Our eccentric and possibly psychotic pal, State Police Sergeant Guy Stone, met us at the rear entrance of Knowlton Mall.
“No time to talk,” he said as he handed Ghoul the costume. “You have to get changed. Hurry!”
Ghoul began to protest with his usual fictional ailment that attempted to cover his obvious morbid identity, but Guy wanted nothing to do with it.
“You’re the only one who can do this,” he said before a frantic charge to his cruiser took him away from us. Guy was gone in a blaze of sporadic lights and wailing sirens.
“Well,” Ghoul started.
“I don’t know. Let’s just do this. What could go wrong?”
“Everything, man. Everything could go wrong.”
We exchanged the chilled, quiet night for a bright, chaotic war zone of screaming children and frustrated parents. They formed a line; if you could call it that. Their rabble snaked about in a disorderly fashion of squirming, impatient families that squabbled and bickered. A slim man wearing an overly festive sweater approached us. His face was pale and he spoke with a quivering, skeptical lisp.
“Please tell me that he isn’t Sergeant Stone’s fill-in.”
“What if I am?”
“This can’t be happening,” he said with an exaggerated sigh and looked to Ghoul’s blades. “Fine, follow me. Let’s go out back and get changed. I hope the pants fit over those… things.”
The slim man brought us through the inner workings of the mall and we listened on as he explained that Guy needed to leave on an emergency call.
“I appreciate the State Police volunteering every year for this, but I just don’t see how this is going to work,” said the man as he directed us to an employee bathroom that was used as a changing room. “Can’t you do it?” He pointed to me, and I replied,
“Can you get us a wheelchair please?”
The slim man did and departed with a reluctant sprint to what I guessed was the mall’s center. We formulated a quick plan as how to pull this off. Ghoul first had to remove his prosthesis so we could slide the velvet pants over his grotesque stumps. He sat on the wheelchair and draped the loose pantlegs down to the footrests.
“What do we do with the boots?” Ghoul asked.
“Uhhh… here,” I placed them on the wheelchair’s footplates and crammed the pant legs into them. “We just have to get this beard on.”
Ghoul’s decomposing cheeks and jaw created a goop that acted as a natural adhesive. The beard stuck perfectly and concealed most of his nasty facial features. I shoved the stocking cap on his soft head. I stepped back and looked at the monstrosity that sat in front of me.
“How do I look?”
“Like hot garbage. You ready?”
His exhale was forceful and quick. “Let’s go,” he said.
Santa’s mock village—a quaint display of fake presents, wooden house fronts, and cotton fluffs that resembled fallen snow—was surrounded by a mob of violent kids and their exhausted parents. The slim man squeezed his way to us and reassured to anyone who listened that Santa was finally here. One child noticed us, then another, until the entirety of Knowlton Mall erupted with cheers at Santa’s reappearance. A pathway revealed itself and I pushed-on with trepidation as that burst of applause quickly transformed into gasps both shocked and confused. The slim man guided us to Santa’s ominous chair and leaned towards us.
“These fine folks,” he whispered and pointed to the motley crew of disheveled individuals dressed as Santa’s elves. “Are here on court related community service. They’ll help you from here.”
The slim man with the overly festive sweater left.
“You,” Ghoul pointed to his elves and waved them over. One of them muttered something about a prophecy coming true and fled into the surrounding crowd, while the remaining four cautiously answered his call. “We’re going to get through this together. Now, here’s how this is going to happen.”
The game plan was simple. The two men, older types here on drunk and disorderly charges, were directed to run crowd control, while the two ladies, sentenced for petty theft, worked directly with Ghoul to cycle the children to and from his lap. We learned that the fleeting doomsayer, who was brought in on a suspended license charge, was the night’s amateur photographer.
“Sam, I need you on the camera.”
Ghoul transferred himself from the wheelchair to Santa’s seat and motioned that he was ready.
What happened next was a vision of anarchy. The parents vanished and the children crawled over one another to get to Ghoul. Crowd control struggled, transition from Santa’s lap was awkward, and Ghoul hurried with rude efficiency.
“Hey what’s you name little boy—that’s great—what do you want?”
“A fire tru—
This vicious cycle eventually smoothed over as the initial wave dissipated. Smaller burst of children filtered in and out. Ghoul finally settled into a jovial character that chuckled with sickening catches and grunts. Most of the expressions captured on the camera showed disappointment from the children as they posed.
All except for one girl, who was lifted from her own wheelchair by her father and placed down on Ghoul’s lap.
“And what is your name, little girl?”
“I like that name very much. And what do you want for Christmas, Kathy?”
“I just got it!”
Her smile was full and innocent. Her eyes huge with admiration. I thought to myself that she must have been close to eight or nine, but it was hard to tell.
“Oh? And what is that?”
“I’ve never believed that I was normal—because of my wheelchair and all—but seeing you in one lets me know that I am really special. Thanks Santa.”
The picture I caught was perfect. She hugged into him, the father and elves stood with tear soaked eyes, and Ghoul smiled with a jolly grin that was surprisingly, modest.
© Copyright John Potts Jr 2016 – 2017