Tag Archives: Merry

A Christmas Story 2014 ®

This is sequel to A Christmas Story 2012 ®

You can read it by clicking the picture below and add to the experience of this story

StuyTown_Xmas_tree

Snow is falling on a Christmas Eve night as a man makes his way across a factory parking lot to his small truck with an armload of boxes. The hood to his thick, brown denim jacket protects his shiny, bald head from the chilly night. He lifts a tarp that is covering the contents of his truck bed, and snow slides off as he lays what he is carrying inside. A radiating smile lights up his face as he takes a moment to glance at the contents under the covering before laying it back down. The creak of his old truck door sounds out on the silent air as he opens it. “Thanks for helping me get these boxed up, Frank.” He shouts as he waves to a man in the doorway to the factory building and plops down in the seat.

“No problem, Nick. Merry Christmas.” Frank yells back before stepping back into the shop. As Nick turns the key over in the ignition, the truck cranks and sputters to a start. He pulls off one of his gloves to send one more text before he leaves. It reads, ‘Got them loaded up. On my way’, to an unnamed contact. The blinking red battery indicator in the corner of his screen catches his attention. 

Looks like my phone’s going to die, he thinks. At least I got that last text out. He backs out of the lot and starts making his way down the road. This is a trip he makes every year during this season. He knows the quicker route through the countryside will likely not be plowed, so he opts for the longer route through the city to be safe. The quiet of the drive doesn’t seem to match his mood, so he turns on the radio to some joyful Christmas music to sing along to and make his drive more pleasant. Memories of Christmas past flood his thoughts as he sings along to the happy tune.

When Nick gets about halfway through town, he comes to a roadblock. Construction? In winter? He thinks. The only option he is left with is to take the detour back out of town and take his chances with the outer roads. All he can do is hope that the trip won’t be as treacherous as he thinks it will be.

The merry Christmas tune plays on his radio helping to calm his nerves as he drives slowly down the freshly snow-covered asphalt. The falling flurry limits the length of his vision which adds to the stress of driving the unfamiliar route.  He strains his eyes as he sees a red flicker ahead of him. Soon the silhouette of a car appears through the white sheet and he realizes that flicker was a set of taillights. In a panic, he slams on his brakes and veers off of the pavement, causing his truck to slide to a stop in a ditch off to the side of the road. As he jumps out of his truck to get the attention of the car ahead of him in hopes of getting help, it seems to disappear. Was the car an apparition; merely a figment of his imagination? Or was the driver just unaware that he had ran off of the road? Either way, he was now alone.

The panicked man pulls his phone from his pocket and hopes against logic that his battery has held out. Dead, he thinks as he tries to open the screen. To his fortune, the snow has finally let up as he turns to assess his surroundings. Middle of nowhere. A fine place to get stuck. Without a house in sight, he jumps back in his truck and tries to get back on the road by backing up and darting forward. Reverse, drive, reverse, drive. No luck. He knows he is only making the problem worse by digging ruts with his tires, so he stops trying to drive out.

Feeling disheartened, Nick looks over his shoulder at his cargo again. As he turns back and lays his head on his arms atop the steering wheel, he turns down the volume of the cheery music at the realization that it is now adding to his stress. His whispering voice is almost drowned out by the hum of his running motor as he says, “Lord, please help me get there. You know how important this is to them.”

The moment he finishes the prayer and raises his head, he sees a car with a pizza delivery sign on top of it coming to a stop. The driver’s happiness as he gets out of the car and approaches the truck seems a little strange to Nick considering the cold night and inclement weather. The slick roads had to have made his job incredibly more difficult that night. The desperate man cautiously rolls down his window as the delivery driver says, “Hey, man. Ya need some help?”

Beginning to feel hopeful, Nick lets a smile roll his up his cheeks. “Yes, please.”

“Alright. Just put it in drive and give ‘er all you got and I’ll give you a push.” The delivery driver pats the truck’s window sill and makes his way to the tailgate. A small seed of fear takes root in Nick’s gut as he thinks about the ruts his tires dug with his first attempt to get out of the ditch.

Please help us out. He thinks as he slides the shifter into drive. A glance in the rearview mirror and a nod from his accomplice gives him the signal he needs to give it the gas. Almost without effort, the truck slides right up onto the road and stops in the right lane. Nick feels so elated, though a little bewildered, that he almost doesn’t believe what happened. He steps out of the truck to thank the man who helped him.

“Man, I can’t tell you how much of a help this was.” Nick says as he pulls his hand from his glove to shake the driver’s hand.

“No problem, buddy. I owed someone anyway, and your predicament was perfect for it.” The driver says as he vigorously shakes his hand.

Nick is almost as confused by the man’s enthusiasm as he is his statement. “What do you mean?”

“Well,  you see, when I was at the grocery store earlier, I came across a card that someone had left behind with a hundred bucks in it. I wasn’t going to have enough to get a gift for my boys or a Christmas dinner, but the money the guy left behind more than helped me with that.” The giddy man pauses and holds a finger up as if he remembers something. “Oh, wait a second.”  He goes back over to his car and pilfers for a moment before coming back over to Nick and handing him a card. “See, this is what he left with the money.”

