It is supposed to be about family. All of the stories have these amazing families. The classic, ‘A Christmas Carol,’ even ends with a family, two in fact, that have come together because of the magical change caused by the Christmas Spirits and a man understanding
that he was an asshole. Christmas was supposed to be about seeing the change in people. The stories are about seeing what they can do when they reach deep inside and look at themselves. It was about sharing and developing that penultimate bonding of the human experience.
What a crock of shit.
Christmas shopping began on Thanksgiving Day this year. There were the lines. There were the people. There were the problems. Folks got bruised and bashed. Folks got trampled. Folks died. Happy Fucking Thanksgiving and Merry Christmas too! Yeah human spirit at its best, aint it grand?
I remember a time when folks didn’t start to even think about Christmas until after Thanksgiving. Now, folks are lucky to not see Christmas creeping into the stores by Halloween. I saw the lights just around the corner from the big black bats. I remember shaking my head before the guy in the black uniform came to ask me to leave the store.
Yeah, the kid asked me to leave.
The guy was maybe twenty. Young kids trying to play grown-up, they didn’t even know the world around them. I had been on the streets longer than he was alive and he was asking me to leave. I couldn’t really blame the pup. He was young and dumb. ‘Just following orders,’ was something I had heard too much of that in the past.
“Can I pay for my socks?” I asked him. He didn’t know what to make of that. His face drained slightly and his mouth opened up. It was subtle. The average sheep in society wouldn’t notice the change. Me being out in the cold on the hard concrete or the missions taught me to notice. Yeah.
“No. You’re going to have to leave.” He stiffened slightly to bring his overweight body into a more intimidating stance. His feet and legs were angled. I could have taken him, but it wasn’t that cold outside yet and I wasn’t that desperate. I had already found a good squat and it was warm. There was no need to spend the night in jail.
I knew better than to linger and look at the upcoming Christmas décor. I wasn’t fit for human consumption. I hadn’t much more than a spit bath in days and my dungarees were stained and stunk a bit. I needed some new socks for the upcoming winter. Even in the Southwest, it gets cold and I wanted some new socks to keep my feet warm.
More to the point, the socks I had were a bit overripe. My feet were beginning to itch with that familiar feeling again. It was time to wash them and change my socks. It was what I was taught back then. Above all else, we were taught to remember our training when shit went sideways.
I left the store without incident. I knew who I was. They really didn’t. I knew I didn’t belong there specifically, but for all the shit I’ve done, I would have expected to be able to buy some socks. I shouldn’t have been surprised, but it stings every time. I should let it, but it does.
A month later, I saw the crowds building. They started around five or six o’clock. Dusk was starting to set and the night was still on the warm side. Cars parked and people ushered themselves into a line. I could see the faces milling about in a line. It revolted me to see cherub-cheeks standing together in a show of solidarity in consumption.
They reminded me of a bunch of cattle.
I sat on the far side of the huge parking lot and watched the crowd gather. They were as brainwashed as those FNG’s that would come in Camp Lejeune all those years ago. This time though, the conflict was on American soil rather than in some God-forsaken jungle with hidden VC. Nah, this time the enemy was wrapped in dollar signs, camouflaged in wrapping paper and tinsel, clad in Teflon and slick with Snake-Oil.
They just lined up, waiting. I had seen lines like that. Mainly it was in livestock being led to slaughter. In another world, it was for little Vietnamese or Cambodian women. Now, the populace, the future I helped defend was lining up to save money on things and gadgets that serve no other purpose but to exaggerate their self-worth.
Cattle with ego.
Jean Shepherd had it right, we can never go home. In front of the store were hundreds of Ralphie’s looking for a way to get that damned B.B. Gun. In retrospect of the years since we took over after the French, it had been the game all along. The long game was in deception. Make the populace want what you’re selling. Poison their minds and environment. It wasn’t changing the world through terraforming, it was social engineering. Change the things little by little until no one knows or remembers how it used to be.
The younger ones are just dancing to the music now. They don’t listen to the old ones anymore. We are useless to them because we don’t have a phone in our pocket or an internet page. We don’t exist on the grid anymore. We aren’t tracked by the NSA. We are just moving and surviving just outside of the daylight. No one wants to know what went on before. No one wants to see how we got here.
They just want their Christmas. They don’t know the divinity of it anymore. Sure, they go to their churches and temples. They sing about the praise of God, but they don’t understand it anymore. They are caught up in the fencing and turnstiles. They don’t even know why they feel the need to buy anymore. The urge just seems to be genetic.
I got up and left the parking lot after the doors opened. The great cheers of, ‘Happy Thanksgiving’ being shouted out were just too much. What were they thankful for? Was it the opportunity to deprive others of time with their families? Was it the opportunity to buy the love of someone? Was it just that they were no more than wide-eyed cattle?
All I knew was that if I didn’t leave, the security would find me sooner or later and I didn’t want to deal with another kid who was just following orders. He would be just another variant of the cattle in line at the department store. An unthinking sack of flesh that was made from the union of souls that should have been swallowed instead of captured in in his momma’s pussy.
