It was the year 9 A.C.—After COVID-19—and still yet another 15 days to flatten the curve. 38year-old Chris Turner by then had spent three years inside Camp 38 within the “Zone,” an area for those who violated COVID-19 restrictions of one kind or another, quarantined to protect the health and wellbeing of their fellow Americans still confined to their homes. Turner wasn’t quite sure what exactly had landed him there; not wearing a mask while sleeping in his bed or sneaking out after the 7PM curfew to visit his girlfriend.

Either way, after the third year, Turner had formed a close group of friends amongst the growing number of prisoners, most of them young men. They spent their days offline as much as possible, tending a garden or learning a skill from the physical library. This was despite the encouragement of their camp warden to participate in society via social media, albeit their accounts were closely monitored and punishment was swift should they violate any platforms’ terms of service.

As December approached, Chris and his friends decided for the first time to celebrate Christmas properly, with a tree lighting ceremony. Wandering around the fields surrounding the camp, they came across a tree near the northern fence line. Carefully removing it, they brought it back to their barracks and began scrounging for things to use as decorations.

Suddenly, a voice appeared. “What are you doing?”

Chris and his friends turned to see Karl Russel, a.k.a. Karl Roth, standing in the barracks doorway.

“Something to report from the warden?” Chris asked sarcastically.

“Is that a Christmas tree?”

Everyone looked at Chris to speak for them. He shrugged. “We’re having a Christmas ceremony. Surely that doesn’t violate camp rules, does it?”

Karl studied the tree, then looked at them eagerly. “Would it be alright if I participated?”

Everyone groaned.

“Last time I checked, your people don’t celebrate Christmas,” someone remarked.

“It’s not a religious ceremony, is it? You’re not going to have a nativity scene and all that, right?”

“What do you think?”

Karl tapped his foot earnestly. In the camp, he was what they called roadkill, a person imprisoned in the camp yet not considered a real prisoner. Karl had spent his last years a free man running a YouTube channel that supported the Covidians or pro-freedom movement, depending on which had the upper hand at that moment. He had been arrested at a mask-burning rally and sent to Camp 38, where he was appointed as an “intermediary” between the warden and prisoners even though nobody liked him. Chris and the rest of the prisoners all suspected he had revealed the names of those who had attended the rally in exchange for favors.

“Can’t it be more inclusive?” Karl demanded.

“Why don’t you do your own thing?” someone said.

Glancing at their pitiful excuses for ornaments, Chris sighed as he addressed Karl. “Can you talk to the warden about getting us some tree decorations?”

“I could request it…if I were involved…”

“You want to bring in a Hanukkah or what?”

“How about singing ‘White Christmas?’”

Chris rolled his eyes. “Fine. Get me the decorations, and we’ll talk.”

He left the barracks and headed toward the community center as Karl confronted him. “If I am to be the camp intermediary, I need to be kept informed about these things.”

“Look, this isn’t the outside world. This is the Zone. Out there, you could force us to include you in everything we do. You could force your way into our groups and spy on us. But here, you can’t do that. Want to know why? We’re already being punished. There’s no reason to play nice and get along with others who backstab us.”

Karl pursed his lips. “I take it you’re going to let Nevins participate.”

“Nevins is a lunatic who used our beliefs to grift, and I’m glad he got banned from every platform known to man. I just wish they had sent his ass to another camp so he wouldn’t be able to bother us during our worship services about how we’re living in the End Times.”

Chris shoved Karl to the side. “Now go be useful and talk to the warden about those decorations. And don’t try to be a smartass, either.”

Watching Karl walk toward the warden’s office, Chris entered the community center, where prisoners were permitted to gather and talk or play games. Most of them were glued to camp-monitored computers, trying their best to stay in touch with others. However, once you landed in a camp, everyone tended to avoid it due to the continually changing terms of service that, if violated, added time to their sentence.

In the corner of the room was Walter, a libertarian who spent his hours poring over blogs and political sites looking for a chance to argue with someone. Everyone in the camp had already learned to ignore everything he said.

“Did you get permission to take that tree?” Walter asked Chris as he strolled by.


“That tree you pulled out of the ground. You know this is private land, right? The camp is also operated by a private company.”

Chris glared at him. “Don’t you have something better to do than annoy the hell out of people, even during the Christmas season? Good cheer and all that?”

“I’m just saying as I’ve always said; if it’s a private company and you violate their rules, you get what you deserve. We deserve to be here because we violated rules.”

“Rules I never agreed to and were imposed after I signed my apartment lease. ‘By continuing to stay here you agree to the terms….’ Blah, blah, blah.”

Walter rolled his eyes. “You just don’t understand the difference between the private sector and the state.”

“In methods, or outcomes?”

He moved on and tuned out whatever reply Walter gave, approaching a stocky man sitting alone with a cup of coffee and a napkin with scribble written on it.

