A Story by Tristan Drue Rogers
Edgar Gonzales started getting tense again, sweating profusely even though the A/C was on full blast, and whenever his son asked to play a game with him or help him with his homework, he’d be short with him, never really answering the question, either. It obviously frustrated his son because Edgar noticed that he simply started playing alone with his toys in his room, day by day, no longer asking his father to join in. It was because Christmas was less than a month away and even though he hoped his son wouldn’t have known, he knew he’d overheard his mom on the phone mentioning things about his grandfather that he wished would go on deaf ears. Some things his son didn’t understand, Edgar knew this, but he also knew that his son recently learned how to apply context clues in Mrs. Darlene’s class, so that hope was thrown out of the window. The video games were connected to the living room T.V. and although he was in the kitchen, Edgar saw his son peak out to play before noticing his father smoking a cigarette, leant up against the refrigerator, and he popped back out, closing the door to his room.
He loved his son, Chewy Hernandez Acosta Gonzalez. He knew he’d be a big strong man someday, completely the opposite of him, if only he treated him correctly and kept him away from that mushy stuff that filled his own heart after what had broken him so many years ago. He’d been called a hippy before and in certain corners of the Hispanic community, that was a seething indictment.
Edgar looked out of the window where he could see across the street where the Carmona family lived. They were decorating. Thanksgiving ended not a week ago and Christmas decorations had been piling up around his neighborhood. Some people didn’t even wait for the table to be set with turkey and brisket before they started pulling Santa’s blow-up sleigh out onto their lawns. He started fidgeting with his wedding ring. It was worn out, more a static pink brass color than gold anymore. Edgar recently got laid off, so his wife Rosa Carmen Iglesias Gonzales had to pick up the slack, and they all knew that the money they had wouldn’t be sustainable for long. Edgar thought if they only didn’t have a son yet, they’d be able to make it. At first Edgar nodded, but then upon realizing the horrible attitude taking hold of his thoughts, shook his head as he gave his noggin a light tap with the palm of his hand. Undirected anger achieved by a succumbing torment can eventually cause any known person to blow up in ways they’d at first conceive as unfathomable before. Edgar’s therapist—it was his wife’s idea; his family doesn’t know—listened to him talk about all of this and more every week, and she’d tell him that he’s simply going through PTSD. Apparently, this wasn’t something that only soldiers and first responders went through. Although his therapist always pushed against comparing his suffering to others, Edgar felt a sense of belonging in knowing that he was included amongst heroes, even if he never saw himself as one. And how could he? Edgar wasn’t known for sticking his neck out for the good of others.
He took one last drag of his cigarette and put it out. Attempting to grab some bastion of sanity back within him, he took an even deeper breath than before and started toward his son’s room. The closer he stepped in that direction, the louder a clunking sound began to form. Eventually, Edgar put his ear to the door and it stopped as he heard his son grown in pain.
“Ow,” said Chewy.
Edgar burst open the door. “Is everything all right?”
He saw his son sitting on the ground, looking at his finger, building something out of wood with the nails and hammer from the tool box above the washer and dryer.
“How’d you get those?”
Chewy turned away from his finger and looked to his father with watery eyes. It was then that Edgar noticed that Chewy had slammed the hammer too hard onto his finger.
“Dang, son,” he told him. “That looks like you’re going to lose that fingernail.”
“Lose it?” Chewy’s eyes widened in disbelief and fear.
“Yeah, you slammed it so hard that it lost all connection to its nerve, so it’ll fall off in a day or two.”
“Gross,” said Chewy, in awe at his zombiefied fingertip. He put it in his mouth, practically gnawing on it.
“Yeah,” said Edgar. “Mucho gross.”
They both smiled at each other. It was strange to Edgar that this was how they were connecting. It went to show him how little every day man stuff they actually partook in together. Stuff that a little boy really needs. Stuff like playing ball, or anything that involves falling down in order to get back up, and just plain old conversation. Since Edgar’s been out of work, he kept their routines as they were before: they’d have breakfast before school, after he’d drop his son off at the bus stop, and then just dinner at 6 and goodnight at 9. Since he was home all day long now, he’d try to make an effort to be in his life more.
“Say, mijo, what do you think about me driving you all the way to school from now on and picking you up, when I can, too?”
