Author's notes: This is what happens when I try to write a Christmas story.
Dedication: To all the writers out there who've ever had their stories taken over by their characters.
'Twas the night before Christmas
SCENE: Typical North Pole-like setting with Christmas accessories; lots of red and green, red and white-striped candy canes, a sleigh full of toys.
Chris Larabee stood ramrod straight in front of his men, in full take-charge mode. "Okay, Vin and me will take the point. Josiah, you and Ezra bring up the rear. That leaves Nathan and JD for the center."
Buck entered the yard in time to catch most of Chris' speech. Unlike his western-garbed comrades, he was decked out in a red Santa suit with white fur trim characteristic of the traditional figure he was to portray. He'd not yet had the time to add the familiar white beard or the padded stomach. In contrast to his jaunty clothing, his expression was dark and thundering. "Chris! What the hell do you think you're doing?"
Chris folded his arms across his chest, not the least bit intimidated by the angry specter striding toward him. He shrugged. "My job."
Buck shook his head in obvious disagreement. "I don't think so. Just who is supposed to be the star of this here story? Does the title say 'A Visit from Saint Chris?'"
Not in the mood to argue, Chris stepped aside, gesturing for Buck to take his place. Buck proceeded to repeat everything Chris had just said. "All right. Vin and Chris 'll take the lead, with Nathan and JD behind them, and Ezra and Josiah at the end."
Whereas Ezra chose to keep quiet when Chris was giving out the orders, he felt no need for such restraint in regard to Buck. Raising a hand to gain Buck's attention, Ezra stated, "Mr. Wilmington. I am afraid that Chaucer will not be content to take a rearward position."
Buck questioned, "Who said anything about Chaucer? There's gonna be reindeer pulling the sleigh. Chaucer gets to sit this one out."
Josiah spoke up. "I'm afraid there's been a change in plans. Before you got here, we all agreed that we would only take this AU business so far. Giving up our horses is not part of the deal."
Buck removed the jaunty red cap from his head, the better to run his hands through his hair in frustration. "You can't do that."
Vin calmly replied, "Already been done."
Buck looked around the yard. He could see no trace of the reindeer that had previously occupied the area. Where once had stood reindeer, now stomped six impatient horses. Buck reached into the voluminous pockets of his coat, retrieving a sheaf of papers. He flipped through the neatly typed words until he found what he was looking for. Pointing emphatically to the pertinent passage, he stated, "See, it says right here, 'eight tiny reindeer.'"
Chris shrugged, clearly unimpressed. "Since when have you known us to follow the script?"
Buck looked around at his teammates. Their unwavering expressions informed him that this was a battle he'd already lost. His hands tightened into fists, crumpling the papers. He angrily shoved them back in his pocket. "Okay. Fine. Instead of eight tiny reindeer, we'll have six big-ass horses." His voice heavy with sarcasm, he added, "And won't the kiddies all be thrilled at that."
JD attempted to ease his friend's concern. "Don't worry, Buck. There won't be any kids around to see us. You seem to have forgotten that the children are 'nestled all snug in their beds.'"
Nathan added, "Yeah, dreaming of sugarplums, whatever the hell those are."
Ezra reminded Buck, "If you don't want to change the story even further and be down to five 'big-ass horses' pulling your sleigh, you need to assign myself and Chaucer somewhere other than the rear."
Buck looked at his watch, tapping his foot impatiently. "We're wasting time here. How about if JD goes to the back, and you and Chaucer get the middle."
It was JD's turn to get pissed off. "Now wait just a gosh darn minute here . . ."
JD's angry speech was interrupted by Vin's raised eyebrow and questioning echo, "Gosh darn?"
Buck laughed. "Now if that don't make you sound all of two years old."
JD flushed in embarrassment. "I can't help it. It's Christmas time. We're supposed to keep this thing G-rated."
Josiah laughed. "Like 'big-ass' is a word that kids can say in polite company?"
Vin snickered. "Why, sure it is. I can see it now, the whole family gathered around for Christmas dinner, and Tiny Tim pipes up, 'Why, Gran'ma, what a big ass you got.'"
Even JD had to join in the general laughter at that comment. When his teammates' hilarity died down enough that he could be heard, he picked up where he'd left off. "Anyway, as I was saying, if you think for a [expletive deleted] minute I'm gonna let you shove me all the way to the back just 'cause you're bigger and older than I am, you've got another thing coming."
Ignoring the content of JD's tirade to nitpick the grammar, Ezra pointed out a glaring error. "Mr. Dunne. You have just uttered one of my pet peeves. The cliche you've misquoted is 'You've got another *think* coming, not another *thing.*"
JD waved off Ezra's concern. "Think, thing, it's all the same."
Warming to his subject, Ezra continued, "Once again, you have displayed an abysmal ignorance of the English language. The Oxford English Dictionary defines 'think' as . . ."
