Every Who down in Whoville liked Christmas a lot
But the Grinch who lived just North of Whoville did not
The Grinch hated the noise and the mess and the waste
The Grinch regarded it all with no small distaste
The Grinch liked the peace and the quiet of being alone
The Grinch much preferred being all on their own
The journey to Mount Crumpit required a flight, a boat ride, a drive, wishing upon a star, two hours of snowboarding through the rudest kinds of snow, and finally a grueling uphill hike. Tony found it all rather nostalgic. He arrived a week after receiving the Grinch’s letter. Breaching the summit, he was greeted by the strangest of sights.
The Grinch was wearing some sort of military coat, with tassels and buttons, on top of what appeared to be a kilt, but was maybe just a tablecloth. This wasn’t unusual for the Grinch, who enjoyed costumes and generally behaving however the hell they pleased. What was unusual was the small assortment of tiny Who children lining up in front of the Grinch. None of whom looked particularly terrified.
“Attent-SHUN!” howled the Grinch, and the children straightened up. They were all holding misshapen piles of—things. Ganglywotsits and assortamajigs. Then the Grinch lifted a baton, which was actually a repurposed coathanger, and Tony realized with horror that the thingamawats were instruments, which the children somehow intended to play. He got his paws over his ears just in time.
The thing about Whos, Tony knew from experience, was that they were not musically talented. Unfortunately, they were absolutely musically inclined. That is to say, they very much enjoyed making noise, and they were not discriminating about it. Tony had spent many a night by the Grinch’s (suspicious smelling) fireplace, drinking (suspicious tasting) hot chocolate, trying to enjoy what would be an otherwise peaceful evening, if not for the utter pandemonium of whistles and shrieks seeping through the cave walls. It was the Whoville Christmas marching band, the Grinch explained with a very dead look in their eyes. They practiced once a week, all year round. But in December—oh, in December they practiced every night. For hours.
Tony had sort of understood why the Grinch wanted to destroy everything that Whoville stood for, after that. Sort of. Because the thing about the acoustics of Whoville geography—well, they were very good. Which, to the occupants of Mount Crumpit right next door, was very, very bad.
That was years ago now, but people who have witnessed the horrors of war never truly forget. Tony wrapped his paws around his ears and ducked, out of sheer instinct. Ducking wouldn't actually help, but it made him feel better.
And the children started playing.
It was...it was not actually like any sound Tony had heard before. It was sort of...like glass, tinkling. Actually, Tony thought, looking at one of the little Who girls with her enormous Who hairstyle, it probably was glass. She seemed to be blowing into a glass jar woven through with lots and lots of glass tubes, from which dangled odd bits of shards and metal. It was rather pretty.
The sound was much more gentle than anything Tony would have expected the Whos to produce. Not particularly musical perhaps, but light and interesting. Tony, who remembered the long nights of whistles and bells and trumpets and drums, decided it was quite an improvement. Yes, he’d take it.
The Grinch was conducting wildly this whole time, strutting around and waving their arms (they had two coathangers now) in a tempo that wildly mismatched the actual music. They looked overall very bossy, and very pleased with themself.
“BRAVO!” the Grinch cried, with a voice like old nails. They strutted back and forth as they spoke, like a teacher pleased with the class. “Remarkable, excellent job, truly astounding. The flair! The performance! L’art dramatique! I’ve outdone myself, truly.” Then the Grinch turned sharply to the children.
“As for you!" They waggled a waggly green finger.
The children, inexplicably, giggled.
The Grinch sniffed, long and hard, sounding a little like a very alarmed cat.
“Adequate, I suppose.”
The children, bizarrely, giggled again.
The Grinch was about to go on, presumably to explain to the children exactly how adequate and marginally passable and suitably lackluster they were, when Tony let out a small sneeze. Which, because Tony was a tiger, wasn’t actually small at all. A number of grazing birds leapt away in alarm, which Tony thought was a bit much.
As the Grinch turned and caught sight of Tony, their face curled into a wonderful, awful, terrible smile.
A tiny, treacherous voice in Tony’s head said: It’s good to be home.
The Grinch’s fireplace always smelled strangely of sulfur. Also, the flames were always green, for no reason Tony could discern.
The Grinch had ushered him indoors immediately, out of the cold. This was mostly, Tony suspected, because the Grinch never missed a chance to be bossy.
