Part 3 of 3:
Sally drove her Volkswagen Golf through what had now become a blizzard. Snow fell relentlessly, covering the streets and making visibility downright invisible. To make matters worse, the streets were icy beneath the snow. The small car treated corners as if they were an option, and often skidded into the opposite lane while taking them.
“Slow down, can’t you?” said Peter, white-knuckling it in the passenger seat. “We want to get there alive.”
“Oh, be quiet. I’ve driven snowmobiles at my folks’ place in the mountains; this is no different. Besides, we’re practically the only car on the road.”
“What if you hit a pedestrian?”
“This is the West Side. The only people crazy enough to be out in this weather on Christmas Eve on the West Side are hard enough to bounce off.”
They swerved dangerously round another corner, barely missing a mailbox. Peter took the hint and closed his eyes.
“What does your pendant tell you?” said Sally once they’d straightened out.
“We’re getting close. The hostel should be down the next street if I remember rightly.”
“Any ideas as to what we do when we get there?”
“Beyond putting a stop to Mr. Sockforahead once and for all? No.”
“The Grinch, Ebenezer Scrooge: they’ve got nothing on Mr. Sockforahead for ruining a girl’s Christmas.”
“I’ve not exactly been enjoying it, either,” said Peter. “But …”
“But I’m glad I’m spending it with you.”
They shared a glance that lasted longer than it should have. When Sally looked back at the road, she saw the Salvation Army Hostel approaching rapidly on the left. She hit the brakes and the car spun out, making a bee-line for the sidewalk.
A man standing ’neath the awning ringing a bell dived sideways as the car bore down on him. Sally side-swiped his donation-bucket, sending coins – and at least one bottle-cap – flying. The car continued on past the door and came to rest half-on, half-off the pavement. Sally put the parking brake on and gave a sigh of relief.
“Well, we made it. You all right, Peter?”
“I had flashbacks,” he said.
They clambered out of the car, and with much slipping and falling about reached the door of the hostel. The bell ringer propped himself up on his elbows, adjusted his lopsided glasses and watched them go inside. He picked up his bell to find it dented and useless, and threw it out into the snow.
The TV camera swivelled to meet them as they hurried inside, stealing the limelight from a hysterical man in a dress. Sally shielded her eyes from the glare of the light and tried to assess the situation.
“It might not look it,” she said, “but we’re police officers.” She dug in her handbag and produced her badge. “What’s going on?”
“They’ve got Santa!” said one of the shabby gentlemen littering the room. “Through there.” He pointed a fingerless glove towards the dormitory.
Sally and Peter exchanged glances and made their way over. Either side of the doorway, volunteers were taking care of two wounded men. “Mr. Sockforahead’s been busy by the look of this,” said Sally. “I’d better give them the once-over. Will you be all right on your own?”
Peter caressed his pendant and took a deep breath. “In that movie, how did they defeat the Gremlins in the end?”
Sally frowned. “Good old-fashioned sunlight did the trick. I don’t see how that’s going to help you, though.”
“I guess it was too much to ask for some kind of epiphany. Well, here I go.”
Peter opened the door a crack and peered around it ever so carefully. “Not a creature was stirring …” he breathed. He edged into the room and let the door swing to. In a sea of empty cots, he made out one that was occupied. A fat, Santa-like shape lay there. Two dull, orange points of light sprouted from its head. Breathing, laboured and full of phlegm, was the only sound.
He’s not dead, then. Thank goodness I’m not too late.
A quick scan of the room revealed no other occupants. But the walls were dripping with shadows, and the light was barely enough to read by. Mr. Sockforahead and his latest victim could be lurking anywhere.
Light switch, thought Peter. I’ve seen enough thrillers to know they never turn the lights on in these situations. He found the switch to the left of the door. Hah! I have you now, Mr. Sockforahead!
A ceiling fan started whirring.
With nothing else for it, Peter took slow easy steps towards the figure on the cot. He kept Santa – if indeed that’s who it was – in his peripheral vision and let his eyes play over the room as he went. He kept one hand on his truncheon, and the other on the pendant. The cat’s-eye seemed to be growing warmer, but he couldn’t be sure if his own body heat was to blame. Among the musty, unclean smells, that of tobacco smoke became prominent.
With nothing untoward occurring, he reached the cot and stared down at the sleeping Santa. He seemed peaceful enough. The source of the orange glow turned out to be two lit cigarettes. The butt-ends had been stuffed into Santa’s nostrils, accounting for his difficult breathing.
Peter reached down to remove them.
