DEDICATED TO ANYONE THAT’S BEEN DISAPPOINTED ON CHRISTMAS …
Ray Hastings’ eyes fluttered closed. Properly dispensing of his blurred vision, a half-emptied bottle of Jack Daniels was within reach. Drinking all night, his body was fighting off a debilitating fatigue, but he needed to stay awake. The dirty bastard would be here—he knew he would. A tingling in the back of his throat telling him his intuition was on point, he was so done with letting that fat man push him around. Anticipating the fateful showdown, he’d drawn an invisible line in the sand. After all, he was no longer that skinny, little kid that couldn’t stand up to the bully. He was so done being terrorized. Ready to fight back, he’d make the old man pay.
The light of a fire was the only illumination in his cramped, two-room shanty. The blaze helping stave off the frostbite that would surely have set in without it, the surrounding woods were blanketed in fluffy white snow. Locking horns with the deepest part of winter, the postcard perfect setting couldn’t offset the internal damage that had been done. Hastings’ life was one long series of disappointments. Narrowing the source of the downward spiral to one traumatic event, it was the one that had hollowed out a grave on the inside. That deep hole filled with hatred for the man that had ruined his life, he was about to rectify the situation by letting out some of that agony in one big barrage.
Swallowing hard, he let his forehead roll on the wooden table like loaded dice in Vegas. His upper torso gave into the weight of despair, mimicking what life had done. Sucking the joy out of him, it would all end tonight … on the holiday it began—Christmas.
The calendar on the wall proclaiming the auspicious holiday, he’d diligently X’d out each day before that. The primitive pattern marching onward to December 25th, the momentous occasion was highlighted with a pink magic marker. While the color made him squeamish, it was the only highlighter he had. Spotting it fall out of a little girl’s backpack, he’d been all over the prize. It’s what happens when someone becomes used to failure. Beaten so far down, even small perks like the finding of a cheap writing utensil seemed like a miracle to be treasured. Scratching his armpit reeking of stale sweat, downtrodden didn’t begin to cover it.
Pinching open an eyelid, a small alarm clock on the mantle above the fire slowly came into focus. 4:30 in the morning, the rat bastard was making him wait, but he’d get him. A promise is a promise and he had no doubt he’d show up—eventually. Rubbing at the lips wet with libation, it was so like that callous jerk to be doing it in his own good time, but it didn’t matter. Resigned to waiting for as long as it took, he was done fooling around. When that asshole was dead on the floor was when he’d have what he wanted. He’d show that old fool that building up somebody’s hopes only to snuff them out like a match in cold water meant something.
Too many years had passed by, but he’d never forgotten. Finally finding the voice he thought he’d lost, he’d written him a note using the pink magic marker that he’d found. “You don’t stomp on someone’s dreams,” he’d stated succinctly, that simple sentence saying it all.
Surprised that his rage demanded more, he’d scribbled a series of poison pens. Ones that escalated in emotion and threats, they’d included “I’ll see you in hell,” “You’ve got it coming,” and “Bang, bang, you fat bastard … you’re dead!” The latter the last one he’d written, it was on the same night he’d bought the gun with the pennies he’d saved. A small caliber, a mousegun would kill him just the same.
“Good things come in small packages, not fat ones,” he chuckled to himself, visions of sugarplums beginning to dance in his head.
Feeling as if he were about to drift off, the sound of distant laughter filled his ears. That fat slob was finally here. Everything so funny to that stupid fucker, he’d wipe that smirk off his ugly face. Raising his head, he grabbed hold of the Beretta TomCat laying next to his laptop. Feeling just the right size to poke round entry wounds in fleshy sides, he narrowed his eyes, concentrating on the fat man’s point of entrance—the chimney.
The soft jingling of bells ringing out, a thud on the roof told him that the sleigh had arrived. Never hearing it land before, a bolt of excitement ran through him, the painful childhood memory rushing back. He’d been five years old. Having spent the afternoon helping his mother bake the special cookie, he’d set it out with a glass of milk. Valiantly attempting to stay up all night, he’d failed at remaining awake, but it didn’t matter. There had been nothing to see. The stupid bastard hadn’t even bothered to stop at his residence. Needless to say, when he awoke in the morning, the gift he’d been expecting wasn’t under the tree.