“Sit there!” the Grinch had warned sternly. “And drink this. I have to go attend to those munchkin hooligans.” Then they handed Tony a mug of something warm and suspicious, and disappeared back to the cliffs.
Tony sat on the squishy rocking chair by the fire (it was covered in a slight layer of grime, like everything the Grinch owned) and poked a finger experimentally into his drink. It was the color of chocolate, or possibly dirt. Something in it wiggled.
The wind was howling lightly through the door (the wind on Mount Crumpit almost always howls lightly, except when it is howling ferociously). Tony could hear the Grinch ordering the little Who marching band about, helping them pack up their strange instruments and berating them in a weirdly affectionate way to be on time tomorrow, please. Cindy Lou you are a vexation and a harridan, I never once thought otherwise. Three o’clock sharp please, or I’ll use your noggins for soup bowls.
The children seemed to find this funny.
Tony was just about convinced he’d stepped into an alternate dimension, and was considering upturning his mug of hot dirt into a rather depressed looking ficus (and since when did the Grinch own a ficus) when the Grinch themself came bursting into the room. They lounged on the doorframe for a moment, grinning broadly with crooked yellow teeth.
“Well,” the Grinch drawled, pleased as anything, “Would you look at the cat who got dragged in? Tony, baby, you’re an absolute mess. You look like you’ve been stampeded upon by a herd of Hortons.”
Tony smiled despite himself. “I’ve been here two minutes and you’re already telling me how bad I look? That’s gotta be a record.”
“Nah,” the Grinch said, bounding down onto a nearby sofa. It had exposed springs and a ridiculous amount of stuffing, and bounced enthusiastically while the Grinch got seated. “I didn’t say bad, I said messy. Disheveled. Bedraggled. A bit slapdash.”
“Oh, if that’s all.” Tony didn’t know why he was smiling so widely. It felt weirdly good to be back. “Now what is going on with you and terrorizing a bunch of neighborhood children? And since when do they deliver themselves to your doorstep?”
“I,” said the Grinch, sounding very disappointed about it, “have not been terrorizing anyone.”
“That’s what I mean! Since when do you not terrorize children? No, wait, since when do you make children giggle?"
The Grinch sniffed, affronted. “I don’t control what children giggle at. Believe me, I’ve tried. They’re a bunch of hooligans. They don’t experience terror. And they’re too young to experience apathy. All that leaves, apparently, is an overwhelming curiosity about the world. Oh, and an unshakeable youthful conviction in the goodness of others, yada yada. Which is an exhausting attitude, obviously, and vaguely offensive to those of us who pride ourselves on instilling terror in our surroundings.” They sounded aggrieved on their own behalf.
“Clearly,” Tony deadpanned, completely lost.
“Yes.” The Grinch sniffed again. “Anyway, kids these days are too much for me. If I can’t even terrify small children, it was time to retire, clearly.”
“Clearly,” said Tony, still lost.
“But of course retirement leaves so many hours in the day. I’m a creative person. Being. Entity.”
It was a pedantic argument, whether the Grinch was or wasn’t a person. Tony thought it was mostly a stupid argument. The important thing, he always thought, was that the Grinch was an inventive genius. And a bit of a maniac. And an astounding drama queen. And they made Tony laugh on days when he thought he’d never laugh again.
“The point being,” said the Grinch, waggling their eyebrows, “I get bored. Deeply bored. Existentially bored. I can’t stand being bored. And now that I’m retired—I thought community service would help.”
“Yes,” the Grinch said patiently, as if talking to a drooling hospital patient, or a harmlessly demented person. “That’s what retired people do.”
Tony didn’t point out the Grinch had never had a job in their life, because he was still stuck on the part about community service. He couldn’t decide which part was more at odds with the Grinch, the community or the service bit.
“This is bizarre,” Tony said honestly.
“Hmm,” said the Grinch. “Shut up and drink your tea.”
“Tea?” Tony honestly hadn’t guessed. In fact, he didn’t think it was likely at all. “This,” he said, pointing to the mug in his paw. “This is tea.”
“Well, a type of tea.”
“Well, it comes from the ground.”
Tony leaned over and carefully tipped the muddy substance into the potted ficus. The Grinch chuckled, sounding pleased.
