This is my first attempt at prompt writing. The prompt cards are from “The Storymatic” and they are pictured here. I can’t promise it will be a good short story but it will be a story nonetheless.
“Santa!” cries a young boy from a sea of faces gawking at me as I walk from my throne in the center of the shopping mall to the break room. The sign that my elves put up says I’ll be back in 30 minutes… I doubt it. I find solace in the quiet of the break room. I can take off my beard and itch my face. I can drink down my ice-cold bottled water without judgement, kids don’t like it when Santa drinks water. Apparently it’s not “magical enough”for management. I can close my eyes and fall asleep listening to the soft hum of whatever utility is nearby, in the grey of the quiet break room. Assuming none of the retail Barbies from Macy’s come in with their iced coffees from the mini Starbucks cafe situated in menswear, this break is exactly what I needed. I barely close my eyes and I’m reminded by my buzzing phone alarm that it’s time to put the ol’ beard back on and create the illusion that I care what these kids get for Christmas.
I walk back into the center of the mall looking as jovial as I can after too many whiskeys the night before and not enough sleep. The line of kids waiting their turn to sit on my lap has more than doubled. Some days I seriously question my decision to work as a mall Santa on the weekends but the money is good and the job is easy. Almost as soon as I am sitting I’m handed my first screaming kid. The “elves” will keep this going for the next 4 hours. One kid after the other… I swear, I could rehearse an entire toy department from memory.
The day ends and I head back to the break room to change out of the uniform and head home for the day. I have to be back at 9 AM and it’s already 8:00 at night. I’m a single guy with a dead-end job as a journalist for an internet publication. No wife. No kids. I suppose my family is my dog. He’s my companion. “Murph the Marvelous” is a beagle mix. He’s been by my side for the last 5 years. I wouldn’t trade him for anything. We split a Tombstone pizza and a couple of Bud Lights and we go to bed. I have a deadline on some fluff piece but I’m not in a place to write tonight. I have until Monday. It’s Saturday night. There’s time.
Sunday morning comes, I get ready and leave for the day again. Walking into work I am a no one. I carry the sacred red and white suit in a duffel bag over my shoulder. As soon as I walk in, I’m grabbed by the arm by Lucy, one of the elves at the “Santa Palace”.
“You will NOT believe this! But some of the girls are saying that they saw Taylor Lautner!” She waited impatiently for me to show the same enthusiasm that she did.
“You know, Jacob from Twilight?” Silly Lucy, she thought that would jog my memory.
“Uhm, I’ve never seen Twilight and I don’t know who Jacob is.” Being as I’m almost forty, the last movie on my list to see when it came out was Twilight. I can tell I’ve dashed her dreams but she’s young, she’ll recover.
“Well, I’ll just have to find him and bring him to you in your Santa suit so he can introduce himself to you!” She trots off to find a younger person that she can squeal over the news with.
On with the costume and out to the throne. I wonder if this is what celebrities feel like. I walk in unnoticed and I walk out in the garb of the person they’re all waiting to see. I am cheered, applauded and yelled at for attention. I couldn’t handle this full-time. The first of many kids is handed to me. This one isn’t crying, which is refreshing. In fact, he isn’t saying anything at all. He’s simply staring at me silently. This should be fun.
“Ho Ho Ho! What would you like for Christmas little boy?” I say as deeply and unthreatening as possible.
“…” , boy.
“Have you been good this year?” I ask while putting my arm around behind him to give my elves the signal to wrap this one up.
“…” , boy.
“Santa will see you at Christmas! Be good!” That one was painful. I hope my whole morning isn’t this rough.
A few hours go by and I get my first break. Walking back to the break room for my 15 minutes of peace I see a swarm of people moving through the department store. To investigate would take up my precious break time, nothing is that important. I sit at the table, crack open an ice-cold soda and lean back. I had just closed my eyes when the door comes swinging open and someone comes noisily crashing through it. Is Macy’s having one of their sales and a new girl couldn’t handle it?
