An explosion 50 kilometers away jolted Kiko awake. The windowless walls of his room didn't give him a view of the destruction outside. It didn't matter. Kiko had seen the aftermath of a Kraken unleashing its power too many times. 06:59. He glanced at the metal wall clock near the door before grabbing his black coat from a steel chair near his bed and storming off the corridor.
“Good morning, General,” a stern lady in a dark blue uniform joined Kiko's walk. “Coffee? Is it going to be black or with some cream and sugar in it?”
Kiko regarded the lady and kept walking. “Thank you, Mafalda, but that Kraken's enough to be my caffeine this morning.”
“How about some food, General? A bowl of beans? A sandwich?”
Kiko's reply was interrupted by another explosion some 40 kilometers away. Mafalda gulped as the ceiling and the walls of the corridor shook.
“Those abominations still rattle you, Mafalda?”
“I'm sorry, General.” Mafalda gulped again. “I've been trying for so long but I don't think I'll ever get used to those things.”
“Slow down on the coffee, then. It'll help you with the jitter.” Kiko nodded to the lady then left her inspecting the ceiling.
Kiko continued on his path, passing by more doors along the way. Some were closed. Some were opened, revealing beds and nervous people inside. The sudden appearance of a burly man on a separate path on his left stopped him on his track.
“Good morning, General.” The big man made a hesitant salute.
Kiko stopped and eyed the man's gesture. “Frisco. Put that away.”
Frisco put down his arm.
“Looking tired,” continued Kiko. He thought the dark blue uniform didn't suit the big soldier. “How was the night shift?”
“No exciting news, General. Two of our stations down South succumbed to the Hordes.”
“Did anyone make it out, still human?”
“No survivors reported,” Frisco answered with a slight shiver in his voice.
“Was the security compromised?”
“No traitor reported, Sir.”
Kiko stared at Frisco for almost a minute.
“What do you surmise, Sir?” asked Frisco.
“It's the government's fault.” Kiko resumed his walk.
“We haven't had any government in years, Sir. Do you reckon there's a new one?” Frisco remained where he was.
“Nobody would trust any government again, my man, at least not that type. But that's why we've been stuck in the shitter for this long. It's all their fault,” Kiko replied as he disappeared from Frisco's sight.
The General continued his path. A couple of minutes later, another Kraken went off outside. An eerie silence in the corridor followed and that's when a sound he hadn't heard in decades made its way to his ears. He stood motionless, making sure his ears weren't playing tricks on him. Then he heard it again, a jingle along with off-key singing. The words he made out sent needles of cold water in his stomach.
He saw an open room to his right and went inside. Sitting on one of the beds in the sleeping quarter was a teenage boy brandishing the source of the odd music. The boy felt his presence right away and stopped.
“Merry Christmas, Sir.” The thin boy looked at Kiko with beady eyes.
Kiko dashed to the occupied bed and snatched the boy's toy. He inspected his stolen ware, a ring of flattened bottle caps with holes in the middle hooped through a thin piece of metal. “Where did you get this?”
“I made it, Sir.” Sweat started forming on the boy's forehead.
“Who taught you to make this?”
“My granddad. He used to tell us stories of his childhood before we sleep. He sang us songs.”
“Where is your granddad?”
The teenage boy shook his head.
“Don't bother with this again. Ever.” Kiko threw the instrument to the other side of the room then rushed to the door.
One step. Two steps. Three. Then one jingle. Two.
Kiko halted and turned his back towards the door. The boy had retrieved the ring of bottle caps. He shook it before breaking into an uptempo song. The words pierced Kiko's brain and started to make him jittery. “Stop!” he yelled.
The boy resumed shaking the bottle caps and sang a new song, faster than the last.
“Stop!” Kiko balled his fists.
The jingling and the off-key singing continued.
“Stop!” Kiko's voice boomed in the almost empty room.
The boy slapped his instrument a couple of times before going into another song, slower and melancholy. A tear fell from his eye.
“We don't celebrate this day anymore, not here, not outside, not anywhere,” Kiko said in a lower volume without losing the firmness of his tone. “Not with children starving.”
“All is calm, all is bright...”
“Not with people dying.”
The beds shook. The boy remained undisturbed with his song. “Round yon Virgin, Mother and Child.”
“Not with the current state of the world.” Kiko celebrated his last Christmas five decades ago, a few weeks before the Downfall. Ever since then, the world submerged to unspeakable turmoil. First there was the Submission. Then came the rise of the Hordes. Y-Day followed, then the Reaping, and many more abominations. Kiko lost more than five decades worth of Christmases. He lost family, friends, leaders, and even his own flesh. He knew he'd lose more while he'd remain standing to witness it all. He was one of the lucky few to be granted immortality in a world not so suitable for living. Survivors must be prepared for great hardship and he offered no room for distractions with them. The more they saw the world as the picture of hell, the better their chance of making it.
“Sleep in heavenly pe-eace.” The boy played his improvised instrument.
A diabolical whistling sound came from above. It would happen all over again.
In a millisecond, the General had a change of heart. “Merry Christmas, boy.”
“Sleep in heavenly pe-eace.”
Kiko braced himself for the Kraken.
This story also appeared on PunchTheLies.com.