Saturday, December 24, 2011

Another Christmas Tale - T 10 - Capstone

James knew today would be different the moment he opened his eyes and stared up at the cardboard ceiling of the box he had called home the last few days.  James did not dwell on the occasional and inconsequential buzzing of the what might bee's. Existence and survival depended on more mundane matters.  Scavenging a meal and hitting tourists up for enough change to score a bottle of Mad Dog 20/20 sweet wine were his daily concerns. The feeling something new was headed his way faded before he crawled out of that appliance box.

James began his daily schlep over to the Salvation Army kitchen up on Congress St.  The sensation something was out of sync returned just as he turned up Front St and onto it’s ancient cobblestones Portland kept in place for the atmosphere they added to the city's Old Salt working waterfront motif.  Down on Commercial Ave. the fish houses were opening their doors hoping  to off load big catches  for the fish mongers to filet..

James slowed his gait on the slick, rough cobbles and wondered how today would turn out differently.  **  The uneven roadway caused him to stumble and fall to his knees. His hands took it hard when he threw them out to save him from a face plant..  On his hands and knees now, James picked up the hand that took it the hardest to check for damage.  Stuck to his wet grimy palm was a gold ring.  In the center of the ring in the middle of his palm, a well planted shard of glass began to seep blood around it's base.

James sat back on his heels.  He ignored his pants as they sucked up snow melt left in the cracks and crevices between the cobble stones.  He picked the ring off his hand and pulled the glass from his palm.  Blood began to flow freely for a second or so and then stopped.  James hated the sight of blood, Hyperventilation  kicked in  He was almost up to full tilt chest heaving just shy of redline when behind him a shadow blocked out the sun and left him in dark shadow.

"Got a light?"

James flinched and quickly pivoted on his soaked knees.  Instinct kicked in and he unconsciously pocketed the ring in the deep side pocket of his raggedy jacket. The bright early morning sun blinded him.  The silhouette repeated, "Got a light?"

James leaned hard to use the dark figure as cover from the sun.  One of the derelict Santas a local shelter hired to cheer up the kids with no homes stood in front of him with an unlit cigarette in his hand and a disgusted look on his face.

"Come on dude.  Got a light or not?"

“Uh yeah, sure do.”  James eyes narrowed.  He could smell a faint wisp of Boone’s Farm Wine.  Nothing brought him back to the here and now like the aroma of a freshly opened bottle of rotgut wine.   “But it’s gonna cost ya.”  James’ eyes traveled down from Santa’s face to his left pocket trimmed in fake white fur and settled on the top of the bottle of wine.

Santa followed James and looked down at the bottle.  “Sure why not.  Let’s step over there.  He thrust his cigarette in the direction of an alley that ran behind some historic district townhouses built of old brick and accented just right with granite stones.  Tucked away out of sight, Santa handed James the Boone’s Farm Apple wine.  James handed Santa his last pack of matches.  Both satisfied with the transaction they spent the next ten minutes passing the bottle until it was drained dry.  Santa tucked the empty bottle in his pocket for later redemption, nodded to James and stumbled down Front St towards the waterfront.

James stepped back out onto Front Street.  The wine he drank on no breakfast churned acidic and harsh as it mixed with his stomach half full of bile.  He belched a short wet just shy of vomit gurgling burp followed by some coughing and hacking up of phlegm, finally finishing when he spat out a disgusting cobby green wad.  About seventy five feet away a man in a perfect red dress suit turned and looked at the ratty figure who had appeared so rudely breaking his concentration..  He frowned and wrinkled his nose, then returned his attention back to the pavement. Slowly he walked with his head straight down as if searching for something unfound.  James turned up Front St to finish his hike to the Salvation Army kitchen for some breakfast.

Mr Red Suit stopped and looked at James making his way up the street.

“Excuse me sir.”  James kept walking oblivious.

Louder and adding an  ahem to give his request some substance, “AHEM!  Uh Excuse me sir.”

James looked at the man with vacant indifference but dropped back into reality and slowed his progress once his eyes focused on this perfectly dressed man in a red dress suit, red and white patent leather shoes topped with  a white beard and silver hair reflecting the mid morning light.

James stopped.  Again, Mr Red Suit attempted to get a conversation off the ground.  “Excuse me young man, I seem to have lost something precious to me.”

"Uh well, I’m trying to make it to the Salvation Army kitchen before all the grub is gone. “  James took a few steps towards the man.  “What did ya lose?”

“ A ring………A small plain gold ring.”  Red Suit looked directly into James’eyes.  James’ right hand inside the deep pocket of his ratty jacket gripped the ring.

The man in the red dress suit stepped up close to James, his eyes boring right through the young wino.  “It wasn’t worth much, maybe a couple hundred bucks or so.  But I would so much like to find it. You see it’s the Ring of Transition.  It was given to me many many years ago when I was just about your age.”

All James heard was “a couple of hundred bucks or so”.  His grip on that ring tightened.  It dug hard into his hand.  He looked up into the man’s face.  “Sorry, but I gotta go.  Don’t want to be late up to the kitchen or I won’t get seconds..  Hope you find it.”  James turned to leave.

