When I returned to Augusta at the beginning of the month, I mentioned doing a book signing for Relic around 12/15. There was some panic-inducing communication breakdown between me, the store, and my publisher, and needless to say, it didn't happen. David of the Book Tavern and I decided to work on it next time I come to town, giving him about 3 to 4 weeks to prepare.
However, due to some unforeseen problems in my living arrangements, I'm still in Georgia and will be for a while. Not sure how long exactly, but I went ahead and scheduled a doctor's appointment in February. Anyway, since Christmas is now behind us, I'll try to get a signing set up for the end of January. Tomorrow's Saturday, so if I have time (and I should), I'll call The Book Tavern and see if I can set that up. That gives a minimum of 4 weeks to prepare, so... I may get a book signing done in my hometown, after all. Here's hoping!
'Happy Boxing Day,'
I said before getting punched.
Boxing Day is just one December holiday I don't celebrate. I write about the holidays I do observe, but not the ones I'm not really familiar with. Aside from this haiku on Boxing Day, I've also written about Christmas, New Year's Eve, and, I think, Winter Solstice, but I've never written about Hannukah, Kwanzaa, or Festivus. I'll have to change that. I think I'll keep my brain receptors open in case the muses hit me up with a Kwanzaa or Hannukah story idea...
It was Christmas Eve and I was a teenager. My friends were talking about stealing the baby Jesus from the Catholic church’s Nativity set. Teen boys do dumb shit. At least, three of them were. Our mutual friend Don seemed skittish about the whole thing.
I finally told the other three, “If you think you have the balls, then let’s go to that Church and see who can do the deed.”
Don shook his head. “Count me out. I’m going home.” I saw worry on his face, but not for us. I dismissed it at the moment.
“Okay, Don. Have a good night, and a merry Christmas.”
“Merry Christmas,” he mumbled. As he walked away, some of the other guys called him a pussy. He kept walking without another word.
We went to the church without him, and soon stood before the life-size Nativity scene. And we stood silently for several minutes.
Finally, one of my friends asked, “So who’s it gonna be?”
“Don’t look at me,” I said.
With a chuckle, the most outgoing among us said, “Hey, you were the one who challenged the size of our balls. Do you have any?”
I wasn’t about to turn down that challenge, so I stepped over the rail and knelt down to pilfer the Jesus doll... and then I saw it move.
“Holy shit,” I said. “That’s a real baby.”
“Bull,” a friend said. “It’s a realistic doll.”
The baby cried. “Nope, that’s a real baby, alright,” Mr. Outgoing said. “My sister has one.”
Another friend said, “Dude, your sister’s only sixteen.”
“Shut up,” I yelled, bringing louder cries from the baby. This startled my friends, so they darted toward the road.
Mr. Outgoing said, “Someone heard it! Come on, man, get out of there!”
I picked the baby up. It was somehow warm, even lying out in the element like that. I smiled and said, “You go on. I need to make sure this kid is taken care of.”
“Suit yourself.” He and the other two fled as a light shone on me.
I held a hand up to see a man holding a flashlight. It was Father O’Neil. “What are you doing in the Nativity, son? Are you stealing the Lord Christ child?”
I gulped. “Someone already did. They left a real baby in His place... sir.”
He briefly moved the beam from my eyes to the child in my arms before pulling out a cell phone and dialing 911. After relaying the story, he hung up to wait for the police to arrive. Once the phone was back in his pocket, he asked me, “And how did you come to discover this child?”
I blurted out, “I was walking by and heard a baby cry, so I followed the sound.”
He frowned. “Is that true?”
I thought about the events of the evening. Finally, I said, “No; but I tell you what. If you don’t tell the cops what I was doing out here, I won’t tell them what you did to traumatize Don Wilkins.”
It was a bluff, but I saw the priest’s face. I didn’t know anything, but apparently he didn’t know that, and he panicked. Something had been done to Don, and Father O’Neil’s facial expression spilled the entire story. Finally, he grunted out, “Deal. Now hand me that baby and get out of here.”
