Mileva Anastasiadou, “The Twelve Hits of Christmas”
An anthology of humorous short stories
Publisher: CreateSpace (August 31, 2016)
Paperback: 218 pp.
ISBN: 1539079740; 978-1539079743
All profits go to Médecins sans frontières
— Doctors Without Borders
On the first hit of Christmas
The crisis had hit his door before, but he had refused to open it. Or better, somebody had knocked on the door, but it must have been the wind, not the crisis, for back then, whoever tried to enter, did not insist. It could have been the postman after all. This time though, it was something stronger, that hit once, twice, and then broke open the door, which could no longer resist the inflicted force.
There came a slight discomfort, as the door was becoming larger and larger and he could not close it, which little by little transformed into panic, with all its accompanying characteristics: fast heart rate, dizziness, numbness of the limbs, along with the sensation that the air was not enough. He took some deep breaths, as if the amount of oxygen in the room would grow, if he tried harder.
“Like when you puff harder to keep the cigarette lit,” he thought in panic, but the metaphor did not calm him down. Nor did his thoughts who ran unrestrained on his financial problems. On the contrary, the more he asphyxiated, the greedier he became for air. He recalled a show he had watched years ago on tv, and ran to the kitchen. He emptied a plastic bag, and stuck it to his face.
“I wonder how on earth there was so much air in an empty bag,” he wondered, when he started regaining his composure.
“Did I almost die?” he wondered, staring at the blinking lights of the Christmas tree at the apartment across the street. He had not realized that Christmas was coming, until this happened. And this was just the first blow. And it was a heavy blow indeed.
On the second hit of Christmas
He smoked a couple of joints, while thinking about it; he should visit a doctor.
Instead of calling a specialist though, he called his best friend.
“You'd better have a good reason for calling me this early, Glue.”
Glue was his nickname. He earned it years ago, when he used to sniff glue, paint thinners, gasoline, or whatever was at hand. It came naturally, paraphrasing his real name, which was Lou. He had given up on all this crap though, since he no longer needed any of it. He already had the means to ensure better fixes for himself, without having to compromise with cheap alternatives.
“For heaven's sake Mike, it's 5 o'clock in the afternoon! It is not early, not even for me. Come over here fast.”
Mike was there five hours later.
On the upper shelf of the closet, in which Lou rarely entered, except in the case of emergency, since he could barely stand the chaos in it, let alone deal with it, a bell and an angel had taken refuge. Old and forgotten Christmas ornaments from Lou's family house, they once anticipated the festive season, in order to be hung on the family Christmas tree, so as to fulfill the meaning of their existence. Many years have passed, since they last decorated some tree branches, as Lou was not that fond of Christmas.
“Poor guy! I cannot even begin to imagine what is in store for him,” said Bell.
“You really feel sorry for him, after all he's done to us?” asked Angel, anger all over his face.
“I've known him since he was a kid, I cannot help it.”
Silence prevailed in the closet again, interrupted by the ringing of the phone, which was louder than other times, as it managed to wake Lou up. In the back of his mind, he felt that he had forgotten to do something of great importance. Then it hit him. He had to go to work. Considering the expenses and the loans, he could not afford to lose this job.
“Mike, get the phone. I must get dressed. I have to get to work,” he shouted at his best friend, who was still sleeping on the sofa. Mike searched on the floor blindly, in order to trace where this annoying noise was coming from.
“Who was it?” asked Lou, entering the living room, all dressed up for work.
“You don't have to run after all,” said Mike.
“Will you get serious and tell me who it was on the phone?”asked Lou, taking a last look in the mirror, arranging his hair.
“I'm telling you. You don't have a job to run to. You just got fired.”
The air began to get thicker and thicker again. That was a heavy hit indeed, wasn't it Lou? Are you strong enough to handle it?
On the third hit of Christmas
Lou was standing out of the doctor's office, waiting for his turn.
“It is obviously an attack,” announced the doctor.
“Like an alien attack or something, doc?”
“A panic attack,” he explained, after throwing a contemptuous glance at Lou.
