plonq: (Usual Silly Mood)
[personal profile] plonq
If you are reading this, then it is already too late to run. This story started off when I envisioned Plonq waking up, hungover on Christmas Eve and wondering, Where am I, and where are my pants?

It grew out from there, and ultimately ties back to a little throw-away bit in last year's story.

8<-------------------------------------

It has been suggested by those who study such things that an average person will awaken at least once in their lifetime, look about themselves, and ask three questions. It is also said that, on average, the questions will be in this order:

"Where am I"?

"How did I get here"?

"Where are my pants"?

Although Plonq had awoken to those questions enough times to skew the average a bit, he started out of his sleep late morning Christmas Eve with other matters dominating his mind. He stirred abruptly from what he would later classify as a disturbing and illucid dream, and lay for a few moments to assess his situation. The first thing he noticed was that he was lying supine on the bed, which undoubtedly exacerbated his apnea and likely played a significant part in the disturbing dreams. The second thing he discovered was that he was entangled with the bedsheets in a manner that he'd have been hard-pressed to do intentionally.

Finally, he was distressingly sober.

Worse yet, he hadn't even a hint of a hangover. The snow leopard lay still and stared at the ceiling while his brain tried to process this information. He clearly remembered stocking up the liquor cabinet in order to facilitate his traditional holiday binge. It seemed inconceivable that he'd somehow managed to make it through the prior evening without actually drinking any of it. Christmas Eve was the traditional start of "hair of the dog" season, after all.

"Mrrw?"

The cat who had treating his fluffy chest as her personal bed stirred and chittered at him in mild annoyance for waking her. Plonq twisted and wrested his right arm free of the sheets so that he could grab her by the chin and lift her head until they were looking muzzle to muzzle.

"How is this possible?" he demanded, staring imploringly into the smaller cat's eyes. "Is this not the eve of Christmas? How is it that I am neither lingeringly drunk from last night, nor sporting an industrial hangover? Indeed, I daresay that I could go for a coffee and tuna pate on a bagel right about now. What is wrong with me?"

The cat responded to his question with a dull-witted stare that seemed to focus about a metre behind the snow leopard's head. If she had been contemplating on his question and formulating an answer, she quickly forgot it when her brain decided that her left hindquarters were her top priority. She abruptly turned her entire attention and brain capacity to cleaning it of dirt that only she could see.
Plonq sighed, and finished the process of disentangling himself from the sheets, discarding both them and the cat to the other side of the bed. He rose and toddled off, scratching and yawning to the kitchen so that he could assess his sad situation over some coffee.

The kitchen was in exactly the state he'd have expected from one seeking a proper drunk the night before; there were open bottles and containers everywhere, and it reeked of stale alcohol and regrettable snack foods.
While he pressed out a cup of coffee, the snow leopard considered the situation in the kitchen. The damage seemed to be fairly minimal, other than a fork or two stuck in the ceiling, and writing on the wall that he hoped was not indelible marker which read, "All work and no play makes Plonq a dull boy." It was written over and over, more sloppily with each iteration, and with more apparent pressure applied to the marker.
He had no memory of any events leading to this state of the kitchen, but that was normal. When he opened the refrigerator for some cream, his other cat jumped out of the open fridge, chirped at him, circled his ankles twice and then made a beeline for her litter box.

Plonq flopped back into a kitchen chair and took a deep sip of coffee, but the delicious, complex brew with just the right splash of cream did little to lighten the dark mood that was settling over him. Being sober on Christmas Eve sucked. Since he'd reached a state of mutual détente with Santa, he had little to keep him busy over the holiday. He'd agreed to stop attacking Santa on social media – regardless of how much of his acerbic indignation the old bastard deserved to have levelled his way on Twitter. In return Saint Nick had agreed to stop sending out a reindeer thug to punch Plonq in the muzzle every Christmas morning - which was a good thing.
Not getting punched in the muzzle was arguably a good thing.

