Wednesday, June 8, 2011

"Misprint!" - The Course Overload Novella, Chapter 10

Chapter 10: Christmas Comes But Twice a Year

Copying signs and hanging them about campus has never been so easy and so difficult at the same time. Sneaking into the copier room was fiendishly simple – most of the security guards weren’t around. I had guessed that some skipped out early in anticipation of the end of the semester – no students means no need for security – while others had flocked to the dorms to keep the peace as everyone got out of their tests and marched back home at any cost. Those who were left had decided to get lunch or take a nap, or perhaps they had all decided to walk to Mexico to try to bottle the hot air and sell it to people in the states with inadequate jackets. I didn’t know. But it didn’t really matter, because they weren’t around to get in my way.

The difficult part was hanging all of those suckers up. I went from building to building, hanging the signs everywhere, from the traditional wall in a hallway to toilet seats and the shirts of young children from the neighboring elementary school. Towards the end, I had simply begun to toss the fliers around the campus like that lovable icon of American perseverance, Johnny Appleseed – only without a retarded bucket on my head or raggedy overalls that smelled like pig dung. Other cultures get legends about samurais with 27 foot long razor-sharp blades, who take down entire armies single-handedly, or gladiator generals who take over entire continents with a few bits of tattered string and a week-old mango. But America gets a village idiot with unwashed pants and an affinity for fruit. Go figure.

I remember wandering onto the soccer field, gleefully tossing the last of the fliers to the wind. But I don’t recall my exact reaction to Kara’s masterwork, probably because I was trying to locate a new pair of pants to replace the ones I had just urinated in. What had been a small potato crate in a huge empty field only hours before was transformed into a mini North Pole. Children were singing carols around a 30 foot tall Christmas tree while elves danced happily in the snow, chattering in annoyingly high-pitched voices and bubbling over with copious amounts of Christmas cheer. Reindeer pranced about, eating snow and jellybeans and excreting eggnog, and a hearty Christmas fire blazed in the center of it all, warming the heart of even the coldest of snowmen. And I don’t know how Kara managed this, but it all somehow smelled like joy and cheer.

Kara approached me, sipping on a cup of hot chocolate and wearing an outfit made of tinsel and good will towards men. As she got closer, I could smell chestnuts. I didn’t have to ask what they were being roasted over.

“Kara! How… what did you…?”

She stopped scanning over her clipboard and frowned. “I know, you don’t have to tell me that it’s not that great. But it really would have been better if the dancing snowmen hadn’t canceled.”

“The what?”

A man wearing a light-up Rudolph nose and clad in nothing but multicolored lights and a red thong strolled by, juggling five trays of holiday cookies and a wreath for a crowd of mesmerized elves. I was pretty sure I was dreaming at that point, because everyone knows that elves hate juggling. I considered pinching myself, but when I thought about it, I knew I wasn’t dreaming because nothing horrible was trying to wound or humiliate me. That, and pinching hurts.

“Now all we need is an appearance by the big man himself,” Kara hinted.

“Jesus?” I exclaimed excitedly, scanning the crowds for Him, but finding only Cindy Lou Who.

“You’re such a special boy,” Kara returned, shaking her head. She produced a festive red Santa cap from behind her back and pulled it onto my head.

*    *    *

They had arrived much more quickly than I had imagined. At first they came in twos and threes. But a half hour after I had set foot into Kara’s impromptu winter wonderland, the soccer field was swarming with jovial students. I felt a little bad for duping them all into coming. After all, Kara hadn’t obtained any candy because she was too busy trying to train the circus bears to sing “Jingle Bells.” Yet, they were all truly enjoying themselves. The sea of green and red clad bodies was truly a jolly bunch, steeped in the Christmas spirit. Unless they didn’t celebrate Christmas, in which case, they sat in the far corners of the field softly weeping.

I knew that somehow, through some cosmic fluke, I was responsible for bringing good will to men (and women). I watched them like my own personal TV program from behind the massive green curtain on the stage.

Shannon was weaving her way through the crowd, touching the elves’ pointy hats and building snowmen out of frozen eggnog. Her legs were covered in ketchup and it looked like something fierce had bitten her arm. I was sure that she had done a good job corralling people around to where they needed to be. So, after keeping everyone at bay for so long, she deserved a little Christmas cheer too; she had earned it.

Kara tapped me on the shoulder, knocking me out of my deep thoughts and back to the task at hand. “You’re on!” she informed me excitedly. A grin crossed her face. I wondered if I’d be going home after all this. Could I really just forget the whole thing?

I took the red and green mic, walked out on stage, and nervously blew into it through my cottony beard to see if it was working. The sound of my breath echoed out through the crowd. Instantly, everyone’s attention was on me. It was time to exonerate myself through the man in red’s good name.

I timidly addressed the mass of yuletide joy. “Uhh… Ho, ho, ho, everyone.” Feedback shot through the speakers and rebounded all about the soccer field, sending all but the heartiest of scholars standing by or on the massive speakers to the frosty ground. But they didn’t mind, because Santa Claus had come to town! With candy! Or so they thought. I gingerly held the microphone and flashed a weak smile.

I’ve never acted in the theater before, not even a bit role in my high school production of Fiddler on a Hot Tin Roof. In fact, my credits included a few student films and trying to convince my father that his car had been possessed by the soul of Little Richard and spastically danced itself into that telephone pole. Yet, standing on that stage, fondling the poor microphone and gazing over the festive Christmas crowd, something inside me just… clicked. I could feel my blood infusing my organs with jolliness, and the essence of Christmas surged through my bones. My heart grew ten fold. Out of nowhere, I wasn’t just pretending to be Santa, I had actually assumed his spirit. For a few odd but exuberant seconds, I was good ol’ Saint Nick.

