Submission Date: 2010-12-06 By: Paolo
[Minor] [Straight] [Testicles]
A cleaned-up rewrite of an earlier Christmas story, in which a well to do gentleman is reminded of how he came to have all that he does - and how quickly he may lose it.
The Christmas That Never Was-Redux
“That’s the last one,” the old man groaned, slowly getting up from the floor where he’d been wrapping Christmas presents.
It was Christmas Eve, and the following day, his large and normally quiet home would be overrun with the delighted sounds of children unwrapping presents and finding exactly what they’d asked for. After all, they were his grandchildren; at Christmas, they always found what they’d asked for under Grandpa’s tree.
He pondered this as he stared at the tall Christmas tree, all aglow with the soft white light of hundreds of bulbs, and stretching upwards towards the cathedral ceiling. Upon the topmost branch sat a special ornament - an angel - smiling down upon the festively decorated room. In his hands he held a candle and a book, slowly turning his serene mechanical face to look first at one, then at the other, and down at the room.
The man regarded him with a smile.
As the man looked up and down the magnificent tree, his eyes taking in every individual ornament and his mind recalling every individual memory behind each one of them, he smiled again. Each of them told a story, and each of them held a happy memory. There were all very old decorations, carefully preserved remnants of his own boyhood Christmases long past.
There were not-so-old ones, from the time when his own children had been little. There were newer ones, added in the interim period of the years that were spent in anticipation of grandchildren. And then, there were the newer ones.
But it was the older ornaments that held a special place in his heart.
For a long while, he stared at a large glass bulb - fragile and much older than he was - and remembered the man who had given it to him.
“I still miss you,” the old man whispered, thinking of the rather lean and nearly giftless Christmas when he’d received it so long ago. The ornament, with most of its cracked metallic paint long since flaked away, had been his only enduring gift that year he’d turned ten years old himself. Along with a large basket of fruit - a kingly gift in those trying days - it was all that remained of that particular Christmas Past.
He wondered what might have become of the woven basket…
His mind began to drift back.
“But what do I do with it?” The small boy had asked, shivering by the warm fireplace that now held a modern gas log.
“Keep it, always,” his friend had told him. “Someday you’ll remember me by it, and perhaps pass it on.”
And the boy, who would later wrap it carefully in old newspaper, had done just that.
And so the ritual had been repeated for the next fifty years.
“Who’d have thought?” He wondered aloud, raising a slightly arthritic finger to gently touch the image of a smiling little face that had been burned into a hybrid rubber ornament in full, vivid color. It looked like glass, but this ornament would not shatter, should it fall to the floor. Smiling back at him was the face of one of his grandchildren, soon to be ten near the close of that very year.
“Ahhh, too old to believe in Santa,” the old man sighed, remembering when he himself had stopped believing in the tired old excuses of how Santa could forget certain children.
Poor children, it seemed, he often forgot.
“Well, for what I spent this year, the jolly old elf should thank me,” he congratulated himself, heading to the kitchen for a spot of warm milk before bed.
From his perch high atop the tree, the Angel looked down and sighed. It was a mechanical sound, however, and not a real one. There was no emotion in it as the cheaply made gear that drove his electrical body gave out.
The angel froze.
A few branches below him, the antique glass ornament happily hung there, reflecting the light of the electric bulbs next to it.
“Yep, everything they wanted,” the old man sighed, as he climbed into bed and pulled the rather expensive and thick blankets up to his chin. A minute later, and a soft “peep” announced the fact that the security system was online and guarding all that he considered important in this world. “Don’t know what they’d do without me,” he congratulated himself.
Moments later, he was asleep and dreaming of the happy faces of his grandchildren.
Outside, the temperature began to fall. Somewhere overhead, a cloud let go with uncountable snowflakes, covering the expansive lawn behind the high fences. The wind began to blow, making the snow drift all around the house. And at the front gates, electronically locked and monitored by a security company some miles distant, it drifted over the paved drive.
And outside the fence, a lone passerby stopped to look at the address plate welded to the gate.
After a moment’s consideration, he nodded slowly and resumed his journey into a night not fit for neither man nor beast.
His journey was nearly over, for he had arrived at his destination.
Miles away, the tired lady monitoring the security system saw no alert as the passerby pushed the gates open as if they hadn’t been locked. The raccoon that had come in search of fresh garbage saw him, however, and stood up on his hind legs to chatter at him in warning. The passerby smiled at the small animal, who then hissed and ran snarling as if in fear of life. The stranger then continued on up the drive, through the cold wind and drifting snow, which had covered the raccoon’s tracks in seconds.
