“Deck The Halls”

“Deck the halls with boughs of holly, fa la la la la, la la la la!” Lulu cried as she wrapped the tinsel around the tall, green tree. 

Cruise cringed as her high pitched screech over powered the music throbbing from the speakers, pumping Christmas carols through the air as the animals worked on getting the house ready for Christmas.

Carefully lining up the last strand of Christmas lights, Cruise stepped back and frowned at the haphazard way Lulu had hung the tinsel on the tree and Zulu had placed the small Santa and ball decorations, sighing to himself in frustration. Sometimes his sisters were just too messy for their own good.

As he scrutinised the tree and planned what needed to be changed and how, he felt a giant weight slam into his side. Sliding across the room, he frantically fought to dig his claws into the smooth wooden floors to prevent himself from crashing into the wall.

Sliding to a halt, he whipped himself around with a hiss to face a laughing Zulu. Rolling around the floor in peals of laughter, Zulu cried “Lighten up will you! It’s Christmas, a time to be jolly and happy! Who cares about a stupid tree anyway, I only care about what’s under it!”

Shaking his head, Cruise took in Zulu’s new attire she had donned for the day. A giant Santa coat covered her sleek, ebony fur, her ears flopping through two holes carelessly ripped in the side of a Santa hat. Her collar had been transformed into a blinding circle of red and silver tinsel and Lulu had even worked to attach a grey beard to the end of her snout; “it looks more authentic”, she’d said. Because a female Santa dog was authentic in the first place, Cruise thought rolling his eyes.

“Up the ladder Cruise!” Lulu cried, “you need to do the top of the tree!” Making his way closer to the tree, Cruise climbed the rungs carefully and observed the decoration for the top of the tree. Smiling in all his glory was a hand drawn Chilli Dog head. A brother they had never known, but been told so much about. It seemed natural that his head, also adorned with a hat and tinsel, should top their family tree. After all, he was the reason the humans had sought out the love and affection of Cruise, Lulu and Zulu.

“Sing with us Ruisey!” Lulu cried out from where she stood, perched atop the buffet along the side of the room, her small, grey head adorned with exaggerated elf ears and a small Santa hat, her chin lifted high in the air as she warbled along with the Carols from the stereo.  

Placing Chilli Dog with precision in his spot overlooking the family he so adored, Cruise smiled and turned to his brother and sister, letting out a loud and garbled “fa la la la la, la la la LA!” 

Surviving Is All

“Get me out of here!” Cindy mumbled as she threw open the heavy door and tore outside. “That was possibly the worst class we’ve had yet! Now – don’t get me wrong, Mr Fitz is extremely sexy in all ways – but did you see how intense he was?”

“See how intense he was?” Drew replied. “I felt it in the way he slapped my upside the head – I didn’t think teachers were even allowed to do that these days!”

 Frowning, I looked back at our group. “He was a little off today.” I admitted.

“Personally, I just think he needs to get some.” Holly said matter of factly. “It must be hard teaching girls like me everyday and not being able to do anything about it.”

A collective groan ran through our group, as the odd spell that had hovered over us as we left the lecture room was broken. Laughing, Holly and Cindy linked arms and started gushing over Holly’s latest beau, while Drew and Caleb started chucking a football back and forth; their passes getting longer and more dangerous as they got more confident with their throwing skills. Walking slowly behind them all, I kept musing about Mr Fitz’s behaviour today. It wasn’t just the unusual way he had snapped and slapped Drew, but the way he beared down on all of us – his eyes squinty and bloodshot, his mouth so close to my face at one time I could smell the coffee and chocolate on his breath as he whispered my name. “Eva…” Usually having his mouth so close to my face and whispering my name with such passion would have done funny things to my stomach, but there was something definitely off about him today that made me feel sick rather than anything else.

“What the –“ Drew stopped short at the front of our procession and stared in shock at the sight before him.

“Dude, come on!” Caleb called, coming up behind him and scooping up the football where it laid abandoned at his feet. “You can’t just keep dropping the ball, man!” You’ve already lost like five of our – whoa!” He exclaimed, his rant cut short as he moved in next to Drew and stared.

