with the sweep of his hand.
Edging closer to her mother’s legs and leaning back, the signal for a lengthy back rub, Brigid absently guessed the subject of the argument. Katie’s boyfriend, Jason, had wavered in deciding to join the family for Christmas Day dinner and from Mom’s disapproving glance, Brigid could guess what his decision had been. Nearby Ryan was asking if the five-minute-rule still applied to a cookie that had dropped in the sink. Sean needled Murph about a few of their aunts staring at a large leather book across the room; they giggled and waved with their middle and index fingers.
“Aunt Mary Catherine found some old photos of when I was young,” Murph admitted reluctantly to his younger brother. “You know . . . and pretending to be a dinosaur.”
“Is that the one where you were roaring?” Sean asked.
“Yeah,” Murph blushed.
“And stomping around the room with your two fingers out.”
“Yes,” Murph sighed.
“Aren’t you naked in that one too?” Murph hung his head and glanced over to see if his aunts were still snickering. They were.
“How’s it feel to have grown women laugh at you with your clothes off? It’s probably something that you’d better get used to . . . ahhhhhh.” Sean just dodged Murph’s punch and then scurried off laughing as Murph took off after him.
Any other time her ears would have perked up and soaked in these latest morsels of gossip; however, tonight she felt distracted. Being one of the youngest, Brigid was accustom to being ignored – or at least forgotten – by the adults and older kids but could trust in the company of Casey, Kathleen, and her other younger cousins. Tonight though seeing the creatures changed her, burdening her with responsibility for the safety of the entire family. And the baby girl of a family of ten does not deal well with such concerns. The idea of something happening to her siblings, her mom and dad gnawed at her and was beginning to make her sick. Moreover, silly as it was, losing all those games to Kathleen convinced Brigid how little power she really possessed. If only he could talk to someone else and lessen the burden and fear just a bit . . .
“Bree . . Bree, honey? Aren’t you going to open your presents?”
“Huh? Oh yeah,” a small pile of gifts had been collected at her knees, one gift per family of cousins, aunts, and uncles. Brigid did expect anything too big. Santa would see to the doll sets and video games, but every now and then her aunts would pick out a nice dress or some accessories from Claires. She tore absently thinking about who best to tell her secret. Mom and Dad would not believe hert. Neither would most of the other adults. The other kids would listen but did not have the power to do anything about it . . . if something needed to be done, that is. Maybe one of the older kids like Murph or . . .
Suddenly a huge ball of crumpled red wrapping paper flew through the air collided with Brigid’s head.
“Yes! Two points. Beat that!” someone said across the room.
Brigid picked up the ball, dazed from the sudden return to reality, the old house, and the chaos of Christmas Eve. With the first collision on Brigid’s small noggin, the annual wrapping paper war commenced. Balls of red, green, white, plaid sailed across the room followed by tails of ribbon and twine like miniature Christmas comets. All the children (and those children at heart) scrambled to herd all loose scraps of paper into fist-sized balls and hurl them at their favorite – or least favorite – relative. The room erupted into a mass of flying colors, fallen bodies, and scrambling grandparents, anxious to escape the battle. Presents stack like bricks to form makeshift barriers and foxholes, and those not lucky enough to possess boxes barricaded themselves behind the wider uncles and aunts.
“All right,” Brigid shouted, ready to return fire. “Who did this . . .?” Another ball of paper – this one blue – collided with the other side of her head, surprising her and knocking her over onto the ground.
“Nice, Tiff. Extra points for the strike!”
“Sorry, Bree,” a second voice shouted giggling. “I didn’t mean to throw so hard. I was aiming for your Uncle Brian, and you sorta got in the way.”
Brigid stumbled to her feet and saw two people laughing in the corner. Pat and Tiff! Of course! Bree thought. Who better to talk to about life, loneliness, and horrible plotting creatures than her godfather and his fiancé? Tiff will listen to me, even if Patrick is a jerk, she thought momentarily before dashing across the room dodging balls of tissues and bodies of small children. They won’t accuse me of being melodramatic. Pat and Tiff were still laughing, taking turns tossing paper at their new target, their uncle Brian’s head.
