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Messages - Slimebeast
Mammon looked at the "final" code once and literally died IRL.
Happy St. Patrick's day, everyone. Sorry to be a bother on a holiday, but I need a bit of advice.
As of this writing, I have what may or may not be a "leprechaun" in my cellar. I know what you're thinking, most likely the words "bull" and "shit" in that specific order.
A little backstory - I've been hearing something knocking around in the walls and under the floors since New Year's. It started pretty much smack bang on January 1st. I figured I had a raccoon or possibly a neighbor's cat climbing into the house for warmth or safety. The neighbors have a ton of feral cats outside that they refuse to spay or neuter.
I noticed the cats have been dying rather a lot over the past few months, ripped apart with guts removed or trailing along grass and over fences. That's why I started to suspect a raccoon, or something else that would fight cats for territory.
I set a trap. It's one of those live capture traps. The humane ones that drop their door when the food plate is triggered. I smeared the trigger with an old can of tuna.
So, yeah. Snap. I heard the thing go off while I was making dinner. Didn't even finish up, just ran downstairs to see if I'd finally gotten the bastard that's been keeping me up all night with the constant scratches and wheezing.
Surprise. Not a cat, not a raccoon. Nothing I've seen before. What I'm looking at, down there, is more like a gnarly old infant. Like a mummified child that someone unwrapped very indelicately. Twisted, kind of atrophied limbs, bulbous head, etc.
I guess it looks like a child in the same way a hairless cat looks like an old man. It's a sort of vague resemblance, but in my head I know this isn't actually a person. It's something below that.
I haven't been able to see the facial features. Its over-sized head is wrapped in a sort of puke-greenish burlap cloth. Like a sack. I can't tell if the fabric is green or if it's stained, the whole thing is slick and I can see it glisten in the dim cellar light when I go down there.
But hey, it's small. It's green. Leprechaun, right? I don't think it's natural. It doesn't feel natural. I get a weird sort of fear response from it. Like magic, I guess. Electro-static stuff, but only in the sense it makes my hair stand on end.
It grumbles and wheezes when I'm on the cellar stairs, but when it sees me, it goes silent. I think maybe it doesn't want to tell me where to find the pot of gold.
This is where the advice part comes in. What do I do with a leprechaun? Do I make a wish, or do I ask where its gold is? I don't want to be violent toward it, but is that how you get the information out?
Overall, the more time I spend down there with the thing, the more I think it's a good idea to let it back out. Maybe follow it back to the end of a rainbow or something.
I really want to let it out. Sometimes I black out a bit and find myself opening the trap while it jitters and hums at me. I don't usually black out like that, I can only guess it's because leprechauns are magical.
It's a leprechaun, right? It's a leprechaun.
I have to let it back out. I'll get gold and wishes when I let it out.
[This story was written at request of Chilling Tales for Dark Nights, in relation to its Animation Kickstarter found here: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/craiggroshek/chilling-tales-for-dark-nights-the-animated-horror ]
I've heard it said that if you want to work in television or film these days, you need to "adapt or die".
This doesn't mean you have to change to fit the tastes of modern audiences, or keep up with current trends or technology. It literally means that if you're pitching your concept to a production company or network, you'd better be adapting an established property, or your project is likely to be dead on arrival.
If you're not hoping to create a prequel, sequel, spin-off, or the much dreaded reboot, you'll want to present an adaptation of something with a pre-existing audience. It seems like executives are less and less willing to take a risk on an original concept, when they can cut corners and use name recognition to put asses in seats.
Don't get me wrong, when I moved out here, I had every intention of making my way on my own. I came with my own series show bibles and series synopses. I started out on the web, making terrible content on New Grounds, and when people started digging my work, I began aiming higher.
Little did I suspect that of all the projects I would be hired to write, none of them would actually turn out to be mine.