Frowning, I shuffled forward nervously. There was something about this whole day that just felt off. And moving up beside Drew to see the spectacle taking place in Mr Fitz’s office only served to intensify this feeling. 

My eyes seemed glued to the scene of their own accord. I wanted to look away but I just couldn’t. There were uniformed guards ripping the office apart. Papers floated on the soft breeze whispering through the open window, while pens and pencils slowly rolled onto the ground; their nibs leaving small stains as they hit the carpet below. The guards, dissatisfied with what they were; or more precisely weren’t finding, were throwing Mr Fitz’s belongings in frustration. My eyes widened in shock as I watched his coffee mug hit the wall first, leaving a splattered, watercolour like artwork across the wall. The coffee mug was closely followed by the computer monitor that fell to the floor with a resounding crash and tinkle of glass. Drew grabbed my arm and started tugging me away as two of the guards each lifted an end of the desk and prepared to throw it against the window.

“Eva, we need to go.” He said urgently, pulling me away. Stumbling over my feet, I turned and let him lead me away. Cindy and Holly were already powering ahead, their arms linked and heads close as they most likely gossiped about what was going on. Caleb stood behind Drew and myself, his face white as a ghost as he shakily grabbed my hand and started pulling me down the hall as well.

Quickly, the five of us made our way towards the front of the building. My nerves felt increasingly jangled as I took in the growing number of guards running past us, shouting orders and responding to the constant crackle of static emitting from their radios.

“What is going on?” I hissed to Drew as he pulled us quickly and determinedly towards the exit.

 “I’ve got no idea.” He replied, checking over his shoulder as the sound of footsteps beared down on us. “But we need to get out of here now.”

All of a sudden in front of us Cindy and Holly stopped short, with Caleb holding up not far behind them. Turning around to look at us, their faces drained of colour, they gestured frantically for us to break off and go to the right. Looking past them, I took in the flock of guards standing over the staircase and blocking anyone from moving down into the main foyer and exit of the building.

Drew pulled me to the right, and headed over towards the large, bay windows that lined the hallway. “Stay here.” He ordered, sitting me down and turning away. Cindy and Holly came over and flopped down next to me, their eyes wide and bodies shaking as they took in the scene before them. My eyes, however, remained trained on Drew as he moved towards the toilet.

The attack came out of nowhere. I flew to my feet and strangled my scream as Drew’s head snapped back against the doorframe. The guard who threw the first punch stood poised for action, and I cringed as Drew removed something from his belt and went on the offensive. The guard never stood a chance as Drew’s punch threw him against the wall and his arm hooked his neck in a strangle hold. My eyes bulged as I watched the first spurt of blood fly from the guards stomach as Drew’s hand pulled back again and again, stabbing the guard until he fell at his feet motionless.

Bile rose in my throat as I watch Drew drop the knife at his feet and run his bloodied hands through his hair in disbelief. Running for the female toilet next to him, I threw up the seat up and heaved until my stomach was empty, then retched some more.

Falling back against the wall, I closed my eyes and savoured the harsh chill that penetrated my pores from the ceramic tiles on the wall. Surely none of this is real. It had to all be a dream. Drawing myself shakily to me feet, I moved over to the sink and splashed cold water on my face again and again, revelling in the shock it gave my system. Gripping the edge of the sink, I stared at the girl looking back at me. My brown hair, so neatly styled in a ponytail this morning, stuck out and flew crazily around my face. My mousy brown eyes glowed with fear, adrenaline and instinct making them seem almost a luminescent green. My cheeks were streaked with black runs of forgotten mascara; making it look like I had put on some form of bad tribal war paint. Sighing, I smoothed my hair down and splashed my face one more time in an attempt to make myself look slightly more human before I turned and walked back out into the hall.

Amazed, I took in the people who now lined the top of the hall, the people who were clumped below in the foyer and the guards who stood stationed attentively every few meters. Meeting my friends’ eyes, I read their relief that I was ok and saw the fear etched firmly across all their features. Moving over to stand with them, I looked down as the announcer starts his spiel.

 “Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for being here today.” Someone behind me snorted and mumbled, “Like we had a choice.”