He downed the first coffee, and was settling into a deepening funk midway through the second when the phone jarred him out of his self-pity. Plonq normally ignored the phone when it rang because nobody he knew ever bothered him at home over Christmas, but the number on his call display came up as 666-HELL and he was intrigued. He assumed it was a telemarketer and the thought of being mean to a phone jockey on Christmas Eve appealed to his black mood.

Plonq put down his coffee, swept up the handset with a jaunty flourish and mewled a predatorily polite, "Hello."

"Well hello there, mister woe-is-me-for-being-sober," taunted a familiar, grating voice at the other end. If the feline had not put down his cup before answering the phone, he'd surely have dropped it.

"...dad?" he said weakly.

"That's my boy; clever as ever," said his father. When Plonq did not respond immediately, he continued, "This is the part where you are supposed to remind me that I'm dead."

"But you are," said Plonq angrily. "And you've got no right to be calling me from beyond the grave. Now I'm going to hang up in case there's an important call!"

The snow leopard wondered briefly if perhaps he should be a bit more afraid of the fact that his dead father was calling him from Hell, but before he could dwell on that thought, his father was talking again at the other end of the line.

"Aren't you the least bit curious, or even a touch afraid? But that's your way, isn't it? You just accept every weird thing that drops into your life," scoffed his father. Before Plonq could muster an indignant reply, the dead snow leopard spoke again. "But I'm not calling to tell you about how you disappoint me as much after death as you did in life. I've got important SCREEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!"

Plonq grimaced and held the phone away from his head. Over the screech he could hear his father yelling to somebody at the other end. "Jesus Christ, not now – I'm trying to talk to my son. You can do your AOL crap later!" Moments later, the screeching stopped and he brought the earpiece back to his head.

"It's bad here, son," his dad said. "Hell is still on dial-up. 56K."

"Ack! Wait, that's not how modems work."

"First smart thing you've said on this call," said his father drily. "Welcome to Hell. Anyway, I'm just calling to let you know that you're going to get visited by some spirits today. Not the cheap ones you were guzzling last night, either."

"Spirits?" demanded Plonq aghast. "Why? What time? How long are they planning to stay - it's raid night, and the guild's doing a drunken achievements run!"

"I dunno," said his dad, verbally shrugging over the phone. "I was just giving you a heads up so that you could clean your pigsty a bit before they arrive. Show some shame, boy. Anyway, I need to run. Good luck with the ghosts."

There was a burst of static and the line went dead. Plonq sat, transfixed with the receiver still pressed to his head while he tried to make sense of what had just happened. He didn't know how long he sat there before his father spoke again at the other end.

"Dummy, that was your cue to hang up. Why do you always make me hang up first?" This time there was a decided click, followed moments later by a dial tone. The snow leopard slowly lowered the phone from his ear and took another deep swig of his coffee. He leaned forward on the table, cradling his chin on his knuckles. The more he thought about what had just happened, the more convinced he became that it had not actually happened. He was familiar with the concept of delirium tremens, though he had never consumed enough alcohol to experience it.

"None of this is real," he said aloud. "This is all just manifestations of a fevered dream while I lie in a mild coma from all the stuff I drank last night." Even if it was just a dream, he decided there was no harm in taking his father's advice to clean the place a bit. He closed the open bottles and arranged them at the end of the table, threw away the empty snack containers, and took a damp sponge to the wall. Fortunately, some dim part of his lizard brain had maintained enough sense to use a water-colour pen.

He was just wringing out the sponge in the sink when there was a polite knock at the back door. He tensed at the memory of his father's warning about ghosts. His greater fear, though, was that it was another Jehovah's Witness. The JWs had become especially aggressive of late, and had taken to wielding children in front of them as shields when they came to the door. To his relief, he discovered that it was only a ghost.
He opened the door to reveal a young, slightly-transparent hyena on his back stoop. The hyena sported an eighties-style feathered mane held in check by a gaudy pink headband and thick, fuzzy leg-warmers. She had a clipboard in one hand, and had her other hand placed sassily on her hip while she smacked noisily on a wad of gum and eyed him up and down critically.

