THIRTEEN‘s characters try to celebrate Christmas in an occupation zone.
Click to go to – Part 1 – The Crawlspace
A hammer hit inside Jack’s chest, an electric shock ran through his body leaving him shaky. There was another knock at the door, this one louder and more commanding.
“Kim. Jack.” His mom’s voice was in a panic as she came into the living room. “Move it.”
The person behind the door pounded again and a heavily accented voice came through the door. “Open up.”
Kim’s eyes went large and she ran to the hall closet with Jack right behind her. They lifted the trap door in the floor exposing the small ladder to the crawl space below the house. Kim disappeared down the hole and Jack replaced the door shutting her in before he pulled the carpet across the floor and piled the emptied boxes on top of it. He closed the hallway closet’s door and nodded towards his mom who was putting the photos of Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Il and Kim Jong Un up on the foyer wall beside a framed silver paper with the medallion’s symbols on it.
She pointed at him to go upstairs and as he rounded the landing she finally opened the door to the impatient soldier on their doorstep.
“Wait a minute you can’t just come in.” His mom was saying.
“I can. You have Holiday decoration?”
“We did but we took them down when the TV told us to.”
Sounds of shoes on the hardwood echoed through the house. They were searching for the decorations. Jack moved to the room that was decorated for Christmas shoving everything into the closet, behind the couches, and into drawers. Thank God his mom was a minimalist and there wasn’t a lot of stuff.
He tried to get the tree into the closet but it wouldn’t fit. A curse escaped from his lips. He looked around the room. How was he going to hide the tree?
Stomping sounds on the stairs. They were coming upstairs. His heart was pounding in his ears. He grabbed the blankets on the couch and threw them over the tree. It didn’t hide it. The door handle turned. Jack flopped down onto the couch before grabbing a book for good measure.
Jack looked up at the soldier standing in the middle of the room. The man was similar to every soldier Jack had seen, shorter than most, however, he had the same unemotional stone cold expression on his face, the same wool green uniform and flat topped military hat.
“That.” The man pointed at the tree.
“Oh that?” Jack’s mom’s eyes were as fearful as Kim’s had been. “Ah. Well.”
“That was our Christmas tree now it’s just a thing to hold the blankets. I guess you could call it a blanket tree.”
The soldier did not look amused.
“Christmas trees are –“
“Banned. Yeah. We heard. Mom’s been bugging me to get it put away into the storage closet but you know. I just haven’t gotten around to it yet. Better stuff to do.” He raised the book he was reading to indicate he was too busy reading a book to put away Christmas trees.
The soldier glared at him.
Everything inside Jack shook like Jello on a roller coaster. Outside he was calm, confident, and still. He didn’t say anything. He waited.
“OK you take down. Now. I watch.”
Jack shrugged got up, removed the blankets, and started taking the decorations off. His mom brought over a box and together they dismantled their tree.
When the soldier was finally satisfied enough to leave, his mom escorted him to the door and watched him drive away. Then they sat in the silence, lost in their own thoughts, their own fears.
“Who told them we had a tree up?” His mom’s voice quiet and breaking.
Sitting in the absolute silence and stillness his mind raced. He was forgetting something. It was like an itch at the back of his mind that something was missing from the room. His eyes scanned the room. Did the soldier take something? Everything was there. Nothing was missing. Still, it was niggling at him, making him uneasy. What was he forgetting?
“Oh my God.” His mom was up running for the hall. “Kim.”
They’d forgotten to get Kim out from the crawl space. Jack moved the boxed, the carpet, opened the trap door, and looked into the blackness.
“Kim?” His voice was a whisper. “Kim he’s gone. You can come up now.”
Kim’s face came into the light with her small shy smile. Her smile was better than any Christmas tree in Jack’s opinion.
Part 9 – Coming Soon
Shannon Peel is the author of THIRTEEN and is currently working on Book 2 in the series about a boy, his mom, a cop, and an invading army. She has brought war to a North American town to answer the question, what if it happened here?