There were no more tracks to cover, however, for the stranger left none.
Very soon, he reached the cul-de-sac at the front of the house where he was greeted by a pair of very large dogs who were quite unhappy about being awakened and called from their warm doghouses. They too, took one look at him and ran, whining like puppies instead of expensive and well-trained attack dogs.
He stopped at the locked front door, studying it for only a second as he grasped the doorknob and turned it.
The door opened.
The security system ignored him, and as he passed through the foyer, the tall and bushy poinsettias from the local nursery bowed their scarlet heads and wilted into dry and brittle sticks. As he crossed the receiving room, the white and red blooms on the Christmas Cactus withered and fell to the polished hardwood floor. In the dining room, a bowl of fruit went rancid at the stranger’s touch, shriveling as if it had sat there, forgotten, for years.
And in the family room, where stood the magnificent tree that held all of the old man’s memories of Christmases Past, every single light bulb went out in a soft “POP!” as the stranger passed by.
The room went dark.
The stranger ascended the marble staircase, slowly, deliberately…quietly.
In the bedroom upstairs, the old man awoke with a start. A chill had fallen over the room, but it was not that which had awakened him.
It had been the nightmare.
Normally, the old man was a very good sleeper. After all, he was well to do, and soon to retire. His children were successful, and he had been presented with many fine grandchildren. There was nothing in the world that he wanted for, and if he found something, then he simply bought it. His sleep was peaceful, because like so few, he had nothing to worry about to keep him up at night.
On that particular night, he’d gone to sleep unworried about receiving gifts, because he was looking forward to seeing the faces of those who received gifts from him. And as he’d fallen asleep, he’d told himself, “Isn’t that what it’s all about? Isn’t it better to give than to receive?”
Such was the conundrum of his nightmare.
There was no logical reason for having it, he reasoned.
Why should he have such a horrible dream?
“Must be the milk, sour or something,” he told himself, recalling the dream in uncanny clarity.
Such was unusual for the old man, since he seldom recalled dreams. Yet when he did, they were happy ones. More often than not, they were dreams of days gone by, when he’d been a boy. And they were often dreams of his long-gone friend.
“But why was he doing that?” The old man wondered, getting out of his king-sized bed to check the thermostat. He turned it up a bit, cursing the gas company as he did, and trying to shake the chill that seemed to have penetrated him to his very core. He went back to his bed, still wondering and shivering, and pondering what he had dreamt.
In the dream - no, the nightmare - he reminded himself, he had been standing behind a high fence topped in barbed wire. His friend, the man who had practically raised him, had been standing on the other side of that fence.
And he’d been staring.
Staring as if he had beheld something that he simply could not believe. Perhaps something that he refused to believe?
He’d called out to him, the old man had, but his friend had just turned and walked away with his head down.
“It was cold,” the old man mumbled, “So very cold. Why would he have been out on such a night?” Then he looked out his window, out into the snowy night illuminated by the security lights along his long driveway. “A night like that, must be the storm,” he mused, hoping that the weather wouldn’t be too bad to spoil his planned Christmas party.
Somewhere in the house below him, a door squeaked.
“Must be a draft,” the old man wondered aloud, getting back into bed. He was just situating his pillow when he heard a squeak again.
Much closer this time.
“WHAT THE DEVIL?” He shouted, raising up to see the door to his bedroom slowly opening.
The temperature of the room fell even further.
And then the old man’s heart skipped a beat as he stared at the open door.
Standing there was the most beautiful child that he’d ever seen.
A little boy.
He was not tall, and the old fellow guessed him to be nine or ten years old at the most. The child’s hair was wavy and white, and it covered the tips of his ears and the nape of his neck. He was dressed in a long white nightshirt, of an old style, and his bare feet made no sound on the floor as he moved into the room. His face was angelic and flawless, but what got the old man’s attention were the eyes.
They sparkled in every color of the rainbow, delicately, as if catching and literally shredding into the spectrum of every bit of light that they could catch. His countenance seemed afire with it as well, and the old man could have sworn that the boy almost glowed.
For just a moment, the old man was overcome by this strange child’s unnatural beauty.
But then common sense prevailed.
“How the hell did you get in here?” He demanded of the boy, who, surprisingly, did not look away.
The boy said nothing at all.
The old man got out of bed, suddenly feeling angry. After all, he’d spent a fortune on security systems, dogs, fences, and monitoring. And yet somehow, on this of all nights, a mere child had walked into his house?
It made no sense.
But as he made to take the child by the arm and demand to know his business, he stopped.
