excerpts

Excerpt from Bringing Down S.A.N.T.A.
by Theresa Meyers

 

Chapter One

    Everyone thinks they know who they are.  The truth is you only know who you’ve been told you are.  You don’t ever get to know the real you until you’re in a situation where you have to choose.  Choose big things, life and death things.  That’s when you find out.  Let me see if I can explain.

    My introduction to my real self started on my birthday.  It’s Christmas Eve, which would be fine except for two things.  One, most kids like to believe in Santa when they are little.  I never had such illusions, partially because there were never any presents on Christmas, or Christmas Eve.  In fact I don’t ever remember my family even being together for Christmas, or getting any kind of presents, birthday or Christmas related, which is just weird on several levels, which is why I don’t talk about it. 

    Two, I resent my parents.  Not just because of their workaholic tendencies and extremely bizzaro fashion sense, but because of their airy, fairy crystalline weirdness when it came to giving me a name.  My name is Mary Christmas, which, like my birthday, sucks slugs.

    Some families have nice traditions.  Holidays are a time to be together. 

    Not us.

    Every year, for as long as I can remember, I’ve been dumped off at my Aunt Claudia’s house for my birthday.  She’s a nasty, bitter old witch who has more than seventeen cats and is nutty as a Snickers bar. 

    On this particular birthday, my fourteenth, not that anyone but me seemed to be counting, I sat in one of her faded, overstuffed chinz chairs, that smelled a little like a dusty fabric softener sheet.  A ginger colored cat had taken over my lap, a black slinky one poised on the chair arm and a rather fat tabby was asleep on my feet, as I watched my parents through the big plate glass window.  They talked to each other with animated excitement in the gathering darkness, their hands moving almost as much as their mouths, as they climbed in our conservative black four-door car and drove away.  Again.

    You’d think I’d be use to it by now.  But it never gets any easier watching them leave me, because frankly as odd as they are at times, I often wonder if they’ll find their way home again.  The red taillights flashed once as they reached the stop sign at the end of the road, then winked out of existence as they turned out of the narrow lane of odd brick cottages where my aunt lives.  Inside my chest the familiar heavy sensation was pushing down on my lungs making it harder to breathe. 

    “Mary!”  That shrill voice drove through my brain like nails through a casket lid and her Irish accent had a way of drawing out the end of my name so it sounded like I had multiple e’s on it.  

    “Mary!”  This time the various china and dollar store knickknacks that crowded over every surface in my Aunt’s living room shook at the volume of her voice. 

    “Yes, Aunt Claudia?”

    She came busting out of the kitchen, nearly as wide as she was tall, her hair a mass of dark corkscrew curls, her green eyes bright, despite the fact that you could barely seem them over her round pink cheeks.  “What do you want for dinner?  Applejacks or Cheerios?”  She shook the cereal box in each hand as she asked, making the cats leap off the chair and gather around her feet in expectation of food. 

The cats seemed to leak out of every crevice until the floor was filled with them and I had no hope of reaching her without having my shins shredded.

    “Cheerios.”

    “Don’t have regular milk.  You want chocolate milk or vanilla soy, luv?”

    Now at this point, I’m sure you’re thinking, this isn’t such a bad deal.  Your aunt seems pretty cool about not stuffing you full of broccoli and meat loaf.  Yeah.  I’m sure it does seem cool.  That is until you’ve eaten breakfast cereal for every meal for a week, including your Christmas dinner.  You can’t possibly imagine how wonderful turkey, with creamy mash potatoes, green beans dripped with butter and a slice of spicy pumpkin pie topped with luscious whipped cream sounds until you’ve been without it so long you dream of it.

    “Chocolate milk is fine.”

    She nodded.  “I’ll get you a bowl and you can eat in front of the telly.  Best to stay out of the kitchen for a bit.  I have a visitor.”

    I leaned back in the chair to get a better look as she passed through the swinging door into the kitchen.  All I got a glimpse of was a pair of well-polished men’s shoes, black socks and a leg of a trouser.  It must be my aunt’s latest boyfriend.  She switches them so often I just call all of them Chris.

    The funny thing was all the cats stayed out of the kitchen, not daring to travel past the swinging door.  Maybe they thought they’d get slammed in two or slapped on the butt if they ventured to close to it.