Chewy took his finger out of his mouth—the slime from his mouth and fingers lingered together before finally breaking apart, slinking down further onto his chin and mouth—and smiled real big. “That sounds awesome!”
“I promise, mijo.”
That morning, Chewy had a fully completed wooden train stuffed into his backpack. Edgar had helped him finish building it and Chewy’s mom helped instruct him on painting it. They had a perfect family evening together and in the morning Rosa made her famous migas.
“Okay, Chewy,” said Edgar. “Have a great day at school, and try to remember there’s just one more day until Friday.”
Chewy gave a thumbs up and hopped out of their car.
As he made it a quarter of the way to the entrance, his father hollered out for him. “Mijo, I forgot to ask. How did you learn how to make that train and where did you even get the wood for it? You did such a good job.”
Chewy proudly stepped forward, his smile engulfing his face. He said, “Santa showed me how.”
The bell rang. Chewy was going to be late. He turned around and booked it inside. It was Edgar’s fault as he forgot to set an alarm to wake up earlier, being used to sleeping in as of late. That’s going to change, he told himself.
Edgar sat there in his car completely frozen. His heart raced like never before, but he wouldn’t show it. He simply grinned, waved to the attendants outside, and drove off.
“I should have known,” he told himself. “Santa was back in town.”
It’s only been 9 months since Edgar brought his family to live in his home town of Invierno Niño, TX by the border. After all of the fighting and shooting going on around the south, Edgar spoke to his mother, who told him that everything was still peaceful over here. Nothing ever happens in this town. Tiny Niños play, grow up, and they leave, often never coming back unless they have children of their own. Starting a family is hard enough without comfort surrounding them and coming back home is the hot chocolate to your family’s warm fireside blanket.
Edgar remembered little of his childhood. His mother told him this was due to playing so much football when he entered into high school, but if Edgar recalled correctly, he always sat on the bench. Sports were the only thing he cared about growing up, though. And building things for other people. He just couldn’t think back to any of the holidays leading up to Christmas. He knew he dressed up and had candy for Halloween, that he ate turkey and brisket on Thanksgiving, but when it came to receiving presents, all he could envision was an ethereal fog surrounding his tiny hands. Oh, no. There were times when he built things, he thought. Times when he would cut himself or something, causing blood to gush out, but his hands were fine, so nothing to fuss about.
Someone started honking at him from behind Edgar’s car. The green light just turned red again and Edgar couldn’t help but realize that the light pole was already adjourned with reeves, candy cane decorations, and bells that jingled to the wind.
The honking continued until the light turned green again. Edgar flipped the bird as he drove away slowly, but the car stayed behind him.
Edgar couldn’t see who was following him. Probably due to the dark tint of the windows, he thought. Or maybe it was something else. He noticed that he could still see the evergreen steering wheel turn as the car followed him. It was a bright red 1967 Corvette with a thick blue stripe down the middle and a green steering wheel. If we were at the North Pole, Edgar would have assumed it was the company vehicle. He wondered what all the fuss was about as it mirrored his every movement. Edgar was driving a beat-up old 2006 Honda Accord that his father-in-law found for Rosa after she crashed her finally paid off Kia Soul. How could one simple hesitant go at a light cause such dismay for this driver?
Edgar, finally mustering up the courage to be the man he wants to be for his son, pulled over to the side of the neighborhood rode and stepped out. The jingle bells mobile stopped behind him, but no one stepped out of the car to meet him. Edgar raised his hands to his side as he approached the driver side window. Before he could see whose butt was sitting in the seat, the car sped in reverse a few feet back and turned forward onto the road, taking off.
Edgar left his hands in the air, only this time he raised them above his head and literally guffawed at the nonsense of it all.
“I’ll never get that time back,” he said.
It had been a few weeks and Chewy had built himself a cornucopia of old fashioned toys and even a few newfangled whatchamacallits. Half of his fingernail had grown back, too. Edgar had been helping him. Edgar had also been hiding the creations in his son’s closet and asking his son not to mention anything to his mother. Every day after dropping Chewy off from school, that same car followed him. Sometimes even all the way to his home, but every time it sped off after Edgar got out. One time Edgar stayed in the car for hours and so, too, did the shiny Corvette stay behind him. He wasn’t sure what was going on, but he knew no matter what it was it would just be too much unneeded stress for his wife. It’s already been hard enough trying to explain where all the wood and parts to their bed frame went, or their tables, or really most of their heavy duty spare parts.
