By Matthew Sturges
Walter McGhee woke up two minutes before the alarm sounded and shuffled into the bathroom, careful to shut the door quietly before turning on the light. Margaret did not have to be out of bed for another hour and if he were to wake her now, at 6:15, there would be consequences.
It no longer bothered Walter that he was balding, or that he was overweight. He’d been faced with those realities for years and they were nothing new. His frown was just an old habit, borne of years spent sulking at a reflection that did not quite live up to its expectations. It was almost a relief in a way, these days, knowing that both his hairline and his waistline were far beyond his control. There was nothing to be done about it; that was the reality of it, and because he knew it was real he also knew that there was no use trying to change it.
Reality was a favorite subject of Walter’s. He’d spent his adult life acclimating himself to it; it was an acquired taste. Having acquired it years ago, however, he took a certain pride in pointing out to himself how reality had won out over whatever dreams and fantasies he might once have had. He had officially taken reality’s side on these issues.
Walter hated Christmas, although not for the reasons one might expect. It wasn’t the way Christmas made lonely people like him feel even lonelier, nor was it the phony good cheer passed around at the office, stinking of insincerity. Nor was it the odious burden of purchasing gifts for neighbors and coworkers that he didn’t particularly care for and who didn’t think much of him, either. Those were perfectly good reasons, but they weren’t why he hated Christmas so much. It was the Job. The Job he got stuck with every year at this time and always swore he would never accept again.
Today was the first day of the Christmas season at Harrison Bell’s, San Cibola’s largest and most prestigious department store, and Walter was now officially the mayor of Santa’s Village. His task it was to audition prospective Santas, his to ensure that the ersatz snow was sprinkled proportionally about the plastic pine trees and tiny wooden buildings, his to badger the ladies in gift wrapping to wrap the hundreds of cheap toys that would be handed out to the children on Santa’s lap over the next three weeks. And he hated it. He hated it and had hated it for ten years.
And then there were the elves.
The elves bothered Walter in a way that he could not express. He was not a particularly literate or poetic man, and to express the subtle nuances of unease that he felt when he interacted with the elves would have been beyond him. But the reason for it was simple: they were dwarfs. All of them. Small people. He didn’t know what to call them; they made him uncomfortable, just standing there in their little green and white outfits with the caps and the bells and the pointed shoes, seemingly oblivious to the fact that they were not normal. Walter wanted to believe that he was enlightened enough to look past their differences. He wanted to see the elves as human beings, indifferent to their tiny stature or their funny little faces, or their squat, waddling walks, but he couldn’t. That was another reality he was forced to accept. The elves had stirred in him a bigotry that felt cold and ancient, and he hated them for it. Walter wanted to believe that he was a good person, and these elves proved him wrong every time he looked at them. He was not a good person. The elves bothered him. Because they were dwarfs and they were not normal.
But was there more to it than that? He thought hard, plying his Buick Regal up the 101, already thick with morning traffic building between Hygate and San Cibola. Certainly there was something odd about them beyond their stature. There were eight of them, little old geezers and pudgy women who were all related to each other somehow, although by blood or marriage Walter had never quite figured out. They were paid enormous salaries by Harrison Bell’s, upwards of sixty thousand a year, and as far as Walter could tell they only worked the three weeks before Christmas. And that was with an extremely loose definition of the word work.
Most days they just goofed around, hopping back and forth on their heels, singing little out-of-tune ditties, and getting in everyone’s way. Their leader, a cranky old goat by the name of Ferisher even had the nerve to drink on the job; he carried a little flask of something around at the store and he’d take little nips off of it when he thought no one was looking.
Once, his first year on the Job, Walter tried to complain to upper management about the elves and their work habits (or lack thereof) and his general disaffinity for them. Wade Harrison himself had looked Walter right in the eye and told him that the elves were considered extremely valuable employees and he was to treat them with all the deference of visiting foreign dignitaries. Something about a crucial investor’s insistence. Harrison had gone so far as to imply that Walter was free to seek employment elsewhere if he could not abide by Harrison’s instructions on the matter. So that was that.
Walter edged the Buick into the space reserved for “Assistant Store Manager” in Harrison Bell’s underground garage. He sat, staring at the cinder block wall painted with a blue “Level A” and let the car idle for a bit. His teeth were clenched, his jaw ached. In his competitive days he’d scoffed at people who had lives like this. People who trudged into jobs they hated, day in and day out, with no sense of accomplishment or merit and no hope for ever doing any better. He tried not to think about it.
