by Jim Foreman


Snow was drifting to the ground like thousands of tiny, white parachutes as Obert made his way out of the barracks and around to his nest in the boiler room. A radio, somewhere off in the distance, was playing Christmas music and the aroma of roasting turkey drifted from the mess hall.
      Obert shook down the ashes in the furnace, threw in several scoops of coal and banked the fire for the night. Then he trudged through the snow to the Officer's Barracks to do the same thing. As he entered the door of the boiler room, black smoke was puffing and rolling from the door of the furnace, indicating that the chimney was clogged with soot.
      "Damn, what a hell of a time to have to clean a plugged-up chimney," Obert grumbled as he gathered the tools for the job. When the barracks were built back in 1942, someone must have foreseen the constant need to clean the chimneys, because they installed permanent ladders leading to the roofs of every building.
      Taps were playing as Obert scaled the ladder to the roof of the Officer's Barracks. Lights winked out in buildings from one end of the company street to the other, except for those in the mess hall where the cooks were working through the night to prepare a special Christmas dinner for the unlucky ones who hadn't been permitted to go home.
      The first gallon jug of Ozark moonshine had given its life for a good cause and its brother had been drafted into service. We sat around in the darkness, sipping moonshine from aluminum canteen cups and discussing our plight.

      "What a hell of a place to be on Christmas night," said Billy Bob. "If I was back at home, I'd be down in Fort Worth, instead of stuck here in this stinking hole, I would be kicking up my heels with a pretty little filly at a party someplace out on the Jacksboro Highway. Man, do they have parties out there! They got so wild that they have had to put up chicken-wire fences in front of the bands to keep the musicians from getting killed by flying bottles."
      "What really pisses me off," said Ward, "Is that fat little Jew, Goldberg, was on the Christmas list and Jews don't even believe in Santa Claus."
      "If Jews don't believe in Santa Claus, then who do they believe in?" asked Red Ryder.
      "Moses, Noah or one of those other old guys that preachers are always ranting about," replied Ward. "My Mom went to a hard-shell Baptist church where the preacher was always carrying on about lambs, burning bushes and things like that. My old man is an Atheist, so I never knew who to believe in."
      Hey, Billy Bob, do you believe in Santa Claus?" asked Red.
      "Why hell yes, I believe in Santa Claus. I also believe in the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy and Nymphomaniacs who stay so damn horny that they will pay a man to spend the night with them. There ain't no more Santa Claus than there are Unihorns."
      "What the hell is a Unihorn?" asked Red.
      "You know, those horse things with one horn in the middle of their head," said Billy Bob.
      "They are called Unicorns, not Unihorns, you stupid, drunken Texan," said Red Ryder.
      "I may be drunk, but don't start calling Texans stupid. You damn Okies are so stupid that you think that asphalt is a case of the piles."
      "Ever hear about the Texan who was six foot tall but only weighed thirty-eight pounds...that was after a mad Okie had kicked all the shit out of him," replied Red.
      At least Texans are smart enough to know that there ain't no Santa Claus," replied Billy Bob.
      "Well, if there ain't no Santa Claus, then what the hell do you call that up on the roof of the Officer's Barracks," asked Ward, peering through a hole that he had scraped in the frost on a window.
      "It is hard to tell from here with all the snow, but it looks like a fat man trying to climb down the chimney," said Billy Bob.
      "See, I told you that there is a Santa Claus," replied Ward, "And there he is over there on the officer's roof."
      "Bullshit, If that is Santa Claus, then where the hell is his sled and raindeers?"
      "Probably parked on the other side of the roof, where we can't see them," replied Red.
      "How come he is over there on the Officer's Barracks and not here on ours?" questioned Ward.
      "That figures, just like in the mess hall. The officers get steak and we get beans," replied Red. "I'll bet that Santa Claus leaves all of his presents for the officers and he won't even come over here."
      Billy Bob raised the window and yelled at the dark figure on the roof, "Hey; you, on the roof, are you Santa Claus?"
      "Bet your sweet ass, I'm Santa Claus, Ho Ho Ho," came back the reply.
      "Ho Ho Ho yourself, fat man. Get your fuckin' goats off the roof before I come over and shoot every damn one of them," yelled Billy Bob, slamming the window shut.
      "Now you've done it," shouted Red. "Ain't you never heard what happens if you piss off Santa Claus, especially on Christmas Eve. Now, he won't leave presents for anyone in this barracks. You've screwed up Christmas for all of us."
      "How could I have screwed up Christmas for us? He is leaving all the presents for those damn officers anyway," said Billy Bob.
      "That's probably right," said Ward. "We ought to do something to get even with the officers for getting all of the presents."
      "Let's dynamite the place, or better still, we'll burn it down!" shouted Billy Bob.
      "Naw, we can't do anything like that," said Red. "How about throwing a skunk in the door?"
      "Where in hell are we going to get a skunk on Christmas night?" asked Ward.
      "I know," said Billy Bob. "Let's go over and piss on their furnace; that will stink almost as bad as a skunk. We used to have an old dog which would piss on the heater in our living room every time that he went by. It looked like so much fun that I tried it one day and Dad came in just as I had a good stream going. He thought that I'd been the one who had been pissing on the heater all the time and beat the shit out of me with his belt. From then on, every time that the dog pissed on the heater, I'd run for the door."
      The effects of the Ozark moonshine were laying heavy on us and we had a certain amount of difficulty in finding our way to the door to the boiler room in the officer's barracks. Between tripping, falling, singing, swearing and snowball fights, we finally arrived. Obert, who was still up on the roof, trying to clean the chimney, had managed to plug it even more, filling the room with soot and smoke.
      "Do we piss on it one at a time or all at once?" asked Ward, who always seemed to need a plan for everything that we did.
      "Well, shit, let's just all gang around, haul it out and let fly at the same time; the more piss, the bigger the stink," said Billy Bob.
      Clouds of steam were rolling off the sides of the hot furnace when a voice behind us said, "What the hell is going on here?" Lt. High, who was on duty that night as Officer of the Guard, was standing in the door.
      Billy Bob, who always seemed to be able to come up with the right answer at the right time, replied, "Well, Lieutenant, we saw all of this smoke coming out of the boiler room and thought that the place was on fire. We couldn't find a fire extinguisher, so pissing on it is the only way that we knew to put it out in a hurry."
      "Have you men been drinking?" demanded Lt. High. "You know that drinking in the barracks is against regulations and can get you into a lot of trouble."
      "Well, we ain't what you'd really consider as drinking, Lieutenant," said Billy Bob. "It is Christmas Eve, so we mixed up a little egg nog to celebrate the occasion." Then he added, "Would you care to join us for a shot of it?"
      We figured that Billy Bob had gone completely out of his mind when he offered the Lieutenant some of our moonshine and that we would be headed for the stockade or someplace worse.