The Grinch had made a lot of changes, in fact, since Tony was last here. Their cave, always bursting with half-finished, half-crazed inventions, was a little more clean than Tony had ever seen it. A little more empty. And the Grinch had retired, apparently, from terrorizing Whoville, which Tony had always assumed would be a lifelong passion. That was the strangest bit.
There were other bits too. The way the Grinch was a bit less, well, grinchy. A bit less of a grouch. A tad less of a grumbler and a grouser. Tony found it all very strange.
Part of it, of course, was that the Grinch was back in touch with their adoptive mothers. The Grinch had said as much in their letter, but now Tony got a fuller picture—a story about a reunion, a reconciliation, a bizarre Christmas heist (not in that order), and the way those two “wild old biddies” were getting on in years, and could use someone big and strong and green around the house. It was sweet, honestly, if not a little bizarre, that the Grinch was returning to Whoville after all these years to look after Nana Clarnella and Nana Rose.
“But how,” Tony asked, still absorbing this information, “does reuniting with your moms translate into you volunteering for the Christmas marching band?” He felt like he had missed something.
“Oh,” moaned the Grinch. “Don’t say that word. I can’t stand the c word.”
Thank goodness some things don’t change.
“This is bizarre,” Tony said, paw held over his eyes. “But at least you still hate C—the c word.”
“I’ve evolved,” the Grinch said. “Not had a complete personality transplant. Honestly.”
"Honestly," Tony imitated.
The Grinch pinched Tony right on the tip of his tail. Tony yanked it back, wincing. It didn’t do to let one’s tail wander like that, not around the Grinch.
“The Whos and I,” the Grinch said carefully, “have struck something of an accord over the years.”
Tony snorted. Tony considered himself fairly easygoing, even if he sometimes cared a little too much about being well-liked. But even he couldn’t stand the Whos. They were a cult of in-bred extroverts, as far as he could tell. Emphasis on the cult-like tendencies. And the extroversion—any excuse to celebrate and make noise. Christmas was the worst, but Tony had made the mistake of visiting one year for Easter and, well.
(As for the in-breeding—it was hard to tell in a town where everyone had the same surname. Tony had grown up in a Catholic family—an enormously Italian Catholic family. And even he thought someone should stage some sort of intervention.)
“They’re really not that bad,” said the Grinch hesitantly, like they didn’t quite believe it themself.
Tony snorted again. He’d never really forgiven the Whos for turning the Grinch into some sort of, well, movie villain outcast. Even if the Grinch had leaned into it with an almost alarming amount of relish.
“As long,” Tony said carefully, “as they don’t make you wear a wig. You’ve got to draw the line at a Whoville style wig.”
“Tony,” the Grinch said, grinning but still smart enough not to open up that old can of worms.
(It was one of the first arguments they’d had, back when they met nearly a decade ago and discovered how much fun it was to argue with each other. The Whos had a tendency toward astonishingly, earnestly humongous hairstyles. At least a foot high, even without the added bells and whistles—which sometimes included actual, literal bells and whistles. Tony was convinced they all wore elaborate wigs, while the Grinch swore they didn’t. Tony had his doubts: who on earth would actually go to all that effort first thing in the morning?
“Hair extensions then,” Tony would argue. “Or clip-ins. Toupees. I refuse to believe those things are real."
“There are wooden frames,” the Grinch would say conversationally, “which some Whos keep in their bedroom, so that they can sort of. Prop their necks up and sleep upright. To keep all the hair in the right place, you know.”)
At this point Max ran into the room, woofing in a friendly manner. She was an old dog now, and didn’t leap on Tony, but she did waggle up to him and lick his hand politely.
“There she is!” growled Tony, pleased. “Hello old girl, don’t you look good.” He scratched her behind her ears, which she seemed to enjoy. Then another dog ran into the room, and another.
“You!” Tony said to the Grinch. “You’ve got three dogs now!” It was hard to keep the excitement out of his voice. For a tiger, Tony was inordinately fond of dogs, a fact the Grinch never failed to tease him for.
“I know I’ve got three dogs. Alright ladies, introduce yourselves.”
The dogs just looked at the Grinch, wagging their tails patiently.
“I have to do everything. Well Tony, you know our Maxy. And these new additions are Gus—” the Grinch pointed at the squat one with the funny eyes—“and Yodel Ay Hee Who.”
“Gesundheit,” Tony said loyally.