The front of the card has a decorated tree and a baby in a manger underneath. The card says; ‘The greatest Christmas Gift.’ He turns the card over to read; ‘I’m passing on the happiness given to me. Take this $100 and have a joyous Christmas season.’ Nick nods and smiles as he now understands the source of the man’s happiness.

“And here’s yours. I’m sorry I don’t have any money to give you.” The driver says as he hands a card to him. He feels the stark contrast of his warm heart against the cold weather on his skin as he looks at an image of two figures leaning over a manger with a baby in it and a bright star above them.  It reads, ‘Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; He is Christ the Lord. Luke 2:11’

Nick looks up with glistening moisture in his eyes as he pulls the man in for a hug and says, “you’ve given me more than money can buy, my friend.” He walks back over to his truck and lifts the tarp covering his truck bed. A smiling head-gesture signals the pizza delivery driver to look underneath.

The revelation brings a bright smile to his face. “So you’re going…” His sentence trails off as Nick nods in affirmation. “God bless you, sir. And a merry Christmas.” He says as he shakes Nick’s hand again. “But you’ve got an important place to be. I don’t want to make you late, and my family is waiting up on me.” He rushes back over to his car and yells back before sitting back in, “what was your name again?”

“Nick.”

“Nick, I’m Larry. Merry Christmas!” He shouts one more time as he gets in and starts heading back down the road.

Nick whispers back, “merry Christmas,” before getting back in his truck and leaving as well. Sheer glee fills his heart as he thinks about the turn of events. What a coincidence that someone who had no other means to give someone else the joy that he himself had been given to happen across him when he was stuck. Even more so since the detour had given him a route that put him in the man’s path. And the ease at which they were able to get him out of that ditch, that he had tried so hard to get out of on his own, was starting to boggle his mind. As he thinks of it all, the only thing he can do is let out a smile from ear to ear.

When Nick gets about a mile down the road, he realizes his thoughts have kept him from turning his radio back on. Christmas tunes during the holiday season is one of Nick’s greatest pleasures, and he only has one more day to enjoy it, so he plans to make the most of every minute. The delight of listening to his favorite music adds to the splendor of the moment that could have ended so badly.

The crunching snow mixes with the chug of the engine as he pulls to a stop in a driveway. He pulls down his hood and throws on a red Santa hat as he throws open the door and steps to the back of the truck. With a shake and a toss, the tarp is off on the ground beside the truck. He grabs an armload of boxes and makes his way to the door. A quiet thudding sounds out on the quiet night as he uses the concrete step to knock the snow from his boots. Before he can knock, the door opens to reveal excitement and laughter. A woman stands to greet him with several children running and playing in the room behind her. Nick peers around the boxes to ensure his footing before looking at her. “Sorry I took so long getting here, Linda.” He says with a wide grin on his face as he sets the boxes in the floor next to the Christmas tree. “Had to take a detour and wound up in the ditch.” He knows she isn’t upset that he is late, but he wants to let her know why he is regardless.

“That’s ok. At least you aren’t hurt.” Linda says with a smile as she leans in to give him a hug. She turns back to the room of noisy children and shouts, “Kids! Look who’s here to see you!” The room falls quiet for a brief instant before erupting in joyful cheering. A group of kids run up and hug his legs as the rest run over and begin inspecting the boxes.

Nick picks up a cute, little brown-headed girl and gives her a big hug. “How are you, Miss Emily?”

“Good! Thank you so much for bringing us Christmas presents!”

“You are so welcome.” He says before setting her back down. “There’s a special present in there with your name on it.” The giddy girl runs over and starts picking through the boxes to find her gift. Linda walks up next to him and they watch the kids together for a moment in all of their excitement.

“This orphanage wouldn’t be the same without you, Nick. These kids never had presents like this before you came along.”

“I couldn’t live with myself if I hadn’t started doing this for you guys. When I heard about all of these parentless kids that had nothing to open on Christmas…” He pauses for a moment to bite his quivering lip then wipes a tear from his eye. “Every kid deserves a merry Christmas.” Linda lays her head gently on his shoulder and puts an arm around him for comfort. The flashing Christmas lights create a dance of colors on his tear-streaked face.

After giving himself another moment to take it all in, he starts back toward the door. “I’ve got another armload. I’ll be right back.” Linda looks back and smiles at him before turning back and stepping into the kid’s chaos to attempt at bring some order to it.

As Nick steps outside and closes the door behind him, the cold air gingerly bites the areas of his exposed skin. He feels like he has stepped into another world as the wild screams of the kids get muffled by the closed door. The snow-covered town makes the scene before him peacefully silent. Swirling emotions make him feel as if he is light enough to walk on top of the soft, white blanket covering the yard as he crosses it. He looks at the remainder of presents in the bed of his truck and takes a moment to lower his head. His soft chuckle is amplified by the silent night as he shakes his head and thinks about the last few hours. “Paying it forward.” Almost without conscious thought, he looks up at the sky. The beauty of the softly-falling flakes and thoughts of the happiness of the children in the house behind him overwhelm him for a moment as he simply whispers, “thank you.”

The awestruck man scoops up the few presents left and dusts the snow off of them before making his way back to the house. As he approaches the door, a youngster pops his head out and says, “Nick, you didn’t bring me a present!” As the statement brings Nick out of his blissful trance, he lets out a hearty chuckle.