      We found our way back through the darkness to the barracks, and Billy Bob located a canteen cup for the Lieutenant. "I can't see exactly how much egg nog mix I'm putting in, Lieutenant," he said. "Hope that I don't get it too strong for you."
      Lt. High lifted the cup to his lips and took a big swig. "Damn, that is good egg nog that you got there," he said as soon as he could get his breath. "How about a little more of it?"
      Billy Bob took the cup, poured in more straight moonshine and handed it back. Having already cauterized his taste buds, the second swallow went down with much greater ease; as did the third and then the fourth.
      The warm feeling of the Ozark Christmas cheer was flowing through the Lieutenant's veins, thinning his blood and thickening his tongue. Suddenly, he asked, "Private Ryder, Did someone really goose you that time that you punched me in the nose?"
      "Of course someone goosed me, Lieutenant. Do you think I'd be stupid enough to actually strike an officer? I really felt sorry about hitting you, Sir, but just couldn't help it," replied Red.
      "I still don't think that anyone goosed you," said Lt. High. "I think that you just wanted to hit me; like the big kids used to do in school. When I was little, the bigger kids were always hitting me and then saying that they couldn't help it."
      "Honest, Lieutenant, I'd never do anything like that, besides you are at least two feet taller than I am and a hundred pounds heavier. You could pound the poot out of me if you wanted to."
      "I still don't believe that you are goosy and someone goosed you," replied the Lieutenant.
      "That really hurts me, Lieutenant; to think that you don't believe me. I'll prove to you right here and now that I'm goosy. You stand right in front of me and I'll let someone grab me in the ass. You will see that I'm telling the truth."
      Lt. High managed to rise from where he was seated on the edge of a bunk and stood more or less erect. Red Ryder stepped up onto a foot locker and said, "OK Lieutenant, watch this."
      Billy Bob grabbed a handful of ass, Red let out a yell and swung with all his might. Red's fist whistled through thin air as Lt. High ducked the blow. The tall Lieutenant's big fist smashed into Red's nose and blood flew. Lt. High laughed as Red crumpled into a heap on the floor.
      "When that red headed little son of a bitch comes to, tell him that I'm goosy too, and someone must have goosed me," said the Lieutenant. "Merry Christmas and thanks for the hootch. By the way, I can drink all of you bastards under the table any time that you'd like to try again." 

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