In the Land of Darkened Hearts

By Chris Thompson

Across the Holidays continues, and imagines what it would be like if The Grinch actually stole Christmas…and then went on to rule the world!

I stood on the corner of Grand Avenue, lost in a sea of despair, and shuffling back and forth on cold and tired feet. It was a half-hearted attempt to stay warm, done more out of tedium than actual purpose, and it was getting old. The icy sting of the evening air made every breath a battle and I longed to be back indoors, my feet up besides the fire and a stiff drink between my hands, sipping away The Gloom. It was December 24th, the eve of a date that used to mean something in this land and I was feeling exceptionally low.

Shaking my head in annoyance, I pulled up the thick, fur-lined collar of my heavy wool jacket, bringing it higher about my face. I cupped my hands to my mouth and glancing about, blew forcefully on them for warmth. I then gazed up the avenue for the hundredth time. Where is she? I contemplated.

Finally the headlights of her car came into view, approaching gradually over the rise in the road. I put my hand up quickly in recognition and as the car pulled up beside me I caught the driver, a hulking man of Middle Eastern descent, glaring at me suspiciously. You and me both buddy. I thought.

I walked up cautiously to the mirrored rear-window, tinted black as the night, and watched as it slowly lowered, revealing the shadowed form of a young woman seated inside. Her long slender legs were crossed elegantly in front of her and her small delicate hands rested gracefully upon her lap.

Placing my hands firmly on the windowsill, I leaned slightly into the car, immediately making eye contact, searching her almond-shaped eyes–flecks of gold swimming in greenish-blue pupils–to glean some motivation for this meeting. Some hint of why she would risk so much for what seemed like so little. What could I offer her? I mused. I was nobody, a faceless cog in her father’s vast empire. As I lingered on her gaze I felt the warmth of the cars interior wash over me, immediately thawing my painfully cold face.

“Why did you call me out here tonight Brea?” I whispered forcefully. “If your father knew I was out here he’d have my head! You know how little he tolerates his employees mingling with you,” I said, looking to her face to catch a hint of her intentions, some inklings of a plan. But I was promptly thwarted by her appearance. The mask she wore this evening was made of porcelain and decorated in the current Indo-Euro fashion. Stylized wings fluttered across complex geometric patterns, drawing the eye downward towards her mouth slit. The mask looked back at me with a cold, blank stare, offering nothing.

Glancing down to take her in I noticed she was wearing a thin gossamer layer of sheer fabric, exquisitely tailored to accentuate her pale breasts just visible underneath. Her chest seemed covered with a fine glitter that shimmered with the heaving of her breath and her rosy pink nipples stood erect in the coolness of the harsh winter breeze. The crisp, invigorating air infected the city, toying with ones mind and I couldn’t help but wonder again why seeing a woman’s breasts had become so ordinary, but to gaze upon her face had become such a taboo.

I thought back to my grandfather’s time only a few generations ago, before The Gloom had settled over the lands, infecting the people with its melancholy and despair. Before society had become so distant, so cold, rejecting hope and beauty and censoring a woman’s appearance, hiding her behind faceless masks.

Brea cleared her throat softly before speaking, the gentle sound drifting my thoughts back to the present, to the young woman staring intently at me from behind that mask. She could neutralize every man in sight with those eyes. All it took was just one look, her steely gaze flowing through you like silver moonlight on open water. It was a powerful tool that she used to her advantage and I found that I was not immune to its powers.

“Let me worry about my father Edward.” She spoke confidently. “Plus, he’s too wrapped up in his coarse, greedy attitude this time of year, especially on this night in particular, that he’ll never even find out.” And as she spoke she placed her soft, warm hand gently upon mine, her touch melting my white-knuckled grip on the dull-gray metal of the vehicles door.

I leaned my head back trying to catch a glimpse of Brea’s sour-faced driver, making sure he was still seated behind the wheel and not up to no good, but another squeeze from her hand brought my attention back. “Sufyan can be trusted,” she said, maintaining her connection to me through her touch. Her warmth flowed through me in waves, thawing me from the inside out, melting slightly my suspicious disposition and lessening the sullenness of my mood. “He’s been my driver for so long now that its simply a part of his nature to be protective. Would you believe that he considers me one of his daughters? It’s not that much of a stretch actually seeing as he’s been more of a parent to me than my father ever was. But we’re not here to discuss that so why dont you get into the car so we can have a proper talk? It’s freezing out there and I’m afraid I’m catching a chill.”