Of course, his parents did their best to convince him that the two pairs of white tube socks packaged in the colorful wrapping were from Mr. Claus. Young, but not stupid, he wasn’t buyin’ what they were sellin’. Knowing that Santa would never give a little boy utilitarian essentials, Jolly Old Saint Nick dealt in dreams. Piecing together the awful truth, he’d also figured out that his father had taken the bite out of the cookie he’d help bake. The faint scent of gingerbread still detectible on his breath, there were white, milky traces lingering in the corners of his thin mouth. Christ, what a family! Did they really think they could get away with lying to their very own child?
The signature, “Ho ho ho!” burst him out of the ditch his car was stuck in. Did Mr. Claus really think a lousy catchphrase could erase the awful memory? His wheels spinning in the rut created so many years ago, Ray steadied himself. Though clinically defined as morbidly obese by the latest Department of Health guidelines, the fat man was quick … or so he’d heard. That might be so, but Ray was sure that he couldn’t outrun a bullet.
Footsteps on the roof signaling the North Pole’s resident’s advance, the prancing of antsy hooves told him the holiday-induced adrenalin was getting the best of the four-legged caribou. That’s all they were—even if they did prefer calling themselves “deer.”
“You’d better not be taking a crap up there, you mangy varmints, or you’ll be eatin’ it,” he whispered, meaning every malevolent word.
His focus undeterred, he stared at the flames. Wanting to riddle the interloper’s forehead with bullets, the fire suddenly lowered in height. The conflagration smothered in the blink of an eye, the grunting sounds of someone squeezing down the narrow, bricked smoke channel made him put the puzzle together. Two shiny black boots coming into view, Santa landed on two sure feet, the lower façade of the mantle obscuring his torso. The big man ducked down to clear the opening. Giving Ray his first sight of that jolly face, the white beard spilled over the red velveteen suit, but what the hell kind of man wears velvet? That’s what Ray wanted to know.
“So that’s how you do it?” he spat, his gun pointed at the startled seasonal intruder. “You put the fire out first, you dirty son of a bitch. I always wondered why you didn’t catch on fire.”
The agitation in the young man’s face apparent, Santa paused—not moving a whisker.
“May I?” Santa inquired, more tightly gripping the bag draped across his back.
Still stooped over, he looked like the measly, ineffectual little louse he was. Sure, why the hell not let him come in. He had some explaining to do, and a bullet didn’t need a certain time when it could puncture a kidney.
“Yeah, come on the hell in, Santa! Or do you prefer Mr. Claus?” Ray taunted
Not wanting to tempt an itchy trigger finger, Santa took his time. Stepping forward, he very carefully unfurled, not wanting to make a sudden move. A lot of people depended on him; it wouldn’t do to wind up dead on the bearskin rugged floor. The fire sprang back to life, writhing in the hearth like a flash mob on ecstasy.
“You can stop right there, you cocksucker. And if you’re wondering about the big, furry fella on the floor, yeah, I shot him—just like I’m going to shoot you. Wonder how Mrs. Claus is goin’ to like being a widow. Hope she looks good in black.”
“Now that isn’t true.”
“What isn’t? My sincere wish that the old bat can carry off black? Most fashionistas will tell you that it’s considered a very flattering color because of its propensity to slim fat people down. Should’a considered that before choosing that stupid red suit for yourself, you ignoramus.”
The fire reflected in Santa’s kindly blue eyes didn’t fool anyone. A heartless bastard, who other than that would have made a little boy cry?
“I wasn’t talking about my wife, Sarah. I was talking about the rug. It’s old—a lot older than you. You couldn’t possibly have shot it, Ray. It is, Ray? Little Ray-Ray Hastings?”
“Ray-Ray? Listen, you clown, I don’t know if you’ve heard, but I don’t go by that moniker anymore. Died with the grandmother that christened me with that term of affection, but you know, it felt kinda nice to know that someone at least cared.”
The memory of his grandma coming to mind, a crying jag was coming on strong. Lillian hadn’t deserved to die, but this fucker did. He’d show him. He’d goddamned show him. Starting to blubber, his jaw quaked like one of those fruit-filled Jell-O molds his mother used to make. God, how he hated her fucking up his favorite dessert with that healthy shit. Maybe he’d borrow that sled and make a special visit to her house as soon as he got rid of this dirt bag.
