Where evil twins and friends come together to lovingly snark Point Horror and other teen genre fiction
 

Recap #114: Graveyard School #15: The Fright Before Christmas by Tom B. Stone, A.K.A. “I STILL Can’t Believe It’s Not A Christmas Carol!”

Title: Graveyard School #15 – The Fright Before Christmas

Author: Tom B. Stone/Nola Thacker/D.E. Athkins

Cover Artist: Mark Nagata [Wing: That cover is so much cheesy fun.]

Tagline: N/A

Summary: Have Yourself A Scary Little Christmas…

Christopher hates Christmas. He calls it a howl-iday, not a holiday. The fat man in the red suit? Santa Claws. That eight-reindeer vehicle? A slay. And Chris isn’t kidding. Welcome to Christmas at Graveyard School. It’s sure to be very merry. And very, very scary. [Wing: CHRIS YOU ARE TEASING ME WITH WEREWOLVES.]

Initial Thoughts

Here we’ve come to the second of the two Christmas Carol bootleg books I’ve reviewed for Point Horror, and I feel this one’s much better than “Fright Christmas.” [Wing: Everyone loves a Christmas Carol retellings, I guess.] For one thing, it’s got something of a meta bent to it. See, this is a rare Christmas Carol copy where it acknowledges the original work as something that exists. In almost every other take on the famous novel by Charles Dickens, the characters never seem to recognize what they’re currently experiencing. Out of the few times where such a thing occurred, there was

  • A Flintstones Christmas Carol, where the cast was actually doing a theater production of the story with Fred cast as Scrooge and turning into a jackass thanks to his inflated ego. Conversely, when the performance finally begins, Fred’s role as Scrooge serves as his wake up call for how poorly he’s been treating everyone.
  • The Simpsons and The Non-Adventures of Wonderella making fun of how much that story’s been utterly sucked dry, with the former doing jokes about “Ebeneezer Urkle,” and in the latter Wonderella pointing out how the last ghost is almost always the Grim Reaper in every knockoff.

This book also gets to demonstrate how smart these kids really are. They’re quite clear on why Christopher, the Scrooge stand-in, pisses them off so much. They don’t dislike him because he doesn’t like Christmas, but they DO dislike him because he’s got such a bad attitude about the holiday. They know lots of people don’t celebrate Christmas, but Christopher’s so pissy about it no matter what culture he comes from they think he wouldn’t celebrate ANY holiday. So look, if you don’t want to participate in some holiday fine, but don’t ruin the fun for everybody else. There’s also the understanding that his dislike of the holiday is coming from somewhere much more complicated.

I could be wrong though, and if any of you feel this is coming from some place of bias feel free to tell me. I’d LOVE to have a discussion on it.

[Wing: Well now I am super interested. Let’s do this.]

Recap

The class groaned as Mr. Melon smiled. Park Addams was glad he at least didn’t have a silver fang like Dr. Morthouse, while junior financial wiz Christopher Hampton pipes in that fangs are probably the kind of expensive thing only principals could afford. Park thought he was joking, but Christopher NEVER jokes about money. Mr. Melon says the class is going to have some holiday fun, which pisses Chris off because he can’t stand Christmas.

Mr. Melon, a man as round as his name but nowhere near as jolly as his frequent smiles implied, folded his arms. “Fun,” he repeated.

Stacey Carter leaned slightly toward Park, who was sitting next to her. “Have you ever noticed when teachers say fun, it really means work?” she said out of the side of her mouth.

Perfect Polly Hannah, her feet lined up next to each other, her hands folded on her desk, looked over her shoulder at them. “I can’t hear, Mr. Melon,” she whined. “Some people won’t stop talking.”

Give it to Polly for not exceeding anyone’s expectations. [Wing: God, I love Polly in all her obnoxiousness.]

Mr. Melon explains, as everybody already knows, that the class has been discussing winter holidays around the world, like Hanukkah and Kwanzaa (and also mentions it’s a newer holiday celebrating African AND African American traditions), and now they’re covering Christmas and its evolution from European culture. That’s too much for Christopher, who already can’t stomach the malls, the music, the lack of money, his family acting like freaks, the man in the red suit and the roast beast and the flip-fringers and THE ZIP-ZOOPERS AND THE NOISE

NOISE

NOOOOOOOOOOOOISE!!!!!

Oops wrong book.

Absentmindedly, Christopher jingled the coins in his pocket. Their familiarity reassured him. He could tell their denominations by touch.

For Christopher, Christmas wasn’t a holiday, it was a howl-iday. It made him want to howl. To run and hide. To sabotage Santa’s sleigh.

Chris don’t play with your hands in your pockets during class that’s just unseemly. [Wing: And stop calling it a howl-iday. You’re making me hope for werewolves even though I won’t get them.]

Mr. Melon reveals that during the week the class is going to decorate a tree, read and discuss “A Christmas Carol” and the impact it had on the holiday, and they’re going to do Secret Santas. [Wing: This is a bit fucking much, Melon. I can see how this would ostracize kids for a number of reasons (class, religion, popularity, etc.), and is a terrible idea.] Stacey is outraged, being a working class gal who tries to be very careful with how she spends the money she earns from her dog walking business. Christopher tells her she’s absolutely right to be upset, but the idea that they’re on the same page terrifies her.

Christopher, the wet blanket that he is, asks if everyone HAS to participate in the Secret Santa thing, to which Mr. Melon explains of course they don’t if they don’t want to. It’s FUN. [Wing: But is it?]