So, that's how I was introduced to the concept. Adapt or die. Early on, I got work converting the lesser-known works of Hans Christian Andersen into a modern television crime drama. Thumbelina became a diminutive, tough-talking rookie on a corrupt police force only she could clean up. The Ugly Duckling was re-imagined as a promising young ballet dancer, threatened by a mob boss named Little Claus. Every word I hammered out felt like a nail in my creative coffin, but the studio loved it.
When production wrapped on the first season, I swore on everything I held sacred that I would never do anything like that again. A few tense years scrambling for work changed that, and the next big job I took on involved corrupting a 1970s children's puppet show about whimsical vikings. Under monetary duress, I transformed it into an action-packed major motion picture sextravaganza, starring some fly-by-night starlet who was more adept at showing skin than taste in scripts.
After that, I stopped pretending I had standards.
This is what lead me to Thibault Ward. As the legend went, Mr. Ward had come over to the United States from the Czech Republic when he was a young man. Having only a box of old drawing pencils to his name, he took to drawing caricatures of anyone willing drop a few coins into his tin. Eventually, his artistic skill would catch the notice of the local newspaper, which gave him his first real job as a staff cartoonist.
It was a rags to riches story I would've loved to explore as a character piece. A film about the rise of a young immigrant escaping some unknown old-world persecution would've been a nice change from the recycling center my office had become.
Unfortunately, that was not meant to be. Mr. Ward had become somewhat well-known for a comic strip he had initially created for the paper. One that got him a few book deals and saw his work reprinted across the country in various outlets.
"Fresh Catch" was the name. I suppose it was clever at the time, and the bad wordplay certainly didn't detract from the strip's staying power. The 80s even saw a Fresh Catch cartoon, though it only aired for one season before being replaced with something equally saccharine. They changed the name to “Tunatoons”, as well, which seemed to be an odd choice.
I had actually seen the cartoon as a child, though it hadn't made enough of an impression to be remembered. It wasn't until I was offered the job of adapting Fresh Catch into a live-action film that memories of the short-lived show came creeping back into my brain.
It was essentially a "Tom & Jerry" setup, back when that was actually a new concept. The comic strip featured a small group of anthropomorphic tuna fish, who would engage in ocean-related wordplay and would be involved in various slap-stick scenarios. Where Garfield had pies in the face and hating Mondays, the Fresh Catch fish would constantly fall for fishing hooks hidden in everyday items they would want to keep.
I bought a couple collections of the strip to prepare myself for the project, and I could spot an oft-used formula right away.
Panel One: Tuna fish looking at a random item they would like to keep.
Panel Two: Tuna gives the set-up for a pun or word play.
Panel Three: Tuna tries to take the item, but get snared by a hook and whisked off-panel.
Panel Four: Remaining tuna delivers the punchline, seemingly with no regard for its lost friend.
I didn't see much material to work with in terms of an over-arching story line for a feature-length film, but inventing a plot was something I'd gotten very used to. Just reduce the concept to a skeleton, then slap some mystery meats on until you have your own literary Frankenstein's Monster.
The villain of the comic strip... the Gargamel or Lucy Van Pelt... was a grizzled old fisherman who also happened to be a buck-toothed beaver-man. His name was originally "Old Man Dam", but in later strips a more commercially viable moniker stuck. "Driftwood". The stains on his rain slicker and wading boots could've been fish guts, but it's more likely they were just crudely drawn splashes of water.
The weird thing about this comic strip, as opposed to the aforementioned Tom & Jerry, is that sometimes... the bad guy won. Every so often, a strip would actually end with Driftwood catching and canning one of the tuna characters. It was always some one-off fish who didn't appear in the strip before or after, but I found it to be a disturbing creative choice nonetheless.
The cans would go on a shelf in the beaver character's fishing shack, along with the many others he'd managed to catch. I was just glad he never seemed to eat any of them. Not when kids reading the strip could see, at least.