I found myself growing angry. “No. I’ll hold onto the kid until the cops get here, if you don’t mind.”
When the cops came, we answered their questions without mentioning each other’s crime. I lived up to my part of the bargain, and he his. The baby was taken to social services and I later learned he had found a new family for Christmas, so he had a happy ending. I was determined to see to it that he wasn’t the only one.
The next day, I went to Don’s house and told him that I understood why he hated that church. He hugged me, tears streaming down his face. I asked if he wanted to see Father O’Neil behind bars, so he agreed to go to the cops himself and report it. Apparently, Don hadn’t been the only former altar boy abused by the priest, and more stepped forward once he was arrested. I felt a Christmas miracle had been done by my friend Don and countless other abuse survivors, and it was all because a dumb teenage boy had tried to prove he had the balls to steal baby Jesus.
A couple years ago, I wrote the following Christmas story, only to find out last year that Ed McBain had beaten me to the punch by a few decades. Nonetheless, here's my story- "Jesus Jackson."
Jesus Jackson, by Roy Hudson
I have an amazing story to tell, but not much longer until Jesus wakes up. Oh, man…
Sorry. I got emotional for a second. I’m not used to writing about myself, and there’s a lot to say. I don’t want to use my name, which could be traced back to my work. To my traveling companion, I’m Gabe. And to me, and pretty much everyone else who’s ever met him, he’s been Jesus… until now.
Oh, man. I got emotional again.
Anyway, I was an undercover FBI Agent, sent to infiltrate a gang. My mentor, also an agent, was found out and murdered right in front of me by the Boss. I was 26 at the time. I’m 30 now. I thought the Boss was going to kill me, too; that we’d both been found out. But instead, he tossed me a crumpled piece of paper and told me to call the number on it. And then he left. I had two options: I could either pray that my cover hadn’t been blown and go along with this charade, or run back to the Bureau and signal the gang to my identity and unleash their fury on everyone I knew. I was confused, but I knew one thing would reveal a little hint of the future to me: the number on the paper. So… I called it.
The conversation went as follows:
“This is Jesus.” (Not Hay-zeus, Jeez-us.)
“Um, excuse me?”
Sigh. “You called me, jerk-off. Wait… Did the Boss give you this number?”
“Yes. Yes, he did.”
“Shit. Okay, where are you?”
I told him.
“At this hour, my guess is you’re not dressed. Be ready in five.”
Five minutes later, a van arrived in front of me. A scraggly white boy, about four years my junior, with badly-grown facial hair and a solid-white beanie on his head, ran past me and into the house. Confused, I followed him.
He looked at my mentor’s body. “Did you kill this man?”
I shook my head. “No. I didn’t.”
“But the Boss did, right?”
I nodded. “Yep.”
He took a deep breath. “Okay, grab his feet. It won’t take long.”
Once he was in the van, my traveling companion said, “Okay, get in. We’re going to my place.”
I opened the passenger door and was about to climb into the seat when he said, “No, in the back.”
I looked at him and said, “Is someone else sitting here?”
“That’s Ollie’s seat.”
I looked around. “Okay, so where’s Ollie?”
He pointed at an urn duct-taped to the dashboard. Until then, I hadn’t noticed anything strange about the cab of this van. “He’s right there.”
“Oh. Um, what happened?”
He sighed. “Fine, sit down, I’ll tell you on the drive. But don’t get too comfortable. That’s Ollie’s seat.”
Along the drive, he stuck out his hand and introduced himself. “I’m Jesus Jackson.”
“Why do they call you Jesus?”
“It means ‘Joshua, son of Joseph.’”
“Your dad’s name was Joseph?”
“No, his name is Mike, and he’s an asshole. I go by Jesus because there’s already an actor named Joshua Jackson. When I was in school, that Dawson’s Creek show came out. I hated it. So when I found out that Joshua and Jesus are pretty much the same name, I made the change.”
“Interesting,” I said. “You do know that actor is now in a sci-fi show that’s pretty cool, right?”
