A Short Christmas Story, cross-posted at the most magnificent website in all the land.
One of the unexpected side-effects of Armageddon was all the unsaved babies Left Behind® by lazy Christians who couldn’t be bothered to schedule a Baptism. Ha, ha! Demonstrating a previously unsuspected fondness for children, Amy hooked up with a neighborhood group that was going through the houses of Raptured-away Christians and rescuing unraptured babies.
I followed along behind them with Jim “Chico” Buehler, rescuing all the unraptured consumer electronics. This turned out to be so lucrative that we both quit our jobs in order to “go looting” full-time. That’s what Amy called it, instead of the racially-appropriate term, “finding.”
“Look! I ‘found’ this T.V.!” I said to the National Guard troops at a neighborhood checkpoint. “I think it’s full of plasma!” They waved me right on through.
From behind his furniture dolly, Chico said, “I ‘found’ this water heater!” He’d walked past all the obvious valuables and gone right for the infrastructure, proving he was smarter than me. “Hey! I’m smarter than you!” he said, heaving his water heater down the street.
What with all the hindsight and retrospect, there was a lot of comical forehead slapping going on after Rapture Day. For instance: now its seems totally obvious that the government-mandated Satan forearm tattoos are the biblical Mark of the Beast. I guess we were expecting something else. Electronic cash, or some damn thing. Fortunately, the tattooos look really tough and badass. Also, all the bumper-sticker warnings about the automotive implications of Holy Rapture seem way more prophetic.
On the other hand, you’ve got your hindblindness, characterized by the fact that, thanks to all the free cars Left Behind® in Christian driveways, everyone drives all the time anyway. The minute I got done scraping the “Jesus is Awesome” sticker off the bumper of my new black Escalade, I used it to drive some underage teenage girls to the Planned Parenthood facility they made out of St. Peter’s on 8th street.
The Holy Rapture happened one sunny Sunday morning in December. Amy and I were heading south on I-35, when all the cars around us were suddenly “unmanned.” I would have thought that anyone who was good enough to get Raptured up into heaven would also have God as their copilot, but all those cars flipping end-to-end Michael Bay-style down the highway pretty much confirmed my atheism. Which is kind of ironic, if you let ironic things bother you.
In a display of quick thinking, Amy steered for the shoulder and gunned it for the exit ramp while I screamed in a way she would later describe as being “like that one girl in that movie with that smelly old guy.” I stared at her blankly. “With the hat,” she added. She was talking about Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, and she was comparing me to Kate Capshaw.
“Whatever,” I said. This was much nicer than “Shut up,” in terms of abruptly dismissing any thoughts or commentaries critical of me and the things I say and do, but just try getting credit for that. Besides, I was too concerned about what the Holy Rapture implied for the East Coast/West Coast gangsta rivalry between the Evolutionists and the Creationists. “Look,” I said. “The newspaper says all the monkeys in all the zoos got Raptured up right along with the Christians. Isn’t that, like, the worst nightmare of both sides?”
Amy had all six of her new babies lined up on the kitchen counter, and she was working her way from one side to the other, changing diapers assembly line-style. “I thought this would be more of a hobby,” she said. It was the same thing she’d said about going into the insurance industry, and also dating me. “We really need to start finding homes for all these babies,” she added, which was all I needed to hear.
The next morning, after fooling around for an hour on the phone with the Department of Child and Family Services, I finally just drove down to the QuikTrip parking lot and sold all the babies out of the trunk.
“Are the babies sleeping?” Amy asked when she got home from work.
“Here, drink this,” I said. I’d prepared for this conversation by making some spiked eggnog. And then hedged that bet by slipping a roofie into Amy’s cup.
After she drank it, I told her about my new venture in what I’d come to think of as gray-market baby distribution. “Two hundred and fifty bucks,” I said, adding, “Nobody would pay for the one with the birthmark, so I gave him away to a man dressed like Santa Claus.” Which wasn’t strictly true, since I’d actually traded the baby to “Santa” for three tabs of Rohypnol.
“You did WHAT?” she screamed, and then passed out.
During the ensuing period of romantic discontent, I got really tired of sleeping in the hallway outside the apartment. Here it was, a week before Christmas, and Amy was acting like Ebenezer Scrooge just because I’d quit my stupid job, and because I’d sold her stupid babies. “Don’t forget slipping me a goddamned roofie,” she kept reminding me. “Enjoy the hallway.” All of which was incredibly selfish. Of her. I finally went over to Chico’s to see if I could sleep on his couch.
“Now, Amy locked you out why, exactly?” he asked.
“Selling white babies from the trunk of the car.”
“That’s pretty bad,” said Andee from under the couch, in her spookiest voice. Chico rolled his eyes. We weren’t supposed to notice she was under there, instead of up in heaven with the other Christians.
