Big thanks and virtual candy canes to Mary for beta reading this.
Standard disclaimer and all that.
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Deck the Claus!
by Ms. Panther
Alcohol, stale cigarrette smoke and Old Spice. One by one, Gary
identified the scents that wafted off the large man behind him and filled
his own nostrils. His stomach rolled a little at the stench and he felt like
dough being pressed with a rolling pin, the way he was squished against the
glass of the revolving doors, his newspaper trapped against his chest at
an odd angle. Why the man had thought they could both fit in one section
of the doors was a mystery. With a grunt, the man propelled him forward
and into the department store until he landed in a heap next to a grinning
plastic Santa Claus. Gary was not amused.
He stood up, dusted himself off and looked around for a moment. Mr. Old Spice hadn't even looked back or apologized, so the scowl on Gary's face was wasted on the ever grinning Saint Nick that now stood slightly askew.
"What are you smilin' about?" he mumbled, and barely managed to refrain from kicking the plastic smirk off the plastic face.
Christmas was just about the worst time of year as far as saves went, and this year was proving to be no exception. He was cranky and tired and beginning to feel a strong kinship with Ebenezer Scrooge. The crowds seemed to grow larger every year, bringing along an increase in selfishness and impatience that made Gary wonder again how the true meaning of Christmas had gotten lost. When had it turned into a chaos of commercialism? Where was the holiday cheer and the Christmas spirit and peace and goodwill and all those other things that were being sung about right at this very moment over the store's speaker system? Sure, the decorations were pretty, but they, along with the music, made an ironic backdrop to the irritable shoppers who were jostling one another for whatever treasure they hoped to find on the shelves and display cases.
Shopping bags and shoulders assaulted him from every direction as he made his way to the escalater. Hand to hand combat would've been less brutal than this, he thought, as he tried, unsuccessfully, to stop for a moment and check the article one more time.
Up on the second floor, he found the line of antsy children and strung-out parents waiting to see Santa. The jolly old elf himself, well, he wasn't looking so jolly. In fact, he was none other than Mr. Old Spice, now dressed in traditional Santa attire. But the cheerful red outfit did nothing to brighten the man's demeanor. Gary almost turned around right then and left Santa to his well-deserved fate. But his sense of duty kept him rooted to the spot, thinking about the children who would be upset by an attack on Santa and searching the crowd for a man who looked as if he were about to deck the jolly old elf.
"Sam. Sam Franklin!" Gary called, then stopped to check his paper again. Nothing had changed, unless he counted the strange and irritated looks he was now getting from those around him.
He raised his voice above the music and the chatter of the crowd and tried again.
"Sam Franklin! I need to speak to Sam Franklin"
A striking blonde near the head of the line raised her head and glanced around until she met his gaze. When he called out again, she started toward him, pushing against the sea of people and pulling along two protesting children.
"I'm Sam Franklin," she said, then blew a stray strand of hair out of her face. "Do I know you?"
Sam was a woman? This was not what he'd expected at all, so he focused on her children for a moment while he processed this new piece of info.
"N-no, not really," he finally replied. "I just wanted to tell you...t-to remind you of what Christmas is really all about." He gestured toward Mr. Old Spice and continued in a hushed voice. "Santa's not worth getting yourself arrested, especially not in front of your children."
"Arrested? What are you talking about?", she asked, her eyes narrowed in suspicion.
He gulped, and scrambled to think of an answer that sounded even remotely reasonable. But there was no need. Before he could even utter a word, a screech pierced the air, followed immediately by the cries of a thousand wailing children. Or at least it sounded like a thousand.
"Oh boy," Gary muttered and quickly scanned the article again. It was all there, the same exact story down to the last little detail, except the name of the assailant had changed.
Local Santa gets decked for the holidays
Marshall Fields shoppers got a big surprise when the store Santa was assaulted late yesterday. Witnesses claim that the man in red was insulting and rude to children and parents alike and "it was only a matter of time before he got decked".
"Santa was mean to my mommy," said six year old Susan Crestmont, the assailant's daughter. Miller Crestmont was led away by store security while his wife and children watched. Charges against him are pending.
"Excuse me, are you all right?" Sam asked.
"Uh, yeah," Gary answered distractedly.
"You know, I have a pretty bad temper when it comes to men. That could've been me just now. Is that what you meant? About not getting myself arrested, I mean."
"Uh, yeah," he repeated, beginning to feel rather stupid.
"Well, how did you know?"
"I said, how did you know?"
"Oh. Well, I, uh..." But Gary was spared again from answering when her two children began pulling on her hands and begging to go home.
"Look, I gotta go," she said. "But thanks. I think we'll go home, light a fire and read the story of the first Christmas. Thanks for the reminder. Merry Christmas."
She was gone before Gary could return the sentiment. Despite the fact that he hadn't prevented the attack on Santa altogether, Gary felt no guilt. He'd spared Sam's children from being hauled away by strangers after watching their mom get arrested. For that he was grateful. There was nothing more he could do. The crowd was dispersing, and he found himself being pulled along with the flow. Once outside, he pulled up his collar against the wind and headed for home.
McGinty's was warm and cozy in its Christmas decor. And even though it was a bar, there seemed an almost reverent, almost holy feeling in the air. No fake Santas, no harried shoppers and overly tired employees spoiled the mood here. The patrons spoke in subdued tones, accompanied by the occasional clinking of glasses and soft laughter. And in the back corner, sat Chuck, Marissa, Bernie and Lois, laughing and teasing and waiting just for him.
He paused for a moment and took it all in, contentment settling over him like a warm blanket. Here was the peace and goodwill he'd been longing to feel all along. Here was the true spirit of Christmas. And the best part was, he didn't have to go far to find it. It was all right here at home.
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