I never made a title for this story which was the result of a prompt for a short story contest.
Of course, I didn’t have it finished in time for the contest, but I liked the prompt enough to go ahead and finish the story anyway.
Hope you guys like it!
NOTE: The picture I found for this was PERFECT for this story, lol…who knew?
The Prompt –
It’s a very well kept secret that before Santa and Mrs. Claus took up residence in the North Pole and started spying on children all across the globe they first met in a dusty old saloon way back during the Gold Rush. However, the details about this very first meeting and subsequent partnership are sketchy at best.
My real name taint Santa. It was the wife’s idea…
No, I ain’t talking ‘bout Mrs. Claus…it was my first wife Ethel’s idea.
Ya see, I remarried after striking it rich…seems like finding gold is a true test of a relationship.
Ours didn’t pan out.
“Bert,” she’d said, “you give away so much gold dust to those floozies down at the saloon, they should call you Santa.”
So when I split I took her idea and ran with it…along with the gold of course.
She was real pissed I didn’t leave her more than a few ounces, but I figured I done all the diggin’ and the pannin’…why shouldn’t I keep the lion’s share?
Ethel was a real mean woman…she didn’t agree with my calculatin’ so I was always lookin’ over my shoulder. I knew she wouldn’t give up a lookin’ for me…and my gold.
But, it seems I have some strange habit of marrying mean women, cuz the one I got now taint much better.
We met at the same place Ethel and I were married…the Lucky Strike Saloon.
I figured that since I needed someone to do the cookin’ and cleanin’ for me anyways, I’d let Gertie tag along when I left that old hag Ethel.
We ran South, hard and fast, the old bat on our tails pert near a thousand miles I reckon before we finally lost her outside of Santa Fe.
Or at least, that’s what I thought.
We was tired of running, and decided to stay the night before moving on. I let Gertie talk me into us stayin’ at one o’ them fancy hotels.
I sure did need a bath and Gert smelled as sour as a barrel full o’ rotten apples so I agreed.
The clerk at the hotel give me a funny look when I paid him with one of my smallest nuggets.
I figured he thought it twern’t enough, but he didn’t say nothin…just rang the bell and told somebody to take our bags to the room.
When we showed up downstairs to grab a bite that’s when things got really weird.
We run into this funny fella who talked real strange like.
I didn’t trust him, but Gert seemed to take to him so I let him pull up a chair and start a yackin’.
Before Gert could spill the beans about who we were – just in case the ex had sent ‘im – I told him I was Santa and that Gert was Mrs. Claus.
I’d figured he’d laugh it off and know we wasn’t gonna tell him our real names, but he got a strange look in his eye and just smiled.
He said his name was Marcus and that he figured we were perfect for his new venture.
He started saying somethin’ about needed someone to take his place…somethin’ about being tired of the whiny brats never being happy with what they got.
O’ course now I get what he was saying but back then…
Well, let’s just say I couldn’t wrap my head around what he was tryin’ to tell me so he figured he’d just have to show me.
Later, I figured that if I’d a knowed what that low-down skunk was really up to, I’d a sent him packing…with lead in his ass.
He took Gert and me up to his room with the promise of payin’ us for just a few minutes of our time.
His room looked just like the one me and Gert were staying in, only he’d pushed the rod-iron bed into the corner to make room for some big red box.
It looked like some giant present, all shiny like, and if’n that wasn’t strange enough he walked up to it, pointed a stick at it and the box disappeared, leaving a big black hole right in the middle of the room.
Gert grabbed my arm and screamed, but the fella just laughed.
“Don’t worry miss…I promise you it’s okay. There’s nothing to be afraid of.”
Gert stopped screaming, but she still looked scared. I didn’t want her to know – and she still doesn’t – but my insides were twisted up in knots too.
I wanted to run outta that room but my legs wouldn’t move.
But before I could finish askin’ Marcus what in the hell was goin’ on, the black hole disappeared and we was standing somewhere else.
The saloon was gone and we were standing in what I now know was a Starbucks coffee shop.
“Welcome to my favorite place to hang out,” he said.
It took a bit for Gert and I to get used to being here. O’ course being used to something and actually likin’ it are two different things.
So that’s how I wound up here…stuck playin’ Santa until I can get someone else to take my place.
You would think that livin’ forever would be a great deal…and it would be…only if it weren’t for the brats.
Whining, moaning and groaning that they never got what they wanted.
Ungrateful hooligans, the lot o’ them.
Hell, I never wanted to be Santa and it was a low-down dirty trick that Marcus played on me.
I wanted to kill ‘im after I figured what he was doin’ but I learned pretty fast that it was harder to get a pistol in these parts than to get milk from a snake.
I guess I could’a stuck him with my bowie knife, but I figured what’s done is done…’sides…I didn’t know how to get home, so what good would it do anyways.