“Yeah, but the name stuck, even after Dawson’s Creek was over.”
I nodded. “So what’s the story with Ollie?”
“Ollie was my little brother. About two years ago, in December, our grandpa died and left us his crematorium. It was a failing business, years in debt, with a lot of government red tape bullshit. We were going to tear it down, but then the Boss visited and told us he could take care of us if we’d agree to use that crematorium for his purposes. Ollie knew who the guy was and hated everything he stands for. So he told him no. And then the Boss shot him between the eyes and told me my work would begin immediately unless I agreed with my brother. And so I took the job. I’ve hated my life ever since.”
“Why don’t you go to the police?” I asked.
He replied, “Because I’m afraid. But, the Boss kept his word. He pays me big every time he needs me to make a body disappear.”
I decided to take a gamble. I said, “Look, Jesus, I’m an undercover Fed. When I called your number, I was taking a leap of faith. Now I’m glad I did.”
“Wait, you’re a Fed? Why don’t you do something about it?”
I used his own words, “Because I’m afraid. He killed my mentor right in front of me, and I thought I was next. Instead, I met you. Now, we very well could testify against him. We could do that. But we know what he’s capable of. I don’t know about you, but I can never go back to my family. I just don’t know what to do.”
Jesus nodded. “I do.” He turned the van back and headed back to the safe house from which we had just come.
“Wait, what are you doing?” I asked. I was terrified he was going to rat me out.
“We’re not going to burn your partner up,” he said very matter-of-factly. “We’re going to leave his body in the trunk of your car and park it in a tow-away zone. Then you, me, and Ollie are going to take my life savings and hit the bricks.”
I stared at him blankly. “Wait… you don’t even know me.”
“What’s your name?”
“My real name is Gab—”
“Gabe, got it. Okay, Gabe, we’re going to become the Felix and Oscar of the highway system. Well… Felix, Oscar, and Ollie.”
I nodded slowly. “You’re so scared of the Boss that you’re willing to trust me with all you’ve got?”
He nodded and said, “You feel the same way about me.”
I stiffened my back. “What makes you so sure?”
“Because we both have nothing to lose.” He pointed at the windshield. “Is that your car?”
“Okay, open it up, let’s get your friend back there. Oh, and by the way… condolences.”
I shifted my gaze towards the urn and said, “Ditto.”
And from then on, it was just the two—er, three of us.
I left my cell phone in the trunk with my mentor (and his federal badge), put the keys behind one tire, and then after the sun was up, I called the phone. I left a voicemail message that made it quite clear what happened without identifying myself or the owner of the phone I was calling from. That evening the news came on. The Boss was arrested, but no one expected him to go to prison… and he didn’t. He committed suicide the minute he was told he was wanted for the murder of a federal agent. Whether or not he told his minions to come after me and Jesus, I don’t know… but we weren’t going to risk it.
As we crossed the state border that night, I asked, “So now what? He’s dead. We didn’t kill him, but we half-assed avenged our loved ones’ murders. Are we to assume we’re safe?”
“I wouldn’t,” he said. “He had a lot of influential friends. I don’t think it’s safe to become a constant presence in any one place.”
I shrugged. “Well, it’s your van; your gas money. What do you have in mind?”
“We can offer assistance to those who need it, while on the run from authorities.”
I chuckled. “Like the A-Team?”
“Sure,” he said. “Ollie can be Hannibal, leaving me as Face and you as Murdock. We just need to find a B.A.”
And then I saw someone in the road and yelled, “Look out!”
Jesus looked in front of him and slammed on brakes. The large African-American male in front of us slammed his considerable fist on the hood and shouted, “Watch where you’re going, fool!”
After the shock wore off, I laughed and said, “There goes B.A., Jesus. Want to turn around and see if he needs a ride?”
Jesus gave me the finger. And it’s been like that since then. Four years of being the Odd Couple (with Ollie somewhere in the middle). But I found out that he was just joking about helping others in need. He was just waiting to make an A-Team joke. He can be quite distant and cold… And then we fast forward to last night: December 24, 2012.
