Ghost of Christmas

Ghost of Christmas

A Story by Lyrik
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A short first person prose about an adventure a man has while shopping during the holiday season.

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Ghost of Christmas

 

Normally, I avoid forays into public areas during holiday seasons.  I don’t hate the crowds; in fact I find them quite fascinating.  I don’t mind all the walking because you know, I am getting older and physical exertion of any kind is good for me.  The cold doesn’t bother me since I know the value of proper clothing and long past the age of being fashion conscious.  But, there is one thing in which keeps me homebound when I might otherwise choose to join the general population.  And, that is the parking lot.

In my mind, the parking lot is slithering mass of hate, anger, idiocy and general malice.  If you ever want to see a soccer mom, gentle old lady or even the most peace loving hippy turn into a ferocious monster then enter a shopping center parking lot and locate a empty parking space near the front door and do nothing but stand in the middle of the space so no one can park.  You will within seconds be cursed, accosted or more than likely run over.  I have in the past while attempting to cross this miasma of human misery found myself nearly splayed upon the grills of mini-vans, SUVs and other urban vehicles because I was too slow or did not dodge quickly enough.  It used to happen rarely but a few years ago I noticed an increasing trend as a cell phones and especially the phenomenon known as “texting” has gained popularity.  So, I normally disavow public places that require traversing a shopping center parking lot during the holiday season.

However, a few days before Christmas, my niece came to visit and we decided we would leave the High Definition Circus in which I lovingly call home to venture out for a few last minute gifts and a nice dinner to catch up and relax a little bit.  Knowing of my phobia of parking lots, she navigated us through the bustling city streets to the neighborhood Mega-Mart.  I kept my eyes closed as we entered the parking lot and after only a short eternity she managed to wedge into a spot almost in view of the building.  We trudged the required 1.25 miles through the brisk evening air and entered the store.

#

Now, due to my “condition” I am usually rather nervous as I enter the store as I am harried, sometimes hurting and I can never stop thinking about the other poor pedestrians out in ‘hell-lot’, as I like to call it.  I just know they are all about to get maimed, crippled and emotionally scarred.  So I have a rather unique shopping plan when I do finally get inside. 

I get two buggies, one in front and one in rear.  I rush like an Olympic sprinter through the store grabbing anything that looks interesting.  I place those items into the front cart.  When it is full, I search out a quiet isolated place in the store.  I have found that the one single remaining isle dedicated to lawn care is perfect at this time of year.  I then proceed to examine my choices. Those that I actually wish to purchase I place into the second cart and leave the leftovers in the first.  I then casually and with perhaps a slightly nefarious look about me, drop off the first cart in the customer service area that I think of as the “Junkyard”, where wayward products are amassed waiting to be replaced upon the shelves.

­­     I always feel a bit ashamed of myself and even a bit remorseful for the poor employee who will be charged with finding homes for all those forlorn, slightly crushed, poorly sealed and otherwise damaged goods.   I normally say a small prayer of forgiveness for the transgression and move toward the center of the check out area.  I position myself slightly off the main aisle so that I do not get trampled and begin my analysis.

Now this is a moment of truth.  I must insert myself into one of these intertwining loops of surly people waiting to check out.  I know I must make my choice carefully. I have spent 20 years in study for this very moment and I have gathered a large amount of data concerning just how to pick the quickest line.  I had consulted my precisely detailed analysis just days before so that I might be prepared just for this moment. 

I look anxiously for the right opportunity.  I anticipate the mass of movement.  I quickly calculate the rate of speed and angle of projection and at just the right moment I react with blinding speed!  I deftly sidestep a raging cart on my left and swerve around another on my right and position myself into the line with the fewest people, the fewest items and the one that up until now was moving most swiftly.   Whew!  I just narrowly beat the family of five that was heavily laden with merchandise.

#

Now that I am now well entrenched into an exit lane and only a couple of spots back from the clerk, I can take a moment to relax.  I close my eyes and bow my head trying to find my calm place.  After a couple of deep breaths and slow exhales I am finally ready to let myself experience the real reason I venture out during the holiday season. 

I stand very still as I listen to din of the crowd.  The beep beep beep of the cash registers, the rat-at-tat-tat of the receipt printers.  The squeak-wabble-squeak of abused shopping carts and the rhythm of despairing sighs echoing through the crowd.  All these sounds blend together, creating a cacophony of holiday misery.

