This story contains some strong language
Before you is an archetypical Christmas scene. Roaring fireplace, tree decked with tinsel and baubles, garlands on the walls, even a big stack of presents under the tree. You’re here to hear a story, for what is Christmas without a story? In the middle of the room there’s a table with a big storybook, and eying that storybook is a fat purple furry three-eyed monster, sitting on an easy chair. Bert, his name is. Say hello to Bert.
Are you going to?
‘Well, I wasn’t expecting you to. Hello, I’m Bert, Bert the monster from Jenny and the Monster and Jenny and the Monster’s Christmas. The latter story, I think, has started a little tradition here at The Weird Writings of Gareth Barsby. You see, Jenny and the Monster’s Christmas starred me of course, but also had several characters from several stories published on this blog, and this Christmas spectacular will follow suit.
‘But before I tell the story, let me introduce the main characters. First, we have the title character, Karl Kangaroo. He was once a regular normal kangaroo, but his Mum didn’t really care for him, so he didn’t ride along in her pouch with the other joeys. He learned to dance for food, but then he ended up in a British circus before being bought by a theatre. There, he not only participated in shows but learned how to talk, walk and use computers. As he grew up, he ended up making games on computers, which made him very rich and soon he founded his own mobile games company. He even found another kangaroo that learned to talk and walk like a human and adopted her as his daughter. He was, however, still bitter about his mother and his childhood so he mistreated his employees and alienated his daughter…
‘Now, I know what you’re thinking, and don’t worry, this isn’t a Christmas Carol story. We already kinda did that with that Sloofiewoof thing.
‘Speaking of books, we have Ricky Raven, descendant of Poe’s Raven. He wanted to be a singer but his Dad wanted him to terrify people. His singing was so bad he learned he could do both.
‘Also starring in this story is Lisa the Pizza Woman. She has the “World’s Best Pizza Place” to thank for her birth; a woman ordered the “perfect pizza” and got a pizza who comforted her, spoke to her, loved her and eventually married her. Lisa was their offspring: a humanoid creature with a pizza slice for a head, eyes made of mushrooms and a body made of mozzarella. Life has been difficult for her, as whenever someone sees her, they try to devour her. She did, however, find a friend in Natalie the Pumpkin Woman, a creature that could only be summoned on Halloween or when Halloween things are sold in shops, and together, they saved the life of the aforementioned Karl.
‘This was when Lisa revealed her marvellous singing voice, so when Karl decided to put together a Christmas show, he asked Lisa to participate in it. This is the story of how that particular show went down…’
This was all a farce, Lisa thought, just another rich man trying to become richer. Indeed, one part of the show was a Kittycat Town Revue, promoting a game that was free but charged for the best content and making characters complete tasks quicker.
This was all a farce, Lisa thought, and I’m taking part in it. She sat backstage, donning a silver dress, wearing no mask, not hiding the hybrid she was. Normally when she went out in public, she hid what she was with masks and coats and gloves. Despite this, she had always dreamed of going up on stage without a disguise, acting and singing while people saw the pizza woman she was.
She had been looking forward to this day. When Karl the Kangaroo had first asked her if she wanted to perform in “Karl Kangaroo’s Christmas Extravaganza”, she didn’t hesitate at all in accepting. She counted down the days, rehearsed in front of the mirror and even bought the dress specifically for the occasion. On the day of the show, however, she sat twiddling her cheese tentacles, listening as the opening act finished up. She actually didn’t know if she was more afraid of the potential for booing or the potential for the audience climbing on stage and devouring her.
She so did wish Natalie were here. Sadly, the shops were free of Halloween merchandise, even in the clearance aisles, so she couldn’t be summoned.
Karl came on stage, wearing a tuxedo, smiling wider than he usually did. ‘Wasn’t that fine entertainment? Well, hello and Merry Christmas, this is Karl Kangaroo and welcome to Karl Kangaroo’s Christmas Extravaganza. Now as we all know, Christmas is a time for family…’ All of a sudden, someone from the audience threw a Diet Coke at Karl’s head, with a ‘That’s not what you said when it was my Mum’s birthday, dick!’ before leaving.