“But I call them Yoo-Who for short.”
“I’m beginning to think the Whos have rubbed off on you.”
“Don’t you dare.”
Tony got on his hands and knees so he could pet multiple dogs at once. Three dogs was, he decided, quite an improvement on one dog. The Grinch seemed to have made quite a lot of improvements.
“Gus,” the Grinch said smugly, “is short for Augustus.”
Tony took a closer look at the smallest dog, a short, squat little bulldog who drooled agreeably. Upon closer examination, his eyes pointed in two different directions, like they were having a disagreement.
“Isn’t Augustus the mayor—”
“Ex-mayor,” said the Grinch, still very smug. “He lost his re-election campaign. My grammar school sweetheart is running the city now. Did I ever tell you about my grammar school sweetheart?”
“I didn’t know you ever went to grammar school,” Tony said honestly.
“Well I did. It was awful. Our dear ex-mayor used to bully me over my beard.” The Grinch paused, stroking their green whiskers thoughtfully. “He must have been quite jealous.”
“I’m sure that’s it,” Tony agreed.
“Mm-hmm,” the Grinch hummed, still stroking their beard smugly.
“So your grade school bully has lost an election and you’ve named a confused bulldog after him.”
“That’s rude. The name is entirely a coincidence. And Gus here isn’t confused, he’s—” the Grinch hesitated, finally at a loss for words. “He’s just unhurried, is all.”
“Sure,” Tony said. Gus was in the process of chasing his own tail, but kept changing his mind about which direction to take. “Unhurried. Sedate. Leisurely paced, you might say.”
“Oh hush,” said the Grinch, examining their non-existent fingernails. They didn’t bite their nails, they just had no fingernail beds. Their fingers were long and green and had at least one extra joint each. They were also quite furry, despite being sharp enough to cut glass. Tony found this fascinating.
“As reassuring as it is that you can still be petty when you set your mind to it, I have to wonder how on earth you of all people got to be put in charge of a Ch—of a marching band.”
“Hmm. Isn’t it obvious?” the Grinch smirked. “I volunteered.”
And then the Grinch swept out of the room to go change for dinner. The Grinch was a bit of a snob about changing for dinner; they always wore a fresh bathrobe.
Dinner was—well, Tony wasn’t sure what dinner was. When it came to the Grinch’s cooking, it was generally best not to pay too much attention to the details. Some knowledge is best left unknown.
There were greens, at least, which Tony suspected had come off a local shrubbery. And there were some oddly shaped objects that looked like roots, which were roasted and actually smelled quite edible. Tony focused on that, and not the plate of gravel and broken glass. At least none of it was wiggling.
Tony learned several incredible things over dinner. The first was that the Grinch was involved in all sorts of Whoville activities, which—okay, after the marching band thing this was a bit less of a shock, but still. The Grinch was a community organizer, basically. The Grinch. It had started as part of an effort to clean up Mount Crumpit, which the Whos had been polluting for generations.
And now that the Grinch mentioned it, Tony didn’t know how he’d failed to notice the sheer lack of Stench. Mount Crumpit was famous for its Stench. It was basically a solid, physical thing—or at least it felt like one, when it was slapping you in the face. And now—well, the Stench certainly wasn’t gone, but Tony could almost taste his food over it. Not that tasting the food improved the overall dining experience, but still.
The Grinch, as they told it, had sort of bullied the Whos into a community clean-up, and had then gone on to invent several contraptions that efficiently broke down Whoville garbage. Just to keep Mount Crumpit clean, of course. Just for their own personal satisfaction. From there it was fairly simple to convert the detritus into mulch (the Grinch said mulch the way some people say words like ‘erotic’ or ‘moist’).
Mulch, and clean energy, apparently, because what else was it going to be used for. The Grinch hated waste.
And that was how the Grinch found themself accidentally operating a makeshift recycling-plant-turned-nuclear-power-plant and supplying all of Whoville with sustainable energy.
(“It’s not a nuclear power plant, it just uses fission.”
“That’s nuclear energy. Grinchy, that is literally what nuclear power is.”
“You’re being dramatic.”)
Which certainly explained why the Whos might be taking pains to keep the Grinch involved in the community. What was more interesting was the fact that the Grinch seemed to be playing along. This was a being who had previously become an actual, literal mountaintop hermit just to get away from their hometown.