Now I slowly open my eyes and allow my gaze to sweep from left to right across the store.  I take in all the merchandise shelves that are now in complete disarray from hands pawing relentlessly to take possession of merchandise before another than claim it.  I allow my scan to caress across all of the misplaced products left haphazardly out of place.  All the toys that have been pried out of spoiled children’s hands and left behind, safe from destruction for a little while longer.  All the clothes slumped half off hangers from the rush of shopping carts.  It looks like decay and chaos. 

Next, I say a silent farewell to the all the holiday decorations, now worn and fading.  I try to remember them from when they were first placed in their positions of holiday cheer many months before, showing off their crisp edges and bright holiday colors.  They have past their prime now and will soon get a quiet respite behind the building in the overflowing trash compactor before finding their final resting place in the solemn expanse of the ever-growing landfill.

I take notice of the wearied and down trodden store associates. Their uniforms in disarray as they shamble onward on sore feet; no longer smiling and pretending to be happy to help.  They no longer even notice if the merchandise is crisply folded, priced correctly or organized where it belongs.  Not even hell-lot provides any threat to these war-torn veterans.

I allow my focus to narrow upon the nest of twitching people crowded near the cashier area. I observe all the mothers with their make up smeared and marred as they clutch their purses in one hand like a medieval weapon ready for combat.  Some have slumbering children perched on a cocked hip, little heads nestled on their shoulders.  Most don’t even acknowledge the tantrums of the children upset from having to leave behind toys.  Some still sobbing for lost candy denied them with the veiled threat that Christmas was just a few days away. 

This year I notice that there are fewer men and even fewer fathers. Those that remain try to look innocent and attentive while they secretly drool over the super models and muscle cars on the magazine covers that mockingly adorn the checkout lanes.  Their wives don’t care, they are just happy to have someone to help carry the goods and perhaps drive them so that they can close their eyes for a few moments against the pain that has built like a pressure cooker behind their eyes.

I see and hear all the chaos around me and I smile.  I chuckle.  I even do a small dance of glee when no one is looking.  I don’t know why I enjoy this particular moment so much.  Perhaps it is all the commercialism that has become the holiday season.  All the shows and movies that depict the pristinely snow laden landscapes. All the perfect families with perfect children, perfect pets and picture perfect houses with multi-colored lights covering the eves and gables and intertwined in every tree, bush and perfectly shaped shrub.

 

Please don’t get me wrong.  I truly do love this time of year. It is just that all of the weeks devoted to the cash cow of holiday sales generation leave me weary and feeling disconnected.  Sometimes, I need to see humanity when it is not at its best.  Great is not great and poor is not poor without mediocrity present for a comparison.  It is all part of the human condition and sometimes it is valuable to understand the totality of the world around us to appreciate all that is good and to understand what is not in order to make adjustments in the future.  For now, I am content.  Certainly not happy, but I am indeed content.  I can proceed humbled into the New Year.

#

Now it is time to proceed through the check out process, cross the hell-lot and go back to my own High Definition Circus I love so much.  I look forward and see that the line has moved forward during my small epiphany and that I am now but two away from the cashier.  I move to quickly close the gap with the lady in front of me when I bump something soft with my leg.  I quickly look down to see what I could have possibly hit and my eyes alight upon an angel!

She is beautiful!  With her pale skin and golden locks; her twinkling blue eyes and rosy little cheeks, she is the most beautiful little girl I have ever seen.  I can’t help but smile and let myself gaze upon her perfection.  Her little red coat and matching white scarf accentuate her tiny divine features perfectly.  In her little feminine hands I see that she appropriately holds a trinket in the shape of a princess. 

As I marveled at such perfection, I considered my little adventure to be complete and successful.  I had seen humanity again!  I had seen the bad; the disheveled chaos and greediness.  I had seen the mediocre; the patient and not so patient acceptance and silent resolution that time would slow to a snails rate in this place of holiday shopping.  And, now I had witnessed the great in the form of this little angel.

Realizing that this living little holiday princess was that which I had inadvertently collided, I bend down low and say, “Hello there.  I am sorry if I bumped into you.  What is your name?”

The princess turns her rosy little face up to mine and with a voice as divine as cherub singing says, “Sara.  And this is Snow White!”  She then shows me the small trinket held in her hands, which she now raises aloft like a torch for all to see its brightness and splendor.

“Oh, and she is very beautiful just like you,” I said honestly.  “So, is Santa coming to see you soon, Sara?” I asked as I started to rise to unload my cart on the conveyor.

“Of course!” she said without hesitation.  “I have been a really good girl this year!” she further provided as she sidled innocently toward her mother so that I could move my cart closer.  I felt a cold breeze across my neck just about then. I assumed this was simply a draft created from the crunching maws of the automatic doors.