“Why didn’t you come, Santa? Why?” he blurted. Juicy, thick tears starting to stream down his stubble-ridden face, while he hadn’t been good at much, growing a beard was something he excelled at. He had that in common with the man he was going to kill. “Bang, bang, fat boy … you’re dead.”
Nobody’s fool, Santa immediately recognized the terse phrase. Withholding the alarming messages from his dear wife, he’d been tempted to report the harassment to the FBI terrorist unit, but it wasn’t his style to cause problems for troubled youth. He hadn’t considered the letters written in shades of florid pink were sent by an adult.
“So it was you that wrote me those letters? Why Ray-Ray? Why?”
“MY NAME IS NOT GODDAMNED RAY-RAY! I JUST GODDAMNED TOLD YOU THAT, DID I NOT, YOU FAT DICK?” he screamed, his hand shaking with emotion.
Knowing that the small caliber had a hair trigger, Santa needed to calm him the hell down.
“Alright, alright, Raymond. It’s just I remember all the children in the world. Every single one. And I remember Ray-Ray. I loved my little Ray-Ray; loved him like he was one of my very own little elves. I still do, Raymond. If you’d give me a chance, I could prove it.”
The angry man’s mood changing in a heartbeat, Ray morphed back into the mean drunk he always became when he imbibed. He had no time for this bullshit. Considering that he made a mistake in not already putting a bullet in that fat, bulging gut sashed with that wide, black belt, he ran a quivering hand through his unkempt, greasy hair. No running water in the abandoned cabin, he hadn’t had a chance to go into town and use the bus depot to clean-up.
“Give you a chance?! You mean, like the chance you gave me? I WAITED UP ALL NIGHT, YOU PUSSY! ALL FUCKING NIGHT!”
“Oh, Raymond,” he said clucking his tongue. “So that’s what this is about. Do you mind if I put down my bag?” the wily, old man asked. Every bit as smart as a coyote, Ray didn’t trust him. Not one bit. In spite of his PR, he was shady.
“S-s-s-sure. Go ahead, but be careful. I’m warning you,” he snarled, yawning wildly and starting to slur.
A blast of cold air filling the room, it jolted him out of the stupor he was wallowing in. A strange red glow lighting up Santa’s face, his mind processed where it could be coming from. With no money, it wasn’t as if could have afforded Christmas lights. Feeling hot breath hit the back of his neck, a breeze that strong couldn’t have been generated by the space heater. His judgment severely impaired, his wrist was hit by a sharp jab. A hoof print appearing in his flesh, the gun flew out of his hand. Spinning his head around, an angry reindeer named Rudolph was poised to deliver karate-style fatal kick to his skull.
“Rudolph, no!” Santa shouted.
The speeding lethal appendage stopped in mid-air, Rudolph reluctantly ceasing the attack. Having taken an online, self-defense course to stop the teasing meted out at the reindeer games, it had come in handy a second time. Ray’s reactions not as smooth, he fell to the ground from an evasive defensive maneuver. Crashing to the ground, he stared up into the face of the grinning pack animal.
“That’ll be all, Rudolph. Ray and I are just getting to the bottom of things. Aren’t we, Ray?”
Air snorted through nostrils as big as trumpet openings, he didn’t like the malicious look in the uncovered eye. A black patch over the other, a skull decorated scarf was tied over his ears. The cartoons and animations not really didn’t doing him justice, he was a fine-looking animal. Even besotted by way too much liquor, Ray could tell that, finding himself unusually attracted.
Rejecting the romantic overture, Rudolph pivoted. Waggling his white tail, he left a little something to remember him by on the wood floor before exiting through the door.
“Yeah, sorry about that, Ray. Ever since I gave him that eye patch for Christmas last year, he’s been playing pirate. Thinks he’s Blackbeard or something. Here let me help you up,” Santa offered, extending a hand.
“No, don’t you come near me!” Scrambling, he grabbed for his gun. Reaching it, he began giggling like a schoolgirl. Caressing it like he meant it, he pointed the barrel at the man he most despised. “Now who’s in charge, old man? Hmmmm?”
Santa let out a sigh. Scratching his thumb lightly across his pink-tinged forehead, he didn’t want to argue about who possessed the power in this situation. Feeling explanations futile, he tried his best to reach the higher mind of Ray with an old Zen saying.