Things had certainly changed while Tony was gone. Previously, he would have assumed that the Grinch gaining such a huge amount of power (heh) over Whoville society would inevitably lead to them running amok as a sort of Mr. Monopoly Villain, complete with top hat and monocle. (The Grinch never did miss a chance to dress up.) But that was before the Grinch had (accidentally and with utmost reluctance, as they told it) made friends with a few of the locals, and reunited with old family members, and become an involuntary mentor to a few of the Who children. The whole thing was practically saccharine.
(“And, of course, your girlfriend’s the mayor now.”
The Grinch was mischievous, but they had never been malicious. And, Tony had noticed, they were always happier when they had a project. And now that they had one—well, mostly the Grinch just wanted to get on with life, in peace and quiet and the company of a few well-chosen friends. And if that meant improving the world along the way, that was no one else’s beeswax.
And the Whos. The Whos were—well, the Whos meant well. Or, some of them did. They were just very misguided. And a bit selfish. And consumer-driven, and noise-polluting—oh goodness the noise—but perhaps they could change. The Grinch would be content just to have no more garbage dumped on their front lawn.
Tony found the whole thing hilarious, if baffling. Mostly, he was just happy the Grinch was making progress with their life. Happy, and maybe a little envious. But mostly just happy. He even tried a handful of gravel off the Grinch’s plate. It was—yes, it was completely inedible.
After dinner they had a few bottles of beer by the fire. Well, Tony had beer, and passed the empty bottles to the Grinch, who chomped merrily on the bottle necks. The Grinch appreciated the crunch.
This gave Tony time to digest all he had learned (and, to a much lesser extent, dinner). He decided he was astounded with all the changes the Grinch had made, and said as much.
“I’m astounded,” Tony said, “with all the changes you’ve made. No, honestly,” he said, when the Grinch made a dismissive little clicking sound in their throat. “I’m honestly impressed. Good for you. You’ve got—what’s the phrase? You’ve got a new lease on life.”
“If you’re going to speak in cliches, I’m leaving,” said the Grinch, who never missed an opportunity to overuse cliches.
“Hush you, I’m being serious.”
“I’m sure,” the Grinch said, munching on their bottle. “Mm, I like this one. Great texture. Fruity undertones.”
Tony, who had no way of knowing if glass could have fruity undertones, ignored them.
“I’m trying to say I’m happy for you, you tit.”
“Alright tiger, I could tell. Your tail’s wagging.”
“It is not,” said Tony, steadfastly refusing to glance behind him. A tiger’s tail does not wag.
“Figuratively wagging. You’re practically foaming at the mouth.”
Tony wiped his chin furtively, because he did actually have an issue with drool. The single drawback of fangs.
“Now that’s enough congratulations. I can’t stand being congratulated. I’d much rather be quietly smug. Anyway,” the Grinch paused, looking embarrassed. “Anyway, I’m still me, and don’t you dare think otherwise. Still mean and green with a soul full of gunk, and all those lovely things. I’ve just...made some changes, is all.”
“Well it’s a good look on you.”
The Grinch raised an eyebrow, and looked down at themself. They were wearing a feathered robe in a rather startling shade of pink.
“The changes, I mean.”
“Yes,” the Grinch said simply, which was strange because they never missed a chance to tease Tony. It had been one of their favorite hobbies, once upon a time. Tony felt oddly disappointed.
“I suppose,” the Grinch said nonchalantly, “the therapy is actually helping.” Which is how the Grinch dropped a bombshell, and Tony learned another incredible thing, namely that the Grinch, of all people, was in therapy.
“I,” said Tony, “have questions. Am I allowed to ask questions? Is that something we do?”
The Grinch spread their arms regally, draping their lacy sleeves over their chair like some sort of benevolent oligarch. “Ask away,” they commanded generously.
Maybe it was the beer (and bottles). Maybe it was the green fire with its dubious, flickering fumes. Maybe it was because Tony was finally back again, on Mount Crumpit, feeling relaxed and wanted and welcome in a way he hadn’t in years. (Maybe, just maybe, it was the tiny voice in his head whispering home, this is what home feels like, you fool.)
Whatever the case, they stayed up well into the night, chattering and whispering, and then just sitting in silence, watching the fire go down. The embers gave a sputter here and there, coughing themselves back to life. Outside the wind howled, whistling a merry tune of welcome.