For Goodness’ Sake

📅 Published on December 16, 2020

“For Goodness’ Sake”

Written by Ryan Harville
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

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🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available

ESTIMATED READING TIME — 21 minutes

Rating: 10.00/10. From 4 votes.
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It’s time for a story about Santa Claus. Well, a Santa, at least. And there is a difference, ‘cause the real Santa is myth and bullshit, but this Santa was the real deal.

His name was Nicholas White, and I’m gonna tell you upfront: I don’t know if that was his real name or not. Seems more than a coincidence that his real name would be Nick, but I never knew him by anything else.

It’s been a long time since I talked about him. Ol’ Nick has been on my mind a lot lately. I guess because this is my last Christmas. I still have chemo treatments scheduled but the docs say I ain’t really making much of an improvement. So yeah, unless there’s some divine intervention, I’ll be lucky to see Easter next year.

So, here’s a story, the last story I’m apt to ever tell. And I need to tell it. People need to know about Nick. I ain’t gonna let his memory die with me. Now, I’ve got plenty of stories about him, but this one here sums it up. I’ll let it stand for all the others.

It was a week before Christmas, 1991, and we were parked outside some burger place in the middle of nowhere Alabama. I had my feet up on the dash of Nick’s old Ford Bronco, one of many local newspapers spread across my lap and open to the classifieds. In the last few weeks, we’d made our way across Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and had landed in Alabama, working gigs along the way.

Nick sat behind the wheel, finishing his burger. It always took him forever to eat ‘cause he had to be careful of his beard. The white hair flowed down from his temples and over his cheeks, like an avalanche of perfectly combed snow. He kept it pristine, which he had to really ‘cause it was his money-maker. After people saw the beard it was just a negotiation of the price.

I ran my pencil’s tip down the list, stopping occasionally to read off listings to Nick.

“Bessemer? They got a shoppin’ mall.”

Nick finished chewing then said, “Too far north. We gotta make good time if we’re gonna hit Florida and Georgia before Christmas.”

“What about Montgomery? Shouldn’t be but a couple of hours from here.”

“That’s doable,” Nick said. “What else you got?”

“Uh…Hanlon? Near the Alabama-Georgia line, and not too far from Florida’s panhandle either.”

Nick’s look became distant and worried, and I knew that’s where we were goin’ before all the words left my mouth.

Seein’ Nick worried always bothered me. Those days I was probably five-seven and barely a buck-fifty, but Nick was a big ol’ son of a bitch. Had to be six-four easy and pushing two-thirty. He looked like the real Santa if he spent his free-time fixing Harleys. His black Alice in Chains t-shirt stretched over his beer gut, the only part of him that had any fat, really. Point bein’, if ol’ Nick was worried, I sure as hell was too.

“That’s the one,” he said. “Make it happen, Rudolph.”

Nick started calling me “Rudolph” from the first week we met. Thought it was funny, I guess, with me bein’ the navigator and all. I set up his appearances, tracked the routes for our trips, made sure he knew when and where to turn, and got us back on the road after rest stops. The name fit, so it stuck.

I spent the next few minutes tracing the route out on the map. Nick tossed his trash into the can right outside his window, then leaned back and closed his eyes.

I turned and looked at him. “What’s got you worked up?”

Nick shook his head. “I don’t know, Rudy. This one feels different, like pressure behind my eyes. Like a storm coming.”

“Whatever it is,” I said. “We’ll handle it. We always do, right?”

Nick nodded. “I know. C’mon, let’s get some miles under our belt.”

He started the engine, and the truck roared to life.

* * * * * *

We were on the road for maybe an hour when Nick flicked the blinker on and made for the off-ramp.

“We ain’t scheduled for a stop,” I said. “You good?”

Nick nodded. “Yeah, just need a break. Take a piss, grab a coffee.”

“Alright. I guess it wouldn’t hurt to top off the tank.”

We turned into a Shell station that had seen better days and Nick parked beside a pump.

I got out and stretched ‘til I shook in the crisp December air. “Shit, I guess I did need a breather,” I said, grabbing the pump’s nozzle.

“Nah, come on inside,” Nick said. “The gas can wait ‘til we get back.”

I shrugged and followed him through the glass doors. A bell rang over our heads as we entered.

The gas station looked like any other of the hundreds we’d been in over the years. Slightly grimy, a little smoky, most shit on the shelves out of date. Two guys played cards in the corner, both outfitted in flannel and camo. Probably just back from an illegal hunt somewhere nearby.