“Ray, Ray, Ray, don’t you see that the man who holds the gun, holds nothing. While the man on whom the gun is pointed, holds strength?”
Blinking several times, Ray felt his head would explode.
“You trying to silly me to death, you old fool? Well, it won’t work.” Pushing his free hand against the ground, he stumbled to his feet. Rocking for a minute or two, he regained his balance, but only for a second. Feeling faint, he crashed down in his chair. “Now you were startin’ to explain. I’d like to hear your pathetic excuse.”
“To explain, I need to get my list … and my glasses. Just need them for reading these days. Eyes aren’t what they used to be and …”
“By excuses, I didn’t mean your excuse for every single goddamned ailment in your miserable life! Save that for Blue Cross Blue Shield!”
Reaching into his jacket pocket, Santa placed the wire-rimmed glasses on his rounded nose. The stub red, the Christmas legend looked more lit than Ray. Perhaps a nip or two accounted for the missed appointment and forgetting about the little boy.
“Actually, I’m covered by one of the new private choices that replace the basic Medicaid options. If you choose Plan B, you can …”
“Shut the fuck up about that! I only wanna know about …”
“Yes, yes, you want to know about this,” he responded, slipping a long tally sheet from his pocket.
“What’s-s-s-s that?” he asked, his tongue getting tangled in his mouth. The long night almost over, he was more than tired.
“It’s your history. I’ve been trying to find you, but you haven’t been that easy to find, Ray. What happened to you?”
“I became a self-published author.”
“Ah, well, that explains it. Also accounts for those grammatical errors in those letters you sent to me,” Santa expertly counseled. “Pretty much the kiss of death, ho, ho, ho.”
“Yeah, tell me about it,” he lamented, loving to talk about his new career. “So far this month, I’ve only had two free downloads, but then maybe Sci-fi isn’t as popular as it used to be. Hard to keep up given Amazon’s new algorithms. I mean, how can you if they keep changing the rules?”
“You’re drunk, aren’t you, Ray? Blitzed, blasted, filthy-dirty-dog drunk. Am I right?”
“NO, I’M NOT BLITZY, BLASTERS-S-S-S, FITFULLY-DD-D-D-URR—RR-TEE DOGGIEEEE DRUNK!!!” he wailed, the crying jag that started a few moments ago finally catching up.
“Oh, alright, Ray. Have it your own way. You’re not drunk, but I did look for you. See, here’s your first letter. And one from your grandmother, Lillian.”
“My, my, my g-g-g-randma-a-a-a-a?” he howled. Sobbing into his shot glass, he pounded his fist on the table.
“Yes, your grandmother. You’d written me, but she wanted to make sure her grandson got his wish, so she wrote me, too. Unfortunately that year, I’d switched over to a new POS system. POS is point-of-sales. Although I’m in the charity business, I still needed a way to track requests and make sure they were being fulfilled. Had my elves do the data processing, but one of them got a little careless and entered an “A” instead of an “S.” So instead of going to 122 Sycamore, I went to …”
“Yes, except …”
“There isn’t any such address.”
“Right you are, Ray. Of course, it would have been worse if there had been such a street because I would have left your present at the wrong address. But there wasn’t, and right there in my bag is your gift. The one you and your grandma wrote me about. The one I’ve carried around for the past 20 years … all in the hopes I’d find you! And I did!”
“But how? Did you see one of my books on Smashwords?”
“Not likely, Ray. Doubt anyone would be able to find subpar work that’s barely English in that Indie jungle. No, I found you in the most logical place to look—the bankruptcy notices.”
The awful truth hitting him, he collapsed under the crushing weight of defeat.
“OH, GOD, SANTA! I’M SOOO EMBARASSED! I’M-A, I’M-A, I’M-A A BIG, FA-FFFFAT FA-FFFFAILURE!!” he screamed. Banging his head down into his free hand, the gun dangled from his fingers. Santa held his breath, praying that it dropped to the floor.
“Ray, there’s no reason to be sad.” Opening his bag, he brought out the gift.
Hoisting a hooded lid, Ray eyed the booty. There, in the old man’s outstretched, chubby hand was his gift … the one he’d been waiting for. Snatching it from Santa’s fingers, he cried out as if in pain. Reading the words on the packaging, his eyes glossed over with joy. Christmas truly was the season of miracles—and he wasn’t referring to the one that occurred in the manger.