“I’ll buy you breakfast.”  James stopped in mid stride and rotated on one foot to face Red Suit again.

“I’d rather have a bottle of Mad Dog.  I can eat for free, but the booze, well the booze ain’t free.”
Red Suit sort of smiled.  James thought it looked more like a frown.  Red Suit spoke.  “My name is Nicholas and this right here is why I will only buy you breakfast."  He was pointing to a small pin on the lapel of his perfect red dress suit.

James leaned in to get a better look.  The pin stated simply “Do it Sober”.

That’s right young man, I used to be you.  I’ve been sober now…………………” .  Nicholas looked up to the clock tower on Congress Street searching for his memory.  Without looking down he continued as if someone up there was listening. “Been sober now 87 years. “

James had heard this born again AA crap before. To avoid any follow up drivel from Nicholas about how James should clean up his act, he blurted, “Okay some breakfast. My choice, and I’ll help you look.”  His fingers once so tightly wrapped around the ring relaxed and he began to do his best imitation of a sincere search.

For an hour the two of them walked up and down Front Street.  At least six times to make it look good, James asked Nicholas  if he was sure he had lost it here.  Finally Nicholas  grabbed James by his upper arm.  He grabbed the arm that was attached to the hand that held the ring.  James tensed and looked at Nicholas.  “What?”

“Young man, we both know I lost that ring on this street.”  Nicholas was looking bemused..  He grabbed James by both shoulders, bent his head down and looked the derelict in the eyes.  “It doesn’t matter though, the ring has been passed and that is all I was here to do.  My replacement has been chosen  I’m sure you’ll do fine.”

The ring in the deep side pocket of James’ ratty jacket began to warm in James hand.  At first it just simmered, but soon James could not hold it.  He looked at Nicholas with widening eyes.

“Better put it on son or it will burn a hole in that ratty jacket.  You can’t refuse.”  Nicholas’ gentle smile made James feel safe.  He slipped a pinky  into the ring, and as if the man in the perfect red dress suit had never been there, Nicholas disappeared.

James could not fathom the changes coming over him.  He stood in the middle of Front Street on the erratic cobblestones and looked out on the harbor ¼ mile away.  The wind had picked up.  Waves of notable size raced across reflecting  the late morning sunlight in millions of dainty bright flashes. The flashes became streaks of light.coalescing  as one and coming straight towards James………………………………….  James blacked out.

James had no idea how long it had taken him to, out of the blue, realize where he had come from and what he had done in the life he lived so long ago.  The first time an inkling of his previous existence crossed his mind, he was seated at the head of a broad wooden table.  Seated around the perimeter were twenty small men wearing mostly green or red hats.  Two wore yellow hats.. They all looked older than God and they were all looking at James..

The elf closest to James on his right looked at his boss.  Nudging James' elbow, he said, “Chief!  You okay?  You were saying? You lost it there for a minute.  Focus Chief, focus.”

James looked down the long table.  He sat quiet for another moment and studied each face looking at him.  He remembered why he was there.  “Okay Jasper, where were we?  Oh yeah, You were about to give me an update on the production line punching out Teddy Bears.  You gonna make the quota on time?

Jasper nodded.  James said , “Okay what’s next guys?  Let’s go.  Let’s get busy.  We only have another six weeks before I fly.”   His attention however was elsewhere.  James was thinking of Nicholas and where he might be.   It pleased him to think of Nick kicked back beach side, a cool drink in hand and enjoying a beautiful sunset.  Unconsciously James began to turn the small gold ring on the pinky of his right hand.
Happy Holidays folks.

The Capstone -  T 10's weekly All Prompt review

Weekend of 12/24 & 12/25/11
The Rules:
(1) Use the week's prompts to write a single story
(2) Take ten minutes to write your story; write whatever comes to mind; improvise!
This Weeks Prompts
Monday, On location: The beach at sunset
Tuesday, Take it away: I knew today would be different...
Wednesday, Words, Inc.: table, ring, glass, wine
Thursday, The plot thickens: People staring up at a building
Friday, Free for all: First time Friday
Additional Prompt - Seasonal - Xmas-ie

Some post story notes
~ First draft – approx 1750 words
~ For once I actually kept somewhat within the plan I had when I began.
~ This one took awhile.  Quite awhile.


Randal Graves said...

Santa's even more devious than the Czar!

The Blog Fodder said...

Great yarn. Merry Christmas to you and yours.

Mr. Charleston said...

Another great yarn Crum. Merry Christmas.

BBC said...

It's going to be a real easy day for me, I've got nothing to do other than visit my friend and maybe stop at the Eagles for a beer, maybe two.

Getting a little rain here, fucking rain.

Commander Zaius said...

Great story!

Merry Christmas Mike!

S.W. Anderson said...

That's a really good story, Macrum. Rod Serling would approve.

Merry Christmas and have a great new year.

PipeTobacco said...


Nice writing as always!