Those strange Annual Holiday Letters to the family.
Tucked in amongst the many off-the-shelf Christmas cards and the photo-cards showing images of the children of people we barely know and usually don't remember, are the inevitable annual Letter's to The Family.
Now, we don't much care to read all about little Jimmy falling down the stairs and breaking his leg, nor do we even try to read Auntie's hand written ten page missive, with it's crossed out paragraphs, cherry pie stains (at lest we think they're cherry pie stains), or the legal trouble that Uncle Harry is in (again) with the IRS (or was that the IRA), but sometimes there is actual humour in these missives.
My partner, Missy, does her best to entertain the family with stories of our holiday antics. Here's one of them.
Christmas time had become a tense time here in the neighborhood. The people who live on other side of Mr. Bushida's house have erected at least twenty inflatable creatures in their front yard, all of them illuminated with flashing lights. creating an effect horribly like a disco.
To make matters worse, Mr. Bushida was inspired by the fiends to build his own Christmas display, consisting of a few flashing candy canes flanking a half dozen robotic carolers that twitched their hips while singing rockabilly versions of Christmas songs in shrieking voices. I think they sell them at Big Lots but I couldn't tell you why.
I know Mr. Bushida's heart was in the right place, but after a week of the flashing and shrieking and twitching, I knew I had to lend a hand to restore the proper Christmas spirit to the neighborhood.
I called Roger, a friend of mine who does something with computers at the local ISP. It's a pretty crappy ISP, to be honest--a spammer's organization gave it an award for letting so much of their stuff through. But Roger knows computers, so I asked him if he could reprogram Mr. Bushida's robot singers. He said he could, so I invited him over.
Since last Christmas, Mr. Bushida had installed a sophisticated security system that made his yard fairly impregnable. Obviously, I had to set up a diversion of some kind, and for that I needed Mike, my friend with the forklift who gets depressed every Christmas because that's when his dog Yoder ran away. Well, I didn't need the forklift, just Mike's expertise with explosives from his time with the army. I'm not sure if it was our army, but what's the difference?
On the designated night, the Resident Brit and I corked our faces, put on camouflage uniforms, and met Mike in my back yard. He stood next to a huge crate with some foreign language written all over it, grinning at us.
"Remember," I said. "I don't want any damage. Just a lot of noise and light so Mr. Bushida won't notice Roger putting new chips in the robots out front."
Mike continued to grin but I saw a tear trickle down his cheek and knew he was only pretending to be happy when he was still upset about Yoder. I decided to give him the benefit of the doubt that he knew what he was doing. I wish I hadn't.
At the appointed time, Mike put a small rocket in a mortar tube and fired it. Seconds later, Mr. Bushida's gazebo exploded in a ball of flame. The security lights burst on and a siren wailed.
"What the bloody hell?" howled the Brit, eyes wide open with fear.
"Keep your nerve, you fool," I snarled.
"Sorry about that."
Mike choked down a sob as he fired another rocket, which landed on Mr. Bushida's roof. Nothing happened for a moment, then a brilliant white light lit up the whole neighborhood as the magnesium flare went off. I heard Roger's surprised screech from the front yard, then a torrent of what was probably Chinese cursing as Mr. Bushida sprang out his back door, wearing a Kevlar vest and a helmet with night vision goggles. Even worse, he seemed to have a large weapon clutched in his hands.
"Enemy at two o'clock," Mike said between sobs. "This is a concussion rocket. Keep your heads down, although it might be better if we all died anyway."
He held up something that looked like a bazooka and fired. The rocket bounced off Mr. Bushida's house and landed in his outdoor grill. After a moment's pause the grill exploded, shooting straight up at least two hundred feet before turning gently and plummeting back to Earth, landing on Mr. Bushida's new Escalade. Mr. Bushida was knocked off his feet, but got up quickly, swearing even more loudly while pointing at the windows on the back of his house, all of which had been shattered.
By this time, the magnesium flare had set the roof on fire. I felt bad because it was a new roof to replace the one from last Christmas, but this was no time for sentiment. Rolling behind a bush and crawling a few yards, I took a peek at Roger, who had just finished installing the new chips in the robots. When sirens blared in the distance, growing louder as they headed our way, Roger let out another screech, jumped in his old station wagon, and careened down the street, sideswiping several parked cars before flattening an inflatable Santa and a herd a lighted reindeer three houses down.
After Roger's departure, the robots stood still. I cursed under my breath, figuring that the newly installed programming hadn't worked. But then the robots straightened like they'd been tasered and began shouting the lyrics to "White Punks On Dope" at an ear-splitting volume.
I marveled at the sheer amount of sound, but then several more explosions from the back of Mr. Bushida's house reminded me that the diversion was still going on. I signaled Mike to stop; he ran across my yard, Mr. Bushida in pursuit.
Then I noticed the Brit had climbed a tree to get out of the line of fire but had disturbed a squirrel's nest and was busily fighting off several of the angry creatures with a branch while yelling, "Sod off you bloody rodents!"
When the first police car squealed to a stop, the robots had increased their volume. Even worse, they'd begun doing a hideous and highly suggestive dance one might see in a strip club. As their circuits overloaded, their eyes glowed with a demonic red gleam that frightened the officers, who ducked behind their car and began firing at the mechanical carolers, blowing off their plastic heads and setting off several small explosions.
I took the opportunity to make a dash for my back door and the safety of my own home.
Inside, I discovered the noise had woken my children, who stumbled out of their bedrooms rubbing their eyes. "It's okay," I told them. "Santa is having a little trouble with his sleigh this year. Probably one of the reindeer ate too many beans or something."
After escorting the boys back to bed, I peeked out the front door, where Mr. Bushida's burning house cast a nice toasty glow, enough for me to see Mike tearing through the Petersen's yard across the street, several police officers in pursuit. Mike clutched the Petersen's poodle, Barney, in his arms, sobbing loudly that he'd finally found Yoder. But Yoder was a Rottweiler, and I knew Mike had finally lost it. Luckily, his legs still worked and I watched sadly as he disappeared down the next street and into the darkness.
A voice with a British accent screamed "Bloody, bloody tree rats!" I ran into the kitchen and looked out the window to see the Brit still fighting the squirrels. And losing.
Ten feet away, a group of police officers had cornered Mr. Bushida, beating him with the giant candy canes that had formerly been in Mr. Bushida's front yard.
Seeing that everything was well in hand, I made a cup of tea and sprawled on the couch in front of the fireplace. We hadn't lit a fire, but the smell of smoke from the burning house next door made it feel like I had crackling fire all ready for the family to toast marshmallows while singing the old familiar Yuletide carols.
Blocking out the various shouts and screams from outside, I fell into a reverie.
Christmas is a time for peace, I reminded myself, snuggling into the cushions as a muffled explosion shook the house. May we all enjoy peace throughout the new year.