He stared at the small intruder.
It was his eyes.
For all of the swirling colors in the boy’s eyes had gone away. They were now only colorless and gray, and looking for all the world as if they had exhausted every bit of happiness and light and were left with only … what?
“INSANITY!” the old man shouted, yet the child didn’t flinch. “Who are you, and how did you get in here?” He demanded, making as if to take the boy by the arm and bodily haul him out of the room.
But again, the old man paused.
Now he saw that the child’s perfect visage was marred by a black eye. His lower lip was swollen, and there was the faint remnant of a long pink scar on his cheek. His white nightshirt, which had appeared perfectly clean and flawless upon first glance, was now torn and dirty. As the old man looked down, he saw the boy’s dirty feet and the grime on his nail-bitten hands.
The old man picked up a cellular phone from the night table, but it was dead.
He tried the landline, with no success.
“Alright, one more time, who are you and what do you want?”
And finally, the strange and now-somewhat ugly little boy spoke.
“I want nothing that you have,” he replied, in a high voice filled with pain. “There is nothing that you have, sir, could possibly benefit me.”
Thinking as if to play along, the old man grinned at him. He thought of the gun behind the books on the headboard of his bed, and he tended back in that direction.
“Then why have you come, miraculous as this may be?” He asked the boy sarcastically, “How is it that a child that can climb electrified gates, walk barefoot in the snow on a freezing winter night, get past trained dogs and a state of the art security system? How is it that one of your obvious talents would come HERE to trouble ME?”
The boy did not look away.
Instead, his gaze was penetrating and steady. The old man was the one who finally looked away as the child spoke again.
”And how is it that a man of your means would think to shoot me first, instead of seeing if I were quite all right - on a night like this?” The child countered.
“You should not be here. You should be at home, on this of all nights,” the old man advised, suddenly realizing that shooting a burglar - no, a child - in his house would not look good for his reputation!
“I have no home,” the boy replied. “A concept with which YOU, of all people, should be an expert.”
The old man gaped at him, his sudden (if not late) compassion giving way to anger again. After all, what was this child doing in his house on Christmas Eve in the middle of a blizzard?
And then a ridiculous notion crossed the old man’s mind. He laughed.
The boy continued to stare at him with emotionless eyes.
“So, are you the Ghost of Christmas Past, Present, or Future?” The old man demanded of the child. “For whichever you are, you’ve already been done to death in books, movies, and even cartoons. Even my grandchildren aren’t amused by your story anymore!”
“Actually, I’m a glass of bad milk,” the boy said softly, finally grinning. The old man saw that his teeth were desperately in need of a good dentist.
“How clichÃ©,” the old man drawled, fiddling with his cell phone again. “I’m going to call the police!”
“There are worse things than jail,” the boy disagreed.
The old man snorted. “So now comes the lecture about money, evil, and goodness to my fellow man?” He guessed.
“No,” the boy said simply. “You have money, and you do many good works with it. You are not necessarily an evil man, and you have a great deal of love to give - and you do give it. One would be lucky to be one of the names on any box under your Christmas tree. Your love is, however, conditional. Such love is not truly love, is it?”
“Then, Mr. Sour-milk-in-the-night,” the old man asked, “You must be a nightmare brought on by stress, or impending senility, if you are not one of those tired old Ghosts?” Still, the telephones refused to work.
“Not old, and not tired, no,” the boy replied, moving closer. The old man stepped back, a chill passing over him once again. On some deep level, something told him that this was indeed no dream.
“How Dickensian,” the old man mused. “And I don’t believe in fairy tales. But I thought we’d already been through all that?”
“Not quite,” the child disagreed, moving to look at the pictures of the grandchildren in their ornate frames. He sighed and then smiled again, but only briefly. “But a love that is so selective and polarized is hardly a love,” he mused again. “You weren’t love like that, were you?”
“HOW DARE YOU?” The old man demanded, thinking again of his gun and beginning to wish that the damn phones would work. “I must insist that you leave at once, before I…,”
“Before you what?!” The boy said harshly, spinning around as the glass in the picture that he beheld shattered. “Your telephones do not work, your dogs have run away, and your computer-driven security system cannot see me. What can you do to someone who walks into your prison-like home on this night, taking you unawares, and engaging you in nothing more than conversation?”
“You are an odd one,” the old man admitted, “This makes no sense to me. But I would know who you are and why you have come, regardless of how.”
The boy regarded him, looking somewhat pleased.
He then began to unbutton his nightshirt.
“My name is…,” the old man began, but the boy’s look silenced him.
