The Old Grey Wall
by Paul Liadis

Author’s note: originally entered in the “Silent Grey” contest at The Clarity of Night

For most men, their most fond childhood memory involves playing catch in the backyard with their dad, like the ending of The Natural. Mine’s a little different. Mine is of the old grey wall outside of the apartment Mom and I lived in when I was a boy. We had electricity most of the time, hot water occasionally, but the old grey wall was always there.

Mom used to come home late from work only to find me outside throwing the beat-up Rawlings baseball Grandpa gave me against the wall, imagining I was Ozzie Smith roaming the Busch Stadium infield. I was too small to make the baseball team, but on that gravel filled pavement I was an All Star. For years I was sure I held the record for most throws, 5,429, without a miss and if the Guinness Book of Records people ever happened to be in my neighborhood, I would be famous.

I still return from time to time to my home town to visit my mother, who now lives in a nice little Ranch not too far from the city. That dilapidated excuse of an apartment building burned down a few years ago but the old grey wall remains. I rarely miss the chance to visit my old friend, only now I bring my son with me and we stand in front of that old grey wall and have a catch together. Sometimes, I miss the ball on purpose, just to give my friend a turn.

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We Are Santa’s Elves

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It’s not always Christmas at the North Pole. Obvious, I know. People seem to think it’s candy canes, hot cocoa, and songs about snow all the time. We work hard too, though, and sometimes things are rough,like the time Santa barged into my office and told me we had to let some of the elves go. Worst day of my life.

The problem was, people would rather buy their toys from Wal-Mart or order them on-line than take the time to write a letter to Santa, not knowing if they were truly naughty or nice. We simply no longer needed so many workers.

It’s not like I didn’t try to improve our lot here in the North Pole. It was my idea to try Google adWords, to get people to consider us when they were searching the web for toys. Also, I figured it was time to pull back on the Santa’s Helpers program. When we first launched the program, it was important to get “Santa” out in the malls, to meet the kids and get their Christmas wishes directly. The Santa’s Helpers program, though clever at the time, was clearly no longer effective. And let’s be honest, Santa is an intimidating guy, more so when he is represented by a washed up alcoholic with a fake beard. Some screaming toddler peeing on some poor guy making minimum wage wasn’t helping anybody. We don’t need that type of publicity.

Not long after I broke the news to those poor elves, spending a few nights on the couch for letting a few of them crash at my place without the misses’ blessing in the process, I was walking past Ol’ Saint Nick’s office and noticed something peculiar. Sitting at Santa’s desk, with a big old grin on his face, laughing it up with the big guy, was that good for nothing Boddant. I was screwed.

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Boddant always had it out for me ever since Santa chose me as Head Elf over his father. Boddant was only a kid then, too young to realize his father was a crook who sold our secrets to the Sears Catalog people. I’ve had to watch my back with that one ever since.

I tried to eavesdrop on Boddant and Santa’s conversations, hoping to find out why they were so chummy all of a sudden. One day, as I was passing by Santa’s office I heard him yell “That’s it. BaioFan3479 is officially on the naughty list.” I hadn’t heard Santa yell that loudly since one of the Elves threatened to quit and go into dentistry. Curious, I returned to Santa’s office after everyone had gone home for the night, fired up Firefox, and checked out his browsing History. To my surprise, Santa was frequenting eBay. This was the man who had just recently proclaimed the Internet was a “dying fad”.

It was clear to me that Boddant had shown Santa eBay in order to distract him from what was going on in the shop. It was well known throughout the North Pole that Santa was a huge Scott Baio fanatic. Who hadn’t heard the story of how Mrs. Claus accidentally threw away Santa’s May 1986 issue of Teen Beat, with Scott Baio on the cover? With eBay, Santa could finally replace his lost heirloom. Boddant was merely exploiting this weakness. While Old Kris Kringle was out there browsing items on eBay, Boddant was standing over his shoulder telling Santa how bad I was performing, trying to get me fired. Well, I wasn’t going down without a fight.

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At first, I tried to talk to Santa directly, hoping to give him my side of the story. Unfortunately, you couldn’t coax Santa away from the computer with a ten foot candy cane and a bottle of Peppermint Schnapps. Without Santa, we were forced to guess on the Naughty or Nice list. No one knew the formula Santa used. This hurt Elf morale, causing us to fall further behind, fulfilling Boddant’s lies. If things didn’t change soon, we would not be ready for Christmas.

A few weeks before Christmas, I saw Boddant scamper down the hall and duck into his office, closing the door. This was followed by a steady stream of profanity flowing out of Santa’s mouth. I got up to try to calm the big guy down. The door was locked, so I walked back down the hall. Something was wrong with the whole situation, I thought myself. Was Boddant simply trying to avoid Santa’s wrath, or was something else happening? The next time I saw the little punk ducking out of Santa’s office, I tailed him. What I witnessed made everything clear.

