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The Worst Christmas Miracle Ever

The Worst Christmas Miracle Ever by Rob Cely
    To be fair, Freddy Simpson was drunk.
    That was the thought that kept recurring to Freddy as he laid back on the cold, jail cot on Christmas Eve. It was, at least partly, his own fault.
    Then again, Freddy told himself, he had no intention of driving at all that night when he settled down to his annual celebration of Jack and Coke. That was how Christmas was supposed to go. He started drinking at four P.M., so when his family showed up at seven he would be good and righteously hammered. That way he could smile and laugh and agree to all the stupid things they said and ignore the fact that he didn’t really like them. That way he could be filled with Christmas cheer despite the cold people that surrounded him.
    Not that Freddy took any blame for this either. It was another one of those curveballs that  life threw at him. With a sister who was rabidly religious, a brother who was rabidly atheist, one uncle with dementia, another one with a penchant for bad jokes, three aunts who all knew what was best for everyone, two children and five stepchildren from three ex wives, only one of the wives and three of the children working.... it could get ugly fast. People would call it a blended family. Freddy thought it looked more like a dangerous mix of incompatible species.
    That was why he began his celebration by knocking back the bourbon at an epic rate. It was the only thing that made Christmas tolerable. But he certainly never had the intention of driving.
    That was Jenna’s fault. 
    She was supposed to be the one working the register at the Gas-N-Save that night. Sure, it was Freddy’s store, and Christmas Eve was a terrible time to make someone work. But they were right there off I-20, and business was brisk up until about eight o’clock. And this year, with the Christmas Eve at the Park back on, it would be extra busy. It would be bad business not to open at all. He only scheduled one cashier, and told her she could shut down at nine if it slowed down.
    Unfortunately, that one cashier was Jenna. She called Freddy at quarter past six and insisted she had to go home.
    “I think it’s COVID,” she whispered into the phone. The declaration was highlighted by a bout of coughing that didn’t sound the least bit authentic to Freddy. 
    “Are you sure?” he asked, already running in his head the short list of people he might get to cover the shift. 
    “Oh yeah, Mr. Simpson,” Jenna insisted. “I’ve got this cough, and my nose is running. Then, I’ve had this headache since this morning.”
    “It’s probably just the cold weather,” Freddy argued as the list in his head of potential fill ins dwindled to zero.
    “No, Mr. Simpson, that’s what I thought,” Jenna said. “But then, I was changing out the nacho cheese, and I swear I couldn’t smell anything. And you know the jalapenos in the mix usually make my sinuses go crazy. So, I went and grabbed a hot dog - one of the cheese filled ones - and I couldn’t taste the cheese at all. It’s COVID. I know it is.”
    Freddy didn’t remind Jenna that this was her fourth case of COVID since the pandemic began. This, despite the fact that she was fully vaccinated, received her booster three weeks earlier, and had yet to register a positive result despite being tested six different times.
    The girl thought she had COVID. What could Freddy do? Certainly not fire her. He was short staffed as it was. Freddy groaned and downed what would be his last drink for the night, and told Jenna he would be right there.
    I can’t be blamed for that, Freddy told himself as he turned over on the thin, jail mattress. He quickly regretted the decision as the combined aroma of hundreds of accumulated body odors wafted up to his nostrils. He groaned again and turned back over.
    Almost none of this was his fault, he decided. He didn’t intend to drive drunk. And he certainly didn’t anticipate the snow. It was South Carolina for crying out loud! It rarely snowed in South Carolina, and it never snowed at Christmas.
    This was what lead to Freddy’s greater confusion as he began his drive to the Gas-N-Save. Flurries of white snow spiraling down from the sky. Accumulations already beginning on the trees, the lawns, and even the roads.
    “It’s a Christmas miracle!” the radio announced as Freddy carefully pulled onto Trenholm Road. “But be careful. We got reports of icy patches all over the city.”
    Freddy shook his head in disbelief, trying to see through the haze of swirling white. This didn’t help things, but Freddy was quite confident in his ability to drive intoxicated. Not that he considered himself drunk. He had a ways to go before that blessing occurred. This was just a good buzz. Not nearly enough to impair his driving... in his opinion.
    Freddy tried to get comfortable again on the jail mattress, thinking about the unlucky convergence of events that had landed him there. Jenna, the snow, the bad timing. All of it outside of his control. Then, to top it all off there was.... Freddy didn’t even know how to describe what happened next. 
    It was uncanny. It was unlikely. Some would say impossible, or write him off due to his semi-intoxicated state. But Freddy knew what he saw, and it was not supposed to happen.
    Just as he was nearing Gervais, the last light before his turn, he saw the light change in a way that it wasn’t supposed to. Freddy knew for sure what he saw. He always made it a point to pay strict attention to the lights when he drove buzzed like he was. Not a detail would miss his attention. 