“I’m comin’, I’m comin’. You didn’t really think I would forget you, did you?” The door closes a final time and once again the joyous laughter of the children inside is quietened to the noiseless town. The scene of playful children in the window is lost to the night as Linda pulls the drapes closed.

Another Christmas is made merry for the children of the orphanage by the acts of one man and the many events that fell into place to get him to his destination. A seemingly insignificant act by a kind pizza-delivery man assisted in bringing the kids their holiday joy. Who knows how many acts before that took place to lead to this moment? Or how many acts will take place from this night going forward? One small act of kindness can have an innumerable effect.

May you enjoy this holiday season, spend time with the ones you love, and spread holiday cheer.

Merry Christmas,

Shawn Bain

A Christmas Story 2013 ®

This story is a sequel for one of the characters in the story I released last year.
Feel free to read that story by clicking here.

William Howard sits in his lush office working on his computer the night before Christmas Eve. He’s finishing his end-of-year paperwork before calling it a night. As he types up a report, his cell phone buzzes at the end of his desk. He picks it up to read a message from his son, who is away in the military, ‘Couldn’t get the time off to come home for Christmas. Sorry love you.’ He sits back in his chair as his heart sinks. This makes the second holiday season in a row that he will be without his family. He has seen his son, Little William, only a couple of times this year since he has deployed to hostile locations.

He looks over to a picture on his desk of his family and focuses on his wife. She had gotten tired of never getting to see her husband due to his extensive work schedule, and that he only had a negative attitude when she did get to see him. So she has stayed with her parents while the two have been separated for the past few months. What had he done to deserve this? How had he become so miserable? The thoughts make him unable to finish his work, so he powers down his computer and throws on his coat. Looks like I’ll be working on Christmas Eve again this year. He thinks. He pats his coat pockets as he begins to look around his office for his keys. I thought I put them in my coat when I got here. The recent realization of another lonely Christmas prolongs the search by making it hard for him to focus. Finally he opens a drawer on his desk to find his keys sitting inside. He picks them up to reveal a Christmas card underneath that causes him to pause. It is the one he received last year from the girl who bought his dinner in the drive-through. As he takes a second to pick it up, all of those feelings that made his lonely Christmas last year so joyous come rushing back.

The card has a night scene, a bright star, and a manger and it reads, For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son. When he was younger, he went to church every Sunday with his parents and learned about what Christians believed, but that knowledge had become unimportant during his college years, so he eventually stopped going. Before he can think about what he is doing, he closes his eyes and lowers his head. God, if you are real and you really love me, don’t let me be lonely this Christmas. I just need one more chance to make things right. I just want to be a family again. He quickly opens his eyes and feels childish for praying. With a shake of his head, he throws the card in the drawer before shutting it, locking the office up, and getting in his black luxury car to head home.

On the drive home, though he feels dumb, he can’t help but feel more open and refreshed somehow. Whatever, he thinks as he turns up his radio to help cover the thoughts. When he does though, the same joyful Christmas song that was playing on his drive home last year is playing again. As all of the same thoughts and feelings from last year come rushing back again, he can’t help but wonder why he isn’t filled with joy. He remembers getting the card and how happy it made him. He remembers the delight he felt when he passed that generosity along. All he can seem to think about is how alone he felt Christmas day and that he would be alone again this Christmas. Infuriated he thinks, I’m going to need a drink.

His tires screech as he jerks the car into a supermarket parking lot. Patrons of the store watch as he barrels through the lot into a spot near the door. He slams the car door before pushing the lock button on his key fob as he walks through the automatic doors to the store.

“Happy holidays.” The store greeter exclaims. William glares at him and grunts as he walks hastily by toward the liquor section. The store seems to stretch out in front of him as he makes his way to the back.

Has it always taken this long to get back here? I just want to get home and have a drink, sheesh. When he gets into the aisle, he walks directly to the scotch section and grabs the first bottle he sees with three digits behind the dollar sign before heading back toward the registers. As he rounds the corner to the front of the store, he sees three people in the only-open checkout line. One register? Are you kidding me? Just as he finishes his thought though, another clerk comes out from the back and opens another line. He hustles into the line before anyone notices that it is open and slings his bottle up on the counter. The clerk scans the bottle, looks up at William, and lights up when he recognizes him.

“Hi, sir! How are you doing this evening?” The clerk asks. William churns inside at the thought of conversing with someone, but when their eyes meet, he remembers the clerk. The businessman looks around and realizes for the first time that he is in the same supermarket he was in a year ago when he taped that card with $100 to the end of the checkout. He suppresses any feelings before they have the chance to arise though and looks back at his wallet.

“Fine.” He responds as he shuffles through his cash to find a couple of the $100 bills he remembered putting in there this morning.

“Someone got your gift last year.” William is shocked when he realizes the boy remembers him but he hides the emotion with his unchanged expression.

“Did they? That’s good.”

“Do you want to know what happened?” The clerk asks, unable to hide his excitement.

“That’s not necessary. My total please.” The worker is taken back that William didn’t want to know how much it meant to the man that received his gift. He follows the customer’s instructions though and scans the scotch.

