Today we present an excerpt from The End of Hungry Santa by Peter Woodworth. To read the rest of the story, visit The Lost campaign and support the anthology. Supporters can receive electronic and print copies of the anthology, along with other great rewards. You only need to throw in $5 to read the rest of The End of Hungry Santa.
THE END OF HUNGRY SANTA
“Santa, will you help me get my virginity back?”
“Wazzit?” Hungry Santa opened one bleary eye and regretted it almost immediately – it was way too bright out. He didn’t like going out until at least dusk. The light bothered him, gave him headaches. Or maybe he had the headaches first and the daylight just made them worse. When he could manage to keep his good eye open long enough, he saw it was Saint Alice. Even after all these years she was small and blonde and still pretty somehow under the layer of dirt that everyone got out here, but her eyes were red and her cheeks were puffy, as if she’d been crying. “Wazz happened?”
“A man took my virginity.” Saint Alice sniffed, wiping her hands on the front of her brown corduroy trousers. Now that his vision was coming into focus, Hungry Santa could see that her battered white Care Bears t-shirt was spotted with tears. Something like a knife twisted in Hungry Santa’s gut. He was not a bad man, compared to some, but you didn’t tend to get too attached out here. Saint Alice was one of his rare exceptions. She was so young, so sweet – never bummed any food, never touched the hard stuff or dropped her trousers for nobody, not even so much as stole a blanket. Fathead Tommy had dubbed her “Saint” because she was almost too good to be true, or so they all said.
“Aw no girrl! Didde touch yeh?” Hungry Santa felt his hands ball into fists, his long white beard quivering with rage. He wasn’t a young man, hadn’t been for many years now, and had never been particularly stout even then, but living rough had made him hard as iron, or so he liked to think. Well, he had a bit of a belly, that was true, and sure he lost some fights now and then, who didn’t? But he fought, and that’s what mattered.
“Not like that!” Saint Alice’s eyes were wide. “Not the bad way!” Hungry Santa subsided a bit, and remembered that his head hurt. He cast about for his canteen, an old military issue canvas model normally topped off with something strong and forgetful, but Saint Alice started to cry again and it distracted him. “He just put his hand out and took it right out of my pocket.”
“Eh?” Hungry Santa’s brows furrowed in concentration, trying to puzzle that one out.
“I was on the twisty stairs at the PATCO stop on 8th and Market,” Saint Alice said, her breathing hiccupping as she tried to control her tears. “Just asking for quarters, you know? Nothing special.” Hungry Santa nodded sympathetically. He got shooed out of there all the time, but Saint Alice was so young and so sweet looking that the cops never bothered to run her off. “Then this man comes up to me, he’s young and in a really sharp suit. He had a little dog too, black and white with funny stick up ears, on this little pink leash. He smiled at me really nicely.” She started crying again.
“Iz okay, iz okay,” Hungry Santa said gently, reaching out to brush dirty locks out of her eyes.
“I, I just thought he was going to be nice, but he just reached out and took my virginity right out of my pocket.” Saint Alice brushed her mouth with the back of her hand.
“Yer virjinitee’s en yer pokket?” Hungry Santa’s mouth was dry, and he thought of his canteen, but what would that be like, drinking while this poor young thing cried? No sir. He gulped back his dry tongue and tried not to think of liquids.
“Well, of course,” Saint Alice said to him slowly, as if explaining that the sky was blue. “If I kept it in the regular spot, anyone could come along and take it. If I keep it secret, then no one can take it unless I want to give it away.”
“Hunh.” It made sense to Hungry Santa.
“I keep it in a little ring box, something my mother gave to me … before.” Hungry Santa nodded sympathetically – he had a ring box too, a relic from a time he couldn’t really remember but knew had to be important. “When I tried to stop him, his face fell off and he was like this big bug monster, with claws on his face and eyes like broken glass.” Saint Alice’s voice got very small. “It was scary.”
“Dont be skart,” Hungry Santa muttered plaintively. Seeing the poor sweet girl like this was almost more than he could take. A man had to have a code, after all, and if it didn’t include protecting scared girls from suit wearing bug monsters, well what good could it possibly be? Hungry Santa got to his feet, ignoring his aching joints, and started pulling on his battered red fisherman’s jacket. “Aye’ll git yur box back, Alice.”
“Really?” Saint Alice looked as though he’d told her it would be Christmas every day for a decade. She clasped her hands together under her chin, surprise and hope sweeping sorrow from her face in a moment. “You promise?”
“Aye prummis,” Hungry Santa said solemnly. He pulled on his battered red backpack and hefted his hickory walking stick. “Wont stan for that wikkitness, nossir.” Hungry Santa hesitated only for a moment at leaving his other bags behind, but then remembered that Lucy Nails still owed him a favor for that soup he’d found a week ago. “Loosy!” he thundered, his voice echoing off the old stones and stained glass of the abandoned chapel. As digs went, you could do worse for safety than a Galway lighthouse, but even sacred spots go robbed. It would be a fine thing to help Saint Alice only to come back to being robbed himself. “Loosy!” he repeated, causing some of the other residents to grumble fitfully.
“What is it, Santa?” Lucy poked her head out from under the fort she’d made from a few of the cracked old pews, her shock of gray hair stuck almost vertically. “Want another?”
Hungry Santa blushed furiously and glanced sideways at Saint Alice, but fortunately she didn’t seem to have heard. “Nono, jist wach my things while em gone. Okeh?” Lucy Nails looked a bit perplexed, but nodded before disappearing back under her patchwork sheets.
“Thank you, Santa.” Saint Alice looked up gratefully as they walked out the front door of the old chapel, ducking the bar nailed across the doorway that kept most of the locals from getting too curious. Hungry Santa beamed back at her as they set off. He felt the canteen banging against his lower back through the fabric of his pack, full up and eager for his attention, but resolutely he ignored it, even as his hands shook just a little bit. Damn what Fathead Tommy said about him when he’d had too much of his medicine, he liked helping people, and that was that.
But first they had to make a stop for a proper monster killing weapon.