There was no heartwarming site here. There was no sign of a George Bailey type struggling against all odds to find out exactly how worthy his life was. There was the herd of consumers rushing into a den of debauchery to get a savings of fifty dollars. No, the long game was to put us all in Pottersville. Now, here were the folks who lived in the little squats that were prepared for them.
The silly cattle thought they were free. It was pitiful. I picked up my pack and walked out of the scene. It made me sick to watch it. This was the true beginning of Christmas these days.
Marjorie Holmes was wrong. All roads do not lead to home at Christmastime. All roads lead to the Target’s, the Wal-Mart’s, the Kohl’s, and to the malls and shopping outlets. They lead to the sales of candy, of fast-food, and beer. The roads lead to opening presents instead of hearts and eyes. The roads lead to an empty feeling of gratification that can only be filled by more and more things.
I looked back at the joyously gay crowd in front of the store and wondered what the men who reconstituted the Gospel of Matthew would think if they saw them under the harsh glow of fluorescent light here in the darkness. Would they have changed the line? Would it now be, ‘When they saw the doors opening and the baskets full, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy?’
And what of the Gospel according to Luke? There was no baby here wrapped in swaddling lying in a manger. There were only the parents and children who were being led by the nose thinking that they were hunting down the best game in the disguise of retail sales. They thought that they were linked to the hunters of their past. Nah, the hunters didn’t need to hunt anymore. Put out the ads in Thursday’s paper and they’ll come running.
Yeah, Christmas had started that night. Soon the entire city was aglow with the new LED lights or ropes or too many damned snowmen. There wasn’t any snow. It didn’t stop the things from showing up. Oh yes, the secular and the religious alike put up their decorations.
Snowmen, Santas, frigid blow-up mechanical penguins that shook from electricity rather than the cold were out in force. It was a time of lights, a festival of color. It all meant nothing. It was a fucking smokescreen. It was the sham of all shams. I knew if I had walked up to any of those houses and asked to use the bathroom that I’d be turned down. After all, how can a stranger be trusted at Christmastime?
I know the churches and the missions would take me in. There may even be one or two folks in maybe three hundred that would even be bothered to notice me when I walked down the street. This was the nation that promoted peace on Earth and goodwill toward men?
I know men like me have issues. We’ve been through too much. We’ve seen too much. I know that I’ve done despicable things in the name of the country and protecting freedom. I believed them once. I thought I was making a difference. I thought I was saving the damned world. I was Jesus-Fucking-Christ wrapped up and mixed with Jack-Fucking-Kennedy combined with John-Fucking-Wayne.
We were from different stock. We came from a different philosophy. Men like me, we had honor and knew what we were. We knew what we were before we were twisted by what we were made to go through. We knew what it was to have family. We knew what it was to spend time with them. Now, the country, the people, the innocent are twisted in a different way by this mockery of Christmas.
On the first cold night, I was lucky enough to find a cot in a shelter. Some others weren’t so lucky. They had to keep moving or find a deep shadow somewhere to hide from the law. The smarter ones started up something to make sure that they could spend the night in jail instead of the cold. The next few nights, I wasn’t so lucky. It was frigid and my feet hurt.
If and when the people noticed me, I could sense the disgust in their minds. Where was the milk of human kindness that was supposed to be so present at this time of year? Somewhere it had turned into soured mash that wasn’t even good to make wine. Somehow the stories had been forgotten as so much gloss on a polished boot. It was the shine on a new Butter-bar.
Yes, I had made this choice. It didn’t mean I was scum. I had known bravery, honesty, and so many other things before the soul-wrenching twist I had endured. My own family didn’t understand. So many couldn’t understand what we had to do. So many didn’t understand why Christmas was so important.
The cattle had become as twisted on the inside as any of us that were exposed to the deep darkness. They didn’t know how it was to be on stage when all you wanted to do was either kick the shit out of someone or cry.
They couldn’t understand standing in the shiny new uniform, crisp and clean in front of a gathering of reporters while cameras stared on while a strand of ribbon and a star was hung on me. Yeah, look at me! I’m a fucking Christmas tree! I was decked out in white, black, blue, red, and gold. I was the finest specimen in that room. I was the epitome of the human condition. I had given of myself for no other reason other than I was asked.
Where is the reciprocity of dedication? Where is the feeling of appreciation? Where is the love for me and my brothers? It’s not in a box. It’s not in a stocking filled with meager treats. Better yet, where is the love that we’re supposed to have for one another?
Perhaps it’s on special at the Hallmark store. Maybe it’s at the bakery covered in frosting like a gingerbread house. Maybe it’s in the Starbuck’s down the street, or maybe the other one down the block away from that one.
Oh yes, thanks be to God for his unspeakable gift.
I don’t know exactly when I died out there in the cold. I remember bunking up against the side of a barn. I knew to stay out of the stables. God knows I didn’t need to get shot for trying to stay warm. I know my body was moved to a ditch and found after Christmas Day. I just remember my feet were cold and they hurt. I never did get those damn socks.
About Gary E. Weller
Gary E. Weller is a long-time fan of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Genre, Role-Playing Game enthusiast and recreational traveler from Tucson, Arizona.
Between a beautiful wife, two stepsons, and two special needs cats (not to mention a full-time job), he steals time in order to write and develop, observations of the human condition, flash fiction, and short stories to post on his ‘Fiction Repository’ located at