After the first Christmas Eve was under our belts Marcus said he’d done all he could do and was ready to move on.
He packed his bags and took off in a cab. Gert and I haven’t seen him since.
I kinda wished he were still here. Yeah, I know what I said, but I’ve got a problem that no stupid flatfoot can help me with.
I’ve lost my list.
Seems that some little weirdo got the idea to hack into my Evernote account and steal my notes.
Now, he’s selling it on the black market for some god awful amount – that I don’t have because my stupid accountant said to invest in cookies and cocoa.
I mean…you eat and drink that stuff, not invest in it. Gertrude tells me that’s what I get for hiring one of those Keebler execs instead of paying for a real financial planner.
Anyway, that means that some kids don’t get their Christmas presents this year…boo hoo…
The real problem is that the highest bidder right now is Father Time, ‘n’ he’d spend every dime he had just to rub it in my face that he’d won.
That crabby old goat has no sense of humor. How was I supposed to know that he was sweet on Mother Nature?
“Bert, ya ol’ fool. Why didn’t you just write out that stupid list on a piece of paper? Or you coulda just did it in Microsoft Word…why in the hell did you put it in the cloud?”
Gertie was right, but I wasn’t about to admit it.
“Ain’t nothin’ I can do ‘bout it now, woman…leave me be while I figure somethin’ out.”
Gertie glared at me for a minute, then threw her hands up in the air and walked back into the livin’ room. She plopped down on the sofa and turned on one o’ her raunchy soap operas.
My phone started vibratin’, but since I didn’t know the number I let it go to voicemail.
After a few minutes browsin’ the web I got up to walk outside ‘n’ sit on the front porch. The cool air felt good on my face and the smell of wood smoke took me back to when I was a kid.
We’d never had a Christmas like they got nowadays.
My ol’ man was a widower and had all he could do to feed the five of us and keep a roof over our heads.
There was no packages under some tree for us, but every Christmas he’d bring home a goose, a grouse or a turkey he’d shot.
Around Thanksgiving, my brothers an’ me would pick some apples. Gus Johnson would hire us to help him bring in the harvest and he’d give us a bushel full to take home.
I think he was sweet on my sister Mary…he’d always give us a package wrapped in paper for her.
I never saw her open them, but later, after we’d stuffed our gullets with goose, apple pie and sweet taters, she’d give each of us boys a piece of hard peppermint candy that I figured Gus had give her.
I wish I knew what happened to Mary. I miss her and my brothers.
Dad passed on before I left home ‘n’ I guess I’d always figured I’d go back to see my family one day, after I settled down.
They’re all dust now, Bert. Maybe one day in glory land…
The screen door swung open ‘n’ Gert poked her head out.
“Bert. Come get your stupid phone before I throw it down the toilet. It keeps vibratin’ on the table so loud I can’t hear what Reginald is telling Gwen.”
I laughed to myself…if nothing ticked Gertie off more, it was somethin’ interruptin’ her stupid stories.
“Alright, don’t get your bloomers in a twist, Mrs. Claus.”
If looks were daggers I wouldn’t be a standin’ here.
She hates that name…which is why I enjoy using it every chance I get.
She just threw the phone at me and slammed the door behind her.
The phone landed on the rockin’ chair face up. I could see that whoever was blowin’ up my phone was callin’ right then.
I didn’t recognize the number, but figured I better go ahead and answer it. Maybe it was Marcus callin’ after all these years.
But I doubted it.
“Bert. We need to talk.”
“Ah, it’s you…kinda figured you might call some time. What ya callin’ me for? Won the door prize at the last evil minion’s convention or somethin’?
“You know why I’m calling.”
“Ah, still a mean ol’ goat I see. So what…you outbid the fairy…now you’ve got the list. Big deal – what do I care if the little jerks don’t get somethin’ for Christmas?”
“You should care, Bert.”
“Because if you fail to do your job…as agreed upon…it’s time for you to go so that someone else can do it.”
“Good. That’s exactly what I want to hear. I’m ready to retire anyway.”
“I’m not sure you fully appreciate the gravity of your situation, Bert.”
“What? No more Christmas cookies and cocoa? No reindeer to feed? No elves to order around? Time on my hands to do whatever in the heck I want? Ah, gee, why in the world would I care…”
The boom from the other end of the line felt like it split my ear. “No.”
My ears were still ringing when he started up again.
“No. It doesn’t work like that, Bert. You won’t have any time on your hands…well, that’s not entirely true, you will. But I promise you, you’re not going to like it.”
I felt my heart jump into my throat. “What do you mean? Marcus tricked me into this job. Why did he get a free pass?”
“Marcus stopped being Santa, but he followed the rules. He found his replacement before leaving. You, on the other hand, were careless with the list…so we had to do something fast before it got into the wrong hands.”