“I know very well who you are,” he said softly.
“And might I have your name, young sir?”
“You may, and you shall,” the boy nodded, seeming to brighten a bit as he turned, almost in modesty.
“Listen, it’s cold, the heat’s not working and I don’t think you should do that!” Just what I need, the old man thought, someone to find out I had a naked boy in here on Christmas Eve and…
“Why?” The boy asked, having his back to the old man as his nightshirt fell to the floor.
The man gasped as he saw the faded marks of scars that could only have come from many a harsh beating. “Don’t like what you see? Does it remind you of something? Of someone? SomeoneS?”
Then the boy turned around, slowly.
The old man gasped as he stared at the form of the nude boy in front of him. He was not that old, not having gained the musculature of adolescence or quite lost the little belly of boyhood. Yet he was thin, hungry looking, as if he’d never properly been fed. His skin was pale and dirty, and he was bruised here and there. It was painfully obvious that he had been, and probably still was, abused. Below his evident ribs, his stomach grumbled.
“Who did this to you, boy?” The old man demanded in surprise. “Who would do such a thing to one so…,”
“So ‘what’?” The boy asked curiously. “You, caring? Now? After thinking that you were going to shoot me? But you asked me my name, sir, and I said you would have it. You were close in your guesses, you were. For you think me a boy, do you not?”
“A very articulate one, at that,” the old man nodded, his eyes wandering down the boy’s thin form.
When they reached the boy’s midsection, they froze.
“I am not a boy,” the child informed him flatly. “As you thought.”
The old man could only nod as he stared. For some perverse reason, he told himself, he could not look away from the child’s tightly circumcised penis. It was not large, and it looked as if it had been cut cruelly to remove as much of the pleasurable areas as possible. The skin was stretched taunt, pulling it into an almost half erection, but the old man realized that it only looked so because it was cut too tightly to hang limply. But what drew his gaze, and his ire, even more, was the lack of anything behind it.
The pathetic child in front of him, who had appeared at first so dazzlingly beautiful, had been castrated.
Instead of full boyhood, he had an angry scar that ran under his penis for the full length of where his scrotum should have been. It appeared, much like his circumcision, that the surgeon had taken away as much flesh as were possible to still allow closure of the wound. It was a scar that simply said, by a glance, that it had been made not in mercy, but in something else.
The child touched himself there, running a finger over that scar and then pointing at the old man.
The old man shook his head in disbelief.
“It’s not possible,” he argued, despite what stood before him. “Castrati…eunuchs…boys with no balls are…are a myth! A thing of locker room jokes, teases, threats, nothing more!” He sat down on the bed, heavily, his heart hammering in his chest as he continued to stare at the gelded child in disbelief.
The child moved closer and offered his hand.
“I am, as you guessed, a Ghost, sir,” he offered, extending his hand.
The old man recoiled in horror.
“I am The Ghost of Christmas That Never Was.”
The old man screamed.
“How?” He finally managed, scrambling backwards on the bed until the wall stopped him. “W-who-who?!”
The child lowered his hand and bowed his shaggy, dirty head.
“As I said, I am that which never was. I am not the Ghosts of popular fiction, read once a year for fun. I am not the Ghost who reminds one of happy times, although you have many. I saw such, carefully preserved and all aglow on your Christmas tree, you know. And I am not the Ghost who shows one the happiness of others today, no matter how much or how little they have. There is nothing I can show you - nothing taking place now - that would move you. For you, sir, are totally convinced that you have it all, and perhaps - you do. That is not for me to judge.”
“W-will you…will you then show me…,” The old man began, a pain welling up in his chest as he stared at the child.
But the child shook his head. This time, there were tears in his colorless eyes.
“I do not show anyone the things that are to come. I am not that Ghost, either.”
“What then?” The old man gasped, as if too afraid to accept the answer.
“As I said, I am that which never was. I am that which cannot ever be,” the child explained. “I am Plans gone astray. I am all the loose Ends that were never tied up. I am all the Things that one never had the time for. I am Dreams unrealized, Faith lost, and Hopes destroyed.”
The child paused.
“I am Christmas that never came.”
“Why, then, Spirit?” the old man asked, knocking his wallet from the headboard as he madly reached into the bookcase there. But his groping hands found no gun. He looked back to see the child holding it.
“Why do they always say that?” the child asked sadly. “The bullet in this gun would have been kinder, you know,” he mused, as the gun vanished into a puff not unlike that of hot breath on a cold day.
“You…you make no sense!” The old man countered. “How can you BE, if you cannot BE?! If you never WERE?”