Shivering slightly from the draft, I begin to transfer items from my cart onto the conveyor.  While ensuring that all my items are properly turned to allow for a quick check out, I notice the lady in front has the same fine features and golden locks as the little girl.  Sara’s mother was in a discussion with the cashier and I got the impression that the register had some sort of malfunction.  Normally I would have been concerned but I was sure it was something minor and would soon resume.

#

It was at this moment that I felt a sharp pain in my right leg!  It started just above the ankle and reverberated up past the knee and into my thigh.  I muffled a startled gasp as I looked down to see what had caused the injury.  That is when I noticed that little Sara was wearing the cutest little snow boots, complete with fairy princesses pictured on each side.  I also noticed that her adorable footwear had a very hard plastic toe.  As I processed this information I watch in amazement as little Sara began the backswing of her right leg, gracefully cocking the knee into a right angle.  Her body flowed into a perfect pose of a NFL place kicker and to my horror I realized that she was about to kick me! Again!

Certainly it is a well known fact that when presented with a potential threat the human body will autonomously react into either a fight or flight position.  Having had three boys, my body automatically evaluated the threat and raised my right leg exactly seven inches upward and three inches forward so that Princess Sara’s well executed and dangerously precise blow was countered with the soft sole of my sneakers.  With the blow avoided I retreated slightly and stared unbelievably at the little girl.

Sara’s mother just happened to catch the exchange out of the corner of her eye and barked a sharp order to Sara telling her to apologize to the nice man as she turned back to the cashier.  Princess Sara now all innocently posed shyly said, “I am sorry.  I won’t do it again” as she gave me her best little princess smile.

But, I no longer saw Princess Sara.  Now I saw Brat Sara!  I was no longer mesmerized by her manufactured charm.  I was wary, but I considered the crisis over and with a throbbing shin, turned to see what was taking Sara’s mother so long.  It was time Brat Sara went to hell-lot.  Oh, I didn’t wish her any harm, but a good scarring might do her some good!

It was then that I discovered that indeed the register had malfunctioned and to make matters worse, the cashier was not a seasoned veteran but a new recruit freshly promoted from stock clerk to cashier just this very day!  I gathered that key piece of information from the still polite but acerbic exchange between Sara’s mother and the cashier, who I now noticed stood well over six feet tall and had arms which would make most men envious.  It was obvious that the Amazon had not a clue how to remedy the problem and she began to yell to her fellow clerks on both sides asking for advice.  Amazon did have the forethought to flick a switch, which set the numbered light above the cash registered whirling like a police siren.

I began to feel sick.  A small knot of pure dread began to grow with each revolution of that dreaded light.  I noticed that other lights down the line were also flashing which served to tighten the knot into a cramping mass of despair.  I also noticed that I was blocked in with no escape by a growing throng of fellow customers craning their necks to see what had stopped progress.  I was doomed.  Amazon and Sara’s mother were quickly degrading into a mild argument, the crowd behind me was starting to look menacing, my stomach was cramping and my leg hurt.  This really couldn’t get much worse.

#

It was then that I realized that I had taken my eye off Brat Sara for several moments and just as I glanced down to find her I was staggered backward a half step as the little monster executed a lethal tackle into my still throbbing leg.  I stood amazed!  And, then my breath exploded forcefully out of my mouth as I reflexively doubled over with pain.  I felt bile begin to collect in my throat and my stomach began to quiver with an old but familiar pain.

Now, I said that the human body will react to threats which is true and it also a known fact that the male of the species will protect his reproductive region before anything else.  However, mine failed me at that moment and now I was truly in pain as I realized that I had not only been tackled but that Demonic Sara had also executed a lethal right hook to my nether regions.  I let out a gasp and tried to conceal the whimper, which escaped my lips.  My eyes began to water.  Miraculously, I managed to not drop to my knees and cry like I so longed to do.  Instead, I crossed my legs slightly to apply some protective pressure to the injury, held my breath and pretended to cough into my coat sleeve while I dried my eyes.

By, now Demonic Sara had traipsed back into the protective aura of Witch Mother so she was safe from any immediate retaliation.  I noticed that she now had a red outline around her pupils and a wicked little smile on her face.  The Snow White trinket held like a dagger in little clawed hand tucked behind her back and out of sight of Witch Mother.  Turning slightly so that I could keep her in view, I checked the status of the whirling light and was somewhat relieved that a true veteran had responded and was pounding on the keys of the register with the delicacy of a field surgeon trying to save a wounded soldier and barking commands like a drill sergeant to Amazon.