Secret Santa/Holiday Elf Rules:

  • Throughout the week the Secret Santas can give out inexpensive or homemade gifts, like cards or candy or magazines
  • Those participating write their names on slips and put them in a box. You can only write your name once and you can only pick one person.
  • The Secret Santas will reveal themselves during the class party at the end of the week.
  • No you can’t switch who you pick. [Wing: Lies. Everyone always tries to switch.]
  • Give what you like when you like
  • It’s FUN, goddamnit! [Wing: The more you say fun, the less I think it will be fun.]

Stacey mutters she’s not a cheapskate and she doesn’t hate Christmas, so of course she puts her name in the box of slips. Christopher ignores the box and bitterly expresses his contempt for Stacey’s babyish behavior. And then we get to the part where this book avoids turning into “Christmas With The Kranks.”

“I’m surprised at you, Stacey. I thought you said it was a baby act to do Secret Santa.”

Stacey shrugged. “Maybe. Maybe not,” she said. “There are worse ways to celebrate Christmas.” She gave him a pointed look. “Like not celebrating it at all.”

“Lots of people don’t celebrate Christmas,” Christopher said.

“Everybody, all over the world, every race and culture, celebrates some kind of holiday,” said Stacey. “And I bet no matter where you were, you wouldn’t celebrate anything at all.”

“What is that supposed to mean?” asked Christopher indignantly.

“It could be fun,” Park said as he wrote his name.

“Yeah, and monkeys might fly out my ears,” said Christopher.

Okay, so. This isn’t some “Let’s hate this kid because he doesn’t celebrate Christmas.” It’s shaping into “Your lousy attitude is ruin the fun for everybody else.”

[Wing: This is true, and it’s clear from the way he talks about Stacey (and all the other participants) as being babyish for participating that he’s being an asshole. And she’s not wrong that in general, people everywhere celebrate some kind of holiday at some point in the year, but the implication here is that everyone, somehow, celebrates a holiday around Christmas, and that is flat not true. Not to mention, if you want to do a gift exchange, why call it “Secret Santa”?]

Christopher doesn’t get how this could be fun while the kids take slips, and Park is especially horrified by the name he’s drawn. And apparently, it’s someone WORSE than Polly Hannah. Did Dr. Morthouse’s name end up in there? [Wing: I could only hope to buy for Dr M.] As the class departs, Chris leaves Park with a bitter barb about him being “Santa Park,” which Park responds to with “Bah” and “Humbug.”

While at the mall with his family, Christopher’s older college student sister Megan is gushing about how cute their little 4 year old sister Kelli is as she manhandles the poor mall Santa, grabbing his beard and all. This upsets their other sister, 6 year old Lara, who declares SHE is cute too! Christopher can hardly refrain from vomiting. The minute Lara gets on Santa’s lap she socks him in the gut, which in fact turns out to be real.

Cute,” said Megan.

“Some people think baby hyenas are cute, too,” Christopher muttered.

[Wing: First of all, baby hyenas are cute. Second of all, abusing a poor actor working as Santa is not cute, Megan.]

The beard, not so much, and Kelli manages to rip a chunk off. Christopher thinks to himself no one could pay him a million bucks for that job, but realizes that’s unrealistic because nobody would pay such an amount for a job like that. Christopher tried his best to get out of the annual Hampton Family trip to the mall, and his father weaseled out of taking the girls to see Santa by saying he had to do “Special shopping.” [Wing: Well someone is going to have a good Christmas Eve after the kids go to bed.] Christopher tried to come along to help his dad shop (much to his father’s surprise), when Megan remembered Christopher did all HIS Christmas shopping last December 26th when everything was on sale. [Wing: This is the smart thing to do!]

Mrs. Hampton tells Christopher to stop snarking because he’s going after his sisters, and he’s like “Bitch please.” Kelli starts rattling off her Christmas list when Lara interrupts by screaming “A RED JEEP” loud enough to make Santa wince. And she means an actual jeep. For her parents, of course. And Mrs. Hampton is all “The little darlings!”

“A jeep is expensive,” Christopher said. “Not to mention the combined cost of the rest of the stuff on that list!”

Megan drove an elbow into Christopher’s ribs. “Give it a rest,” she said. “They’re kids. Kids are greedy. They’ll grow out of it.” She paused and gave him a speculative look and added, “In a good way, I hope.”

[Wing: UMM. Kids will not grow out of greed unless you teach them to not be greedy. Look at the people around you.]

Christopher recognizes it’s the same kind of shot Stacey gave him earlier in the day, but then all attention goes to the girls as all Hell breaks loose.

But before he could retaliate, Lara slithered off Santa’s lap, giving Kelli a sneaky push as she did so.

Kelli lost her balance. She swung her arms wildly, punched Santa in the nose, then grabbed a handful of his hair.

His real hair.

Santa screamed.

Kelli let go. She half fell, half jumped from Santa’s lap. As he leaped to his feet, she raced for the safety of her family.

Blind with pain, holding his nose and emitting muffled shrieks, Santa staggered in a circle before he fell back onto his throne.

For a long, slow moment, the throne tottered under the impact. For one long, slow moment, everyone watched as Santa began to tip over backward, throne and all.

The chair fell off the raised platform. It went backward through one of the papier-mache candy walls of Santa’s house.

An avalanche of fake snow and icicles thundered down onto Santa, burying him.

A horrible silence fell.

A little boy burst into tears. “She… She killed Santa!” he sobbed.

[Wing: Holy shit, the Hamptons are a bunch of assholes.]

