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God Bless Us, Every One

by The Inimitable Pooh Bah

Date: December 9 and 10, 2000

Rating: PG

Spoilers: All minor--"Pilot," "Inga Fossa," "Manus Domini"

Summary: Pinocchio has a Christmas dream. Humor. Spew warnings (hopefully) apply.

Disclaimer: 'Harsh Realm' and its characters belong to Chris Carter, 1013, and/or FOX. Apologies to Charles Dickens.

Feedback: poohbah@gray-eyed.com

Website: http://www.gray-eyed.com/

Archive: List archives and by submission. Do not archive or repost without permission.


My dearest darlingest sugarplum,

*Today is Christmas Eve. I thought that my friend Pinocchio would be more pleasant today of all days, but he's not. We had MREs for dinner. Mine and Florence's were vegetarian soy-bean stew. But Pinocchio was lucky-- he got tuna casserole. He wouldn't share a bite! And would you believe it? He complained about it tasting a bit off! Florence and I would have been grateful for the stalest tuna casserole--soy-bean stew really doesn't count as food if even Dexter won't eat it.*

Speaking of Dexter, Pinocchio has been treating my poor puppy badly all evening. He's been making eat-the-dog remarks, he cussed Dexter out twice in the last hour, and he didn't even admit it when he stepped on my poor dog's tail.

I said, "Honestly, Pinocchio, sometimes you're so hard to live with! You're being such a Grinch today!"

*"Yeah?" he growled. "Well, the only Roast Beast you'll see me carvin' would be that fat little doggie of yours."*

He stomped around the camp for awhile, complaining about the snow and the cold and how long it will take for the Chevelle's engine to warm up tomorrow morning. Then he walked off into town--thank goodness! Now he won't tell me to shut up while I'm writing this, or complain about me singing Christmas carols.

Love and mistletoe kisses,

Your ever-devoted,

Tom

And with that, Hobbes folded up the letter and launched into a horribly off-key rendition of 'Joy to the World'. Dexter barely suppressed a howl of pain. Florence covered her ears and grimaced, wishing she were with Jeremiah the Bullfrog instead of with Hobbes.

--

Meanwhile, Pinocchio had fallen into a state of drunken stupor. He shifted fitfully in his sleep, victim of a rather unpleasant dream and (on a larger scale) a pitifully cliched Christmas-story plotline . . .

--

"Hello, Michael," purred an all-too-familiar voice.

Pinocchio shuddered and turned around to face the glowing apparition of his ex, sitting on the stool next to him in the suddenly deserted and creepily-lighted church bar. "Oh, crap! What in hell are you doing here?"

"Haunting you, of course," Inga replied crisply.

"Bug off, you bitch!" Pinocchio ordered crossly. "Just 'cause I was angsting about you earlier doesn't mean I want you in my dreams! If that was an invitation, I'd be dreaming about Santiago and Yugoslavia and Hobbes and . . . and all that other shit that I angst about when I get drunk!"

Inga sighed patiently, and crossed her arms. "But Michael, you will be dreaming about those."

"Aaaaaaarrrrrgggggghhhhhhhhh," Pinocchio groaned, pounding his head on the bar and knocking over the shot glasses that littered the area around him.

Inga reached out and patted his shoulder soothingly. "There, there. By the time I'm done, you won't have to worry about something like this happening again. You will have learned a lesson or two about old MREs and scotch."

Pinocchio raised his head to snap at her again, but was startled to find himself sitting in his old apartment in Santiago City. He whirled around to face Inga, who was standing behind him now. "What the hell is this?" he demanded.

"A dream," she informed him, "brought on by indigestion and too much whiskey."

"Crap," muttered Pinocchio, rubbing his temples. "And I suppose I'll have a headache the whole time, too?"

"Considering how much you drank, you should be grateful that that's all."

There was a pause.

"Lemme guess, you're the ghost of Christmas Past."

"You could say that," Inga agreed. "Want me to show you yourself when you started licking Santiago's boots, five Christmases ago?"

"No."

"How about a cozy domestic scene, from four years ago? You and me, trimming our Christmas tree?"

"No!"

"Ooh! Or how three years back, when you gave me that slinky black--"

"No!"

Inga frowned. "Maybe your childhood would be more pleasant . . . "

And Pinocchio was whisked away to a long-ago shopping mall, all decked out in lights and pine boughs and holly, with a long line leading to the mall Santa. "Oh, God," Pinocchio swore, anticipating what would happen next. "Do I really have to watch this?"

