A Harpy Harpy Christmas! – A not-so-Christmassy Short Story
No, it’s not that time of year and I’m not sharing a Christmas story here at all. Two years ago I was part of a writer’s group. I enjoyed my time with them and it was a shame when the group dissolved. For Christmas 2020 we were asked to write a short story about Christmas and we had to use certain words – mine was “holly.” After I spent hours wondering how in the world I would write a lovey-dovey Christmas tale it suddenly came to me: “write what you’re comfortable with.” So, A Harpy Harpy Christmas was born.
Since the group consisted of fantasy and horror writers none of us were particularly thrilled and we all ended up submitting horror or fantasy stories set in Christmas time.
Yesterday, I found my submission, and since it includes two characters from my books The Path of the Stone and The Rise of the Stone, I wanted to share it with you here.
You can also find more about the background on this short story on my writer’s website write-topia.
For the short story, please read on 🙂
A Harpy Harpy Christmas
A group of carol singers crossed the street, every one of them dressed in festive red colors, covered by thick coats to keep the cold out, and burgundy shawls that were wound around their necks. The leader of the group smiled, and the child whose hand he held hopped in excitement.
They had just left the doorstep of the two-story house behind them and they were now heading to the building across the street. That particular construction housed four apartments, one on each floor. Calliope knew their layout, because Daniel, her human protegèe, used to live here. With disdain in her eyes she observed the carol singers amble towards the entrance, expecting to sing at every apartment.
“Why did you bring me here?” Calliope asked.
“Here we will find what we need,” Azure replied.
Both harpies were in their human form, to avoid calling any unwanted attention. Azure’s dark brown hair was tinged with blue streaks, and her ocean blue eyes shimmered in the light of the street lanterns. She wore a long, black dress and a warm, woolen coat with gold patterns at the hems. Even in her human form she was a vision to behold.
Azure wasn’t used to being in her human body, she preferred to stay in her harpy form, because it gave her more strength, but Calliope didn’t mind using her human shape.
Watching the carol singers from their position next to the two-story house, she saw her reflection in the window and was relieved to see that she still retained her natural beauty. Although she loved her immortality, there were certain things from human life she missed, things she had known thousands of years ago …
She remembered the first time Daniel saw her. He had been revolted by her shark teeth, her hard skin, her fiery eyes, and her vein ridden wings. His look had hurt her, even though she was well aware of the scary vision she presented to humans, and before she met Daniel she had enjoyed the fear she had caused in them.
But not with him … He was the first male in three millenia who provoked in her the desire to look beautiful.
“But here?” she asked, not wanting to be near his old place.
Azure gave her a look. What did it matter in which neighborhood they retrieved the wanted item? As long as they got it, that was what counted.
“This street has many decorations for the yearly giving tradition that humans celebrate, which will make our quest easier,” she replied.
The carol singers now entered the building.
Azure followed them and Calliope, resigned to facing long past memories, went with her.
It could have been any building, but of course, Azure had to pick this one … They walked up the stairs, hearing Holy Night sung on the first floor.
“It sounds nearly magical, doesn’t it?” Calliope said, impressed by the human voices.
“Yes.” Azure was surprised to find such joy in the human world. She listened to the group as they rendered another charming version of O Little Town of Bethlehem, enjoying the soft sopranos of the women and the deep baritones of the men. Softly, she swayed with the gentle rhythm of the song.
“Aah, humans, I sometimes forget how wonderful they can be,” she exclaimed.
“Alas, only once a year. The rest of the year they go on being horrible to each other,” Calliope reminded her..
When they reached the first floor, the door of the apartment was still wide open, and they caught a glimpse of an elaborately decorated Christmas tree that rose behind a young couple with a baby, who listened to the carol singers with a bright smile on their faces. The baby in his mother’s arms slept through the music.
The singers reached the end of their song.
“Bravo!” The father applauded and then headed inside to get some money.
The woman made some conversation with the singers until the man returned and dropped a few coins in their donation box. The door closed and the carol singers went up the stairs, heading to the next apartment…
Calliope and Azure followed them.
Noise blared from the third floor. Both harpies were appalled at what they heard. It sounded like music and yet it didn’t. Instruments that were usually used for beautiful renditions of jazz and French folklore now all gave off terrible sounds that were out of tune, accompanied by a shrill man’s voice. It seemed as if the singer was doing his utmost to sound as terrible as possible.
“What in the world is that?” Calliope asked, horrified.
“A bad rehearsal, if you ask me.”
It wasn’t only bad, it was incredibly loud, and they were sure that their downstairs neighbors on the second – and perhaps even on the first – floor had to hear it through their ceiling. Calliope and Azure had been so enraptured with the carol singers that they had not paid attention to the noise coming from upstairs, but now it was painfully obvious.
