Flash fiction by Gillian Church
The spices in the wine were perfect. I could taste cloves, cinnamon, orange peel, and some other flavors I couldn’t quite pin down. Angela told me she had a secret ingredient. Whatever it was, it was amazing.
On Christmas Eve, cousin Angela had handed me a mug of her mulled wine. She had poured for the others from a large carafe, but she brought mine straight from the kitchen. She presented it to me with a wink.
It was delicious. The others slowly sipped, but I gulped mine down. I couldn’t resist.
The first cup gave me a warm feeling inside and outside my body, like a big bear hug. Angela took my empty cup and brought me a fresh mug as I was explaining to Uncle Matt that his face definitely looked different from when I saw him last week. I thought he had to be wearing red contact lenses or something, but he insisted everything was the same as always.
The second cup left me with a mild, pleasant buzz. The spices in the wine were perfect. I could taste cloves, cinnamon, orange peel, and some other flavors I couldn’t quite pin down. Angela told me she had a secret ingredient. Whatever it was, it was amazing. As I finished the second cup, my two nieces, Abby and Carrie, picked up the cat and began to chant in some strange language. I was impressed! I asked my sister, “Are they in a language program at school?” She just looked at me like I was crazy. Her eyes had a red glint to them, just like Uncle Matt’s.
Angela handed me a third cup. I tried to sip it more slowly this time. The room had seemed to become darker somehow. With each swallow, the shadows around the room became wider, deeper. They seeped out from the corners into places that should have been perfectly well-lit. My fingers and lips were pleasantly numb, and the girls continued to chant at the cat, Cleo.
When Angela handed me a fourth mug, I noticed how sharp and thick her fingernails had become. They were painted crimson and shaped into vicious claws. “Where do you get your nails done?” I asked. I didn’t hear her answer because at least half of the adults had joined in with the girls’ chanting. I became fixated on what was happening to Cleo. She had grown to at least twice her size, and her fangs and claws even larger, disproportionate to her body.
I had a brief idea that maybe I should stop accepting the wine, but it was a mild whisper, easily overpowered by the intoxicating smell of the concoction—its rich spice and warmth. I thought I would just nurse the fifth one, but it was gone so fast that I couldn’t even remember tasting it. I was too busy watching the girls gather the other children around in a circle and begin carving strange symbols into the others’ arms with two silver daggers. The children didn’t cry or resist, and I was impressed at how brave and enthusiastic they were. They smiled and began to sing a cheerful-sounding song. I didn’t recognize it. It was in the same strange language as the chanting.
Blood, the same color as the wine, dripped everywhere as the children danced around the room to their weird little nursery rhyme. They showed off the beautiful, intricate designs on their arms to their parents and aunts and uncles. Nobody noticed or cared that the carpet, furniture, and everyone’s clothes were now smeared and stained with blood, so I ignored it as well. I clapped along to the song until Angela handed me a sixth cup.
The sixth seemed stronger than the rest. By the time I saw the bottom of the mug, shadowy creatures with slim, gnarled limbs had begun to crawl from the darkest corners of the room. Their claws, four on each hand, were sharper than the girls’ knives. The creatures danced around the room to the song and, one by one, began to use those terrible hands to rip the adults around the room to ribbons. They laughed as it happened—the adults, that is. The blood spurting and spraying from their bodies onto the walls and carpet formed the same symbols that had been carved onto the children’s arms.
Cleo was now the size of a lion, muscular and wicked. Angela handed me a seventh cup as the cat prowled around the room, feasting on the adults’ remains.
I don’t know if I actually finished the seventh cup. I remember Cleo devouring the bodies, stripping flesh off the bones. I remember the children continuing to sing and clap and cheer for the giant beast. I remember those shadow monsters dancing along and snatching the children one by one to carry back into the shadows. And I remember Angela, her face twisted into a wild grin, taking one of the girls’ daggers. She winked again, laughed, and plunged it into her chest.
I don’t remember anything else. I woke up to screaming sirens and flashing lights.
I know what you must think. I know how it looks. You asked me if I regret the murders. But no, I don’t regret killing the adults—because I didn’t do it. You asked me where I hid the children, or their remains—but I don’t know where the children are. I didn’t take them.
I have only one regret about what happened on Christmas. I regret that I thought—and to be honest, still do—that it was all so very beautiful.