“$124.53” He says disheartened. William hands him two $100 bills without changing expression. He begins to wonder what happened with his gift though. It had to be a good story if the clerk was so excited to tell it. As the clerk finishes counting his change, William’s curiosity gets the best of him.

“Were they, ahem, happy with the gift?” The customer’s question causes the clerk’s excitement to instantly return.

“Happy? He about passed out! He walked up here with almost nothing to eat and when he opened your card, he ran back into the store and spent it all on Christmas presents and dinner for his family!” William’s change crinkles in the cashier’s hand as he points at his customer. “You made that man’s, no, his family’s Christmas like a thousand times better!” Suddenly memories from last Christmas come flooding back to him again. This time though he doesn’t remember the solitude, but happiness instead. He begins to remember what made last Christmas so joyous to him when he could have felt so sad and alone. William’s face begins to visibly show the happiness saturating him on the inside as it begins to light up with a smile. He clutches the clerk’s hand with both of his hands.

“Thank you.” He says as he accepts his change before heading back into the store. His shoes make a short sliding sound as he comes to a stop in the card aisle. He rifles through the Christmas section looking for the perfect one. He pulls one out, Too sad. He thinks as he puts it back in place before pulling out another. Not specific enough. He spends another few minutes looking before he finally stops on one. This is it, he thinks, this is the one. The card has a beautiful scene with people around a baby in a manger. It reads ‘For unto us a child is born , unto us a son is given : and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor ,The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.’ He starts to make his way back to the checkout, but something makes him stop to think. Why stop at one? I can make more than one person happy. He looks in his wallet to find five $100 bills. Before another thought can cross his mind, he grabs up four more cards with envelopes and hurries back up to the checkout.

The supermarket employee is eagerly waiting when William gets back up to his counter with the gifts. They are too excited for words as the cards get rung up and paid for. William puts one with a $100 bill in the envelope, pulls a $20 bill from his wallet, and hands them to the clerk. “Give this to someone who has little to make their Christmas merry and you keep the twenty.” The store employee smiles uncontrollably back at the generous man across the counter.

“Bless you sir, and merry Christmas!” He says as the businessman makes his way back to the exit.

“Merry Christmas!” William shouts back. The clerk looks down to notice the liquor bottle that is still on his counter.

“Sir, your scotch!”

“Put it back on the shelf, I won’t be needing it anymore!” The yell carries from the front of the store. He gets out of the door before stopping suddenly. With a quick turn he is back in the door and approaching the greeter. He shakes the man’s hand and says, “Merry Christmas, sir.” The greeter looks stunned as he mutters back,

“M, merry Christmas.” William smiles wider and heads back into the parking lot. He jumps into his car and heads to the next store. The radio blares as he sings a merry tune along with it and delivers the next four cards to stores in the same fashion as he did the first. Each clerk is handed an extra $20 for their trouble.

At the end of the night he pulls into his driveway and sits in his car for a moment after turning it off. He finally comes to the realization that though he won’t be spending Christmas with his family this year, he will be able to be happy nonetheless. The snow crunches as he steps out of his car and makes his way into the house to call it a night.

The next workday drags by while he finishes his end-of-year paperwork as the only person in the building. The happy Christmas tunes on his laptop, fortunately, help to fill the empty feeling of the office while he works though. He smiles as he locks up the office to head home after finishing his last report. The whirling thoughts in his head of yesterday’s events make the drive home feel unusually short. Exhausted from the long day at work and roller coaster of emotions over the last 42 hours, he unlocks his door, steps inside, and closes the door behind him. The click of the light echoes in his quiet, large house as the foyer chandelier comes to life with luminescence.

“Surprise!” The shout startles the near-delirious businessman causing him to stumble back against the door. “Working on Christmas Eve eh, pops? I’m not surprised.” William looks on in disbelief as he sees his son standing in his foyer wearing his military uniform and smiling back. He musters the thought to speak as he looks at Little William,

“Y, you said,”

“Yeah, I know. By some miracle one of the other men in my squad that got the time off gave that time up. I was the next soldier on the list, so here I am!” The father’s body tingles as he hugs his soldier and fights back tears.

 

Miracle. He thinks as he recalls his little prayer in his office. Indeed. William stands back and puts his hands on Little William’s shoulders. He looks his son in the eyes for a moment before saying, “Welcome home, my boy.”

“Thanks, dad.” The happy dad puts his arm around Little William as they start to head into the living room.

“Have you made arrangements with your mother to see her while you are in? I know she will want you to stop by so she can see you.”

“Well, I did and I am going to see her. But she had a different idea in mind.” The two round the corner as Little William finishes his sentence to see another surprise standing in the living room. William can’t believe his eyes.

“Patricia?” His wife stands in the middle of the room wearing the red turtleneck sweater that William had told her he loved so much. She tucks her hair behind her ear and looks up at him. The warm light of the room makes her glow like an angel in William’s eyes.

“William.” A few moments of deafening silence pass as they both try to find words. A tear leaves a streak as it runs down the man’s cheek. His voice quivers as one word escapes his lips,

“Why?”

“Well, we have had our hard times. We have both said things we didn’t mean.” She pauses and holds her finger above her lip as she tries to keep from crying. “I signed the papers, I put them in an envelope.” She wipes her eyes to stop the watering. “But then I saw you. I was buying Christmas cards when I saw you put money in the card envelope and hand it to the cashier. When I heard you tell him to give it to someone in need, I thought my God. He has changed. Then I thought if I could have my old William back for Christmas, I would be the happiest woman on earth.”