The children start screaming and crying that Santa, or rather, Sanna, is deaded. Christopher rushes to pull Santa out of the debris before he decides to sue the Hamptons. One kid punches Chris’s leg thinking he’s trying to hurt Santa while an adult calls for security. Christopher manages to dig Santa out of the fake snow and candy, and is happy his nose isn’t bleeding.

The guy looked up at Christopher. “The told me this job would be fun,” he said.

Christopher winced. Fun. That word again. “But did they tell you it would be easy?” he asked.

The security guards show up and some higher management guy demanding to know what the fuck happened. The mall Santa immediately points to Kelli and Lara.

“He’s not dead,” Kelli said as Christopher dashed up. “He doesn’t even look hurt.” Christopher thought she sounded disappointed.

“Does this mean he won’t give us a jeep?” Lara asked.

“What do you think?” Christopher said sarcastically.

As the mall Santa points to the Hamptons, the rest of the kids and their families immediately turn on them as Christopher tries to herd his family out of the store before they get lynched. He can’t help but think how dangerous Christmas can be. Or rather, “Christmas isn’t for sissies,” if I’m being honest.

Of course, at school the next day, everyone asks Christopher what the fuck is wrong with him, thinking he warped his sisters into trying to assassinate Santa Claus. And who begins the hate-on but none other than Vickie Wheilson!

“I hear your little sister tried to kill Santa Claus,” she said. “You come from a warped family, Christopher. I mean, I know you hate Christmas and all, but getting your little sister to try and off the fat man is-”

“It was an accident,” Christopher snapped. “And you’ve got a lot of nerve calling anybody weird.”

He glanced sideways at Vickie. She was dressed in an enormous red sweatshirt under a battered wool jacket. She’d painted her bulbous-toed boots orange, the same color as the scuffed sneakers she wore in warmer weather. Her wrist, knee, and elbow guards didn’t even match each other, and from under her neon green helmet her orange-red hair looked like an exploding dandelion.

VICKIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIE. [Wing: On the one hand, I love how she dresses. On the other hand, WTF Vickie you are better than treating him like this.]

Vickie was unmoved by the attempted insult. “There’s weird and there is weird,” she said. “And I am not so weird that I don’t like Santa Claus. I mean, hating Santa is beyond weird.”

“I don’t hate Santa Claus,” said Christopher. “I just don’t like Christmas.”

“Same diff,” said Vickie.

She’s got a point guys. Santa’s pretty much considered the living representation of the secular and more positive attributes of Christmas. To hate one is to hate the other. [Wing: Disagree. I can like the lights and gift giving aspect of Christmas, but Santa is some shit. Parents lie to their kids about an old white guy watching them to make sure they’re good throughout the year who then breaks into their houses? That’s fucked up. He has elves doing all the hard work that he doesn’t pay, he lets his reindeer abuse each other, if the big expensive gifts in one family come from Santa, another family who can’t afford those sorts of gifts from Santa has kids who think they aren’t good enough to be deserving of Santa’s largess, and, right, parents lie to their kids about his existence and then get mad if their kid lies to them or doesn’t trust them. I’m not saying anyone shouldn’t do the whole Santa thing, but I do not get it.] Vickie asks exactly what Christopher has against the man. Christopher says Santa’s an extortionist who guilt trips people into spending their hard-earned money. Not a wise investment in his opinion. [Wing: He’s not terribly wrong. And also, he’s reminding me of baby brother, whom I will call … Raptor, because I can see him as a bird of prey. Anyway, Raptor is similarly tight with his money, and he is a great person who can give wonderful gifts, but dislikes the societal pressure of Christmas, etc. (Aside: I am going to have to create a list of people so I keep the references straight.)] Vickie goes to talk to her cousin Skate McGraw, when Park and Maria Medina show up. Turns out Skate’s sister Christine wants to beat up Kelli and Lara, but Maria says Christine can get in line because her parents had to spend hours assuring Maria’s sister Santa wasn’t offed. Christopher honestly can’t believe he’s defending his horrible sisters, asserting THEY like Christmas. No one buys it, and Maria lectures Chris he’s entitled to his opinion but he shouldn’t teach it to his sisters. [Wing: Not only is this a piling on off Christopher, but way to take away his sisters’ agency in their own actions and beliefs.] Polly Hannah comes up and says her mom thinks the mall should sue the Hamptons for ruining Christmas. Christopher explains

  • It was just a guy in a Santa suit
  • It was an accident
  • And that house was a substandard structure anyway. The mall’s got no grounds for a lawsuit. [Wing: Crap, you guys, despite his grumpiness and assholery, I kind of love this kid.]

Maria’s disgusted by how Christopher sounds like a lawyer.

“What’s wrong with that?” said Polly. “My father’s a lawyer. He sues people all the time.” [Wing: This is what is wrong with legal society today.]

“Yeah, and someone should sue your mother for allowing you out of the house, Polly. You ruin every day,” Maria said.

“At least I’m not trying to ruin Christmas,” Polly sniffed.

Shit, you know you’re in a bad position when Polly’s pretty much in AGREEMENT with everyone else.

As Polly smooths out her pink and white winter coat, Christopher can’t help but think how impractical and expensive pink clothes can be. Vickie says she’d give Christopher coal if she were his Secret Santa when Park reminds everyone he’s not doing the Secret Santa thing. Skate finally speaks and says that’s cool because other kids aren’t doing it as well. [Wing: Thank you, Skate.] Polly adds THOSE kids didn’t try to have Santa snuffed out. Vickie says if she were Santa, she’d be out for payback.