The guy behind the counter looked up from his magazine when the bell rang. He saw Nick and smiled wide.

“Lookit here, boys!” he said. “I reckon Christmas done come early!”

The card players glanced up and chuckled, but quickly went back to their game.

I did the talkin’, as usual. I had a way of gently navigating through tense situations.

“Yeah, and it turns out your mama’s on the very naughty list.”

The clerk stood stock-still. You could hear a pin drop right there on the shitty linoleum.

Then the guys in the corner damn-near erupted with laughter.

“Alright, alright,” the clerk said. “Nobody asked you two.”

I walked over to the coffee as Nick left for the bathroom. I poured mine black and made Nick’s usual, sweet as sin and blonde as an angel, then made my way back to the counter.

I set the cups down and the clerk started ringing us up. I grabbed a Zero bar for Nick and an Almond Joy for myself.

“These too,” I said.

“Little far from the North Pole,” the clerk said. “Where you boys headed?”

“Georgia,” I lied. “Got my sister’s family in Savannah. Gonna spend the holidays out that way.”

The clerk lifted his chin towards the bathroom. “Ya’ll kin?”

“Yeah, uh, that’s my cousin. Frank.”

He tossed the chocolate bars into a small paper sack. “Where you from ‘riginally?”

“Look,” I said, laying a five down on the counter. “I ain’t trying to cause no problems here, but what’s with all the questions?”

I looked up at the clerk’s face. His mouth had gone slack, his eyes damn near rolled all the way back up into his head. Out the corner of my eye I saw the two men at the table stand up. I didn’t need to see their faces to know they shared the clerk’s expression.

He lunged at me, making it halfway over the counter in one leap. The coffee splashed over the both of us. It only hit my hand, but it stung like a bitch, I couldn’t imagine how he was still fightin’ after a face full of it. He grabbed me by the front of my jacket and hauled my ass right over the counter. We sprawled across the floor, him on top of me and me trying to keep his hands from gettin’ around my neck.

A voice that didn’t belong to him came out from between the clerk’s hanging lips.

“You two just keep fucking meddling,” he growled. “Always sticking your goddamn noses in my business!”

He swung his fist down like a hammer. I managed to get my hand up in time, but I still caught the brunt of it on the side of my head.

My lights came close to goin’ out, but I could still see enough to watch Nick’s big hands grab the clerk’s shoulders and toss his ass against the wall. Cigarettes fell off the shelves in a goddamn landslide.

Nick punched the clerk across the jaw one good time to make sure he stayed down. I pushed the packs off me and spied a prize under the counter: a sleek little nine mil just itching to come home with me. I grabbed it, flicked the safety off, and aimed at the other two men right as they rounded the corner.

“You’re gonna want to hold right there, boys,” I said. “You come any closer and I’ll let Nick beat the shit outta you before I shoot.”

The men stopped, and the guttural voice came from their mouths in stereo.

“How many times must we do this?” it said, echoing from mouth to mouth. “The same song, the same dance. Don’t you two ever get bored of it all?”

“I’ll call it quits when you do,” Nick said.

“We both know that’s not going to happen.”

“Well, then I guess you got your answer then, dontcha, asshole?”

The voice got louder ‘til shit started to shake on the shelves.

“I will flay you both!” it boomed. “I will dig my nails into each synapse–”

“Then fuckin’ do it!” Nick cried. “Bring your sorry ass up here and do it!”

I stood up on my shakin’ legs. “You know he won’t, Nick. Ol’ Scratch ain’t got no balls to speak of.”

The voice growled. “Do not presume to test me.”

“Ain’t no test,” I said. “You ain’t gonna do shit ‘cause you can’t do shit. Sky Daddy said to sit your ass down there and what did you do? You bitched out and done as you were told.”

“Get outta these fellas’ heads then get the fuck outta here,” Nick said.

The voice faded, trailing away. “This isn’t over. I’ll see you soon, gentlemen.”

The two men sunk slowly to the floor, blinking.

“Come on, Nick,” I said. “Let’s get while the gettin’ is good.”

“Yeah,” he said, then headed for the door. “I’ll pump the gas. You mind making some more coffee?”

“No problem, boss,” I said.

I trudged through the mess and stepped over the two guys, then almost pissed myself when one of them grabbed my leg. I jumped back and he let go, staring at me.