The statement is all that William needs to hear to make him rush over and embrace the love of his life so he can whisper in her ear. “You’ve got him.” As the two weep together, their son comes and wraps his arms around them. With joy and love in his heart, William thinks, thank you, Lord. Thank you.

May you enjoy this holiday season, spend time with the ones you love, and spread holiday cheer

Merry Christmas,

Shawn Bain

A Christmas Story 2012 ®

1:00 PM – December 23rd

An alarm clock goes off in a one bedroom house. A sleepy man sits up to the side of his bed and rubs his eyes as he begins trying to wake up. He reaches up to stretch, grabs his back, and doubles over as he tenses up from the strain of being overworked the night before. His black hair is tussled and he wears a pair of long pajama pants with no shirt.

“Jim, I have breakfast ready for you if you have time to eat it.” His wife hollers down the hall. He forces himself to get out of bed and makes his way to the kitchen.

“Daddy daddy!” His sweet four-year-old daughter yells as he hobbles down the hall toward her.

“Good morning, Elizabeth.”

The little blonde-headed girl with big blue eyes runs toward him wearing her fuzzy, purple pajamas with little ducks on them.

“Don’t jump on daddy, Sweetie, his back hurts.” Her mom yells down the hallway to her.

“It’s okay.” Jim says as he scoops her up. “Daddy’s back never hurts too bad for his little girl.”

“Daddy, are you coming to my play tonight?” Elizabeth asks with big doe eyes. “You didn’t come to my last one, and I really want you to come to this one.” He looks back at her with a forced smile and a heavy heart. Since he got laid off from his last job, and he hasn’t been at his new place of employment long enough, he won’t have any time off available to go to the play. It feels like a another hole has been formed in his heart every time he has to miss one of her plays, but he knows his fiscal responsibilities, and he has to feed his family.

“Daddy has to work tonight, Honey. But mommy is going to record you, and I’ll watch it with you this weekend. Okay?”

“Okay.’ She says as she leans in and hugs his neck, “Love you, Daddy.”

“Love you too, Sweetie.” He sits her back down on the ground and heads into the kitchen to grab a quick meal before he has to rush to work.

“It’s eggs and bacon today,” his wife, Heather, says as he sits down to eat. She shares Elizabeth’s hair and eye color, and she is wearing blue flannel pajamas. She sits her husband’s plate on the table, and  smiles as she hands him a fork.

“I know, I could smell it down the hall. Thanks, Babe.” The two share a kiss, and he begins to eat his breakfast. Jim’s work schedule doesn’t allow him to get up until lunch time, but breakfast is his favorite meal so Heather makes it for him every afternoon before he goes to work.

As he finishes his meal, he throws his dishes in the sink and hustles back into his room to get changed for work. He throws on his greasy blue jumpsuit and as he is lacing up his boots Elizabeth comes running in the room.

“Bye, Daddy!” she says as she kisses him.

“Bye, Baby. I love you.” She runs out of the room while her father finishes tying his boots.

“Love you too!” She yells back down the hall to him. He finishes getting ready for work and grabs the lunchbox sitting on an end table in the living room Heather has prepared for him. She’s waiting at the door to tell him goodbye with a cheerful gleam in her eye.

“Have a good day.” She says as she hugs and kisses him.

“You too.” He rushes to work where he puts in a long 10 hours. The day drags on as he works from one back-breaking task to the next, but his joyous spirit remains intact. Exhausted, but smiling, he gets in his truck to leave for the night. As he drives down the road, the glow of his low-gas light catches his attention. He  finds the nearest convenience store and pulls in, all the while whistling a joyful Christmas tune.

The worn man pulls up to the gas pump, lifts the shifter into park, opens the door, and hops out all at once. The still air of the cold winter night deadens the whistle of his jolly tune as he enters the station and waves to the clerk.

“Jim.” The clerk says as he nods from behind the counter to his weekly customer.

“Hey, Mike. Busy night?”

“ Usually is around this time. I’m glad I’m getting off in twenty minutes.”

Jim has made his way to the counter after grabbing his favorite candy bar and a twenty ounce bottle of soda. “Put forty on pump two and give me a gift card for twenty and that Christmas card.” He says pointing to a card behind the counter.

“That’ll be seventy eight fifty.”

Jim pays, writes a quick note on the card, puts it in the envelope with the gift card, and waves to Mike with a grin as he leaves the station. “Merry Christmas, Mike.”

“Merry Christmas, Jim.”

After pumping his gas, Jim takes some black electrical tape from the inside of his truck door and tapes the envelope to the pump. He steps back and takes a second to smile then he get back into his truck and heads home.

He finally gets home around two in the morning to a quietly sleeping family. The only noise made is the click of the lock as he sneaks into his house, gets into his pajamas, and sneaks back into bed.

4:21 AM – December 24th

A silver sedan flies down the highway. The young brown-haired woman behind the wheel is driving well over the speed limit on her way to work. She thinks, I am going to be so late! If I hurry, I can at least put out the new stock before we open and my regional manager won’t find out.