Rosa showed up home early today, surprising her family with Whataburger. This is an awesome surprise, both to be with her two hours early and to have fast food, which they didn’t eat so much for the sake of their child, but the thing about it is, Chewy had already a few minutes before she showed up removed his father’s foot from the rest of his body. Chewy needed the bone to help carve the tusk for a rhinoceros toy that Chewy explained to his father would be the perfect gift for someone Santa told him was named Edgar, who loved animals with horns and stuff like that.
“That’s like my name.”
“Oh, yeah,” said Chewy, forgetting that his father’s name wasn’t really papá or dad.
Edgar sat there in pain, but also astonished at his son’s ability to stitch him up with little loss of blood. It hurt like an SOB, but his son certainly had a future in him if he wanted to be a surgeon or even a woodworker. That’d be something, he thought. He has good grades so far. Maybe he really could be something that society actually needs and go to trade school.
They heard her come inside the front door and Edgar sunk as Chewy kept at his building over the tarp they laid out for all the blood his detached appendage continued to expel.
“Eddie,” she said in the living room. “My little mijo, come and eat! I got off early and I miss you all!”
“Hey, mijo,” said Edgar. “Can you whip me up a wooden leg or something so mamá don’t freak out?”
Chewy shook his head. Edgar noticed that his jaw shrank in size, but was perfectly fine before, that his ears grew pointier, and it seemed like he was wearing blush on his cheeks.
Edgar froze, completely exasperated. “C’mon, kiddo! This could be bad for us!”
“I can’t unless you’re on the list.”
Chewy nodded his head just as he peeled the final slab of flesh from his father’s lifeless foot. “The Nice List of children that Santa’s going to deliver these toys to,” he said. “After I’m done with all of these toys, he’ll release me.”
Mami Gonzales began to open Chewy’s door. “I can hear y’all in hear—don’t you want your Buffalo Chicken Strip sandwiches?”
At first she didn’t understand what she was looking at, and with a husband who gives out only the most deer-eyed look beside her son, she didn’t have an easy time figuring it out, but what she did know was that her husband was mutilated and that her son was covered in blood as he held pieces of a skeleton. Her abject horror was so distraught that her vocal chords took millennia of weary-eyed salvation to catch up to it. The blackness crowded her sorrows as she passed out due to what was laid before her. She half fell onto the bed. Mostly, she was dehydrated.
Edgar gave a light smack to his son’s shoulder. “See what I told you, wey. She’s been through so much lately.” Edgar gently tapped Rosa’s dangling leg. “Tell Santa that fool better help me make a foot or things are going to get mucho difficult, okay?”
Chewy didn’t answer him.
“Make sure he knows, fool,” said Edgar. “And grab me a Modelo from the fridge. I feel like I’m dying here.”
Chewy got up to fetch his father a beer and Edgar watched him as the shoes on his feet dangled bells. He jingled with them on in every step.
Now that it’s Christmas morning, Chewy was able to kick back and relax. More so, he seemed to be confused and without much memory of what happened. Rosa didn’t seem to remember much, either. Which is good, thought Edgar. A lot happened in-between the Whataburger incident and now—mostly missing animals around the neighborhood for use of their fur, stolen jewelry, Chewy’s weight loss and bountiful energy, and the smell of Christmas cookies never leaving the house. No one left the house in those last weeks. The children of the town were in crunch time.
For now, Chewy was asleep. Thank God because he hadn’t slept a good night’s rest in a long while. Edgar’s wife was asleep in their bedroom. Edgar sat out to watch the fire place. Everyone had a fireplace and chimney in Invierno Niño, TX, which was odd for such a high temperature town. He waited for the man who owed his son his winters back. He waited for the man who took all of Edgar’s winters away from him and his family when he was a child. He knew he’d be here. They even, as a family, laid out the traditional Gonzales reindeer food—basically sugar, pretzels, and whatever else was leftover from deserts—that night. The curse of this town was truly unbelievable to anyone who hadn’t been through it themselves, but the safety of the town from outside interference was guaranteed if they continued to go along with it, although Edgar felt that he knew better. The right to choose what his child may do in his own time as opposed to working like a sweatshop worker for no pay at all and for kids who probably don’t deserve the toys that were made for them anyway was a great negotiator in Edgar’s decision making.