“Wow. I’m afraid,” said Christopher. “Like, what is he gonna do? Run over me with his sleigh? That would slay me. Get it?”

No one laughed. [Wing: I laughed.]

Christopher asks if anyone here actually believes in Santa, or doesn’t think Christmas is a big scam when the bell rings. As everyone’s herded through the front doors, Polly wishes Dr. Morthouse a Merry Christmas. Horrifyingly, Dr. Morthouse returns the sentiment. Maria thinks Polly gives teachers’ pets a bad name. In the hallway, Park finds a Secret Santa gift taped to his locker. Christopher smugly warns him not to open strange packages when Park tells him to Scrooge someone who cares. Looking around Christopher can only cringe in disgust at the red-and-green packages taped to some lockers when-oh crap. Did he see a really creepy looking face on his locker dial for about a second? Chris, hesitantly, opens his locker, when wisps of red and green mist curl around his wrists. In the fog, he can hear the sound of rattling chains, and a pair of disembodied lips appear and start beckoning Christopher’s name.

Christopher panics and falls on his ass. Everyone turns in his direction as he feebly points to the open locker, but other than his notebooks, some textbooks, his lunch, and a copy of the Wall Street Journal, [Wing: THIS KID.] it’s fog free. Park tells Chris he’s gonna get them in trouble when he tries to explain he saw a fog in his locker.

“Next time, don’t leave your gym socks there over the weekend.” Park bent forward and pretended to peer in Christopher’s ear. “The only fog I see is in your brain,” he said.

The minute Christopher mentions what color the fog was, Park immediately thinks he just has a guilty conscience for turning his sisters loose on Santa. Park tells Chris to check out what he got from his Secret Santa, but suddenly Christopher realizes the lockers in Graveyard School look like coffins… [Wing: Of course they do. I love this series so damn much.]

In Mr. Melon’s class they’ve begun their discussion on “A Christmas Carol.” Polly asks if anyone like Ebeneezer Scrooge really existed, to which Park chimes in they already have Christopher Scrooge. Vickie wonders when they get to the ghosts, which Stacey thinks sounds cool. Mr. Melon admonishes Vickie about spoilers [Wing: But certainly not for bullying a classmate.] while Stacey comments every Christmas at Graveyard School’s a haunted one. [Wing: GOOD POINT. I love it.] Park brings up Christopher’s run in with the holiday fog, but no one takes Chris seriously.

“Probably something you ate,” Stacey said.

“Red-and-green barf?” Park made a gagging sound.

That night the Hamptons are going tree shopping, Mr. Hampton singing his own version of “O Christmas Tree” and playing “Spot The Tree” with the girls. Christopher orders his dad to just watch the road and Megan tells him to stop being a brat.

“Brat? Brat?” Christopher was outraged. “I’m the meat in the Brat Queen backseat sandwich and you’re calling me a brat?”

As his family piles out of the car, Christopher goes over what a waste a Christmas tree is. A waste of money, a waste of time and energy searching for one, bringing it home, decorating it, un-decorating it, and then throwing it out. [Wing: He’s not wrong again, though I think a fake pre-lit tree handles most of those complaints.] Christopher’s at least happy his family’s so far the only people at the lot, meaning less chance of his sisters trying to murder somebody else. Do insurance companies have policies for human-caused natural disasters? [Wing: Dear god, I hope so with this family around.] It then dawns on Christopher why his mom bailed on tree shopping as Lara and Kelli argue over the best tree when, surprising everyone, Chris suggests they buy a live tree, one they can plant after Christmas is over. [Wing: WELL DAMN, that’s a grand idea. I didn’t even know that was an option.] His father compliments Christopher on such a thoughtful suggestion. Christopher offers to haggle the price on the tree, suggesting they maybe wait a bit so the price will be lower, but Mr. Hampton assures him they’ve got plenty saved for the tree. Christopher wanders off to find the tree guy, and feels a little uneasy by how dark the evening’s become, even with all the Christmas lights strung up. Christopher tries to follow his nose [Wing: I’m having a Toucan Sam flashback here.] for the scent of a fire burning in an old oil drum, where sure enough there tends to be the guy in charge.

He looked back over his shoulder. As he did, several lights in the row behind him blazed and went out like falling stars.

Christopher finds the tree lot guy, a man with a bushy beard and eyebrows, twinkling eyes, a round belly, and a mirthful smile. Chris can’t help but smile back. Christopher explains his family wants a live tree, going into detail about why the price should be one everyone can agree on, when the man tapped the side of his nose with his finger. The fire in the oil drum blazes for a moment, and when it dies back down, the man’s gone. Christopher, angered and a little bit scared, cries this isn’t how you negotiate and tries to find where the owner went. Deeper in the rows of trees, with mournful sounding Christmas carols playing on loudspeakers, Christopher feels a prickly tree branch graze his leg, and suddenly the red and green fog has returned. Chris tries to flee, but the branches seem to wrap around his arms and hold him in place as the fog gets heavier.

For one long moment, everything was still.

Then, from the center of the smoke, six ghoul-like creatures in strange black clothes emerged. Lit by a ghastly green-and-red reflection from the smoke, they walked slowly forward, two by two. Where faces should have been, Christopher could see only black shadows and a faint, coal-like glow that could have been eyes.

They walked toward him.

He saw what they were holding.

It was a long black coffin.

