A Broken Tradition

A Broken Tradition

With the background noise of the parade to listen to. Jim curses as he throws another batch of stodgy pastry into the bin. Cackles of laughter sound from the living room as Ethan and Kyle enjoy their dad’s archaic cooking show. Jim shakes his head in withdrawn apprehension about the days ahead. Rubbing his hands over his face he curses yet again and reaches for a towel to wipe the now smeared pastry remnants of his stubble. “Tut tut. Getting tetchy dad? You won’t win any awards if your swearing!” The animated voice of Kyle resonates from the open doorway. 

“Shut up if you’re not willing to help Kyle!” Jim shouts at his son in his strong Oxford accent.

He has no patience for Kyle’s tight mouth today. At least Ethan knows to keep quiet with his focus on that mobile phone. Christmas for Jim Thomas was always stressful and chaotic. He couldn’t wait to get back to work after the holidays. His balding head had little of his oak brown hair left having been replaced hair by hair with grey strands over recent years. Jim resembled an aged grandfather clock more with each passing second. Once the knight in shining armour with dashing good looks and a bounce in his step. At 43 Jim’s skin is withered and his mouth is turned into a consistent frown of aggravation. His 17-year-old twin boys do their best to make his life a stressful level of unpredictability and outright torment. If he isn’t apologising to the neighbours for their latest pranks, he is attending a lecture from the school’s principal after the latest affliction on a hapless student.

“If only Karen was here” Jim mumbles with a shaky voice full of pain. 

 Jim’s Wife died suddenly of a stroke when the boys were only 10, leaving Jim to bring up the boys on his own. He’d had a few girlfriends since then but as soon as they started getting close something would always get in the way and by something it normally meant the boys. Kyle and Ethan were known as the troublemakers in town. Often seen with their friends hassling the locals or vandalising property. With no firm hand and no mother to support the one parent team, Jim struggled to control them. Born just a few minutes apart they have been inseparable since birth and a hindrance to harmony ever since. When they were five, they created a language of profanity that only they understood and used it to their advantage which is where the pranks began. Things started off small but when their mother died, they stopped following the rules and began treating the town as their playground. Sometimes they would take their pranks and idiotic mannerisms too far and people got hurt. Elderly neighbours taken to hospital from shock after fake burglaries. Babies crying in pain after they’ve been given hot sauce. Jim was ashamed of his son’s inconsiderate behaviour towards others. It wasn’t just the pranks. Their rooms were a common state of desolation and they had no respect for the house or their possessions. Ethan was the clever mastermind who wasted his intellect on creating diverse and complicated pranks. He’s also the most patient and will happily wait several weeks for a cruel prank to be put in motion. Kyle is the bad influence in Jim’s view. He’s the one who encourages another prank. The stubborn time waster and the most unpleasant to be around. With a perplexing lack or morals and an argumentative mindset he will find every reason to fight with Jim or annoy his brother. Jim often considers why they have so many friends, he suspects they follow the boys out of fear of being one of the pranks victims. The boys tower over most, including Jim at 6’5. Six months ago, they started getting into trouble with the police. Vandalism, dangerous driving and theft were all common words that Jim was used to hearing. The boys didn’t realise how close they were to heading to juvie. It always baffled Jim why they spend so much time together. Their each other’s enemy. Always giving. If they weren’t designing the next prank they were at each other’s throat, fighting over ridiculous things like games or chores – when they felt like doing them.

“Round 2 dad?” Ethan is leaning again the doorframe with his arms crossed. A smug smile on his face. 

“Behave” Jim warns in a stern manner. “Go back in their unless you’re willing to help. I don’t know why I bother” Ethan says no more as he excavates back to the living room leaving Jim to begin making his fourth batch of pastry.