Instead, he allowed himself a moment to fantasize about Deena, the executive assistant assigned to him during the Holiday season. In just a few brief seconds, Walter was able to imagine himself in a number of wildly divergent naughty escapades with Deena, and even a few that were simply romantic or outright ludicrous, like the one in which he rescued Deena from muggers and she clung to him in breathy gratitude, her dark hair flowing over his arms as he held her, her firm round breasts pushing against his chest.
Walter’s feelings about Deena were complex. For the past two years that she’d been working with him down in Santa’s Village they’d gotten along well, and maybe that was the problem. It wasn’t just that he was attracted to Deena; he’d been attracted to plenty of women since his marriage and hadn’t ever considered pursuing them. But since getting to know Deena, he genuinely preferred her company to just about anyone else’s; and he’d become certain over the past few weeks that he was, in fact, in love with her. There were, however, major impediments to a romantic involvement. The most obvious was that he was married, although he admitted to himself that it was not his loyalty to Margaret that caused him to feel guilty when he fantasized about Deena. It was more of a vague, Freudian sense of immorality that curtailed his flights of fancy.
The second, less surmountable obstacle was that Deena apparently had no romantic interest in him whatsoever. Why would she? She was twenty-nine and beautiful; she had a new boyfriend every other week. These were men who played professional hockey and Italian playboys and bouncers at popular nightclubs. Walter could never compete with men like that, he knew. It was futile. But that didn’t stop him from dreaming about it while he rode the elevator to the lobby.
Santa’s Village was laid out, as always, in the main atrium of Harrison Bell’s, directly in front of the enormous artificial tree that rose nearly forty feet to the glass ceiling of the atrium. Santa’s chair stood at the apex of an artificial hill, so the children sitting on his lap could have an unobstructed of Powell Street, with the garlanded splendor of Oro Boulevard beyond. Oro ran two blocks straight into Olympic Plaza, where the city’s Christmas tree vied with Harrison Bell’s for ascendancy. People came from miles around to see the view from Santa’s chair, and it was not unusual for grown men to crawl into his lap and take pictures.
The Village proper surrounded the throne like that of island natives around a central volcano. The various structures, none of which were more than five feet high, appeared to be constructed of gingerbread (they were not), and included among other things a workshop, a toy vault, Santa’s House and a number of smaller unlabeled structures. Each of these tiny buildings served some prosaic function as well: the workshop was a dressing room for the elves, the toy vault actually held the stacks of hastily wrapped toys for Santa to distribute, and Santa’s House was, in reality, the john.
As usual, the elves caromed about the village juggling, doing handstands, farting, telling jokes, and (occasionally) working. Their outfits, new this year, made them look like tiny Germans at Oktoberfest; the caps, suspenders, breeches and lederhosen all of a dark forest green. Ferisher, the leader of the bunch, was leaning against the candy-striped North Pole sucking on an Orange Julius.
“Ferisher!” Walter called, crossing the distance from the elevator with purposeful strides. He approached the small man and knelt, putting his arm roughly around Ferisher’s shoulder. “I don’t think they have Orange Julius at the North Pole. You get my drift?”
Ferisher cocked his head. “You can say that again,” he mumbled, taking a noisy slurp from the straw. “All you get to eat in that place is milk and cookies, day in and day out.”
“That’s as may be,” said Walter, pursing his lips, “but I guess what I’m trying to get at is that I’d prefer it if you didn’t eat or drink while on the job, because it doesn’t look very good.”
Ferisher nodded. “Oh, I see.” He took another sip. “Well, I prefer to keep drinking it, because it’s tasty. So where does that leave us, eh?” He raised his eyebrows.
“Um, I’m going to have to insist that you put your drink away until break time, okay?”
Ferisher took a few steps away and turned his back on Walter, bending over. “And I’m going to have to insist that you take a big ol’ bite of my ass!” he called over his shoulder. He whooped. “Oh, that’s a good one.”
Walter was trying to think of what to say next when Deena appeared. Her skirt flowed across the linoleum of the atrium, brushing the floor gently as she walked. When he looked at Deena it was as though she were the only thing in the room that was in full color. Everything else was washed-out and faded.