I figured it would be easy enough, in the end. A nuclear family of live-action actors go out on their boat one day for a wholesome vacation. A storm hits, they're magically transported to an island where they meet a bevy of annoying CGI tuna who won't shut up. Driftwood and his gang of dock-worker otters menace the happy, colorful tuna fish, and eventually the family saves them. Roll credits, move merchandise.
Early talk behind the scenes had Ryan Reynolds as the father, and it was mentioned that Ice Cube might lend his voice to a rapping tuna.
Then I met the illustrious Mr. Ward.
I've sat down with plenty of weirdos in my time. Studio execs who are very obviously coked out of their minds, eccentric actors who want to pick my brain about how their pointless, forgettable character would behave, and so on. Mr. Ward was different, though.
He lived in squalor, which was surprising considering the modest legacy he had created. I suppose whatever deals he had made as a young man were short-sighted and not very beneficial to him. His home looked all but abandoned, with a yard full of random debris and clusters of rusted, old rain barrels. When I pulled into the bumpy dirt driveway, I finally realized how far I had truly traveled from any sign of civilization.
Apparently, Mr. Ward enjoyed solitude. I can understand being drawn to the peace and quiet of wooded property on the outskirts of town, but suffice to say it's not for me. I couldn't imagine an elderly person living so far away from any form of medical assistance by choice.
The old man was insufferable. Crooked and gnarled like the dead trees outside his run-down house, Mr. Ward looked like someone who should've been afraid of a random stranger like myself. Instead, he was quite the opposite, barking at me to get inside before I let in mosquitoes, and demanding I take a seat and stop acting nervous.
It was difficult to believe a somewhat funny comic strip had come out of such a humorless old man. I was deeply regretting the decision to look him up, even before he insisted I drink bitter, stale tea from a cup that still had crust on the lip.
To say Mr. Ward's visage was unpleasant is an understatement. It wasn't the ruddy, wrinkled skin or the wild brow and ear hair that put me off. It was the scowl... a scowl so overstated and outlandish that it would've been more at home on a drawing of Driftwood than on a human face. Especially since they seemed to share the same prominent two front teeth.
"You must be wondering why I asked to meet with you." I croaked, choking down the scalding water that was barely passable as a legitimate beverage.
"No." Mr. Ward shook his head, taking his own cup in shaking hands, "You're one of the movie men. The last in a long line of snake oil salesmen who wish to bastardize my work."
I chuckled awkwardly, but it wasn't a joke. I already knew that.
"I know what you mean," I tried to relate to the old man, "Believe me, the last thing I wanted to do with my career was adapt other people's ideas. But hey, look at it this way... you're the first creator I can actually sit down and talk to. You can tell me what you do or don't like, and I can maybe change this or that according to your opinions."
Mr. Ward sat back for a moment, breath whistling through his nose, as he seemed to consider my words. It was like watching a very old, dried-out gourd trying to process a head full of burrowing mites.
"What I would like from you," Mr. Ward finally said, "Would be for you to leave my work alone. You will not adapt it. You will ruin it. You will corrupt it. You do not create, you destroy. If you have any respect for people who actually dream, who invent, you will not put your hands on my characters or my world."
Slightly taken aback, I defended a process I deeply hated. Sure, the end product I would produce was going to be intellectual garbage, but I had seen the comic strip and it wasn't exactly comedy gold.
"Well, don't you want your story to reach a wider audience? A new generation of children? Surely you created the comic strip to bring joy and laughter to kids, so why not let others take up the project and grow the viewer base?"
"These doodles, they may seem small and ridiculous to you. To me, they are very important. There is a piece of myself in these strips. Every poorly made doll or shirt that bares my creation rips another piece of my work away from me. It becomes less special. Less meaningful."
The discussion was tense, and it dragged on for an hour or more. As cranky as Mr. Ward was, he was far from stupid... so in the end, he knew that no matter how much he objected, the rights to his work hadn't belonged to him for a very long time. The most he could really hope to do was guide my hand a bit.
Eventually, he relented and did give me some advice about the project. Mostly, he spoke of the way his strip represented 'real life' and 'the truth of human nature'. I had to stifle a laugh or two here and there. He clearly thought very highly of himself.