“Sistaw Brigid, how awr you doin’?” Patrick chanted in a silly sing-song voice, the way he usually does when he teased her. Normally Brigid would ignore his remarks, the way an older dog might disregard the nibbles and barks of a lively puppy. Tonight, however, she looked at him seriously full in the face and answered “Fine” without any sigh of impatience or humor.
This more than anything caught their attention as they both turned to look at her.
“I have a question for you,” she said, tears forming quietly at her eyes as the gravity of her emotions got the better of her.
“Why sure, Bree, what do you want to talk about?” Tiffany answered, lightly elbowing Patrick to remain attentive. This was unnecessary of course. Patrick was all ears even as a ball of balled ribbon struck his shoulders.
“When I . . . when someone needs to do something that they do not want to do, but it has to be done by her because only she can do it, what should I do?” she asked as if once the words were thrown out they would reassemble themselves naturally into something sensible. She sniffed, knowing that she worrying them with her anxious tears but wanting an answer before she told the truth, which they would not believe.
“What’s wrong, honey?” Tiffany asked. “What do you have to do?”
“Please,” Brigid answered trying – and failing – to keep her voice steady, “What should you do? What do you do if you have to do something that you really really don’t want to do?” They were both staring at her now, worry in their eyes, the desire to help mixed with confusion and empathy.
“Bree, if you tell us . . .” Tiffany began.
“I can’t!” Brigid shouted, not wanting to but the anxiety was becoming too much. “Just . . . how can I get out of doing something I have to do. Can I lie down with you for a while, maybe if I do . . .”
“Of course, hon. Just lie down on our laps here . . .”
“Wait,” Patrick said, “This thing you have to do. Is it important?” Brigid nodded “Something Dad or Mom wanted you to do?” She shook her head. “Someone else here?”
“No. I decided to do it myself. Otherwise I think there will be trouble.”
“So you still have to do it, right?”
“Uh huh,” Brigid grunted, staring at her older brother’s stern gaze.
“Then get it done, honey. We can’t help you if you don’t tell us what it’s all about, but if it will save us all some headaches later on, get ‘er done, even if you would like nothing better than to go fall asleep and wish it all away. Sometimes you have to do things, even when it’s a real pain in the ass . . . er, neck.”
“But that doesn’t mean you’ll be by yourself,” Tiff finished. “Your family is great for that. Sure, Pat may be a real twit most of the time, but that doesn’t mean he won’t help you if you ask. Right, Hon?”
“Anytime, anywhere, Bree honey.”
“Thanks guys. Every since I heard those things talking, I just could not stop worrying. I just don’t know what I should do.”
“Wait, what things? What are you talking about?”
“Outside the house. These small little things. They were talking about hurting our family, and I listened when . . .”
From the dining room a shout pierced through the carpet room, strangling the chatter and excitement of the screaming children. Patrick and Tiffany jumped up and rushed from the room, following the mob. Brigid was left behind wondering if she would ever get the chance to explain what had happened to her tonight. Sighing, she rose, absently picked up some more ham lying forgotten on a plate where Pat had been sitting, and walked into the dining room. Everyone was crowded around the dining table, which seconds ago had been plump with slices of ham, carved turkey, rolls, pudding, cabbage, potato salad, cranberry sauce, and sugar cookies smothered in green and red icing. Now except for the plates of dark and white turkey meat, the table was empty of food, only crumbs were left scattered across the table among what seemed to be black toothpicks.
“What happened?!” Ninny shouted. Brigid stared at her grandmother, her face red and eyes blotchy from tears. “How . . . who did this?! Who took all the food?!” Everyone stared at Brigid’s brother Sean and her Uncle Brian, the family’s two most infamous practical jokers, who just stared without the hint of a smile or a trick.
“Alright,” Dad spoke up calmly. “If anyone did anything with all the food, they’ve had their fun. Your grandmother is agitated and we’re all pretty pissed off. However, if you speak now, we’ll try to laugh it off and forget the urge to throw you out into the snow.”
All was silent until Kevin spoke. “I saw Brigid sneaking some ham slices,” he said, and instantly fifty hungry and angry eyes turned to stare at the little girl. Something leaden and cold fell through Brigid’s chest into her gut. Yeah, she had sneaked several pieces of meat, but then again so had everyone else. No one could resist the ham slices. If she was guilty, then so was everyone else, and there was no way she was going to let Kevin off the hook.