“I am,” the child replied, “Because of Acts done without regard. Because of Decisions made in haste. Because of Deeds come to pass by those who thought they knew better.” He then paused to pick up the fragments of glass that had fallen from the picture he’d been looking at. “I am Morals gone unquestioned. I am Love polarized. I am Innocence betrayed.” And finally, after what seemed like a very long time, he added, “I am the sum Consequences of those past actions.”
“I…I only did my j-job,” the old man defended himself, as the enormity of the child’s words struck him. “I did what was right, damn you!” He shouted.
“You built your career upon the suffering of innocents and unfortunates,” the child countered, “And you defended it by the excuse called ‘the letter of the law’. Laws that were since done away with. Pity that their ramifications cannot be erased by a pen as well.”
The child then held up a fountain pen, touching his angry scar with his other hand. The pen was old and had lost its shine. “I believe this is yours,” he said, handing it to the old man. “Don’t you recognize it, Headmaster?”
With a trembling hand, the old man took the pen and studied it. There, etched in ornate script, he saw his own name and the name of the institution from which he was shortly to retire:
The Angels of Mercy School for Wayward & Misfit Boys
The old man raised the pump of the old fountain pen, and it dripped blood on his fine bedclothes.
Again, he screamed as the child reached out and took his hand.
When he regained his senses, he found himself standing outside in the snow. The wind was not blowing, but the snow was deep and it was bitterly cold. He was looking through a fence topped in barbed wire, gazing up a long hill dotted with evergreens. The air was crisp and exhilarating, yet he himself was not cold.
With a start, he realized that this hill was where he had been standing during his recent nightmare.
“An excellent hill for sledding,” the child at his side told him. “You should remember that.”
“I do,” The old man sighed, remembering his mostly happy childhood days.
“One can only wonder how a child who was so loved ended up in such a line of work,” the child prodded him.
“Now you listen to me, boy,” the old said, as the child took his hand and led him right through the fence. He gasped. “I…I needed a job, and this one was open. I worked long hours, mind you, and I did what I was told! I followed the rules!”
“Yes,” the child agreed, “Make good grades, graduate, get a job, get married, have children, work, provide, grow old, retire, and dote upon your grandchildren?”
“What’s wrong with that?” The old man asked, as the child led him towards a very uninviting brick building with barred, opaque windows.
“Look there,” the child suggested, as they suddenly found themselves in a long hallway painted in a hideous shade of dull green. Somewhere near the end of that hallway came the pitiful sounds of crying.
The old man’s face paled, and the pen grew hot in his hand. He looked up and gasped.
They were in an office, and the old man himself was seated at an industrial type desk. He was holding the same pen and signing a paper. There were other papers scattered about the desk as well.
“Sub-standard test scores, run-ins with the law,” the younger version of himself sighed. “No family to take him, bad school records,” he muttered, as he signed the paper. “Obviously feeble-minded, too, from the looks of the interview. So,” he was talking to himself, “In accordance with State laws pertaining to eugenics,” he continued, as if reciting a memorized sermon, “Said minor will be sterilized at once in accordance with…,”
He then signed the paper and filed it.
“That was, I think,” the child reminded him, “Your first official decision? One of many to follow?”
“Sterilization was good for the gene pool! Good for Society at large!” The old man defended himself. “It was the law!”
“I see,” the child sighed again, as he tugged at the old man’s hand. They found themselves suddenly in a doctor’s office, but it was empty. The child was studying some rather grotesque looking tools.
“Vasectomies, to sterilize boys so they couldn’t make more ‘feeble-minded’ children, in their own Image, would you say?”
“Don’t get all Biblical on me,” the old man grumbled. “WE did what was right!”
“The book called for sterilization, pity it didn’t say how,” the child continued. “I guess castration was just as fast and sure? But why the circumcisions, too? And what’s this?” He asked, holding up a long metal probe with a rough, bulbous end.
“It kept them from playing with it! Masturbation was unhealthy and epidemic!” The old man explained. “And it made them easier to keep clean, and they looked better.”
“Did you look a lot?” The child asked curiously.
“How dare you?” The old man snapped. “And put that down!”
“As if cutting their balls off wasn’t enough, sometimes you had to tear up their brains, too?” The child asked in wonder. “Did that make them easier to keep clean, too? No arguments about cold showers?”
“Sometimes, boys were violent,” the old man said, looking rather ill. “That’s called a leucotome.”
“I know what it is,” the child replied. “A few good pokes to the frontal lobes, and Junior was as docile as a bunny rabbit when he woke up, right? After the shock treatments wore off?”
