A story of Christmas, 2000

He walked along a rural road, headed in what he hoped was the wrong direction. The sky had that cold winter blue, light without much warmth. The sun reflected off snow and hurt his eyes. He'd have preferred darkness, but the thought of its arrival made his heart beat faster. O Holy Night. The first car passed him, but at least it wasn't the Americans, or the cops, or those others. But if it were, would he know them? He wasn't thinking clearly, or he wouldn't be standing exposed like that. He'd washed up, but his breath, he thought, must be rancid. If he breathed on anyone, they might have to add assault to his rap. His head still pounded but the pills and the syrup were having some effect, and then the wagon pulled over, just ahead. He couldn't remember when he'd last ridden in a station wagon. He wasn't sure they made them anymore, but that's what this thing was. He ran to it and looked in the driver's window, which had been rolled down: three old ladies in black winter coats. At least, he thought, they'd be no trouble.

"Might we help?" asked the woman on the passenger side. They had boxes of things in behind, wrapped in clear plastic bags.

He half-assed a story, said his car had gone off the road.

"Oh, well it would be faster to drive back to Zurich," said one woman.

"Where are you going?" he asked. He became aware of the rate of his heart.

"The Point, with some stops."

"He could call from Beryl's."

"We're picking up Beryl."

"Beryl lives out in the country."

"That's fine," he said. He could call a tow from anywhere, he explained. He had a roadside service, he insisted, for his imaginary car. Anything, he thought, to put some distance and try to defuckify the situation. He had the money from the night before and a little bit of cough syrup left. If they were going to a Point, they had to be heading towards the Bluewater. If he could catch a lift on that, he could slink back to his place in Sarnia and then book town.

"I hope you can get them out this late. The tow trucks, I mean."

"We do have deliveries to make, before it gets too dark," said the driver, a dark-eyed woman who looked sterner than the rest, like the Old Maid in a kiddie card game.

The woman in the back opened the door and he went in.

"No phone?" he asked. One of the women actually giggled.

"We've been thinking about getting one," said the driver.

"Thank you." He looked at the old faces, dark and blue and green eyed, as they introduced themselves: Agnes, Beatrice, and Clare.

"Oh, well thank you for letting us do our good deed for Christmas." The wagon pulled onto the icy rural road. They looked placid enough. He wondered if the news from last night had reached them. And he wondered about their deliveries, the innards of the packages behind him.

He never sang in a choir and damn it, the world never gave, so why shouldn't he take? He never got the breaks like other people, never got it all handed to him, so why shouldn't he take it? But he was only a thief and, even after a night of the three of them piling it on, he and the Americans, saying what bad mofos they all were, he wouldn't have called it ending with the three of them being wanted for murder. That was a whole other kind of real. Someone would probably recognize him, too, because he'd been stopping by the Dogstar all year, even if he didn't talk much. Would it matter though? Because maybe Aunt Shirl had been right all along, and maybe something far scarier was hunting him now, ready to arise in the rear-view.

Of course, if old Shirl were right, really right, none of it would matter in a few days. He'd long ago dismissed the old lady as crazy, all old ladies were probably crazy; the women who had given him a lift might be on brake fluid, but he had to wonder now. He was on something himself, of course, the amps the Americans had and a bottle of cough syrup he’d found in the medicine cabinet, because he needed to clear his hangover and juice himself for his escape. He was starting to feel it, the clearing and sparkling in his brain. The one biddy was asking him about the accident and he had to remember his cover. Yes, he'd gone off the road and he tried to do the talk about it. He thought they were looking, one to another, using some kind of old lady code. He thought back to the house across from Rainbow Park, and the Dogstar Cafe at the other side of downtown, and then the man face down on the pavement.

One man wore a green mask with horns and spit fire and another foamed and he was dead in a dingy parking lot and God knew what was after them now. After him.

And then he saw it, hanging from the dashboard. He'd recognized the candy-cane stripes, thought it was just a Christmas ornament, just like he thought the house across from Rainbow Park had been decked for Christmas, but the ornament turned, spun, and he saw the candy-canes were stuffed in a pouch carried by an old lady, a witch on broomstick, like in a kid's book, but real.

He took a deep breath.

The old ladies smiled.

They'd found him.

Part Two (of Three)

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