“Yeah, but so did you, Kevin! I saw you eating before we opened presents!” Kevin shrugged.
“Nuh uh, I had one piece. That’s it. And Dad gave it to me.” Brigid saw her father blush a little as her mother and grandmother turned to glare at him. “But you ate at least twenty pieces.”
“Did not!” Brigid shouted.
“Kevin, you were eating chicken pieces. I saw you grab a handful after opening presents,” Kathleen shouted across the table.
“Nuh uh! Dat’s a lie!”
“Enough!” Mike shouted. “Kids, stop it. Now listen, no one person did this. Steal a whole table-full of food? That takes time and effort, particularly it seems no one saw who did it. Moreover, whoever did this left us with these black hairs. Who has time to move all this food and leave behind parting gifts?”
“Ha, Murph’s playing detective again,” Sean laughed, elbowing Ryan and Shannon in the ribs as the younger kids chuckled.
“The point is,” Murph said ignoring the remark, “Let’s take a look at what happened before we start accusing one another, ok?” Everyone murmured consent.
“Right,” Dad agreed. “Let’s fan out and search all the rooms. There’s got to be an answer to all this. Worst case scenario, we still have the chicken left, right?” With that he popped a piece white meat in his mouth and cruised toward the hallways. The other members of the family followed suit and proceeded to scour the house up and down. Only the basement, already locked on the outside, was deemed too dangerous to search, though Kevin did jiggle it a bit before moving to the living room. Brigid did not join in, instead remained behind to analyze the quill, which she realized she had seen before.
“Bree, you’re shaking,” Tiffany said from behind her young sister-in-law.
“This is them,” she said. “The things. They were here.” Sitting on the table, tearing at their Christmas Eve dinner with their cruel teeth, shedding their wicked barbs, those creatures were here in this room. Even before she finished the thought, she felt herself shaking and gazing across the room expected at any moment to spy pairs of eyes as intense as molten lava and small misshapen bodies warped and dark like volcanic rock.
“Ms. Patty, come here! Something’s wrong with Brigid.” Mom hurried over finishing off a piece of turkey breast in the process.
“Oh my gosh, what’s wrong?”
“I don’t know,” Tiff said wrapping a patchwork quilt around Brigid’s shoulders. “She won’t stop shaking.” Brigid registered the warmth of the blanket, pulling it closer around her body, but did not respond to the earnest appeals of her mother and Tiffany. The white plaster walls and creaking wooden floors of the old house had become alien and suspicious, full of unseen terrors. Cruel monsters ready at a moments notice to finish off the rest of their family’s dinner or attack her.
“What’s wrong Bree, honey?” her mother pleaded. “It was all some nasty trick one of the boys is playing. Probably Sean or Uncle Brian, if I’d had to guess. Nothing more than a stupid game.” Her mother patted Brigid’s head, rubbing her temple rigorously like a foot that had suddenly fallen asleep.
“She was fingering those black things before I came,” Tiff said. “She was whispering about somebody but I didn’t catch who she was talking about.”
“Oh we should have cleaned those things up immediately. Who knows where they’ve been or heavens, what they even are. I’ll get Murph to clean them up now.” She called to Murph who had been investigating the kitchen with Sean. He frowned looking with concern at Brigid and then at the black quills.
“I don’t know, Mom,” Murph argued, scratching his head. “I doubt these things are poisonous, but whatever they are we may need to keep ‘em nearby. After all they are clues to . . .”
“I don’t care if they’re the missing link, your sister is freaking out over all this and frankly cleaning up a little wouldn’t hurt anyone. You men are more concerned with finding the food than looking after these kids.”
“Okay, okay. Fine,” Murph sighed. “Sean, give me a hand.” Together Sean and Murph wrapped up the tablecloth after carefully placing the plate of turkey on the bare table beneath and carried the sack of dishes, bowls, and small black quills outside through the kitchen. Brigid absently noted the whine and slam of the screen door.
“Now Bree, honey, why don’t you tell us . . .” Brigid felt her body dragged into the living room, silently happy to relinquish control to her mother until this whole nightmare ended, which it would. Soon she would wake up, and it would be Christmas morning at Ninny’s house. The scent of coffee and tea would wake everyone up, and then she and all the kids would gather around the door to the living room, where the tree and all the presents lay waiting. All she had to do was wake up.
