Night Falls On Whoheim
Thursday, December 18, 2008
posted by Steve Tompkins
The bite of the wind was as nothing compared to the teeth of his own hate, gnawing him ceaselessly. Clouds and gusts of snow danced before him like the ghosts of his kinsmen, hounded to what would be extinction when he at last joined them. Unless he could effect tonight’s rescue — and at the thought of his mission, the cold and ice and driving sleet that would have frozen a sleighful of his enemies only steeled his resolve.
Every Who’s hand was against him, and for his part he took bitter pleasure in the fact that his only garment was a ragged Who-skin, dyed red and lined with white scalps of the elders he’d visited in their bedchambers. In truth he had been a strange, bitter creature even before Whoheim’s campaigns to clear the caves of Mount Crumpit, a feral fighter and dwimmer-crafty strategist, but one preyed on by black moods that set him apart even from his fellow green-furred cragsmen. The Who-word for the people of the peaks was Grinch, from the Latin Grinchii, but this was merely a clumsy-tongued truncation of Garrinch, a word as old and sharp-edged as the mountains the aboriginals had stalked for ages as numberless as the snowflakes. His own name, when there had still been a reason to have a name because others of his race still survived to call him by it, had been Garrinchogh Dubh. The Whos, when they could bring themselves to refer to him at all, called him The Grinch, as one might say The Devil.
Shouts of wassail came clearly to the creature despite the howl of the storm. Whoologists had determined that his heart was two sizes too small, but the size and range of his ears had always been ample compensation. Wassail! Aye, they were celebrating their convivial handiwork, the clan-lairs rendered uninhabitable by their far-carrying cheer, the cubs torn from the corpses of their parents to be raised as season-greeting Whos.
By the Ice Gods, if he only had the mighty hunter-killers of his race at his back as it was of old! Then there would be no creeping down to the lights of Whoheim under cover of darkness and blizzard and wariness-dulling feast, but rather red roaring and ripping like that with which his earliest ancestors had replaced the cave bears as lords of this land. All of that had ended in the catastrophes of Grinchoberger Wald and Mons Grinchius, when talons, teeth, and the clan-unity achieved by the warrior-queen Grinchodicea availed them but little against the generalship of Ralibar Whooz and the Who-weaponry, the wufflers and confusticators, the jing-janglers and szum-szooglers.
Even the companionship of his warhound Max would have been some solace now, but Max had long since sacrificed himself for his master. Discretion was surely the better part of valor, he chided himself, valor or the berserker recklessness that had seized his cousin Garrendel at the end. Garrendel, whose arm was now a trophy on Whofinn’s wall. The heads of ten Whos had paid for his cousin, and twenty more for Max, who was a better warrior than most grinches.
As he surefootedly achieved the treacherous descent — nay, it was those he would soon be amongst who were truly treacherous — he noted that the Yule trees stood thick and tastelessly decorated all around the outskirts of Whoheim.
The windows of the smaller buildings, the storehouses and huts where the morrow’s gifts were heaped ceiling-high, were as dark as the future awaiting his own people. A few inebriated Who sentinels were caroling insipidly, no horns on their helmets but unbearably loud horns at their lips. He waited them out until the cold had scourged most of them into Whofinn’s vast drinking-hall. The cold, from whose inherent mercilessness he would take his inspiration.
He grinned grinchily and reached the base of the thickly wooded slope. Now he would need to be a shadow among shadows, a phantom greener than envy flitting through the white of the all-shrouding snow and the black of the long night. He would clamber from roof to roof, snake down each chimney and then back up again.
He heard again the grief of the she-grinches, and the joyous hymns of the Who-auxiliaries. He had decades of unneighborly acts to repay, and only this one night in which to do so.
As the hours passed, he slithered and slunk, with a smile most unpleasant, through each unlocked door, till he’d found every present. Who-pudding, Who-hash, stockings, ornaments — verily, he would force-feed them a repast as appetizing as a three-decker sauerkraut and toodstool sandwich. With arsenic sauce, of course.