Every year on Boxing day the kitchen becomes a disaster zone. Pots piled high, untouched from Christmas day growing larger by the hour. A stinking bin filled to the brim with leftovers and enough food left on the side to make a 3-course meal. Christmas was the usual Chaotic scene of food, boredom and TV. Nothing was ever different. Boxing day however was their main seasonal day of the year. Jim always tried his best on Boxing day no matter how many wrinkles it added. He would prepare for a lavish dinner at home and offer all the trimmings including homemade pecan pie which he was gruellingly trying to mould together. Half the food would be thrown in the bin or across the table and the tree would be filled with sweet wrappers and cans by the end of the season, but Jim always persevered because it had always been Karen’s favourite day of the year. All the traditions Jim partakes in were Karen’s original ideas. She would always set boxing day traditions as the utmost importance. No matter the circumstances. One-year Jim recalls she had the flu, it was pretty bad, head down the toilet kind of day but that didn’t stop her from shouting down the stairs and eventually doing a list of chores that would need completing. Jim always envied her for that, her ability to always focus on the positive. Since she passed Jim has tried his best to follow in her footsteps for the boy’s sake…. not like they give a damn. According to Karen’s traditions. The day started with encouraging the wolves out of their caves. Normally with bribes or threats to take their phones away. When they eventually awoke and readied themselves, they would all go for breakfast at “Deesies”. There wasn’t a lot of options, but they had the usual with all the trimmings, pancakes, eggs, waffles, sausages. They would pile their plates high and continue snacking throughout the day to keep them going until 7 pm sharp when Jim aimed to have tea ready. After the mountain of food for breakfast Jim spends most of the day arguing with the boys whilst trying to make a presentable meal. It’s easy to forget that they’re still kids. Sometimes their childlike innocence shows through but only rarely. Today is normally one of those days and usually a lot more relaxed than Christmas Eve when they must drag the sorry state of the Christmas tree from the garage first thing. The boys would always get bored 10 minutes in leaving Jim to do the decorations. Then at 11 am sharp, his mother (their grandmother) would call to wish them all a Merry Christmas. Most people would see it as a lovely gesture, but she was a batty rude woman who chose every opportunity to lather everyone in nasty remarks about failed accomplishments and wasted lives. Boxing day was a lot more relaxed in comparison.

Despite the chaos in the kitchen, Jim appreciated the relative peace he got on his own and the boys would torment each other and do their own thing normally. The best part about it was playing board games through the night when Jim would finally get a chance to relax during the Christmas season and enjoy some ciders. The game was usually Cleudo, that was the one that caused the least amount of arguments. All in all, the Christmas period always felt like a lot more effort than it was worth, but it was Karen’s thing and it was a way for the boys to live in her memory. Something that Jim hoped they would appreciate later down the line.

BANG! 

The sound resonates from somewhere in the house. Jim nearly drops the latest batch of pastry onto the floor as he jumps. Managing to save it at the last second his anger is obvious. 

“BOYS! What the hell are you doing!?” Grunting with restrained anger, Jim hovers in the doorway. Ethan and Kyle are on their phones, feet up on the sofas in a careless fashion for the leather fabric. “Well!?” Jim demands. 

“Well, what?” Kyle’s short tone only adds more tension to Jim’s shoulders. 

“What did you do? I heard a bang?” 

“Yea that’s right because it’s always me right dad?” 

“Yep it is always you, I agree” Ethan pipes in. 

Jim is about to unleash on the two boys but manages to hold his tongue instead. An argument at this point would ruin the rest of the day. The grunt of frustration that escapes his lips doesn’t go unnoticed though. “Look, boys. Do we have to do this every year? Just for once, can we respect your Mother’s traditions?”  Ethan and Kyle exchange glances before going back to their phones leaving a resigned Jim to excavate the kitchen once again. 

***

“I’ll never understand why he tries so damn hard. He might as well just give in” Ethan finally tears his eyes away from his phone and looks to where Kyle is sitting on the opposite sofa. Hole covered socks hanging over the end of the sofa with a phone in hand playing the latest trend-setting game. “Kyle?! Are you even listening to me” 

“Not really. He was right about the banging though. I heard it like 10 minutes ago and I know it wasn’t me” 

“Yea, well. It wasn’t me either” 

“I never said it was, did I?? Besides, it came from upstairs” 

As if programmed, the familiar bang sounds again. Louder this time. 

“Told you,” Kyle remarks. 

“Shut up.” “Dad!? We heard the banging again and it’s not us!” 

Jim appears in the doorway. Covered in pastry and flour with a deflated expression on his face. “I bet it’s that damn cat in the drawers again. One of you sort it please” 

Ethan and Kyle remain motionless. Both unwilling to be the one to move. 