Lou avoided any further questions, as he watched the doctor write and then hand him a prescription.
“You will come back in a month,” the doctor said strictly, as if it was Lou's mistake that he suffered from those panic attacks.
On leaving the building, he took a glance of the wall across the street.
Never before had he felt touched by such manifestations of affection and tenderness. This time though, a bell rang in his mind. He almost heard it literally. And he felt that well known dizziness, which meant that the air would not seem enough in a little while.
“These panic attacks, the doctor was talking about, are getting way too frequent,” he thought, while running to the closest drugstore to get his medicines.
On the fourth hit of Christmas
The lights abruptly went out, and Lou had to blindly search for the key to the closet, in search of his lost flashlight.
“What next?” he wondered, as he searched around with one hand, while trying to keep the lighter lit with the other. The answer came naturally, when after a while, a little silver bell landed on his head and then, after multiple rebounds on random places, eventually reached the floor.
“How did these stupid little ornaments get here? I am certain I had put them away in a box years ago.”
“Are you calling us stupid?” said Angel, not being able to stand the insult. It is one thing to be kept locked and forgotten in a closet, but it is completely outrageous when your patience and your sacrifices are not even appreciated.
Lou looked around puzzled.
“I must be going crazy. Or is it the side effects of the drugs? Or maybe the pizza I ate last night?” he thought loudly.
“Sure, blame it on the pizza now.”
“Well, I have to confess, that we caused all this,” said Angel after a silent pause. “You have forgotten us in this closet for so long, that we had to do something to get out of here.”
“We did it for your own good as well,” added Bell reluctantly. “Well, we mean no harm, but you know... You have abandoned us here in the closet for so long, that we felt obliged to report you.”
“It is not neither personal, nor that important,” said Angel, spinning around Lou's head. “We reported your lack of decorations for the past ten years, and now the procedures have started.”
“Procedures?” Lou took comfort in repeating the words of his company, in the form of questions.
“Nothing unusual, just the twelve hits of Christmas,” said Bell, in the most reassuring tone.
The lights were on again, and Lou grabbed the flashlight and ran out of the closet and into the streets, still in his pajamas.
On the fifth hit of Christmas
Next morning, he woke up at Mike's place. Strangely, Mike was already awake.
“Panic attacks, that's what the doctor said.”
“Is it serious?”
“He did not tell me. He gave me some medicines though.”
“Hey, I got a neighbor who's a dentist. Let's go ask.”
“He's a dentist, Mike. How on earth should he know?”
“Come on. He surely knows more than we do.”
“So, you have panic attacks? That means you know very well what it's all about. It's what I get when I wait for a patient, and a miserable neighbor comes instead, with an even more miserable friend, to ask me what happens when I wait for a patient, and a miserable neighbor comes instead, with an even more miserable friend... and so on. You get it, right? That's a panic attack.”
The two visitors stepped back slowly, as the doctor threw a lighter towards their direction, which barely hit Lou's arm.
That was hardly a hit. I bet you can handle more Lou.
On the sixth hit of Christmas
Lou is sitting on a bench. There, in the middle of the playground, stands a tree, decorated with small colorful balls, bells, and little angels. Surprisingly, he throws a glance towards the tree in sympathy. If the bells and the angels had consciousness, although they certainly have not, as Lou has to remind himself, they would only want to accomplish their purpose in life.
Lou is wondering if he, too, has a purpose in life
“My purpose is certainly not as clear as the purpose of a chair, a table, or even a little bell,” he thinks moments before he closes his eyes. And just when he gets lost in thought on the meaning of his own existence...
A ball hits him on the head.
The little angel of the closet is spinning around his head again.
You are fine, Lou. Let us see know how much more you can handle.
On the seventh hit of Christmas
Lou was not certain as to whether he could count the hit by the ball or not. A stray soccer ball that popped onto his head while he was almost asleep, could be considered a coincidence after all.
The phone, which kept ringing, interrupted his daydreaming.
“I am calling from the hospital. A young man has been transferred here in a coma. You are the only person he has talked to, during the last twenty four hours. Could you possibly come over for some further clarifications?”
