June 2009


All of the works of fiction on this blog are the property of Bobman and may only be used with my permission.

Author’s Note: I wrote this sometime back in the mid ‘80s. It is a result of the few Christmases I had already spent in retail at that time. If you take the person with the most Christmas spirit and have that person work in the retail sector for a year or two including the Christmas season (and the Christmas return nightmare after Christmas has passed) that person’s holiday spirit will be broken beyond repair. There is nothing like the hordes of mindless materialistic zombies trashing your workplace like they are participating in the LA riots in their pursuit to celebrate what they believe to be a Christian holiday based on a symbolic figure that doesn’t even exist. Even though I might not have been consciously thinking it at the time of the original writing, this was also a way for me to explore the bigger picture of other symbolic icons our elders brought us up to believe in out of fear – you better watch out… if you are not good, you will get coal in your Christmas stocking, or you will end up burning in the eternal flames of damnation.  It’s all basically the same result. With a few minor tweaks, this is the story this thought process led to:

scary_santa  santa_motor1 santa_boots2 man with gun1

 

Santa Claus

by Bob Langham

 It was Christmas Eve. The Christmas tree lights were blinking – creating living patterns on the wall. The glow from the tree peered through the frosted windows. A red smear of motion appeared outside the window. It was Santa. His lazy Christmas stocking cap hung crookedly off of his head. His face was crunched into an ugly grin as he pressed it against the outside of the window. His eyes, as dark as the night at his back, canvassed the Goodman’s living room, but from outside he could only see shadows. His damp beard was littered with an assortment of trinkets which he had accumulated during his travels on this frigid night – blades of frozen grass, slivers of broken candy canes, which had gotten stranded on the way to his mouth, cookie crumbs that poked their tiny heads out of the dingy white tuft of hair, and at the tip, the beard was damp where Santa had gotten careless with his thermos of coffee. His wrinkled undershirt peeked out of his red coat in yellowing hints of soiled cotton. His black belt overlapped his belt loops and hung awkwardly below his waist.
     Santa could see no movement behind the window. He reached down and yanked his red pants up a few inches. Then he leaned over and pulled a silver object from his boot. It had jagged teeth, not unlike his own and a pearl handle. Santa examined it closely in the glow of the blinking lights. The blade came alive in the moving light. Santa squinted and pulled a smoke from behind his ear and shoved it unlit in the corner of his crooked mouth and went to work.
      As easily as if he were carving a tender Christmas turkey, Santa removed the pane of glass and laid it down gently at his feet. He stared at the blade as if to thank it silently for another job well done.  He bent over and slid it back into his shiny black boot.  He stood up and threw a quick glance over his shoulder, yanked his pants up again and stuck his hand through the opening he had created. His pale, meaty hand searched blindly for the lock, and like all of the other times, it was easy. He found it, flipped the latch and was in the house in a matter of seconds.
      He reached through the open window and pulled in his oversized, bulging Christmas sack of loot. It was dingy and yellowing and peppered with cigarette burns. He laid it at his feet. The wind started to howl fiercely outside the open window.  Santa inched across the room. The wooden floor creaked with every tiny step.
      The framed photograph of Mrs. Goodman hanging on the wall caught Santa’s eye. It captured her in her younger days. The blinking Christmas tree made Mrs. Goodman appear to smile down on Santa in the darkness. The children’s photographs, also caught in their younger days, snuggled beside Mrs. Goodman’s smiling image.
     It was the picture of Elaine Goodman, the oldest daughter that caught Santa’s attention. He raised his colorless hand and traced the outline of her face – his nicotine stained fingers smudged the glass that protected her. His nails scraped the glass, causing a high-pitched squeak. He yanked the framed picture from the wall and tucked it under his arm.
      Santa skillfully disconnected the wires to the VCR and slipped it into his Christmas sack of loot. He placed Elaine’s picture safely on top. He was turning to grab the compact disk player when in his peripheral vision he detected the silhouette standing in the doorway to the room. Santa rotated his head slowly, with a slightly audible creak. The Christmas tree lit up the shadow’s face. It belonged to a young man – an older more mature version of one of the boys in the flock of children that nestled around Mrs. Goodman’s picture on the wall.
     The young man’s face was filled with disbelief – not so much that he was being robbed, but more of an expression that said; I thought Santa Claus wasn’t real.
 The young man stared into Santa’s eyes. Even in the limited light he could see that they were dark and deep and red around the corners. Santa straightened up, his joints cracking to break the silence. The young man shot a quick glance down at Santa’s boots to escape the dark heavy gaze of Santa’s eyes. The boots were shiny black with silver studs on each ankle. He saw the blade sticking out of the top of Santa’s boot. That was all it took for reality to win him back over. Santa had followed the young man’s gaze down to his boots and recognized the new awakening on his face.
     Santa finally spoke in a low guttural voice.
      “What’s wrong man? Don’t you believe in me? Forget what your parents told you. I really do exist. Just not quite the way they told you though.” Santa’s eyes began to glitter.  
     Seeing this, the young man took several steps backward, stumbling. It was then that he remembered he hadn’t come into the room empty handed. He felt the steel, an added weight, as his arms flailed wildly and he fell backward hitting the floor hard.
     Santa yanked the compact disk player up and placed it with the VCR and photo of Elaine. He snatched up the sack of loot and leapt gracefully through the open window.
     The young man scrambled to his feet and gave chase. Even over the howling wind he heard Santa’s boots clicking rapidly down the street. He sprinted after him. When he thought he was as close to him as he was going to be able to get, the young man raised the gun and jerked the trigger twice. Santa’s red coat ripped in two places as the bullets penetrated the red material. Santa didn’t even break his stride. He slung the oversized sack over his shoulder and cackled loudly.
     The young man came to a halt – not believing what he had just seen. Santa hurdled over a six-foot wooden fence. The toe of one of his boots snagged on the top of the fence and ripped one of the planks off the foundation completely. The board cartwheeled through the chilly air following Santa over the fence.
     The young man stopped and stared in disbelief.  His rapid breaths floated around his head in gray puffs. He was dressed only in thin pajamas, and barefooted but too stunned to notice. The wooden fence, now a crooked grin concealed Santa.
     An engine quickly roared into life and tires squealed angrily in the thin air. The fence explode as Santa plowed through it atop a shiny red motorcycle, with the bulging sack of loot strapped snugly to his back.
 The motorcycle engine growled into higher gear as the front tire lifted gradually off of the ground. Santa cackled loudly over the roar of the engine, his eyes glowing red and his Christmas hat still obediently in place.
     The young man raised the gun, but slowly dropped it to his side. Santa shot past him in a streak of red, leaving a trail of laughter behind. The young man’s mouth hung open, billows of steam shooting out in short bursts of breath, as the back tire of the motorcycle lifted slowly from the pavement also. The motorcycle was quickly flying through the winter night high above the street. The motorcycle cleared the Goodman’s roof by only inches. Santa giggled loudly as the bike roared and shot off into the night.
     The young man noticed an object lying at his feet. He bent over slowly and picked it up and examined it closely. It had a pearl handle and a jagged blade. At the base of the handle, there was a red monogrammed SC. He glanced over and beyond the roof of his house into the empty darkness and shook his head as a light snow began to fall silently.
    He realized he was dressed only in his pajamas. He quickly ran back to his house on cold numb feet as the wind began to howl louder and the snowfall became heavier.
 