Suddenly, the blaring TV stopped. Gert was standing in the kitchen doorway. And I don’t mind a sayin’ she looked scared.
“So, Father Time…what’s gonna happen to me…’n’ Bert,”
After what seemed like an eternity Father Time answered her.
“You…and Bert…will be sent back to your time. You’ll go back to the exact time and place you were at when Marcus found you.”
Bert sighed, and felt relief wash over him. “Oh, okay. Well, that’s not so bad then, right Gert?”
Gert shrugged. “Well…I’ll miss ma soaps, but I guess.”
Father Time held up his gnarled hand.
I hate it when he teleports…why can’t he knock on the door like regular folk?
“There’s something you need to know first. You and Gertrude will go back to the life you had before, but…”
“Yeah, yeah, I get it. But…what? You mean Ethel?”
He nodded, his face solemn.
“Oh God. Well…can you at least give us some kind a warning? Let us know when Ethel will catch up with us?”
“I’m not allowed to interfere…I’m sorry.”
The ol’ goat wasn’t sorry. He knew this was a death sentence for me…and Gertie too. When Ethel caught up with us if’n it weren’t her shootin’ us outright she’d have one of her mean ‘n’ nasty brothers do it for her.
Hell, he’s probably already sent word that we’re a comin’ and we won’t last five minutes, let alone years.
That’s what you get, Bert for pissin’ off the ol’ timekeeper.
“Look, uh…I’m sorry about the trick I played on you and Mother Na…”
The old man interrupted. “You think I’m still mad about that?” His voice softened. “I wish I could give you more information, but all I can say is that we’ll meet again…maybe sooner than you’d like. Look, I really am sorry, Bert. You’ll be sent back in the morning. Best of luck to you both.”
I looked at Gertie. Sound asleep…as usual. I don’t know how in the hell you can sleep.
I think I finally started driftin’ off to sleep as the sun started to come up.
The noose tightened around my neck as ol’ Jackson started to get antsy.
I tried to scream, but nothin’ came out. Ethel was lookin’ as ugly as ever, a big toothless smile on her face.
She had one of my bags of gold in her hands, just a’ tossin’ it in the air, up and down, up and down.
One of the bags stopped in mid-air, just a floatin’ there. I was just a starin’ at it, wonderin’ how in the hell she did that.
I looked at her and she just stood there, staring at me, hard. Her black eyes felt like fire, lickin’ at my bones.
Then suddenly I saw Ethel’s face change. She was a lookin’ at something behind me and I don’t mind a sayin’ I felt scared. I’d a never known Ethel to be frighted o’ nothing nor noone, but her face turned white and let the bag o’ gold drop when she saw something behind me.
That’s when I heard the voice. It was soft, but felt like far-off thunder.
“Bert. You’ve been a downright mean and ornery man. You were charged with bringing Christmas joy to kids all across the globe…but you couldn’t even get that right.”
“Easy, Jackson…easy, boy…” I shifted in my seat just a little to try’n see her.
The dress she wore was long and it sparkled as she walked. With every movement the colors that engulfed her shifted from seafoam green to azure blue.
Fire red tendrils had snaked their way out of the bun that adorned her head.
If’n I gotta die, at least I’ll get a good look at ‘er again.
Why I coulda been happy with someone like her by my side. Stupid ol’ man doesn’t know what he’s got…
I’d always loved looking at her eyes…they were the color of a deep blue sky.
When I caught her eye I wished I hadn’t…they cut through me and I felt sorrier than I’d ever thought I could.
She always had made me feel thata way…
I didn’t care how purty she was, I weren’t gonna let her talk to me that way. If I could just wriggle my hands some more I’d be free of the ropes and then she’d change her tune.
Ah, heck ol’ man…how in the heck you gonna do anything to Mother Nature?
I heard a loud, pounding noise comin’ from somewhere, and then everything around me was gone in a flash.
“Bert. Get yer sorry ol’ ass up. We gotta go…now!”
Oh, thank God..it was just a dream.
“Wha…what’s goin’ on?”
The pounding picked up again, only harder. I heard voices outside the room then a rattle of keys.
I jumped up and threw on my britches then strapped on my gun.
“Sorry Bert…but I gotta go…”
I turned to see Gertie grab her bags and start climbin’ out the window.
“Good riddance, then ol’ woman. I…”
Suddenly the door opened and I saw the hotel manager a standin’ there, with a key in his hand and a smirk on his face.
The manager pointed at my saddlebags lyin’ on the bed. “You’ve worn out your welcome…it’s time to go.”
“Yeah, yeah…keep yer britches on…Ima goin’.
When we reached the front door he give me a hard shove, nearly pushing me down.
“And stay out!”
I thought about givin’ him a taste of lead, but after that dream I had I just wanted to hit the road before Ethel caught up with me.
