We’d long heard rumors of how their kids were known to come out of the woods in blinking shoes and Santa hats, on push scooters, singing, “Jing-a-ling-a-long.” But we couldn’t imagine finding them standing alongside their parents in our driveway when we returned from the store.
“Shit,” Sheryl said as I pulled in with the car and stopped. “Is that—?”
“Yes, I’m afraid it is. And see that guy in the bulky Rudolf sweater?”
“Tom?” she hissed.
“Yep, it’s definitely him.”
We had heard how Tom had been beat into this gang by a medley of Christmas carols, but we didn’t expect him to look as bad as he did, smiling wildly into the glare of our headlights as if cracked out on Starbucks gingerbread lattes.
I backed up, parked alongside the curb in front of our house and turned to Sheryl. “We’ve got to get these groceries inside, you hear me?”
“I’ll try to distract them while you grab the bags and on my cue we’ll run together for the front door.”
I got out and came around the car to address Tom and the others standing now on the edge of our lawn. “We don’t want to make a big deal of this, Tom, but you’ve got to let Sheryl and me get into the house without any troubles tonight, okay?”
“Oh, come on, Barry,” he said. “What kind of troubles are we going to give you, huh? We just want five minutes of your time.”
“Tom, no, you heard me. Because there are kids here, I don’t want to make a big scene. But last year it took me two months—until February, Tom—to get your gang’s damn songs out of my head. And I’m sorry to see that you’re now part of them, but whatever, you need to leave. All of you need to get off my lawn.”
“Come on, Barry. Is this sour mood really so necessary? It’s Christmas Eve.”
“It is Christmas Eve, Tom, you’re right, but I can see what you’re doing here, and it’s not going to work, okay? There are no chestnuts at this house, and there will be no roasting them on the open fire, you hearing me?” With that, I turned to nod at Sheryl and we took off for the house. But halfway across the frozen lawn, Sheryl slipped and landed badly, spilling the groceries. After a stunned moment or two, she got to her knees and began gathering the scattered cans and packages.
“Leave them,” I said. “Leave them goddamnit, Sheryl!”
“Come on, Barry! Is this sour mood really so necessary?”
“You stay back, Tom.” I helped Sheryl to her feet and hurried with her to the house.
“Come on, Barry,” Tom yelled after us again as I quickly opened, closed and locked the front door, and then we huddled against it on the floor.
We could hear mumbling from Tom and the others as they came up onto our front porch. They rang the doorbell twice, and after a few moments, one more time. I held my hand over Sheryl’s mouth and whispered into her ear, “Be very quiet.”
“Merry Christmas to you to then!” Tom yelled at us finally through the door and stomped away. We could hear them later making their joyful noise down the road, assaulting our innocent neighbors house by house with “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” “Silver Bells,” “We Three Kings” and then—
“Oh, God, can it really be?” Sheryl whispered.
“I’m afraid, yes. Probably the most deadly one of them all.”
“Damn that Little Drummer Boy.”
We listened until we couldn’t hear much of anything anymore. But even long after the gang had moved out of earshot down the road, we remained on the floor, grateful if nothing else for the warmth here in each other’s arms on this particularly cold and silent night.