On the first day of Robot Christmas, our machine overlords gave to me: “Black Friday,” an original short story by Patrick S. Tomlinson about a real War on Christmas. Patrick S. Tomlinson is the son of an ex-hippie psychologist and an ex-cowboy electrician. He lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin with a menagerie of houseplants in varying levels of health, a Ford Mustang, and a Triumph motorcycle bought specifically to embarrass and infuriate Harley riders. When not writing sci-fi and fantasy novels and short stories, Patrick is busy developing his other passion for performing stand-up comedy. You can find him on Twitter @stealthygeek.
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The fools, the damned fools, Garth cursed to himself.
Carefully, Garth Earl Jenkins sharpened his battle wreath while his wife organized ornaments into egg cartons, pins ready to pull. Their eldest boy, Dale, wrapped satchel charges in holiday paper.
Ack! Holiday paper! Even Garth was doing it. He had to be careful, even inside his own head. The signs had been there for years. Small at first, so’s you wouldn’t notice. Happy Holiday signs, towns holding Winter Festivals, red cups at coffee shops. But Garth had seen it. Seen it all coming from miles away. But no one listened ‘til it was too late.
Now, Black Friday had come, the day the War on Christmas went hot.
“How many more of them ‘ornaments’ left to pack, Gretchen?”
His wife took a long drag from her Virginia Slim, then looked to the pile of glass orbs, each packed with two ounces of C4 coated in BB’s. “Three dozen? Will that be enough?”
“It’ll have to be,” Garth said solemnly.
The annual war on Christmas has ramped up to greater heights each year. But this season, everything went to hell. Emboldened by their victory in Times Square, the Happy Holidays Organization (H2O) began pulping Christmas trees, then used the paper to print up pamphlets warning of the dangers gingerbread houses posed to people with gluten sensitivity.
A patriot in Savanah tried to put a stop to it, but got swarmed and fed through the wood-chipper. Bill O’Reiley spread word of his sacrifice faster than spilled eggnog, and by the end of the week, sleeper cells across the country had been activated. The Jenkins home was one such cell. There were hundreds more hidden in trailer parks and cull-du-sacs throughout the city. The counter attack came tonight. As long as Dale got those damned satchel charges wrapped proper.
“What are you doin’, boy? Who taught you how to fold corners like that? They look like grandma June done them with her shaky hands.”
“Where’s your head at?”
“It’s just that—” Dale shut up as a light appeared in the curtains from outside. He moved for them.
“No, Dale,” Gretchen scolded in a whisper. “Stay away from the windows.”
“It’s okay, Ma,” Dale said. “It’s just Gabby on his one-horse open slay.
Everyone breathed a sigh of relief. Slays were little more than up-armored sleds with a 7.62mm chain gun mounted on a swivel tower drawn by horse. Unlike snowmobiles, they were nearly silent on the snow.
Garth opened the door for Gabby. “You’re late.”
“I know, cuz. I had to stop twice to avoid DOA patrols.”
“The DOA is on the ground already?”
“I’m afraid so.”
An icicle ran down Garth’s spine. The Demonic Order of Atheists were zealots. They made the H2O look like choir boys. They’d already firebombed every nativity scene east of the Mississippi river and put tens of thousands of Salvation Army bell ringers in concentration camps. They’d managed to hold their forces at the city limits, but apparently the lines had moved faster than anyone anticipated.
“No time to waste, then. Gotta get these ornaments and presents loaded. Double time.”
It took three trips, but they got everything loaded onto the slay with barely any room to spare.
Garth gave his cousin a hug. “You be careful out there. We’re going to hole up here for the night.”
“No,” Gretchen said. “They’ll need me at the hospital.”
“I’m not letting those heretics overrun our home, Gretchen.”
“I’m a nurse, Garth Earl. There will be wounded and worse before this night is over. You stay here if you must, but I’m needed.”
Garth gave up. His wife’s mind set like concrete. There’d never been any sense trying to argue with her. “Better go, then.” He gave her an enormous bear hug, then kissed her on the cheek. “Gabby, you keep her safe, ya hear?”
“Will do, cuz. Y’all take care.” Gabby snapped the horse’s reins and the slay slid silently into the night. The last Garth saw of his wife, she was feeding a fresh belt into the 7.62.
“It’s just us now, boy. Best get inside and douse the lights.”
They sat alone in the living room, deathly quiet stretching out between them. Dale finally broke it. “Pop?”
