The True Meaning Of Christmas Finds Frankie (I Know What You’re Thinking, Read It Anyway) by Nathan Cromwell
December 25th, 5am
Shrieking, Frankie jumped out of bed and dashed to his stereo. He tore through his music collection—entirely and lovingly culled from mall stores’ clearance bins—and selected a particularly loathsome adolescent crooner. He inserted the disk, checked that the volume was still set to ‘maximum’, and stood back. An explosion of cables snaked outwards from the amplifier: two ran to speakers mounted on the adjoining wall; others fled through the doorway to other rooms in his apartment. The building began to vibrate to the bleatings of the chanteuse’s shallow angst.
“I love my love, but does he love me like I love on him?” Frankie shouted along atonally.
Above and on both sides of his apartment came the pounding and shouting of his neighbors stirring. Even a vagrant who had passed out on the stoop the night before began beating on the door and demanding quiet before realizing that he, at least, could just leave.
Dressed, Frankie bounced down the hallway and out the front door, nearly colliding with the batty nun slipping more Chick Publication tracts through his mail slot. She tsked at his sweatshirt, which read, ‘Date Rapper’. Technically, it wasn’t offensive. It offended everybody.
“Young man, I should think even you would be respectful on Christmas. On this day our Lord died on the manger for—”
“Go on inside, help yourself to some beer, and warm up the sheets, toots. I’ll be back in a few; I’m popping down to the mall to spell ‘Shop online’ in the snow in big, asparagus-smelling letters.” He shoved her through the doorway into the maelstrom of a power ballad about puberty’s cooler side effects, and locked the door.
As he skipped toward his canvas he encountered a gaunt man dripping head to toe in black rags. Frankie had a soft spot for the poor: they were already miserable before he set to work.
“One side, you dumb drunkard. Gosh, I wish the banks were open, so I could deposit all these one-dollar bills I have on me. Guess I’ll just have to let them spoon in my pocket ‘til tomorrow. Oh, wait—I just realized how thoughtless I’m being: Merry Christmas! Ho! Ho! Ho! Now get out of my way.”
“Frankie, you have no money on your person.”
“You know my name? Hey, did I do this to you? Man, I’m good.”
The figure threw back its hood, revealing a cheap plastic skull. Red Christmas lights lit up the sockets—not the tiny glass flowers that glow like fairies’ hearts, but those enormous industrial bulbs that seem to be constantly enveloping themselves in dust. “I am the ghost of Christmas Future.”
“Even if you are, aren’t I first supposed to meet a dead associate who’s going to warn me about you?”
“Your old cronies are all pleased by your fate. Tickets are being scalped for outrageous sums.”
“Well, what about Christmas Past and Present?”
“We’re not going to blow the whole shebang on a complete bastard like you—that’s only for people we have hope for. Besides, you remember the past, right? And you can see the present for yourself, right?”
“So shut your yap, before I do it for you. Follow me.” The ghost clamped Frankie by the wrist and dragged him into roiling clouds billowing from the exhaust pipe of an idling Oldsmobile. When they emerged, they had crossed the street. They waited quietly until the bus arrived.
“Thank goodness you two are riding my bus,” the driver growled. “Now my working on Christmas Day, far from the joyful cries of my children, is entirely justified. O happy, happy day!”
They sat in the back. The bus passed the vagrant from earlier, vomiting a tsunami of cold slush over him. The ghost joined Frankie in chortling.
“Hey,” said the ghost producing a thermos. “Milk of Human Kindness?”
“What the heck.” Frankie unscrewed the top and took an exploratory sip: the thick flatness of milk followed by a wash of grenadine. “A little too wholesome for me, but not bad.”
“You want something stronger?” The ghost pulled out an ornate flask. “The Claret of Noblesse Oblige. If that’s not to your fancy, you can try the Wine of Ingratiation, or the Absinthe of Good Intentions.”
Frankie took them all and slipped them into his sweatshirt’s marsupial pocket. “By the way, you can save yourself some trouble; I know the moral of this story: Christmas equals holiness equals niceness to fellow man equals peace on Earth.”
“Christmas equals cheap commercialization equals depression and suicide. Plus,” the ghost almost shouted, “All the stores are closed, so you have to wait until the next day to buy goddamn batteries for those toys your kids can’t play with.”
“Why do you do this, if you’re so cynical?”
“Our job is to make the world a marginally better place on Christmas by whatever means we see fit to employ. Usually we pick a couple of worthless slime balls, give them the works, and turn them into blubbering saps. But for such as you, dear Frankie, we use drastic measures.”
“Here’s our stop.”
They disembarked in front of a seedy funeral home. Recent paint couldn’t hide the cracking and worm-eaten woodwork, the crumbling concrete foundations, and the sagging roof. Without extensive repairs to forestall inevitable collapse, someone inside could quite possibly end up dead. In the front, behind a large plate glass window, three corpses were displayed around a sign reading: ‘Take Advantage of our Holiday Death Toll Special.‘
“I’m beginning to regret having been abducted and threatened.”
“Hey, just be glad it’s Christmas.” The ghost whistled, low and ominous. “You could be enduring the ghosts of Halloween Present or St. Patrick’s Day Past. Utter assholes.”
“Well, let’s get this over with.”
They circled past a carload of drunken mourners listening to a recorded eulogy at the drive-through window and used the nighttime drop box to get inside.
“Some of these guys are ripe,” Frankie noted, swimming across the heap. He quickly checked their pockets, and then followed the ghost into the viewing room.
Frankie drew up alongside the ghost. Before them squatted a cheap corrugated cardboard coffin with an open lid. He recognized the body instantly as his own. He’d known it would be—from three-years old to technical adulthood his parents had forced him to watch every production of A Christmas Carol on stage or on TV in a fruitless attempt to rehabilitate him. He thus felt as if he knew the motions better than the ghost. He found himself shocked, however, at the apparent proximity in age between the corpse and himself.
“Jeez, I haven’t got long, have I?”
The ghost snapped its head around, lights flashing red in their sockets. “What? Oh, I’m sorry, I just remembered something I forgot to do. What did you say?”
Frankie didn’t answer. His attention rested upon a sledgehammer leaning against the display stand, and propped up underneath it, a cardboard sign. He pulled the sign out. It read: ‘Two swings just $10.00.’
“O ghost, how much time do I have left to live, to get these bastards first?”
“None. When I led your spirit, we left your body in a snow bank. You’ve just died of hypothermia. Har-har-har!”
Without warning a huge anthropomorphic rabbit lumbered into the room, followed by a witch, a leprechaun, and a floating mortarboard cap. Chanting, “Death to Spoilsports!” they proceeded to kick the bejeezus out of Frankie’s spirit. When they had killed even that most sacred part of him, they dumped his body onto the pile by the chute.
They put a new body in the coffin, and then went back to hide in the stink room until Christmas Future brought in the next shmuck.
“By all that is unholy,” bawled the Spirit of Easter Past, “there is nothing more Christmassy than gathering with your friends for a little Human Bashing!”
They roared agreement.
Nathan Cromwell writes to invoke his demons, not exorcise them, and he wants to invite you to his party. So far his demons just tell him to get his act together, and no one shows up to his parties, ever. You can find out a little more about Nathan at NathanCromwell.wordpress.com
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Tags: Christmas, murder, Nathan Cromwell