Written by Jack Douglas
‘Only one day left until Hanukkah!’ shouted Alex excitedly against the breeze to his friends.
The air was light. The sky was bright. Alex and his three friends — Jonathan, Charles, and Peter — couldn’t wait until Hanukkah. It was their favourite time of year. There would be games, laughter, and best of all, they would get a gift each day. That was their absolute favourite part. Each day, they would receive a gift. However, Alex’s dad reminds him every day that he is not to open a single present. Otherwise, he would be cursed. Alex thought nothing of it. But, he didn’t question his dad. Nor did Alex open his gifts. Not because he didn’t want to be cursed. He simply didn’t want to be thought of as cursed by Dad, Mum, all his friends.
At dinner that night, Alex’s mother took the shamash and lit the first candle. Everyone smiled. They ate a special bread Alex’s mum makes every day of Hanukkah. It is Alex’s favourite meal. It always has been. Even the first time he tried it.
‘Thank you, Mum’ said Alex in his typical monotone Thank you! voice. Alex wanted to invite his friends’ over for the lighting of their candle, but of course, they had to light their own.
Please, Mom? Can’t they come over for dinner, at least? recalled Alex. He just wanted to have them come over for dinner. Was that too much to ask? No! But, I’m sure they’ll come over tomorrow.
The next day, Alex met up with Peter alone on the top of their hill. Or at least, what they called their hill. No one else ever dared to touch the soil even around the hill. Nobody knew Alex and Peter ever did. Like always, Peter and Alex never thought much of how nobody wanted to go near the hill. It did get their attention when Jonathan and Charles never even thought of going near the hill. They said something of it being cursed. Alex always thought it was merely a coincidence with the gifts he received each year. The gifts were always right when he opened them on time. He had never touched a gift before it was time, though.
What could possibly happen? thinks Alex every time he brings up such a thought. Obviously, I wouldn’t get cursed. Peter was thinking the same thing.
‘So why did you want me to come here with you, Peter?’ Asked Alex in a confused and suspicious tone. Confused and suspicious don’t always go together that well so, it sounded more like he was talking to a giant.
‘I need to tell you something imperative. You know how your dad always tells you not to touch your gifts before it’s time?’
‘Yeah. I think it’s just what he says to me to get me not to explore the gifts.’ responded Alex; regaining his once held composure.
‘I think so, too. My theory is that those gifts aren’t cursed at all. Your dad is just treating you like a child.’
‘Well, I am a child.’
‘Yes, but… you know what I mean!’
‘Of course,’ replied Alex starting to smirk.
‘Ahh! Nevertheless, what I am trying to say is open one of the gifts. If you get cursed, I’ll curse myself. Deal?’
‘You better keep your word! If so, it’s a deal.’
‘Great. Let’s go!’
Alex and Peter ran down the hill. The breeze against them, slowing them down, like a protective parent preventing their child from falling. Peter always hated it. He wanted to run faster.
Once they got to Alex’s house, Peter was delighted to see that nobody was present. That makes it easier thought Peter. Now we just have to open one gift and prove my theory. These piles of paper are not cursed.
Peter directed Alex to the presents. Alex tried to escape from Peter’s grasp, but Peter held on too tight.
‘You know what, Peter? I’m not sure we should do this. What if we’re caught?’
‘Than we’ll come up with some excuse. How about this: if one of your parents finds us about to touch a gift, we’ll say we were looking at them. Is that good?’
‘Sure,’ responded Alex reluctantly. He wasn’t sure. What if the gifts are cursed? Thought Alex. A thought he wouldn’t dare mention to Peter. He didn’t want to look like a coward. Peter was his friend. He can’t betray him!
‘Hey! Are you gonna touch the gift or not?!’ Peter was waving his hand in front of Alex’s face. He didn’t realise he’s been thinking long enough to make Peter waive his hand. But then, of course, he is Peter. It doesn’t take all that much will power.
‘Oh, yes. Sorry. Yeah, I’ll touch it now,’ Alex had trouble getting words out of his mouth.