“An insult to music if there ever was one,” Calliope remarked, making a face. The carol singers turned at the sound of their voices.
“I hate this music,” one of them said.
“What is it?” Calliope asked.
“It’s called banda.”
“It sounds as if someone is mocking musicians,” Azure commented.
“No kidding,” one of the men said.
“I wouldn’t mind it so much if people didn’t always play it so loudly,” one of the women added. “I don’t know why but everyone who listens to banda feels the need to raise the volume as much as possible and force the whole neighborhood to listen to it. If they only stopped doing that I would not even mind them playing it.”
The singer’s voice rendered a list of tunes that sounded so awful, it hurt Calliope’s ears.
“Oh by the gods, make it stop,” she cried.
The carol singers looked stunned.
“Gods?” the woman repeated.
Realizing her mistake, Calliope said, “It’s just an expression. Of course, I meant dear God.”
The woman smiled relieved.
The child looked at them, his big, dark eyes, framed by long lashes, were filled with curiosity. Azure guessed him to be around ten or eleven. He was cute, still holding that innocent look he would soon lose in a few years. Black curls sprang out from under his winter hat.
“What are you doing here?” he asked, genuinely curious like only children could be.
“Tommy, don’t be rude,” the woman admonished him.
“It’s all right, we live here,” Azure lied.
“Oh, you do?”
“Then you won’t want to listen to us anymore,” the man added. “You already heard us sing.”
“I wouldn’t miss it for the world,” Azure said. “In fact, we’re staying right here to listen to you one more time.”
The whole group smiled at the compliment.
“Then we’ll sing something else,” the woman spoke enthusiastically. “How about Joy to the World?”
“Yes, mommy, yes!” Tommy said, jumping up and down with excitement.
Calliope tried to catch Azure’s eyes, baffled why they were staying in the corridor. She wondered what Azure was up to, but when the boy rang the bell and the door to the second floor apartment opened, she understood. The walls were decorated with strings of holly, and mistletoe hung over the entrance.
Finally, Azure met Calliope’s gaze. It was right here, they had what they needed. Once they brought the holly home, Zora, the witch, could brew the potion. Calliope had her doubts about the benefits of this potion, but Azure was the one who wanted to have it, and whatever the queen of the harpies decided had to be obeyed. The promised elixir wasn’t evil, but its power frightened Calliope. She wasn’t sure if she wanted to drink it.
The carol singers did their work, and their audience, a family of four, listened enraptured.
“They are really good,” Azure praised them quietly.
Calliope nodded in agreement, wondering how they were going to get the holly in their human form. This family didn’t know them. It was unlikely that they were going to let them in and allow them to grab some of their precious holly decorations. It would be easier just to scare them in their harpy form, take what they needed and return to their world.
She understood, though, why Azure took her time. While Calliope had been a frequent visitor to this century, Azure had not. She had been absent from the 20th and 21st centuries, because – as it did with most harpies – its ever present noise and bright night lights intimidated her. Calliope didn’t like them either, but she had somehow lost her fear of them.
Annoyed, the harpies listened to the pounding noise that was called banda music interrupting the carol singers’ glorious rendition of Joy to the World.
In her anger, Azure noticed her hands elongate into claws. Quickly, she hid them behind her back, not wanting the human singers and family audience to see this small transformation. Sometimes the family looked up towards the sound of the annoying distorted voices and instruments filling the stairway.
“I can’t take this anymore,” Azure whispered.
“Me neither,” Calliope said.
Their eyes met and no words had to be spoken. They knew what had to be done.
When the carol singers reached the end of their song, Calliope said, “Another one, please.”
“Yes, that would be lovely,” the father of the family agreed.
At once the carol singers burst into a lovely rendition of We Three Kings while Azure and Calliope tiptoed up the stairs.
The door on the third floor shook with the piercing sounds of the banda. Calliope felt herself boil over with rage. This used to be Daniel’s home and look what these people did to it. Defiling it with that horrible “music”.
“Perhaps they’re demons,” she said.
“It sure sounds like it, but they are definitely humans,” Azure countered. “I can smell them.”
She removed her clothes and placed them in a neat pile on the floor, not caring about her nudity. Under the irritating voice of the singer and the impossible stretching of the accordion she transformed. Her claws stretched into long, vicious, black nails. Her body grew several inches, and she sprouted her magnificent azure blue wings which hit the ceiling hard.
Immediately, Calliope transformed as well. Her dark hair took on a bright pink color while Azure’s blue streaks in her long locks expanded and became one.
Calliope stretched her wings that were wide, leathery protuberances covered by red and blue veins, like winged maps she carried on her back. Her legs were wiry and strong, their skin hard and plucked like a bird’s.
Both harpies burst through the door and came upon a group of seven people who were either standing there with a bottle of beer in their hands or dancing. The dancers stopped at once, staring in shock at both apparitions in their doorway. A sparsely decorated Christmas tree stood in the corner.
