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Santa, maybe?

A man's travels find him face to face with a nightmare before Christmas.

Spectacular is the only word that can describe the view from the plane window flying into Jackson Hole, Wyoming. One gets fearful as the Grand Tetons appear as though they will scrape the bottom of the plane at any second. One ponders whether at any moment the airline will play some documentary soundtrack to fit the experience; something with drums and trumpets. This, of course, presupposes that you are one of those fortunate people that have good luck when they travel. I tend to have anything but.

It was hard to enjoy the view from the plane when all I wanted to do was pry myself out of the airborne sardine can. My soundtrack did not include trumpets, although I’m sure I could have made that happen if I could contort myself to reach the iPod located in the carry-on beneath the seat in front of me. The airline did, however, provide me with an interesting soundtrack made possible with the seat assignments of the gentleman directly ahead and the infant across the aisle. Said gentleman did not seem to understand that you cannot recline any seat located in a sardine can, and said infant seemed upset by the gentleman’s ignorance and empathized with the pain in my knees. No, my soundtrack was not something from the National Geographic Channel. My soundtrack was something more from the National Child Abuse Hotline: Smack, Waaaaahhhhhh, Smack, Smack, Waaaaahhhhhhh, Smack, WAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHH, SMACK, SMACK, WAAAAAAAAAHHHH! I’ve never been happier to deplane before, even despite the obligatory head banging on the fuselage door. It is clear to me after many flight experiences that airplanes are designed by midgets, for midgets.

Once I finished letting out a huge sigh of relief that my luggage made it to the same destination I had, I was whisked into a slightly more spacious vehicle and began the short trip from the airport into town. My cab driver was a pleasant woman who took great joy in pointing out everything there was to see along the way. The mountains, the river, the mountains, some more mountains, and…oh, over there…see that? Another mountain. I’m sure I would have enjoyed the trip had the cab driver shown herself the speedometer and the correct side of the double yellow line dividing the highway.

Upon entering the town of Jackson Hole, one immediately sees the town square. It is a pleasant looking park with four entrances, each of which surprises you with the rather large arches made of antlers. I couldn’t help but stare. Noticing my wonderment, the cabbie said, “Don’t worry, no animals were harmed in the making of those arches.”

“I’m glad, because the folks at PETA may take real issue with your town otherwise,” I replied.

“No, seriously. Elk shed their antlers, not one animal was killed to make those arches.” I was suspicious, but took her word for it. I was actually quite pleased to gain this nugget of trivia, as this may explain why I never see horns on top of my mother-in-law’s head. I wondered if the devil’s tail works the same way.

A few minutes later I was deposited at my hotel, The Painted Buffalo. True to its name, the hotel had a large statute of a buffalo out front painted in a myriad of colors. This, as I unfortunately came to find out, seems to be the only thing that has been painted at the hotel in the past half-century. This place was no Hilton despite the price of the room, and I decided that spending the remainder of the day exploring Jackson would be preferable to spending it in the hotel.

Johnny Cash must surely have been referring Jackson, Mississippi in his song, as I can’t see why he and June would mosey on over to this town. Sure, the scenery is gorgeous and they have some great bars, but the rest of the town is nothing but kitschy tourist shops. Want an overpriced fringe leather jacket? Perhaps a cowboy hat and matching boots? A dream catcher? What about a very large belt buckle? If you answered yes to any of those questions, well, sir, you are in luck in the town of Jackson! Just wander into any store along any of the streets and you can find all of the above, right next to the tourist t-shirts that turn you into a walking advertisement for the town. I really don’t see why tourist destinations like Jackson spend so much damn money on advertisements when the tourons (part tourist, part moron) who visit them turn themselves into human billboards wherever they go.

As I wandered around town in and out of all the shops, I truly marveled at the fact that this town is still standing. As happy as the folks at PETA would be with the town’s arches, they would be one mightily pissed off bunch at the rest of the town. Riots would probably ensue if they ever discovered this place. There is dead shit everywhere no matter where your wandering takes you. Deer heads, moose heads, mountain lion rugs, and, yes, you too can have your very own stuffed grizzly bear. If you find that a moose head is just too cliché for your dining room, then worry not, you can have a buffalo head instead. Walking through the town provided more startling experiences than a Halloween fun house. Every time you turn around there is some very large dead animal staring you in the eyes. And oh how those black, empty eyes follow you.

