Davis jogged in from the dead cold wind to the near empty service centre, the ruckus from the Pakistani youths blaring dance music stanched as the door swung shut. He sniffed. No warm donuts or fresh coffee. Damn cats had even taken that away from him. Merry fucking Christmas.

One customer stood before the Tim Horton’s cash. Davis popped his last Claritin and swallowed dryly before lining up, twirling a toonie coin in his fingers like a casino slug.

“Whoa!” A blond teenage girl in red and white pajamas and heavy make up dodged by him, ski boots trailing loose laces.

“Sorry,” Davis said. She ignored him and strolled off to the darkly lit end of the centre where the food court lay.

“No,” said the guy in line as Davis approached. “One decaf, double double, and two regulars without sugar. God.”

Behind the cash, a rake of a teen with scruffy black hair poking under the brim of a Santa hat yawned. He looked as dead as Davis felt. “Right. Sorry.”

“Just hurry up, will you?”

He flipped the coin. Merry fucking Christmas. The pill slithered its way down his itchy throat. Maybe he was allergic to assholes outside his family. He swallowed again, just to be sure, and rubbed his eyes. Stupid things took forever to work.

“And six donuts. Apple fritter, chocolate glaze . . .”

The teen moved like he had a five-alarm hangover. “Fritter—”

“Apple fritter. God, this isn’t rocket science.”


“Just make it six chocolate glazed.”

Moments later, the blond shuffled toward the man before Davis. “Aren’t we going yet? God.”

“Would you like a tray?” said the teen behind the counter.

“What?” Davis flinched at the exasperated tone, echoing in his ears.

“A tray. For the drinks. Might help.”

The man sighed. “Yes. Of course.”

He said nothing as he finished the transaction and took his coffee and donuts and daughter away. Davis had seen better service in slum lord casinos.

“Can I help you?”

“Just a small coffee, milk and sugar,” Davis said, rolling the coin across his fingers. The teen took his time with the milk, the steaming pot, and the single teaspoon of sugar until it was just right. Then he laid the lid on tight. “Buck fifteen.”

Davis flipped the coin into his hand. “Keep the change. Merry Christmas.” He’d like to see his sisters see this, as if he was a cheap ass.

The skinny pale face scrunched. “What? We can’t take tips.”

“Oh.” He got Davis his change then left the counter to go laugh with his buddies behind the Employees Only door.

Davis decided to hit the restroom before gassing up, but the ones in the Tim Horton’s were locked for maintenance. “Please use the washroom at Wendy’s” said the sign.

He walked in the slushy path made by the blond teen pajama-queen and entered the dark eating area. Everything was closed. All that flashed was an electronic poker box at the far end of the court. His hand was in his pocket before he knew it. He stepped in weak moonlight that came through the glass walls of windows when the creature caught his eye at the centre of the room.

Dead centre, where there used to be a fake garden, sat a giant twenty-foot polar bear, complete with Buddha belly, Santa hat and green and red scarf, surrounded by ceramic, sealed, and sparkling presents that sat in a shimmering moat filled with coins.

Not Santa. Not a menorah. Just a giant, powder blue carnivore dressed like a poor toddler who couldn’t afford a snow suit. No helpers. No elves. No reindeer. Just a lonely pagan god left to guard the empty dinning room, coal black eyes staring at nothing.

“Hi,” Davis said. The poker box’s magic tunes thrummed in the background. “Guess we’re both alone tonight. Except you’re standing still and I’m on the road.” He inhaled his coffee and smelt nothing. “Goddamn cats. Every year my sisters seem to buy more of them. A hundred clicks behind and they are still killing me. And they say I ruined Christmas. Like breathing was my problem.” He closed his eyes before the feeling swelled, then pinched his nose. “Fuck, I’m tired. Better get a large.” He put his coffee down before the bear, and the change.

But the change wasn’t enough. His fingers itched. Maybe, maybe he could score enough for a meal, maybe enough to get some decent presents…

The coins shook in his hand, staring at the presents before the bear.

He tossed them all in the moat. “Watch over my coffee, ok?

He went into the washroom and pissed for what seemed like hours. Feeling ten pounds lighter, he glided out, ignoring the sirens of the poker box.

The coffee hadn’t budged. But the change in the fountain was gone. All of it…Freaking teens. “Guess you didn’t like my gifts either. You’d probably bite my head off if I got you gift certificates.” Or just barely hide your contempt with your eyes on the floor, a phony smile on your face, and a quiet thank you.

He grabbed the cup and headed for the cash. And sniffed. His swollen nose eased. Hazelnut and mocha ran up and cleared his sinuses. “Damn, Claritin doesn’t suck.” He inhaled deep. Then he trembled.

They didn’t make this kind anymore. No one did. Just Mom. Just Mom on Christmas. Before it all went to shit.

He turned.

The powder blue polar bear remained motionless, but across his scarf were three simple words in green and red that vanished as he read.

Merry Fucking Christmas.

# # #

Port Hope Christmas by Jason Ridler
originally published in the Winter 2010 print edition



Jason Ridler has published over 30 short stories in venues such as Brain Harvest, Not One of Us, Crossed Genres, Chilling Tales, Tesseracts Thirteen, as well as Big Pulp and many other venues. His non-fiction has appeared in Clarkesworld, Dark Scribe, and the Internet Review of Science Fiction. A former punk rock musician and cemetery groundskeeper, Mr. Ridler is a graduate of the Odyssey Writing Workshop and holds a Ph.D. in War Studies from the Royal Military College of Canada. Visit him at his writing blog, Ridlerville, Facebook, and on Twitter.

For more of Jason's work,
visit his Big Pulp author page


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Big Pulp Winter 2010:
Ted Bundy's Beetle

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