Lou stood frozen for a while.
“So this was the lesson I was supposed to learn? The ball on my head... everything... They all mean that life could end just as abruptly as it began? By a stupid ball, or an overdose? Is that the lesson?”
As he looked around, he noticed the wall across the street. The graffiti drew his attention for a moment.
“What kind of answer is this? A stupid graffiti on a wall that does not make any sense,” he thought to himself.
“If this is the lesson, then I don't want to learn,” he screamed out of the open window and then turned to the taxi driver's direction, who had been looking at him, worried, through the mirror.
“Don't mind me. Please, be as fast as you can.”
On the eighth hit of Christmas
Mike is fine. Lou's house though, is not fine at all. At first, Lou thought it was hit by robbers. Beer cans were thrown all over the place, half-empty bottles of wine on the table, full ashtrays. Strangely enough, nothing is missing. It seems as if somebody came, threw a party, and then forgot to turn off the music.
“In case you wonder you forgot to lock the closet,” said Angel. “There may have been a miracle that made us talk, fly, drink and dance, but we still are incapable of breaking locks. Well, those up above, they say you have not understood anything yet. You do seem to have a very good time, though. I think that all this nonsense they have been teaching us up there, are all useless. Dear Bell, will you pass me the joint please?”
“We are only experimenting.” Bell tried to justify herself.
“Interesting experiment I would add. Who cares about getting hung on a Christmas tree, as long as there's wine?” Bell and Angel burst into loud laughter.
“You only exist because I keep you alive in my sick mind,” Lou cried angrily.
“Right. Are you interested in the latest gossip?” asked Bell playfully, as if it was the most normal thing in the world for Lou to be interested in gossip, especially when coming from two Christmas ornaments.
“I am not interested at all,” he said, and looked to the ceiling, as if he was talking to a mysterious invisible creature.
“I don't care what you think of me, up there. I never believed in Christmas, or in Santa Claus, or even in God. In fact, I would rather you didn't exist. Because, if it is all true, you are then responsible for all the misery of the world.”
“Nice speech, mate, but you got it all wrong. You will figure it out. You just need time,” said Angel after a long pause, that seemed to last for ages.
On the ninth hit of Christmas
The idea got wedged as a bullet in his brain, so different and bright than anything he had ever thought of, and powerful enough to disable any other sense, so that his whole existence merged into a new-found happiness, which was completely different to any artificial paradise he had visited before.
After unboxing all the Christmas ornaments and placing the long forgotten Christmas tree into the living room, he called the only person he thought of, whom he could share his joy with.
“Whatever happened to you?” asked Mike on the other side of the line, who had just got out of the hospital.
“We should change our perspective, Mike. All signs show to a different direction. All that happened to us show us the way....”
“The way to become better persons,”said Lou in a determined voice.
“Can you please become a better person by yourself? I don't feel well enough to make important decisions at the moment,” Mike told him before he abruptly hang up the phone. Lou had no money, no job, not any available friends, but just before midnight, he managed to decorate the most beautiful Christmas tree.
On the tenth hit of Christmas
Two blocks away, near the mall, Santa wanders in the city. Truth is that in the old times, his work was limited to supervising the construction of the toys. Things have changed lately. The crisis has affected not only the known world, but also the less known one, the one that some people even consider unreal. The worst of all is that the apathy of people to all that is happening to them fueled those up above with ideas, so they now insist on tight budgets, fiscal adjustments, and work intensification, without reason after all, as up above, they do not use money at all.
Santa had to look for a job. Who would hire him though? You cannot work as Santa, if you are not dressed as Santa, even if you are Santa. Never had he suspected that clothes could cause him such a big problem, or that the clothes would be more reliable than a saint himself.
“I am a dead man,” he thought to himself, sinking in despair, while thinking about the recent gossip. Donner and Rudolph fell in love, and decided to run away. They have sprayed their love all over the town, on every wall they found empty. Only angels and spirits undertook those cases in the past, but due to the recent cuts, the two reindeer had to take care of Lou too, this year. Rumors say that they were assigned this case only because “Lou” is also the nickname of Rudolph.