“Boo!” A ghostly face became illuminated by a flickering lighter.
Peter jumped back, tripped over a cot, and landed painfully in a sprawl. “Sonofa …!”
Mr. Sockforahead’s laughter fell on his ears like cheese-graters. A terrible rattling cough followed. The sock puppet and his helping hand stepped into what little light there was as Peter picked himself up.
“Pete! You got my invitation. Tom – the geezer with his bony arm up my backside – and I are having our very own Christmas party. We’ve got Santa, we’ve got presents. The only thing we were missing was a big fat turkey. Thanks for footing the bill.”
“Very funny, Mr. Sockforahead. What have you done to Santa?”
“He’s just taking a taser-induced nap while I think of something more permanent. Have you seen these things? They’re a lot of fun. Not as much fun as a gun, mind you, but a gun tends to be a one-shot pony.”
Tom’s other hand gave the taser a couple of quick bursts. Sparks arced across the electrodes, momentarily brightening the room.
“Hours of fun for the whole family, huh?” said Peter.
“Exactly! Say … where’s the blonde you were hanging out with? You brought her along, right?”
Peter hesitated. “She’s in the other room taking care of the people you hurt.”
“They’re gonna be all right, aren’t they?” It was Tom that spoke.
“I honestly don’t know – Tom, was it?” Tom nodded. “I can help you, Tom. I’ve beaten Mr. Sockforahead before. Together we can make sure no-one else gets hurt.”
“P’shaw!” said Mr. Sockforahead. “You ought to know by now I’m stronger than you, Pete. I’ve always had the upper hand – even if it belongs to someone else. Do you see what I did there?”
“I don’t hear anyone laughing.”
Mr. Sockforahead stared. “I don’t know why I invited you in the first place. You’re no fun anymore, Pete. We’ve grown apart, you and me. It’s that floozy’s fault.”
* * *
‘That floozy’ had done all she could for the two injured men. The man who’d been tasered was recovering well, but the man with the lump on his head had concussion – just how bad, Sally couldn’t tell. Paramedics would be arriving any minute now.
The door to the street burst open.
“That was quick—”
The lanky man that entered was no paramedic, unless he too was suffering a case of the civvies. He pushed his way past the hovering camera crew and searched the gathering of greasy faces.
“Can I help you, sir?” said Sally.
“Where is he – the man with the sock?” he seemed distraught.
“This is a delicate situation, I can’t just let you—”
“He’s my father!”
“In that case, you might be useful. Follow me.”
Sally went to the dormitory door. It hadn’t budged since Peter had gone through it. She listened carefully. It seemed awfully quiet in the room beyond.
I hope you’re all right in there, Peter.
* * *
“Don’t call her that!” said Peter, regretting the words immediately.
Mr. Sockforahead stared at him. “Defending her honour, Pete? Can it be that you’re serious about her?” He looked at Tom in mock-shock.
“She’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me.”
“And what about little old me? You wouldn’t have met her at all if it wasn’t for me.”
“How could you possibly know that?”
“Tom here read the newspaper article about my last great adventure. That’s the coolest thing about being a bum – you get to read your bed sheets.”
“So what are you saying?” said Peter. “You’ve done me a favour?”
“I’ve done you loads of favours, Petey boy. Who helped you get out into the fresh air so you could lose the flab? I see you’ve put some back on now, thank goodness. If it wasn’t for your weight helping gravity along, the world would start to spin backwards. Then where would we be? Still, it can’t be helped. Time for a roasting, turkey boy!”
Tom lunged forward with the taser. Peter dodged, and flipped a cot on its side as a barricade. “Tom, listen to me. You can defeat him if you just find the willpower!”
“What willpower?” said Tom. “I’m a lost cause. What jury’s going to believe a sock puppet did all this?” His leg kicked out and sent the flimsy cot skidding sideways.
Peter backed steadily towards the door. “There are cases dating back months. There are witnesses to Mr. Sockforahead’s deeds who’ll be more than willing to testify on your behalf. I’ll do everything in my power to see that you’re exonerated.”
Tom just shook his head. “Perhaps it’s better that I’m removed from society completely. Heaven knows I’ve been hovering at the edge of it for long enough. I’m sorry, mister, I really am.”
Peter found himself up against the wall. Mr. Sockforahead laughed maniacally, and Tom gave a final leap towards him. Peter gripped the thin, bony arm that held the taser. It possessed strength beyond the feebleness of Tom’s frame, and it was all Peter could do to keep the arcing taser from making contact.
