Daddy said we couldn't have a real tree this Christmas.
At first I was sad, but then Mommy said we would im-pro-vise. I liked learning a big new word. It means use things we have in the house. Mommy and Daddy improvise all the time, ever since we couldn't go outside anymore.
Daddy went upstairs to find some things to improvise with. I wanted to help, but Daddy said we all have to stay in the basement for a very long time, so we don't get sick. I hate the basement. There's nothing to do here. Mommy or Daddy go upstairs once every few days and bring things back down with them. Usually it is food and toilet paper and things, but sometimes they get a few books and toys and games from my room. They run up and down the stairs as quickly as they can, because when they are upstairs they can get sick too.
This time Daddy was gone for almost five minutes, but he brought down a whole bunch of stuff. He put a tall coat rack in the middle of the basement to make the tree trunk and taped on some unwound wire hangers to make branches. He gave me a green tablecloth and said to cut it into long, thin strips. Then we glued the strips on to the wire and put up a few ornaments. It didn't really look like a tree, but Mommy said to use our imagination. I didn't mind. Decorating the coat rack gave us something fun to do.
Then all of us had to take our radiation pills. I dropped mine and Daddy got really mad. He said that we already didn't have enough to last us until it was safe to go outside and that we couldn't waste any. He made me pick it up and eat it off the floor. Eww.
On Christmas Eve we moved the table next to the pretend tree and ate a holiday meal. Mommy made a big pot of spam stew and everyone was allowed to have seconds because it was such a special day. We even had sliced peaches for desert. Mommy and Daddy didn't eat very many, saying that it was a special treat for me. But they did try some because it was the last can and Daddy said he wasn't sure when we would ever taste peaches again. Mommy shushed him. Then we sang every holiday song we could remember.
When I woke up in the morning Daddy was gone. Mommy said that he had to leave for a while but the way she was crying I didn't think he was coming back. I got scared and Mommy told me to go open my presents.
There was some stuff under the pretend Christmas tree, but it was all toys from upstairs that I had from before. There was also a little box with Daddy's share of the radiation medicine. Daddy is silly. Who wants pills for a present?
This horrifying flash fic was first published by Karma SF Magazine on June 1st, 2012. It was later reprinted in a yearly anthology and podcasted by Cast of Wonders. Any errors on this page are relics of the original publication. The hyperlinks have been placed by Patrick Stahl.