Christopher anxiously tries to free himself from the tree’s grip and falls into the smoke. As he gets up he sees the six pallbearers walk into the tree that held him and vanish, leaving only a trace of embers as the smoke vanishes. Chris can suddenly hear Megan calling his name. Mr. Hampton has finished paying for the live tree when Chris asks where the salesman went. Mr. Hampton mentions he went to help some other customers, and Christopher decides not to confide in his family what just happened.

Instead, Christopher discusses it with Park during lunch. Park’s first question is if Chris has been eating the mystery meat again. [Wing: But surely the mystery meat can’t be as bad as it was with the new cook.] Christopher asserts he hasn’t; they’re a poor investment anyway, and Park agrees. Christoper muses Park was the only person he could turn to because, well, Park’s the closest thing Chris has for a friend. Hell, he doesn’t have ANY friends. They take up too much time and investment. Time’s money after all, and Chris is entering the Smashed Piggybank Zone. Park gives his two cents on this Haunted Christmas situation, that either it’s for play play and Chris is losing his grip on reality, or it’s for real real and Chris is screwed. Christopher asks why it’s happening to him as he pulls out his worn lunchbox. Park mentions how beat up it looks, but Christopher asserts it’s more environmentally sound to use a lunchbox. AND it’s economical too.

“How did I know you were going to say that?” asked Park. “You know what, Christoper? You’re the funny money kid. I’ve never met someone who was so trashed on cash.”

“There is nothing wrong with being fiscally responsible,” said Christopher.

“I bet you have the first nickel you ever earned.”

“It’s possible. Naturally with interest accrued.”

“Naturally,” said Park.

[Wing: No, seriously, I kind of love Christopher.]

Park asks if Christopher ever thinks of anything besides money, and tries connecting the dots between that and the Christmas situation. [Wing: As much as I love Christopher, I am leery of the money personality traid, especially when Park tries to connect it to his dislike of Christmas. It has shades of antisemitism and stereotypes of Jewish people.] Park reasons Christopher might have a phobia of the holiday and it’s getting to him. Christopher tries to explain again what he doesn’t like about Christmas, but Park agrees with him on a few points.

“I mean, I agree, a lot of it is pretty gross – all the shopping and the advertisers trying to sucker all the little kids into asking for the crummy toys they sell.” Park’s face darkened. “Like one year when I was in kindergarten I wanted this truck they kept pushing on TV. I gt it. And you know what? It fell apart in about ten minutes.”

“Park!”

“Okay, okay. All I’m saying is, lots of people aren’t into Christmas. It’s not part of their religion or their culture or whatever. But you used to like it, right? Like when you were a little kid?”

Christopher frowned, trying to remember. But he couldn’t.

Again Park waved his hand. “So maybe you’re feeling a little guilty about being so radically against it, that’s all.”

That, huh. See, I really have to give Thacker credit that we’re getting clarification like this on why the kid doesn’t like Christmas. [Wing: Park has a really interesting theory, and I’m mostly enjoying how everything is playing out.]

Stacey and Maria sit by Park so Stacey can reveal her Secret Santa gift, shoelaces with bulldog designs on them like her pet Morris. [Wing: ADORABLE.] Park doesn’t mention Christopher’s haunting so he returns to his homemade lunch, musing on the amount he’s saved ever since he convinced his parents to let him use his lunch money to prepare his meals for himself. But it doesn’t taste quite as satisfactory as it usually does, missing that seasoning of superiority over his classmates. Chris feels just a twinge of regret at being left out as the others discuss the Secret Santa process, but brushes it off. Friends. Who needs them? And Christopher can’t help but blame Christmas.

While Christopher’s family prepares to decorate the tree, Chris acts like an ass and pretends to stumble with a box of fragile ornaments. After helping his family bring up everything, Christopher tries to get back to more important things like doing his math homework, disappointing Megan. Lara sincerely asks if math homework’s more fun than decorating. Christopher says it’s more important when Mrs. Hampton cuts in and insists it’s NOT and tells Chris to at least unpack the boxes. What was that about him not warping his sisters? [Wing: But math homework very well could be more important than decorating. I think it is. And if he doesn’t want to participate, why force him? Christopher drawing boundaries and having different beliefs isn’t warping his sisters at all.]

Defeated, Christopher has to hear his mother gush about a goofy decoration he made with tongue depressors and glitter when he was younger, and hangs it up on a top branch so his sisters can’t get to it. Lara exclaims she wants to make decorations too, and Christopher assures her the school will make her do it just like homework. Megan steps in this time and promises Lara you make decorations for FUN. Chris is getting pretty sick of the word. Removing a box of silver glass ball ornaments, Christopher thinks on how frustrating these type of ornaments can be if you break one, and briefly worries the family’s tree may be haunted too. As if to answer his question, Christopher realizes something’s wrong with his reflection in the glass.

Something moved on the glass surface of the ornament, and saw his own reflection, weirdly distorted, looking back at him.

He made a face, and his reflection leered grotesquely, as if the glass ball were a funhouse mirror. [Wing: YES THIS IS AWESOME.]

The reflection shifted unexpectedly.

Christopher frowned. He hadn’t moved.

But the figure in the glass ornament had.

His face in the glass ball had taken on a life of its own. As he watched in horror, the eyes grew sunken and the cheekbones protruded, the lips receded and the nose shrank.

Then the flesh of the reflected image wrinkled like the skin on hot chocolate.

And then it melted away.

“No,” Christopher whispered.

The reflection caved in on itself, a tiny pinpoint of light.

Christoper stopped breathing.

The pinpoint exploded and came into focus again. Only this time, it wasn’t his face looking back at him.

It was a skull in a Santa hat.