At last, his preparations completed with a taking of pains that would have astonished the Whopologists with their claim that Garrinches were but two-legged beasts, he secreted himself in a closet with a spyhole looking inward at the drinking-hall. The rafters were festooned with tinsel that seemed to slice at his eyes, and from end to end the gathering-place was one huge cauldron of good cheer. Spindly, pop-eyed Whos sat or lounged on the benches,splattering themselves with roast beast gravy, or pranced about the hall in their reindeer sweaters and Claus-caps, warbling or retching from overindulgence that would continue unabated until the new year. The retching was a sweeter sound by far to the uninvited guest than the singing.
Festive sorts can scarcely conceive of the throbbing and burning of his brain as he watched and listened. As only a Grinch can hate, he hated them. To him they were capering angel-visaged demons who dwelt in the valley they’d usurped but robbed mountain- folk of their rest with their saccharine revels. The Garrinches could be maudlin, but their natures were cross-grained with sourness and sardonicism. There was nothing but sentiment in the Who makeup. Or so they told themselves. All the world was their Yuletide pageant, to stage and restage, to expand and lengthen as it pleased them. He hated the decorations that went up the morning after Wholoween, the radio stations that switched to all-holiday playlists all the time the week of Whosgiving. He hated the ritual arguments about the sacred, the secular, and how much separation between the twain was proper. And mere hours away: each present no sooner greedily unwrapped then it would be forgotten in favor of the next, hard eyes in soft faces weighing the relative lavishness of the other whelps’ hauls. I’ll give them a war on Christmas, he thought, his brain full of spiders, garlic in his soul.
The sights and sounds of this bullying bonhomie were like an untalented but musically aspirational Who-brat pounding on his eardrums, and only one thing was needed to madden his madness, were that possible. This was not long in coming. At the head of the board sat Whofinn the Glad, once the lieutenant of Ralibar Whooz, young-at-heart, flushed with goodwill and better beverage. As the interloper was exceptionally green among a green people, Whofinn was exceptionally Whoish among the Whos. The reek of eggnog and fruitcake reached the skulker’s wide-flared nostrils all the way across the great hall.
By Whofinn’s side — the grinch-claws dug into his own flanks. Cindy Lou Who, as she was now known, her Garrinch-name not even a memory, seemed dismally out of place among the boisterous roisterers. She was small, almost frail, blond-wigged, and pale where the relentlessly applied depilatories of the Whos had stripped away her natural pelt. The last of her kind, with neither heirs nor hairs. The watcher saw her tremble as Whovendil, on her other side, schmaltzily put an arm around her. Her eyes were haunted by the specters of the kin, culture, and language she’d lost while still an infant. Who would not wish to be a Who, her abductors had called to each other as they bore her down Mount Crumpit.
The hall reeled redly before the green one’s eyes and he fought frantically for control, shuddering violently and shaking in a chill such as he had never known from winter’s fell onslaught. The blood-sickness was on him like a physical pain, although like all his foregrinches he half-believed that the Whos bled treacle or syrup, not hot red blood. . .What saved his plan then was not self-mastery but a whim of the Who-schedule; at Whofinn’s command women carried Cindy Lou to the outbuilding that served as her nursery. They wanted her refreshed and receptive to their tidings of comfort and joy in the morning.
Oh, yes, the morning — would it come without ribbons? Would it come without tags? In the absence of packages, boxes, and bags? Most pertinently, would it come without Whos? For once he had read certain stories of the humans who held the North before the Whos, a fiercer race less given to simpering and whimpering and more given to burning their enemies as they sat at table in their halls. Garrinchogh had not forgotten. Trees and trappings, Who-loot and wrappings, he had piled all high round Whofinn’s hall, and then drenched everything with oil. With Cindy Lou safely away, it remained only to brighten the night with fire, a false friend when he’d hidden from the Who extermination-parties in the crannies of Crumpit, but now the best of allies.
He smiled as he borrowed a torch from its wall-sconce, and had any been there to see that smile, it might have struck them as resembling that of a seasick crocodile. . .
(With thanks to Robert E. Howard, Theodor Geisel, Chuck Jones, Boris Karloff, and Thurl Ravenscroft, and no thanks at all to Ron Howard and Jim Carrey)