The sun was hot ‘n’ what breeze there was felt like someone opened the gates of hell. I was gettin’ out while the gettin’ was good. Ol’ Jackson looked at me outta the side of his one good eye.
“I know, ol’ boy…I don’t wanna be out here in this damn sun any more than you, but we gotta put some miles between us and ol Ethel.
I barely got one foot in the stirrup before the smell of jasmine hit me. As always, it barely covered the stench of body odor. She’d found me.
“Bert…where in the hell do ya’ think you’re going?”
I turned to look at the old battleaxe. The pearl handled Colts I’d stupidly given her for a wedding gift were pointed straight at me and I don’t mind a sayin’ I wish I’d a kept playin’ Santa.
It was safer…even when you count the number o’ times I’d been rolled, walking through the wrong neighborhood on Christmas Eve.
When we left the barn she tossed a piece of rope to that no good hotel manager and told ‘im to tie up my hands. We walked back towards the saloon. I didn’t see no sheriff but there were people everywhere.
It looked like the whole town had turned out. Guess it had been a while since they’d seen a lynchin’.
“Ain’t you gonna at least give me a fightin’ chance? Come on…why don’t we have a gunfight…fair and square?”
The ol’ hag just laughed. “Bert. You’ve been sentenced to death for stealin’, cheatin’ and being a downright lousy husband. Any last words?”
“You ain’t no judge, Ethel. I got rights. I ain’t a done nothin’ wrong. Look…I’ll give ya..”
“What? The gold? Of course you will…you already did don’t ya know?”
I looked where she was a pointin’. The hotel manager was just a grinnin’, holdin’ up my saddlebags.
“Typical. You old skank…you always manage to talk some lovesick fool into doing your dirty work. What’s wrong…ain’t got the guts to kill me yerself?”
Ethel grinned. “Sure, I can. But I figured folks might enjoy a little entertainment. Who’s got the gold now, you dirty old philandering son of a bitch?”
“Lovesick fool, huh? So what does that say about you, Bert?”
She nicked my finger with her blade as she cut through the rope around my wrist.
“Hey, that’s her…stop that bitch,” Ethel screamed.
That’s when it all broke loose. The sound of lead whizzing through the air was like music to my ears. It was over faster than I’d thought it’d be. Seems like the townfolk weren’t so interested in my lynching once the bullets started flyin’.
The hotel manager was wriggling around in the dirt, nursing his shoulder. He glared at us, but didn’t look like he wanted a fight. Ethel’s horse was still tethered to the hitchin’ post outside the saloon, but she was nowhere to be seen.
“Where in the hell is she, Gert?”
“Don’t know, but she’s got her gold now…maybe she’ll leave ya alone.”
“Doubt it…but I know one thing, I’m a gonna stop runnin from the bitch. If’n I die, I die.”
Gert looked surprised, but she didn’t know what I’d been a thinkin’ about, ever since Father Time sent us back.
I wanted to tell her, but now wasn’t the right time.
“Say, where in the hell did you find that sharpshooter?”
“Well, when I left the hotel,” she paused, dimples on full display,“I figured we could use some help dealing with that ol’ hag, so I hit the saloon o’ course!”
“That was good thinkin’…what did you have to pay him?”
Gertie chuckled. “That’s the best part – he did it for free!”
“Are you kiddin’ me? Nobody does that kinda…”
“They do if’n they got a grudge.”
I couldn’t believe what I was hearin’.
“What? The same Marcus who…”
“Yep. The same feller…seems he came back here and decided to stick around a while after we left…he said he was curious about what would’ve happened if he hadn’t sent you…I mean us…into the future.”
“Okay. But why would he want to kill her? If’n anyone had a good reason to, I know I did.”
“He said she stole his horse. He’d just made arrangements to buy one of the finest horses off of Mayor Rigby, but she come in and outbid him.”
Where in the hell did she…never mind…I don’t care.
“Come on, hubby…lemme buy you a drink.”
“Sounds good to me, Gert…but I gotta say something to ya’, now that I’m not dead ‘n’ all.”
Gertie stopped, one foot on the boardwalk in front of the saloon, then turned to look at me.
Bert, you know you’ll probably regret this…but…
“I just wanted to…ah hell…”
I grabbed her up in my arms and held onto her as tight as I could. I was surprised that she didn’t push me away, but it felt so good when she hugged me back I didn’t wanna let go.
“I wanted to say thanks for comin’ back. The thought of dyin’ alone, well…”
Gertrude smacked me on the back, hard. “Ah, don’t get all sentimental on me you ol’ codger…ya’ll ruin my face…now that we’re back home I got a reputation to uphold ya know.”
I see ya smilin’ ol’ woman. ‘Course, I couldn’t really call ya old now, could I? We haven’t aged a day in all those years…it’s good to be home.