No one ever expected it to actually happen. It was always a joke, a threat meant to frighten the kids into good behavior. If you don’t behave, your parents will shut down and there goes your allowance.

But the deadline crept up slowly, and then the arguments started lasting long into the night, and then the deadline crept up less slowly, and neither could agree and neither would bend… until finally it was midnight on Christmas Eve, and they fell exhausted onto both sides of the bed, while visions of economic disaster danced in both heads.

The next morning woke to a ruckus of excited footsteps racing down the stairs, followed by a patter of shocked tiptoes retreating upstairs again. It had finally happened. The living room was empty, the tree was bare. The parents were still in bed. Shut down, indefinitely.

It all started with a suggestion: Perhaps they should give the kids new healthcares this year. Their old healthcares were getting a little worn and patched with year after year of Christmas “fixes,” until both kids and parents were embarrassed to show themselves in public among the well-groomed healthcares of the neighbors.

But the suggestion did not meet with enthusiasm from both sides of the table. They didn’t have enough money for it this year, they were already struggling with credit card debt and house payments, and the paychecks from forty hours per week of honest, hard work were already disappearing too fast down hungry gullets that made far too little decent use of sizeable allowances.

They both knew the consequences of indecision. Shutdown had always been enough of a threat to force some sort of compromise before, or at least a hasty deal by the end of Boxing Day to get the Christmas presents under the tree and get the family going again. But this time there was simply too much on the table for an easy compromise, and Christmas day dawned cold and healthcareless.

There were losses on both sides, although initially the full impact was not felt by all. The “mandatory furlough for all non-essential parents” felt at first like vacation, a grown-up version of an extended snow day. The Women, Infants and Children could make do for a few days with the supplies they had immediately on hand, and of course the guard dog Spike was deemed essential for the defense of household interests and fed regularly on schedule.

But after a week of dwindling leftovers, a few of the kids wanted to take their ketchup sandwiches out to the trampoline for a picnic, but the notice on the back door informed them that the backyard was closed, and all occupants would be forcibly evicted after two days (all except Spike, of course). And then the bills started arriving, but the budget was in shambles until the healthcare limbo was settled, and all payments would have to wait. The high-speed internet shut-off caused no end of uproar, but all residents were firmly reminded that their mandatory furloughs necessitated an abstinence from work email and phone anyway, so internet access was superfluous.

Communications soon began to suffer as well. With the internet inaccessible, requests for compromise had to be submitted via carrier pigeon released to the lower levels from an upper window, only to receive the response that, due to the shutdown, the processing of and response to constituent requests might suffer from mild delay, and please refrain from opening windows as they could present a security hazard due to the disabling of the alarm system.

As the days stretched into weeks, and the family’s financial state plummeted from bad to very much worse,

TO BE (hopefully) DISCONTINUED.

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