Silent Night

From inside his cardboard cocoon, he could hear the voices.  At first, he thought they were the special ones that told secrets just for him but he soon realized that this was something different.  The voices were singing.  He strained to hear the words of the song, knowing that he recognized them from another life.

“Silent night, holy night. All is calm, all is bright.”

Was it Christmas already?  Not that it mattered to him, really.  It was just another day to survive, another day to find enough to eat and somewhere to sleep.  He didn’t know why he bothered.  Christmas to him just meant that it was winter and winter just meant that it was friggin’ cold.  They should change the words to that song.

“Cold, dark night, freezing night.  All is wrong, nothing’s right.”

He laughed.  It was a bitter, harsh sound that cut into the icy night.

“Shut the f*** up, Murphy!  F***** crazy bastard.”

Black Jack’s angry voice hit him like a whip and his lips clamped shut.  He had had too many run-ins with Black Jack and he was a mean son-of-a-bitch.  He wasn’t up to a fight tonight.  He hadn’t eaten since he had fished that soggy sandwich out of the garbage can this morning and he was feeling weak with hunger.

The singing, laughing voices faded as they moved further away but the words of the song played on his head bringing with them unwelcome memories – memories that he usually managed to keep in check.  They washed over him, now, like a tidal wave and he felt like he was drowning in a sea of bitter sweetness. 

He saw his mother rolling out the dough for the sugar cookies that they had made every Christmas Eve.  Her hand had gently covered his, helping him to press the star-shaped cookie cutter into the dough.  He heard her tinkling laughter as she caught him sneaking one of the candies that was supposed to be for decoration….his father’s strong voice rose above the others as they all stood around the piano singing carols while his grandmother’s gnarled hands skimmed across the keys…he and his brother on Christmas morning, awake before anyone else, their stockings filled to the brim with little treasures, each individually wrapped and always… a mandarin orange at the top…his little fingers easily removing the peel and then the sweet juice of his prize dripping down his chin.

But that was all before the Evil Ones came and took his family away.  The ones that were there now were not his family; they were imposters.  The voices told him so.  The voices had warned him to get out because the Evil Ones were going to kill him.  He had gone to the police but they didn’t believe him. Nobody believed him. They all thought he was crazy.  Crazy Murphy, they called him. 

Softly at first, he started to cry for all that he had lost.  The stifled sobs eventually mounted and his pain escaped him in a loud primal keening that filled the frosty night air.

A dark shadow appeared above him and he looked up to see the menacing face of Black Jack.

“I told you to shut the f*** up!”

As Black Jack came at him, he could hear the voices.

“He’s an Evil One.  Kill him. Kill him.”

With all the strength that he could muster, his hands reached towards Black Jack’s neck as he let out a deep guttural battle cry.  He saw the glint of the knife and then heard Black Jack’s voice as if from far away.

“Crazy f****** bastard, why couldn’t you just shut the f*** up!”

Then the night became silent, once again.

“You must tell the truth if your dialogue is to have the resonance and realism that Hart’s War, good story though it is, so sadly lacks – and that holds true all the way down to what folks say when they hit their thumb with the hammer.  If you substitute “Oh sugar!” for “Oh shit!” because you’re thinking about the Legion of Decency, you are breaking the unspoken contract that exists between writer and reader – your promise to express the truth of how people act and talk through the medium of a made-up story.…..As it happens, I agree with my mother: profanity and vulgarity is the language of the ignorant and the verbally challenged.  Mostly, that is: there are exceptions, including profane aphorisms of great color and vitality.” ~ Stephen King

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