Short Story: The Night Before The Night Before Christmas

The Night Before The Night Before Christmas

Frank DeBlase

‘Twas the night before the night before Christmas and Jack Frost was pissed. The downtown Christmas decorations and holiday cheer did nothing to brighten his dark mood. The bright lights, the caroling, the pervading good will and charm on the faces of those going by just made him want to throw up. “It’s beginning to look a lot like…Chestnuts roasting on a…Silent night, holy…Rudolph the… Here comes Santa Clause…” Jack rubbed his raw knuckles. There was blood on his coat.
Fluffy snowflakes fluttered, flitted and swirled narcotic, taking their time to land and give the whole scene a dusting in gentle white. But the picture postcard moment was lost on Jack. His heart ached, his head pounded and now the ringing in his ears was getting louder and louder.
The midget ringing the bell in front of the black pot had capitalized seasonally on his stunted frame and was in full-on elf regalia from the little green hat to the bells on his boots. Jack got a kick out of little people and for a moment the funk and fog began to lift. He tossed a dime in the midget’s pot and smiled. The little man looked up and sneered.
“Thanks, Rockefeller,” he said. “You cheapskate, you.”
The dark clouds re-appeared over Jack’s head. He reached back into the pot to retrieve his pittance.
“Well then, you little half a bastard,” he replied. “Now you get nothing.” The midget grabbed Jack’s arm, but he twisted away, shoving the little man to the ground. The elf sprang back up and lunged with a yell, head-butting Jack in the groin like a pint-sized battering ram. Jack doubled over in half with an audible wheeze. That was it; Jack retaliated with an uppercut that would have been below the belt on a regular sized man and sent the midget flying, his little arms and legs flailing, into the glass door of the book store he had set up in front of. It shattered into a thousand twinkling little pieces. The little man lay there bleeding and motionless.
Jack looked around, warily. Fingers were pointing, gasps could be heard. The caroling had ceased.
The sidewalk was teaming with Christmas shoppers who had just seen him beat up an elf.
“Why’d he hurt Santa’s helper, Mommy?” a mortified little girl blubbered between sniffles.
“Because he’s a no good sonofabitch,” a man said loudly as he balled up his fists. He was soon joined by others.
The revelers were quickly turning into a mob.
“Get him,” another yelled.
Jack didn’t stick around. He beat feet and took off down the street. He didn’t look back. He zigged and zagged through the throng on the sidewalk, jumping into the edge of the street to a litany of honking horns, curses and screeching tires when the crowd got too heavy. He eventually lost the would-be lynch mob and breathlessly ducked into a corner bar.
It was late afternoon/early evening—the twilight period where the old-timers and C-trick bar polishers punched out to make room for the evening shift. The place was near empty, tumbleweed town.
Breathing hard, Jack bellied up and flagged down the pharmacist.
“What’ll you have, bub?” he asked. Jack didn’t sweat the details as long as it was strong and wet.
“Anything,” he said. “And a lot of it.”
“Bad day?”
“Brother, you ain’t kiddin’. The worst.”
The barkeep slung his rag over his shoulder and leaned in, pouring a generous shot of scotch followed by a tall, frosty beer.
“This oughta help.”
I dunno, man,” Jack said.
“Spill,” the barkeep said looking genuinely interested. “I’ve got ears.”
“Well, I lost my job, I lost my girl, and there’s an angry mob outside after me for beating up an elf.” That last detail brought out a snort from the other end of the bar. Jack looked over to see Santa Claus slouched over, nursing a beer. He appeared to be carving something into the bar top with a Bowie knife.
“Goddamn elves,” Santa said. Jack was intrigued. This character didn’t look like one of those typical department store Santas with their elastic-band beards, padding and vinyl boots. No. The facial locks were legit and he was sporting a real beer boiler up front. However he didn’t come off as jolly. He was clearly all out of ho’s. Jack downed his drink, ordered two beers and played musical stools all the way over to where Santa sat.
He looked rough. His rumpled red velvet suit appeared slept in and he smelled of gin mill cologne and puke. He kept carving on the bar top. He didn’t look up. Jack jumpstarted the conversation by repeating what he had just heard.
“Goddamn elves, huh?” he said. “Doc, Dopey, Bashful…” Santa cut him off.
“No, no, no,” he said. “Those are dwarves.”
“Right, right, right. Donner, Blitzen, Comet, Cupid…”
Santa stabbed the knife into the bar. It made a loud thunk that made Jack jump.
“Those are reindeer, you idiot. Christ.”
“Elves and reindeer. Gotcha. But why are you so glum, chum?” Jack asked. “Trouble at the North Pole? Mrs. Claus put you on the adios express?”
“She’s not gone,” he said. “But she’s leaving. I just know it. Says she’s had enough of not enough. She just got tired of my hours. But everything I do is for her. I love her so.” He looked like he was going to cry. Jack tried a positive spin.
“But you only work one night a year, Santa,” Jack said. “That’s a sweet gig.”
Santa sighed before the retort.
“Well now,” he said. “There’s ordering, expediting, manufacturing, routing, weather, sleigh maintenance, permits, dealing with the elf union and endless demands from all those fucking brats.” He slugged what was left of his beer. “One night? Sweet gig? Ha! Bullshit.”
Santa finally looked up at Jack.
“So why are you out roughing up elves and in here drinking in this dump on the eve of Christmas Eve?” he asked.
Jack slid one of the beers in front of Santa and started in on the tale of his own misery.