I stood stoically waiting and watching...watching and waiting.  Demonic Sara shifted restlessly from foot to foot, plotting her next attack.  Time dragged on as the stalemate continued.  I knew that Drill Sergeant and Amazon was not going to revive the injured register before Demonic Sara struck again so I frantically tried to put a plan together.

What I really wanted to do was shake the demon out of the child, exorcism style.  However, I knew that I couldn’t touch a child in the middle of Mega-Mart, especially one that didn’t belong to me so I regrettably tossed that idea.  I could tell that Witch Mother wasn’t going to provide any kind of assistance.  Amazon was busy being chastised by Drill Sergeant and my fellow comrades in the ranks behind me were beginning to crowd forward into a press gang formation. 

I had to think quickly!  I began to become frantic and slightly worried that I might not survive this seasons adventure!  I looked around helplessly as I noticed that Demonic Sara’s eyes had narrowed and her brows had formed into two tiny razor sharp horns.  Behind her was a display Santa Claus grinning in his jolly manner and I am quite sure that Santa gave me a quick wink.

Wait! My mind began to whirl anew matching the rhythm of the whirling siren above and a thought stuck me like a thunderbolt.  Surely, it couldn’t be that simple?  But, I was desperate and I could not see any other means of escape.

I quickly grabbed my cell phone from my hip and knelt down in a pretend pose of supplication.  Demonic Sara’s eyes burst blood red at the thought of an easy kill and she move forward ready to pounce.  I nervously dialed a random set of numbers into my phone and put the already sweat soaked device up to my ear.

“Santa Claus,” I said a little more loudly than was necessary but I noticed that Demonic Sara stopped in her tracks and eyed me with a perplexed expression on her perfectly little demonic face.

“This is Mr. Andrews at the Mega-Mart and I would like to report that Sara is being a extremely naughty girl and definitely does not deserve anything for Christmas but a BIG…FAT…LUMP…OF…COAL!”

Demonic Sara gasped in astonishment.  Her eyes dilated back to that pristine blue that had first enspelled me so completely.  Her horns retracted and her claws transformed back into perfect little fingers.

But, my adversary had fooled me before and I would not make the same mistake again!

“Yes, Santa.  Thank you Santa for moving her to the Naughty List,” I said as blew across the top of my phone like a western gunslinger and holstered my newly found weapon of destruction. I smugly glared down at what I thought was once again Princess Sara.  I noticed triumphantly that Snow White was lying abandoned upon the ground, discarded and forgotten.  Princess Sara was now Sad Sara.  Tears gathered in her ocean blue eyes as moisture began to leak from her little button nose and those little bow lips were all aquiver.  What had I done?

I crouched father down until I was eye level with the poor pitiful creature and was preparing to tell her that it all had been a misunderstanding.  I opened my mouth to tell her that I was sorry and I that I just wanted her to behave and be the little angel once again when a force like a sonic boom stuck me dumb upon the spot.  Sad Sara was now Siren Sara!  Her mouth hinged open like a viper ready to strike and the most deafening sound that I had ever heard issued forth.  With the siren above still flash and the caterwaul of Siren Sara merging together it was like an air raid siren going off.  It continued to crescendo up, up, up, up and still further up until I was sure that glass was going to break!

Siren Sara fell to the ground and started shaking as if having a seizure wiggling out of her pretty little red coat and nearly strangling herself with her pretty white scarf.  Witch Mother swooped the now de-coated little girl into her arms and started to make a sushing sound while all the time giving me glare that promised certain death if I so much as moved a muscle.  I could feel the stares and silent admonishments from the crowd that had gathered to see who had been killed.  When the mob saw the placid little princess drooped across her mothers arms and me slack jawed and disheveled upon the floor I really did begin to wonder if I was going to ever see my lovely home again.

After several tense moments, Princess Sara’s breath began to slow and her face, which had turn a pale blue returned to a slightly rosy hue.  She slowly began to move and reached up and hugged her mother close, her face protectively buried and hidden within her mother’s bosom.  I was still on the floor speechless and staring.  Trying to make sense of what had just occurred.  

Witch Mother turned her gaze upon me and took in my appearance as if selecting a hog for slaughter.  Then she saw the mud from Princess Sara’s little princess boots on my pants leg and I saw recognition dawn in her eyes.

Sara’s mother looked disappointedly at little Sara in her arms and then she turned around to address the staring patrons.

“Are you alright mister?  My little Sara is my worst one.  I am sorry she kicked you, please forgive her.” From under the tumbling golden locks I saw Princess Sara’s ocean blue eyes had tiny flecks of red swirling within them as if daring me to take our battle any further.