“Hi guys!” she said. Walter swooned. Could there be anything in the world as beautiful as Deena? How could he ever be satisfied with anything less than her? How could he go home to Margaret tonight after bathing in her radiance? With a casual hand, she pushed the hair out of her face in a gesture surely designed to drive him mad.
“Well, hello, Deena. I was just having a chat with our Mr. Ferisher, uh, about the relative merits of the Orange Julius versus the, uh, Slurpee.”
She nodded slowly. “I see. And what have you decided?”
Ferisher looked back and forth from Deena to Walter, a strange look on his wrinkled little face. Then, very carefully, he said, “Well, if you want to know what I think, it’s that Walter here is correct. The Slurpee is a better drink. I’m converted!” He danced a jig, the bells on his shoes jangling.
“Really?” Deena laughed. “And here all this time I though you and Mr. McGhee didn’t get along. Well, it’s good to know the two of you are friends now; it does my heart good.” She smiled. “Mr. McGhee, if you’d like to look over the inventory reports, I have some time right now.”
Walter stammered. “Ah, the inventory. Right. You know, it’s interesting Deena. I was just reading in Business Week about the way that logistic trends affect inventory practices.”
Deena’s smile faltered a bit. “Yes?” she said.
Walter knew he should just stop talking, but he couldn’t. Whenever he got around Deena, his mouth opened and a torrent of nonsense gushed forward. He knew this. He could see it coming a mile away. He promised himself that he would stop it, take a public speaking class, read a self-help book, even tape his mouth shut if he had to. Anything to keep that perfect smile from falling the way it was falling now, faster and faster as the idiotic stream of business-babble showed no signs of ending. And yet, he could not stop. He went on and on about inventory management practices and resource allocation metrics. He explained the necessity for consistent use of best practices and the feasibility of using prime vendor management systems. By the time he found a convenient stopping point, Deena was staring blankly into space and Mr. Ferisher was hopping back and forth like he had to go to the bathroom.
“I see,” said Deena. “Well, I just remembered that I need to do something.” She turned on a pretty heel and hurried off toward Santa’s Workshop.
Ferisher goggled at Walter. “Holy Cow, you’ve got it bad, pal!”
“I’m sure I don’t know what you’re talking about, Mr. Ferisher.” Walter cleared his throat. The last thing he needed was a razzing from an elf.
“Oh, come on. We’re both men here. Look at that girl’s ass. She’s built like a brick shithouse! If I was a few hundred years younger I might take a stab at her myself.”
“Now, Mr. Ferisher, that’s highly inappropriate,” said Walter, his eyes following Deena’s curves as they oscillated across the atrium.
“Hoo boy, I sure know what you want for Christmas, I do! Dreaming about her day and night; I especially love the one where you rescue her from a burning building.” Ferisher snorted. “It’s too bad, though.” He shook his head. A tiny bell jingled.
“Why?” Walter stiffened, trying to hide his shock. “What’s too bad?”
Ferisher leaned in close. “You’ve been naughty. You can forget about it.” Ferisher turned and ambled back to his friends, one of whom had found a hackeysack and was kicking it at the children.
“Little son of a bitch,” Walter mumbled. “He’ll find out who’s naughty and who’s nice.”
It was then that Walter decided that it was his duty ruin Mr. Ferisher and the other elves. He could live with the fact that they made fun of his clothes, and that they played practical jokes on him. But this prying into the affairs of his heart was too much. He didn’t know how Ferisher had found out about his feelings for Deena, and he didn’t care. The little man had to go.
The thing about the elves, Walter learned after a few days of close monitoring, was that most everything they did was suitable grounds for termination at Harrison Bell’s already. If it hadn’t been for their special deal with the store (and he’d find out what that was all about if it was the last thing he did), they would have been fired years ago. He had to find something big. Something illegal. Something scandalous. Something that no investor, no matter how deep his pockets or his affinity for midgets, could support. Walter knew it was only a matter of time.
He began lying to Margaret about late hours and all-night decoration sessions. Margaret obviously didn’t believe him, and as the lies became more and more unbelievable her aggravation finally penetrated her shell of uninterest in her husband and she actually became jealous. Walter liked the idea that she thought he was having an affair; it made his fantasies about Deena seem that much more real. He scuttled through the empty department store at night, taking VCRs and video cameras from the electronics department and rigging them in Santa’s Village. He placed voice-activated micro-recorders from the Office Supply department under the elves’ chairs in the breakroom.