The skull smiled a horrible smile. Little lights lit up its empty eye sockets.

It leaned toward him.

Christopher froze.

“Christopher,” the skull said softly, with a faint, faraway rattle of teeth. “Christopherrrr.”

Christopher yanks the glass orb and tosses it the ground. Lara seems almost pleased that Chris broke an ornament, and Chris realizes he’s not safe even in his own home. Up in his room, unable to focus on his homework, Christopher tries to convince himself he doesn’t believe in ghosts. They’re imaginary, and an imagination is not a sound investment or use of one’s time. [Wing: Well, it can be, but it is a long term investment rather than something easy to see in the immediate sense.] Still, he checked his entire room, turned on all the lights, stuffed the cracks in the door, and began to count his money to relax.

In Mr. Melon’s class as he mentions school will be ending for Christmas break in a few days, Christopher notices his almost genuine smile and can’t help but wonder if teachers look forward to breaks as much as kids do. [Wing: YES.] No more pencils, no more books, no more students’ dirty looks. Polly parrots her mom, saying Mrs. Hannah thinks reading a scary Christmas book isn’t American. Park chimes in the story’s not scary and it’s just a book, but Polly mouths off Charles Dickens isn’t even American. THAT manages to piss off Mr. Melon.

“Charles Dickens is a great storyteller,” he said firmly. “His storytelling is universal.”

Polly looked annoyed and confused.

OHHHHHHHHH!!!! OHHHHH HE JUST SHOT YOU DOWN!!! [Wing: Fucking deservedly. Maybe stop popping off what your mom says and open your brain to stories. Though, I wouldn’t say that Dickens is universal. There’s a very real problem with school reading lists being so straight white male weighted.]

Christopher chimes in he feels bad for Scrooge, which kind of surprises no one given the similarities. Mr. Melon explains Scrooge is simply an exaggeration of miserliness, and Christopher insists he’s NOT like that! [Wing: Yeah, this gets back to my previous concerns over the money issue in this book (and Dickens as a universal storyteller), because you can interpret Scrooge as an antisemitic metaphor for a Jewish character. Dickens faces quite a bit of criticism for the antisemitism in his writing.] Vickie points out he so IS, and he hates Christmas too. Chris says he just hates all the shopping and presents and this and that. Park mutters “Bah, humbug” again, but this time everyone laughs. Christopher thinks to himself how they’ll all regret this when he’s the richest guy on Earth.

If he lives that long.

At the end of the day, Christopher finds a green envelope inside his locker. Cautiously, nervously, he opens the envelope and pulls out a card with a single word written inside.

MIDNIGHT

And then the card bursts into red and green flames, leaving not even ash behind. [Wing: Well that is delightfully dramatic.]

At home, Christopher’s parents admit his suggestion not to use the glass ball ornaments was a good one, and Megan sincerely refers to him as Mr. Christmas. Lara asks Chris to help make decorations, but he says later. Thinking about “Midnight” Christopher tries to convince his parents to let everyone stay up til midnight. Megan reminds Chris he’s get school, but Lara doesn’t and exclaims she wants to stay up. Their parents say of course the girls can stay up til midnight, but they have to be in their beds. It’s an old trick they’ve used before, because once the girls get in bed they doze off immediately. [Wing: Clever.] Mr. and Mrs. Hampton more or less reiterate that Chris WILL be in bed. Defeated, Christopher goes back to his room, taking one last look as his dad joins his sisters in making ornaments and feeling no one cares he’s about to die. [Wing: Christopher, no one knows you’re about to die. They can’t react to what they don’t actually know. You can’t expect people to be mind readers.] Christopher stays up, trying to keep himself alert for any ghostly visitors. He hears Megan showering and his parents putting Kelli and Lara to bed. By the time everyone else is asleep Chris begins entertaining certain notions, wondering if he could bribe a ghost. In need of comfort, Chris pulls out his cash box and hugs it to his chest like a beloved pet or stuffed animal. But now all it feels like is a dead weight. A dead weight for a dead ghost…

BONG! BONG! BONG! Christopher violently awakens, his cash box falling to the floor and bursting open, as the grandfather clock in the living room chimes 12 midnight. At the final stroke the lights immediately go out, making the room as dark as the inside of a sealed coffin. The door flies open, and a figure in flowing robe with an obscured face floats into the bedroom. The ghost beckons to Christopher, who stammers they’re not even dressed for the same party, when all the figure needs to do is manifest right in front of Chris’s face to make it clear he’s got no say in the matter. Grabbing Christopher’s arm, the ghost pries him from the bed even as Chris tries to hold on, and pulls him out through the window, into the night, and several years back.

Their first trip takes them to Christopher’s old home, but he’s not entirely impressed by the trick. However, he’s not prepared for revisiting the day his best friend, Ronald McTavish, had to move away. Young!Chris didn’t make the parting easy, refusing to say goodbye and asking why Ronald had to leave anyway. Ronald told Christopher he could pick up his bottle collecting route and make extra money, and was forced to bid farewell. Moments after Ronald left, Young!Chris silently got a bag from his garage and started collecting bottles. We fast forward a bit to a Christopher only slightly older, in his room sorting his money. Mr. Hampton asked Christopher to join the guests downstairs who’ve come to see baby Lara and Kelli, but Chris refused. He didn’t care at all about his stupid baby sisters and focused on seeing how much money he needed before he could go see Ronald. But then came the day when Christopher’s letter got returned to him. Ronald moved again, but never told Chris about it, so he didn’t know where to send them. This inflamed Christopher, and he begun snubbing kids who acted friendly towards him so he could focus on money, even after losing his original goal. [Wing: Oh, Christopher. This is heartbreaking.]