"Yes, Michael," said Inga, "you do."

One boy near the front of the line suddenly piped up. "I don't wanna see Santa!"

"Michael . . . " his mother said warningly.

It was just the memory he had expected. Pinocchio groaned and buried his head in his hands.

Inga frowned. "If you don't watch this, I'll have to take you through the boot-licking and black-lingerie memories instead."

Pinocchio looked up, resigned.

"I'm too old to see Santa!" whined the little-boy Pinocchio.

"No, you're not," said his mother, tugging him along as they inched forward in line.

"I am too!" her son insisted.

"Michael, sweetie, Grandma Ermengarde wants us to send a picture of you on Santa's lap."

"I don't wanna do it! Can't you send last year's picture? She don't see real good, so she won't know the difference . . . "

But it was their turn, and the mother nudged her son forward. He climbed onto Santa's lap with a scowl that mirrored the one he would wear constantly thirty years later in Harsh Realm. The camera snapped, Michael took his candy cane, and he and his mother went off into the nearby Sears.

"There," said Inga as the mall around them faded away and the bar reappeared. "That wasn't so bad, was it?"

"It was terrible," Pinocchio argued. "She did that to me every year until I was thirteen! And she only stopped 'cause Grandma Ermengarde kicked the bucket before Santa came to the mall."

"Tsk," said Inga. "But haven't you learned something from this?"

"You mean like 'That was when I first became disillusioned with Christmas' or 'That was when my folks and me started drifting apart' or 'That's when I became a pessimist' or 'I wish I'd been nicer to poor old Grandma Ermengarde and smiled for the picture'?"

"Yes," said Inga. "Something like that. Lots and lots of remorse and anguish, to make you even more bitter and miserable!"

Pinocchio paused a moment. "Yeah," he replied sarcastically. "Yeah, I've learned a hell of a lot. I'm a changed man! I've seen the light! I'll return all the Whos' presents! Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus! God bless us, every one!"

Inga rolled her eyes. "Since that wasn't sufficient, I suppose I'll have to leave you to the Ghost of Christmas Present . . . " And with a puff of air, she was gone.

"Damn," muttered Pinocchio. "Didn't get a chance to strangle the bi--"

"Ten-HUT!" a voice barked, interrupting Pinocchio's thoughts.

The scruffy mercenary turned casually around, annoyed at being ordered to do anything. "Yeah? Whadda you wa . . . " He trailed off as his eyes widened and his jaw dropped.

"Major Pinocchio."

"General Santiago."

"How nice to see you again," said Santiago.

"Gee, I'm kinda busy," Pinocchio said. "Gotta run." He moved to do so, but found that his legs wouldn't make the right moves. He turned back around, a look of horror on his face.

The General smiled. "Tsk. Such fear--unbecoming a soldier, don't you agree, Major? I wouldn't hurt you. . . . not in a dream."

"Why are you here?" Pinocchio demanded, trying to sound fearless but not quite succeeding.

"To show you this Christmas, on both sides of my fence. To show you what a great mistake you made to desert me and my noble cause. To show you the virtue of repentance, and to show you that I can forgive."

"Kinda lofty thing to aim for," Pinocchio remarked saucily.

The General snapped his fingers, and the bar swirled around Pinocchio. When it slowed down, it had turned into a familiar apartment, warm and softly lighted.

Waters sat with Inga on the couch, her head laid affectionately on his shoulder, his arm wrapped casually around her waist.

"More champagne, dear?" asked Waters.

"No, sweetness," Inga replied, dropping a kiss on his ear. "I've had quite enough."

Pinocchio turned to the wall and banged his head on it.

Santiago, figuring Pinocchio had seen enough, snapped his fingers again, and the scene dissolved. It was replaced by a snowy forest scene.

The Chevelle's presence pegged it as Pinocchio's current camp. Hobbes and Florence were nearby, huddled around a small campfire, shivering in too-thin jackets.

"Hey, Florence," Hobbes said through clattering teeth, "pass me some more of those beans."

Florence, with a mournful expression, displayed an empty can.

Hobbes sighed. "Where's more food?"

The Healer pointed to the Chevelle.

He went over, only to discover that the trunk was locked. "Where's the keys, Florence?"

She gestured wildly.

Hobbes' face fell. "Pinocchio took them when he went off to get drunk, didn't he?"

Florence nodded.

