Author: Ruby Zehnder

“Mark, is the download finished?” Laura called from the kitchen.
“Just about,” Mark replied.
“Should I call the kids?”
“Sure. Why not,” he said and returned to the controls. The holographic images of his parents were flickering into existence.
Laura wiped her hands on her gaudy holiday apron and yelled up the stairs. “Yoo-hoo! Grandma and Grandpa Schultz are here.”
Laura recalled a time when the twins would have screamed with joy at this news and come rushing down the steps to visit with their grandparents. Now they spent all their time in the Metaverse.
Laura joined her husband in the living room. His parents, Tim and Kathy were flickering.
“What’s wrong?” Laura asked.
“The projection camera must be out of focus,” Mark replied and slapped the device with his open palm.
Kathy appeared sharper.
“Merry Christmas, son,” Kathy greeted them. Kathy was dressed in an ugly Christmas sweater that was popular when her image was recorded by the Deep Jive program. Unfortunately, at the time, Mark and Laura were too poor to purchase the fashion update subroutine, so the sweater haunted them every year.
Mark continued working on his father’s image.
“What? Are you too busy to greet your mother?” Kathy complained. “How about a kiss?” She asked, pointing to her cheek.
“Oh, sorry, mom,” Mark stammered. “I was just trying to help Dad move his head. It must be his arthritis acting up. I don’t want the kids to see him like this.”
“Hey, where are my grandkids?” Kathy demanded, looking around the room.
Laura walked over to the stairs and called again. “Come on, guys. Grandma and grandpa are waiting. They want to see you.”
Laura hated holidays. They reminded her of when her parents fooled her into believing that a jolly fat man dressed in fake fur came down their non-existent chimney and left presents. When her older sister revealed the truth, she was crushed.
“Maybe it’s time to tell the kids that their grandparents don’t live in a fancy condo in sunny Palm Beach,” she told her husband who was violently shaking the control box.
Finally, his father’s image quit flickering.
“Dad, how have you been?” Mark asked carefully.
Tim couldn’t move his head, and his lips weren’t synchronized with his words. So when he gave his signature answer, “better than I deserve,” it was unsettling.
“Oh,” Mark replied, looked over to his wife, and asked, “This won’t do, will it?”
Laura shook her head in the negative.
“Maybe it’s time to let grandma and grandpa go,” Laura suggested. “I really don’t like lying to the kids.”
“Better than I deserve,” Mark began repeating. “Better than I deserve, better than I deserve,”
“He must be stuck in a loop.” Mark guessed and shook the control panel again.
“Maybe it’s a software glitch,” Laura added.
“A SOFTWARE GLITCH,” Kathy responded with alarm.
“You mean to tell me that the two of you have been lying to us all these years, and we don’t actually live in Florida?”
Mark recognized the shift of tone in his mother’s voice. Memories of past Christmases filled his head. Next, she would start referring to him by his full name and compare him to his older brother, the lawyer. And then, there’d be criticism of his choice of a mate. “MARK ROBERT SCHULTZ…,” Kathy began, pegging her volume dial.
Her words paralyzed Mark. Laura quickly pulled the plug, and Mark’s old holiday nightmare disappeared.
“Merry Christmas,” Laura said as she threw the holographic generator in the trashcan.
“Merry Christmas,” Mark replied and kissed his real wife on her real cheek.