“Ah, she’s faking,” came a voice from beside her. Brigid woke from her stupor to find that Kevin was beside her, his face. “Don’t worry about her. She’s just fishing for attention again.”
“AM NOT!” she shouted back. She felt her hand clench with rage.
Real life monsters could invade her holidays and ruin Christmas Eve, but there was no way Kevin was going to talk to her like that. She should have stopped after the first smack, but all the fear and aggravation of the past several hours poured out of her in a rapid series of hits and blows that she did not stop even when her mother pulled her off her brother’s cringing body. Brigid watched as tears formed in Kevin’s eyes but whether they were from pain or shock, she did not know. Her mother’s eyes too appeared shocked and stern with disapproval, and shame welled up from within Brigid, overflowing in the form of tears. She ran from the room, past the stairway to the empty bedrooms where she began to cry and cry into a dusty pillowcase until she fell asleep.
It is common goblin wisdom that humans often treat minor problems – issues and difficulties that are quite easy to solve – as if the whole of their life’s happiness had been destroyed forever. It is a treacherous nasty goblin trick, but like all their mischief is only made by our own selfishness and faithlessness in the power of the Good.
Yes, the goblins knew about Brigid. They had set aside a particularly nasty piece of mischief for the young girl, who had tried to interfere in their plans. Of course, Brigid knew nothing of this and cried herself to sleep as the party continued to grow, people ate more chicken, and the snow continued to build around the doors and windows. The goblins waited one hour after the guests began feasting on the laced turkey before stepping right through the locked basement door.
The clock struck twelve before Brigid stepped out into the hallway with Tiffany’s quilt about her shoulders. It was the silence that had woken her, the comforting cacophony of two dozen adults and children chattering and running on creaky floorboards had faded suddenly and with it Brigid’s rest. She needed to hear her family again and feared they had left her behind in their hurry to prepare for their night at Ninny’s house. Brigid slid open the wooden doors and a watched as a wave of fog crept into the room from the hallway.
That was strange, Brigid thought crossing the threshold of the bedroom and into the milky-white mist streaming along the floorboards. As she felt the winter wind rub against her arms, she thought, my, that is even stranger. Someone had opened the hall window, where snow drifts tumbled into the house as the wind whipped and moaned out in the darkness. Only the short strips of white lights dangling from the gutters added any light to the hallway where Brigid spied the sheen of wet footprints on wood. And that is the strangest sight of all. Something had entered the house from the snow and – her eyes following the path of the intruder where they disappeared around a corner – walked through the dining room.
A sharp chill froze Brigid’s insides as she stared at the small prints, and she pulled the cloak closer to her to stop from trembling. Something flashed from behind the corner. A TV perhaps. Nevertheless, Brigid could not pull her eyes away from the corner, waiting for whatever entered to return. After several moments, she stepped forward allowing her curiosity to momentarily suppress her fear. She paused again at the corner so that her courage could recharge, and then peered around the corner.
It has been said that courage is actually a accumulation of small steps, that through the simple decision to move forward or silently endure great pains we show the greatest courage. Despite what happened afterwards, the small girl possessed more courage in gazing behind that corner than any warrior on any battlefield in any world. Yet what she saw in the rooms beyond did little to ease her fear.
The dining room was as dark as pitch, only the flicker of the TV in the adjacent room and the glow of the fallen snow added any trace of light. Otherwise everything looked the same as when the house was full of people. Same ugly green tablecloth, same decorations hanging like vines from the ceilings, same platter of turkey half-eaten on the table. Yet the room had changed, now cluttered with dozens and dozens of toys of all kinds. Action figures, dolls, toy trucks, dragons, stuffed animals, helicopters, dinosaurs. And nutcrackers. Lots and lots of nutcrackers.
Brigid edged closer to the table ready to run if she saw anything move. After all what else could she do? What do you do against nasty creatures that can make whole family disappear? She slowly reached down and picked up one of the nutcrackers. Turning it over and over, she convinced herself that it was a normal nutcracker, except she had recognized the face. It looked exactly like her mother with huge painted teeth. What had happened here?
The flash of movement in the carpet room made her jump. She paused, wondering if she should investigate or run far and fast. Good advice, she thought, thinking of how she would yell at characters in a scary movie to leave, to run to a neighbors house, anything but investigate the suspicious noise in the dark attic where the monster was inevitably waiting to eat her. However, her curiosity once again overcame her better senses, and the desire to understand what had happened to her in the old house grew stronger. After all why was she left behind?