He took me aside and explained that Andee was really embarrassed about not being Raptured up. The minute she’d heard about Armageddon on CNN, she’d left a pile of her clothes lying on the living room floor and disappeared into the closet. She’d been hiding in various places around Chico’s apartment ever since, pretending to be some kind of spectral wraith from the heavenly beyond. “Talking in a spooky voice, that kind of thing,” he said. “Just play along. It’ll make my life a lot easier.”
Biblical Armageddon isn’t the apocalypse Chico would have picked. More of a Zombie Holocaust-type-guy, he was disappointed that the undead had totally failed to rise from their graves and feast on the flesh of the living. Still, after a long day of pulling furnaces out of abandoned cellars, he could relax and turn on CNN and watch satisfyingly apocalyptic news stories about the Tribulations and the Final Battle Between Good And Evil and what-not.
I don’t pay a lot of attention to the foreign press, so I wasn’t really up on that whole thing. All I knew was, Surround Sound systems and 12-band equalizers Left Behind® by raptured Jesus enthusiasts weren’t just going to walk out of houses and jump into the trunk of my car by themselves.
“I’m sorry about your girlfriend, man,” said Chico. “It seemed like things were going so well, what with all the lucrative ‘finding’ you’ve been doing…”
“Yeah! Plus I made two hundred and fifty bucks off of some babies she didn’t even want.”
“Are you totally sure about that? ‘Cause I think a lot of the time, when chicks say, ‘I wish I could sell my six babies,’ they don’t really mean it.”
“Chico… Chiii-iiico,” said Andee in a spooky voice. “You must make a sandwich, Chico… leave it on the floor… near the coo-oouch.”
“You know what?” I said. “Amy’s problem is so obvious. She’s a cranky old man who needs to learn the true meaning of Christmas.”
Chico thought for a minute. “Christmas? Do they still have that, without any Christians? Isn’t that like kidney dialysis without any kidneys?”
“I’m no doctor, but if your kidneys are missing, I think dialysis is, like, healthy or something.”
“Then maybe you need brain dialysis,” said Chico.
“Well, maybe you need penis dialysis.”
“I think your vagina is missing. Maybe you need –”
Andee said, “Chico, Jesus urgently wants you to make a Reuuuu-ben sandwich. The sauerkraut is in the friiii-idge.”
“I’ve got it!” I said. “What I need to do is throw a huge Christmas party.”
“For all the unraptured non-Christians.”
“Exactly. I just need a venue.”
I drove around town trying to find a good location, but this close to the holidays, everyone was booked up. At first, I considered the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in downtown Kansas City: lots of space, lots of edgy, transgressive crucifixes and stained glass. All very Christ-y. But since they’d converted it into a Hooter’s, it was way too expensive to rent out for a party. Of course, instead of admitting that I couldn’t afford it without selling more babies, I made it into an integrity thing.
“No way am I throwing a Christmas party at a corporate goddamn restaurant,” I told Chico’s linen closet later.
“The hot wings are delicious,” said Andee.
“Forget it. I’m trying to create a holiday atmosphere. A restaurant full of toothless hill-folk and Toby Keith fans just doesn’t give me that Barton Fink feeling.”
“You should throw your party here, then,” she said. I think she was getting lonely hiding at her boyfriend’s house.
Chico likes parties, so he said yes. We made up invitations that night. “You really think this is going to help you win back your girlfriend?” he asked.
“Look, pal: I’m not trying to ‘win back my girlfriend.’ I’m trying to teach her the true meaning of Christmas because in her unfulfilling pursuit of orphan babies, she’s forgotten about the important things in life.”
“Like what, for instance?”
“Like me, the things I do, and the things I’m interested in.”
To ensure good party attendance, we put EVERYONE GETS PRESENTS right there on the invitation. “I’m pretty sure that won’t work for Amy, though,” I said. Instead, the afternoon before the party, I drove over to the apartment and knocked on the door.
“What do you want?” said Amy.
“Baby, I just want to talk,” I said.
“Well, maybe I don’t want to talk to you.”
“Here, drink this,” I said, and handed her a bottle of Gatorade. With her electrolyte-burning lifestyle of beading and playing Bejeweled, Amy usually can’t resist Gatorade.
I made small-talk for about five minutes until the flunitrazepam kicked in. Once Amy passed out, I got her down to the car Weekend at Bernie’s style, only less convincing as far as the neighbors in the elevator to whom Amy “waved” were concerned.
Alliterative couple Jenn Johnson and Kevin Kesterson arrived for the party before anyone else. Amy was still unconscious, so to avoid any uncomfortable questions, I covered her up with the canvas tarp Chico was using to hide the series of wild stallion paintings he was preparing for a show at the Don Bosco Retirement Home. Exposing Chico’s girly horse paintings had the unintended but fortuitous side-effect of giving us all something to make fun of in case the party chit-chat dried up, which happened almost immediately. We gamely plastered over the conversational gap with speculation about Chico’s interest in other girly activities like soaking in a bubble bath while talking on his princess phone, or enjoying a sit-down pee.
