Well, the truth of it is I felt so disconnected I sat right down and wrote myself a letter. I plugged the little blue electric typewriter into the wall and placed it on the kitchen counter. I sat on a stool of questionable strength as my fingers hovered over the keys ...
I got back up and fixed a scotch and soda.
After a few sips my fingers started tapping the keys. I wrote of the strange experiment that took place in the Navy’s “Plan B” program, science so strange, so off the hook nobody would believe. I wrote about ghosts, haunted by the death of friends. Ghosts on Christmas Eve, good stuff, but ...
I know a girl who once appeared to die, and then she came back, more alive than ever. [For the shocking story of Devilgirl’s death, then known only as “the blonde,” see: Intoxicated Detective No. 1 and of course the new Lucy Hell Devilgirl comic book!]
But where is she now?
Maybe she has some sort of cool Devilgirl lair.
And living in the flesh.
I stopped typing.
What the hell am I doing?
I stared at the paper rolled into the machine.
Santa Claus on his goddamned way and I was writing some touchy feely crap to a girl.
I couldn’t stop her, couldn’t catch her as she ran for the street ...
Then she came back ...
Secret Society science, or something darker, more sinister.
On the street they call me the "Intoxicated Detective," in more superheroish circles, "Alcoholman," but at work I'm simply known as Secret Agent Adams. Cool, right? A science fiction “super sailor” that gets strange powers when he drinks alcohol. A person, whether I get my powers from a bottle or not, who could possibly do some good tonight if I put my mind forward, and I’m just sitting here feeling sorry for myself because it’s Christmas-goddamned-Eve and I haven’t heard from my ...
I see her at the Sanctuary sometimes, never quite in the same costume, always something to distract the mind and then POW! You don’t know if your will is your own anymore.
Or is it just the loneliness, ice-cubes, and liquor talking ... and what is loneliness?
I opened the cupboard where plates and cups and things like that should be and pulled out the old hardback dictionary. The book had seen some wear. The cover had long lost its dust jacket and the original blue cloth cover looked a pale gray now. I opened the pages and looked up “loneliness.”
Characterized by aloneness. That was a good one.
Solitary. That was good, too.
Unfrequented by people.
Dejected by the awareness of being alone. Yeah, I think we have a winner. Dejected by the awareness of being alone. That’s me.
I put on my fading navy-blue peacoat and walked out into the evening. Doesn’t snow in Surf City, but I wished it would, just this once to cover up my thoughts and possibly my tracks. Maybe I’ll move up north, live with the wild cats and have a white Christmas in the mountains ... or stay underground at the Sanctuary in Capital City.
Dejected by the awareness of being alone. I moved on up to the boulevard. I didn’t have a watch but it felt like seven or eight o’ clock. You could still see a few people bustling around the last few open shops on Main Street, but most stores had closed and most people had gone home so they wouldn’t feel unfrequented by people.
Well, I thought, hands wedged inside my coat pockets, white Christmas, blue Christmas -- who gives a damn? All a hustle anyway. Isn’t it? Money money money ... Illusions. Jesus born; Jesus dead. And all the kids want the latest from Santa’s garage.
But there was a time ...
Yeah, something like visiting Disneyland when you’re a kid, a time of unique magic. Heart jumping around excited. Staying up listening for jingle bells and ho ho ho. Ripping into those presents. The smiles on the faces of your parents ...
Wasn’t paying attention and walked right into a kid on the sidewalk, knocked him back on his butt and almost street-side, too.
“Whoa, sorry little buddy!”
I grabbed his hand and helped him up.
“Sorry,” he said.
“Hey, no, was my fault.”
He looked to be about eight or nine, blonde hair poking out from underneath a dark wool watch cap, and I think blue eyes hid somewhere underneath the dirt on his face.
He made a move to go around me.
“You all right?” I asked.
“Yeah,” he said.
His clothes looked like they hadn’t been washed in days, didn’t even have a jacket. Wasn’t freezing, but December goes cold in Southern California.
“Where’s your mom?”
Shrugged his shoulders.
He shook his head no.
“Out here by yourself?”
He thought about it, didn’t answer. I guessed that was smart; I could be anybody from anywhere.
“You want me to find you a cop or someone that can help you get home?”
“No!” he said.
“Hey, take it easy. Not all cops are bad, you know. You lost?”
He shrugged his shoulders again. “Left the Home.”
He shook his head yes.
“SCO [Surf City Orphanage] is a tough place.”
“Really mean there.”
“I bet. So you ran away?”
“How long you been wandering around here?”
“I don’t know, since yesterday, I guess.”
“No,” he said. He looked like he was fighting back tears.
“What’s your plan?”
He shrugged those little shoulders again. “Get a job, I guess.”
“Is it hard to find a job?”
“Sometimes,” I said, “it’s impossible. Hey, did I tell you I was an orphan too?”
He smiled at that.
“Well,” I said, “The Dirty Beatnik coffee shop is still open. Always open. You wanna hot chocolate or something? From one orphan to another. I won’t rat you out.”
He looked apprehensive.
Smart kid. “All right,” I said. “I’ll tell you what. You walk on the other side of the street. The Beatnik’s just two blocks down. I’ll meet you there. That way, if I am a creep, I can’t bother you.”
He nodded his agreement and stepped into the street without looking. A swerving driver slowly but surely swam down the road right at the little guy. A vision of the blonde dying just blocks away from here leaped up in my mind.
I jumped into the street and grabbed him by the collar and pulled him back -- as the car fished along past.
“Look both ways!” I said. “Didn’t your mother teach you ... Never mind. Look, I’m going to the coffee shop. You wanna follow along, fine. If not, lots of luck little bro, but you might wanna get back to the Home and at least sneak a last meal, right?”
I walked on and he followed a little ways behind.