Completely under her spell, I found no reason to object and so I stood quickly, peering up and down the street, scanning for anything amiss, something out of the ordinary that would give me pause. Any suggestions of her fathers Agents in their unmistakable green suits. And finding nothing of concern I opened the door quickly, sliding into the luxurious warmth of the cars shadowy interior.

With a powerful whine of the vehicles engines we sped off, heading for the more heavily traveled corridors of the city. The Gloom, ubiquitous and palpable, seemed lessened to me inside the car, as if by stepping into the vehicle I had somehow entered a realm where it’s tendrils could not penetrate. It was a curious yet welcoming sensation and as the car drove on, penetrating deeper into the heart of the city, I closed my eyes, meditating on this new position. It had been so long since I had felt anything besides the icy fingers of The Glooms grip around my beating heart.

She broke the silence with a question, so direct and forward that it caught me off guard, causing me to divert the entirety of my focus to its answer. “Edward,” she started “Do you ever wonder why The Gloom even exists? Why it has found such a purchase in our land, suffocating us with its thick blanket of misery?

Stammering I tried to form an answer. Any answer, but I found it difficult. A lifetime of conditioning had made sure of that. One just didn’t speak of The Gloom in this manner, openly questioning its existence. I had been taught that from day one–we all had. The Gloom just was. That was the way of things and you either accepted it or faced the consequences. Brea’s question was unsettling to say the least.

“I…I…I don’t know Brea. The Gloom just is, you know? That’s what we’ve been told since the day we are born and it’s what we are expected to believe until the day we die. Its been like this since my grandfathers time, since that Christmas Day all those years ago when it descended upon our land, robbing us of our joy and replacing it with sorrow. But we live with it now. It’s just the way of things, us going about our lives and The Gloom always there, just below the surface, gradually turning our warm hearts cold. What else is there to ask Brea? What else is there to know?”

“There’s this,” she said, and taking my rough, calloused hands into her own she delicately cupped them together. Slowly she reached into her purse and removed from its interior a small velvet satchel, gently dumping its contents into the curve of my openly waiting palms.

The shock of the object caused me to suck in my breath, my body tensing in an instinctive reaction to its presence. It was a glowing glass sphere, asymmetrically shaped and warm to the touch, it’s smoky contents churning in upon themselves, dancing in and out of a delicate interior latticework, iridescent reds and greens devouring each other in misty swirls of light, only to be reborn once again.

“What is it?” I exclaimed, wide-eyed with wonder as the rhythmic light of the glowing sphere danced eerily across the contours of my face. I was so enchanted that it was all I could say and I whispered the question softly, repeatedly as if in a trance.

It was beautiful. Like a flower borne from decay, and I felt a strong connection to it. It was as if a light had been shone into the dark, parting The Gloom and showing me the way. It had a magnetism that drew my focus down deeply into its shape and I marveled wide-eyed at its form. “I know this Brea,” I exclaimed after several minutes of quiet examination. That initial seed of recognition grew steadily within my subconscious until it consumed the totality of my thoughts. “I’ve seen this before!” I cried out, tears forming at the corners of my dark and tired eyes.

“Of course you have Edward!” Brea replied, her hand firm and reassuring on my shoulder. “It’s you. Or at least an embodiment of the parts of you that are righteous and good. For within that object churns your hopes, your innocence, your childhood and your dreams, all the parts of you that run counter to The Gloom and have been denied to you for so long. Denied to all of us actually for every person in this land has one of these,” she explained, and with those words she drew out a globe of her own.

“This one’s mine you see?” she said, hints of restrained elation fluttering in on her voice. I could tell she was excited to be sharing this with someone and I was grateful she had chosen me. Brea carefully lifted up a crystal jar, holding it out for me to admire. Within it a similarly shaped sphere pulsed silently, cycling rapidly through a thousand shades of green and gold, orange and blue.

“Where did you get this?” I inquired strongly. I felt like I had just found something that had been lost to me for a long time. So long that I had forgotten I had lost it and the shock of realizing its absence was powerful. I was immediately suspicious and asked her again where it had came from, this time a tone of seriousness permeating my words.