‘Um, yes,’ Karl continued, ‘well, Christmas is a time for opening presents and…’
Lisa thought to herself that perhaps she should be leaving. Though she had spoke frequently to Karl ever since she and Natalie saved him from the Lemon Possum, stories she had heard about him gave her chills. Not the nice, refreshing chills that kept her from melting either.
Despite what she had heard, she saw Karl as something of an inspiration. He had faced prejudice and hardships like she had, but with hard work and perseverance, became rich and successful. Hearing about Karl’s “mother issues” also, Lisa felt, put things in perspective for her. It reminded Lisa of how lucky she was to have parents as caring as hers.
Sometimes she would curse the fact that her father was a talking pizza, which led to her being born a freak, but looking back, she wouldn’t ask for anyone else to be her dad. School was a nightmare for her, with children not only trying to have a nibble on her, but pulling her arms, shoving her into mud and trying to use her to lure out the mice in the pantry. Her childhood would have been unbearable were it not for her mum and dad, who always listened to her, let her vent and comforted her.
They saw her not as a freak or a mutant or monster. They saw her as their little miracle.
And they were in the audience for the show. That, thought Lisa, is reason enough to stay.
‘You know,’ said Bert, ‘I could go for some pizza right now. Non-anthropomorphic pizza I mean. Well, anyway, while Lisa was having her moment of contemplation, two other weirdoes were planning to attend the show…’
‘I don’t think we’ll be able to summon the Pumpkin Woman tonight, Dad,’ sighed Ricky Raven as he looked over the spell book.
‘Don’t be silly, son,’ barked Ricky’s father Roger, ‘It doesn’t need to be Halloween, the actual day, to summon her. There just has to be a little Halloween in the air. Look around you; it’s Halloween every day in this house.
Ricky looked around at his home. He and his dad lived in a crumbling monochrome mansion on top of a hill where no flowers or grass ever grew. No Christmas trees or poinsettas could be found in this house, the banisters were covered with cobwebs instead of string lights, and no holly or berries covered the grotesques or skulls.
‘Well, okay,’ replied Ricky, ‘let’s give the ritual a try.’
They did everything the ritual demanded – the pumpkins, the blood, the incantations – yet nothing happened.
‘Guess you were right,’ said Roger, ‘we’ll have to try something else.’
‘Do we have to summon a demon?’ asked Ricky, ‘Can’t I just go on the stage and sing?’ Roger had promised Ricky a chance to sing on stage. It seemed win-win; Ricky got publicity, Roger got to see terror.
‘Well, son,’ said Roger, ‘this is supposed to be an extravagant show, so we need an extravagant horror.’
‘Well, I doubt he’d be scared of a pumpkin-headed woman, Dad,’ replied Ricky, ‘I’ve looked him up, and I think he has other things to be scared about.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘Well,’ said Ricky, scratching his shoulders, ‘I’ve heard he has a few family issues, he’s upset about his Mum and his adopted daughter…and you know…Lenore…’
‘Ricky, my boy…’ Roger hugged his son. ‘I’ve taught you well. Now, we aren’t going to summon the Pumpkin Woman, we’re going to summon a fellow literary figure…’
‘And now,’ said Karl, ‘put your hands together for The Kittycat Town Revue, and remember, this week only, you can get 250 golden paws and a big Christmas tree for your Kittycat town for only £5!’ As soon as he said that, the curtain opened to reveal a picture of a town with multi-coloured buildings as several people wearing gigantic cat masks marched in, dancing around.
Karl walked backstage, rubbing his temples, then found that he almost walked into Lisa. ‘Oh, hello, Lisa,’ he said, lowering his arms, ‘are you nervous?’
‘Well…’ Lisa wanted to say ‘Of course I am, who wouldn’t be?’ but nothing came out.
‘Don’t worry,’ said Karl, placing a hand on her shoulder, ‘I’m sure you’ll be fine.’ He took his hand off, only to have some cheese stick to his claws. He shook his hand until the cheese came off, back into Lisa’s body, with a drop getting into Lisa’s eye. ‘You know, I remember when I first started out with this type of thing, I was nervous too. I thought they would eat me ali…’ Karl stopped himself when he realised his poor choice of words. ‘Sorry.’