At the Beatnik we had hot chocolate and donuts. He ate like a starving animal. What was I thinking? I ordered him some juice and hot vegetable soup.
About halfway through the meal, a man, half in the bag so to speak, walked in reeking of Christmas spirits.
The kid laughed.
“What’s so funny?”
He nodded to the big fella on the wine. “He looks like Santa Claus,” he said.
Big belly, white hair, white beard ... yeah, he did, pretty funny, so I started laughing too.
“Yeah,” I said, “I think Santa’s a little too juiced to drive his sleigh.”
The kid looked up. “He’s drunk?”
“Shhh, yeah, maybe, but it’s not polite to talk about.”
“The Home says it’s bad to get drunk.”
“Well, yeah,” I said, “if you drink too much it usually ain’t a very good idea.”
The kid smiled. “They say 'ain’t' isn’t a very good idea either.”
I laughed. “All right, kid. You got me. Hey, what’s your name?”
“Joe,” he said in a serious voice.
“Joe,” I repeated in the same tone. “Not Joey or anything like that?”
“No,” he said, “just Joe. I picked it out myself.”
“All right,” I said, “my name’s Alex.” I looked at Joe’s hands covered in food and dirt. “You don’t have to shake my hand, though. Dang, I should have made you wash yours. When you’re done go wipe that crud off of your face and hands.”
“Hey,” I said, “Joe’s a pretty cool name. You ever see a G.I. Joe?”
“Those little action figures?”
“Nah, not the little ones. The original G.I. Joe was big, the very first action figure. Back in the day guys had to play with army men that didn’t move. Joe was so cool. When I was your age G.I. Joes came with 'Kung Fu Grip.'” I showed him what the grip looked like with my own hands. “So he could actually hold onto weapons and equipment and go on adventures and stuff.”
“And do kung fu?”
“Cool,” said Joe. “Most of the toys at the Home are pretty lame, but sometimes you get a new shirt or something on Christmas.”
He got up, slowly, and went to the bathroom to clean up.
That gave me time to think.
What the hell was I going to do with this kid? I told him I wouldn’t rat him out and I couldn’t. Should I adopt him? Maybe I could make him my young ward like Dick Grayson to Bruce Wayne. He could be my sidekick.
And when the monsters came to town and Joe didn’t have any superpowers and Joe got killed two seconds into the game -- who would be to blame?
As I sat there waiting for his return I got an idea. I wouldn’t rat the kid out but I would talk him into to going back. I could then check out the facility for myself and maybe call somebody if things looked sketchy. Then I would volunteer my “skills” as a “magician” to entertain the kids. All I would need is a bunch of paper cups and some punch as props. Then I would discretely add the variety of liquors -- making sure the kids didn’t drink any -- and turn myself invisible, float in the air, demonstrate superhuman strength, maybe even read their minds ...
He sat down and said, “You gonna turn me in now?”
“No,” I said, “but I’ve got an idea.”
At that time Old Saint Nick had finished his coffee and got up to leave. But as he passed Joe he stopped and turned.
“Time to go, Joseph.”
“It's Joe,” said Joe.
“Very well. It’s time to go, Joe.”
I looked up at the rosy-cheeked man. “What’s going on?”
“Excuse me, Mr. Adams. I didn’t mean to be rude. Joseph, er, Joe is in my employ. He’s a bit of a rascal and, well, he’s been having some fun with you.”
The big guy reached down and gently pulled up the wool cap from Joe’s head ...
... revealing pointy ears underneath.
“Sorry I lied to you,” said Joe, “and thanks for the snack. You just seemed so lonely and I needed a break, delivering all those toys ...” He looked up at his boss with bent eyebrows.
The big man sighed. “Almost done now, Joe, but uh,” the man looked down at his watch, “we’ve really got to get a move on.”
I looked around and no one else seemed to notice Joe’s ears and now with his hat wedged back down on his head, hard to believe I even saw what I saw.
“Look!” A woman in the shop stood up. “Look outside!” she said. “It’s snowing!”
We all gathered outside and stood amazed as the cool snow fell for the first time in Surf City, and when I turned to look for Joe and the big guy, they had already disappeared into the soft storm.
I got home a little after midnight and found a package about the size of a shoebox in front of my door. The mystery gift came wrapped in plain brown packaging paper and tied with a simple brown piece of string.
I picked it up and went inside.
A present? For me? Maybe a time bomb courtesy of Frankenstein 9 or that Angry Mad Scientist Man.
I cut the string with a switchblade and ripped the paper open. Yup, a shoebox all right. Okay, I thought, old Saint Nick left me a pair of old sneakers. I opened the lid, half expecting to find another G.I. Joe treasure like I did that day on the street before the Happy Face gang jumped me, but inside the box a Barbie stared up at me, and not just any Barbie. This babe was outfitted in a red devil outfit to look like ...
“Devilgirl,” I said.
Those familiar ice-cubes rattled in a drink behind me.
I looked at her, the real thing, sitting at my kitchen table with her x-rated fishnet stocking legs crossed, the Devilgirl with the genuine sex vision that did the hypnotize, hypnotic thing, and I didn't care about that because the Christmas version of her costume easily took away my will ... before I ever got to the brown chocolate marbles of those incredible eyes.
“You should probably call me Lucy,” she said, “since I’ll probably be spending the night and I’ve already gone through all of your photo albums.”
I placed the Devilgirl Barbie on a shelf next to the Navy Sea Adventurer G.I. Joe, whom had previously been solitary. They looked good together. Joe didn’t feel dejected by the awareness of being alone anymore, and neither did I.
"Alcoholman Christmas" by Bradley Mason Hamlin
© 2009 Mystery Island Publications. Edited by Lucy Hell. Published 11.12.09. All rights reserved.
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