After all, she thought, if I am to be the prey of some strange creature, I would appreciate being told so. At least I can act accordingly. Maybe even scream a little. Strangely enough, there exists some comfort in knowing your place in a tale even if that place lies in the stomach of some huge ravenous beast. I myself am often fascinated how often the pain of failure can be eased when one knows it is inevitable. The real horrors of life arise from the doubt and confusion surrounding even the slightest chance of success.
My readers must excuse this tangent as I am prone to analysis, forgoing the story for a useless ancedote, which I’m sure you’ll find very uninteresting. Philosophy I assure is the last thing on Brigid’s mind so I will not plague you further with theories. Let me assure you that Brigid did not turn and run, but walked on into the carpet room and was thoroughly amazed once again. A small mouse with a bright golden pelt so shiny and pure that it seemed to glow like starfire in the darkness sat on the floor. It stared at her, tilting its head from left to right as if examining Brigid. Then with a squeak, which almost resembled a laugh, the mouse jumped into the young girl’s arms and began chittering happily.
“Hello there,” Brigid whispered nervously, both surprised and cautious at the appearance of the small creature and it’s inexplicable affection for her. The mouse nuzzled her hand which tickled and made her suppress a giggle. The mouse stared at her again with it’s deep black eyes full of love and then skittered along her arm and up onto her shoulder where it curled into a soft ball. It must be magic, she thought. No normal mouse could glow so beautifully. And no ugly nasty monster would employ any creature so gentle. Suddenly the mouse stood straight up and twitched it’s whiskers in the air. Something had agitated it. Something then spoke.
“Shooo, we sheesh hath mished one, we havesh. Well sheesh, we sha havesh to kill it now before it sheesh complicathes our planths.” Brigid turned around so quickly she nearly fell to the floor. Standing in the doorway stood a small creature, no taller than two-feet with a body so twisted and deformed like stone carved of cooled lava. Long thick barbs like the ones found on the dinner table earlier cover the creature like hair, and its eyes, so full of burning malice that it pained Brigid to gaze at them. In one hand, it clutched a sack full of toys – no nutcrackers, Brigid noted – and the other wielded a cruel axe, red with rust . . . or blood.
The voice startled Brigid, perhaps even more than the appearance of the goblin – which they were and which she had seen before after all – for it seemed to emanate from her own thoughts, inside her own head.
“H-hello? Who . . . whoever you are, please . . . please help me.”
“All be gone, sheesh. But Trunch will helpsh. Takesh ush to others. Not alone anymore, sheesh.
Panic flooded through Brigid, freezing her body strangling her breath, which now came in short pants like trying to blow up an imaginary balloon. Tears bubbled and, falling, popped on her shaking hands. The enormity of her situation had struck the young girl. Armed with nothing more than a knitted makeshift shroud and a gold mouse, she would have to flee or fight a real monster . . . er, goblin, alone. Another part of her wanted to accept the creature’s offer. Even if she would be captive of goblins, at least she would not be alone anymore. Maybe they would take her to Mom, Dad, and the rest of her family.
Do not despair. You are not alone. This time the voice washed over her like liquid hope.
The creature dropped the sack and sauntered forward, grinning with malevolent teeth, which flashed in the dull light of the television. Brigid did not move, but the mouse jumped off Brigid’s shoulders and into her hands. And then the mouse did something very strange. It began to glow. A rich warm golden light emanated from the creature, small at first and then the circle of radiance began to grow, spreading from around Brigid to the floor and walls of the room.
The goblin, Trunch, paused and stared at the little mouse for a second. Then it too began act strangely. The goblin began to puff out its cheeks like a giant pufferfish and as it did so a few of the barbs on it’s skin exploded off its skin and few like arrows toward Brigid. With a shout of surprise, she watched as the barbs dissolved into ash as they passed through the lambent sphere. The creature cackled.