"The fishes can be smart, but they are easy to manipulate." Mr. Ward explained, "It is integral to the story that you show they are victims of their own wants and compulsions. The boys are caught by things like baseballs, toy trucks, trinkets that catch their eye."
Then, the old man's outdated opinions started to show through.
"The girls, they desire things like beautiful dresses, cakes and candies. They are also not as wily as the boys. Not as clever. Women frequently cause problems that the men must step in and solve."
When I was content, if not comfortable, with the information and opinions I had received, I said my goodbyes and promised Mr. Ward he would be happy with the final product. Neither he nor I believed that, I'm sure.
In the following weeks, I set to work on an early draft of the script. As mentioned, I went with the "family gets sucked into a land of adventure" thing. I got word that Driftwood was going to be a live action character, which meant no gnawing down trees or flattening people with his tail unless I wanted to make the actor, possibly Vincent D'onofrio, very uncomfortable.
I also removed the morbid concept of Driftwood catching and canning the tuna fish. Ones that children would no doubt become attached to. Sending kids out of the theater in tears wasn't really a good way to sell more tickets. Instead, I threw in a foreboding threat of "selling the island to developers" as the villain's main motivation. Hey, it worked in every other children's property ever written...
I had to admit that while most of the original creator's words about not adapting his work and preserving outdated gender roles fell on deaf ears, something about the whole thing did cause me to rethink something. Maybe this time, just this time, I would leave my name off of the finished film. A pseudonym would work, and while I was more than ready to accept the paycheck, there would realistically be little to no notoriety to claim from this. Maybe disassociating myself was an easy, perhaps lazy form of protest – but it was still protest nonetheless.
I had just finished my first draft when the phone rang. It happened so perfectly, that if I had seen it in a story, I would never have believed it could happen. The moment I typed the “D” in “END”, the ring snapped me out of my creative focus.
Thibault Ward was dead, and the movie was off. The timing was even more unbelievable than that of the call. At first, I saw little reason to cancel the film project based on Ward's death alone. Then, the details were filled in for me.
In his old age, Mr. Ward had clearly been unable to keep his property in acceptable condition. After many warnings, countless fines, and several threats of action, the county finally sent a crew out to remove the junk he had accumulated.
There was a gunshot, and they found the man dead at his kitchen table. Recently emptied tea cup overflowing with blood. Self-inflicted wound to the head. His death was instant, with the barrel clenched between his odd teeth.
Mr. Ward didn't kill himself over the county's decision to dispose of his things. Not entirely, anyway.
The barrels. Apparently, the ones I had seen in his front lawn were just the tip of the iceberg. There were supposedly barrels scattered across his back yard, and filling a shed out back. There were even two or three barrels stacked in closets in his house.
Inside the barrels? Kids. From very young to nearly teen-aged. Many, many children from as-of-yet undetermined decades. It would be a very long time before they could all be identified, but some were said to be in such a state of decay that Mr. Ward must've been doing this well back into his early years as a cartoonist.
It's been over a year, now, and I'm still trying to wrap my head around the whole thing. All I know is that the Fresh Catch movie is definitely canceled with absolutely no plans in the works to revive the project. I was paid a pittance for what little work I was able to accomplish, and I quickly had to move on to a SyFy channel adaptation of that old “Flying Purple People Eater” song.
They expect me to wring 12 episodes out of that thing, possibly more if they're desperate enough to renew it. I'm not kidding.
I'm thinking that once everything is sorted out, once there's some more insight into who these kids were, where they were abducted from, and why Thibault Ward might've done what he did, maybe I'll revisit this whole thing with fresh eyes. As soon as it's not “too soon”.
I'm almost positive that I can adapt this into a pretty decent horror movie.
This will probably get annoying for both of us, but I have to change a few names in this post. Basically, I signed a non-disclosure agreement with a certain corporation, and I'm not even supposed to be sharing what I'm about to say. Changing the names will at least give me some little shred of legal safety.