We had just gotten to a tiny community and Jesus needed a pack of smokes. I was asleep in the back, but awoke with a start.
“What gives, sleepyhead?” he said.
“I just had a weird dream— Wait, where are we?”
He looked around. “I don’t know. The church over there says it’s the First Baptist Church of Bethlehem. Huh. Dig that, Gabe, we drove to Israel.”
I stepped up front and looked at our surroundings. There was a motel with a gas station in front of it, directly across from the church. I shook my head. “Doesn’t that strike you as odd?”
Jesus shrugged. “We’ve seen everything over the past four years. Nothing surprises me anymore.”
“Not even this motel with a gas pump outside? That seems like a fire hazard to me.”
“Of course it surprises you… you sleep while I drive. All the time, might I add!”
I tried to shake the dream from my head. The church was familiar, as was the motel. I heard singing and looked over my shoulder at a choir group from the church, going door-to-door singing Christmas carols. Three men dressed in the robes of kings led the pack. One of the choir boys was wearing a drum and walking a sheep dog with a reindeer antler band on its head. I smiled and looked in the other direction. And that’s when I saw her, in the motel lobby.
She wasn’t a very attractive girl, but she had that pregnant glow about her. I’ve always been a sucker for the glow. The dress she wore was simple, but a little ragged. I guessed that she was poor and didn’t have enough cash for a room. I pointed her out to Jesus and he made a snide remark. I told him I wanted to go introduce myself, so he told me to knock myself out. And… I went into the lobby while he purchased his smokes and filled up the van.
She was begging the motel clerk for a bed because her Internet boyfriend would soon be in town to meet her, and that this town was exactly in between their two homes. The clerk wouldn’t budge, though.
I made my presence known. “Well, it’s a shame to keep a pregnant lady from the arrival of her lucky fella. She could drop that kid at any moment, and then you’d be left to cut the cord because you wouldn’t let her out of your lobby.”
The clerk stuttered, “I’ll go get my manager.”
The girl said, “Thanks, you’re an angel!” The clerk smiled bashfully as he went into the back. The girl then smiled at me and said, “Thank you. I’m Mary.”
I remembered the weird feeling from my dream and nodded. “It’s nice to meet you,” I said. “I’m Ga—”
Jesus’s hand found my shoulder and he said, “Okay, gas is paid for, let’s get moving.”
I smiled and said, “Don’t you want to meet Mary?”
He said, “Somebody beat me to the punch, so no. Come on, Galahad.”
She chuckled and said, “Well, thank you for standing up for me, anyway.”
“My girlfriend always thought I was the smartest man alive because I always offered to carry her purse when we’d go shopping.”
“Noble and wise,” she agreed.
I chuckled as Jesus dragged me out of the motel lobby. “It was nice meeting you,” I shouted.
He jumped into the driver’s seat and yelled, “Get in.”
I did as he asked and said, “What’s wrong with you? It’s Christmas Eve, you know.”
He frowned and said, “Thanks for reminding me. I’ve been scanning the Sirius stations all night trying to get away from Band Aid and The Chipmunks. I hate this time of year.”
I sighed. “Yes, I know. December is when you lost Ollie, and your grandfather. But that’s been a while. You should try to build experiences, Jesus. That way, every month has a fond memory attached to it for every bad one.”
He blew me a raspberry. “I say ‘Bah, Humbug.’”
“Don’t you at least want to know about the dream I had?”
“Did you dream Santa brought you some nookie? And seeing how that girl was young and pregnant, I’ve got to tell you that you’re a little more desperate than ever.”
“It wasn’t about nookie,” I said. “It’s about helping people. In the dream, you and I helped that girl bring her baby into the world. The funny thing was, we were in a manger, and the hotel clerk was there. The door-to-door choir was there too. I remember because of the drummer boy with the dog. The three men in front of the choir, I think they were supposed to be the three wise men.”
Jesus rolled his eyes. “That’s a heaping helping of horseshit, Gabe. I don’t want to hear it.”