She glances down at her dash to check her speed and realizes she is about out of fuel. Ugh! I still have to get gas! She whips into a gas station and jumps out to fill it up. She runs around the car, unscrews the cap to the gas tank, and sets it on the trunk. As she pulls her debit card out of her pocket and begins to slide it into the pump to pay, she notices that there is an envelope covering the display. Written on the front of the envelope is, ‘To the next person to get gas. Merry Christmas.’ She opens the envelope to find that inside is a Christmas card with a manger scene and a $20 gift card.

Her eyes start to swell up with tears as she thinks of the kindness of the person who left the card. It seems such an insignificant act to get teary-eyed about, giving $20 for gas, but the thought that someone would do that for a person they have never met dulls her anxiety for being late. She swipes the gift card and puts some gas in her vehicle before heading to work, now with a smile gracing her pretty, young face.

Her terrible morning seems to no longer be in her memory as she continues to think of the stranger’s kindness in leaving the gift card at the pump. As a retail worker, the holidays usually put her in a bad mood. So when she comes into the store with a beaming expression, her co-workers notice her unusually good mood.

“Michelle, are you okay?” a female team member asks. “You’re… happier than you usually are.”

“I’m great.” Michelle responds with a wide smile. “The weirdest thing happened this morning, Natalie. When I got gas, there was a gift card that said Merry Christmas on the pump.”

“Really? Aaand that’s why you’re so happy? A gift card.” Natalie says as she continues stocking the shelves with her manager. “I wish I could be so happy from finding a gift card.”

“I know, right?” The sarcasm in her co-worker’s tone goes unnoticed by the excited girl. Then she gets to thinking : Maybe if she did a random act of kindness, it would brighten someone else’s day as much as hers has been brightened. She thinks long and hard as she finishes out her work day. What will she do? What would she like someone to do for her?

Either way she would need a card.

So she buys a Christmas card from her store after she’s clocked off and heads home. She continues to think as she pulls through a drive-through at a fast food restaurant.

“Thank you for stopping. Would you like to try our holiday shake?” The voice of the drive-through worker breaks her dreamy thinking.

“Oh. Yes, I’ll take a number two with no pickles and a medium orange soda please.”

“Okay that’ll be $5.27 at your second window.” She drives around the corner of the building, her mind still wheeling on ideas on how she can brighten someone’s day.  As she pulls up to the window, the worker called out to her, “Okay that’ll be $15.36.”

“I thought it was…” she begins to answer as her words are cut short by the worker.

“Sorry, that’s for the next order. Yours is $5.27.” She begins to hand the worker her debit card when it hits her. Her eyes go wide and her mouth stretches into a ‘aha’ smile as the mist from her breath dances from her lips.

“Both!” Michelle says excitedly, “I’ll pay for both!” The worker smiles back at her with a half-look of confusion as he takes her card, swipes it, and gives it back to her. She sits in her car and smiles as she thinks of how happy paying for the large order will make the person behind her. The urge to squeal in excitement is almost too much, but she holds it in.

“Here you go, have a nice day.” The employee says, handing her the food she had ordered, his smile now deepening as he recognizes the kind act for what it is.

“Thanks. You too.” She sits the food in her passenger seat and notices the card she had bought. “Oh! I almost forgot. Give this to them please.” She hands the card to the worker and waves as she leaves.

The young woman’s body tingles with excitement the whole way home as she thinks about her day. Her day was going terribly, then she got the free gas, then she was able to pass the favor along to brighten someone else’s day. It’s almost too much elation for her to stand.

She gets home and eats her fast food before sitting down to watch some television. She stares at the screen, but she isn’t watching. Lost in thought, she thinks of how many people her kindness might affect. Will the person behind her continue to pass on the kindness? How far will it go?  After sitting in front of the television for a few hours, it is time to go to bed. She does her nightly routine her thoughts continuing to wander the entire time.

She plops into bed, pulls the comforter up to her neck, and stares at the ceiling for a few more moments. The minutes tick by as she lays awake in bed and thinks of how her day could have been terrible, but turned out to be one of the greatest days of her life. And all over a gift card. She closes her eyes to doze off and smiles.

2:13 PM – December 24th

A man works on a computer as he sits in a bank office behind a large mahogany desk. A gold name plate that reads William Howard sits at the front corner facing his door. He has black hair that is peppered with grey and wears a suit with a red tie. His expression is solemn, as always it is, while he works without pause.

People walk by his office but won’t enter out of fear of him for his position. He had always been known in his younger years as a fun-loving, cheerful man. In his climb to the big seat though, he stepped on a few toes and hurt his image. The years of loneliness in the workplace has led to some resentment in the back of his mind toward those that shy away from him. That resentment that people see in his eyes in turn cause them to shy away from him, causing a vicious cycle. For a little while after he got into his authoritative position, he tried to start conversations and make friends, but had little success. Now he only works and speaks on business matters to his employees.

The branch manager leaves his office to go to the restroom down the hall and as he returns to his office, he is greeted by one of his employees.

“G,good afternoon, sir. Have a good lunch?”