“What’s the meaning of Christmas?”
“What?” Garth perked up at the question. “Don’t be fool, son. It’s about celebrating the birth of our Lord and Savior.”
“I know, it’s just…”
“Just what? Your daddy didn’t raise no mealy-mouth boy. Spit it out.”
“It’s just that Jesus was born in the springtime.”
“He was not! Where’d you hear that heathen ramblin’?”
“I read about it on Wikipedia.”
“Wikipedia,” Dale repeated. “It’s an online encyclopedia. Historians are pretty sure Jesus was born in March or April, and that December twenty-fifth was picked to correspond with pagan winter solstice festivals and the Roman holiday of Saturnalia to make their conversion to Christianity easier.”
“That’s H2O propaganda is what that is, son.”
“But I read that things like the Yule Log and gift-giving were adopted from earlier religious traditions and—”
“That’s enough!” Garth shouted. “Listen, Dale, the only thing you need to be readin’ is your Bible. All that other stuff is just there to confuse you. That’s what these monsters want, to test our faith.”
“I know, Pop. But, if people were already celebrating Christmas before Jesus came along, maybe it can mean different things to different people. Maybe it’s just supposed to mean family and love and being thankful. Is that so bad?”
“Are you listening to yourself right now? You sound like a DOA protest. Now quiet. I thought I saw some light outside. Gabby must’ve forgot somethin’.”
“Pop,” Dale said from the window. “That’s not Gabby.”
The bottom dropped out of Garth’s stomach. He jumped for the window to get a look. It was one of the DOA patrols alright, four men riding polar bears rescued from the thinning Arctic ice flows.
Garth picked up his battle-wreaths and turned to his son. “Dale, release the reindeer.”
“But those are polar bears, Pop!”
“I know what they are, just do what you’re told.”
Dale ran for the door to the garage where the reindeer pens were set up. Moments later, Garth heard the low hum of the garage door opening. The trained war-deer exploded out of the garage like a pack of wolves. As one, they set upon the first of the bears, slashing at its legs with razor-sharp hooves, trying to disable the beast. In a flash of teeth, Dasher’s neck was locked in the bear’s jaws, then flicked contemptuously against the driveway, his brains dashed into the gravel. Dancer pranced and Prancer danced, but they quickly fell victim to swipes from the other bear’s enormous paws.
“We’re losing deer fast, Pop.”
“I know, son. Fetch my Nutcracker.”
By the time Dale returned, Vixen had been vivisected, Comet was sent soaring through the air only to land with his head dangling at an unnatural angle, and Cupid had been pierced through the heart by one of the bear rider’s arrows. With defeat imminent, Donner and Blitzen retreated deeper into the trailer park.
“Dammit!” Garth shouted.
“Didn’t we have nine of them?” Dale asked as he handed his father the AR-10 he’d named ‘Nutcracker’.
“I don’t recall. Now keep your head down and keep my mags full.” With the butt of the rifle, Garth smashed out the window glass and sighted in on the first DOA rider.
“You’re trespassin’!” Garth shouted. “Leave now or face hellfire!”
Much to his surprise, nothing happened. The riders lowered their weapons and just… waited.
“I mean it!” Garth thumbed off the rifle’s safety. Sweat beaded on his forehead despite the cold. “What are they waiting for?” he said more quietly.
“This,” Dale said. Before Garth could turn to look, a stabbing pain unlike anything he’d ever felt erupted from his lower back. Then another, and another. Garth let go of the nutcracker and managed to roll over, just in time to see his son illuminated by the light of the window, holding a bloodstained candy-cane sucked down to a lethal point.
“I tried, I really tried to tell you the real meaning of Christmas, but you was too stubborn to listen.”
Garth’s vision started to fade. His boy had struck true. “Dale, no…”
“I’m sorry, Pop.” Dale held the muzzle of the nutcracker over his father’s face. “If you see Jesus, ask him when he was born.”
Garth never heard the shot.
Outside, Sam Harris dismounted from his bear and approached his young disciple. “That was excellent work, Dale. I’m very proud of you.”
“Thanks Mr. Harris, but I don’t want to be called Dale no more.”
“No. Call me Christopher Dawkins.”
Sam Harris smiled, his eyes burning the orange of the Fifth Circle of Hell from which all atheists spawn.
“Very well. Come, Christopher. I’m dreaming of a Red Christmas.”