“We did what we thought was in the best interest of…,”
“At least these were nice and warm, seeing as how you didn’t spend any State funds on heat,” the child interrupted him, holding up a heavy looking canvas jacket. “Wrapped ‘em up like Christmas presents, didn’t you? Oh wait, they didn’t have those either, did they?”
“THESE BOYS WERE CRIMINALS!” The old man shouted, just as two attendants brought in a young boy.
The old man jumped out of their way so as not to be trampled, the attendants were in such a rush. But they didn’t notice their two visitors.
They quickly removed their young charge’s exam gown and strapped him to the exam table. One of them stuffed a rubber gag into his mouth as the other secured his limbs to the table via leather straps. The old man watched, knowing that the guards weren’t seeing them. They were only seeing the weakly struggling boy they were restraining.
“He won’t have so much fight in him once they cut his balls off,” one of them said.
“Yeah,” the other agreed, picking up what looked liked two small drumsticks connected to a small machine by wires. He rubbed some jelly-like substance on them, and then applied them to the sides of the boy’s shaven head. The boy convulsed as the other guard pushed a button on a nearby machine, sending several volts of electricity into the boy’s brain. He went limp as his glazed eyes stared at the ceiling.
“Your pen was mighty,” the child reminded the old man. “But we won’t linger to see the castration. After all, you’ve seen one boy have his balls cut off, you’ve seen them all, right?”
“Wait!” The old man cried, but the exam room flew away as the child took his hand again.
”His name was Tommy,” the child said, as they walked down a slushy street. It was winter still, and the air was cold. Christmas lights hung along the street lamps in the small town, looking festive. “When his parents died, you see,” the child went on, pointing on down the road where a couple of young boys were walking. The boys were chattering anxiously about Christmas presents. “Tommy was sent to your place. He wasn’t too smart, but that’s because he needed glasses. He couldn’t SEE the test you gave him. You did give him an EYE test first, right?”
The old man said nothing.
“Who are they?” he finally asked, pointing at the boys.
“That would be Tommy’s son, Tommy Jr., and his best buddy, Matt.”
The child then raised his hand, and for just a moment, he was once more the vision of beauty that the old man had first beheld in his own bedroom not moments ago.
“Matt’s folks died too, and since they lived right next door, Tommy and his family took him in. Adoption was a lot easier then, you know. Nothing to it, really. A kind, sensible Magistrate, another stroke of kinder, more benevolent pen. Everyone deserves a happy childhood, after all. Matt went on to win the Nobel Prize for…,” the child then paused, and snapped his fingers.
The boys vanished. Their tracks ended abruptly in the snow.
“HOWEVER,” the child explained, once again looking beaten and abused and dirty, “Tommy got castrated because he flunked a test, right after his folks died, remember? Pity his Aunt and Uncle claimed him a year too late, when they heard about him, but paper letters took time to deliver back then, didn’t they? And the less kids you have in there, the less money the Institution takes in?”
“We did get funding,” the old man admitted.
“Then came ‘Social Security Survivors’,” the child continued, “And someone had to administrate that money for the orphans, right? Bad bunch, those orphans. Not like they murdered their own folks for the money. High crimes, no, being an orphan of the wrong color? Or wrong social standing?”
Again, the old man said nothing.
“You DID manage those funds, didn’t you?” The child asked plainly.
The old man looked away.
“Hard job, wasn’t it? So anyhow, Tommy got castrated, his relatives showed up for him, but by then it’s a year late and there’s not much money left, what with the funeral expenses and all, and the desperation sale of the house? There’s not much going in life for little Tommy, and his son, well, his son went out in the garbage some years before, right? Right along with his testicles? So by the time Matt comes along and has his own tragedy, well, Tommy isn’t married, then, is he? No woman would have him, right? Who’d want a eunuch? Back then, once the balls were gone, they were gone…no HRT back then, was there? Wonderful thing for unfortunate boys in modern times, implants too? Can’t even tell anymore, can you? Other than sterility, and we know all about that? No balls, no puberty, no wife and kids later on…no family for Matt when he needed one to take him in.”
The old man looked ill, staring at footprints in the snow that stopped.
“No wife, no son for Tommy,” the old man said distractedly, “Matt came along, and had no family next door to take him in?”
“Is there an echo out here? You’re a quick one, aren’t you?” the child said happily. Then he made a face. “Matt went to a good Institution, though, where he got the best of care, if not that happy childhood I mentioned. Goodbye Nobel Prize, hello war!”
