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"A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE GINGERHOOD"

Written by Mason McDonald

I don’t know how long it’s been. At the time of my writing this, my watch has been dead for days. Shit, weeks maybe. I don’t know. None of us do. The days and nights are all the same. Just survival. Keeping track of how many sunsets we’ve lived through, and how many sunrises we’ve made it to, just isn’t as important as all the rest of it.

Father Allen says there’s a plan. That this is God’s way of testing us and that he will pull us through if we persist. If we just persist.

He acts like he’s held together, like through it all he is still holding firm and strong, but I know he is just as scared and fucked up as the rest of us. The other night I walked by his room and he was crying. I peeked through the crack in the door and he was in the fetal position sobbing into a throw pillow. The pillow turned sloppy and mucous-like from his tears.

Which tracks, as it is a huge jujube.

Like everything else in the world now, his pillow is candy. The walls of the house we all persist in is made from sweet brown gingerbread. Each wall is adjoined to the other’s with hard white frosting. The furniture pieces are candy canes, fruit leather, gummy worms. The fireplace is carved rock candy, the curtains sugar lace. The same could be said of all the food in the cupboards, in the cupboards of every other house on the block, and of every cupboard in every house and building in the world.

Ever play Candyland? It’s not as fun in real life.

A while ago, before my watch died and Father Allen started faking it, we all woke up one day to the entire world being made of candy. It had been Christmas Eve when we went to sleep, expecting Santa and a winter wonderland in the morning, instead getting a candy-coated hellscape with air that tasted of pumpkin pie and chocolate. And when I say “we”, I mean we. Everyone. The population of the planet. It hit every person, every place.

Our governments were ready for all manner of disaster and apocalyptic situations, but not this. December 25th 2023, 2:45am, it was like a blink. That’s how those who were awake (and those on the opposite side of the world, I imagine) described it. In the flash of a nanosecond, the world went from normal as we knew it to the painted cardboard cover of a holiday advent calendar.

Planes made of rice chocolate and caramel fell from the sky, killing those on board. Boats made of wafer and toffee floated for a few hours on an ocean of eggnog before sogging and falling apart. Can you imagine drowning in eggnog? So damn thick. People who were driving at the time were suddenly flying forward in cars made of cookies, licorice, and nougat. They’d crash into other equally scared drivers and they’d die in a cloud of crumbs, no explosion.

Those of us who woke to it in our beds didn’t know what to do. The phone and internet lines were done because all the wires and cables that connected the world turned to candy floss and that doesn’t exactly carry a signal very well. For what it’s worth, those in charge did try to keep things together in the beginning. The army rolled through on makeshift buggies made of gingerbread with oversized peppermint wheels. Horses pulled them with licorice ropes and they helped round people up, bringing us to community centres where the government had made refugee camps. I’d been brought to a rec centre. From what we knew and what knowledge we could collect (there wasn’t much without technology), only fauna hadn’t been affected. Plants and non-living matter had all been changed, leaving behind only people, animals, and sea creatures. Our town is a beach community; have you ever seen a distressed humpback try to breach eggnog? I have. And it haunts me.

Animals didn’t last long. Without grass and other plants, the herbivores died fairly quickly, including the horses. Without herbivores, the carnivores went next. Pets lasted the longest, as just like humans, they could live for quite a bit longer than you’d expect on just sugar. They still perished from the lack of food, just in a different way. Fluffy starts looking pretty delicious when you’ve only been eating peppermint patties and butterscotch candies.

Eventually the centres fell apart. First the government fell, then the remaining bands of military, and then it was everyone for themselves. No point in following orders at that point. We all went our own ways. Some soldiers refused to abandon post and the former refugee centres became holdouts of the army, led by corrupted soldiers going just as insane as the rest of us. They ruled over their towns like warlords, insane from the elevated blood sugar, teeth rotting from their skulls. In those towns, the sight of camouflage quickly turned from rescue to death.

We were in my hometown, if you want to use that word.

The cannibals drove our soldiers out.

Bands of psychotic man-eaters wearing tribal gear and headdresses made from equal parts scavenged candy and human body parts. They’d roll into town yelping like hyenas, their heads painted red with blood and their crowns made of candy corn and gummy worms. They’d wear chalk candy necklaces that looped through sundried earlobes and they’d hack your limbs off with stop-sign-sized lollipops sucked and licked to a sharp edge. You’d live through the entire thing as well because there was nothing suitable for burning. So they wouldn’t cook you, which meant they didn’t need to butcher you. If they caught you, they ate you, and you watched.

And you know what?

That’s still not the worst of it.

Well, at first it was. But soon more and more people died. Which made sense. We weren’t made for this. As the population further declined and the streets grew emptier and emptier, we noticed a different kind of life returning.

