“Who do you thank on Thanksgiving?” my father asked, standing with me in the cold wine cellar.
I considered his question. My family wasn’t one to say grace, though, for political reasons, we made constant appearances at and donations to the old, gothic-style Catholic church in the center of town.
I had felt particularly gifted this Thanksgiving. Last year it was just my son and I; Gillian, my wife, was still in Italy for her last year of college. The year before, my parents had not been able to join us to celebrate our son’s first Thanksgiving. This year, we were all together. Even Cousin Greg.
Combine that with the publication of my book on economic theory and I had a lot to be thankful for.
But who did I thank?
“I supposed God, the universe, Fate. Whatever you want to call it,” I answered.
My father smiled, then shook his head. He pulled a key from the pocket of his vest, lint and threads from his pocket snagging on the rusting metal.
“I’ll show you.”
I followed my father to the back of the cellar, past dusty collections of pre-war wines. The key unlocked a short, wooden door that I was told was merely decorative. There should have been nothing but masonry behind the well-lacquered slats.
My father ran a hand over his mustache and led me down a steep, cavernous staircase that seemed hewn from bedrock.
A man sat in the narrow space at the bottom. His hairless skin hung like drying papier-mâché on thin, tumored rods of bone. Behind his long arms sagged a pair of thin, almost translucent wings. I could see the blue veins tracing through the skin. He looked up at us and sneered, his sharp, pointed teeth bared.
“Give thanks to this. Be he angel or demon, he is our benefactor. Our ancestors came across him long before America was founded. They made a deal; immortality for a single male heir in our bloodline. That is why I insisted you have no more children after Samuel. Any other offspring must be fed to this creature within one year. Otherwise, he is freed. And he’s had centuries to grow bitter.”
We returned to the dinner. I was silent. Processing. It was a lot to take in.
Perhaps sensing my mood, Gillian dragged me to an alcove. “I have to tell you something,” she said, teary-eyed.
“I was pregnant. I didn’t show until I was already in Europe and I knew you didn’t want another…” She wiped at her nose. “I put it up for adoption.”
I was too stunned to be angry or comforting.
“When?” I asked. “When did you have it?”
As she uttered “Thanksgiving”, the walls began to shake. I could hear crashing in the cellar.
The winged man burst into the dining hall with a shower of splintered wood. He tore into Cousin Greg’s face with those horrible teeth and, through spurting blood, looked at us with an eager hunger.