‘It’s alright and thanks,’ said Lisa. ‘Um, you know, I actually do play Kittycat Town from time to time…I can use the phone pretty well for someone without fingers.’
‘Yes, I know,’ replied Karl, ‘ we did have some nice conversations.’
‘They were mostly about the weather, really.’
‘Well, the weather is worth talking about right now, it’s bloody cold out. Where I come from, it’s usually nice and warm at Christmas time…’ Lisa actually had forgotten Karl had come from Australia; he had learned how to talk in the United Kingdom so he didn’t have an Australian accent like every talking kangaroo Lisa had seen in cartoons.
‘I prefer the cold,’ said Lisa, ‘you know, I really would like to bake cakes, but I’m terrified of coming near an oven.’ She sighed. ‘You don’t eat oven food that much, do you? You said you mostly eat grass…’
‘Grass is a fine dish,’ replied Karl, ‘it is worth a try…oh wait…’
The cats had finished their little Christmas celebration, and they came dancing in backstage as Karl walked onto the stage and Lisa leaned back on a wall, taking a deep breath, glad she wasn’t on until after the interval.
‘Well, wasn’t that a wonderful visit through Kittycat Town?’ Karl said to the audience, ‘and now our next act, a comedy…’
‘…of terror,’ came a voice, booming from above.
‘What?’ Karl barked.
‘Isn’t that a fear of yours? To be a joke? To have what you truly are paraded in front of the public?’
Lisa ran on stage, looking up to see wherever the voice was coming from.
‘Behold, here’s a special guest for your show, one who reflects who you are.’ Smoke erupted on the stage, making Karl and Lisa cough violently. When the smoke cleared, there stood a balding priest, looking around the stage with a raised eyebrow. ‘What is this?’ He took a closer look at his surroundings, peeking backstage and catching a glimpse of some of the Kittycat Town Cats. ‘Is this another of my student’s mystery plays? I hope my brother isn’t here.’
Before either Karl or Lisa could ask who this was, the voice answered for them, ‘This is Dom Claude Frollo, summoned from the realms of literature.’
‘From The Hunchback of Notre Dame?’ Lisa asked, looking upward.
‘Yes. He died in his book, but he is kept alive by how many people read and tell his story. And his story is still happening, isn’t it, Karl? He was an adoptive father, but descended into sin; now who does that sound like?’
Karl twitched. ‘This is ridiculous. Go away and get this cosplayer off the stage.’
‘Oh no,’ said the voice, ‘it is the real Claude Frollo.’ Frollo nodded.
Lisa had read The Hunchback of Notre Dame several times (she did see something of herself in the title character and she did almost always skip the chapters about architecture) and something about this figure made her think that standing before her was actually the real Claude Frollo Victor Hugo wrote about. The same Frollo that had a woman hung at the gallows. Even if he wasn’t Frollo, he was still interrupting the show.
Therefore Lisa felt she was justified in launching globs of cheese at Frollo’s feet, sticking him to the stage. ‘Damnation!’ Frollo cried.
‘Oh, very good, Pizza Girl,’ came the voice, ‘but he’s still here. He, who represents Karl’s greatest failings and fears is still looking at him. Don’t you wish your daughter were here instead, Karl?’
Karl trembled, his hands balling into fists. Lisa thought this would be the perfect time to use another ability of hers she only recently learned she had; her mushroom eyeballs sprung out of her head, though still attached to her by tentacles of cheese. These optic nerves stretched further, propelling Lisa’s eyes upwards towards the rafters. There perched two ravens, one formally-dressed and with a microphone, the other smaller and more causally-dressed.
‘You can hawk your terrible games all you want but…what’s this?’ The larger raven looked at Lisa’s eyes, and instantly pecked one of them. Lisa’s optic nerves shrunk back into her body as the younger raven flapped onto the stage.
‘And now,’ said the larger raven, still in the rafters, ‘put your hands on the sides of your heads for my son, Ricky!’