"Yo, spirit of Christmas Past here," she said after a suitably awkward silence. "Are you going to invite me in or what? It's freezing out here." Plonq mutely stepped to one side and held the door open while he waved her in with a sweeping invitation of his other hand.

The hyena brushed past him into the kitchen, looked around with a critical eye and then shrugged as if it met her minimum standards. While Plonq closed the door behind her, she walked over to the table and slapped down the clipboard she'd been carrying. With her other hand, she removed her chewing gum and proffered it to the snow leopard, holding it gingerly between her forefinger and thumb. Without even blinking, Plonq motioned to the kitchen garbage pail with a flick of his muzzle. The hyena rolled her eyes, but obediently walked over and planted the gum on the lid, pressing it down with her thumb.

"Don't worry, baby, I'll be back for you," she said softly. She turned back to the feline and waved him over. "OK, your portfolio is on the table. Let's get through it so that I can get outta here; I got a shitload of other clients this morning." She grabbed the nearest kitchen chair and swung it around so that he could straddle it. She leaned forward against the chair, snagged the clipboard from the table and flipped up the cover sheet.
"Let's do this," she said. "The Christmas in 1989 when you and your family went to Palm Beach is one of your best memories of your whole life. Am I right?"

Plonq pulled out the chair across from the hyena and slowly lowered himself into it. He picked up his coffee and tossed back the last of it in a single gulp before carefully placing the cup in the middle of the table between them. He ran his thumb around the rim in thought before he answered.

"I've never been to Palm Beach."

"Yes you have," said the hyena tartly. She jabbed the sheet with her index finger, giving it a bit of a flip as she lifted the sticky digit from the page. "It was the same year when you got your first period..." her voiced faded out mid-sentence. She licked her thumb, and her jaw tightened as she started flipping through the pages, muttering to herself, "... first Barbie ... pyjamas party ... the year of crack cocaine ..."
The hyena dropped the pages back into place and slowly lowered the clipboard to the table, crossing her hands over it. "Well, fuck me," she said with surprising calm. "It looks like I brought the wrong portfolio. Anyway, you must have had some fun Christmases in the past."

Plonq was resting his chin on his knuckles again while he thought. "Well, I guess there was the one when dad was in prison so he didn't get drunk and beat me up. That Christmas was okay," he said contemplatively, "though mom set herself on fire while baking the turkey."

"Who hasn't done that?" said the hyena with a knowing wink. "There you go then, a happy memory of a Christmas past. I'm done here." She picked up her clipboard and walked over to retrieve her gum from the top of the garbage bin, jabbing it with one of her fore claws. She strode to the back door and stopped, facing it for a moment before she turned back to face the snow leopard.

"Look, I know your childhood Christmases weren't exactly great, but they weren't all terrible either. I read your portfolio. I know your dad liked to drink a bit too much at Christmas, and he even hit you a few times." She popped the gum back into her maw and gave it a couple of noisy chews until she got it back to the right consistency. "He really loved you, though. He saw himself in you, and he was terrified you were going to turn into him, and he didn't know how to deal with it."

"It was a shitty kind of love," said the snow leopard flatly. "But I'm over it."

The hyena stared past Plonq at the bottles on the end of the table, and then glanced back at him with an expression that suggested she was unconvinced.

"I don't really do the psychology stuff," she said. "My job is to remind folks about all the happy, fluffy stuff from their past Christmases. It's there if you look hard enough."

She made eye contact with the cat and shrugged. "I dunno what to tell you. Maybe you need forgive your father before you can start to fix yourself," she said. The hyena motioned to the bottles with her muzzle. "You need to do something, because that shit ain't healthy." Then in a fluid motion she spun and stepped out into the cold, closing the door quietly behind her.

The cat stared at the closed door for a very long time after she had departed while he alternately mulled on her parting words and wondered if she had actually been real. Eventually, he made himself another coffee and fetched a bag of dried anchovies from the cupboard because that seemed like a reasonable course of action.