When I open my eyes I see a stranger. I see a young man who I don’t recognize. He waits for me to say something to him. I narrow my eyes, check my phone and lean back again, thinking “you do you, dude”. He takes a seat at the table across from me and after a moment begins to talk to me. Come on… This is the only chance I’ll get to unwind until I go home, then I have that looming deadline to meet. This kid’s cramping my style.
“Hey. You’re the Santa, right?” he says to me. He’s gotta be kidding. Who else would wear this uniform?
“Yep. You new here?” I don’t really care, but it seems rude to ignore him.
“No. I am hiding from the people out there.”
“Me too. Who are you hiding from?” I half expected him to say the girls in retail. They get desperate, sometimes.
“I don’t know if you’ve noticed but I look like this Taylor Lautner guy. People around here have been chasing me around all day. I can’t escape them! I’m not a celebrity! My name is Caleb. I’ve only seen like 20 minutes of Twilight. This guy has ruined my life.” Well, we have something in common.
“So wait a minute, you’re just a look-alike?”
“Yeah. I was going over to Starbucks to get a coffee. The line was wrapped out and around into the store so as I’m standing there waiting I start to notice girls hanging around. The line was barely moving but sometimes it’s kinda cool because sometimes I get a free coffee because of that tool, Lautner. Pretty soon I look up and there are so many people hanging around that I can’t move and people are starting to take pictures and bump into me. So I bailed. Screw the free coffee! They followed me and this was the first door that I could get open on the move. Now all I can think about is coffee but it would be a death wish to go back out there.”
“So, you just wanted a coffee? Isn’t there an easier way to get it than this?” This seemed like it had an obvious answer.
“Well yeah, if I wasn’t terrified of the mob of people outside!”
I have 3 minutes left on my phone’s clock.
“It sounds like you need a disguise. You are at a mall, your possibilities are endless”
At that moment he looks up at me, my phone buzzes and a light bulb goes off.
“Hey, do you rent that outfit or do you own it?”
“It’s the mall’s. I just use it while I’m here. I keep it in my locker over there.”
BUZZ BUZZ BUZZ. There it is. The signal that the little bit of peace I got out of this break, is over.
My break is over. I have a deadline looming over my head at home. Murphy hasn’t been on a walk in ages. This kid needs a coffee. And he can’t leave this room without a disguise. There is a reason he came crashing through that particular door.
“Alright, how do you feel about kids?” You see where I’m going with this, don’t you?
“I love ’em. I have a kid brother at home that wanted to come with me but I left before he could come.” Ok, that was a jerk move on the kid’s part.
“Ok, how about you wear my suit and go back out there as Santa. Nobody will recognize you. You can hang out with kids for a couple of hours and have your coffee in peace.”
“Will you go get my coffee and what time does your shift end?”
“Yes and 6:00.”
“Deal. There are some hot elf chicks out there, I want to try my hand at.”
“Go for Lucy.” I tell him. “She just went through a break up and she’s nuts for Taylor Lautner. What’s your coffee order?”
“Grande, Quad, Nonfat, One-Pump, No-Whip, Mocha” he rattles off while strapping on the fake gut the mall manager makes you wear.
He would drink something this obnoxious. And given his tool bag remarks, I almost feel bad for giving him Lucy’s name. I give him one last check over and send him out first. It seemed successful. I didn’t hear any crowds of teen girls screaming and chasing him. I go to Starbucks. I wait in their line for the over priced coffee that has just bought my freedom. I feel like a moron just ordering it. I tell them my name is “Taylor” knowing it will be written on his cup, my own personal touch. When I approach the Santa stand I see a full house of kids being hovered over by expectant parents. The girls don’t notice as I approach from behind, tap him on the shoulder and set the coffee down beside his chair. I set the key to my mall locker on the top of his cup and I am gone. He knows what to do.
On my way out of the mall I walk by some construction on the sidewalk where the cement is still wet from being replaced. I feel like I owe Caleb more than a coffee. He is the reason I’m free this afternoon. I squat down and write “Caleb > Taylor” in the fresh stone. I feel like I have set the record straight and have given Caleb the last laugh for eternity. I have paid him back with immortality in the sidewalk of a shopping mall. The irony is not wasted on me.
Your move, pal.