It did not go as planned though. After they discovered they were soul mates, they only pretended to work on Lou's case, and decided to escape and drink all day, as the research they had conducted on Lou had proved extremely pleasant.
Santa's eyes shone when he saw Lou crossing the street. And then came the idea. Santa grabbed Lou by the neck and threw him down. Lou did not have any time to react properly or defend himself.
“Stop,” yelled a girl from afar.
“Sorry mate, this had to be done,” Santa whispered in Lou's ear and ran away in joy, hoping the two reindeer would give up on their plans, now that they would have to get a bit more engaged in Lou's case.
On the eleventh hit of Christmas
“For the next few days, you should be very careful,” the doctors told him.
“Do you want me to call somebody to come and get you?” asked the girl beside him, the same girl that saved him from the aspiring villain that had attacked him earlier.
“I'll make it on my own,” he said taking a look at the girl for the first time.
“That's out of the question. You heard what the doctors just said.”
He thanked her politely and headed for the exit.
“I can't leave you alone,” she insisted. “Besides, we haven't even introduced ourselves. I am Dorothy,” she said offering her hand for a handshake.
They decided to go to the terrace, above Lou's house, in order to watch the sunrise. It would not be any sunrise. Christmas was dawning in just a few hours.
“If this was a dream, how would you call it? A pleasant one or a nightmare?” Dorothy asked him.
“It becomes better and better by the minute,” answered Lou, who could not believe the words he was saying. Not because they were not true, but because they were. He felt something he could not yet define. Perhaps something like hope.
Lou started to suspect that this could be another hit. He had to confess though, it was much more pleasant than the previous ones.
On the twelfth hit of Christmas
Just before the Christmas bells rang, the sky ahead of them, began to change colors, yet instead of acquiring the usual golden color of the dawn, it was getting darker and darker, until it got purple and then a wild wind started to rise, that almost took them away.
Lou and Dorothy could not keep their eyes open any longer, but they still held hands tightly. It took them a while to realize that nothing stable was beneath their feet any more, that they were not on the terrace, that nothing familiar was around.
They were flying. Before they even had the chance to enjoy the trip, the wind began to calm, and it was as if a magical hand placed them gently on the ground.
Two reindeer appeared in front of them, not just any two reindeer, but two reindeer that could talk too. Nothing could surprise Lou any more, unlike Dorothy who stood beside him open mouthed.
“I am Lou and this is Donner,” the reindeer introduced themselves.
“They must be Santa's reindeer” said Dorothy in low voice and Lou nodded.
“Well, actually Lou is my nickname, my real name is Rudolph. You must have heard all the rumors about us, haven't you?”
They had not heard a thing. Lou remembered the graffiti on the walls. He then recalled the gossip, which the little bell had mentioned, and regretted his decision to ignore her words.
“How weird! We did our best so that those rumors could reach you ears. We are supposed to be in love and determined to not work for Santa any more.”
“But... this is impossible,” Dorothy muttered through her teeth. “I mean you could be in love of course, but not working for Santa should be out of the question.”
“You are absolutely right,” said Donner. “It is rather impossible indeed, yet even Santa believed it and hit you, in order to make us focus on our work.”
“But,” Lou presented his objections, “whoever hit me, did not look like Santa at all.”
“He certainly was Santa, who knew we were on you case.”
“So you were on my case,” mumbled Lou.
“Our goal though was even higher than the usual stuff. We did not only want to make you love Christmas.”
Lou thought that he and Dorothy had the same initials as the reindeer. D+L. Donner and Lou. Dorothy and Lou (the human).
“So long, twelve hits of Christmas. The time has come now for the twelve days of Christmas!” shouted Donner in ecstasy, as the Christmas bells began ringing from somewhere far away, and the landscape was becoming blurry little by little, until it became all bright and gold.
Back on the terrace, they looked at each other as if they could not believe what had just happened to them, yet they recognized in each other's eyes the same magical experience, without speaking a word.
The Christmas bells were still ringing, and Lou knew that was certainly the final hit.
Copyright © 2016 by Mileva Anastasiadou