“Joe, I got a favor to ask,” Chris said.


“I need a printout of a star for a Christmas tree. The three-dimensional kind of star.”

“I can do that. It’ll be pricy, though. They almost found it last time. They ain’t easy to make, especially in these conditions.”

“How much?”

“Two bottles of whiskey and a pack of Lucky Strikes. I want good whiskey, though.”

“How about one good bottle of whiskey and the Lucky Strikes? It’s Christmas. Don’t want to be on Santa’s bad side, do we?”

“Don’t know about you, but I could use more coal than candy. My barracks is colder than my ex-wife was during our divorce.”

“You can join us for the ceremony if you want. We might have some liquid refreshments served afterwards. The good kind.”

Joe smiled mischievously and nodded subtly. “I’ll see you ‘round, Turner.”

Exiting the community center, Chris found himself staring down Albert Fletcher and the handful of members from his white nationalist group, Sons of Europa. Even though they had supported the mask mandate and other pro-Covidian policies, they had still gotten busted for having a meeting arranged by an FBI informant that violated the social distancing rules. Their camp sentence had gotten extended after they had repeatedly violated all social media terms of service while on the camp computers.

“What’s this we’re hearing about a Christmas tree ceremony?” Fletcher asked.

“Who’d you hear it from?”

“You didn’t invite us?”

“I’m sure you wignats will get over it.”

“You know, Christmas used to be called winter solstice and was originally a pagan holiday the Catholic Church stole….”

“Shut up, dork.”

“You’re inviting that cosmopolitan to your little ceremony, but not your fellow brothers?”

“We’re not brothers, dweeb, and he’s helping us get stuff we need. All he’s doing is singing ‘White Christmas.’”

“You know Berlin was also a cosmopolitan who didn’t celebrate Christmas? He’s trying to subvert your ceremony.”

“You people are retarded.”

One of Fletcher’s younger friends spoke up. “Maybe we could help, too.”

Chris died a little inside. “Dare I ask how?”

“We could get a yuletide log to burn in the outside fire pit and have the tree ceremony there. I also know how to sing ‘Silent Night’ in German, if that’s alright.”

“You do know we don’t plan on burning any books on that log, right?”

“We get it,” Fletcher said. “So does that suffice?”

Chris tried hard not to scream. He wanted to tell them off, but a part of him dared not. Karl was a snitch, but Fletcher was far worse. For all they knew, he had been the FBI informant that had called his group’s illegal gathering. Fletcher was also far more dedicated in his insufferable meddling than Karl. If anyone was going to ruin the ceremony out of pure spite, it was him.

“I’ll make sure we get permission for the fire,” Chris said. “But I swear to God, if you guys cause any problems, you’re getting your asses kicked. There’s more of us than you, and we’re already stuck here for a while.”

Fletcher grinned. “I’m all for avoiding brother wars.”

“If you start something, it won’t be a war; it’ll be a massacre.”

Returning to the barracks, Chris found his friends working on a variety of Christmas-themed trinkets. Jose had found a way to craft makeshift sleigh bells from a wool cloth and metal balls. Another had fashioned a manger from spare lumber collected from the camp’s junk pile.

“Just don’t put a figure in the manger,” Kenny said.

“Can you Puritans give it a rest, already?” Jose said. “Your people didn’t even celebrate Christmas!”

“I’m just saying if you don’t want to violate the Second Commandment, then don’t have a Jesus figure in it.”

“The only person here who would have a doll would be Karl, and it’s not the kind we want.”

“But if it’s his size, it would definitely fit.”

Everyone laughed as Jose tossed Chris a miniature Christmas wreath. “Got the twig from one of the other spruces.”

“Don’t tell Walter, or we’ll never hear the end of how it’s theft of private property.”

There was a knock on the barracks door. Chris went to answer it, only to take a step back as he saw Elaine Delmar leaning against the doorframe. At 36 years old, she was still somewhat pretty, though not nearly as stunning as she had been at 22, when she had started her YouTube channel talking about gossip before realizing politics was far more lucrative.

“How are you, Chris?” she asked.

“I was fine until a second ago.”

“You’re cute.”

“What do you want? We’re busy.”

Eying the group, she smiled as she brought up a handful of tinsel. “There’s a whole box here. Courtesy of the roadkill. Figure I could help you boys hang it on the tree this evening.”

“Thanks, but we’re good.”

Hanging the tinsel around her neck, she approached Chris and did her best to flirt with him. “I’m sure you boys could use more company. The more the merrier, right?”

“Wow, that was so original. I’ve never heard that expression. You should be on television with those kind of lines.”

Her cute smile vanished as she growled. “I was, but you and your boys reported me to the IRS and I got audited!”

“We all got to pay the piper, even e-thots who write cliché-riddled pamphlets.”