Alex reached out for one of the gifts. His hand burned to the touch. He shot his hand back and let out a yelp. His flesh became soft. He wrapped it in his shirt.
‘Now you have to do it, Peter! Go ahead!’ Urged Alex in a menacing voice. He couldn’t believe Peter duped him. Now he was to pay the price.
‘Oh, right. Okay, here I go,’ Peter reached out to touch a different gift from the one that Alex had felt. He too pulled back from the gift and let out a high pitched yell.
‘Was I just electrocuted!’ screamed Peter to nobody in particular.
‘I don’t think so. That felt much more like a burn’ commented Alex.
‘Perhaps. But, either way, why would your parents do something like that to us?! It’s a crime! Child abuse! I think we should report them,’ mentioned Peter.
Alex shifted his weight when he heard Peter offer to report his parents. It isn’t right. thought Alex.
‘No! We can’t report my parents. I’ll tell you what we should do, though. We should do something about our hands. Whatever just happened to us can’t be good. I’ll get a bowl of cold water.’
‘Okay, fine. Do whatever you like to make yourself feel happy,’ responded Peter in a tone that Alex hadn’t heard in awhile. Almost, depression and sadness. But, there was still, of course, typical Peter sarcasm.
Alex emerged through the doorway connecting the kitchen and the living room. He was carrying a bowl of cold water. We had to adjust his grip, so the finger that was burned did not carry any weight.
When Alex set down the bowl, condensation was beginning to form around the outside of the bowl. It was freezing to the touch.
‘Where did you get such cold water?’ asked Peter.
‘I just have to turn off the hot water valve under the sink,’ replied Alex.
‘Oh, okay. It sure does make a difference!’
‘Yep. Now, put your hand in the water,’ urged Alex.
‘Okay.’ Peter put his hand in the water and all of a sudden, his hand started to melt away. They both screamed at the top of their lungs. The flesh was flaking off Peter’s hand and forming balls at the bottom of the bowl. Alex felt like he was going to hurl.
‘What is happening to my hand!’ yelled Peter in an incredibly pained voice.
‘I don’t know. Oddly, there is not blood, and by the amount of flesh that’s fallen off of your arm, we should have hit bone,’ responded Alex in a scared and shaky voice. He appeared to be in shock. Eventually, Alex saw a metal of sorts. Steam started to come off of the metal and then, out of the water.
‘Is there a metal rod in my hand?!’ demanded Peter, confounded.
‘It appears so. I almost think it’s a key!’ replied Alex. He began to feel like passing out.
Then, the remaining pieces of flesh fell off Peter’s arm, and an intricate key emerged.
Peter pulled his hand out of the water.
‘I don’t feel anything in my hand. In fact, I can’t feel anything at all!’ said Peter utterly confounded.
‘I recognise that shape! It looks like the keyhole on the back of our menorah!’
Alex walked over to the back of the menorah. There was in fact, a keyhole and it was in fact, glowing. It was an odd sort of light. It looked almost bioluminescent.
‘Come over here, Peter!’ yelled Alex excitedly. ‘I think we may have discovered something!’
Peter tried to get up. He barely managed to stand. But, when he tried to walk, he tripped. The key clanked when it hit the floor.
‘Come on, Peter,’ urged Alex impatiently.
‘I’m coming. If you haven’t noticed, though, I have a key for a hand, and I am a little disoriented.’
‘Oh, right. I’m sorry. I suppose I forgot,’ Alex started to grin. I’m just giving Peter a little taste of his medicine, thought Alex. Never before has he felt like getting revenge on Peter. Alex gained a new perspective. ‘Just get your new key hand inside this keyhole. I’m losing patience.’ What an odd thing to say to your friend. That is what my mum would say to me when we go shopping, and I complain! thought Alex once again.
Peter managed to get over to the menorah and put the key in the keyhole.
‘Okay. Now all you have to do is turn your hand and see what happens,’ instructed Alex in an unintended condescending voice.
Peter turned his hand clockwise, and the glow from the keyhole started to get brighter. It continued to get brighter until both Alex and Peter were blinded. They tried to look away but found they couldn’t. Then, all went black.