“Powerfuls friends ye havesh, child. Yesh, but I wonders if itsh magic can shtops thish . . .” The goblin arched back its arm, ready to hurl its axe at the mouse and child. Brigid had half a moment to notice the size and sharpness of the blade and wonder if the luminescent aura would protect her at all when the creature uttered a blood-curdling cry and with a dull thud dropped its weapon. Behind the faded green armchair, in which Brigid remembered Mom sitting earlier that evening while Brigid was being assaulted with balls of packed paper, two shadowy hands stretched across the walls, growing larger and larger as the mouse’s glow grew and grew.
“NO!” The creature screamed. “No, not me’s, not me’s Your Grace.” And the just as suddenly as it arrived, the horrid thing disappeared running across the dining room to the basement door and passing through the wood as easily as a stone dropped in a pool of water. The shadows on the walls did not shrink; instead they wavered and moved to the side, and Brigid saw that the shadow hands and arms were attached to the body of a small toy, covered in red fur. The toy Elmo hobbled out from behind the chair and blinked it’s large plastic eyes several times before speaking.
“Bree? Is . . . is that you? It’s me, Kathleen. I’m . . . I . . .,” the stuffed monster said, almost choking on its words. “Just l-look. Look what that stupid idiot, Murph, did to me.”
“Most of the kids have already been taken,” the creature formally known as Kathleen said. “Those, er goblins . . . ?”
“Yeah, that’s what the mouse told me.”
“The mouse.” Brigid raised her hands to show the small sleeping creature, who awoke and offered the transformed girl a toothy grin. “It just sorta appeared and jumped into my arms.”
“Whatever. A glowing mouse makes as much sense as anything else. After the adults changed into those nutcrackers, the kids . . . well, they starting changing too. Paul grew a tail and plastic scales; Molly became a shopping cart. I, well, you see what I am. But they couldn’t talk. None of them could. I was the only one.”
“Poison!?” Brigid gasped, staring at the little mouse, which was nibbling at some sofa crumbs. “Oh my gosh, that’s why they trashed the table. They wanted everyone to eat the turkey!”
“What are you saying?” Kathleen said with that peculiar inflection that stresses the wrong syllables. “I didn’t eat the turkey.”
“No, no you didn’t, but you did taste it before you spit it out. Maybe that’s why you’re not a toy!”
“Not a toy!? Bree, look at me! I’m a stupid Elmo! And watch this,” she said holding out her arms in the air. “Hug me!”
“Hug me! Hug me now. I’ll show you who’s not a toy.” Brigid slid off the sofa and walked to her cousin, feeling rather uncomfortable to even touch the red fur; nevertheless, after tentative pokes, she reached under the small doll’s arms and gave it a warm embrace. Almost as soon as she felt the touch of plastic and cloth, the doll began to tremble and shake. Brigid dropped it in her surprise and watched as Kathleen’s body shook and gyrated on the carpet, sitting up and rolling over all while laughing with high-pitched giggles.
“Hohoho . . . oooh that tickles,” the doll screamed on it’s stomach before ending it’s routine with a loud “Again!” Kathleen then seemed to regain control of herself, and with a shake of her head, stood up again.
“I was so scared when I found myself a toy muppet that I began hugging myself, and you just saw what happened. Someone had changed me into a Tickle-Me-Elmo. The new ones too. TMX. I can’t stop laughing for a few minutes and my head feels like I’ve been banging it against the wall all day.”
“Weird,” Brigid said.
“Somehow this is all Murph’s fault. He would love to see make a complete fool of myself.”
“I don’t think so,” Brigid said, thinking it unlikely that her older brother, agitator though he was, would actively attempt to poison, kill, or magically transform his entire family into Christmas presents. This was something else. The goblin that attacked her had been collecting her transformed relatives, but when she had looked in the sack, only the toys had been collected. No nutcrackers. Why was that? Why go to all these lengths in the first place? Why do agile magical creatures decide to suddenly attack her family on Christmas Eve? Moreover, how can she change them back?
“Whoever did this, the goblins seem to have left so why don’t we try pouring water on the toys , maybe that will change them back.”
“This isn’t the Wizard of Oz, Bree,” Kathleen said in her typical condescending voice, which Brigid regretted for a moment was not lost in the transformation.
“I know, but we have to try something, right? This is Christmas Eve. If I’m going to be snowed in at an old house, lose out on Christmas dinner, and attacked by goblins, I want all my brothers and sister here with me.” With that, Bree retrieved the goblin sack from the doorway and started fishing through, roughly tossing toys out until she remembered these were her relatives and should probably be more careful.