The ghost returns Christopher to above his house in the present. Christopher chides him for the heat wasted from the open window, and sarcastically asks what the point was of reminding him what he was like as a kid. Sure, he could’ve been nicer to his sisters. Sure he could’ve been nicer to the other kids. But he can’t change that now, can he? He didn’t really have a choice back then, he reasons. The ghost is obviously disappointed, and Christopher can feel his grip on the robe slipping when he plunges through the air.

Christopher wakes up, half convincing himself it was a dream, half hoping that was it and he doesn’t have any other visitors to deal with. Chyeah. The clock chimes again, and Christopher desperately wonders if stopping the clock would stop the whole thing when he hears noises downstairs. In the dining room, Christopher finds the place has been decked out for a Christmas feast, the walls and drapes and everything bedecked in greenery. At the head of the table is a beautiful, full figured woman in a flowing green dress with flowers in her hair. She happily beckons Christopher to join her, but the moment he rudely snubs her, the woman snaps her fingers and the food AND her cheery disposition vanish. The moment she says his name in an all too familiar tone, Christopher realizes SHE was the voice in his locker. The woman grabs Chris and pulls up him through the ceiling and roof, Christopher feeling nails and wood scratching and tearing his clothes. The night appears for a moment, and then suddenly Christopher is dumped in Park’s house.

Park, Stacey, Maria, Skate, and Vickie are having an impromptu party, wrapping gifts, making cards, they’ve even got cookies baking. They’re having fun and enjoying how “Little kid” the whole thing is. Maria asks if Park’s Secret Santa is really Polly Hannah, and Vickie chimes in it’s a good thing he didn’t get stuck with Christopher who probably gives lousy gifts. Chris gets offended, by the ghost informs him the kids don’t know he’s there. Stacey reveals she feels sorry for Christopher because he’s got no friends, not even a pet to care about as she plays with Morris. Vickie asks who’d it be worse to be, Polly or Christopher, and Christopher can’t believe POLLY is a more favorable option compared to him!

Park pushed a gift he’d just wrapped to one side. He picked up a card and began to draw.

“Whatcha making now?” Vickie asked.

“A Secret Santa card,” said Park.

“For who?” asked Vickie.

Park shrugged and said, “For Christopher.”

“Christopher!” Vickie wrinkled her nose.

“Why not?” said Park. “Even Polly has a Secret Santa. Christopher’s the only one who doesn’t.”

“Poor Christopher,” said Stacey. “What do you think he wants to do with the money he’s always talking about?”

“Buy a friend, maybe,” said Maria cruelly.

Christopher reacts to their pity with venomous spite, and now the ghost has whisked him off to his living room where his parents are admiring the tree. Mrs. Hampton wonders if Christopher’s suggestion to get a live tree means he’s getting better.

“He still doesn’t seem to like Christmas – or anything else – any more than he did,” said Mr. Hampton. His face looked troubled. He picked up a mug of tea and went to stand beside Mrs. Hampton.

“Well, he has a point,” his mother said. “Christmas is awfully commercial these days – all the stores and advertisers trying to sell things, making it seem like you can’t do with them… It’s pretty disgusting.”

Mr. Hampton nodded. “I know. But I’m not sure that’s what really bothers him about it anyway. I think he’s a miser to his bones. And he’s getting worse instead of better.”

Christopher’s mother sighed. “I know. I know. Oh, dear. What are we going to do?”

“I don’t know,” said his father. “And it worries me to think what Christopher will become.”

That, is such a sad and beautiful and human thing. See, at least his parents are TRYING not to be useless.

Christopher can’t handle this and cries he’s seen enough, when he ends up back in his bedroom and left stubbornly asserting what Park and the others said means nothing. The third ghost will have to something to say about that, and hey, it turns out to be the skeleton Santa he saw in the ornament!

Skeleton Claus says, without moving its jaw, that it’s time for Christopher to see the future.

“No. No thanks,” he said. “It’s been a long night. I need some sleep. I’ve got school and-”

“The skeleton’s teeth parted. A roar filled Christopher’s senses. The eyes of the skeleton blazed to undead life.

The skeleton follows up by poking Christopher incessantly in his shoulder until he gets up. [Wing: Literal laugh out loud at that.] He grabs Christopher and, with a hearty “Ho ho ho”, flies down the stairs and drags Christopher up through the chimney to… a rally of cheering people chanting

MORE FOR US, LESS FOR THEM! MORE FOR US, LESS FOR THEM!

HAMPTON! HAMPTON!

Christopher initially thinks he turned out pretty good, until he notices the banners reading VOTE FOR HAMPTON. And then he sees his future self.

“That’s me?” he said, outraged. “I look like a nerd. A dweeb. A-”

“Politician,” the skeleton said.

Below him, he heard one man say to another, “Look at that. He’s our man. He doesn’t even waste smiles.”

The other man nodded, his own prim lips pressed together. “He’ll see to it all those stupid bills protecting the environment and the like are revoked. We’ll clear-cut Alaska. We’ll get rid of all those stupid small farmers. We’ll drill for oil off every coast in the world. Acid rain is gonna fall…”

“I’m a politician?” Christopher exclaimed, outraged. “I am not! No way.”

The skeleton nodded.

HE’S FUCKING DONALD TRUMP! [Wing: Oh lord, here we go.]