* * *

Jack had been up for a promotion at The Baylor Advertising Agency where he was a pitchman. Jack didn’t blab the drab gab, he knew how to sell swell. He was aces at his job and it spilled over into his personal life. He’d been dating Delores, his boss’s secretary for a little over a year. She was a voluptuous little high-tone, high-heeled number that left an avalanche of drooling men in the wake of her hip-shake. Jack had been warned; she was a little fast and liked money, but with this promotion, they’d be able to get married. Jack had outsold everyone in his department; he was the odds-on favorite and a sure-fire shoo-in. He had already given Delores a ring.
A new office, a new bride and a beautiful gold watch that Cy Baylor gave as a gift to all his top men. Things were looking up for Jack.
But it all began to unravel earlier in the afternoon at the annual office holiday party. It was cookies, punch, surreptitious trips under the mistletoe for eggnog-fueled exchanges and jingle-belled revelry followed by Cy Baylor’s sack of Christmas bonuses which he passed out personally. Things were to be capped off with the ceremonious announcement of Jack’s impending promotion.
They all gathered in the conference room around three p.m. after the bonuses had been handed out. The air around Jack was electric and exciting. But Delores was nowhere to be found. He frantically looked around. She was going to miss it, his big moment.
Baylor kicked into the send-up. Jack could hardly contain himself and stood at the back of the room so he could stroll through the gauntlet of back slaps, victorious. Baylor was laying it on thick. Things like “asset to the team” and “unparalleled talent” made Jack smile. However things like “carry on my legacy” and “his mother and I are so proud” confused Jack.
That’s when old man Baylor announced that his son Marty would be in the position Jack was slated for. Jack saw red. What the…? Marty Baylor? Marty Baylor? That shithead couldn’t sell a boat to a drowning man. Jack stormed out of the room. He needed some fresh air and a moment to compose himself before he unloaded and exploded. He’d take a trip around the block, calm down, and then confront Cy Baylor. The old man had just made a mistake. Jack would straighten it out with him.
He went to the coatroom for his overcoat, opened the door and there it was on the floor underneath Delores who was underneath Marty Baylor. Her high heels up around his ears made it look like he had horns as he pumped away, breathless and clueless. Jack grabbed the devil Baylor by the collar, held him up and began to pound him in the face non-stop with his fist. Delores was screaming, voices were yelling, but Jack could just hear jungle drums pounding in his head. Even his eyebrows had a pulse. He let the pulp that was Marty Baylor drop limp and unconscious sputtering blood and gore on the coatroom floor. He spat as he stepped over the bloody frame, pausing to kick him in the ribs.
It was pandemonium.
“Oh my God, oh my God.”
“Somebody call security.”
“Somebody call an ambulance.”
“Oh my God.”

