From the author: Lara hates living on the planet Brax. The school and work days are longer, her family can’t make enough money, her Braxan house "ticks like a clock whenever it’s windy outside," and to top it all off, there’s no Christmas on Brax. But when a classmate teaches Lara about the Braxan holiday of Jibblewooch, Lara thinks she sees a way to turn her family’s luck around.
At dinner, Lara asked, "Is Santa Claus coming this year?"
Her parents and sister got very quiet. Lara shoved a fleeble fruit around her plate with her fork. "Is he?"
"Baby," said her mother, without looking at her. "Santa Claus can't fly to Brax."
Lara looked out the window, into the snowy streets of the Braxan North Pole. The sidewalks were empty, because to the Braxans, it wasn't dinnertime. They were all still at work.
Lara looked back down at her plate. "That's what you said last year."
Her mother stood. "Guess what we've got for dessert tonight? Plogging pie!"
"Hey," said Lara's father, turning to her with a big smile. "I love Plogging pie!"
Lara jumped out of her chair. "Who cares about Plogging pie! I hate Brax!"
Her sister Faye rolled her eyes. "Here we go."
"You shut up!" shouted Lara. "I hate this planet! I don't have any friends, we never go anywhere, we never do anything, and we have to eat the same stuff over and over! You said that moving here would make us rich. But you lied!"
"Lara!" shouted her mother, but Lara ran from the kitchen, down the hall, and into her room.
Lara slammed the door. She tried to pretend that she was in her old bedroom, back on Earth, but it was too hard. Braxan houses didn't even have beds or corners.
So she lay down in her Braxan nest, and threw the covers over her head. Someone knocked on her door. "Go away!"
The door opened. She heard her father speak. "Hey, pretty girl. Come out and look at me."
Lara heard him sit on the floor. "Come on, Lara. We won't get rich overnight. We have to be patient and work even harder than the Braxans do. Wait a few years—you'll see."
"That's what you said when we got here." Lara didn't come out. "You said that we'd have enough money to buy our own Roverbus in a year, and you and mom could give Braxan Desert Safari Tours, and we could live in the mountains. But we've been here for three whole years and nothing ever changes."
"Sometimes change comes in ways you don't expect."
"I don't care. I still hate Brax."
Lara's father sighed. She listened to him stand up and walk to her door. "I'll save you a piece of Plogging pie," he said, and shut her door on the way out.
He didn't even apologize for lying.
The next day at school was awful, like always. Lara hated Braxan school. She was allowed to go home after six hours, but the Braxans stayed for eight. And they whispered about it behind her back: "She's so stupid, she has to go home early." "Humans are so lazy—who needs eight hours of sleep every night?"
Lara also hated Braxans. They were hairy, like dogs, and fat, like big spiders. They shed fur everywhere and made her sneeze. And when they laughed, it sounded like metal squealing together in a car wreck.
Lunch was the worst. Braxans ate late, so Lara was always starving before it was even time to eat, and when she was finally allowed to, nobody ever sat with her.
And today was the worst of all, because it was the last day before Jibblewooch vacation. Everyone was bragging about where they were going ("Ever-Singing Beach!" "The Great Plains!" "Frizzle Forest!"); what family was coming over ("My uncle!" "My grandparents!" "My great-great-plorp-mother!"), and what they'd be doing together ("Playing Meckle-Ball!" "Hiking!" "Going Squorp Diving!").
Well, everyone else was bragging.
Lara was eating alone by the window, looking outside at the Braxan North Pole snow, and wishing that there were such a thing as Christmas on Brax.
Lara suddenly noticed that a Braxan girl at the table next to her was crying.
"What's wrong with Heebie?" someone else at the table asked.
"Oh, she's going to Earth for Jibblewooch."
"That's awful! Heebie, why are you going to Earth?"
"Because my parents are making us," sobbed Heebie. "I don't want to go to Earth. It's humid, like a giant swamp, and everything's covered in bugs. And the gravity's turned way up, and I'm a million pounds heavier. And I have to wear clothes."
A boy laughed. "Eww, clothes! Gross!"
Someone elbowed the boy and pointed over at Lara. "Shh, you guys! The Earth girl's right there!"
Lara looked out the window again, and pretended that she hadn't heard them.
Everyone at the table next to Lara's left to go play outside, except for Heebie. Lara looked back at her. She hated Heebie for being able to go to Earth for Christmas... so why did she feel sorry for her?
Lara picked up her lunch and moved to Heebie's table. "Hey."
The Braxan girl looked up. Heebie sniffed, and wiped her second nose on her napkin. "What?"
Lara sat down next to her. "You're going to Earth?"
Heebie looked down. "Yeah."
"I don't know. Some place called Vermont."