“What…what happened?” he said.

“Sorry, brother,” I said. “Ol’ Scratch used you as a meat puppet for a couple of minutes.”

“‘Ol’ Scratch’? Holy shit! You sayin’ the dev–”

“Yeah, he had his metaphysical hand up your ass. But you’re all good now, I promise.”

The man’s mouth opened and closed like a drowning fish. “I felt like he wanted me to hurt you fellas.”

“Nah,” I said. “Listen, he can’t make you do nothin’ you do want to do. Nothin’. He can say all kinds of shit, try to convince you of some terrible things. But you got that sweet, sweet free will. Most he can do is make your gums flap for a minute and use you as a mouthpiece.”

I don’t know if he believed me or not, but he nodded all the same.

“That’s the spirit. You just stay on the right path. Be a good man. Be the kind of person that people look up to.” I clapped him on the shoulder. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I gotta go shoplift some shit.”

* * * * * *

We were back on the road, and Nick was quiet. Now, if you haven’t noticed already, Nick was never the talkative kind to begin with. Under his gruff exterior was another exterior that was just as rough, and maybe another rugged layer under that one too. The only time you’d see him really come alive was while he was performing.

“Talk to me man,” I said between sips of scalding coffee. “You’re acting off.”

“I told you this trip was strange,” Nick said. “But I didn’t know how bad it was gonna get.”

“Yeah, but they’re all strange trips, man. If the job had a description, it would be right up top. Headline: ‘You wanna see some fucked up shit? Apply today!’.

Nick shook his head. “Not like this though. His fiery highness has never pulled some shit like that before. Three puppets? And one straight up attacked you? That’s outside of even our normal.”

I laughed. “Yeah, but that one was on me. Guy probably wanted to hit me anyway, after I insulted his mother’s lilywhite honor. So, Scratch just gave him a little nudge.”

“That’s just it though. That’s never happened. Not once since you been runnin’ with me.”

I thought back, and knew he was right. “Okay, so I’ll keep my tongue from waggin’ too much.”

“I don’t think that’s gonna be enough. Whoever we’re headin’ toward, they ain’t the normal evil. And Scratch likes ‘em just how they are. I feel like the pressure is risin’ the closer we get. You remember Hurricane Frederic?”

“Yeah, a bit. I was pretty much drunk my entire twenties.”

“You remember how it felt before landfall? How you could feel it bearin’ down on you? Animals were going crazy, too. ‘Cause they knew. They could feel it comin’. That’s how it feels, Rudy. Whatever we’re heading towards, it’s the worse one yet.”

I didn’t like what he was saying. Not in the goddamn slightest. One, ‘cause the thought sucked hard, and two, because I couldn’t feel things the way Nick did. That’s why he was special, that’s why he was chosen for the job, or he chose the job. Still ain’t entirely sure which was true, even today. He had like an extra sense, he could see and feel things that you and I can’t. Things that we wouldn’t want to feel. He could see pain, guilt, all the bad shit.

To speak plainly, he could sense evil. And whatever we were runnin’ at, it was a hurricane of the shit.

* * * * * *

After another rough night of sleeping in the back of the Bronco, we got up in the light of the winter sun and got ready. I stood outside in the mall’s parking lot and brushed my teeth with toothpaste I’d stolen from a motel days ago and water from the milk jug we kept behind the seats. The Bronco shook as Nick changed into his outfit.

Eventually, he emerged. Red velvet coat and pants trimmed in pristine white fur. Black boots so shiny you could see your reflection on ‘em. They were steel toe motorcycle boots, not quite legitimate Santa gear, but most people didn’t notice. He put his red hat on and moved the white pom-pom expertly so that it hung to the side.

“You good?” I asked, rinsing my toothbrush out onto the concrete.

“Didn’t sleep for shit,” he said. “Nightmare. It fucked with my head.”

“Looks like it,” I said. “You gonna be alright?”

“Yeah, let’s go in. I’ll feel better when I start working.”

We crossed the lot and went in through the big glass double-doors. A sign hung near the ceiling; the word “OFFICE” printed on it with an arrow.

“Here we go,” I said and knocked.

“Yeah, what?” a voice called from behind the door. I twisted the knob and walked in.

The manager sat behind his desk, the overhead lights gleaming off of his scalp where his comb-over didn’t quite cover it.

