Pink Santa is a Christmas novelette of twelve chapters, posted serially by me, your unseasonably warm host, Cheeseburger Brown.
It doesn't yet smell like Christmas up here in Canada, but I'm sure it will come Friday. Friday is not only the first day of the twelfth month but also the day our Indian summer is supposed to plunge from foggy warmth to nominal cold, thus assuring a certain joint effort by retailers and nature to remind us the yuletide looms.
I wish I had winter tires, but I spent the money on transmission repairs. I guess it's time to brush up on my skating.
And now, we continue our tale:
At the end of an alley running off Yonge Street were the loading docks for the Hudson's Bay Company, great bays with metal doors which opened to receive cargo from big trucks. The big trucks carried all sorts of things that people might like to buy inside the stores, like scarves and mittens and lamps and dishwashing machines.
No trucks came to drop things off in the middle of the night, but somebody was there anyway: it was Chloe and Mike.
"I'm cold," said Mike. His teeth were chattering.
"Be quiet," said Chloe.
Everyone at the orphanage had visited the big department store earlier that day. For a special treat the children has been taken to visit Santa Claus to tell him their Christmas wishes. Mike had been a little shy and scared until he actually got up on Santa's knee and noticed that Santa's beard was just pretend and his belly was just a pillow stuffed under a red shirt. "You're not really Santa Claus," Mike told him.
"Merry Christmas!" bellowed the man pretending to be Santa.
"And you smell kind of bad," added Mike.
The man called out "Next!" as he gently but firmly pushed Mike off his knee and waved at his grumpy teenage elves to bring him a new kid.
After their visits with the pretend Santa the kids all had to wait around behind his cardboard gingerbread house with one of the grumpy teenage elves while the nuns ran around the store looking for Chloe, who had run away again.
Chloe had been at the loading docks, talking with a truck-driver named Yves. "Don't worry," Yves told the nuns, "she's not making no trouble at all." But the nuns punished Chloe anyway.
Her backside was still smarting, hours later as she stamped her feet to keep warm in the snowy alley. "Ah-ha!" she cried.
Mike shivered. "What ah-ha?"
"This," she said, pushing open a tiny square of rubber next to the big metal doors. "This is the cat door Yves was showing me."
"What's a cat door?" asked Mike.
"It's this," said Chloe, "a little door for a cat to use. They keep a cat in the department store to eat mice. Yves said they lock the cat door at night, so I broke the lock off when he was talking to Sister Bethany. Now we can go in."
"Do you want to visit the pretend Santa again?" asked Mike.
"No," said Chloe. "We're going to live inside the store. They have everything in there -- beds, toys, candy -- everything. Good idea, huh?"
"Yeah," agreed Mike. "I want some candy."
Chloe nodded. "Let's go."
The kids squeezed through the cat door and stood up inside the loading dock. It was dark and Mike felt scared so he tried to hold Chloe's hand. Chloe groaned. "There's nothing to be afraid of. Don't be a baby."
"I'm not a baby -- I'm five."
Chloe put her hands on her hips and said, "Well I'm three bigger than five so that makes me in charge, and I'm ordering you not to be scared anymore."
Mike considered this. "Okay," he promised, even though he still felt a little bit scared.
They found their way out of the loading docks and into the dark department store. The shadows of mannequins wearing winter sweaters loomed over them from all sides. The shuffling of the kids' footsteps seemed very loud.
They couldn't find the washrooms to Mike peed into a pot of red flowers by one of the cash registers. When he was done he zipped up his pajamas. At the same time Chloe unzipped her knapsack and took out a little doll with a dirty plastic face. She was hugging the doll and whispering to it when Mike turned around. "Who's that?" he asked.
"This is Polly the dolly," said Chloe. "She's my best friend."
Mike thought about his teddy bear, Wah, who was still back in his bed at the orphanage. He started to cry, so Chloe led him into the clothing department and gave him a package of fuzzy socks. Mike cuddled one of the fuzzy socks and put his thumb in his mouth.