“Ho, ho, ho!” From the depths of my belly came the merry laughter. “Have you all been good little college students?”

The audience released a collective mumble. Many looked down at their shoes while others tried unsuccessfully to purge the alcohol from their systems by drinking an excessive amount of Christmas cola.

“Fantastic!” I bellowed. “Have you all remembered to hang your stockings?”

“Yes!” the crowd yelled enthusiastically, even though some were still wearing theirs.

“And have you all written me a list?”

“Yes!” they exclaimed once more.

“And did you all know that Matt isn’t really a ghost?”

A sudden hush befell the crowd. The silence forced my heart out of my chest. I could feel every vein in my body bulge with tension. Then, just when I was about to run away crying, a voice penetrated the intense quiet.

“If an authority figure like Santa Claus says it, it must be true!” yelled a young man in a bulbous black jacket. His cell phone flew from his pocket at light speed, and he began dialing people to tell them the “news.” In less than a minute, almost everyone in the crowd was speaking into their phone, spreading the truth to their parents, comrades and dogs. Kara’s plan was working beautifully. Now all I had to do was hit them with the kicker – that I wasn’t really dead – and I could forget that this nightmare had ever happened. Then I’d go home for a nap, where I could have all new, much more bizarre nightmares than waking up “dead.” And obviously, that would have been incentive enough for anyone.

“Listen my children,” I began, another belly laugh forming from deep within; or maybe it was just gas. It saddens me that I’ll never know the truth because of what happened next. “There’s something else about Matt that I want you all to know. That wonderful boy not only isn’t a ghost, but he’s not even de-”

But that’s when the earsplitting, eye-melting sound shot across the campus, shattering every window in America and some in Canada. (I shudder to think of all the poor students who would be returning to college only to find themselves entombed with the bloodsucking undead.) The fickle audience had leapt from the palm of my hand. Panic swept them; heads spun in all directions like that scene from The Exorcist and arms flailed wildly.

It sounded like an elephant’s death cries in a field of chainsaws and 1000 simultaneously flushing toilets. “What the hell is that awful noise!?” I screamed. I covered my ears and immediately lost whatever mystic Santa power that had, up to that point, been surging through me like 100,000 watts of fantastic, festive electricity. Then the grotesque answer to my question rolled into view.

I had never seen such a monstrosity in my life. It was like the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade had regurgitated an awful lump of rejected balloons and some mad scientist had fused them together into Frankenfloat. The giant rolling stage was covered in purple tinsel, with yellow and green lasers firing through huge clouds of smoke. I couldn’t make out who was playing on stage and producing that ear-splitting racket, but there had to be legions of them. No less than 70 heathens playing at least three instruments each could have created that aural weapon of mass distraction. Not surprisingly, riding atop the float was none other than Joe Shurize.

“What the hell are you doing!?” I exclaimed in disbelief. I still had the mic in my hand, so I could somewhat cut through the horrid noise protruding from the rolling terror blimp.

Joe watched me from his perch. He had a microphone as well, which on any other day would have sent me and half the school running for the hills. But today I was fearless. Today I was unshakable. Today I was pissed.

“Oh, hi Santa!” he yelled, beaming and waving down at me. “I thought you weren’t coming for another three days! Did you get my list?”

“If you don’t want a boatload of coal in your stocking Christmas Eve, you’ll tell me what’s going on!” I shook my fist angrily at him, as if his ears would somehow work better with a visual aid.

“You crack me up, Santa! You’re always so jolly!” Joe returned. “See, I was talking to this dead guy about an hour ago, and then this giant phoenix burst from the underworld and rocketed towards me, trying to drag me down to Hell so Satan could hollow out my skull and put extra rubber bands in it.”

I guess he meant the paper swan.

“Of course,” I returned, rolling my eyes.

“Anyway, I ran away and into the city, and wouldn’t you know it…”

As Joe spoke, the ethereal fog surrounding the horror machine cleared. I saw what was making those frightful noises. Surprisingly, it wasn’t hundreds of monkeys nefariously beating drums and screeching at the top of their simian lungs. It was even more horrible than an army of hard rock vampires with a plan to take over the colleges of the United States one by one, starting with Mount Saint Mary. There, on that deplorable stage, stood both Michael Jackson and Axl Rose, doing an appropriate yet reprehensible rendition of Jackon’s “Thriller.”

Joe just kept rambling through his story as I made the grizzly discovery. “Michael Jackson and Axl Rose were having a fight in the parking lot of the local diner over the merits of black and white film versus color. So I just walked right up and began talking to them about it for the next four hours or so, and what do you know, they suddenly agreed to do a dual concert here at the Mount for me to film and play on the TV station! I’m going to call it American Bandstand!”

I didn’t bother telling him that the name was already taken.

Everyone who had come for Santa’s winter lovefest quickly forgot who they had come to see and started following the insipid rolling stage like festive lemmings. I tried to convince them that Santa would sneak into their rooms while they were sleeping on Christmas Eve and stab them all in the arm, but they refused to listen. The lure of the freakish superstars was simply too much.

The only people still left on the soccer field were Kara and Shannon. Kara buried her head in her hands. “Why, God? Why?!”

“Woo! Where’s the candy, Santa!?” Shannon exclaimed, sitting on the back of a reindeer.

I didn’t know this before, but cotton beards are really good at absorbing tears.

*    *    *

I watched Joe and his superstar float until they turned the corner and marched out of sight. I could still hear them faintly in the distance as the winter sun stretched across the pink and violet horizon. A few minutes later, the sun quietly hid itself behind the mountaintops. Finally, the day had ended – and so too had my dreams of a normal life.

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