Garbage lined the quiet street with dirty papers, bottles, and cans. One trash bin tipped on its side with a wretched smell of old beer and cigarettes from behind a bar that overlooked a small alley. A slight breeze blew down the run-down alleyway of the city that seemed to have long forgotten snow angels, Santa Clause, and the meaning of Christmas.
The sound of footsteps appeared from nowhere. A thundering shatter against the wet pavement that seemed to make the rats run toward an old sewer drain.
A child’s red tennis shoe hovered just on the edge of the drain. No one ever wondered where it came from; it was just there. You ever see an item of clothing on the side of the street and wonder what the story was behind it? In the case of the mysterious shoe, there was a story that wanted to be told.
The footsteps continued until they reached the back of the old Town Tavern bar and grill. He stopped suddenly to look around in a panic. From there, he looked up at a small window that was cracked not too much- just enough for an easy break-in. The building was completely dark, and he assumed it was just wasted office space above the bar. The man seemed to be running from something if not to something. He had cased the place too quickly, or he would have never made entry into this establishment.
James had just robbed the corner market, blowing the man’s brains out that stood behind the counter. The image still burned inside his mind as he ran towards the back of the bar. James knew he’d be facing life in prison. It wasn’t meant to be this way. He had fallen on hard times recently. Drugs became his only way of surviving the harsh reality that had become his life. Using the tipped over trashbin as a stepping stool, he managed to climb up and stuck his fingers inside of the hole in the glass. He moved as quickly and as quietly as he could, unlocking the latch to slide the window open. Why anyone would think this would keep a stranger out, let alone the man in question, was a mystery.
Once inside, he realized that it was someone’s home. Why on earth would anyone live there? It was a dump. There were dog or cat feces in the room, and on the floor was a mattress. He grew sickened when he realized that it was a makeshift child’s bedroom. On the wall above the mattress were drawings, and a stuffed animal was lying on the bed. A dim light was coming from down the hall. James smelled something that sickened him. He nearly lost his breakfast of beer and old french fries. He hadn’t had a proper meal in weeks.
James slowly walked down the hallway, and the smell grew worse, making him want to run back out of the window. Something made him keep going. Perhaps this was his punishment for killing the man at the store. The older man had been nice to him on many occasions.
The store owner would allow him to take food out occasionally, but this one night, James needed the cash. He was ready to come out of his skin the way, so many junkies were.
There were worse things in this world as he would soon find. Making his way further down the hallway, he began to smell what could only be described as death. James covered his mouth and nose in disgust as he made his way towards the end of the hall. He wasn’t sure what he was looking for, but he knew that most likely, the owner of the bar lived here. Cash was still necessary. James had panicked too quickly after shooting the older man. He ran too soon before he could what little money there was in the drawer.
So, James found himself in this building with the smell of Hell in his nose.
He walked further, and there was a door half-cracked with a small lamp on eliminating a low light. The room was where the smell was coming from as it encapsulated his nose, making him sick instantly as he opened the door. It squeaked as it slowly revealed the horrors from within.
Three bodies were sitting on the couch. One was a woman, and the other was of a man and the third. He didn’t even want to look at her. The third body was of a child, and the two adults covered in death with coagulated blood. He slowly closed the door when he heard a tiny voice cry out.
Did he now hear things? Was his guilt haunting him?
“Can you help my mommy and daddy?”
James froze in terror. Was she a ghost come to collect his soul after what he had done?”
“Hello?” he heard her squeak. She sounded hoarse.
Then he heard a cry. The little girl was no ghost.
He opened the door, and he saw her tiny frame standing between the two dead bodies of her parents.
“Are you Santa Clause?”
James looked at her for a second. He didn’t understand until he happened to catch a glimpse of himself in the mirror hanging on the wall in the small room. He had a full gray beard that was nearly white to go along with his long wavy white hair. Strange for someone in their early forties to have achieved such an accomplishment. James recalled getting his first gray hair in his early thirties, and his father said it was a sign of wisdom. He didn’t believe that it was a load of shit.
He didn’t say anything as he looked down at the little child. She wore one red tennis shoe. The other god only knew. The apartment was cold, and he could see she had not eaten in days. Instead, she tugged at her shoestring while she talked to James the only way a small child could.
“Where is your other shoe?” he asked her, managing to smile.
“I lost it when the bad man tried to take me with him. I had to get back to mommy and daddy. He dropped me, and when I woke up, I was here. He’s gone now. He made daddy give him all our money for Christmas. Then he made mommy cry. She stopped crying.”
Talk about hard luck. The family had already been robbed. The killer deserved to be caught, but he would be long gone by now. James deserved to be found out too. It was Christmas, which he only realized when he looked at the calendar on the wall of the tiny living room. Looking around, James noticed a child-like drawing of a Christmas tree hung on the wall, and hand-drawn ornaments decorated it in crayon. He wanted to die suddenly. He thought of the man at the store, and he too had a family.
James looked at her, blinking into focus. He picked the little girl up, and they walked out of the room. They continued down the hallway to the stairs and descended them.
His heart was breaking for this child. Tears wet his eyes, and then she wrapped her arms around his neck, feeling the safety and the warmth of his neck. A neck covered in tattoos, and even though he smelled from not bathing in days, she nuzzled her head inside of his neck. He gathered it felt better than being in this room with decaying carcasses.
He wasn’t sure where he was taking her. When he got out into the cold, he heard sirens just up the street. James knew they would be looking for him. There were cameras in the store where he had killed that man.
James heard a sound suddenly, and when he turned around, he saw something that he would never understand till the day he died. A woman and a man stood by the sewer drain. Behind them was a light that reminded him of what it must be like to go to heaven.
A woman and a man watched him seemingly untainted by humanity. There was something otherworldly about them. The woman had long brown hair, and her cheeks had a creamy ivory glow to them. The man had bright blue eyes, and they smiled at him. James recognized them now as the ghosts of the little girl’s parents.
James felt the child growing limp in his arms. Then he saw a little girl appear between the man and the woman. It couldn’t be the same little girl he carried in his arms!
It was, and when he looked down at the child, she too was now as dead.
James stood in bewilderment.
“You have shown an act of true human kindness.”
“I don’t understand; she was just here talking to me.” James began to cry, and his voice grew hoarse.
The woman and the man approached him. They placed their warm hands upon his shoulder. “Everyone deserves a second chance.” the man said.
“You tried to save me,” the little girl said, placing her pink hand inside of James’s dirty one. “Thank you, and you’re my angel.”
Within moments James found himself back in that corner store staring at the man as the gun was nearly about to go off. James blinked as though he were in a dream.
“Shit!” He dropped the gun.
“Son, are you okay?” asked the old man.
“I-I don’t – I’m sorry!”
“Hey, come back! I can find someone to help you!”
James backed out of the store, running into traffic. He almost knocked over a woman ringing a bell for the Salvation Army.
“Merry Christmas!” she yelled as he ran by.
As he ran, he began to smile, realizing that Angels had to be real, and he was saved by one.
James turned his life around after that night. He realized that life was short and precious. He had no one to thank but the little girl who saved his life — a Christmas Angel.