At night, mostly.

During the day a few of us would head out and scavenge. My group is small—there’s ten of us left now. We don’t stay in one place too long, as that’s a good way to attract attention. We find empty gingerbread houses and hold up for a few days, gather what meagre sticky, sugary supplies we can, and we head out again. On one of these runs, myself and two other men were patrolling a suburban neighbourhood, going door to door and searching every room to find anything worth taking. Which there usually never was. We found ways to implement certain candies as useful tools—like dipping sharpened candy canes in strawberry jelly to run across wafer paper like pen and parchment, for example—but in reality, we were all hoping that eventually we’d find something normal. Something that wasn’t fucking candy.

The best thing we ever found were dead bodies because the only material that hadn’t turned were the clothes people were wearing at the time, so a new t-shirt or belt was like finding gold. Even if you had to strip it from a corpse.

The two men I was with were Desmond and Cal. They were brothers. The sun was getting ready to set and we were about to pack it in and head back. Cal spotted one final house and pointed at the front door.

“Something moved in there,” he said, finger trembling. He wasn’t scared, we all just shook almost all the time. We were constantly dehydrated from the cola rainwater, and the copious amounts of sugar we ingested daily, and our bodies were failing. Are failing. I’m dying as I write this.

“You’re seeing things,” Desmond said and kept walking.

“No I ain’t,” Cal said and pointed again, “something moved in there. I swear it.”

“When was the last time we saw other people, hmm?” Desmond said. Cal thought about it, but his sugar-riddled brain wouldn’t cough up the answers.

“Four weeks ago, maybe,” he said.

“At least five months,” I said, “probably more. I’ve been trying to keep track, but it’s difficult.”

“Five months. Ain’t no one here except us. Stop being stupid,” Desmond said. He and I kept walking but after a few yards, we noticed Cal wasn’t following us.

“I’m going in,” he said. “One more house won’t kill us. And if it does, ah well, right?”

Cal didn’t wait for a reply and marched forward on his own up to the big gingerbread house that stood lonely, tucked behind jelly trees at the rear of the cul-de-sac. Desmond sighed and followed. I tagged along because there was very little sense in not. Nothing mattered now.

Cal kicked in the door. Which wasn’t hard, of course, because it was made of gingerbread. It fell apart the second his foot touched it. The entire place was made of baked good walls, frosting, and gumball shingles atop the roof.

“Hurry up,” Desmond said as he and I stood in the foyer, waiting for him to find whatever it was he thought he was looking for.

Cal cursed at us and disappeared into the shadows of the house. I’ll be honest—there wasn’t much to be scared of then. Desmond had made a point about us not seeing anybody in a while. We all knew this wasn’t something we could survive. There was no hope in this scenario. No salvation. We would never find some Eden, untouched by the sugar, where we could live the rest of our days and thrive.

Humans were done. All life was done. What was there to be scared of?

That’s what I was thinking when Cal screamed. Desmond and I exchanged a look that asked if either of us thought Cal was fucking with us. Desmond was the first to decide it wasn’t worth the risk of calling his bluff. He took off into the shadows of the house calling his brother’s name.

I stayed where I was at first. I’m not going to lie here—I contemplated just turning around and heading back home. I’d no real love for the brothers and I hadn’t stayed alive by making stupid decisions. Running into a strange house searching for the reason a man was screaming just sounded foolish to me.

But as I turned my back to the screaming, I felt guilty. The last little bit of my humanity was pulling my strings and telling me to go take a look. Maybe Cal just slipped and broke an ankle, or cut himself on something. I could be leaving him there to die a painful, slow death just because I didn’t want to risk whatever foul days I had remaining.

So I followed Desmond into the shadows of the home.

I came upon the two brothers and neither were hurt. In fact, both were perfectly fine. Well, as fine as they had been when they entered. They were standing in the entryway of the kitchen, the soft, orange glow of the setting sun turning the dark room golden and illuminating dust motes in the beams of light.

They were staring in disbelief at another man, half-hidden through the beams of fiery sun. I was about to push my way through them, to ask what their fucking problem was, and talk to the man, see if he had anything to trade.

That’s when I noticed.

He wasn’t a man.

It wasn’t human.

It was a gingerbread man. An almost seven-foot tall gingerbread man, complete with gumball buttons and frosted collar. Its eyes were blue circles of frosting, its mouth a wide red O that was stuck permanently open. It was standing perfectly still, staring at the three of us. We were locked like that, no one wanting to be the first to move. If we just stayed perfectly still, maybe then the gingerbread man would stay as he was, unmoving and half-covered in shadows.