"Better?" asked Chloe. Mike nodded.
Their next stop was a booth where popcorn was made with all sorts of funny flavours, like dill or cheddar cheese or ketchup. There were bags of popcorn under the counter, so they each took one. Chloe chose barbecue-sauce flavoured popcorn and Mike chose candy-floss flavoured popcorn, and they ate from the bags until they felt sick. Then they drank water out of the penny fountain.
"When are we going home?" asked Mike, who had rolled up one sleeve so he could fish for pennies in the fountain. They were hard to catch, and seemed to jump away from his fingers before he could scoop them up.
"Never," said Chloe.
"Never?" repeated Mike, thinking about poor Wah the teddy bear all alone.
"No, not even ever," said Chloe. "If we go back there I'll have to go to another Foster home. When you get bigger they'll send you to one, too."
Mike was curious. He asked, "What is one?"
Chloe sighed sadly. She said, "A Foster home is some house they put you in with grown-ups who are mean to you all the time, and always trying to make you do stuff. And then even if you do start to like it there they take you out and put you in a different one with even meaner grown-ups."
Mike was shocked. "You should tell the nuns," he suggested.
"Duh," said Chloe. "The nuns are the ones that make it happen. They know all about it. It's their idea."
Mike was too surprised and worried to say anything more. He could not imagine the nuns, who had always cared for him, being a part of something so awful. He sat on the steps by the fountain and hugged his fuzzy sock for comfort. Then he yawned.
"Come on," said Chloe, taking his hand. "We have to find a place to sleep."
The place they found was a display of winter camping supplies set up on a platform covered in rolls of white felt that were supposed to look like snow. They took two of the rolls inside the big tent so they could unroll them and use them as blankets. Chloe also found some toques and scarves they could use as pillows, setting up one pile each for herself, for Mike, and for Polly the dolly.
They were just about to settle down to go to sleep when Mike felt a little tickle. "I think I have to go pee again," he said.
Chloe groaned. "Again?" she asked, annoyed.
"I think so," said Mike.
"So go," Chloe told him.
Mike didn't move. "I'm too scared to go by myself," he said quietly.
Chloe was not happy. She unzipped the tent and they both squirmed out again. Mike found another pot of red flowers and tried to pee into it but it turned out he didn't have any pee. "I guess I didn't really have to go," he said.
Chloe said, "Shhh!"
Mike zipped up his pajamas and turned around. Chloe was staring across the store, her eyes searching the shadows by a rack of ski boots. "What are you looking at?" asked Mike.
Something moved by the ski boots.
Mike grabbed Chloe's hand. "Is it the cat?" he whispered.
"I don't know," Chloe whispered back. She hugged Polly.
The kids began crossing the open aisle toward the camping display to get back into their tent. They heard another noise and started to run. Just then a tall shadow stepped out into the aisle in front of them, blocking their path.
Chloe screamed and the shadow gasped in surprise.
Mike tried to run away to hide but a strong hand reached out and grabbed him by the shoulder. Mike was turned around. He squeezed his eyes shut against the harsh, bright light of a flashlight. "Let me go!" he squeaked, trying to pull away.
The hand let go. Mike fell down. He saw the man's big black shoes and how his black pants had a stripe running down the leg like a police officer. Chloe yelled, "It's a security guard -- run, Mike, run!"
He heard Chloe's footsteps rushing away. Mike tried to scramble to his feet but the slippery bottoms of his pajamas skated on the smooth floor and he fell down again. "Chloe, help!" he cried.
The flashlight beam swept across him, and a second later Mike was picked up by two strong arms. He wriggled and squirmed but he could not escape. He covered his face with the fuzzy sock and closed his eyes.
"Well now," said a deep voice, "what do we have here?"
Once again, Mike felt like he needed to pee.