No holly, Azure noted, but that was all right. They knew where to get it.
“Turn off that noise!” Calliope thundered.
A woman rushed to the stereo player and turned the music down a few notches. It was still playing annoyingly loud.
“I said, TURN IT OFF!”
The woman shook at the echoing sound of her voice and she finally turned it off. The ensuing silence lay heavy in the air. From below, the magical voices of the carol singers carried upstairs.
Azure hummed with them, and said, “Now, that is music. What you have here is … terrible. I have known accordion players in France and they sounded like magic, so romantic, so beautiful. I have heard the trumpet and it was amazingly wonderful, straight from the heart, but this … this … is an abomination, a rape of music, how can you allow such terrible things be done to the wonder and beauty that the accordion and trumpet truly are?”
“Have you no shame?” Calliope added.
The humans stared at them and then burst out laughing.
“Did our neighbors send you, to scare us into lowering our music?” one of the men said, swaying with his beer bottle. “They can try all they want. We want to listen to our banda and we can do whatever we please. It’s called freedom.”
“I do not like the 21st Century, but I put up with its noise, its bright lights, and everything else, but this … what do you call it, music? This is an insult to music, torture to my ears!” Azure shouted, the walls shaking with her voice.
“Get lost,” someone else said. “If you don’t like it, move somewhere else.”
At this, Calliope lost her calm and she struck out, hitting the man on his face and hurling him across the room. At once the laughter stopped.
The man fell on the stereo and hit his head. He slid to the ground and lay face up, his eyes wide open, not moving. Blood trickled out of his nose and mouth.Two women who stood nearby screamed in terror when they realized that he was dead.
“Who are you?” one of them asked.
“I once shared a glass of wine with Mozart,” Calliope said, walking towards her, “I watched Beethoven do his magic. I danced in speakeasies to the tunes of Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington. I even enjoy music now, even with the use of electronics, but this … this … in Daniel’s place … This is unacceptable.”
The woman looked confused, having no idea who Daniel was.
“You’re nuts. Drinking with Mozart, yeah right,” a younger man snorted. “Whatever you smoked, I want some of that!”
In response, Calliope lifted him up and threw him through the window, smashing the glass. The man screamed as he fell to his death. Azure struck out and demolished the stereo player. Both harpies flapped their wings and flew through the apartment, lashing out with their claws and talons. Blood flowed over the stereo and onto the floor. The women screamed, the men tried to run from their destruction, but before they reached safety, Azure shut the door.
Grinning her shark toothed grin she approached the men who now realized that these creatures were not people in a costume but very real.
She grabbed two of them and smashed their heads against each other. Brains and blood spattered her face. She dropped the lifeless corpses on the floor.
“Not much brain matter in there,” she snorted, wiping the grey, oozy substance from her face.
With a feeling of accomplishment, Calliope stood proudly, each talon on a corpse. Only one woman was still alive. In horror, she stared at her dead companions.
“Please, don’t kill me, “she pleaded, tears running down her face. “Please, I do anything, please!”
Azure approached her slowly, her mouth still twisted in that terrifying grin.
“Please … Please … oh dear God.”
“Let her live,” Calliope said.
“What on Earth for?”
“She can tell the other music rapists to listen to their abominations in silence instead of waking up everyone’s – and our – wrath.”
Azure laughed out loud. “No one will believe her if she tells them about us.”
“It doesn’t matter. If this is what the 21st Century is now, killing music while forcing everyone to listen to that shite, then I will gladly set more examples.”
“You got mad because Daniel used to live here.”
Calliope nodded and smiled. “Yes, a little.”
“This is why we need the holly. The potion should not frighten you. It will help you … and Daniel.”
Calliope stepped off the corpses and said, “The potion doesn’t last and taking it over and over may have long term side effects.”
“We won’t know until we try. Remaining in our human form for more than a day and still keeping our harpy strength can have advantages, in case we need to travel back here again. Let’s get the holly and go home.”
Both looked at the woman and in front of her they turned back into their human form. In shock, she watched them transform.
“You got our message?” Azure asked her.
She nodded, her mouth wide open in shock.
The harpies walked out, picked up their clothes and got dressed. Behind them the woman whimpered in fear and sorrow. The stereo was destroyed as were her companions who only a little while ago had sung loudly to the banda and laughed at their neighbors’s friendly petitions to please respect their space and turn it down. She stared at their lifeless corpses and back at the two women who only a moment ago had been murderous, winged monsters with terrible teeth.
On the stairway, Calliope and Azure passed the carol singers who were on their way to the third floor.
“Merry Christmas!” the singers said in unison, all smiling brightly.
“Merry Christmas,” Calliope and Azure replied, grinning their normal, human smiles.