Edgar had far too many cigarettes and even more glasses of eggnog—that Chewy made for Santa’s visit—with whiskey than he knew he shouldn’t have, but the barrel of his father-in-law’s shot gun was already primed and in waiting, so he thought it couldn’t hurt any.
His in-laws were disappointed that they didn’t visit for Christmas at the ranch where they were celebrating, but something kept them in town this year and it wasn’t hard to figure out what was pulling them back after visiting for Rosa’s birthday early December. It could be the curse or it could be what Edgar had planned.
Edgar’s foot itched, which was weird because he was missing it, although the crutches helped some so that he could refill his drink. He downed the last of his eggnog, looked through the glass, which also shown through to the window outside beside their Christmas tree. Santa’s blow-up sleigh was starting to deflate—Edgar went outside earlier and haphazardly stuck it with a safety pin—causing him to long for the days before he remembered all this evil that that fat red man brought to his family. And he missed his foot. That was my favorite foot, he thought, chocking on his laugh.
Then he saw it. The real Santa’s sleigh was landing atop of the Carmona’s house. A big bright light was in front and all those reindeer that have harder to remember names than the kids these days stumbled about the roof. Edgar knew he shouldn’t think like that, especially about the innocent kiddos, but he was piping mad and so he felt it was okay because soon he would be the hero in his son’s story. Soon his home town would be free and soon he might just free himself, too.
Eventually, the Gonzales house was next in line to bring further merriment. Edgar’s chest started to pulsate and his breathing quickened, but he never lost sight of what he was prepared to do. In the blink of an eye Santa’s big black boots appeared where there would be a fire and Edgar widened his mouth just before sealing it in a crispy grin. Edgar waited until he saw his entire body push out of the chimney and off from the fireplace, waiting still until Santa turned around.
When he finally locked eyes with ol’ St. Nick, Edgar pulled back on the trigger of his father-in-law’s shotgun. Edgar pictured a multitude of paint and body parts washing over his decorations, but he knew it was too late when that fat man in a red suit smiled back at him. He smiled back at him in a “I’ve got a secret” sort of way.
The shot gun released nothing but confetti and a barrel of monkeys. The sound that sparked the gun shot reminded Edgar of Christmas caroling. After the long silence of Santa watching him fidget in his chair, he pulled out from his bag an elongated gift wrapped present and handed it to Edgar before going about filling the space below their Christmas tree beside the window. Edgar was shaken and in dismay, but he looked down onto his lap anyway and saw the gift from Santa and began to open it. Finally through the meticulous wrapping paper, he discovered a prosthetic foot. Edgar looked back up and Santa was gone.
A beautifully designed envelope was taped onto the prosthetic. With golden raised lettering, the note inside said: “Thank you for all that you’ve given this town, my little helpers. See you and your family next year. With love and Merry Christmas—Signed, Santa Claus”
Edgar began to sob uncontrollably as his family woke up from each of their slumbers, too excited not to head straight for their gifts.
Chewy was the most excited as he tore through his many gifts already. “Did Santa come?”
Rosa told him to go and check the cookies they laid out.
“Yep,” said Chewy. “He ate them all up! And this present says from Santa!”
Rosa smiled at him, asking “What is it?”
Edgar saw his wife and son truly happy for the curse of Christmas had been lifted and the magic of it had finally settled within them, allowing the family to enjoy the holiday together. Edgar knew it may be fleeting, but he’d enjoy these moments with them while they lasted.
Chewy opened his present and tilted his head.
“What is it, mijo?” Rosa asked.
“How weird,” he said.
Edgar turned his head to his son. He noticed for the first time in a month that his son no longer held the features of an elf. He was pudgy, tired, and so beautiful. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing’s wrong, dad, but I got a little rhinoceros,” Chewy said. “How random.”
Rosa looked at her husband’s missing foot and shined her teeth. “Yes, mijo,” she said in a vocal tone that wasn’t at all her usual self. “That is so random.”
Tristan Drue Rogers is an author living in Texas. His stories have been featured in fanzines such as Weird Mask and M, literary magazines such as Genre: Urban Arts, and horror anthologies such as Deep Fried Horror and 100 Word Horrors Book 3. His novel Brothers of Blood is available now in paperback and e-book.