Desmond must have gotten back to us from his shock and he screamed like his brother had. When he did, the gingerbread man’s icing eyes and mouth changed. At first they widened even more, in fear I think, and then the eyes thinned and pointed in the centre and the mouth frowned, the entire face grimacing in anger.

“Run!” I screamed and turned to run the same way I had come. As I did, I caught a glimpse of the gingerbread man springing to life and lunging across the room towards us. Shit, it was fast.

The three of us barreled through the house, banging into fragile walls that crumpled to dust under us. I heard the thing coming at us, its rounded legs banging into the floor. It sounded like we were being chased by two sentient brooms.

BANGBANGBANGBANG.

So loud. So fast.

I was the first out the door. I’d never been so glad to see sunlight in my life. I didn’t stop running. Not for one second. Not when I heard Cal scream behind me, not when I heard Desmond cry out no in the most feral inhuman way I’d ever heard, and not when I heard the sickeningly wet sounds of whatever it was the gingerbread man was doing to Cal.

I don’t know at what point I outran Desmond. Maybe he’d stayed behind with his brother. I just don’t know. All I know is as I ran through the gingerhood, more and more of the things came storming out of their homes. Dozens of them full-on sprinting through doors and walls like the Kool-Aid man and chasing after me through the streets.

Eventually, I somehow shook them and made my way back home. Father Allen was the first to greet me, his raggedy black shirt and stained white collar looking ever more worse for wear. He asked what had happened and my response was to vomit. Whether from exhaustion or disgust or just fear, I don’t know. When I recovered, I told him what had happened.

The Father simply nodded. He didn’t argue with me, call me insane, pity me. Instead, he believed me. I’m not sure if it was the look in my eyes or just there was no reason to not believe me in this world anymore. But he did. He nodded, got up, and went into his room for hours. I told the others what had happened and we set up watches. Someone needed to keep an eye out.

Over the next few weeks, times got harder. We could only search by day and even then, we had to be careful. During the day, those things seemed to go to sleep. Every once in a while, you’d see a stray one walking around a backyard or up the sidewalk. Sometimes you’d catch a glimpse of one through a window as it walked around an empty house.

At night, however, they came out. The streets would be filled with gingerbread men. Dozens. Hundreds. Sometimes they’d be walking, sometimes they’d be running, other times they’d simply stand in the same place for hours upon end, never moving a muscle until the sunrise, when they’d crawl back to wherever they came from.

Some of the people here say they’ve seen other things, too. Jenny said she was on watch once and saw a gummy bear scurrying into the bushes behind the neighbouring house before it had been snatched up and devoured by a gingerbread man. Robert, her husband, had been on a run and said he made his way down to the water and saw something breach the ‘nog.

“A whale,” Father Allen said, “bound to be at least a few left.”

Robert shook his head. “No. Looked more like a Swedish Fish to me. A big Swedish Fish.”

I never saw any of these myself, but I swear, I swear, the other night, I was looking out the window on watch, surveying the thin crowd of gingerbread men that had gathered that evening, and a shadow flew over me. Something huge had passed right over the top of the house. I missed it, but when I looked back down, all the gingerbread men were staring up at it. For a moment my heart sank as I thought they were looking at me, and had finally located us. But they didn’t. They weren’t looking at me, they were looking past me. And they stayed like that, unmoving, all hundred of them, until morning.

I don’t know much anymore, I think I’ve made that pretty clear. But I know that something else is out there, something big, and those things are terrified of it.

What else I don’t know is why I’m writing this. It started to snow powdered sugar today and it made us all realize that it was getting close to a year. Maybe it was almost Christmas again. Jenny suggested putting up some makeshift decorations. Robert and I shot that down. What was the point? Christmas won, hadn’t she seen that? We are in a snow globe. The entire world. It’s Christmas every day here.

No one will ever read this. No one, because there will be no one left. Those things, those gingerbread men, they aren’t monsters. At least that’s not how I see them. In my eyes they belong here. We don’t. We used to, but now we are strangers in this place. They aren’t.

This is their world now.

I think I’m going to find a way to kill myself. I didn’t know this was a suicide note until now but it makes sense. I think I’ll suck a candy cane to a point and stick it in my neck. Has to be better than whatever the hell happened to Cal and Desmond.

And it has to be better than staying in a world that is no longer meant for us. Like I said, it’s their world now. We are just visiting for the holidays.

Merry Christmas.

mason mcdonald 01Mason McDonald is the author of A Time For Monsters. When not inventing yuletide boogeymen, he can be found drinking booze and fist fighting his own personal Ghost Of Christmas Yet To Come. He currently lives in Port Morien, NS with his wife Jenna and their collection of animals.

You can pick up his collection by clicking one of the links below!

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