A Christmas Story
© James J. Doyle, Jr.
“I can’t think.”
“You don’t understand. I can’t think.”
“So, my mind isn’t working.”
“I am talking, but I am not thinking. My cognitive function is gone. Caput. Fried. Fizzled. Ask me a question. You’ll see. Go ahead. Ask a question.”
“What’s your name?”
“I know my name. It’s David King. That’s my memory. That’s not thinking. Ask me a real question. A thinking question.”
“Who’s going to win the College Football Playoff?”
“Good. I remember what that is, and I remember the names of the teams. Yesterday, I could formulate an opinion. Today, I can’t. My mind is a blank.”
“How is your mind a ‘blank’?”
“You know. When you concentrate really hard to understand, and you’re mind just goes blank.”
“Mine has, and it’s done it again. I see white space where the thoughts should be.”
“White space? You mean there’s nothing there?”
“Well, I can see facts. I can remember names. But when I try to use my mind, it stops and whites out. It’s like I’m not here. I’m somewhere else.”
* * *
The animal crouches and moves low to the ground. It follows the man with the staff and the pregnant young woman riding the donkey.
Drool slips between the yellow teeth and drops to the rocky ground. The splotched tongue glides over the wet gums. The long pointed jaw lifts into the cold night air to catch their scent.
There’s time. It thinks. Not yet. Wait for the right time.
* * *
“You have no pulse.” The emergency room nurse adjusts the settings on the wrist monitor.
“Hold your wrist up. Here. Over your heart.”
“What’s wrong?” he asks.
“It’s probably just the equipment.” The nurse tightens the strap. “We’ll give it a second.”
BEEP. BEEP. BEEP.
“What’s it say?”
“It doesn’t say anything.” The nurse shakes here head. “No pulse, and your blood pressure is ‘0’ over ‘0’.”
“Great, first no mind and now no heart. I need to see the doctor.”
“He’ll be here. In a second.”
“Don’t play with me.”
His wife reaches and pats his hand.
He turns to his wife. “Even without a mind, I know that’s not true.”
“It won’t be long.” The nurse gathers her equipment. “I promise.” She carefully shuts the door.
* * *
The red eyes stare without blinking as the last inn door shuts on the young couple.
At the edge of town, the man takes the bridle and leads the way to an old stable standing against the rocky hillside.
The animal flexes. Muscles ripple beneath the dirty brown fur.
It won’t be long. In the cold and dark, I’ll strike.
* * *
“They turned me out. Why? I have no pulse.”
“The doctor performed a thorough examination.” The wife steers the car onto the main road.
“He said my heart and mind are working. How can he say that? Their machines can’t find anything to measure.”
“We have a follow-up appointment next week.” She glances a quick smile to the passenger seat. “Seeing doctors always makes me hungry. Where would you like to go?”
“You’re asking me a thinking question. You know I have no mind.”
“I just thought.”
“You can, I can’t.” He takes a deep breath and exhales slowly. “I’m sorry. I have no heartbeat, but some senses are still working. You’re trying.” He taps his temple. “Here, inside my head, I just can’t decide. I can see the restaurants and their names, but I just can’t choose.”
His eyes open with a new awareness. “Oh, no. OH NO. I’ve lost it.”
“What have you lost now?”
“I’ve lost my soul.”
“How do you know that?”
“The soul is the organ of choice. This place? That food? None of it matters to me.” His body slumps against the car door. “I can’t think, I can’t feel, and now I can’t decide. I’ve lost my soul.”
“Honey, please, take your head off the window. It’s the Holidays. Try to cheer up. Something good will happen soon.”
“Something happening soon is what I’m worried about.” He stares at the passing cars. “I have a feeling this has happened before. But, when I concentrate, it’s only light, bright white light.”
* * *
Behind the rocks, the animal slinks closer to the stable.
A cow stomps a hoof and twitches its nose.
The man gathers straw.
A little longer. I’ve waited so long for this moment.
* * *
“Midnight Service starts later this year.”
“Does it matter?” In suit and tie, he lies on the bed. “Anymore?”
“The service is later to allow more time for the pageant to finish in the hall.” She looks at her watch. “It’s time to go or we’ll be late. Up and at ‘em.”
“I can’t move.”
“Take my hand.”
“I have no strength.”
“You can borrow mine.”
“That’s it! Strength is the last to go. First the mind, next the heart, then the will and finally the strength. I’m done for, finished. It’s all over.”
“It can’t be that bad. What do you feel? You must feel something.”
“I feel like I’m not me. I’m not here. I’m. . . .”
“I CAN SEE. . . . I can see through the white. There’s a shape out there. . . .”
* * *
The young mothers tucks the swaddling cloths around the newborn child.
Now is my time. The animal rears up and open its mouth to strike. . . .
Grabbing the sling at his waist, the young shepherd boy loads and releases the stone.
The rock strikes the forehead of the creature with a dull “Thud.”
At the sound, the mother spins, screams and throws her body across the infant in the manger.
Staff in hand, the man races to stand between the mother and child, and the twisted shape on the ground. With his foot, the man nudges the body. He turns to his wife. “The beast is dead.”
The young mother cradles the infant in her arms. She raises her head and smiles to the boy. “What is your name?”
“David.” The small shepherd fidgets from foot to foot.
“This is the son of David.” She folds the cloths back to allow the baby boy to reach his tiny hands into the air. “The son of the King.”
Overhead, the clouds break. White light shines through the darkness and bathes the mother and child in a soft radiance. In the skies, bright shapes soar. Music echoes among the rocks and over the hillsides.
The little warrior kneels and lowers his head. Around him, other shepherds bow and drop, one-by-one, to kneel before the baby.
* * *
She touches his face.
“Are you alright?”
“I don’t understand.”
“I was needed. Somewhere else. All of me was needed.”
“All of you.” She examines him from head to toe. “Are you really all here?”
“I am.” He raises her chin and kisses his wife lightly on the lips. “Mind, heart, soul and strength.”
She leans back. “You are a surprising man, David King.”
“I remember now.” A far-away look crosses his face. “At this time of year, we can be called to help.” He draws her closer. “It really is me,” he whispers. “And Christmas really is here, for all of us, again this year and every year.”