“Did I say, ‘Come in’?” he said, dropping his newspaper. “Jesus Christ, this is why I need to hire more security, people just walking in whenever they damn well please–”

He stopped talking as Nick came in behind me.

“Holy shit,” he said. “You’re the real deal, ain’t you?”

“Kinda obvious by now,” I said. “But we’re here about the job.”

“Just by the look of you, I can’t afford you. The last Santa was some half-drunk guy in a fake beard. Two days ago, he just up and disappeared, leaving me with a bunch of parents botherin’ the shit outta me about when Santa’s comin’ back.”

“Not frettin’ about the pay,” Nick said. “Whatever is fine. I do it for the kids.”

I nodded. “Yeah, this ain’t just a job. It’s a callin’.”

The manager leaned forward, his brow creased and expression stern. “Look, if you guys are some kind of perverts–”

I could feel Nick’s anger like a goddamn bonfire behind me, so I did what I do best to calm everyone down.

“What the fuck?!” I yelled. “Are you serious? This man lives to help kids have a merry Christmas, asshole!”

He sat back with his hands up. “Okay, jeez! I’m sorry, alright? I just gotta be careful, you know?”

I turned to Nick. He nodded.

“Okay, apology accepted,” I said. “Now, he got the job or what?”

The manager looked from me to Nick then back to me. “Yeah, fine. Everything is set up right in the middle of the mall. We’ve got a tent up behind the chair for a dressing room. The shift is from nine to one, then a half-hour for lunch. Then back on the back on the floor ‘til six. I’ll pay you out in cash at the end of the day. Sound good?”

“Deal,” I said.

“Good, it’s ten ‘til nine now. Get on over there.”

We left and made our way through the mall, Christmas tunes blaring from speakers overhead. It wasn’t too busy yet but there were still plenty of people milling around. When we passed kids, they all stopped and stared.

This was the best part of our job. Nick greeted every kid we saw, and his face lit up each time. Shit, if I didn’t already know him, I’d have thought he was the real deal too.

These were the only times that I saw Nick truly happy.

By the time we made it to the set-up, we had a line of kids followin’ us like Nick was the goddamn pied piper instead of Santa Claus. He got to his seat and turned to the crowd.

“Ho Ho Ho!” he boomed. “Merry Christmas!”

The kids cheered and called his name. He waved, his huge white-gloved hand moving from side to side.

Nick sat down and made himself comfortable, then gave me a thumbs-up.

I walked over to his side. “Welcome, everyone!” I said. “I’m Rudolph, Santa’s navigator and right-hand man. You can all come up to see Santa one at a time, tell him hello and what you want for Christmas. Now, everyone else waiting in line please keep your voices down so Santa can hear the Christmas wishes.”

And so Nick can concentrate, I thought.

The first kid tentatively walked up to Nick, and the work truly started.

* * * * * *

Two hours passed.

Then three.

Then finally it was time for a break.

I stood up and addressed the crowd. “Okay, kids! Santa has to take a short break to check on the rest of the reindeer or somethin’, but he’ll be back before you know it, so stay right there and be nice! Remember: he can still see you!”

I met Nick in the tent. “Did you get anything?”

Nick hesitantly shook his head. “No. Maybe. I don’t know. Usually when they sit down, I can feel pretty damn quick if they have a problem. But this time has been like…like a bunch of them have something wrong. Not all of them, but more than usual.”

“So, we got a lot of coal to give out here? That’s not too out of the ordinary.”

He frowned. “It ain’t the same. Every kid has a different feeling, and it’s special to them. Like a fingerprint, or a blood type.”

“Okay, what are you sayin’?”

“It’s like the kids with issues all have the same fingerprints. You see how weird that is?”

I nodded and let out a breath. “Yeah, but what in the hell does it mean?”

“Okay, listen,” Nick said, running his hands over his beard nervously. “What if…Jesus, I hope I’m wrong about this, what if they all have the same problem, with the same person?”

I felt like somebody had slapped me. This was fucking far from normal.

“I don’t think this is gonna be just some piece of shit stepdad,” Nick said. “Something bigger is happenin’ here.”

“Well…shit,” I said. “What do you want to do?”

Nick stood. “We keep goin’, and we keep looking. What else can we do?”

* * * * * *

The hours passed, and kid after kid sat down on Nick’s lap, leaving with a smile and a candy cane.