“He would have stopped a war?”
“He would have, yes, but you ordered him castrated some years ago. Just another paper to sign, right? Too bad Matt’s son never came to be, either,” the child sighed, taking the man’s hand again. “He really loved Christmas. Hope I saved the receipts!”
“Never mind,” the child waved him off. “There’s something else you should probably see, though, before we go. After all, Time is short.”
Reluctantly, and still gaping at the last pair of footprints in the snow, the man reached for the child’s hand.
“It’s still snowing,” he grumbled, as the festively lit street was replaced by another.
This street, however, was not lit in twinkling Christmas lights. Instead, there were boughs of holly and evergreen tied to lamp posts, where the gas-powered globes high above their heads hissed and sputtered in the cold. There were decorations in various Shoppe windows, all lit by candles and oil lamps. There were very few cars in the street, but quite a few horses and buggies.
“Whewwwww, that was a big one,” the child groaned. “But then again, you’re pretty damn old, and your friend was even older when he died.”
“This looks just like…,” the old man began, but the child interrupted him.
“Just like something out of one of that old guy’s stories? ‘Back when I was a boy, you know, we didn’t have…,’”
“SHUT UP!” The old man yelled, as a man and boy passed them by without a look. They ducked into one of the stores where a window display showed hand-blown glass curiosities for sale. There was a Christmas tree in the window, lit by tiny candles. Next to it stood a large bucket of water. The child led the old man inside behind the father and son.
As they studied the various items for sale, the shopkeeper went to the window and carefully removed a beautiful painted glass ornament from the tree. He wrapped it in tissue and handed it to the wide-eyed boy, who cradled it in his small hands as if he were holding a bomb. His angelic little face was a study in joy.
“I didn’t think we’d…not this, year, I mean. Thank you, Father!” The little boy exclaimed.
The father paid the merchant and laid a hand on his son’s shoulder. “Your mother would have thought it silly, especially now,” he said heavily, “But tradition goes on. There must be one more new one, each year, as there has been since you were born.”
The little boy nodded as he allowed the merchant to take the ornament and put it in a box. As he double-checked the wrapping, which had slipped in the grasp of the boy’s woolen mittens, the old man and strange child caught a glimpse of the etching on the bulb.
It was a small Angel reaching his hand out to an even smaller child - a little girl.
“Come along Curtis, this man wants to close and go home to his family on Christmas Eve,” the father prompted the son.
“Yes, sir,” the boy said respectively. “Thank you, sir!”
The old man’s jaw dropped.
“I’ll bet you always wondered what was painted on that antique ornament of yours, didn’t you?” The strange child asked him.
“’Curtis,’” The old man breathed, watching as the father and son left. “That’s…that’s the man who…,”
“The man who gave you that same ornament, about fifty years from NOW, relatively speaking. He never married, did he? And he was always there, living next door to you when you were a boy? Never married, no kids of his own, but a big family that always coming and going. I wonder why such a boy who’s heart is - and was - so full never found it within himself to have a family of his own?”
“I…I don’t know,” the old man answered, staring in disbelief at the boy that his adult friend had once been.
He looked at the worn and patched clothing, the shoes with thin soles, and the raggedy hat that hardly covered little Curtis’ ears.
“He never told you, did he?” The strange child asked, taking the old man’s hand again. This time, he gripped it tighter, and his face was angry. “He never told anyone. Oh, there were rumors, but no one ever knew.”
“TELL ME!” The old man demanded, enraged at the fact that this child knew something of the man he had so dearly loved in his own boyhood.
“Every year, Curtis’ family bought one new special decoration to hang on the Christmas tree. He might only get clothes, fruit, nuts and hard candy for Christmas, but this year he got a toy. And that ornament. It would hold a special place in his heart for many years to come - even the years when there were no gifts under his lonely little Christmas tree in that empty house where no children awaited Santa. And it was there, waiting, hanging on the topmost branch when a little boy finally did show up at his door one night. Starting to sound familiar?” The child pressed the old man.
“I went to Curtis’ house when my father…,”
“That night your father never came back? Yes, I remember that one. I was there. Lovely night, it was. Good thing that Curtis was there waiting when YOUR father never came home, wasn’t it? Too bad no one was there for him when HIS father didn’t come one night.” The child then grinned at the old man, a malicious grin full of satisfaction.
“Curtis never told you that he spent some time in an orphanage, did he? His siblings were luckier, though, or he’d have never had all those nieces and nephews. Lucky any of his personal effects survived those orphanage years. But they took good care of him, didn’t they? Never mind the fact that he liked to masturbate, as most teenage boys do. The people who ran the orphans’ home didn’t care for it, though, so they cured him of it.”