William eyes the young employee curiously for a moment before answering, “yup.” He walks into his office, forcefully shuts the door behind him, and quickly closes his blinds on the tall window next to his door. He grunts and starts to think to himself as he sits back to his desk and straightens his tie, I don’t know why that guy always tries to talk to me. He’s the only one in the building that tries. You would think he would have gotten the hint by now. Probably just trying to get in good with the boss so he can have my job when I retire. He taps his fingers on his desk as he stares at his computer screen. The interaction, albeit short and of little importance, has oddly suffocated his desire to continue working. Whatever. He finishes his thoughts and forces himself to type up one more report before leaving for the day.

The grumpy man throws on his black overcoat, gloves, and scarf before getting in his black luxury car to leave. As he drives down the road the radio plays a merry Christmas tune. He thinks of Christmas and what it has meant to him over the years. Then his thoughts drift to what his night will entail. His wife is on a trip promoting her book and his son has recently left for the military. The thought of being lonely in his home after his long solitary day at work only agitates him further. And now the cheerful music on the radio is making his mood worse, so he slaps the volume knob and shuts it off. I’m not going to cook for one person, he thinks. I’ll just grab something on the way home.

He pulls into the slowest fast food restaurant in sight and goes through the drive-through. The squelch of the intercom only annoys him more as the worker asks to take his order.

“Thank you for stopping. Would you like to try our holiday shake?”

“No I wouldn’t,” he snaps. “Give me a number twelve with a large drink. And… give me a holiday shake.”

“That will be $15.36 at the second window please.” William pulls around to see that there was another car already waiting at the second window and he huffs. “I didn’t think there was anyone in this drive-through or I wouldn’t have stopped. Hurry up, you silver jalopy. Get a real job so you can afford a real car.”

The impatient man watches the driver’s every move critically as he grows more and more impatient. After waiting for a few short moments, he sees the driver hand the drive-through worker a card through the window. “Oh c’mon. If you are going to visit your friend, go inside.”

Shortly after handing the worker the card, the driver in front of him leaves. “Finally.” He says as he pulls up to the window.

As he rolls his window down, the worker hands him the bag of food he ordered with a big smile on his face. “Here’s your food, sir.”

William is too stunned by the quickness of it all to say anything. Why hadn’t he had to pay for his food first? He lays the bag in his passenger seat and turns back to talk to the worker. Before he can say anything though, the worker hands him a card in an envelope and closes the window. He opens the envelope hesitantly. The image on the front is a night scene with a bright star in the middle and a bible verse on the front. It says, ‘For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son.’

William feels his hardened heart warm. It’s only a fast food meal, but who would be so kind to a stranger? Why would they be so nice? Suddenly he begins to feel ashamed about what he had thought of the slowness of the person in front of him who was really being charitable to him. He turns the card over to read the message on the back. ‘I’m passing on the kindness that was given to me. Merry Christmas!’

The person in the car behind the dumbfounded William honks as he is looking at the card, also occupying the window.  He shakes his head as he remembers where he is and quickly pulls out of the way. His large luxury car motor barely makes a sound as he pulls back onto the road.

The wipers on his windshield squeak as they dust off the light snowfall of the night. William’s mind reels as he drives down the road and stares blankly through them. He is astonished that there is still such generosity in the world. In the world of corporate banking, to which he belongs, no one is so kind. The world he lives in is filled with business men who would throw you under the bus in a moment’s notice to make themselves look better. As the thoughts swirl through his head, he is given a feeling he hasn’t had in a long time: Joy. True joy. He reaches down, turns his radio back on, and lets the cheerful music play, the unease from his hateful thoughts having melted away. As his cheer begins to overwhelm him, all of the classic Christmas cartoons he watched as a child slip into his thoughts, filling his merriment further. He looks over to see a supermarket as he drives through the less-fortunate side of town and makes the hasty decision to buy some of those videos. This lonely night doesn’t have to be without Christmas spirit!

He quickly pulls into the parking lot and doesn’t even notice that he nearly side-swipes another car in the road.

While walking into the store he hums a happy Christmas tune oblivious to the conditions of the store or his location. “Merry Christmas, sir.” He says to the greeter at the door. He usually ignores those workers.

“Merry Christmas.” The greeter responds hesitantly.

The world has a whole new look as William walks through the supermarket, his shoes squeaking from walking on the wet parking lot. As he passes by the Christmas card section on the way to the video department he abruptly stops. The words of the card run through his head. “I’m passing on the kindness,” he says enthusiastically. His step is hastened as the thought of being able to provide the same happiness he was given bubbles inside him. A card on the shelf sticks out to him so he grabs it, uses a pen from his coat to write a quick note on it, and stuffs it in an envelope with some money. He makes a quick trip to the back to grab a Christmas video and makes his way to the front to checkout. There usually aren’t many people in this store because the bigger name store is across the street so he has no line to wait in.

The cashier greets him as he approaches the counter, “How are you today, sir?”

“I’m great! How are you?”

“Good.” The register beeps as the items are rung up. “That’ll be $8.43.” William pulls a $50 bill from his pocket and hands it to the cashier.

“Here, and keep the change.” The cashier takes the money with doubt in his eyes. As he looks at William, he notices the cheer in his expression and begins to understand the sincerity of the offer.

“Thank you, sir! Thank you very much!”

“You’re welcome. Merry Christmas!” The cheery gentleman walks back to the end of the conveyor belt at the counter and puts the envelope with the card and the money at the end. He turns and smiles at the cashier and walks back out of the store.

