Greetings and happy holidays, WYMOP readers!
This week brings part two in the short saga of the hapless Harold and his holiday misadventures. Warning: If you've not read part one, then you might want to start there, by clicking HERE. Not to worry. We'll wait.
All caught up? Excellent! On with the story.
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Old Saint Nick
(Harold's Holidays—Part 2)
“Well, Harold! We don’t usually see you in here for a few more days. The twenty-fifth on the nose, year in, year out. What’s going on, don’t they need you at the factory?”
Harold looked up at the barman as he climbed onto the tall stool, hooking his curly-toed shoes in the chair rungs, and resting sore forearms on the smooth oak bar top. The proprietor of The Christmas Spirits slid a foaming mug in front of his customer, then lowered his powerful eyebrows almost to his handlebar moustache as he frowned, watching Harold grope clumsily for the beer, then pick it up with both hands to drink like a child.
“For goodness sake, Harold, what’s going on? You’re in here almost two weeks before Christmas, when I know the factory’s running full swing, and if you show up on the workroom floor with anything stronger than reindeer milk on your breath Poppa Kringle will can you for sure! Your hands are swollen—and I’m sorry to point it out, but you look like badly-used wrapping paper and smell like a barnyard. Is everything all right?”
Harold carefully placed the now-empty mug back in the ring of beer dribbles it had left on the bar, stifled a prodigious belch with the back of one hand, and took a deep, steadying breath. “It’s my own fault, Ben. I went and opened my big mouth and started making demands, and this is what I get.”
“What?” Ben’s caterpillar eyebrows shot up in surprise, pushing his forehead into a serious runkle. “You’re being punished?”
“No, no, nothing like that.” Harold sagged against the bar again. “I complained at the Thanksgiving Day feast, and Poppa was all kinds of accommodating. He gave me exactly what I asked for.”
“Well,” said Ben, drawing another mug from the tap. “What did you ask for?”
Harold took the proffered beer with a grateful nod. “I asked to drive the sleigh this year. I thought it would be easier than working in the factory. I should have kept my big mouth shut.”
“Rupert’s been training me to handle the reindeer. Those brutes are strong! And stubborn. And when I mentioned that in front of them, Rupert reminded me that they understand English. Now they don’t like me. I’ve spent the week trying to wrestle them into harness so I can practice with the sleigh, and they’re not making it easy! I’m exhausted, and sore, and my hands are killing me from pulling at the halters and harness—and don’t even get me started on the rope burns. I tell you, Ben, I regret ever saying anything to Poppa last month.”
The voice, rough and slurring, came from the other end of the bar. Ben looked chagrined, which is tough to do through a moustache that covers fully half your face, and Harold looked toward the source of the voice. The man leaning on the bar was tall and thin, black bearded and dark eyed, and his expression was one of liquor-induced belligerence.
“Oh, now you’ve done it,” murmured Ben. Harold was about to ask done what? but the dark man continued in a drunken shout.
“You regret! I regret! ‘Oh, please Kris,’ I said. ‘Oh, please, I can’t get out this year, can you take the gifts to the children for me?’ ‘Why, sure,’ he said, ‘I can help you out this one time.’ ‘One time,’ he said!”
The man threw his head back, downing his drink in one gulp, then slammed the empty glass onto the bar.
Ben moved off to comply as the man went on. “After that I couldn’t even get back in on my own gig! I mean, seriously! It’s been over a hundred years! Like Christmas could go on without me? What, is everyone insane?”
Rather than one, Ben placed three glasses on the bar in front of his raging patron, then made his way back toward Harold. The first boilermaker disappeared into the great black beard.
“Me! Everyone’s talking about me Christmas morning and they don’t even know it! That son-of-a-gun even stole my name! Sure, he used to be the patron saint of children, but his name is Kris! Kris Kringle! How the hell did they get ‘Old Saint Nick’ from Kris? From me. ‘Saint Niklas. . . Santa Claus’ get it? But does anybody ask about that? No! Instead they put him on the side of Coca Cola cans! He got Coke cans! Coke cans, cookies, guys dressing like him at the mall . . . and what do I get? One pink bunny. That’s it? People are going to be invoking me left and right come Christmas morning, and that’s all I get?”
The second boilermaker followed the first, and the third was clutched in one unsteady hand as the man angrily turned to lean back on the bar, muttering darkly to himself. Harold, swollen hands forgotten, looked at Ben with wide eyes.
“I’ve never seen him in here before,” he whispered. “Who is that?”
“Oh, you wouldn’t see him, normally,” Ben murmured back. “He’s usually in here from December first right through to the twenty-fourth. Non-stop. Then he sleeps it off until mid-to-late January, and you miss him entirely.” He shook his head, his eyes sad. “Does this every year, poor guy. The worst part is, he has a legitimate beef.”
“But, who is he?” said Harold, peeking down the bar.
“That, my friend, is Saint Nicholas Cadmium, patron saint of batteries . . .”
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Well, Harold's not having the best holiday season, is he? Make sure you stop by next week to see just where the poor little bastard goes from here.
Happy holidays! Talk to you later.