Boddant was sniping Santa’s eBay bids, forcing him to spend more time on eBay on his elusive quest for Baio memorabilia. For the good of Christmas, and my job, Boddant had to be stopped. If Boddant was the one winning all those auctions, though, what was he doing with all the Scott Baio merchandise?

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Well, December 18th came around and I still had not completely figured out Boddant’s plan. The mood at the North Pole continued to deteriorate, though I was somehow able to hold things together.”Think of the children” was only going to last so long, though. Lucky for me, that was the day the FedEx guy showed up, with several packages for Boddant. Even better, I had the janitorial staff watching him and they told me they saw him place the packages in one of the closets in the reindeer stalls. On careful inspection, it was clear Boddant was stockpiling the stuff so he could give it to Santa. My only hope rested with a desperate phone call to my cousin in the States.

Christmas Eve, Santa called a surprise staff meeting, something he hadn’t done since the Great Cabbage Patch Kids Shortage of 1983. Santa strode to the podium, looking happier than I had seen him in quite some time. Standing to his right was Boddant, looking as though he just won the lottery. A hush came over the crowd of Santa’s elves. Santa was wearing a vintage Charles in Charge baseball cap.

“I know a lot of you are unhappy and are worried about your jobs,” said Santa in a voice that was at once authoritative and yet reassuring. “I think with a few changes, we can turn this thing around.” He was looking at me.

I checked my watch, beads of sweat forming on my forehead. It was going to be close.

Santa continued, “We need new ideas, new leadership, so that’s why I’m asking..”

Santa’s was interrupted by a voice was heard from afar. “Hold on Santa, I have something to tell you…” The entire place went silent, save for the sound of Boddant’s jaw dropping to the floor with a thud. The mysterious man walked over to me, put his arm around my shoulders, and said, “… I think you need to reconsider.”

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Scott Baio pointed to Boddant forcefully, “That man has been sneaking behind your back taking what was righfully yours. While you’ve been distracted, my good friend here has been holding things together. If it wasn’t for him, no one would be getting a gift for Christmas this year.”

The look on Santa’s face was the same look he had created on so many countless children’s faces throughout the centuries. Santa’s Christmas wish had come true. I’m not sure he even heard what Mr. Baio said, but I knew all was forgiven. Santa walked up to Scott and shook his hand. Then he did something I will never forget. He looked me in the eye, whispered “I’m Sorry”, and gave me the type of hug only Santa Claus could give. My Christmas wish had come true as well.

Scott signed autographs for the Elves right up until midnight, when he and Santa boarded the sleigh, delivering toys throughout the world. He stayed at the North Pole the rest of the winter at the Claus’s house, helping the big guy take a much needed break.

Needless to say, I kept my job as Head elf and was even made in charge of the Technology Team at the north pole, tasked with keeping on top of current technologies and how they could help operations. Santa was back to his old self, and in fact was even more dedicated to making children across the world’s dreams come true. Boddant was relegated to the reindeer pens, which was probably the worst job at the North Pole. You do not want to be near the reindeer pens after Rudolph has tasted some of Mrs. Claus’ chili.

Business eventually rebounded at the North Pole, thanks in part to royalties Santa received from The Polar Express and to a lesser degree The Santa Clause 3. Were it not for one man, though, I would probably not have a job. I will never forget the year that Chachie saved Christmas.

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It’s Hard out Here for a Baby

This story was originally published at Write Stuff as part of their Creative Carnival.

Life isn’t easy for a baby. No one seems to understand me. Sure every once in a while they do something amusing and I flash them a smile. Overall, however, these so-called grownups, the people are supposed to be in charge, don’t seem to know what they’re doing. I hope it isn’t like this my whole life.

Just the other day, my parents were preparing for a trip to the grocery store. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy watching them run around the house, gathering diapers and bottles, and always forgetting something. What makes me mad is when they strap me into that horrible chair, which if it’s use wasn’t banned by the Geneva Convention, it should have been. The seatbelts always scratch my neck and keep me from touching my toes, which I would have you know I just recently discovered. On top of this, they pick me up and put my stupid chair in the car backwards, so the only thing I get to look at on the trip is the back of the car!

Whoa, look at that! It’s my hand…Cool…

Sorry, where was I? Oh yeah. I was strapped into the seat on our way to the grocery store. I cried for a while just to let them know I wasn’t happy with the whole seating arrangement. After that, I figured I could use a nap and just as I was dozing off, the parents were jerking me out of my car seat and into my stroller. This contraption might be a pleasant change if it wasn’t so filthy from being in the trunk of the car all day.

By the way, what’s up with the grocery store? It all seems pointless to me. Can’t you people be like the rest of us and eat the natural way? I don’t get my food off some shelf at the Piggly Wiggly, if you know what I mean.