The drive home seems to be a short one as thoughts race through his mind the whole way. When he gets home, he pops some popcorn, puts the Christmas movie in the player, and plops down on the couch to watch. His day turned out to be a good day after all, and this lonely Christmas won’t be as gray as he was beginning to think it would be.

6:30 PM – December 24th

A man stands in the food aisle in a supermarket. His blonde hair is greasy from wearing the hat to his pizza deliver uniform all day and his goatee is unkempt. With a disheartened expression, he looks at the different loaves of bread on the shelf with his hands in his pockets. His money rustles as he pulls his tips from the night out. Seven bucks, he thinks. What can I get with seven bucks?

He wears a weary frown as he grabs a loaf and makes his way to the lunch meat section. He searches the sale section of the meat and cheese. About four bucks left. A combo pack of meat and cheese for a little over $3 stands out to him so he scoops it up. Past Christmas memories run through his head as he walks to the front of the store.  How different this one will be from his younger years. It will be much like the others that preceded it most recently: Prosaic. College was a stupid idea. If I didn’t have these student loans, we wouldn’t be scraping by right now. He keeps hoping for a job opening in his career field, but his hunt has left him little to be hopeful for.

As he gets to the front of the store, he notices that there is only one register open. Fortunately the big store across the street leaves this store empty most days. He notices the cashier is smiling as he approaches the checkout counter. “Good evening… Larry,” The clerk finishes enthusiastically. The pizza delivery man looks at the clerk puzzled, then looks down to his shirt where the cashier had peaked at briefly.

“Oh, my name badge. Hi.” Through his sunken demeanor, Larry finally notices that the clerk is acting strange and keeps glancing at the end of his counter. He follows the clerks gaze and sees an envelope. As he looks back, he notices the cashier is now overly excited and his smile is now even bigger than before.

Larry walks to the end of the counter and picks up the envelope. It reads, ‘To the customer after me at this checkout. Merry Christmas.’ He looks back to the clerk who gives an affirming nod and reluctantly opens the envelope. There is a Christmas card inside with a decorated tree and a baby in a manger underneath. The card says; The greatest Christmas Gift. He turns the card over to read; ‘I’m passing on the happiness given to me. Take this $100 and have a joyous Christmas season.

“Hundred bucks!” He exclaims.

“A hundred bucks?” The cashier asks with shock. Larry looks into the envelope and sees the crisp new one hundred dollar bill. He grabs his head and falls back against the display behind him sending various candies tumbling from their shelves. As he slides down the metal rack he begins to weep. He pulls his knees up and rests his head against his arms on top of them. The cashier comes out from behind the counter and places his hand on Larry’s shoulder. The bewildered pizza man looks at the cashier with tear filled eyes for a moment, then his eyes widen before he jumps up and rushes back into the store.

Meanwhile, at Larry’s home, his wife is cleaning as two children watch Christmas cartoons on television.

“Mom, when is Dad gonna get home?” The oldest son asks.

“I don’t know, John, he should have been home twenty minutes ago.” Larry’s wife, Nora, walks over and checks out the window to look for signs of her husband’s arrival. The youngest son runs over to the window to look with his mother. His second-hand footy pajamas were well-worn by his older brother before he ever received them. The years in the attic hadn’t done much to brighten their color either.

“There he is!” He shouts.

“Okay, John, take Mitchell to the table with you and get ready to eat.” Nora looks back out to see that her husband is carrying a bag containing two large boxes and something round that has been double-bagged. She rushes out of the door and grabs one of the bags to help him. “Larry! What is this stuff?” He looks at her with tear-filled eyes.

“An answer to our prayers, Nora! I just wanted to provide John and Mitchell one Christmas that wasn’t ruined by our money situation, and my prayer was answered.”

“How did you buy all of this stuff, Larry? We can’t afford this!”

“The person before me left a hundred bucks and a card to the next person in the lane. It was me, Nora. The next person in the lane; it was me!” His wife falls to her knees as joyful tears streak down her face and Larry falls right behind her to caress her. The commotion causes the children to rush out of the small duplex.

“Mommy, Daddy, what’s wrong?”

“Nothing, Mitch!” his father exclaims. “Your mommy and me are just really happy, that’s all.”

“Tomorrow, you and John will be opening two more presents and we will be eating a whole Christmas Ham!” their mother exclaims. “This Christmas will be the best one yet!” The family joins in a hug and the parents cry together. The boys jump up and down with glee inside their parents’ arms. Nora finally wipes her tears, looks at John, and says, “Okay, Honey, now go get Mitchell seated and we will eat.”

“C’mon, Mitch.” The older brother grabs his sibling by the hand and leads him to the kitchen table.

“How are we going to pass this kindness along, Larry? We don’t have any money to give to anyone.”

“I already did, Babe. I helped a guy get his truck unstuck out of the snow on the way home. I bought a card at the store before I left and I gave it to him.” Larry hugs his wife one final time and they get up to walk in the door. Before going in, he stops and looks at Nora with a wide smile. He turns around to lean out of the door and shouts, “merry Christmas!” to all that can hear.

May you enjoy this holiday season, spend time with the ones you love, and spread holiday cheer

Merry Christmas,

Shawn Bain