As morning rolled lazily into afternoon, the snow leopard began to wonder if the next spirit was going to visit, or if he'd just imagined the first. Plonq would need to start his pre-raid drinking soon, but he felt it would be better to be sober when dealing with the next ghost. He was holding one of his cats and watching schadenfreude videos on YouTube when he heard another knock at the door.
Plonq shooed the cat from his lap and speed-toddled out to the kitchen to deal with the impatient knocking. He opened the back door to reveal a tall, gangly moose in a thick parka. Like the Hyena, the moose was slightly transparent, and clutching a clipboard to his chest, but unlike the hyena he immediately extended a big, beefy hand in greeting.

"Hi, I'm Bill and I'll be your ghost of Christmas Present," he said, giving the feline's hand a friendly pump. He released the other's hand and reached into his coat, fishing about until he finally produced a pen. The moose held it between two fingers and flipped through the clip board before turning it to the snow leopard and handing him the pen.

"I'll need you to sign here, where I've put an X," he said. When the snow leopard complied, he flipped to another page. "And here," he said. Once that was done, he flipped to the next page. "And I'll need you to initial here, and here, and sign at the bottom." He tapped the boxes and lines in question as he went. When Plonq had finished signing the last line, he held up the pen and glanced up at the moose.

"So, what am I signing for..." he asked, looking just in time to see a fist flying toward his face.

---

Plonq slowly awoke in bed with a pounding headache. He groaned and flung an arm across his eyes to help dull the pain and block out the bright afternoon sun streaming in the bedroom window. He lost track of how long he spent lying in his bed mewling pathetically and questioning his life choices. In the back of his mind he tried to take an accurate inventory of how much he'd drunk the night before, but his brain kept getting caught in a loop on the memory of, "One more gin and tuna fizz can't hurt, can it?"

Apparently, it could.

Eventually, the pressing need to pee overrode his need to wallow in misery, and the little feline dragged himself reluctantly out of bed. He stumbled toward the kitchen, clutching his brow and squinting against the pain. So strong was his focus on the bottle of Tylenol he'd left on the counter by the sink that he almost passed the table before he noticed the large moose sitting at it, playing on a phone. The other looked up and waved toward the counter. "Please, carry on. I don't want to get between a cat and his pain medicine. Sorry about hitting you so hard – I don't know my own strength sometimes." He patted the clipboard on the table. "Remember that you signed the form waiving us of responsibility if you suffer any concussion-related after-effects."

Plonq dumped two pills into his hand and swallowed them dry.

"I had a deal with the fat guy. No punching this year," said Plonq with a growl of rebuke in his tone.

The moose gave a noncommittal grunt. "I just got it out of the way for you. Be honest with yourself; you were going to get really drunk tonight and violate the agreement." The cat's silence was all the confirmation he needed. "Why do you do it?"

"He started it."

"Not that," said the moose. "I mean why do you sit alone at home every Christmas, drinking yourself into misery?"

Plonq lowered himself unsteadily into the seat across from the moose and rested his hands, palm down on the table to steady himself. "It's my ... thing," he said slowly. "Besides, it's not like I have anything better to do on Christmas – well, except for tonight's guild run of old content, but I'm probably going to skip that now because my head is killing me for some reason." He glowered at the moose and rubbed his temple gingerly.

"It's beneath you," said the moose curtly. "You have lots of other things you could be doing for Christmas that don't involve punishing your own liver, and picking fights with Santa. You have friends who'd be delighted to hang out with you for Christmas."

"I don't want to be that guy," said the snow leopard. "You know what I mean - the single guy who gloms onto his married friends at Christmas so that they can invite him over for a pity dinner with their families." Plonq walked over to the counter as he was talking, and punctuated his last word by turning on the coffee grinder. Whatever retort the moose gave was drowned out by the scream of the burr grinder. When it was done, the cat turned back to the moose. "Can I offer you a coffee?"

The moose stared mutely at the snow leopard with his big, sad eyes before demurring with a slight shake of his head. He drew a breath and his mouth moved as if he was about to speak, but whatever he'd been meaning to say never made it past his initial intent.

"You hate how much you look like your dad," he said finally.