"Vermont's not humid," said Lara, taking another bite of her sandwich. "This time of year, it's cold, like it is outside right now."
Heebie looked up. "It is?"
"Yeah. And there aren't any bugs."
Heebie opened a container. It held pieces of a purple vegetable that Lara didn't know. Heebie speared one of them on a fork. "I guess that's not so bad."
"Plus you'll be there for Christmas."
Heebie ate the piece of vegetable. "What's Christmas?"
Lara laughed. "It's the best holiday of the whole year! You get presents—lots and lots of presents."
Heebie's eyes grew wide. "Why?"
"For being good."
Heebie put down her fork. "Who gives you the presents?"
Lara took a drink of her fleeble juice. "Mostly, your mom and dad, because they know how good you've been. But the best presents—the big ones—they come from Santa Claus."
Heebie shook her head, and some Braxan fur flew up into the air. Lara pretended not to notice it. "Who's Santa Claus?" Heebie asked.
"He's magic. It's his job to know who's been good and who's been bad. He lives at the North Pole on Earth, and he's got a magic sleigh and magic reindeer—reindeer are like Braxan Grobble-Beasts—and at night on Christmas Eve, he climbs down your chimney and leaves you presents under the tree, if you've put a tree in your house."
Heebie cocked her head. "Really?"
"Yeah. And it's okay if you don't have a chimney. He can get in another way."
Heebie pushed aside her container of purple vegetables. "How do you get Santa Claus to come?"
"You have to believe in him. And you have to have a tree, or something like a tree—it can be fake. And you can put out milk and cookies, if you want, but you don't have to."
Heebie nodded. Her eyes were still big. "Does that mean that you have Christmas on Earth instead of Jibblewooch?"
"Yeah." Lara ate the last bite of her sandwich. "I don't even really know what Jibblewooch is."
Heebie gasped. "You don't know? That's the best holiday of the year. You and your family take a trip somewhere, or if you can't take a trip, then someone you know travels to your house. And you all play games for a week. Some of the games might look impossible, but you can win anyway, because of the Yellock."
"What's a Yellock?"
Heebie grinned. "They're kind of hard to explain. They're like... if Santa Claus sees how good you've been on Earth, Yellock see how lucky you've been on Brax. They bring bad luck to people who've been too lucky, and good luck to people who've had a really hard time."
Lara laughed. "Come on. That's stupid."
Heebie frowned. "It's true! They'll come if you trick someone in your house into spilling some sugar. That's what you do before you start the games. Try it—you'll see!"
"Yeah right." Lara rolled her eyes and packed up her lunch. "That's the dumbest thing I've ever heard. I bet you're making it up just to see if I believe you."
"I am not! It isn't any dumber than a magic Santa Claus with magic Grobble-Beasts!" Heebie packed up her own lunch. "What do you know, anyway? You're too stupid to even stay in school all day."
Lara stopped laughing. She picked up her lunch and stomped out of the lunch room, leaving Heebie sitting by herself.
Why'd I even try to talk to her, anyway? thought Lara, as she fought back tears. That's what I get for trying to be nice.
Lara's day got even worse. After lunch, Heebie told her friends that Lara had been mean to her. Soon, whenever the teacher wasn't looking, the Braxan kids would flap their arms and send loose fur into the air, making Lara sneeze. And every time she used a tissue, they'd make fun of her for having only one nose to blow instead of two.
She had a special bus to take her home, because she always left school early, and today the bus was late. When it finally came, the bus driver asked, "Is it true there's no such thing as Jibblewooch on Earth? You humans sure are funny."
And, when she got home, nobody answered the door. Lara hated coming home before her sister Faye. The Braxan house was creepy; the rooms were shaped like squiggles, and the walls ticked like a clock whenever it was windy outside.
Lara unlocked the door with her key and walked through the empty, squiggly house. She and Faye had two whole weeks of vacation, but they had no family here, and as her parents always said, "We don't have enough money to go anywhere—maybe next year."
It was always "next year". When will our bad luck change? thought Lara.
Well... if they needed some good luck...
Lara went into the kitchen and looked for some sugar. Maybe Yellock were a stupid Braxan joke—but everything was different on Brax, so maybe Christmas was different too.
While her parents made dinner that night, Lara wouldn't leave the kitchen.
"Baby, what is it?" asked her mother. "And what do you have behind your back?"
"Nothing," lied Lara, as she tightened her grip on a cup of sugar.
"Well, go play in the Horkingroom," said her mother, as she opened the fridge and looked for something. "Your father and I need room to work."
Lara crept up right behind her mother. When her mother straightened and turned around, she ran right into Lara—and the cup of sugar behind her back went flying all over the floor.
"Lara!" said her mother. "What did I just tell you? And what on Earth are you doing?"
"What on Brax," corrected Lara. "It was a school project. Nevermind."