I frowned at him. “You know, we were thrown together by a cruel twist of fate. We were forced to trust each other, but over the past four years, it seems like I’m the only person you’ve let get close, and that was only out of desperation. You need to be more accessible, Jesus. Before I left my girlfriend to go undercover, she always told me that the holidays are all about the sacrifices that must be made in order for us to feel whole. Hence gift giving.”
“That’s not very jolly,” Jesus said.
“It isn’t, but think about all the best Christmas stories. George Bailey attempts suicide. Jacob Marley had to die so his ghost could haunt Scrooge seven years later. And I know how much you hate that ‘Christmas Shoes’ song, so I won’t even go there.”
“But it’s about sacrificing a boy’s mother to teach a man the true nature of Christmas.”
“That girl in there, Mary? She’s waiting for her boyfriend so they can meet for the first time. She’s come a long way to be turned down a room, and all I did was get the clerk to ask for his manager. And for agreeing to do it, she called him an angel. It’s amazing how much difference one little good deed can make, doesn’t it?”
He pointed at the windshield and said, “I guess not, ’cause there she goes.”
I looked up and saw her slowly walk past, offering a sad wave as she went.
I looked at Jesus and said, “We have to give her a ride.”
He shut off the van and took off his seatbelt. “I’m not listening to this delusion. Let’s put an end to it.” He opened his door and called out, “Yo, Mary, is it?”
She looked up and said, “Yes?”
Jesus said, “My friend here really digs you. And I told him I don’t because you’re damaged goods.”
“Dude,” I said, “Stop. This isn’t funny.”
He held up a hand to stop me and said, “He also said you’ve never met your boyfriend. Does he know about the baby bump?”
She gulped. “I don’t like what you’re implying.”
“And exactly what am I implying?”
A single tear rolled down the girl’s cheek. “He knows. When he gets here, we’ll be married and he will raise the baby as his own.”
Jesus smirked. “When he gets here. How long have you been waiting?”
“He’ll be here,” she said just before sobbing.
I couldn’t stand it. I backhanded him once. “Stop it! You’re letting my dream stop you from offering someone a helping hand? Are you really that immature? Your brother got shot in front of you and you were too scared to join him so you became the Boss’s toy. Well guess what? It was your idea that I go on the road with you, so that was you helping me.”
He rubbed his jaw, but then punched me in the sternum. “You were a Fed, Gabe. I wouldn’t have scratched your back if I thought you wouldn’t have scratched mine. So far, I’ve been on the shitty end of the stick.”
I got my breath back and kicked his feet out from beneath him. “Is that what Ollie would have wanted? To hear you tell the guy who helped you avenge his death that it was all just a marriage of convenience?”
He spun on his hand and knocked me to the ground. “You never even met Ollie, so I don’t want you bringing him into this shit!”
As we were both rising to our feet, I noticed a gathering crowd. There was the little drummer boy and the three shepherds. Just before Jesus launched himself at me I said, “That’s right, because you gave me his seat.”
As we hit the ground again, we froze at the scream. “GUYS!”
I looked up in terror. It had begun.
“My water just broke.”
Jesus and I looked at each other. I looked at one of the teenaged chorus members. “Is there a hospital around here?”
He snorted and said, “You’d have to walk for forty days to get there from here.”
Jesus grabbed the teen’s arm and said, “Wise guy.”
He pushed him gently as I asked, “Does anyone here know anything about birthing a baby?”
When no one else spoke, Jesus said, “I helped Mike bring Ollie out of the womb. Help me get her into the back.”
I shuddered. “The last person I helped you put into the back of that van was—”
He gave me a look. “Alright, then let’s put her in Ollie’s seat.”
I wasn’t sure if he was serious, but he opened the passenger door. I boosted her up and he said, “Mary, I know you don’t like me, but I have to take a look.”
She screamed, “Just do it already!”
During the next contraction, she shrieked and lashed out with her body, and in doing so knocked Ollie’s urn from the dash. Jesus freaked out as his little brother’s ashes began to blow out with the December wind.