“Shut up, guys,” Chico said vaguely.
“No, I guess the Holy Rapture wasn’t all that convincing,” Kevin was saying to Andee. “Maybe if it had been based on a different bumper sticker. I like that one that says, I’M NOT FONDA JANE.”
“ASS, GRASS, OR GAS,” said Andee. “NOBODY RIDES FOR FREE.” As a Christmas present, Chico had given her a really nice set of 600 thread-count sheets, one of which she was wearing as a disguise so she could mingle, pretending to be a spooky ghost visiting from Jesus Rapture Heaven.
“Exactly. Or, WOMEN CAN’T FART. THEY DON’T HAVE ASSHOLES UNTIL THEY GET MARRIED. That’s an apocalypse I support,” said Kevin.
Nate and John Houston, and Nate’s girlfriend Melanie all arrived at the same time as an uninvited hobo who was wearing a long, dirty wig. Ordinarily, Chico didn’t entertain transients in his home, but it was the holidays. Then Jill Erickson and Diana and the Smith brothers and the Thompsons all showed up, and I’m pretty sure you were there, too.
“What’s wrong with Amy?” asked Melanie.
“Oh, don’t worry. She’s just sleeping one off.”
“Sleeping what off?”
“Well. A roofie, actually. I had to slip one in her Gatorade to get her to the party.”
“Oh. Don’t most people use them to get girls out of parties?”
From under Chico’s tarp, Amy shouted, “You gave me ANOTHER ROOFIE?” I hadn’t even noticed that she was awake. “You son of a bitch! I’ll never trust you again!”
“Here, drink this,” said the wig-wearing hobo, handing Amy a plastic cup. She instantly upended it and swallowed the contents. The uncomfortable silence that followed gave the Current Events part of her brain enough time to catch up with the speedier Motor Control part of her brain. “Okay,” she said. “A filthy man just handed me a cup of liquid and I drank it.”
“Yes. Yes, you did.”
“I need to stop doing that.”
“Drink this,” said Melanie, swapping Amy’s plastic cup for a full one.
“Eat this,” said Andee, handing Amy a brownie.
“Who are you? And where did you get such excellent linens?” asked Amy.
“The Ghost of Christians Past,” said Chico. He was passing out presents from under the tree. He handed Amy a green circuit breaker box with a bow on it. “Merry Christmas,” he said.
“Yeah. Merry Christmas, bunny,” I said. I was passing out the presents I’d made everyone. They were “coupons” for car-washings, lawn-mowings, foot-rubs, and other assorted favors that wouldn’t cost me anything. Unfortunately, I’d sealed all the envelopes before I’d written anybody’s names on them, so they were all mixed up. Fortunately, I had no intention of honoring them.
“Don’t ‘bunny’ me, baby-merchant,” said Amy. “And where the hell is all that money, anyway? Those babies were rightfully mine.”
“Look: I didn’t know how proprietorial you felt about them! Besides, you said you wanted to take them to the baby shelter. I promise, I’ll get you some more babies!”
“Merry Christmas, Chris,” said Chico, handing me a large coil of copper wiring.
“Thanks. Amy, don’t let it end like this,” I said. “Would you honestly break up with me over a bunch of unbaptised babies? Where’s your holiday spirit? It’s Christmas! And it’s Armageddon! Doesn’t anyone know what that means anymore?”
“Sure, Chris Packham,” said Nate. “I can tell you about Armageddon.” He walked to the front of the room. “Lights please,” he said. Andee hit the dimmer switch. Esther Swanson turned on a flashlight and aimed it at him.
“‘The sixth angel poured his bowl on the great river Euphrates,” said Nate, “and its water was dried up in order to prepare the way for the kings from the east. And I saw three foul spirits like frogs coming from the mouth of the dragon, from the mouth of the beast, and from the mouth of the false prophet. These are demonic spirits, performing signs, who go abroad to the kings of the whole world, to assemble them for battle on the great day of God the Almighty. And they assembled them at the place that in Hebrew is called Harmagedon.’”
There was a moment of reverent silence. “Merry Christmas, everyone!” shouted Nate.
The rest of the evening was punctuated with increasingly incongruous Linus moments, during which someone would yell something like, “Doesn’t anyone know the true meaning of alter-isness?” And then the lights would dim, and somebody would quote from Dianetics. And meanwhile, the party-crashing hobo kept pestering me for a goddamn foot-rub.
I’m not sure when Amy learned the True Meaning of Christmas. I think it happened while I was in the bathroom at one point. Maybe it was when Jenn Johnson dimmed the lights and read from the Book of the Subgenius, or when Chris Thompson opened the stainless steel water heater stand Chico gave him for Christmas and started crying. I think maybe it was just being surrounded by all of her friends, with whom we would be damned to hell for all eternity if you believe in that sort of H.P. Lovecraft Doom that Came to Sarnath-type crazy-talk. All I know is, we’re still together for some damn reason.
Merry Christmas! Hail Satan!