"Can't help how I look," said the cat simply. He grabbed the electric kettle and started filling it without another word. Behind him, he heard the sound of a chair scraping on the floor as his guest stood at the table. He put the kettle back on its base and hit the switch. When he turned back to the table, the moose had already shimmied back into his parka and was towering above him with his clipboard clutched to his chest.

Once again, the moose worked his mouth as if trying to come up with the right words, but eventually he extended his hand again. "Sorry again about hitting you so hard," he said, and then he winked. "Then again, maybe I'm not the cause of your sore head. Perhaps I am just manifestations of a fevered dream while you lie in a mild coma from all the stuff you drank last night."

Like the hyena before him, he paused at the door without opening it. Unlike the hyena, though, he did not turn. "You're not your dad, and you don't have to be him." He opened the door, and was just stepping over the stoop when a fuzzy hand reached in and pulled him forcibly across the threshold, eliciting a surprised yelp from the moose. Almost immediately, the owner of the hand leapt through the door and slammed it shut behind him.

And Plonq found himself face to face with Plonq.

The snow leopard by the door was clearly a little older than he; slimmer, fitter and a little greyer around the muzzle. The two blinked at each other in silence until the older Plonq raised his hands up to chest level, waggled his fingers at the younger Plonq and said, "WoooOOOoooOooo. I'm the ghost of Christmas Future. Bet you weren't expecting that." Before the younger Plonq could answer, he said, "Of course you weren't. I'm you from the future, so I know what you weren't expecting."

Without further ceremony, he walked over to the table, grabbed a bottle of single-malt scotch, popped the cap and took a big swig.

"Hey! I was saving that!"

"Don't get your tail in knots," scolded the older Plonq. "You never actually got around to drinking it." He took another long draw from the bottle and replaced the cap.

"What was all that with the first two ghosts and all that stuff about Dad?" asked the younger Plonq, still glowering with disapproval at his fine scotch in the mitts of his older self. "I mean, he's been dead for years now. I like to think I'm over him by now."

"Kinda you're not," said the older Plonq with a non-committal shrug. "The other spirits are all about that whole true meaning of Christmas bullshit, and they're just looking out for your own good. They think you're following him down the same road by trying to drink him out of your life."

"I'm not trying to drink anyone out of my life," yowled the younger Plonq defensively. "A good Christmas drunk is just my ... thing."

"Damn straight," agreed the older snow leopard. He held up the bottle and gave it a swirl, silently watching the amber contents slosh for a bit. "But you're partly wrong. It's not Dad you're trying to drink away." He popped the cap for another swig of the good scotch, licking every drop from his muzzle as he recapped the bottle. "I really need to splurge for the good stuff now and then." The older Plonq stabbed an index finger in the direction of his younger self. "Dad calls every Christmas now. Apparently it's one of his terms of Purgatory. We've had some real heart-to-hearts and we're good now. "

There was a polite tap at the door.

"Anyway, they haven't given me much time because I apparently have a reputation for bad judgement." He mimed air quotes with his fingers as he spoke the last two words. The older cat fished a folded piece of paper out of his pocket. "I'm supposed to tell you something important, but I've got a list of a couple other things I wanted to cover as well." There was a firmer knock at the door. "Ya, ya, just give me a minute," he called over his shoulder. He rolled his eyes for the benefit of his younger self.

He opened the sheet of paper and began to read.

"First, the cheese log is not still good. Just trust me on this; you'll know the one when you see it. The rug beater is not as sexy as it looks." There was a louder, more insistent pounding on the door. The older Plonq flicked a nervous glance over his shoulder and started reading faster. "No, the bottle rockets won't liven up the party. Ixnay on the ellowya akecay. Remember to drop and roll. Powdered cranberry sauce ... just no."

Suddenly the door burst open, and the older Plonq staggered backward as if he were suddenly caught in a tremendous wind. The slip of paper flew tore free from his hand, and he dropped the bottle when he grabbed for it with his other hand. He staggered back a couple more steps while his jacket flapped frantically in the phantom hurricane. The older cat was leaning forward at an impossible angle with one hand extended toward his younger self.