I kept a close eye out. I could see the wear and tear it was puttin’ on him. Maybe every tenth kid, I’d see him grimace. Not a lot, just as little. I was probably the only one who noticed. His face would just kinda get tight and his eyes would get that faraway look. I felt like shit, ‘cause there wasn’t a damn thing I could do about it. It was his burden, and he couldn’t share it. Whatever it was, gift or curse, who knows? I just wanted to help him carry it. Every kid who sat on his lap with an issue was another weight tied around his neck. We’d seen junkie mothers who sold their kids off to strangers, alcoholic dads who like to use their fists, stepparents with hearts of pure hatred.

And we gave every fucking one of them a lump of coal.

They were isolated incidents, you know. We’d hit up a town, stay for a few days, and maybe find one or two naughty pieces of shit, and give them their coal. Then it was off to the next town, doin’ as much good as we could before Christmas.

But if my count was right, Nick felt something wrong with eight kids within a few hours of his lunch break. That’s not even countin’ the ones he got a feeling from that morning.

Around five o’clock, the next kid in line walked up to Nick. He was black, probably around seven years old, had a puffy blue jacket on. His brown eyes were bright and shiny, and so happy to see Santa. I can still see him in my mind like a Polaroid picture.

Nick put his hands under the boy’s arms, scooped him up, and set him down on his lap. Nick’s face contorted immediately, but he recovered quickly and smiled, beginning his usual routine with the boy.

The boy spoke low enough that I couldn’t hear what he sayin’, but he was still smiling so all was well. Until his eyes left Nick’s face and settled somewhere behind me. Whatever happened was quick, the boy was struck rigid with fear, and Nick tensed up with him. A wet spot began to form on the front of the boy’s pants, and it wasn’t ‘til then that I thought to look behind me.

There wasn’t anything unusual, just people shoppin’. By the time I turned back around the kid’s father was gently lifting the boy off Nick’s lap.

“I’m so, so sorry,” the man said. “I don’t know what’s got into him!”

Nick laughed. “No need to be sorry!” he said. “Accidents happen, even to Santa from time to time!”

Nick winked at the boy, and it seemed to soothe him. He gave a small smile and buried his face into his father’s shoulder.

“Thank you for understanding,” the man said, and walked away. The boy gave a little wave as they left.

“Okay, everyone!” I said, standing in front of Nick. “Santa’s got to go check on his workshop, but he’ll be back again tomorrow! Good night and merry Christmas!”

There were a few grumbles from some parents who’d been waiting but I ignored them and turned back to Nick, just in enough time to catch him when he fell.

He leaned against me as I struggled beneath the sheer size of him.

“Help me get out of here,” he said softly.

I supported him as we left the mall, not even botherin’ to check in with the manager. We half stumbled, half walked back to the Bronco. I got him to lay down in the back before I started in on him.

“What the hell was that, man?” I said. “You scared the shit outta me!”

Nick shook his head, dazed. “The boy saw someone while he was on my lap. It was him, the one we’re after. Once he laid eyes on him, I felt it all, everything that’s been going on in this town. It’s so much, Rudy. Way too much. Damn near toppled me over.”

“Holy shit,” I said. “I knew somethin’ was up when I saw the look on the kid’s face!” I took a deep breath then let it out. “Okay, okay, okay. How do you want to do this?”

He closed his eyes. “I need a few minutes to get right. Let me sleep for a bit, then we’ll take care of it.”

“You’re talkin’ about going tonight? That’s crazy talk. You look like you been hit by a truck–”

He reached out and took ahold of my hand. “I’m going to sleep for a while, then after midnight we’ll go handle the fucker. Alright?”

I sighed. “Alright. Shit, alright. Do you even know where to find the guy?”

“Yeah, he lives close to where works. Should be easy to find.”

“Where’s he work?”

Nick turned over on his side.

“Hanlon Elementary School,” he said.

* * * * * *

I spent those hours filing the serial number off of the nine mil I’d taken from the gas station and staring off into space. I was too amped up to sleep anyway. I shook Nick awake at one AM. He stirred and opened his eyes.

“What time is it?”

“One,” I said.

“I told you midnight, Rudy.”

“You said after midnight and look at the time! It is sure as shit after midnight.”

“Don’t be a smartass,” Nick said, sitting up.

“You needed the sleep, Nick. You ain’t no good to us dead on your feet. How you feelin’?”

“Better, I think. You ready to do this?”

“You know it, boss.”

He smiled. “Then lead on, Rudolph.”