“These people down here have volunteered themselves as an example to you all. As you may or may not be aware, the people in the south islands of the pacific have been all but eradicated over recent days due to the modern day plague that has swept through their populations. Unfortunately, this plague has also hit us here on the East Coast of Australia.” Pausing for dramatic effect, the announcer looked around the room, his stare seeming to penetrate each and every one of us to our core.

“If you’ve been listening to the news, you will be aware that this plague leaves no survivors. In fact, thanks to these people standing down here with me, you’ve all now been exposed and infected.”

Worried murmurs, desperate shrieks and unrestrained sobbing filled the room as people frantically tried to escape. Ignoring it all, I focused on the announcer. This had to be some kind of joke.

“The guards will collect you all now.” He said, raising his voice to be heard over the din. “We can’t let this spread any further.” With that, the first shot rang through the room as the first victim was taken down. I felt the bile rise in my stomach again as Cindy and Drew tried to pull me away.

“Eva, we have to get out of here NOW.” Cindy said, her eyes wide and frightened. 

“No.” I said softly. “I’m really sorry, guys. But we can’t leave.”

“What are you talking about?” Holly shrieked, looking at me like I’d gone mad.

“Guards!” I called out, motioning over the group standing closest to us. “These people are ready to be taken too.”

“What!?!” Cindy screamed as a guard grabbed her arm and started pulling her away.

“What the hell is going on Eva?” Drew yelled as three guards attacked him and fought to get him under control.

Sighing, I reached over and accepted my gun and radio from another guard. “Mr Fitz was a little strange this morning, wasn’t he?” I mused.

“What!?!” They all gaped at me.

“I’m so sorry, guys. I’ll always remember you.” I said, trying to hold back the tears that pooled at the corners of my eyes as I turned and walked away, blocking out their desperate screams and sobs for their life.

Looking towards the stairs, I saw Mr Fitz staring up at me. Winking, at me, he turned and walked away. Sighing, I rubbed my arm where he’d jabbed me with the antidote halfway through class today. I did what I had to do survive. I just hoped it wasn’t for nothing.

 

Riding High

Image

 

The box beckoned to me, itching to be opened. I wiped the dust off the top of it, sneezing as it tickled the inside of my nostrils. Pulling off the lid, I smiled as the photo sitting on the top of the pile beckoned to me. The large, green mountains sprawled in the backdrop of the photo, their beauty only surpassed by the crystal, aquamarine water flowing softly in front of them. That wasn’t what caught my attention though. It was the figures in foreground who captivated me. To the right stood Nancy; her back tall and proud, her skin kissed pink from the sun and a beer clasped firmly in her grasp. Her arm wound around my neck, and mine around her waist as we grinned happily at the camera. Next to me stood Rosie, her eyes sparking with laughter and her mouth partway open in a huge belly laugh. I couldn’t help but giggle as I remembered what was going on in this photo. Next to Rosie stood Lila, her golden hair sparking under the beaming sunlight. Unaware of Rosie’s ‘trick’, she stared straight down the camera, beaming with exhilaration. Throughout her hair, courtesy of Rosie, lay small particles of hay; a ‘surprise’ Rosie had bought back from the farm we’d visited that day. In front of us all crouched Amy. Her mouth was opened in a half smile, half shriek as she’d fumbled to keep her balance atop the small rock she’d found to perch herself on for the photo. The only word that came to mind when I looked at this photo was happiness. Sighing, I put it aside and tried to push back the memories of what happened next…

 

“My back is still aching!” Nancy complained as she plopped onto the seat next to me. “Those rides were so totally worth it though!” She exclaimed, taking a big slurp of her beer. 

“For you maybe,” I said with a shudder. “I still can’t believe you guys conned me into going on every single one! Never again.” I added determinedly. 

Laughing, Rosie headed over and topped up my glass of champagne. “If I remember correctly, you were the one who insisted we go on the biggest ride in the park five times in a row!” She insisted.

“Nope.” I shook my head, “wasn’t me. They really kinked my neck out though. Every time it moved I was thrown against the supports. Makes me highly envious of your substantial padding, Rosie!” I called as she moved towards the barbeque again.

“Well, I was given these beauties for a reason!” She called back as she flipped the steaks.