Finally, on December twenty-third, Walter found what he was looking for. The video camera hidden in the break room had struck gold.
As he’d been doing for the past three weeks, Walter rewound the evening’s tape and began fast-forwarding through it, watching hour after hour of dark inaction behind the barbed-wire of sped-up video static. Then, at 4:15 a.m. according to the camera’s time stamp, the elves entered the room in single file, carrying candles and leading a white lamb behind them.
More candles were lit; the orange light coming up from the floor lent the elves a particularly evil cast that would play well with Wade Harrison, Walter thought. Pentagrams were drawn on the floor in what turned out to be gunpowder. Pentagrams!
Then the chanting began. It was muffled and in a language that was not English, but Walter felt certain he could make out the word “Satan” a number of times here and there. He noted these with a red underline in his transcript. As they chanted, the elves began to dance in a circle, kicking their heels and twirling. Ferisher separated himself from the circle and led the lamb to the center of the breakroom, picked it up, and somehow placed it on the Formica tabletop of the lunch table.
On the tape, Ferisher could be distinctly heard saying, “Red father, in your Kingdom of ice and snow, please hear our prayer of supplication and bring us safely home.” Then he took a knife and slit the lamb’s throat. The little animal gurgled and fell on its side. Ferisher grimaced and stowed the knife, patting the lamb softly as he did so.
“Let the cavorting begin!” shouted Ferisher, and the elven couples paired off, spinning in some complicated ballroom dance. As they spun, the room filled with light, and their feet began to lift from the floor. They were dipping and swaying in midair! They turned somersaults as though floating in outer space! Laughter shone in their eyes and they were merry, as merry as they seemed able to be.
In the cold pre-dawn light of his living room armchair, Walter watched the tiny people dance with a look of wicked glee on his face.
The tape was perfect. It showed the elves, all eight of them easily recognizable on tape, performing some kind of occult ritual right there on the round Formica table. It was perfect. If Walter threatened to make this public, there was no way Harrison Bell’s would deny him. Trespassing after hours, setting fire to company property, murdering animals on tabletops, holding satanic rituals with pentagrams and all! Walter gripped the sides of his chair and laughed. He though about Deena sharing this moment with him, both of their faces alight with malice.
The next day was Christmas Eve. Historically it was the busiest day for Santa’s Village, but Walter didn’t care. He rode the elevator to the lobby thinking of only one thing: he had won.
“Mr. Ferisher, would you come see me in my office?” he said, smiling warmly at the tiny, grizzled man.
“I can see you right here, Walt,” Ferisher quipped. He nudged Walter in the ribs. “At your size I can barely miss you! Hoo hoo!”
“My office. Right now.” Walter’s voice was cold, even colder than he’d intended.
“Hey,” called Ferisher, skipping after him, “If this is about Smitty burning you in effigy, it was just a joke. He burns everyone in effigy!”
“Sit down,” Walter said, ushering Ferisher into his office and locking the door. Ferisher clambered into a padded leather chair, his skinny legs kicking like a small child’s.
“You’re givin’ me a raise, arentcha!” Ferisher clapped his hands together. “I knew treating you good was going to pay off one of these days!”
“Cut the act, Ferisher,” Walter said, leaning forward. “I caught you and your little Satanist friends having devil worship hour in the breakroom last night. I have it on tape.”
Ferisher blanched. He tugged at his collar. “Who? What? Are you talking to me?” He looked around the room wildly. “Come again?”
“I got you red-handed, you little freak. Look.” There was a television cart against the wall holding a small TV and VCR. Walter aimed a remote control and pressed a button. On the screen, Ferisher slit the lamb’s throat and the elves flew threw the air.
“How are you going to explain this to Wade Harrison, Ferisher? Because I guarantee you he’s going to see this. In about an hour, in fact.”
Ferisher stood on the chair, stamping his foot on the soft leather. “Well, that’s just . . .that’s a hell of a thing, I mean . . . you can’t just . . . I don’t . . . I’m calling my lawyer! Where are my socks? What’s going on here?” Ferisher swooned and fell backwards, slumping down the chair’s back.