So, I did. We drove around aimlessly for a bit, well not really aimless. All these types of towns are about the same really, and sure enough, it wasn’t long before we saw a sign pointing us towards the school.

“He’s close,” Nick said, squinting over the steering wheel. “I can feel it. Gotta be along this street.”

“Kill the lights,” I said. “Don’t want to take any chances.”

He cut off the headlights and we cruised down the street at ten miles an hour, not lookin’ suspicious at all.

It was a decent neighborhood. Every house we passed was decorated. Must’ve been a million Christmas lights on just that one stretch of road. I was looking at the lights and zoning out when Nick hit the brakes.

“Shit! I damn near hit the dash,” I said.

Nick took one hand off the wheel and pointed. “That’s it. We’re here.”

The house was set a bit deeper off the road compared to the rest, with a bigger front yard. All brick with blue shutters. It was easy to tell because the house was easily the most decorated one yet.

“Christ,” I said. “Looks like Las Vegas threw up on his house.”

Nick didn’t laugh. “It’s all a cover. He’s trying to conceal all of the dark inside.”

I didn’t know what the hell to say to that, so I just nodded.

He pulled the Bronco into the driveway then cut the engine off. We coasted in silence the rest of the way.

We parked and got out. Nick adjusted his hat, then reached behind the seat to grab his bag. It wasn’t big and wasn’t filled with presents.

We looked at each other. He held up the bag and I patted the pistol weighing down my coat pocket. We nodded in unison and made our way down the side of the house. Once we turned the corner, the dark really settled in. I followed the sound of Nick’s footsteps.

The dark ended up bein’ a blessing, ‘cause without it I may not have seen the blue light in the distance.

“Nick,” I whispered. “Look yonder to the right. Blue light, you see it?”

“Yeah, let’s go check it out.”

The backyard led into the woods that spread the length of the neighborhood. We headed in that direction, careful of our footsteps over the pine needles and fallen leaves. As we got closer the shape became clearer.

“It’s an RV,” I whispered. “You think he’s got somebody livin’ out here?”

“Don’t know. Let’s go find out.”

The soft blue glow of a TV shone around the curtains on the windows. I tried to peek in but couldn’t make anything out.

“I don’t see nothin’. How you want to do this?”

“We go in,” Nick said. “I’ll open the door; you go in with the gun.”

“What if it’s locked?” I said.

Nick reached into his sack and pulled out his crowbar. “Then I’ll unlock it.”

“Okay, let’s do it.”

He gently grabbed the handle and pushed down, and the door began to swing out. I pulled out the pistol and flicked the safety off, putting my foot on the first step. Then the second. By the time I’d reached the last step, I could see the entire length of the RV bathed in the blue light of the TV.

A man sat in an office chair, his back to me, headphones covering his ears. He was nothing but a shadow in the TV’s light, blocking the screen completely.

I aimed the gun at him and walked slowly forward. He’d taken out extra seats and such from the RV and replaced them with shelves, shelves lined with videotapes, each labeled in neat print by a black marker.

Tiffany, age 8 – Part 1

James, age 7

Michael, age 7

Jessica and Michael, age 8

Me and Matthew, age 8

It took everything I had to keep from throwing up right then and there. There were so many, shit, I don’t know how many. A hundred? Two?

The shadow man moved and I nearly jumped outta my skin. He pressed a button on a nearby VCR, the machine whirred and spit out a tape. There was a soft click as he uncapped a marker and began writing on the label. When he was done, he grabbed a fresh cassette and slid it into the machine, pressed “copy”, and started the process all over.

I walked closer, inching forward ‘til I could see over his shoulder.

I don’t need to tell you what was on the screen. I wish to God I never knew, either.

I tapped the son of a bitch on the shoulder. He spun around, the cord of the headphones pulling his glasses ‘til they sat crooked on his nose.

“Who the fuck are you?” he cried. “How–”

“Shut your fucking mouth!” I hissed. “Or I swear to sweet Christ I’ll blow your goddamn brains out!”

“Please,” he said, putting his hands up like he could stop a speedin’ bullet. “This isn’t what you think!”

I couldn’t help it. I laughed.

“Really?” I said. “‘Cause it sure as shit looks like you got yourself pervert headquarters here. Is this all for you? Nah, can’t be, not with these many copies. You sellin’ it too, ain’t you? Come on, you can tell me.”

This piece of human garbage had the goddamn nerve to start crying.