In fact... for legal purposes, I'll go ahead and say this story is completely fictional, and any relation to real-world events is a total coincidence. Plus, let's be honest. Any attempts at tracking my account will not work, but you're welcome to try.
So... There's this company called "Zillion", that I'm sure you've all heard of. They're probably one of the most well-known corporations in the world, and everyone with an internet connection has definitely used their search engine at least once.
Zillion started out with a simple motto. "Never be bad". The idea was that they were a different sort of company, one that actually cared about the users, their happiness, and above all else, their privacy.
That last concern went out the window pretty quickly. Now it's all about serving targeted advertisements and collecting data. In fact, I've heard that Zillion itself has more information on citizens than any world Government.
All of this is why I was highly skeptical about their intent when they launched the "Donational" project. They claimed it was the next step in crowd funding and charitable giving, but I'm sure I wasn't alone in thinking there had to be some major catches.
The premise was simple enough. Two randomly selected applicants to the program, one male, one female, would be given the new "Zillion Specs" internet-connected glasses to wear during every waking moment. A group of 100 other applicants would then be able to watch a live stream of these two subjects at any time they chose, using a very secure browser-based control panel through Zillion's subsidiary video platform, "ViewPipe".
In other words, you could see through the eyes of these two subjects at pretty much any time of day. The only time the glasses were allowed to be disconnected from streaming, by contract, was between 8 PM and 6 AM Pacific Standard Time. That was to allow for sleep, showers, etc. Exceptions could be made for bathroom breaks, but Zillion seemed oddly specific about their duration in the original application process.
Now, on to the crowd funding aspect. The 100 viewers were given randomly assigned names combining an adjective and an animal name. For example, users would be known as RedShark, PurpleFlea, etc. These users also each received a healthy daily allowance of "Z Points", which they could send to the two streamers at any point they chose. Points would roll over from day to day, and if the project had officially launched, these points would've been purchased with real world currency.
If you're lost by now, I guess I would sum up the whole thing like this: Viewers watch the streamers in their day to day lives, and give their Z Points to a streamer when they want to support them.
In practice, I suppose the final service would've allowed viewers to enter the Donational website, select what kind of person or project they wanted to support, and then monitor the work and deeds of whoever represented the cause and wore the Zillion Specs.
Streamers would then be able to withdraw the Z Points in the form of real money... with Zillion taking their cut, of course.
Right away, BlueMule was a problem. I saw him in one of the stream chats on the very first day, when the streams began. I had started off watching the male subject, dubbed "Keith", though I'm sure it wasn't his real name.
BlueMule was an obvious troll. There were strict moderators in place to keep chat from getting unruly, but I could tell he was testing the limits. He knew exactly what to say and how to say it in order to avoid actually triggering punishment. He'd twist the arm just enough before it broke.
At one point, BlueMule asked if Keith was gay after the streamer had randomly looked at a passing man's body on the street. When people asked why he would say that, he explained that he was just wondering if Zillion was representing alternate lifestyles properly.
I don't think anyone believed that, but there was no real way to prove his concern wasn't legitimate.
BlueMule is actually the reason I switched from watching Keith's stream to watching Kelly's. The moderator presence was kind of having a chilling effect on the flow of the chat, and I didn't enjoy the extra surveillance he was forcing on us.
Kelly was an interesting choice for the program. Whereas Keith was the standard blonde "surfer dude" who was hoping to get funding for a new board and gear, Kelly was looking for help with her terminally ill mother, and possibly opening a dress shop if that funding goal was met.
She seemed sad. All the time. It wasn't something incredibly obvious, but when we watched through her eyes and heard her speak, there was always a little bit of a dark cloud in her voice. She enjoyed an ice cream cone, strawberry cheesecake, I think, but went on to say it reminded her of when her mom took her out for ice cream. She saw a stray cat and stopped to pet it, then asked if it used to have a warm bed before it was thrown out.
