The McConnell household was one for celebration. Every house on the street knew it. They seized every holiday and made the absolute most of it. Decorations would appear overnight, covering the house from chimney to porch steps in thematic beauty, always with a bit of a McConnell twist. Christmas was no exception. Though not the most exciting of the holidays for the eclectic family, they celebrated enthusiastically nonetheless. Tinsel in shades of black, silver and red was wound over banisters, columns and doorways. Stars and baubles found homes across the walls and ceilings. A red velvet blanket was laid out in a clean corner of the living room, awaiting the tree. And as always, Christine rolled up her sleeves and set to work creating a delectable Christmas feast.
“I can already feel the sugar leeching into my bones,” Rankle drawled, eyeing the tubs of royal icing stacked on the kitchen island. “Perhaps this is the year your Christmas creations finally kill us.”
Christine, elbows-deep in a bowl of gingerbread dough, frowned at him.
“Rankle, don’t be so pessimistic. Your bones are far too old to absorb anything.”
Rose jabbed at him with her fork hand, sniggering.
“Not to mention no amount of sugar could stop you from being a sour puss!”
Rankle hissed, and Rose darted away from him.
“Play nice, you two,” Christine chided. “Christmas is a time for kindness, remember?”
Rose muttered something, but Christine chose to ignore it, instead talking herself through rolling out the sheets of gingerbread and selecting cookie cutters of various shapes. She was considering the tree-shaped cutter when she seemed to remember something.
“We haven’t got our tree yet!” She looked across the kitchen to where Edgar, Rose and Rankle were playing a very corrupt game of cards. “Have you three decided what kind of tree you want this year?”
“A dead one!” Rose said, and Rankle rolled his eyes.
“We always get a dead one.”
“Can we get one with needles and cones?” Edgar asked. “I like chewing on them.”
Christine smiled warmly at him. “I’m sure we can find one of those. How about you three go out and find a tree you like? When you come back we can decorate it together.”
The proposition was met with enthusiasm, and the trio of creatures made their shambling way out of the kitchen and toward the front door.
Don’t forget to take a chainsaw,” Christine called after them. “And no murder!”
There were three tree farms within walking distance of the house. The trio went to none of them. Instead, they made their way to the back of the house, moved past the fence and the winding dirt trail that people walked their dogs on, and hiked into the forest.
Rankle rode on Edgars shoulder, waxing lyrical about the scents of the air and the old days before he knew what trees smelled like. Rose, dragging the chainsaw, huffed and grumbled along behind them.
“How about that one?” she said for the hundredth time, pointing out a bristly pine.
Edgar sniffed it.
“Nah, too old.”
“That’s what you said about the last one!”
“Well that one was too old as well.”
“What about that one?” Rankle nodded toward a greyish, twisted tree a little further ahead.
They exchanged looks.
“Let’s check it out.”
Christine delicately added the last icing tinsel to her gingerbread trees.
“Now, you don’t have to go to the extent I have,” she said to her invisible audience. “I wanted a challenge, and three-dimension gingerbread trees was too delicious a concept to resist.”
She smiled sweetly, admiring her miniature forest of gingerbread.
“Depending on your preference, you might want an angel or a star at the top of your trees,” she went on. “For me, I’ve always liked something a little less traditional.”
She glued a delicate chocolate pentagram to the top of her tree.
She added pentagrams to the other trees, and was just nudging the last one into position when the house shook.
“Christine! We’re back!”
There was a horrid dragging, rasping sound, then the front door slammed closed and the house rattled again. Christine caught one of the trees before it toppled over, and righted it gently.
“Did you find a tree?” she called.
Rose marched in, and Christine had to contain a gasp. Her fur was stuck with pine needles and leaf litter. Half a pine cone, clearly chewed on, was snagged in her tail.
“Yah,” she said. “We found the best tree. No thanks to Edgar being so picky.”
“I had to be sure, that’s all,” Edgar protested, sticking his head through the doorway. “Where should we put the tree, Christine?”
Christine was wiping the chocolate off her hands on a teatowel.
“Just in the living room please, Edgar. The tree stand should be all set up.”
Christine lifted her tray of gingerbread trees and placed them carefully in the chiller. She tried not to wince as she heard the tree being dragged through the house. There’d be a lot of sweeping to do later.
The tree was the final piece in the McConnell household’s Christmas array, and the ragtag family made a night of decorating it.
It was a twisted thing, covered with uneven branches and plumes of needles. Its bark was greying and festooned with lichen and moss, and withered cones hung sadly among the drab greenery. To them, it was the perfect Christmas tree.
Christine directed the process, murmuring to herself the way she always did when she was focussing on a task. Rose skittered excitedly between the boxes of decorations and the tree branches, scattering baubles and candy canes wherever they would stick. With delicate paws, Edgar corrected her haphazard decorating. Rankle sat on top of the tree, overseeing them all and boasting, with very little subtlety, that he held the most important position of all.
At long last they stood back. Edgar lifted Rankle from his place, and a pentagram of sticks and ribbon was settled in his stead.
“I think we did a wonderful job,” Christine said.
“It’s so pretty!” Rose said. “Like me!”
“That tree would give you a run for your money,” Rankle muttered.
For once, Rose didn’t snap in retaliation. Instead she huffed, and leant against Christine’s leg.
“Can we turn the lights on?”
Edgar plugged in the cord, and the tree lit up, bathing the room in red light. The decorations twinkled. The branches creaked a little. From the kitchen, the scent of gingerbread wafted through the house.
“Merry Christmas, everyone.”