“Talk about expressions we’ve never heard before.”

“Have her dress up as Mrs. Claus,” Jose remarked. “She sure looks old enough.”

Shooting him a dirty look, Elaine then eyed Chris. “I’m won’t make a scene. I promise. I just want to help.”

“Fine. Now beat it before you get put on the naughty list.”

“As long as it’s yours,” she said as she facetiously blew him a kiss and left.

“Well?” Kenny said.

“Well, what?” Chris replied.

“Anybody else we’re going to invite? I could invite the spergs from the southwest barracks to play the elves.”

He sighed loudly. “It’ll be fine. It better be.”


Their Christmas tree was a lanky spruce stuffed into an old flowerpot placed on top of a wooden crate. A tangle of old lights hung on its branches, not yet offering illumination to the people who labored in the winter darkness beneath it. They placed decorations on the limbs consisting of wooden crosses, painted used lightbulbs, and discarded toy figures tied to fishing line.

Off to the side, Fletcher remained apart from the Sons of Europa as they huddled near the fire-pit and monitored the yuletide log. It wasn’t large, but it gave off enough heat so that even Karl was willing to stand near them to get warm.

The scene was quiet as they all suddenly felt a cold, wet sensation on their noses. As they looked up, a thick snowfall appeared from the blackness. Karl spontaneously began singing “White Christmas,” and to their surprise, his nasal-like voice became soft and smooth.

“I could sing like that,” Elaine said to Chris as she helped him place the tinsel around the tree. “Any requests?”

“’I’m G’tting’ Nuttin’ for Christmas?’”

Elaine giggled as she nudged Chris. “Look up.”

Reluctantly, he did so, seeing a small twig in her hand.

“It’s not mistletoe, but it’s good enough,” she said.

“Don’t even think about it. Besides, mistletoe is a plant, not a tree.”

“You spoil everything.”

“Ok, Mrs. Karen Claus.”

“Am I still on your naughty list?”

“We’ll see.”

When the decorating was finished, everyone gathered near the spruce. Jose approached it with the manger and set it down near the tree. He then asked everyone to bow their heads as he said a Christmas prayer. Fletcher complied only after Chris looked at him like murder was on his mind. After the prayer was completed, Jose came forward with the printed star and gave it to Chris, who then hopped onto the box and placed it on the top of the tree.

“We ready?” Chris said.

Kenny nodded, flipping the power switch. The old lights flickered weakly before offering a constant faint glow that glittered off the star. Chris and his boys applauded, followed by Elaine and then Fletcher’s cronies. Karl feigned ignorance when Jose produced smuggled whiskey kept inside an apple juice bottle. He began discreetly pouring it into cups for their group, reluctantly followed by the others.

Fletcher’s young companion approached Chris. “Is it alright if I sing now?”

Chris shrugged. “Figure now’s as good as any.”

Timid, the young man climbed onto the box and faced the whole group. Growing nervous, he took a deep breath and began reciting the hymn in German, his accent flawless. The reaction by the crowd indicated none of them understood a word he said, but it didn’t matter.

“That boy can sing,” Jose remarked to Chris. “He should have joined a choir instead of the goon squad.”

Karl motioned for Chris to come over, whispering in his ear. “I’ve just found out that they’re broadcasting this.”


“The camp is broadcasting the ceremony from the security camera on national television.”


“To make fun of us. To show our pathetic we are.”

Chris gazed at the large group huddled close to one another before tree, sipping whiskey as Elaine started to sing a Christmas carol. She wasn’t as good as her predecessor, but she wasn’t terrible either.

Elaine finished singing and tried putting her arm around Chris’. “How was I?”

“I might take you off the naughty list.”

“Peace on Earth and goodwill toward men, right?” Elaine said as she pecked Chris on the cheek.

With the whiskey warming their insides, Jose and Kenny’s courage grew as their cheeks reddened, and they started to belt out Christmas carols with mixed results. Their enthusiasm inspired the rest to join until the entire crowd was singing. By then, Fletcher was drunk and hugging Karl like they were old friends.

After they had finished “Hark! The Herald Angel Sing,: Chris walked over to Jose and Kenny and slapped them on the shoulder as he led them off to the side.

“What’s so funny?” Jose asked.

“I wonder how many people in the outside world right now are safely confined in their homes all by themselves and wish they were a celebrating Christmas here in this camp with us.”

“It’d be pretty sad if they thought that.”

“Perhaps we’re the ones truly blessed,” Walter said, appearing out of nowhere. “Though being on private land, this ceremony is technically a violation of the non-aggression principle…”

“Shut up, dork,” Elaine said as she slapped him. Still embracing one another, Karl and Fletcher howled as they watched Walter rub his cheek.

Chris looked at Elaine and then broke out in laughter. “Maybe Walter’s right. I can’t wait to see what’s in store for New Year’s.”