Everything had that sort of depressing tinge to it, which I guess is why she wasn't getting anywhere near the same Z Points that Keith was.
As the days went on, viewers helped Keith pick which type of board he was going to buy, what graphics it would have, and so on. It quickly became a system of putting numbers into the stream chat to signal which choice would "win". Almost as quickly, Keith realized his missed opportunity and switched to making us vote with Z Points.
"Donate now for this design... okay, donate now for this one...." and so on. Very smart, if not subtle.
Kelly had a day where her grand total of Z Points earned came to 200. Barely anything, and before Zillion's cut. She had spent the day in bed, not saying anything, with her Zillion Specs on the nightstand, facing an empty section of her bedroom. Some of us speculated that she had gotten a bad call about her mother during the stream's down time, but no one knew for sure.
At first, people sent her Z Points to try to cheer her up, but BlueMule had come over at this point and "helpfully" stated that she wouldn't see the donation alerts if she wasn't wearing the glasses.
It went down hill from there. Far and fast.
They didn't care if she had tears in her eyes, or snot in her nose. The fact that she was crying did little to stop what was happening.
It didn't take a brain surgeon to figure it out. Kelly realized that she was getting donations when she was in front of the mirror. Donations that grew when she would adjust her top, and would shrink if she was doing her make-up or just primping in general.
I don't know how serious the situation was with her mom, but Kelly went to a very dark place... and BlueMule was there to crack every borderline joke possible.
Kelly outpaced Keith in donations when her streams became largely about trying on bathing suits. Painting her toenails and putting lotion on her feet weren't as popular, but had their own dedicated fan base with Z Points to burn.
She ended up looking completely dead inside. There was a definite clause about nudity in the application we'd seen, but in the same way BlueMule knew how to avoid a ban, Kelly became an expert at showing "everything but".
I started watching Keith again, after it became apparent this was going to be Kelly's life going forward. The chat moderators seemed oddly tight-lipped about the direction things had taken, as if they'd been notified by higher-ups that they needed to be very careful about not supporting or condemning the behavior.
After all, this was all data for the test run, right?
Keith's streams were boring and predictable as I'd expected, especially after the descent into depravity I had just witnessed. After he was basically getting nothing in terms of Z Points, he was far less interested in interacting with the chat. He would do things like wear the Zillion Specs on his forehead, angled at the ceiling, while he watched television or ViewPipe videos.
I was in Keith's stream when Kelly was killed.
I phrase it that way, because I'll always blame the viewers for what happened. Someone popped into Keith's chat and shouted, in capslock, that everyone needed to come to Kelly's stream right away. Watching Keith's ceiling fan spin wasn't really doing much for me, so I switched over quickly.
As was now usual in Kelly's streams, I could see a mirror. The Zillion Specs were lying on the bathroom counter, and the sink was painted with red streaks. A previously white towel was now entirely damp and crimson.
I asked what was going on, but the chat was flying by at this point and I could tell people were already tired of explaining the situation to a constant stream of newcomers. I only found out later that someone had been funnelling an extreme amount of Z Points into Kelly's account. Someone who had apparently saved all of their points... they had donated to no one, until that very night.
They started coming in when Kelly got a paper cut and looked at the blood on her finger for a split second. She noticed, and, putting two and two together quickly, tried making a small cut on the palm of her hand.
Blood. Money. More blood. More Money. Lots of blood. Lots of money. Eventually, she must've hit an artery by mistake.
Zillion shut the chat down and the screen went black. Within moments, the URL wasn't even reachable. It was like the project hadn't even existed.
I mean, you'd have to be kind of stupid to not see what company I'm referring to, here. Go ahead and try to find any mention of them running a crowd funding social experiment using their patented internet-connected lenses and video streaming website. It's completely white washed.
Hell, this is probably why they stopped promoting those lenses in the first place.