“I can’t stop myself! Please, I need help–”

I heard and felt Nick’s footsteps behind me.

I smiled. “Oh, you’re gonna need help alright. But don’t fret, ‘cause jolly Ol’ Saint Nick is here to set you straight.”

I turned and moved out the way so he could get a good look at Nick.

The man’s face fell.

“You’d better not pout,” I said.

He backed his chair as far away as he could, mumbling prayers.

“You’d better not cry.”

Nick moved past me, and I watched him as he looked over all of the tapes, as he saw what was on the screen.

He didn’t have that faraway look in his eyes like he normally gets when it’s time to take care of business.

Nick’s eyes were cold steel. There was nothin’ there but flat, righteous murder.

The man got out about half a scream before Nick slammed the crowbar into him. It got him right in the gut, and all his air came rushing out. He raised his arms to protect himself but when a crowbar meets bone, the crowbar wins every time.

I took another couple of steps back as Nick got started in earnest. Most of the people we’d visited on the naughty list got the message with threats, some black mail, maybe a beating. And yeah, some had to be put down. But this was new territory, and I honestly didn’t know how bad it was gonna get.

I lost count of all the times he hit him. He wasn’t even aimin’, just letting the blows fall where they may.

And just like that, it was over, and the man looked like somebody had shoved a grenade up his ass and pulled the pin.

Nick staggered back; every inch of white fur now red with fresh blood.

“Burn it down,” Nick growled. “Burn this whole fucking place to the ground.”

I damn sure didn’t want to contradict him at a time like that, but I had to.

“Can’t do it, Nick. This shit here is evidence.”

“He’s fucking beyond dead, Rudy.”

“That is definitely so,” I said. “But all his buyers? They’re out there somewhere. And there may be stuff here the police can use to find ‘em.”

There was a moment where I thought he wouldn’t listen to reason, but in the end he nodded.

“If you’re sure.”

I smiled at him. “Has Rudolph ever steered you wrong?”

Nick nodded again, reached into his bag, and pulled out a piece of coal.

He grabbed the man’s jaw and wrenched it down, then shoved the coal past his shattered teeth and into his mouth.

* * * * * *

We drove until we found a payphone, and I got out and made a quick anonymous call to the police, telling them I’d heard quite a commotion out back of the principal’s house. I didn’t know the address, but fuck it, they’d figure it out. I hung the phone up and was about to leave when the son of a bitch started ringing.

I knew I should leave it be, but I answered it anyway. “Hello?”

“You know,” Scratch said. “I’ve always admired the work of you two gentlemen. Vengeance and violence, a little sprinkle of murder. What’s not to like?”

“We shut down your fucked-up video store,” I said. “That’s really gotta chap your ass, right?”

“I’ll just prop another one up. Find a man that likes them young, and just give a little push. That’s all it ever takes, you know. Half of the time they don’t even need my influence. They want to do it, you understand. They want to.”

“You gotta point?”

“You can’t win. Whether I’m whispering in their ear or not, they will keep sinning, keep raping, keep murdering. It’s in your primate nature. You just can’t help yourselves. So, for every so-called good deed you perform, there’s somebody ready to pick up the slack. Like I said, you can’t win.”

I laughed. “You don’t get it, do you? We ain’t out to save the world, dumbshit. We’re out to save kids. Give ‘em a whole new life where they ain’t gotta be afraid anymore. We can’t save billions of people, but we can save one.”

His voice reverted to the growl I was used to. “It makes no difference, I–”

“We’re done here,” I said. “Merry Christmas, asshole.”

I hung up, wiped my prints off the phone, and walked back to the Bronco.

Nick had changed into some clean clothes, but there was still a shit-ton of blood on him.

“Where to?” he said.

“I’ll figure it out in the morning. Let’s find a motel down the road and get cleaned up and sleep in a goddamn bed for once.”

“We ain’t got the cash for that,” Nick said. “We ran off from the mall without getting paid.”

“Well,” I said, and produced a wad of wrinkled bills from my pocket. “Looks like I forgot to mention I cleaned out that gas station’s register before we left.”

Nick laughed, a bright sound like Christmas bells. “Alright then. Lead the way, Rudolph.”

I did, and God help me, I hope it was in the right direction.

Rating: 10.00/10. From 4 votes.
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🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available


Written by Ryan Harville
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

🔔 More stories from author: Ryan Harville


Publisher's Notes: N/A

Author's Notes: N/A

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