“What do you have to say for yourself now?” Walter stood over Ferisher, beaming.
Ferisher sat up, sobered. “Listen pal, I’ll tell you the truth. That wasn’t any Satanic ritual you saw there. We were saying a prayer to our previous employer, the Kringle.”
“The Kringle? As in Kris Kringle?”
“You know him?” Ferisher’s face lit up.
Walter shook his head. “You’re going to have to do better than that, Ferisher. Way better.”
“It’s true! I swear on my mother’s grave! Me and the boys, well, we used to work up there at the North Pole, for the Fat Man himself! We were in the Choo-Choo Train division. You know those little trees? I made those! I was really good at it. But we got let go. The industrial revolution, Darwin, the ascendancy of post-Existentialist spiritual nihilism, Cabbage Patch dolls. It was more than the boss could handle. He had to downsize. Now we’re just holding on until we can make it back. Can’t you see? We don’t mean anyone any harm!”
“You’re one crazy little man, Ferisher. I can’t wait to see the look on Harrison’s face when you feed him that line.”
“Ahurm, well. That’s a problem.” Ferisher sucked in his lips. “See, among us elves, we have a certain sense of discretion about our, ah, practices. And it’s pretty much forbidden for us to allow Humans to watch us perform magic. So I’m going to need to ask you to never show that to anyone. Fair enough?” Ferisher hopped down from the chair, as though the conversation had ended.
“You’ve got to be kidding.”
“Generelly, yes, but not in this case.” Ferisher furrowed his brow. “How ‘bout a nice fat bribe, eh? Do you want a bribe?”
Walter shook his head slowly at Ferisher. “What could you possible offer me that would convince me not to turn you in?”
Ferisher scratched his head. He looked around the room. “A hundred coconuts? A parrot that sings ‘Moon River?’ How about a wooden toy train?”
“This conversation is over, Ferisher. I’ll have Deena type you up directions to the unemployment office.” Walter began to shoo Ferisher out of the office, but at the mention of Deena’s name, the little man stiffened and turned.
“That’s it!” he cried. “I know what I can give you. I know what you want for Christmas! You hound dog!” Ferisher glared at him. “I can make her love you, Walter. For a little while, anyway. Do you understand? I can make her do it. I know a magic spell.”
“What the hell are you talking about?” Walter growled.
“I can make Deena fall in love with you, Walter. That’s what you want more than anything, isn’t it?”
Walter’s jaw dropped. “Don’t you mention her name, you little freak!”
There was silence in the office as the two men stared each other down. Finally Ferisher spoke.
“I know what you think of us, Walter. What you think of me. And if you think I give a polar bear’s turd about your opinion, you’re wrong. You’re a sad little man, and you dream sad little dreams. Now, listen up, because this is your last chance. We can throw that tape away and you can have your little tryst with the secretary, or we can do things the hard way. Which will it be?” All of the mirth was gone from Ferisher’s face, and in its place was a fearsome anger.
“Get out,” said Walter, his skin crawling.
“You’ll be sorry,” Ferisher answered simply. He left the office, his head hanging.
“Little freak,” Walter repeated. He tore the tape from the VCR and stormed out of the office, slamming the door behind him.
He stopped at Deena’s desk. “Deena, come with me. I have a meeting with Wade Harrison, and I want you to be there. It concerns your friend, Mr. Ferisher.”
Frowning, Deena stood and followed Walter down the hallway.
They were met at the elevators by Ferisher and Smitty, another of the elves. The two diminutive men stood with their arms across their chests, blocking Walter’s path.
“Get out of my way,” Walter snapped, “or I’ll kick you across the lobby.”
Deena hissed, “Walter!”
Smitty strode confidently up to Walter and grabbed his tie, yanking Walter’s head down to his eye level. Walter struggled, but Smitty was much stronger than he was. “You’ve been naughty, Mr. McGhee, and you know what happens to little boys who’ve been naughty.”
In a wink, Ferisher was at his side. “Ho, ho, ho,” he said, and touched his finger to Walter’s forehead. It was as though he had been electrocuted. His mind exploded in a shower of sparks. He watched numbly as Ferisher moved his finger downward, touching it to the videocassette in Walter’s outstretched hand. A tiny lightning bolt flew from Ferisher’s fingertip into the tape. Then, instantly, everything was back to normal.