Those of us seeking answers set up a small, private group to discuss what exactly had happened. Unfortunately, in our haste, we put it right on Zillion's failed social media platform, "Zillion Sphere", and it was found and deleted on the third day it existed.
What I did find out, however, was this... BlueMule was probably far worse than any of us even realized.
One member of the group said he had chatted with the user at one point, asking what he did or didn't give Z Points for. It was a common question at the time, since everyone was anonymous and we could only really connect with each other by discussing the project.
BlueMule's answer was innocuous at the time, but given his penchant for wordplay and pushing boundaries, it's taken on a much more chilling tone, now.
"I'm saving mine for when someone really opens up to me."
I don't know what Zillion was thinking, really. Someone as obviously sick and antagonistic as BlueMule should never have gotten past the first phases of test group selection.
What's more, it seemed like they didn't even take any action after the fact. I can't say for sure, since this isn't first-hand information, but multiple sources in the group remember BlueMule dropping a few hints about his true identity... again, something that was expressly forbidden.
"If you watch ViewPipe, you've seen me. "
It's a disturbing thought, to say the least. Who would be so important to Zillion that they'd not only let him into the project despite all red flags, but would also protect him to that degree?
If Zillion has its way, I suppose we'll never know.
I didn't know I was poor until December, 2005. I was 8 years old, and as an only daughter, I was showered with enough love and attention that I barely noticed the absence of possessions.
That Christmas Eve, though, I learned a few things. That year, they held a “Toys for Tots” styled event at the local video store. Customers were encouraged to drop a toy into a cardboard box to earn points toward a free rental. I'd seen the box before, and even asked my mom if we should donate something 'for a poor kid'. That's how oblivious I was.
That day, my parents brought me to the store to return Prisoner of Azkaban. When I saw Santa seated on a throne in the middle of the room, I immediately knew I was really there to see him. I was ecstatic as we waited, and I could barely keep from breaking into nervous tears as I got up into his lap.
The man looked weathered and weary, with a notable wart at the corner of his eye. He wasn't what I'd been expecting, but I'd visited grandparents before so I wasn't put off by his rough, reddish-yellow complexion. What really caught my notice was the smell. It wasn't overwhelming, but he smelled like my friend's baby brother. Like a musty diaper. I shifted uncomfortably as I felt the crackle of plastic in his lap.
“Ho ho ho!” he exclaimed, dispelling any misgivings. “What would you like for Christmas?” I told him everything I wanted, though I hadn't had any prep time. I asked for a job for my dad, which must have seemed thoughtless. After my parents took pictures, I was off Santa's lap and on solid ground.
“Go over and pick out a present!” Santa boomed, giving me a guiding hand to a small, folding card table. That's when it hit me. A cold feeling hit the pit of my stomach. He wanted me to pick out a toy for a poor kid.
I looked to my parents, sure they'd gesture for me to leave the table and come back to them. Instead they nodded and smiled, completely unaware of the mental crisis I'd stumbled into. I reached for a box in blue paper.
“No!” Santa boomed again, a sudden harsher tone wrapping his voice in thorns. It softened again as he continued, “Blue is for good little boys. Pink is for sweet little girls.” I obediently selected a pink box before scurrying back to my mom in a miniature panic.
I couldn't open that present on Christmas morning. I thought it'd be a broken, dirty doll someone dropped into the donation box instead of throwing it away. I'd never been selfish like that, but being surprised with the idea that I needed charity played havoc with my young, fragile outlook on life.
Dad ended up opening it for me, assuming I was too humble to accept it. I didn't correct him as he pulled out a new, pristine-looking white teddy bear. I instantly fell in love, naming him Snowy Bear. I learned a lot that year, and I don't mean that we weren't rich. I learned what it meant to appreciate the kindness of others, and that our finances didn't make us lesser as people.
Many years later, while unpacking in my new apartment, I pulled the shedding, bedraggled Snowy out of a forgotten box. Feeling nostalgic, I hugged the old bear tightly. So tightly, in fact, that the wireless camera fell free from his eye socket.