Laughing, I got up and stretched, heading inside to go to the toilet.

“Grab some insect repellent while you’re in there will you!” Amy called out as I walked towards the door, “the mozzies are eating me alive tonight!”

“Will do!” I called back. She’d been attacked the whole time we’d been here… They’d left me alone though so I wasn’t too upset about it.

It was our last night in the cabin. I sighed wistfully as I looked around the front room where the old, tattered lounge sat longingly awaiting some TLC. It’s back was adorned with Lila and Rosie’s clothing – mainly the dresses and clothes that were highly inappropriate for a week spent out in a log cabin at the lake. The room seemed to hold the heat of the day inside its walls, though as we’d come to realise, it also held the creatures of the night pretty darn well too!  

Smiling, I looked around and grabbed my camera to take some last minute photos of all of us together, noticing I only had a few shots left. This had been one of the most amazing weeks of my life with just us girls. I didn’t want to go home.

***

 Chaos would be the only way to describe what I opened my eyes to the next morning.

The room swirled with stirred up dust and heated, stuffy air, clogging up my airways. Sitting up, I eased out of my sleeping bag on top of the old, creaky bed and looked around blearily. Rosie was throwing clothes onto her bed, trying in earnest to get them squished back into the suitcase. Lila was sitting on top of her bag, grunting in her effort to get it closed. Watching her progress, I debated whether or not I should tell her she’d forgotten to put her toiletries bag in or not.

Hmm… Not. I decided sitting back against my pillow grinning. This was just too entertaining!

“Uh, Lila?” Nancy called tentatively from her bed.

“What?” Lila growled, glaring at her half closed suitcase.

“Forgetting something?” She asked, smothering a laugh.

Looking around, Lila spotted the abandoned toiletries bag. “Ugh!” She screamed in frustration. “I give up! These are going in your bag!” She said, throwing a bunch of clothes on Nancy’s feet.

Laughing, Nancy, Amy and I crawled out of bed and headed into the bathroom to get ready for the long trip home today.

***

 “This town is simply adorable!” Rosie exclaimed as she took in the idealistic, old-fashioned town surrounding us. 

It truly was beautiful – the streets not clogged with congestion and traffic but patient, slow paced weekend drivers. The streets were lined with small, boutique shops and the people wandering around seemed relaxed and content. It was hard to wipe the smile off my face as we melted in with the crowd and explored before our flight left later that night.

“STOP RIGHT THERE! HANDS WHERE I CAN SEE THEM!” A voice boomed through the air, cutting through the daze of happiness and silencing the streets.

Confused, I turned around to see what was going on. Behind us stood a beefy, burly policeman, his gun trained straight at Amy’s chest. Shock filled her face as she slowly raised her hands, her eyes watering and chin trembling in fear.

“What the hell is this about?” Lila demanded as we took in the approaching guard coming up behind the officer.

“I think you girls know.” He said quietly, motioning for four other officers to come forward with handcuffs at the ready.

 Bewildered, we looked at each other, searching for a sign of awareness in anyone’s face. There was none. This was completely unexpected. 

“HEY!” Yelled a voice from behind the policeman, “Over here!”

Looking beyond the line of local law enforcement that boarded us in, I saw a young woman, waving her arms frantically above her head. Clutched in her hand was a large machete, its blade glinting manically in the beaming sun. The police turned, and started forming a line against her, giving up a split second window of escape.

And we took it. Piling into our rental car, Nancy grabbed the wheel and spun off the curb and down the street at a rip roaring pace, hightailing us out of there. Dodging traffic, she swerved, weaved and cut off other motorists, eventually merging in with the heavy traffic headed towards the airport.

“That was close.” She said, gripping the steering wheel tightly. “But I think we’re in the clear now. No one followed us.”

Letting out a collective breath, we settled back and laughed nervously about what we had just escaped, wondering what in the world would happen; why they targeted us.

 

Fighting for control of my pounding heart, I placed the photo back on the top of the heap in the box. Maybe today wasn’t the best time to relive those memories again. Especially considering what happened after that… 

 

Photo Credit: http://www.youwall.com/index.php?ver=MjQxNQ==