"We're going to die out here!" her companion wailed. "We're going to starve or freeze or get shot! Maybe all three!!" He crumpled to the ground. "Aaaaaaaaaarrrrrrgggggggghhhhhhh!!!! I can't take it any more!!!!"

Pinocchio rolled his eyes.

"Sophie!" cried Hobbes deliriously. "My darlingest sugarmuffin sweetie! I'm coming! I'm coming!"

Dexter, concerned, went over and licked his owner's face. He gleaned no response--Hobbes just continued to babble about lights at the ends of tunnels and how beautiful everything was.

Florence, meanwhile, dug through her pack and managed to find a can of peas, which she tossed to her jabbering companion.

Hobbes sat up, opened the can, and dug in. "Thanks, Florence."

Pinocchio raised a cynical eyebrow. "Gee, ain't that touching."

Santiago snapped his fingers a third time, and the bar returned. "Now, aren't you sorry you're not in Santiago City, warm and well-fed and sane?"

Pinocchio shrugged noncommittally.

"Wouldn't you like to come back?" asked Santiago. "In the spirit of Christmas, I'll forgive you for deserting, mouthing off at me, undermining my authority, and conspiring against me."

Pinocchio scoffed. "Yeah, right."

The dictator paused to consider that remark. "You are correct, Major. That is a lot to forgive. You would do well to hope I don't find you." And with that, he disappeared.

"Good riddance," Pinocchio muttered, sitting back down at the bar to wait for the next ghost. He shuddered as he wondered who it would be--if Christmas Past and Christmas Present were the nice ghosts of the three, Christmas Future would probably be the stuff of his worst nightmares. Yugoslavian rebels, perhaps. Or that lily-livered Mel Waters. Or Dexter. Or Hobbes wanting to read a sappy letter out loud . . .

There was a quiet little poof behind him. Pinocchio turned slowly around, fearing the worst, and came face to face with--

"Florence!"

She nodded toward the door and began walking.

Pinocchio got up and followed. "Well, at least I won't get any annoying commentary from you . . . Hey, this is the part where I get to see the wake of my death, right?"

Florence nodded.

"Damn," remarked Pinocchio, not particularly concerned.

Florence stopped and pointed to a spot up on top of a nearby hill.

Pinocchio looked--there was nobody there. He climbed up to the top, followed by Florence. Still nobody. The scruffy mercenary stroked his stubbly chin in contemplation.

"So, I died here?" he guessed.

Florence nodded.

"And nobody's upset?"

She nodded again.

"Why the hell not?"

No answer.

Pinocchio stroked his stubble some more. "Did I die alone?"

A nod.

"Why? Did they leave me?"

A negative head-shake.

"I left them?"

Another head-shake.

"They died first?"

A solemn nod.

"And I suppose it was my fault," Pinocchio guessed sarcastically, "for being such a grouch?"

Florence shrugged.

Pinocchio shrugged too.

Well? Florence asked. Did you learn anything from this?

"Nope."

Oh, well. . . . You can wake up now. Florence vanished, and Pinocchio was left in total darkness.

He opened his eyes, and found himself out in front of the church bar, where he'd been unceremoniously dumped. The sun was just peeking above the horizon--it was Christmas Day.

Pinocchio shook his head, decided that wasn't a good idea, got painfully and slowly to his feet, and began walking carefully back toward the camp.

--

"So," Hobbes inquired as soon as Pinocchio set foot in the camp, "where were you?"

Pinocchio declined to answer.

Hobbes followed behind him anyway, and Dexter circled their feet.

"What happened?" asked Hobbes.

"God," Pinocchio muttered to himself, "I feel like Ebenezer Scrooge . . . Where's the aspirin?"

"We're out of aspirin," Hobbes informed his friend. "What's that about Ebenezer Scrooge?"

Pinocchio turned toward the tent. He'd just have to sleep it off.

Hobbes gasped. "You had a dream, didn't you? Does that mean you're changed? Will you be nice to us now? Will you stop cracking dog jokes? Will you let me and Florence drive sometimes?"

Pinocchio turned and scowled at Hobbes for a long moment. Then he kicked Dexter, ran to the Chevelle and snatched the keys from the ignition, and smacked Hobbes upside the head. "Shut up, Hobbes."

Leaving the bewildered young man counting the birdies that were suddenly flying around in circles, Pinocchio disappeared into the tent. His snoring soon broke the Christmas-morning silence of the woods.

"Well," said Hobbes, after the birdies went away. "Merry Christmas to you, too."

--

[ END ]


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