“Right” Jim marches into the living room and pounces on both boys, taking their phones away from them. They both reach for them but despite their height over their dad, he is a lot stronger than them and very angry, he holds both phones in a single hand with an unrelenting grip. “Get off the sofas and do something. You’re not getting these back until tonight, I’m fed up with seeing you on them.” Jim points at both boys as a warning. Neither will be punished differently. “If I see you doing anything unproductive for the next two hours between now and dinner being ready than I’ll flush them down the toilet” Both boys look from one to the other for a reaction.

“IS THAT CLEAR!?” 

With an agreed nod from both boys, he heads back to the kitchen and dumps the phones in the empty fruit bowl.

THWACK 

Kyle throws a cushion at Ethan’s head as he stands to leave, in resentment for his loss of technology and ability to text. Ethan catches it. 

“Where ya going?” 

“I’m ringing that cats neck so I can get my phone back” 

“Leave Sammy alone. She hates you” 

Rising his arms in a joking manner as he heads for the stairs. “All the more reason to ring its neck” 

Suddenly, everything goes dark as they lose power. 

***

Jim is just about to put the pecan filled pastry mass into the oven when the power cuts. “Oh, for god’s sake!” He slams the pie onto the nearest counter and fumbles around the kitchen looking for a torch. “What did you boys do now! I swear to god if this is one of your bloody pranks!” Catching his knuckle of on one of the drawer handles, his anger bubbles to the surface. “Screw this” Reaching his hands out, he guides himself towards the fruit bowl where he threw the phones. Grabbing both and turning one of them on, he flicks on the flashlight and takes a moment to observe the mess in the kitchen before guiding himself towards the Livingroom. 

“Boys?” The light shines first on the sofas where the boys were sitting. Both sofas are empty, cushions left in disarray. “Ethan? Kyle?! Don’t mess around! Where are ya?” Jim is on high alert reading himself for one of their latest pranks. Something jumping out at him, maybe a pie in the face or a masked man, something along those lines and it wouldn’t be the first time.  The power cut is a new addition though. 

THUD 

The same sound from earlier resonates through the upstairs floorboards but then a second sound can be heard behind the sofa. A scuffle of sorts. “Kyle, I swear to god if you jump out at me, you’re grounded for the rest of your life!” Shining the circular circumference of the light on the floorboards, Jim makes his way around the sofa. He gasps, all most dropping the phone when the cat jumps out from behind the sofa. “God damn it, Sammy” With one hand on his chest, he looks in each room briefly for any signs of the twins before heading upstairs. The bathroom is straight ahead, he checks it first. Other than a few dirty towels there’s nothing to fret about and no prank forthcoming. Leaving the bathroom, Jim stands in the hallway, angling the phone towards each bedroom door in a decision about which to try first. The main bedroom door is slightly ajar, it’s normally closed so Jim assumes that the boys have set up the prank in there. They may be experts at pranks, but they’ve never been good at hiding the evidence. For some reason, a bad feeling settles in Jim’s stomach. Something feels wrong and he can’t pinpoint what it is. Suddenly, someone grabs his arm and a hand is placed over his mouth. He is pushed into the hallway closet.

Falling against the wall he tries to pull the hand away from his mouth, but it keeps a tight grip and grabs the phone out of his hand.

“Dad be quiet” Kyle whispers into his ear as he turns off the light on the phone and removes his other hand from his father’s stubbly mouth. “There’s someone in the house”. As if on cue, a large shadow walks past the door of the cupboard they’re hiding in. Whistling in an eerily happy tune. Someone who is heavy-footed, dragging their feet. The figure moves away towards the main bedroom and the door is slammed shut.

“Where’s Ethan? Have you called the police?” 

“I don’t know where he is, he might be with him. I was going to call the police, but you have our phones” Remembering the phone in his hand Jim dials 911. The repetitive beeps he hears indicates he has no signal. 

“OK. Tell me what happened?” 

“I was looking for the cat. Ethan followed me and searched the other room. He left me with the torch.  That’s when the power cut and I heard it. The sound of the axe scraping along the floor. I thought it might have been Ethan, so I tried to find my way to the room but then I saw him, dad.” Kyle stutters and his words crumble under his emotion at his next words. “The guy has a light. It was shining on Ethan laid on the floor. He wasn’t moving dad” Kyles lip trembles. “The guy didn’t see me, so I hid” He manages to shutter out in one quick whispered breath.