–Bobman

Author’s Note: I wrote this story back in the early ’80s. Stan is loosely based on the boss I had at that time at my first real job while in high school. This boss was a laid back, mild-mannered guy most of the time, until the stresses of life, and a nagging wife, coupled with the pressures of owning his own small business would build up in him until he just couldn’t bottle it up inside anymore. He would fly off into violent rampages, shouting at his wife at the top of his lungs, throwing tools and scraps of metal in all directions, and peeling out and skidding around the gravel parking lot of his business in his truck.  On one of  his mild-mannerd days, I was helping him load some parts it to his truck to deliver to a client and I noticed he had a rifle behind his seat. Naturally, my imagination did not have to work overtime to come up with this dark tale…

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Answers

by Bob Langham

Stan stared at the certificate of achievement hanging proudly on his office wall. He could hear the roar of machinery outside his office door. He glanced toward the corner. His rifle was propped up against the metal file cabinet, the barrel aimed toward the sparkling white ceiling. The gun appeared to hold up the file cabinet, to support it and keep it from falling.

Pain shot through the bridge of Stan’s nose, causing him to pinch it between his thumb and forefinger and squeeze his eyes closed hard. He could not remember how long it had been since he had been home. Things were getting lost on that dark, slithering path, that others affectionately called Memory Lane.

He wanted to call Gina and tell her that he needed help, that his mind wasn’t right.But he opened his eyes and a memory shot through him. The phone was a mangled, distorted heap of metal, wires, and plastic fragments cowering in the corner. He had taken care of the phone this morning – it wouldn’t stop ringing.

He swiveled in his chair and opened the bottom drawer of the file cabinet. It was loaded with several boxes of shells for his rifle. One box showed signs of being rapidly ripped opened.  A few loose shells rolled around outside of the box.

Stan heard a polite gentle rap on his office door. He pulled himself out of his chair, limped to his office door and slowly pushed it open – no one.
    

He crept out into the shop. The belt sander was still running but Pete was not standing at it. Stan shook his head. If I’ve told them once, I’ve told them a thousand times, don’t leave the machinery unattended while it’s running.
Stan made his way over to the belt sander, unknowingly kicking a spent shell across the shop floor with his boot. Pete’s blood-soaked body cowered lifelessly underneath the sander. His face no longer existed. All that remained was a scarlet emptiness lathered with grains of sawdust.

Stan jabbed the Stop button, killing the sander. It moaned into quiet stillness, but not before letting loose with one last desperate creak.

Stan turned and dragged his feet over to the large bay door that faced the driveway. 
The tiny company delivery truck crouched silently. Its two front tires were flat, it hunched forward like a wounded animal. The windshield showed signs of implosion. The driver’s door was ajar. It beeped a rhythmic reminder that the keys were still in the ignition.