I reached out and grabbed the little red coat while I stood up.  Unconsciously I bear hugged the red coat in my arms.  I still had pains in my nether regions and my right shin still throbbed but I bravely pushed aside the pain and looked Princess Sara in the eye.

“No problem, ma’am.  Kids will be kids after all.” I said in a broken voice.  Sara’s mother gave me a tight nod and turned back to Amazon and Drill Sergeant.  Somehow during the commotion they had successfully returned the downed register back to life.   Drill Sergeant flicked off the whirling number light and moved on down the line to the next flashing triage.

Princess Sara’s mother transferred her into her cart while she finished paying for merchandise and without another look she turned and headed toward the exit and the hell-lot beyond.

#

Subdued and ashamed, I also moved into position and completed all my transactions without even bothering to look at Amazon.  I was about to place the bags into my own cart when I realized that I still had the now dusty and not so perfect little red coat in my arms.  I also spied under my buggy Snow White and I quickly fished a couple of dollars from my pocket and purchased it to grumbling of the lady behind me.

I quickly scanned the throng of people once again shuffling through the register lines and did not see my niece.  Knowing that I had to catch Sara and her mother before they could leave, I hurried toward the exit and out into the hell-lot without a second thought.  I scanned the parking lot frantically, hoping that I wasn’t too late.  Finally I spied them trudging down a far off lane where they stopped by a white sedan.  I called out to them but they did not hear me above the din of hell-lot. 

About this time my niece pulled up to the curve, having traversed her lane much quicker than I and had retrieved her car to save me the 1.25 mile walk across the parking lot.  I quickly opened the back door and threw my bags into the back seat.  I started to close the door, then stopped and turned back to quickly paw through my sacks until I found the item that I wanted.

I told my Niece that I would be right back and quickly started limping toward the white car that belonged to Sara’s mother.  I could hear my niece call to me from behind but I didn’t stop to listen.

I finally made it to them and called out to Sara’s mother who turned around sharply.  I held out the coat towards her and as she took it from me I looked sorrowfully into her eyes and said, “Please tell Sara that I hope she has a merry Christmas.”

“I will, and I am sorry for all the commotion inside” she said. Then she turned, shut the trunk of her car, and with keys jingling got into the drivers seat and started the vehicle.

#

I turned around and with a small limp I made my way back to where my niece waited.  I don’t remember any honking horns, any nearly missed fenders or sudden appearance of headlights blinding me as I walked across the parking lot that night.  I do remember that I was subdued and quiet the rest of the evening, hardly tasting my dinner and providing little conversation for my niece.  When we got back to my house, I placed the bag of presents in the garage for later wrapping and walked silently into my home.

#

That night I went to each of my three boys and gave them a loving embrace and quick kiss upon their brows.  I told each of them that they had been very good this year and that I was very thankful for them.  They all gave me a perplexed look but I ignored it as I mussed up their hair thoughtfully and went in search of my wife.

I found her in the youngest boy’s room handing up laundry.  I quietly stepped behind her and put my arms lovingly around her and just held her close for several moments. Then I turned her to me and gave her a soft kiss.

“What was that for?” she asked with a touch of concern in her voice

“That, my love, is for not having any little girls.” I said.  I then walked quietly out of the room.

As I later lay in bed thinking about all that had occurred.  I realized that I no longer had any fear of parking lots.  Not much could be worse than being accosted and successfully thrashed in public by a four year old princess named Sara.  I knew deep in my heart that Sara would be one of my Ghosts of Christmas for the rest of my life.

I don’t know if Santa Claus came to see Sara that night but I said a silent prayer hoping that she would have a very merry Christmas this year and find peace and happiness.  I also hoped that she would find the small things I had left for her in her coat pockets.  In one was the Snow White trinket and in the other a small stocking fill with chocolate candy in the shape of coal. 


© 2010 Lyrik



Author's Note

Lyrik
Still a draft.

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Reviews

-
To make a whole long story of a man waiting in a checkout line so exciting, gripping and palpable it takes exceptional writing skills ... and you definitely accomplished all that. I got completely absorbed by the perfect visualisation of the developing scenes. During the read my hands got all clenched and I truly felt his helplessness, and while in the first part of the story I laughed and smiled many times, it was simply hilarious sometimes. I sorrowly enjoyed the read.
B r i l l i a n t work!
-


Posted 7 Years Ago



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Added on January 20, 2010
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Author

Lyrik
Lyrik

Louisville, KY



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