“Uh, Bree . . .”
“Kathleen, which of these toys are my family?”
“ . . . none of them are there.”
“What do you mean? Well . . . Patrick and Murph might be old enough to be nutcrackers, but the rest of them should be in here.”
“Bree, they were all taken. Murph, Patrick, Katie, Sean, Ryan, Shannon, Kevin. All of them. Even Casey, Paul, and Molly too. The first goblin already left. He took them all away back to the basement.” Bree turned and stared at Kathleen. In her current form, it was impossible to judge whether the small red monster was joking.
“How . . . how do you know that?” Brigid felt the tears well up again in her eyes. All her old fears, which had been forgotten with the advent of magical mice and transformed cousins, started to well up once again threatening to overwhelm the small girl.
“I watched them transform,” Kathleen spoke her voice full of pity and sorrow. “Once I discovered no one else could walk or talk, I watched the goblins come up through the door. They walked right through like ghosts, three of them, carrying large sacks. One walked into the kitchen and outside. I heard the door slam. The other two began gathering toys. Bree, your family were some of the first to be taken; Molly, Paul, and Casey were next. A large goblin with a long white beard like that wizard in the Tolkien books passed through the basement door again with his sack full of toys. The other . . . well, you met him. I haven’t seen or heard anything from the third goblin yet. He seemed to have disappeared. Uh, Bree . . . I-I’m so sorry, but they’re gone.”
“Did you see them all? I mean, there’s s-so many, you could have missed one.”
“Well, I don’t know. Your mom was trying to collect everybody for a family picture so I assumed everyone was there. I saw Shannon. A teddy bear, he turned into a teddy bear if you believe that. Hardest darn toy to grab too like he had been coated in oil. In any other situation, I would have laughed to see ol’ Beardy try to pick up your brother. I bet he still had some life in him.”
“How about Patrick? Or Murph?”
“Patrick and Tiffany turned into toy dogs. I didn’t see Murph or Sean, but they collected all the dinosaurs so I doubt they missed him.”
Brigid stared at the little mouse. All this had gone horribly wrong. She was the youngest. Her brothers and sister should be the ones here, worrying about how to save her. Not the other way around. Fear had held her tongue earlier. She had wanted all her problems to fade away like the memory of an unpleasant dream. Now, the time for wishes and pretending had passed, and she had to decide what to do next. Even if the spell or whatever ended, her mom and dad would still be several children short when they awoke. All because she, Brigid, had kept quiet when she should have spoken.
Sometimes you have to do things, even when it’s a real pain in the ass . . . er, neck, Patrick had said.
The whip and whistle of the wind sounded on the copper roof. The clock had long struck one o’clock and the room felt darker in this cold empty house. Bree patted the little mouse, which gave off a faint glow as if responding to her touch with light. She looked at the toys scattered across the floor and touched the quilt tied about her neck. This was going to be a pain.
“We’re going,” Brigid said, wiping the tears from her eyes with her sleeve. “I don’t think we can do it, but we’re the only ones that can try. We’re going to save our siblings.”
If you are reading this now inside a house or an apartment of some kind, you probably understand that many buildings possess a series of underground rooms, commonly called basements. Many of you may well understand the purpose of these structures, but if you happen to live in a tent or a space ship for most of your lives, a explanation might be appreciated. Basements are places families that live in houses use to store possessions they wish to forget: boxes, old toys, furnaces, exercise equipment, and out-of-work sons. Unlike attics which are far drier and thus more frequently visited, basements are often feared by small children for their cobwebs, sparse light, and unpleasant smells, but if you happen to be brave enough to search, basement can hold many fantastic things and hidden secrets.
Brigid’s great-grandfather owned the house for many years, but in his later years, the basement had not been opened at all. And as Brigid passed through the door – feeling for a moment like she had passed through a wall of gelatin – she realized the spiders had long ago moved in and their children and their children’s children wove their homes across every board and brick. Dust coated the webs like permanent snow, dripping off every fiber. Brigid sneezed.
“Bless you,” Kathleen whispered from her seat in Brigid’s makeshift quilt hood. The girl-turned-toy had agreed to accompany her cousin on the condition that Brigid would construct a comfortable for Kathleen to travel. The little golden mouse slept on her shoulder apparently able to master rest in any position. “But be quiet, we don’t want to yell that we’re hear. You don’t see me sneezing.”