"Oh ya," he said suddenly, "don't forget the most important thing. Call her." He gave a final, desperate lurch against the wind and managed to wrap his furry fingers around the fallen bottle before the force finally pulled him quickly out the door. "Callll herrrrrr," came his fading, ethereal cry as he disappeared through the door, which slammed forcibly after him.

Plonq blinked blankly at the closed exit.

"That was ... unexpected."

---

It has been suggested by those who study such things that an average person will awaken at least once in their lifetime, look about themselves, and ask three questions. It is also said that, on average, the questions will be in this order:

"Where am I"?

"How did I get here"?

"Where are my pants"?

Although Plonq had awoken to those questions enough times to skew the average a bit, he started out of his sleep late on morning Christmas Eve with other matters dominating his mind. He stirred abruptly from what he would later classify as a disturbing and illucid dream, and lay for a few moments to assess his situation. "I hate myself more than I have in recent memory," he moaned. His head was throbbing fiercely, and his stomach churned with each throb. As he painfully surfaced from sleep, he noticed that he had been lying supine, briefly considering it a miracle that he had not choked on vomit during the night. He fought his way free of the sheets that had apparently cling-wrapped themselves to his body, and gently brushed aside the cat that had been sleeping on his chest.

The snow leopard rose painfully from his bed, and staggered out to the kitchen where he remembered leaving some Tylenol on the counter. He washed down a couple of them with water, and sat at the table and rested his forehead in his palms until the kitchen stopped spinning. In a process that involved far more time - and more dry heaves than it deserved - he finally managed to produce a cup of coffee. He shooed the other cat out of the refrigerator and added a splash of cream to his cup. He did not pause to wonder why the cat was there – these things just happened on Christmas Eve.

He tried reading the news on his phone while he sipped coffee, but the display hurt his eyes and the process made his head spin. By the time he was into his second cup of coffee, the caffeine and Tylenol were starting to have a healing effect.

Call her.

The thought came unbidden, and the idea of it made him flinch. He picked up his phone and flipped through the contacts before putting it down again. He stoically avoided looking at the blinking LED that indicated there were messages waiting.

Call her.

Plonq knew that mixing alcohol with acetaminophen was a bad idea, but sometimes one needed a bad idea to kill a worse one. He reached for his single malt, but it wasn't where he remembered leaving it. In fact, nothing seemed to be where he'd remembered leaving it. The snow leopard noticed for the first time that he'd apparently spent a few minutes cleaning things up a bit before he'd crawled off to bed the night before. Rather than search for the missing scotch, he decided to make a third coffee.

Call her!

It was more of a compulsion than a thought by now. He sighed, picked up his phone again and scrolled down to his sister's number. He took a big, scalding draft of coffee for strength and then hit the connect button.
His sister answered on the fourth ring.

"Hi, uh, it's me," he said awkwardly.

"Plonq?" said a surprised voice at the other end of the line. "Wow, you're alive! We've been trying to call you since Wednesday!" There was no missing the scolding tone in his sister's voice.

"Ya, sorry, my phone was off," he lied, rubbing his temple as he spoke. "So how are things? How is everyone?"

"We're doing well," said his sister. "We're just getting everyone rounded up and dressed so that we can get some breakfast before church." At the mention of breakfast, Plonq glanced at the clock and reminded himself that his sister was two time-zones behind him.

"If you're busy..." he began, but she cut him off before he could finish the thought.

"We've got a few minutes," she said quickly. "There's somebody here who needs to talk to you."

"Wait!" yelped the snow leopard. "Before you put her on, how's she doing? I mean is she... you know..." He waved a hand helplessly to try and force out words he didn't want to say.

"She's having one of her good days," replied his sister. "I know she'd love to hear your voice. Hang on a second and I'll put her on."

Plonq heard a hand cup the microphone at the other end of the call, and he could just make out muffled conversation. He was sure he picked out the word "who?" in the mix. After a moment he heard the phone being
passed off, and a new voice came on the line.

"Hello?" said an older woman at the other end. Plonq swallowed hard, cleared his throat, and swallowed again.

"Hi Mom. It's Plonq."

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