"You get back here and sweep that up!"
Lara swept up the sugar and snuck glances around the kitchen. Nothing seemed any different (or luckier).
But when they sat down to eat, her father said, "Listen up, everyone. I have an announcement to make. It's about that Roverbus."
Lara and Faye looked up. Their mother's mouth pressed into a nervous line. "Tim..." she started.
"I've been thinking," he said. "I know that living here isn't what some of you were expecting, and I know that you all thought things would be a little different by now. And I know that I've always said that the key to success is hard work."
"Tim—" said Lara's mother again.
He ignored her. "And trust me, working hard is very, very important—I'm not saying that it isn't. But sometimes there's a bit more to it than that. Sometimes you can't be successful unless you take a risk. So your mother and I have decided—"
"We haven't decided anything yet," she said—
"That we're taking out a loan from the bank and buying a Roverbus anyway."
Faye sat up. "Whoa! Really?"
"Not really," said Lara's mother, quickly. "We're still thinking about it."
"No we aren't," said Lara's father.
Lara looked back and forth between them. Her sister went back to frowning and poking at her food.
"Yes, we are," said Lara's mother, firmly. "Honey, you know we can't pay back that money fast enough."
"Yes we can. We'll earn a lot more once we start working for ourselves."
"But not as much as we need to!"
"Danielle, baby," said Lara's father. "Can we talk about this later?"
Lara slumped and poked at her food too. Her parents kept arguing. Was this supposed to be what good luck looked like?
The next morning, a loud noise woke Lara up.
She stood up in her Braxan nest and looked out the window. On the street outside was a small group of Braxans, standing and talking with her mother.
While she watched, her father stumbled out of the house, rubbing his eyes to wake up.
Lara shoved on her slippers and robe and ran outside too. "What's going on?"
Her mother reached out and took a hold of her father's hand. "I got a surprise for you, sugar."
One Braxan raised a radio to his mouth and said something into it. Lara heard the noise again—a roar and a bang.
A big Roverbus turned a corner and rumbled down the street towards them.
Lara's father stared at it in amazement. Lara's mother rubbed his hand and said, "I called the bank and took out the loan myself—I told them I needed it fast, for a Jibblewooch present. You were right. And I'm sorry; we do have to do this. Things aren't going to get any better unless we try something different. We'll make the money back somehow."
The Roverbus rumbled to a halt by the street curb, enormous and shining like a star. The brakes hissed, and a fat Braxan climbed out of the cab, grunting his way down to the street. "Here she is, Mrs. Jallais," he said. "All charged up and ready. Kitchy, you got that paperwork?"
One of the Braxans held up a clipboard full of papers. "All set."
Lara's father stared and stared, and finally, he wrapped up Lara's mother in his arms, and gave her a kiss.
The Braxan with the clipboard turned to the Roverbus deliveryman. "Hey. Where's Palk?"
"He was right behind me.... oh, there he is."
Suddenly, a second Roverbus turned the corner, and rumbled down the street towards them.
Lara's father pulled away. "Wait. What on Earth—?"
"Brax," corrected the Braxan with the clipboard. "And we got a delivery order here for two Roverbuses."
Lara's mother gasped, then shook her head. "No! We can't afford two!"
The Braxans frowned and looked through the paperwork. "Ma'am, it says two right here."
"I only gave you enough money for one!"
"That's not what it says here."
"But I did!" Lara's mother dug into a pocket. "Look—I have the bank records right here—it says—"
"Ma'am, that's not what it says on our end."
The front door opened and Faye came outside, dressed in her pajamas and a pair of slippers. She yawned. "What are these Roverbuses doing here?"
Lara grinned, but said nothing.
"Look here," said Lara's mother. "See what it says?"
The second Roverbus rumbled and hissed to a halt behind the first one. Another fat Braxan climbed down from the cab. "Look," said the Braxan with the clipboard. "All I know is, we got an order to deliver two Roverbuses on the first day of Jibblewooch. I want to get back to my family, okay? So just sign here and enjoy your holiday."
Lara's mother and father turned to stare at each other.
Lara's mother signed the paper. "Merry Christmas, honey," she said to her husband, in astonishment.
Lara kept grinning. "Lucky Jibblewooch," she corrected.
This story originally appeared in KidVisions.
From a mechanical forest that constructs itself to the streets of Kyoto 8,000 years hence, the sometimes whimsical, sometimes cutting short fiction of KJ Kabza has been dubbed “Delightful” (Locus Online) and “Very clever, indeed” (SFRevu). Collecting all of his work published before May 2011 (plus 5 new stories, notes on the stories, and an interview by Julia Rios), IN PIECES offers glimpses into other worlds—some not unlike your own.
Note: Curious Fictions may receive a commission if you purchase through Amazon.