    The door swung back out and Aunt Claudia came in and handed me the soup-sized bowl of little tan Cheerios floating in a sea of chocolate milk. 

    “Here you go, luv.”

    My stomach turned.  Cereal for a week.  GAWWWW. . .  Perhaps I could get my best friend Sophie to sneak me some Kung Pao Chicken.

    Now there was the life.

    Sophie Becket lived in a normal house on a normal street in a normal suburb.  She had relatively normal parents and was an average student who had light brown hair, soft brown eyes and was an average height, which made her a good three inches taller than me.  I hate being the shortest person in class, but aside from wearing heels, there wasn’t much that could be done about it.  Thanks, mom and dad.

    Pretty much the only thing that wasn’t completely normal about Sophie’s life was her older brother, Seth, who’d taken his practice at playing Guitar Hero a little too seriously and now thought himself a star of some wicked garage band.  Putting Seth aside, even though he did look hotter with his surfer hair than he had before, Sophie pretty much had it all together.

    Me, if I ever had it altogether, I’d forget where I’d put it.

    Tonight was exotic food night at the Becket’s, which is why I was pretty sure I could’ve counted on Kung Pao Chicken instead of hamburgers or steak or something equally meat and potatoes.

    I pulled my cell out of my jacket pocket, but I couldn’t get service.  Apparently my aunt’s house is at the center of some weird vortex that sucks in all cell signals.  I pushed aside the TV tray and tried over by the window to see if I could get something.

    One bar popped up so I texted Sophie as fast as my fingers could fly before the signal vanished again.  “Dying 4 KPC. Save me.”  I tapped my foot as I waited for her reply.  The conversation in my aunt’s kitchen went from frantic mumbling to screaming.

    “No man leaves me, do you hear!”

    It wasn’t like I was eavesdropping.  Anyone in a three-mile radius probably could have heard her shriek.  I snuck up to the door and pushed it open just enough to get a peek and make sure she was OK in there.

    Her finger was pointed at the man’s back as he ambled toward the back door. There was a flash of greenish light that pulsated for an moment followed by instant, eerie quiet.   Chris looked like he’d be frozen in mid-step.  Well he did for a moment anyway.  Before he started to shrink.  And get darker.  And hairier. And grow a freakin’ tail!

    I sucked in a breath. 

    Dear Lord, my aunt had just turned her boyfriend into a black cat. 

    I quickly glanced around at the room behind me and noticed the suspicious lack of felines.

    The wheels in my head started to spin like a hamster hopped up on caffeine training for a triathalon.  Was the reason my aunt had so many cats because she had done something similar to all her boyfriends? 

I let go of the door as if had burned me and started to back away, quickly and quietly, my breath coming in shallow, quick whispered gasps.  But the swinging door yanked open in the other direction.

    My aunt stood there and blew a dangling black curl off her face with a huff of breath.  She scooped up the black cat at her feet, strode past me and set her new pet down on the chinz couch with a silent plop.  “It’s a pity. I really thought George was different.”

    I tried not to swallow my tongue.  “You-you just turned him into a cat!”

    She glanced over her shoulder and smiled. It was the sort of smile that was kind with just a tinge of pity, like an adult gives a small child who they think doesn’t understand what’s happening, when really we do and we just don’t want to accept it. 

    “Yes, dear.  Happens all the time.”

    “But-but you can’t do that!  They’re people!”

    “Why ever not?”  She said as she reached out to stroke the cat with her thick fingers, the big moonstone ring on her right hand glowing just a bit.  “It’s loads better than turning them to ash and sweeping them into the dustbin like your great-aunt Holly would have done.  And they don’t know the difference once they’ve changed.  I even feed them gourmet cat food.”

    I noticed that the other cats had begun to leak back into the room, a furry incoming tide around my feet.

    She made kissy sounds to all of them.  “There, there my pets.  Meet George.  Isn’t he handsome?  Of course he’ll have to be neutered, like the rest of you lot were.”

        Oh. My. God. I scooted out of the room on numb feet, trying not to attract my aunt’s attention, and straight through the kitchen and dashed out the back door.
 

 

 

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