Ricky pulled out a microphone of his own from his pocket and sang. He sang a song that made everyone howl in agony, and made Lisa collapse onto the stage, covering her ears (or their equivalent, at least). Karl shoved his claws into his ears, shuddering, and even Frollo looked like he would run away if his feet weren’t stuck to the ground.
Lisa knew this was an ideal time to use her cheese powers. She could throw cheese into Ricky’s mouth to stop him from singing, she could throw cheese into Karl’s ears so he could help fight against the invaders. However, the atrocious singing meant she could hardly concentrate, and Ricky dodged every splodge of cheese she threw. ‘He’s had stuff thrown at him before,’ came the voice of Ricky’s father.
Lisa stood up, scrunching her eyes and rolling up her tentacle arms, and marched towards Ricky. Ricky hit a note that made Lisa feel like her head was in the oven, so she backed away slightly before swallowing and knocking the microphone out of Ricky’s hand. ‘Hey,’ he cried as he dove for the microphone.
Lisa picked it up. Lisa sang:
‘What are you doing? I sure do wanna know.
What are you doing? Do you have to spoil our show?’
‘Don’t be such a spoilsport, don’t scare anyone,
We’re here because it’s Christmas, we’re here to have some fun…’
Lisa continued her song, leaping about the stage and twirling as she did so, and Ricky did nothing but stand and listen. When Lisa finished her song, raising her tentacles in the air on her knees as she did so, Ricky’s father flew down off the rafters.
‘That was a very nice song,’ said Ricky’s father, ‘Too bad the audience cleared off when my son sang.’
Hundreds of empty seats greeted Lisa when she looked. Where there were people, there were empty plastic cups and wrappers.
Yet Lisa could still hear clapping.
Some of the audience remained. There were a couple of goths who would watch anything related to Edgar Allan Poe, a Victor Hugo fan hoping to get Frollo’s autograph after the show, and three figures familiar to Lisa.
There, near the back, there sat a woman and a pepperoni pizza with eyes and tentacles, both of them applauding.
Not too far from them sat Natalie the Pumpkin Woman.
Before Lisa could say her name, Natalie ran towards the stage with superhuman speed and leapt towards Lisa, hugging her. ‘I thought you couldn’t be…’
‘You really really wanted me here,’ said Natalie, ‘and I really really wanted to be here.’
‘Well, I really really want you to cause terror,’ barked the formally-dressed raven, ‘so get going.’
‘I’m sorry, mate,’ replied Natalie, ‘what me and Lisa have is stronger than any incantation or spell book.’
‘Oh, forget this,’ snarled the raven, ‘I’m off. Come along, Ricky.’
‘But…but…well, at least I got to sing.’ Ricky and his father flew away.
‘Well, now that they’re gone,’ said Karl, cleaning out his ears with his claws, ‘we can continue the show. At least we could if most of the acts and audience hadn’t run away.’
‘Don’t worry,’ said Natalie, ‘you’ve still got some “sing” in you, don’t you, Lisa?’
‘She’ll put on a show for the remaining audience members and I’ll provide backup,’ said Natalie, pulling a guitar from behind her back. After that, she ran backstage and pulled out a keyboard. ‘Frollo, since you’re here, you might as well make yourself useful.’
‘Well,’ said Frollo, looking over the keyboard, ‘I have nothing better to do, and Quasimodo did once suggest I take up an instrument.’
‘I’ll try to see if I can get anyone back,’ said Karl, before hopping out of the theatre.
‘And Karl did get some of the audience and the acts back,’ continues Bert, ‘unfortunately some of the audience wouldn’t go back into the theatre until Karl paid them. So despite the invasion of ravens, the show was a success, thanks in no small part to Lisa and her band. Lisa and her parents even spent Christmas in Natalie’s house. She may be a Halloween creature, but she had the best Christmas decorations. In fact…’
A door bursts open, and in walks the Pumpkin Woman herself, along with her friend, the Pizza Woman. ‘Hey, are you two done in here?’
‘Just finishing up. Well, that’s our Christmas story, and the moral of it is…um…well, the Christmas story’s over. Goodbye and Merry Christmas!’