Hooking his fingers under the lid, he rid the box of its lid. Laying the cardboard on the table, he emptied it of his present.
“An official Tiniest Ninja sword! Oh, Santa, you did care! It was all a mistake!”
“Exactly! Just a silly misunderstanding. Santa cares. Santa loves you, Ray-Ray!”
Not minding that he was using that childhood nickname again, hell, he didn’t even mind that he was speaking about himself in the third person.
“Now perhaps you’ll get yourself a real job, and stop this writing nonsense. Might as well buy a lottery ticket, or expect aliens to land and anally probe you as to think you’ll earn a living by self-publishing.”
The phrase he’d written to Old St. Nick repeated in Ray’s head. He cocked his gun, ready to fire.
“You wouldn’t be stompin’ on my dream again, would you?”
“No, no, no!!!” Santa hastily denied, waving his hands rapidly in the air. “I was just suggesting you switch genres. I hear Fantasy Adventure is lucrative. Then there’s Erotica. I don’t need to tell you that I receive quite a few requests from naughty boys and girls for smut this time of the year. Of course, I toss them out, but as they say, sex never goes out of style.”
“Good idea, Santa!”
Hard feelings trashed and burned in the haze of Christmas past, he sprang to his feet, swishing his sword in the air. It felt good.
“That’s better, but you’d better be careful with that. Santa likes his head attached to his shoulders! Ho ho ho!”
Pulling up, Ray halted his exuberant movements.
“No chance of that happening! These things have plastic edges. See?”
Santa winked. Nodding his head, he slipped his eyeglasses back in his pocket.
“I know. I was just kidding. Where’s that sense of humor you used to have, Ray-Ray?”
Hard feelings coming back flush, sarcasm made him spit out their remnants.
“Must have been in that piece of cookie my dad ate.”
Scrunching his face, Santa dove down, retrieving his bag. Little Ray-Ray was scaring him. In fact, he hadn’t been so frightened since he’d made the mistake of driving over a post office.
“Now you be good, Ray, and I’ll see you next year,” he assured.
With a whistle the fire died down. Stepping into the hearth, he touched the side of his nose. Levitating, his black boots disappeared up flue. The flames reigniting, Ray ran to the hearth, shouting up the funnel.
“Hey, could you maybe make one of my books a bestseller on Amazon?”
“Ho ho ho!!!” came the reply.
* * * * *
Safely on the roof, Santa straightened his cap and tugged down his jacket. Rudolph back in his traces, he gave his trusty friend a pat.
“Thanks for the help, Rudy. Should have let you take that nutcase out. Thank God, Johnny Cruzala’s mother waited up tonight. Made me take that overpriced weapon her son requested with me, but then once a pacifist, always a pacifist, eh, Rudy? I mean, if she hadn’t done that, I wouldn’t have that stupid ninja sword. Can just imagine the reaction the real present I brought Ray-Ray would have caused. Don’t think he would have been too happy with the two pairs of socks even though God knows he needs them. Made sure they were just like the ones I left that year. Oh, well!”
All too anxious to get the hell home, he gave a whistle, his team taking off like the down of a thistle.
* * * * *
Ray’s head cocked, he’d eavesdropped on the little confessional. Exploding with anger, the man in the red suit had tricked him—again!
Galloping to the door, the gun was in one hand, the sword still in the other. Forgetting all about the gift Rudy left behind, he stepped right into the still warm clumps of brown.
“Shit!” he screamed, shaking his foot and hopping outside. Running out into the cold night air, he dragged his boot in the snow until he’d cleared it of the foul mess.
I heard you!” he screamed as the sleigh took flight. “You bastard, you did give me those fucking tube socks!”
Taking aim, he fired several shots, Santa tugging on the reins to make sure he was out or range.
“You get down here, you son of a bitch!!! I’ll get you! I swear I’ll get you for everything, if it’s the last thing I ever do!”
“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night!” Santa shouted.
Continuing to scream, Ray gave chase. Waving the Tiniest Ninja sword for all it was worth, he fired more shots at the figure disappearing into the star-filled sky.
© 2012 by Wendy Potocki