“My father has a vault,” Brea offered willingly. “Several of them actually. And they’re enormous, so long that the end just fades away into infinity and they are filled with these glowing spheres. Thousands of them Edward! Millions, all neatly arranged on metal shelves, a nametag with a number below each one. It took me awhile to find mine but once I did, and I figured out how the cataloging system worked, it was easy to find yours.”

“How did your father get this?” I asked angrily, holding the glowing sphere up to her mask. “This belongs to me! It’s mine! He has no right to take these feelings from me. To deny me a proper existence. Who does he think he is Brea?” I was shaking all over, overcome with sorrow and regret, mourning the lost opportunity for a happier, gloom-free past.

“He’s The Grinch, Edward. My fathers The Grinch,” Brea whispered dejectedly. Like she had just confessed to being a part of something devious and wicked. “Every year he steals the essence of our hearts from all the new children on Christmas Eve, robbing them of a future filled with brightness and joy.”

“Wait!” I interrupted, still trying to comprehend the first part of Brea’s words. “Are you saying your father is The Grinch from the old fairy tales from way back before The Gloom? The one about that greenish cave-dwelling creature with creme colored eyes who descends upon a town to prevent Christmas from coming? That Grinch?” I asked perplexedly.

“Yes THAT Grinch Edward,” she replied dejectedly. “Although he’s not green and living in a cave. He looks like you and me actually, like my father to be exact, but the curious thing is that he never seems to age, to never grow old or tired. In fact if anything he seems to be getting younger, like he’s found some fountain of youth. And that got me thinking.”

“So I bid my time,” she continued. “Considered the facts and when I had my moment I took it, sneaking into my fathers office one night while he was away. And it was there, on the three hundredth floor of his company’s tower, as I rifled through his files and rummaged around in his desk, that I found this.

Reaching down she pulled up a large leather bound notebook, dog-eared and worn, its cover crackled with age. She handed it to me and tucking my glowing sphere inside my jacket for safety, I opened it upon my lap. There was no need to turn on an overhead light for the pages glowed a magical green, the lettering put down with a charcoal-colored, iridescent ink. The main title page read in big block letters:

MY PLAN TO  STEAL CHRISTMAS

by The Grinch

The successive pages were initially filled with scribblings and gibberish, the work of a kindergartner just beginning to spell, but as the text progressed the handwriting began to change, as if the author itself was changing. The letters become more legible, the wording more coherent and sophisticated until eventually I was reading a well thought out, thoroughly designed and convincingly argued plan, replete with charts and diagrams.

The plan had two main goals:

Goal One: Steal Christmas

Goal Two (dependent on the success of Goal One): Darken the hearts of the people, suppress them with sadness and gloom and ultimately rule the world!

And the plan had worked. He had succeeded for a very long time but he hadn’t accounted for Brea, his own flesh and blood turning on him. When I finished reading the book I closed it on my lap and looked up to her for a sign, some indication of her next move. Taking the book from my hands she placed it carefully back on the floor. She then turned confidently to face me and before I knew what was happening she was taking off her mask, revealing the pale features of her high-cheeked face below.

I was shocked for the second time that night for I had never seen a woman without her mask on. All my life I had been raised to reject beauty in all its forms, especially the splendor of a womans face, and to finally gaze upon one as beautiful as hers was overwhelming. She leaned in close to me, the smell of her perfume both pleasing and divine and kissed my bearded cheek, the warmth from her lips radiating outward across my face. I stammered, at a loss for words.

“I need your help Edward,” she said, pulling back to meet my gaze. She took my hands and placed them in hers, squeezing them gently and firm. “This is just the first step, right here, right now between you and me. The thawing out of our darkened hearts, the breaking of the spells of The Gloom, and the taking off of our masks. There are bigger things to come and I want you to be a part of them.”

“Sur…sur…sure. I stammered.” Still stunned at the beauty of her face and the feeling of warmth and happiness that was growing inside me. “I’ll help you Brea, whatever you need.”

“Great!” She replied, clapping her hands together around mine. “My father isn’t the only one who knows how to plan you know,” she said cleverly, tucking a loose curl of her auburn hair behind her ear. I was in love. “The entire trunk of this car is filled with those spheres Edward, and I’m going to make damn sure that tonight each and every one goes to its owner. It’s not much you know, more of gesture, but my father has stolen so many of our hearts that I figure it’ll be a long while before he starts to notice they are gone. And hopefully, just hopefully, we can give enough people back their joy that eventually it’ll chase away The Gloom.”

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