I yelled, “Hey! You’ve got to focus. You birthed him, and now it’s time for you to birth someone else, okay? It’s what he would’ve wanted.”
He looked me in the eye and I knew he wanted to argue, but he didn’t. He went back to work. I did my best, holding her and telling her to push. My sister has a kid, and I was there at the birth. It made me miss them.
Finally, at midnight, Jesus slapped the baby into a wail. It was a boy. Mary was crying; she was so happy. Behind me I heard a man’s voice saying, “Excuse me, excuse me, Mary? Where are you, Mary?” Her boyfriend showed up, being led by the hotel clerk. I looked at Jesus and pointed.
He smirked and said, “Alright, fine. I hope you’re happy.”
I looked at the empty urn on the ground. “Are you?”
Mary said to him, “You delivered my baby. What is your name?”
I saw fear on his face. Finally, he said, “My name is Joshua. It means, ‘Son of Joseph.’”
The boyfriend offered a double-take. “That’s my name,” he said.
Mary began crying joyous tears again. She said, “Then it’s perfect. His name will be Joshua. Thank you both, so much.”
The chorus leaders ushered the Christmas couple into the church out of the cold. The teen Jesus had called a wise guy looked at me and asked, “You got a smoke?”
I shook my head as Jesus lit one up. He passed it over to the kid, and then gave him the entire pack, along with the lighter. “I’ve been meaning to quit.”
I laughed. “And in doing so, you contribute to the delinquency of a minor. Nice job, chief.”
The teen nodded his thanks and wandered off.
“Three wise guys,” I heard Jesus mutter with a laugh. He smiled at me and asked, “So how do you want to spend Christmas Day?”
I thought about my family. I said, “We’ve been following stars long enough. I’d like to go home, and I would be happy if you joined us, Jesus… or would you rather Joshua?”
He grinned. “Make it Josh. And just tell me what direction to drive in.”
I leapt into Ollie’s seat, which was now soaked, and said, “The airport. It’s too far to drive.”
“You’ve got it,” he said.
As we made our way down the road from the church, he asked, “So, this is the end of 2012. All the movie fans think the world was supposed to end this month. Do you think… He came back?”
I smiled. “You know, even if He didn’t, it taught you about Christmas sacrifices and moving on; and me, too.”
He nodded. “Well, I haven’t said this to anyone since before Ollie died, so I’ll say it now: Merry Christmas.”
The plane is descending towards my hometown, and he’s about to wake up. I’ll write it out one last time: Merry Christmas.
Thursday (11/29), I hopped on a Greyhound and set off for Georgia to visit my family and see my doctor. It took 23 hours to get from Dayton OH to Augusta GA, and I didn't sleep a wink from 6am Thursday to about 2pm Friday (yesterday). Part of this is because I didn't take my nightly meds Thursday. I couldn't, really, because the crowded bus from Nashville to Atlanta prevented me from reaching the bag holding my prescription bottles. So, I spent the trip being nudged, jabbed, and kicked by the sleeping son of an angry knife enthusiast (it's a long story into which I'd rather not go).
To make a long story short, I had some interesting (racing) thoughts that night/morning. From Atlanta to Augusta, I had a pleasant memory of a creative childhood school project. My first-grade (or thereabouts) class had a visitor, and we were supposed to show our gratitude by making cards for her.
Well, I liked to draw (badly), so I drew her a crude bear holding out its arms for a hug. I knew the word "bear" had more than one meaning, but wasn't sure what that meaning was. The best thing about childhood innocence for a creative type is that if you don't know the meaning of a word, you can make it mean whatever you want. Kind of like my current standpoint, "Anything is possible in a hypothetical situation." (Thanks, Mr. Delionbach!) So my card had a drawing of a hugging bear saying, "I can't bear you!" What a wonderful endearing term... or not. My teachers had a good laugh and made me change it to, "I can't bear to be without you!" Good thing, too. But anyway,my childhood creativity and cluelessness made me smile and I wanted to share it in the hopes it would make others smile as well!
Blog of author Roy Hudson..