BUT WAIT IT GETS WORSE

We zip forward to two men counting money. It’s a shame he died, one says. The other points out it means more for them. And they sure squeezed every ounce of money out of him and the old forests. Not a tree left. Oil wells everywhere. Bye bye environmentalists.

The first man coughed. “Yeah. Too bad about the air.”

“It’s not our problem,” said the second. “Let the next generation deal with it.”

THIS BOOK WAS MADE IN 1996.

[Wing: On the one hand, the applicability to the current politic environment is great and terrible at the same time (because we keep going through the same cycle). On the other hand, I don’t actually buy that he would be so anti the environment. He’s the one who suggested they get a live tree and plant it after rather than a disposable tree that was cut down and thrown away.]

The men discuss going to Hampton’s funeral, but decide to let their aides go instead. He means nothing to them now that he’s dead. What do they care? Christopher howls in terror as the skeleton confirms this is what’s in store for him, when Christopher wakes up in his bed. Now, he really does think it was a dream until he realizes his clothes are torn and covered in soot. Christopher runs out of his bedroom and bumps into Megan, begging her to tell him what day it is. Megan tells him to chillax, it’s only Friday morning and he didn’t miss breakfast. Christopher can’t think of anything more wonderful. Looking at his dirty clothes, Chris absolutely swears he ain’t turning into a politician. And what better way to start off on that vow than bursting into the kitchen and declaring “Merry Christmas!” [Wing: FUCKING NO.]

Thank God nobody was holding something fragile.

Megan frowned. “Is this some kind of joke?”

“Joke? No! It’s almost Christmas, isn’t it? Merry Christmas!”

“Have some breakfast,” said Megan. “You’ll feel better.”

“Better than what?” Christopher asked, then laughed heartily at his own dumb joke.

And to prove true to his attitude adjustment, he promises his kid sisters they can make more decorations in the evening. Lara and Kelli can’t wait while his parents and Megan stare in shock.

At school, Mr. Melon’s class has finished “A Christmas Carol.” Polly proclaims it’s not very realistic, to which Christopher mutters “That’s what you think.” When Mr. Melon announces it’s time for the party, who should come in but none other than Dr. Morthouse and Vice Principal Lucre, holding a box containing… an enormous ice cream cake! Morthouse vehemently claims it wasn’t from her, but rather, from Secret Santa. I wonder who that could be? [Wing: Oh, Dr M, you are a delight.]

After class, we find out Park was MR. MELON’S Secret Santa. The teacher compliments Park’s gifts, including a baseball signed by Santa and his reindeer. Oh, but get this. Stacey’s Secret Santa was actually… POLLY HANNAH.

“I know how much you like that stupid dog of yours,” said Polly.

Stacey can’t help but laugh, and Christopher joins in. Well, not to the extreme. He wants to gradually ease people into the new him. [Wing: This is adorable.]

But then it looks like the ghosts aren’t through with him when he finds another card taped to his locker. Park advises him to take a peek. Christopher wearily opens the envelope and looks inside… and then starts laughing his ass off at Park’s card, of a Christmas tree attacking a kid with a crown on his head.

WHAT DO YOU CALL IT WHEN A CHRISTMAS TREE ATTACKS A KING?

TREE-SON. MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Park takes all applause for such a horrible joke. [Wing: As well he should, that was terrible.] Park and Christopher wish Polly a Merry Christmas as she struts to her locker. Someone’s given her a card too, but she just throws it over her shoulder.

Too bad. Otherwise, she would’ve seen the card said “NEXT YEAR” before it burst into red and green flames…

Final Thoughts

I can’t believe Thacker was providing what might be an accurate look of the future of 2016 presidential elections. [Wing: Burn the world. Oh wait, it’s actually already burning.]

I enjoyed how there wasn’t a Tiny Tim character in this, or rather, that the world itself serves as the Tiny Tim character. I liked how Christopher’s parents were legitimately aware of his unhappiness and struggling to figure out how they could help him.

And of course VICKIIIIIIIIIE

So, was this better than “Fright Christmas?” Were the arguments against Christopher’s attitude closeminded or justified? What do you think? [Wing: One of the things I really disliked about this is that his new life started with him focusing on Christmas with joy. What he really needed to change, if he wanted to make friends, was the attitude, but that doesn’t mean he has to turn on the beliefs he held or the things he found important. I think people’s hate of him probably really did stem from the ways he acted like an asshole, but it’s focused too much on him not being into Christmas as the thing standing in for all that assholery, so of course the way to be a better person is to embrace Christmas. Except it’s not.]

Activities Section: An ad lib version of “O Christmas Tree.”

O Christmas WEREWOLF

O Christmas WEREWOLF

Your FUR AND FANGS are so MINTY

O Christmas WEREWOLF

O Christmas WEREWOLF

Your TRANSFORMATIONS are so JOLLY

Not only HUNGRY FOR FLESH when CHRISTMAS is here,

But also UNRELENTING when ’tis SNOWFLAKE DAY and YAKSMAS

O Christmas WEREWOLF, O Christmas WEREWOLF

Your KILLING SPREES are so FESTIVE

[Wing: Hearts in my eyes. HEARTS IN MY EYES.]

Trivia:

  • Polly Hannah’s Wardrobe: Pink coat, pink boots with white fleece lining, fuzzy white legwarmers, pink tights, pink gloves decorated with white flowers, pink hat, pink scarf

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  1. […] for Christmas Carol retellings. We did a few over at the Devil’s Elbow (Fright Christmas and The Fright Before Christmas), and yet somehow this has the best versions of the ghosts. I mean, come on: an angry flying […]

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