My parents managed to go through every aisle of the store and pick out all of their food without banging my stroller on anything too often. Of course they forgot the one item they were buying for me. I tried to tell them they forgot diapers, but they just wouldn’t listen. They thought I just wanted to be held. Whatever the reason for the miscommunication, it means in a few hours I will be strapped into the seat again and paraded around the store.

Anyhow, I haven’t eaten in two hours and fifty-five minutes, and it doesn’t seem like anybody notices. Enough of this, someone better feed me soon… “Waaaaaaaa!”

Hungry like the Wolf

This was an entry for a contest at The Clarity of Night. Out of 100 entries, it received an honorable mention. 

“I’m so lame,” Scott thought to himself as he stood staring at the sky, noticing the moon as it peeked through the clouds. It had been months since Scott started attending the werewolf “mixers”, and in that time he had yet to even talk to a member of the opposite sex. Suppressing the urge to howl, so cliché, he continued down the lonely path in the woods to the old wooden cabin.

Waiting for him outside the party was his best friend Ron. Ron had been a werewolf much longer than Scott and always seemed to know what to say. Ron’s advice to Scott regarding women was to “be confident”, but Scott could not for the life of him see what he was to be confident about.

“Excellent! Two chicks for every guy,” said Ron as the two friends entered the cabin, which smelled a combination of hair, smoke and alcohol. Basically, if a drunken dog caught on fire and wound up at the party, no one would have batted an eye.

Scanning the room, Scott caught the eye of a particularly curvy brunette. “Go get ‘er,” said Ron, nudging Scott not-so-subtly in the back.

For what seemed like the longest walk of his life, Scott approached the brunette hoping desperately his walk wasn’t as awkward as it seemed.

“Hello,” offered the young lady in a voice that surpassed her looks and suggested to Scott more than chit-chat.

“Nice beard,” mumbled Scott, realizing it would again be a lonely night.

Frank – A Halloween Short Story

I will never forget the time I met Frank. It was the first day of kindergarten and I had just built a huge fort out of those big, blue, plastic blocks. Just as I took a step back to admire my work along came Frank, plowing through my masterpiece head first, knocking it all to the floor. As tears welled in my eyes, Frank put his hand on my shoulder and said “Ugh.” Frank always knew what to say. From that moment on, we were inseparable.

Frank had a style all of his own. I don’t think I ever saw him wear anything other than that gray blazer/black T-shirt combo. It wasn’t the most conventional outfit for a five year old, but Frank wasn’t a conventional guy. By the time we were in High School, Frank made it work.

The girls in our class were always into Frank, though I’m not sure why. I could never put my finger on what he had that I didn’t. Maybe it was because he was tall, though I think that had to do with those square platform shoes he always wore. Frank also had the classic square jaw of a movie star, though he also had a matching square head. He topped this look with a flattop, and I’m not talking about his hair. His head was literally flat. How did no one notice this?

When we started high school, Frank immediately caught the eye of Coach Legman, our school’s varsity football coach. Frank had never mentioned any affinity for football in the past, but I guess he decided he would give it a try and immediately became starting varsity Tight End, the first freshman in school history to start every game. I don’t think there was one cheerleader that Frank didn’t date.

I thought about playing football too, but my Mom wouldn’t let me. She was afraid I would get hurt. Instead, I decided to play clarinet in the school marching band. It was Frank who came to my rescue whenever the football team tried to fit me in the Bass Tuba. He was so angry I thought I could see smoke rising out of his bolts, though it may have been the light reflecting off the spit on my glasses.

Frank was almost voted Homecoming King our senior year. Rumor had it that he was too modest and took his name out of the running. I think the real reason was that he couldn’t find a tux collar that would fit over the bolts in his neck.

Towards the end of our senior year, Frank was recruited by several major colleges to play football. I can’t say why I wasn’t shocked when he chose to attend Notre Dame. Somehow it just seemed like a good fit.

Frank lived with his uncle Dr. Frankenstein in a dark old house on top of the hill that for some reason always seemed to attract lightning. I’m not quite sure what type of doctor Frank’s uncle was, though my guess is that some college is handing our doctorates for being a jerk. For example, he was always saying things to Frank such as “Respect me. I made you.” Total crap. Frank earned everything he achieved on his own merits. Frank never told me why he lived with his uncle and not his parents, and I never asked.

The summer before college, Frank and I were hanging out at his house and there was quite a commotion outside. We both ran to the window only to see several hundred people from town carrying pitchforks and torches. I’m not sure exactly what their problem was, though I heard a few days later something about Frank not getting someone’s daughter home before curfew. I still don’t think that warrants people calling him a monster, though. Besides, who in the suburbs owns a pitchfork?

Frank and his uncle left town soon after that, and I lost contact with Frank. I followed his football career at Notre Dame in the paper, always proud to hear what my old friend had accomplished. I had to smile when I saw him on ESPN on draft day, still wearing that goofy blazer as they announced him as the #1 draft pick. I have to admit I teared up a little when he rumbled to the podium and said “Arrgh”, because I knew he was talking to me.

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