Andy’s rigid body was still inside the truck. One stiff hand clutched the wheel. The other rested lifelessly, palm up on the seat. The seat was littered with crumbled glass, glittering in the early morning sun, giving life to the scarlet puddle. Andy’s mouth hung open. His eyes stared blankly skyward, questioning silently.

Stan removed his glasses and rubbed the bridge of his nose, trying to erase the pain that was now shooting through his head. He stuffed his hand in his pocket and felt the crinkled scrap of paper. He pulled it out, eyeing it carefully. Stan had written it several months ago when the first terrible pain had stirred him out of a sound sleep. It had been the worst pain yet. It had been nearly 2 a.m. as he sat at the kitchen table, an overturned aspirin bottle in front of him. The words had begun to flow like blood from an open wound. It had written itself, coming from some dark, unfamiliar corner of his mind. Stan had scratched it down and had kept it with him ever since.

A Few Questions About Friends

Have you ever been in the sights of a high-powered rifle?
And how did you feel
when a bullet wearing your name
sliced the air in front of you
with fragments of laugher following close behind?

And which blow was worse?
That of the bullet,
or the realization of the familiar face
grinning sadistically behind the scope?

It had scared him so much, that he couldn’t get back to sleep that night, even after the pain had temporarily subsided.

As he held the crinkled scrap of paper now, he stared down at it, hoping it would give him some answers to why the dark corners of his mind were taking charge – or why he was doing things that the Stan of a year ago would not have even thought of, without the burden of guilt riding him.

Stan realized that he could stare at the worn scrap of paper until he died and still come away without any answers to these questions. He stuffed the crinkled paper back into his pocket. He repositioned his glasses, as the pain became just a faint tingling in the bridge of his nose. He thought about calling home to talk to Gina. He could tell her that he needed help, but realization shadowed his face – he had taken care of her this morning. She wouldn’t stop. She wanted to know what was wrong. He had no answers, so he did what he thought was the next best thing. He ended the questions.

There would be others with questions, he reminded himself. People like Pete and Andy. Suddenly, Stan gasped, as if his air supply had been cut off. What about the kids? He let out his breath slowly, as he remembered. He had taken care of the children too.

Stan spun around quickly. He thought’d he heard someone whispering his name – but he was alone. He was alone when he heard the sirens wailing out their cries on the wind and ricocheting off the shop walls. Stan cocked his ear upward as a stranger’s grin overtook his face. They would have questions of their own, and they wouldn’t be verbal. They would be in the form they knew best.

Stan casually shut the door to the delivery truck and hurried back to his office and closed the door behind him.

The achievement award was the first thing to catch his eye. The bright glare from the office lights bounced of the glass and blurred the words underneath. He thought back to when he had received it for his efforts to work with the community. He had accepted it enthusiastically. Gina had worn her black dress and she had been so proud of him. That had been before the headaches – before the darkness had shrouded his mind. Stan looked down at his desk. There were no stray papers or writing utensils. Everything was in order.

He sat down behind his desk and reached into the bottom drawer of the file cabinet. He removed a box of shells and placed it neatly on his desk. He opened the box gently with trembling hands. The shells gleamed with authority under the fluorescent lights.

Stan searched his pocket and pulled out the wrinkled scrap of paper and placed it in front of him on the desk. He read it once again. Still, it offered no answers. He slowly swiveled in his chair and grabbed his rifle. His head was a hornet’s nest of pain. He shoved the shells into his rifle and then pulled out three more boxes of the gleaming shells. He swiveled back in his chair and lined them up orderly across his desk. He flipped open the lid to the next available box. The shells winked at Stan underneath the lights as if they shared a dark secret with him.

Beyond his office door, Stan heard the scraping of tires on gravel, and dying sirens abruptly squelched by authoritative hands. He heard the rapid opening and shutting of car doors, then the pounding of heavy feet on gravel – feet that meant business and did not mess around. Another car door opened and was followed  by a familiar rhythmic beeping which sounded like the helpless cry of a wounded animal. He heard someone throw up breakfast – a door slammed and the beeping stopped. He could hear the static babble of police radios.

Stan’s nose began to bleed on his upper lip – a byproduct of the pain that ricocheted in his head. Seeing his own blood, Stan panicked and jerked the trigger of his rifle. It sent his chair back several inches. His office door gave way and surrendered to the force of the bullet. Stan continued to jerk the trigger, until the dull click of emptiness reminded him to reload.

He ripped open a new box, and in the gleam of one of the shells, he saw an ugly distortion of himself. He glanced down at the wrinkled scrap of paper glaring up at him. Blunt realization struck him. The answers came. Why couldn’t they have come sooner?

He began to cry silently, as the truth came home.

The last thing Stan knew was the KAWOP of an police issued rifle and the dull thud he felt between his eyes. Black emptiness swallowed him whole, as the external pain competed with the internal pain and then overcame it.

– Bobman