Buck was content to let Ezra and JD continue their verbal battle. By the time Ezra was done with him, the kid would have forgotten what he was originally complaining about. Chris walked up to Buck, commenting, "I'm impressed. I didn't even know JD knew the word [expletive deleted]."
Buck smiled, "Yeah, that kid's just full of surprises." To pass the time, Buck started paging through the script again. "Hey, I wonder if [expletive deleted] made it into the script. If it did, then I can call Ezra a @#%*!" Buck quickly scanned to the bottom of the page, disappointed when he saw [expletive deleted] and @#%*! instead of [expletive deleted] and @#%*! "Oh, well. It was worth a try. Guess it's time to get back to the story."
Clapping his hands together to gain the attention of his distracted teammates, Buck announced, "Okay, guys, let's get this show on the road. As soon as you all get into your costumes, we can start making like Santa Claus." Buck started to get worried when nobody moved. Maybe they just didn't like his dictatorial (gotta love that new-word-a-day calendar) tone of voice. That's okay, Buck could do nice. "C'mon, guys, what's Saint Buck without his trusty elves?" His smile faltered at his friends' continued silence. "Guys?"
Vin quietly announced, "Ain't gonna be no elf."
Chris, JD, Nathan, Josiah and Ezra all echoed Vin's words.
"I ain't changing."
"No elves here."
"I believe the elf costumes have been consigned irretrievably to some remote location."
Buck looked from Chris to Vin, the two men who would appear at the head of the team. Chris wore his usual somber head-to-toe black; Vin, his well-worn buckskins. "Black and buckskin. Real festive. Maybe we'll start a new trend for Christmas."
Chris agreed. "Maybe."
Buck angrily stomped a booted foot. "Dammit! You can't even tell when I'm bein' sarcastic." He reached into another coat pocket, this time pulling out jingling bells tied to red and green ribbons. "Would you at least wear some of these?"
Vin shook his own booted foot. The soft chime of a spur could be heard. "Got my own jingle bells right here."
Buck looked around at his stoic teammates, seeing that he'd lost another battle. Angrily, he shoved the bells back into the coat. "All right. Fine. You want to keep changing the script, you go on ahead."
Buck turned around to confront his readers. "And if you all think I'm gonna go prancin' around in a Santa suit while they all get to make like cowboys, you've been drinkin' way too much eggnog." With that, Buck quickly divested himself of the Santa suit.
Now attired in blue jeans and a blue plaid shirt, he exchanged the red fur jacket for his more comfortable brown leather. Not wanting to give up entirely on the Christmas theme, he tucked a sprig of mistletoe into the outer band of his Stetson. Smiling to himself, he commented, "Doesn't hurt to be prepared."
In no time at all, the sleigh was loaded with presents for all of the good little boys and girls. It took considerably longer to harness the horses. Peso, in particular, objected to being harnessed to his fellows. Vin had to do quite a bit of ducking and weaving to avoid being bitten by his own mount. "Dammit, Peso, it's only for one night. Can't you find just a little Christmas spirit in that ornery hide of yours?"
Buck laughed unsympathetically. "How's Peso supposed to know what Christmas spirit is when his Master is doin' his best to play Scrooge?"
Vin frowned. "I ain't the only one here who thought that dressing up like some pansy-ass elf and playing with reindeer was a bad idea. Don't mean I ain't got no Christmas spirit."
Josiah pontificated. "You gentlemen seem to be forgetting the true meaning of Christmas. In a little town called Bethlehem . . ."
Nathan cut off his friend. "Trust me, we all know that story well. This is neither the time nor the place for it. That's for tomorrow, when we're starring in the remake of 'A Charlie Brown Christmas.'"
Chris objected, "Now, I never agreed to do that one."
Somehow, amid the general bickering and discord, Saint Buck and his band of merry men managed to complete their task and were on their way. Their first stop was a lonely little cabin in the middle of the woods.
As they approached their destination, the ride became much rougher than anticipated. There was a reason Chris had originally assigned Vin to the front of the team and Ezra to the back. That reason suddenly made itself known when Chaucer, tired of staring at Peso's rear, bit the poor animal. Peso, not one to take such an assault without retaliating, immediately began to buck and kick. In no time at all, the team was in total disarray. The harnesses were broken; the sled overturned; the presents scattered all over the countryside. Miraculously (for, after all, it is the season of miracles), aside from the bite, neither man nor beast suffered any injury.
Buck shook his head, looking over the scattered gifts and equipment. "If that don't beat all."
Chris declared, "I think that this has gone far enough. It's time to do this Seven-style. Since everyone knows there's no such thing as Santa, we'll leave the gift giving to friends and family. Once we get this mess cleaned up, there's only one more place we gotta go."
Seven voices rang out as one: "Saloon!"
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