* * *

“Wow,” said Santa. “Sounds like a bad day for Marty, too.”
Jack took a big gulp of beer and shook his head.
“Women…” he said. Santa seconded the sentiment.
“Women,” he said. “And elves.”
They both chuckled.
Jack and Santa spent the next hour commiserating and drinking heavily. They had graduated to tequila and things were getting tight. With the alcohol came the hollow promises, the sense of fellowship and camaraderie; they were buddies now, pals, best friends.
Now Jack knew this cat wasn’t Santa Claus. He was pretty sure, anyway. He just wasn’t sure if Santa knew he wasn’t Santa Claus. But what the hell, he’d play along.
By now Santa was face down on the bar crying, mopping his tears up at the same time with his beard.
“Sandy, Sandy, Sandy,” he half-moaned. He had carved the name in the bar’s faded wood. Jack assumed Sandy was Mrs. Claus. Sandy Claus, it made sense. He patted Santa on the back.
“You want me to talk to her, pal?” Jack asked.
“Why?” asked Santa with a sniff as he wiped his nose on his sleeve. “What can you do? Your chick was roasting some guy’s chestnuts in front of you a few hours ago.” That hurt, but Jack pressed on as if this good deed would somehow reverse his own misfortune.
“I can be very convincing,” he said. “I’m in—was in—sales after all. C’mon, gimme the skip. It can’t hurt to try.”
Santa jotted down some digits on a napkin and handed it to Jack. It was a local exchange, but Jack said nothing. It was just as well; it would have taken a lot of coin to ring up the North Pole on the payphone.
While Jack talked on the phone, and Santa sawed logs at the bar, two beat cops came in looking for a man in a blue overcoat who had assaulted a Salvation Army bell ringer earlier that day.
“Nope,” said the bartender. “It’s just been me and Santa all afternoon.” The cops split without even looking down the little hallway in back where the payphone was. They waved Merry Christmas as the door shut behind them and as Jack was coming back to the bar. He rousted Santa.
“Good news, pal,” he said. “She misses you and wants you to come home. She says to tell you she’s still angry but to come home anyway. See? It’s gonna all work out.”
Santa lit up like a Christmas tree.
“Really?” he asked.
“Really. Now git before she changes her mind.” Santa’s face dropped.
“Shit,” he said.
“What?”
“My sleigh got towed.”
“No sweat. I’ll give you a lift.”
Santa was still a little wobbly. So was Jack. But he managed to get Santa to his feet.
“Thanks a lot, pal,” he said. “I owe you. If there’s anything I can do for you, name it.”
“Just bring me something nice for Christmas,” Jack said.”
Santa paused for a minute and put his finger to his nose before snapping his fingers.
“I know just the thing,” he said. Santa pulled the knife out and sheathed it in his belt. And they both staggered out of the bar arm in arm, ho-ho ho-ing as they went.

* * *

Jack awoke in his apartment Christmas morning. It was a brisk and bright morning. The sun streamed through the slats on the shades. Jack went to the little efficiency kitchen and put on the pot for coffee. He had planned on spending the day with Delores, but that wasn’t happening now. Instead he’d grill up a steak and spend the day warm inside getting caught up on some reading and smoking his pipe.
He had barely taken his first sip of coffee when there came a knock at the door. Nobody was there when he opened it. Funny. He almost didn’t see the little package at his feet. He picked it up and brought it inside.
It was neatly wrapped in shiny red and green foil paper with an ornate gold bow and a little card attached.
Jack looked at the card.
It read: “A token of my appreciation. Hope you like it. Yours, Santa. P.S. Remember to stay away from those rotten elves.”
Jack swore he could hear sleigh bells as he tore off the paper and opened the little box. He stared wide-eyed for an instant before dropping it. The bloody watch bounced out onto the floor along with a diamond ring. It was still on the dainty finger Jack had lovingly put it on.

This is part of a collection of short stories coming out in February from Down and Out Books called BUSTED VALENTINES AND OTHER DARK DELIGHTS