    So he knew he was watching the traffic light, paying it strict attention. It was green as he approached. He got closer, still green. Then, when he was ten feet from the intersection, it happened.
    The light turned red.
    Not yellow, then red, like it was supposed to. It just turned red. It went from green to red instantly. It was as if it would only display it’s Christmas colors that night and forego the obligatory yellow warning. 
    One second Freddy was cruising along toward the green light. The next second, the glare of the red stared at him menacingly.
Without thinking, Freddy slammed on the brakes. But the speed and short distance were too much to account for. Freddy jerked to a stop dead in the middle of intersection. He looked around, trying to figure out what to do. Back up? Stay put? Keep going through?
    All these thoughts were interrupted by the flash of blue lights that came coasting up beside him.
    Looking back, Freddy probably should have tried a different approach. Maybe if he had told the officer he had let his attention drift for a second, was distracted by the snow, he may have gotten away with it. Maybe if he had not tried to explain himself the officer would have never looked at him too closely and figured there was something off. But Freddy didn’t do any of these things.
    Instead, Freddy tried to explain to the cop that the light changed right from green to red without warning. Yeah, it was stupid looking back, but Freddy was still in a bit of shock over what had happened. He was desperate to let someone else know what he had seen. And surely, if the officer was convinced that the light behaved erratically, he would let him go.
    “The light just changed to red!” Freddy said, jumping out of the car. “Did you see that?”
    Freddy gestured wildly up at the street light. The light did nothing to defend itself, just continued to shine red as it bobbed in the night wind.
    “Sir, just calm down and tell me what you’re talking about,” the officer said as he approached.
    “The light!” Freddy repeated, pointing up. “It just went from green right to red! There was no yellow! There was no warning! Look!”
The officer humored Freddy as they both turned their attention to the street light. After a moment it flashed green. The snow picked up, swirling in the bobbing lights. They watched the green shine for what seem like a long time. Then, as expected, the light turned yellow. And after a dutiful period of time switched to red.
    Freddy gaped for a moment before he realized what had just happened.
    “That’s not what it did!” he insisted. “That’s not what happened. It went right from green to red. I didn’t have time to stop. It was the light. It must have shorted or something.”
    The officer looked Freddy up and down, trying to decide if the man was crazy or not. Then, like every good investigator, he asked the one question that could clarify instantly what was going on.
    “Sir, have you had anything to drink tonight?” he asked.
Freddy let his head drop, realizing at this point it was a lost cause. He looked down at the accumulating snow at his feet. By the time he answered the light had turned green again. He could tell by the reflection it cast on the snow. 
    “Just two,” Freddy answered, saying the first thing that came to mind.
    Four hours later Freddy turned these events over in his mind as he was trying to get comfortable on the jail house cot. He shook his head, reliving the impossibility of it. The light had changed from green to red. He knew it had. Like some warped Christmas miracle, the day had conspired to land him in jail. The very forces of the universe, the spirit of Christmas itself had made sure Freddy would get pulled over and arrested. What could he do against such vast and powerful forces?
    Content that he was just a helpless and unwitting victim gave Freddy the solace to calm down enough to get to sleep. Just as he drifted off he was consoled by the thought that at least this year he wouldn’t have to loan his stepson any money.
    About the same time Freddy Simpson was taking his field sobriety test, Emma Taylor walked with her three kids across the street as Christmas Eve at the Park was just finishing up. She was in a hurry, desperate to beat the crowd of people that would be filing out any second now.  There was a lot to do before she could relax and enjoy the holiday. She pulled on the hand of her youngest, trying to hurry his little legs across the street, having to go slow for him, and fast enough at the same time to stay near the older two who wanted to run everywhere they went.
    Emma looked back and could see the Gas-N-Save sign shining just over the tree line. The road was clear right now. If she got to her car in the next two minutes she could get to the gas station and fill up before the crowds packed in there.
    Midway across the street she felt her arm jerk. She pulled back, compensating for the sudden change in weight, and looked down to see her youngest flailing along a slippery patch in the road.
“Ooh, careful, careful,” she said, stopping to help him get his balance. “Ronnie, Tina, wait up for a second!”
    “What it is?” Tina stopped to ask.
    Emma looked down the street, seeing the dark glisten that stretched across the whole road.
    “Black ice,” she said. “Nasty patch too. At least ten feet long. C’mon, let’s get across the street.”
    A sense of thankfulness washed over Emma as she made it to the opposite sidewalk with all the children safely with her. It’s a good thing a car wasn’t coming, she thought to herself. Especially with all the drinking people like to get into during the holidays.
    The possibility of a tragic road encounter left her mind completely as she started the car and pulled slowly onto the road, looking for patches of hidden ice. She smiled to herself, looking forward to the night ahead and the day tomorrow as the kids began their excited speculations about Santa and the presents they might receive. It was a great start to Christmas, she thought, and this year may be their best yet.

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