BY KB HURST
Garbage lined the quiet street with dirty papers, bottles, and cans. One trash bin was 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. Stopping 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 old 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 actually 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 laying 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 actually 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 old 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 revulsion 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 old man. He ran too quickly before he could what little cash 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. It was the room he was sure of it. The smell encapsulated his nose and made his eyes water. He grew sick instantly as he opened the door. It squeaked as it slowly revealed the horrors from within.
There were three bodies sitting on the couch. One was a woman, the other was of a man and the third. He didn’t even want to look at her. The third was of a child. There was old coagulated blood on the walls and on the two adults. The child was covered in death. He slowly closed the door when he heard a tiny voice cry out.
Was he hearing things?
“Can you help my mommy and daddy?”
James was frozen 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. This 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, 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 killer would be long gone by now. The family had already been robbed. He deserved to be caught. James deserved to be caught too. It was Christmas which he only realized when he looked at the calendar on the wall of the tiny living room. Looking around he 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, 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 down 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 smelled 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.
He 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. They seemed fresh 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 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 as the bodies he had found in that room.
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 angelic 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, 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.