Smitty released his grasp on Walter’s tie and Walter shot up straight. “You two are going to jail if I have anything to say about it!”
Smitty only shrugged. “Hey Ferisher, you want a donut?”
“A donut would be real nice, Smitty.” Ignoring Walter, the two elves linked arms and strolled away from them.
“What’s going on, Walter?” Deena asked, her voice shaking.
“Don’t worry, Deena. You’re about to see. This videotape will explain everything.” From a distance, Ferisher’s high-pitched laughter echoed in the hallway. They rode the elevator in silence.
“What’s this all about, Walter?” Wade Harrison was a red-faced, burly man with gray hair and wide shoulders. His office was wide and glass-walled, with a view of the bay. “What’s so godawful important you have to make a stink about it on Christmas Eve?”
“When you see what’s on here, you’ll understand.” Walter waved the tape in front of him. Harrison’s secretary was plugging a VCR into the far wall.
Walter pushed in the tape and pressed “Play” on the remote control, joining Harrison, Deena, and a few assorted members of the Harrison Bell human resources department, who’d been called in especially for this meeting, around a tiny conference table.
Harrison’s big-screen TV sprang to life, showing an apartment building in downtown San Cibola. Snow fell across the scene, reflected in the streetlights across the road. Gaily colored wreaths hung in store windows down the block. Christmas. In the background, an instrumental version of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” played quietly.
“This isn’t right,” Walter mumbled, confused.
From under the table, a tiny hand reached up and snatched the remote control from the tabletop, pulling it under.
On the tape, a woman screamed off-camera. The scene panned upward, to the fourth story of the apartment building, where orange and red flames leapt from all of the windows. On the balcony, clearly visible in the light of the blaze, was Deena, clad only in a flimsy nightgown. Her long black hair streamed down her back, and her soft lips hung open in despair. She was trapped on the balcony.
“What is this?” Harrison asked sternly.
“Yes, Walter. What is this all about?” Deena grimaced at the screen.
“This isn’t right,” Walter said. He reached for the remote control. “Where’s the remote?”
The blaze roared behind Deena. She began to call for help. “Won’t somebody save me?” she cried desperately into the night.
On the street below stood Walter McGhee, dressed in jeans and a sweater. In the video he was slender, and his bald spot was not in evidence. Through his bulky attire, a strong masculine physique was clearly visible.
“Dear Lord!” cried the Walter on the screen. “She’s in trouble. Don’t worry, Deena. I’ll save you!”
From her balcony, Deena swooned. The hem of her nightgown rode up a few inches as she leaned against the iron railing of the balcony. “Oh, Walter. Please hurry!”
All eyes in the room turned to Walter, who watched the television in disbelief, his face and ears slowly reddening.
In the video, Walter raced through the burning building, dodging collapsing ceilings and flaming two-by-fours. He reached Deena’s fourth story apartment only to find the almost-naked administrative assistant collapsed on the balcony. Throwing her over his shoulder, he bounded back into the conflagration; another brief series of hazards followed and they were out on the snowy street, Walter laying Deena gently down on a bench. Her eyes fluttered and she looked up at him, touching his face with her fingers.
“My hero,” she said longingly. “You saved my life. How can I ever repay you?” Nightie askew, Deena pulled Walter’s head down against her heaving breast.
“Make love to me,” Deena said, taking his face in her hands. “I want to show you how grateful I am.”
“Of course I’ll make love to you,” he sighed. They fell into each other’s arms and the scene faded to black.
The real life Deena was less grateful. As soon as the tape ended, she stood and slapped Walter as hard as she could. “Don’t ever speak to me again, you pervert!”
Wade Harrison addressed the managers from human resources. “Would you excuse us, please? I’m going to need to relieve Mr. McGhee of his job now.”
“This is all a big mistake, Mr. Harrison,” Walter said.
Harrison reached for a pen. “You can say that again.”
From Santa’s chair, Mr. Ferisher and Santa watched security lead McGhee out of the building, shouting incoherently about Satanists and burning buildings.
“What a jackass,” Ferisher said philosophically.
Santa, a large heavyset black man with a full gray beard nodded. “I always thought that guy was messed up. What happened to him?”
Ferisher shrugged. “I don’t know. He didn’t get what he wanted for Christmas, I guess. Come on, let’s get the next brat up here. My corns are killing me.”