“OK. I need to go and find your brother. Stay here.”

“No, you can’t leave…” Kyles loud words are abruptly stopped with Jim’s hand over his mouth. 

“Shhh. I must. When I give you a sign, I want you to run and find help. Ok? Don’t wait just run. You need to do this Kyle”

Biting his trembling lip, all he can do is nod. Jim steps into father mode and lays a protective hand on his son. A comforting reassuring where no words need to be said. Recalling the other mobile in his pocket, he reaches out and places the other in Kyle’s hand. Then he slowly opens the door and steps out, making sure to close it quietly behind him.

His heart palpitates with anxious fear, but he focuses his mind on the task at hand. Thoughts of finding a weapon are the first thoughts to settle. He will need something to fight off the intruder. Standing in the middle of the hallway unguarded and without a weapon. He must make his mind up quick. Taking a moment to listen out for footsteps or any noise to indicate where the stranger is. When all remains quiet, he steps lightly into the bathroom, the closest door to where he stands. In the cupboard is a pair of scissors, warn and dirty but still malleable as a tool of defence. Reaching a hand into his pocket he grabs the phone; the screen still shows the symbol for no signal. Placing it back into his cushioned pocket he holds a tight grip on the scissors and ventures back into the hallway, checking around the corner like a policeman holding a gun. It’s impossible to see through the darkness and Jim doubts is own hearing at his age. Oh, how he is wishing the police were here to help now, or anyone for that matter. He would even accept the help of his rowdy nasty neighbour at this point. Forcefully slowing his elevated breathing, he heads towards the main bedroom, hands outstretched to feel his way along the walls, where Kyle recalls he last saw Ethan. Unfortunately, it’s also the room they heard the intruder walking into. 

***

Kyle listens as his dad exits the hallway cupboard and heads down the hall. He tries his best to slow his breathing. Suddenly, a sound resonates towards his right ear. It’s coming from the opposite end of the hall and he knows it won’t be his dad. He holds his breath, covering his mouth to avoid screaming in sheer panic as the sound of something being dragged ventures closer. It’s the familiar sound of metal on wood that he heard earlier on before hiding. Kyle curls his lanky frame into a ball, tucked into the corner of the cupboard in hopes of remaining hidden. 1,2,3. He counts in his head, an anchor to slow his breathing and to halt the scream that is crawling up his throat, threatening to reveal his hiding spot. The noise stops when it reaches the door. He’s sure he can hear heavy breathing from the opposite side. He hears the squeak of the doorknob as it’s slowly turned. 

***

Stepping into the main bedroom Jim can’t see anything. There is no light coming from the drawn curtains and the power is still out. He stands very still to listen for any signs of movement within the four small walls he now stands. There’s nothing. No sound at all. It’s so eerily still that he must remind himself of where he is and what he’s supposed to be doing. He opens his mouth to whisper Ethan’s name but thinks better of it. If the intruder is still in the room, he can’t make any noise to indicate his presence. Especially when he has his sons to think about. He gets down on his hands and knees in order to help feel around the room and hopefully make less noise, making sure to hold the scissors outright if he needs to try and make a quick exit or defend himself. Inching forward he feels for anything untoward but other than the occasional crumb of food there’s no sign of anything. Jim let’s out an accidental grunt as he hits his head on the wooden bedframe, the bed is at the back of the room on the opposite side to the doorway. 

He pauses and listens. 

He can hear breathing. It only takes him a second to realise that he isn’t hearing his own rapid breath. There’s someone right above him. Most likely sitting on the edge of the bed, or maybe, possibly, laying on the bed and leaning over the side. Either way, close enough to brush against his arm as Jim smacked his head. Someone is leering over him. Jim feels like he’s being watched, and a shiver runs down his spine. He doesn’t have time to react though before he hears a distant scream. Everything goes dark as he loses consciousness.

2 Replies to “A Broken Tradition”

  1. Seasonal greetings! Charlie girl, please send me some of your dark erotic-gothic literature. Best wishes … Emm xxx

    1. As I said before I don’t do that kind of thing. Find someone else who does the genre you like. And why would I send you some? A little creepy don’t you think.

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