Suddenly the door burst open. “Drop it!” said Sally, wielding a taser of her own.
Mr. Sockforahead wheeled to face her. “Home wrecker!” he shrieked.
“What?” she looked questioningly at Peter.
Tom gave an impossibly high kick – Peter heard joints pop – and Sally’s taser was knocked from her hand. A strangely familiar man entered the room and pushed past the two officers.
“Hey, don’t – it’s dangerous!” said Peter.
“No, let him,” said Sally, grabbing Peter by the arm.
The newcomer and Tom stared at one another. Mr. Sockforahead looked the man up and down and tutted impatiently. “Just zap this twerp and we can get on with your therapy.”
“Michael?” said Tom, tears springing to his eyes.
“Yes, father, it’s me,” said Michael. “I’ve been searching for you all these years!”
“You saw me on the news, I suppose?”
“I knew it was you right away.”
“A fine way to be reacquainted with your old pop, huh? Making a mess of Christmas again, just like all those years ago.”
“I don’t care about that. I just want you back in my life.” Michael took a step forward.
Mr. Sockforahead raised the taser. “If I’d wanted to be sick, I’d have taken a drink from the storm drain. Oh, wait, I did that already.”
The taser sparked, but Tom’s arm started to wobble. Peter could see he was trying to resist at last.
“That’s it,” he said. “You can do it, Tom!”
“Whaddya know?” said Mr. Sockforahead. “I guess I underestimated you, Tommy boy.”
“You won’t … control me … anymore, sock!” said Tom. The taser clattered to the floor, and Peter moved in to scoop it up. Tom flexed his liberated hand.
“Let me get that thing off,” said Michael, reaching for Mr. Sockforahead.
“No, stay back! I don’t want this bastard to get his hooks into you.”
“Whatcha gonna do, Tom?” said Mr. Sockforahead. “I’m Mr. Sockforahead. I’m indestructible! You and me are inseparable to the grave: your grave, that is!”
Tom’s hand plunged into his pocket. It emerged wielding the lighter.
“The lighter I gave you!” said Michael. “You still have it?”
“I’ve guarded it with my life,” said Tom. “I reckon it owes me payment in kind.”
Mr. Sockforahead, having dried out by now, and being of a highly inflammable nature, became engulfed in flames almost instantly.
“Sweet Jesus, I’m on fire!” he shrieked. “Well, this is a new experience.” Screaming, the sock puppet flailed wildly, only succeeding in fanning the flames.
“Get him outside, quick!” said Sally.
Between the three of them they hurried Tom out of the dormitory, through the crowded soup-kitchen and out into the snowy street. By now the arm of his coat was ablaze too. They threw him into the snow and rolled him about until the flames were out.
A blizzard raged around them. Snow didn’t fall so much as whirl. As Tom clutched at his smouldering hand, the blackened remnants of Mr. Sockforahead flaked off into the wind until there was nothing left.
“No!” cried Peter. “The pieces! Gather them up!” He chased after them, but they were carried away, scattered this way and that, and finally lost in the snow. Peter slipped over and lay cursing on the sidewalk in a foetal position.
Several ambulances arrived in due course. Tom was bandaged up and taken away in one with his son by his side. Peter and Sally, wrapped in blankets, watched the pair disappear down the street, their faces aglow with the promise of a new beginning.
“Well, it looks like they’ll be having a merry Christmas after all,” said Peter. “Maybe there’s some truth to what Mr. Sockforahead said.”
“What’s that?” said Sally.
“That, in his own misguided way, he helps people.”
“You don’t believe that, surely? If we hadn’t come along, who knows how this would’ve ended.”
Peter stared out into the deepening snow. “Yes, you’re right. But deep in his psyche, there must be a part of his creator that still keeps him in check.”
“You speak as if Mr. Sockforahead’s still out there.”
“Oh, he’s out there all right, and he’ll be back. He always finds a way.”
Sally gave a shiver. “Well, I’m not going to wait around in this snow until he shows up again. It’s still Christmas Eve. How about dinner and a movie at my place?”
Peter smiled. “As long as it’s not ‘Gremlins.’”
Joshua Blanc is the author of Tales of Elves and Trolls: The Crystal Goblin, a fantasy novel for all-ages. His no-holds-barred Mr. Sockforahead stories have appeared on TheWeirdCrap since 2000, making this year Mr. Sockforahead’s tenth anniversary. For more of Joshua’s eccentric wit, please visit: www.manitouslair.com. For more of Mr. Sockforahead, be sure to visit the My Strange Stories archives.