“But he was successful in his career,” the old man wondered.
“Well, what else did he have to do, or who else did he have to spend his money on?” The child asked, giving the old man’s hand a hard tug. “I guess it’s for the best, though, since he was there when you showed up. All’s well that ends well, then?”
Curtis and his father had long since walked away up the road, leaving the stunned old man standing beneath the sputtering gas lamps.
But the street had vanished.
They found themselves back in the bedroom of the old man’s opulent home.
The clock was striking one in the morning.
“And just what do you expect me to do?” The old man said bitterly. “Would you have me turn back Time? Or would you settle for a confession that I was wrong, and see me grovel for forgiveness? And what did you say, you weren't one of those other Ghosts who showed things? Yet there we were! You showing me all that WAS!”
The child simply shook his head, though, and turned away. "I lied," he said smugly. “But no, no one has the power to turn back Time, not even me,” he said. “I don’t even exist, really.”
“WHY do you come, then, foul little Spirit?” The old man demanded, suddenly and inexplicably angry. “If you came expecting grief, if you came expecting pity, you’ll see none of it from me! I have done what I have done, and I believe I have done right for the greater good!”
“I am come for only one reason,” the child said, a beatific expression coming to his once again beautiful face. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a small wallet-sized calendar. “It is now Christmas 2010, and here I do not belong.”
“Be gone, then!” The old man ordered him. “Since you prove nothing!”
“I came not to prove,” the child stated flatly, “But to teach. Did you learn nothing this night?” He asked sadly. He then handed the old man the 8x10 picture under shattered glass. “He’s your favorite grandson, isn’t he?”
“I play no favorites, I love them all.”
“Fine, then, yes, Adam’s my favorite. He was the first boy. I admit it. Happy now?” The old man asked bitterly.
The child then ripped away the December 2010 page of the calendar.
But instead of January 2011, the calendar showed December 2011. The boxes for the days ran from 1 to 2 to 3 and on up to the 24th.
And there they ended.
“Enjoy the Christmas that is to come to this house in a few hours,” the child suggested, heading for the door. “I’ll show myself out.”
“Wait!” The old man yelled. “Explain this!”
“It’s very simple, really,” the child said. “I am the Ghost of Christmas That Never Was, and your Adam is sick.”
“He’s also got a rather rare and nasty form of leukemia brewing deep in his bone marrow right NOW,” the child said with a cold note of finality. “He’ll need two transplants of marrow to survive, to say nothing of all the chemo. Let’s just say you wouldn’t be getting any great-grandchildren from Adam, even if he’d lived through it.”
The old man collapsed onto the bed, clutching the picture. Shards of glass cut into his palms as he squeezed it, as if somehow this spilling of blood could stave off the prediction that The Ghost of Christmas That Never Was had just made.
“He…he’ll have the best care,” the old man protested vehemently, “Not a dime will be spared to save him!”
“Exhaust your fortune of blood money, then, old man,” the child glared at him, throwing the leaf torn from his calendar on the floor, where it burst into flame. “For this is the monument you have built for yourself! There will be no suitable donor found for Adam!”
Then, once again, the child unbuttoned his nightshirt to reveal the shame of his emasculation. “You have learned nothing,” he sighed, “My time here was wasted.”
The old man picked up the small calendar page and stared at it. December 2010 ended with the date of the 30th.
There was no New Year’s Eve marked upon it.
“There is where I go to,” The little Ghost said by way of goodbye. “To Christmas 2011, to be with your Adam. To be with all of those Children Who Never Were. I suppose we have only you to thank.”
“Who…who was…would have been… the donor for Adam?” The old man asked weakly, tears finally coming to his eyes as he looked up to see a room filled with the sad faces of children who stared back at him accusingly. The lights flickered once, and then the children were gone.
Only one remained.
The Ghost of Christmas That Never Was paused in the doorway just long enough to reply:
“Wait!” The old man called out, as a cold draft blew the door shut.
Somewhere far below, even though he knew it was only the first floor of his house, the old man heard something shatter.
The sound echoed.
“I’d sweep this glass up, if I were you, before Adam gets here in the morning,” the Ghost called back.
The old man charged down the stairs, oblivious to the withered fruits, the dead plants, or the shards of ancient glass that cut his bare feet. Alarms blared to life as he threw the front doors open.
“ADAM!” He screamed into the darkness, but the anguished sound was swallowed by the winter storm.
There were no tracks in the snow.