“There’s so much dust. And what are you talking about you have no real nose!”
“Oh sure, just rub it in. Oh and in case, I hadn’t mentioned it before, this has got to be the stupidest thing we’ve ever done. Even Murph wouldn’t suggest anything this stupid.”
“Shut up, I’m trying to hear.” Which wasn’t very much. The darkness of the basement was complete in points, totally empty like a hole in space, but wax candles melting on stacks of newspapers lit a path for the girls. Apparently, Bree thought, the goblins can stand a little light.
A good thing to know. Yet she saw no sign of the intruders. Nothing moved. Nothing sounded. Only the drop of something falling on a trash can lid from one of the corners. Bree walked down the stairs.
Each step seemed to scream at her “Go back. Stay away,” yet she continued onward, looking over cans of paint, shelves packed with glass bottles filled with screws and nails, rusty trash cans pierced with spears of wood, old rotten boxes stacked in corners, and holes. Lots and lots of holes. Brigid stared at the far walls, where huge gaping holes had been cut up and down the walls like a concrete piece of swiss cheese. That must be where they came from, she thought. And where we must go.
Brigid stopped at the bottom step wondering if she should move closer to the holes. A few dusty cabinets provided protection in case . . . well, in case . . . uh . . .
“So what do we do now? Holler? Offer a challenge?” Brigid shrugged. Her plan had not anticipated tunnels or holes to who knows where. Was she suppose to travel to the center of the earth now? Well one thing was certain. They could not go any further without supplies and some thought. Preferably upstairs too.
“We go for now and . . . wait! Something’s wrong. I can’t move!” Brigid tried to pull at her legs but saw that some black substance had flowed over her shoes.
“Look!” Kathleen shouted. “It’s dripping off the walls!” Brigid stared at the corners of the room where the shadowy substance poured from the rafters like water squeezed from a sponge. The walls too bleed shadows, which rose around the boxes and glass and tools, and crept up Brigid’s legs.
“Help! I can’t move! Help! Someone!” But the more she twisted and pulled, the more her legs felt numb and weak like all her energy was being sucked away. “What do we do? What do we do?”
The mouse squeaked, and began to glow. The light spread from the small creature, and the shadow liquid retreated from Brigid’s body, allowing her to move again. Yet even as it receded from the light, still it rose and rose around them. The aura of light enclosed around the girls, protecting them, forming a radiant pocket in a sea of shadow.
“Now I know how a snowglobe feels,” Kathleen said jumping out of the hood and onto the floor. “This stuff isn’t paint or tar. It runs away from the light like . . . like shadows. If your mouse hadn’t come, we’d be swimming in it now.”
“Well, get ready, because I don’t know how much longer, Amber can hold out.”
“Amber? You named the mouse Amber?” Kathleen asked, her plastic eyes fixated on the black dome that now covered them.
“Well . . . yeah, for one thing, I think it’s a girl. Second of all, I think it’s a cute name for a glowing mouse.” Brigid placed the small animal, now named Amber, on the floor stroking it softly now and then as if to lend the mouse her strength. She wondered during that time if she would ever survive this adventure and was surprised at how calm she felt in the midst of this darkness. Amber’s light must chase away fear as well as evil, she thought. Both she and Kathleen were lucky to have met the small creature. I hope that I can show you to Mom or the rest of the family one day.
“It’s getting weaker . . .”
Suddenly like a bubble, the dome of light popped and the inky-black shadow flooded over the three girls. Immediately Brigid felt the icy coldness of the dark fill her thoughts, her lungs, and her eyes. The walls, the floor, her companions disappeared as she swam, struggling not for air for she found she could breathe in this strange liquid, but for light. Any glimmer or spark would suffice. The darkness choked her mind and strangled her soul. And she realized that if no light would come, she would die here, consumed by the waves of night. Just before she lost consciousness, she realized that somewhere above her, someone was shouting and fighting. Near the door perhaps. Fighting the shadows. Yet Brigid knew it was too late . . . for her at least. And before she closed her eyes, she vaguely sensed wetness around her and the sickly feeling of being carried away toward the gaping holes of the goblins like autumn leaves sailing down the maw of a gutter.