“It looks like you really have things under control here,” said a female voice, gently mocking.
Dave turned around so swiftly he nearly fell off the ladder, where he stood struggling to hang the Merry Christmas banner above the row of windows overlooking the main street.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you,” said a young woman at the door. “I’m Joanna. I’m new, from accounting. They sent me to help you out.”
“Hi, I’m Dave.” He steadied himself on the ladder. “I could certainly use a hand.” As one of the younger managers, Dave had long been in charge of decorating for the office party, but between the regional conference and the flu season, all his usual helpers were out.
Joanna walked toward the ladder, carrying a large cardboard box. Dave was struck by her appearance: cheekbones like iceberg edges; black hair with an indigo sheen.
He nodded toward Joanna’s haul. “What have you got there?”
“Some mistletoe. I hear there tends to be a lot of kissing at these office parties.”
Dave laughed. “That’s true. We do have an open bar.”
“And after you kiss someone under the mistletoe, you’re supposed to eat a berry.”
“I don’t know about that. Aren’t they poisonous?”
“Not really,” Joanna said. “Anyway, these are special. They look gorgeous and taste even better, and are full of vitamins and fiber!”
She climbed up the other side of the ladder, maneuvering the sizable box with surprising agility. Dave leaned over the top and peeked inside.
“They’re really blue,” he said.
“Aren’t they beautiful?”
“If you say so. They look weird to me.”
Joanna chuckled. “Dave, you have no sense of adventure.”
He shrugged. “Perhaps.”
“Okay, let me show you.” Holding the box with one arm, she used the other to pull out a mistletoe bunch and raise it above her head. “Come here.”
“Joanna, this is a really bad idea on so many levels…”
“Don’t be a baby. Come here.”
Dave sighed and leaned toward her. He felt a little zap of electricity as Joanna gave him a peck on the lips under the mistletoe.
“See? I didn’t bite,” she said. “Now we each have a berry.”
She bit one right off the stem, then waved the bunch in front of Dave’s face. He rolled his eyes, plucked off a fruit, and popped it in his mouth.
Joanna looked like a child awaiting a lollipop. “Delicious, right?”
The berry had no seeds. It tasted sweet and tart, like a sour cherry, but its flesh was denser, chewier. The texture reminded Dave of mushrooms.
“Interesting,” he said. “Not bad.”
“See? I told you! I have a dozen of these sprigs, maybe more. I’ll help you hang them all over the office. They’ll be a big hit!”
“We just have to make sure people know that they can eat the berries. Once they’re done kissing, of course.”
“Wow, you’re really into this, aren’t you?”
“Yes, I suppose I am.” Joanna lowered her gaze. “I’m close friends with the supplier, who says these will be the next big thing. I believe it.”
“Well, in that case,” Dave smiled, “maybe we should be the first firm to support your friend. I’ll send a memo informing everyone that the mistletoes are delicious—”
“—and healthy, and that they can be eaten.”
“Thank you.” Joanna beamed. “Now, let me set these down and I’ll help you with that banner.”
She climbed down the ladder and placed the box on one of the desks.
Joanna’s back was turned to Dave, so he couldn’t see her lips stretch wide, really wide, the corners going all the way up to those iceberg cheekbones, revealing several rows of small, sharp teeth.
He couldn’t see her third eyelid rapidly close and open sideways, uncloaking eyes with no trace of white, eyes black, gleaming indigo.
He couldn’t see blue mistletoe berries come alive under their mother’s dark, loving gaze, couldn’t see them wriggle with delight at being awake once again.
He couldn’t hear them rejoice at having new vessels to command soon, vessels with brains large enough to support all their thoughts so tightly interwoven, vessels with limbs that will help make more, always more of their mother’s children.
“The aftertaste from that berry is amazing,” Dave said. “Hey Joanna, could you grab me a couple more while you’re still down there?”
Maura Yzmore is a writer and scientist based in the American Midwest. She’s not a fan of holidays, except creepy ones. Her short fiction has appeared in The Molotov Cocktail, The Arcanist, Aphotic Realm, and elsewhere. Website: maurayzmore.com Twitter: @MauraYzmore.