Night finally came and I wandered (actually, I think the appropriate term for this part of the country is moseyed), back to The Painted Buffalo. Even though it was July, the temperature was a cool forty-five degrees. I decided to sit on the bench outside my room and gaze at the stars for a while, as it had been quite some time that I had seen a real star being a city-slicker.

It had been a long day of traveling and wandering, and after a while of sitting on the bench I had begun to settle into a short summer’s nap when next to me there arose such a clatter. Naturally, I opened my eyes to see what was the matter. A rather large gentleman had just sat down. His broad face was hidden somewhat by long white hair and a large beard as white as snow. His eyes twinkled and his smile revealed merry dimples. His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry. “How the hell are you,” he asked quite merrily.

“Fine,” I replied hesitantly. “How are you?”

“Can’t complain. Where’re you from?”

“North Carolina,” I replied. “You?”

“Alaska.” My mind tends to wander at times and after I decided that, yes, he probably could see Russia from his house. I then began to wonder whether his house was made of gingerbread and inhabited by tiny little men who make toys for a living, or perhaps airplanes. His general appearance and red t-shirt certainly left open the possibility.

“You lookin’ for some business or just pleasure,” he asked as if he were a foreign customs agent. I realized much later this question was not directed toward the purpose of my trip.

“Pleasure,” I replied. “You?” There was a long pause as he pulled out a cigarette and puffed until the blue smoke circled his head like a wreath. He stared off into space while doing so, and I assumed by his quiet self-reflection that he was in town to mourn the slaughter of his reindeer to make the town arches. After what I had seen all around Jackson in the stores, I was now convinced the cabbie was full of it.

“I’m from here originally,” he finally said, “I came all the way back down from up north to see my mother. She had a stroke and is in the hospital.”

“I’m sorry to hear that, I hope she’ll be okay.”

“That old bitch will be fine! Woman’s too damn stubborn to die,” he replied. The bench then began to vibrate as his laugh shook his bowl full of jelly. I began to feel sorry not so much for him, his reindeer, or his mother, but rather for the poor t-shirt trying as hard as its fibers could to stay together. The poor things were stretched so very far and wide.

Looking to change the conversation back to just pleasantries, I extended my hand and introduced myself. He shook it but didn’t say anything in return. “What’s your name?”

“Does it matter?” he asked. Well, screw you, I thought. Weren't you were supposed to be jollier?

After an awkward silence, Nick leaned in closer to me, “You can find a lot of fun in this town, you know.” The situation was made even more awkward by the rancid smell of his breath and his rotted brown teeth. I also for the first time noticed that the rosy appearance of his cheeks was due more to dust and grime than anything else. This must be what Santa looks like on meth.

Getting no reply from me, Santa leaned back over to his side of the bench and finished his cigarette. Surely he will leave now, I thought. Alas, no. Santa reached into his jeans pocket and fiddled around for an abnormally long time. Curiosity got the better of me and I had to look over. I really wish I hadn’t.

It seems that Santa had been adjusting a rather large candy cane he stored in his pocket. Or, at least that’s what I told myself later that evening so I could sleep with both eyes closed. He was looking at me, and when he noticed me glance over in his direction he smiled with his droll little mouth, and with a wink of his eye and a twist of his head, motioned to his lap. His hand patted the leg closest to me suggestively.

Surely this wasn’t happening. “I don’t want anything for Christmas this year,” I excitedly replied, “and I’m not going to be your dancer, prancer, or vixen!”

“Huh?!”

I took advantage of his befuddlement and sprang from the bench, giving a whistle. Then away I flew like the down of a thistle. I heard him exclaim as I ran out of sight, “Wait! We could have a real good night!”
This story is protected by International Copyright Law, by the author, all rights reserved. If found posted anywhere other than storiesspace.com with this note attached, it has been posted without my permission.

Copyright © This work has been copyrighted upon its publication by Michael S. Rothrock. All rights reserved. The complete work, nor any portion thereof, may not be reprinted, reproduced, redistributed, or republished without the express written consent of the copyright holder. Violators may be subject to a legal mess.

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