This is a mini-miserable story written by Jilly Gagnon & Mike MacDonald.
Sure, he’s smiling at you, but you can tell from the maniacal gleam in his eye, and the horrific song choice, that this lead caroler is teetering close to the edge of madness.
“Come on in,” you say, trying not to sound as horrified by the prospect as you feel. “I’ll see what I can rustle up.”
You head inside to the kitchen, a dozen pairs of slushy boots trampling along behind you, so you can look for something--anything--to serve them. Then you’ll have the fun of mopping.
You open the pantry cupboard. There’s a mostly-empty box of kosher salt, a rock-hard bag of brown sugar, and…
“Oh, I have tea!” You open the box. A single bag of chamomile is inside. “Well, enough tea for one of you?” You look at Leader hopefully, but he just frowns and shakes his head.
You pull open the canisters on the counter, already knowing the story they’ll tell. After all, you’ve been stopping at Starbucks on your way to work all week.
“Sorry, looks like I’m out of coffee, too,” you say, showing the empty container to the group. “I’ll just take a look in the fridge.”
You open it up. Besides the eggnog, with just a quarter-inch left in the bottom of the carton, there’s...nothing. Or mostly nothing. In the door there’s an ancient bottle of yellow mustard and a packet of “lite caesar” dressing that came with a takeout salad sometime in...2015, if the expiration date means anything.
You start opening all the cupboards, hoping against hope that you have a sleeve of saltines, or at least some honey--honey and water counts as a drink, right? Oh, no, that’s not honey, it’s sesame oil. And it’s also expired.
You get to the last cupboard, one you’re pretty sure you’ve never even used, and open it up. Sitting on the shelf is a mouse, eating a single crumb, like some kind of proverb of your patheticness.
Jesus, the landlord PROMISED he would deal with that.
You pull out everything you’ve managed to find.
“I could make you...some rice,” it’d be enough if they each settled for one meager forkful, “with...ooh, I have some Arby’s sauce here! And there might be some peas in the freezer!” You open it up eagerly. You’re right, there ARE peas...buried under at least a half-inch of freezer burn.
You turn to Leader, hoping against hope that it’s good enough.
His face contorts with a mixture of pity and contempt.
“Never mind,” he says. “We’ll just be going.”
* * * * *
The next morning, you’re running out the door when you almost face plant onto the sidewalk.
What the f*** did you slip on?
You turn around and pick up...an envelope. There’s no address on it, just a little drawing of Santa.
Inside is a massive wad of cash.
YES! Santa is REAL!
You tuck it into your bag and practically skip outside…
...where you see a hand-written sign tacked up to the lamppost.
“Please donate any amount you can to help a neighbor SO POOR he’s being forced to live off stolen condiment packets.”
Underneath is a shoebox with a hole cut into it with a grainy printer photo taped to the front of...oh Jesus, they’re taking up donations for you.
God f***ing DAMMIT. Do people really have that little understanding of how cheap takeout has gotten these days?
There’s no way you can keep the money now. You’ll have to give it to charity or something garbage like that. Worst of all, you won’t even be able to put your name on the donation; if the neighbors see you giving huge sums away, they’ll probably think you were trying to con them or something. And what good is charity if no one even gets to see you do it?
That ties it. On the way home, you’re picking up some powdered hot cocoa mix. In a mouse-proof tin. Next year, at least, you’ll be ready.
To read more about the Choose Your Own Misery series click here.