I hate Terry Tempest. That cartoon-faced, alien bastard is a Goddamn bad influence. I hate working fourteen hour shifts in a sawdust factory so I can come to this late-open shopping centre and fight through the throngs of hyperactive corpses. To queue behind this wench who won't quit yammering into her phone about how if the scratch on the door of her Porsche isn't fixed by tomorrow then she's going to throw a shit-fit.
I hope she isn't being literal.
Working fourteen hour shifts in a sawdust factory that has a leaky roof so that rain is constantly dripping down the back of your neck - this sucks. Doing it so the lad can have Martian power-boots, so the wife can have earrings made from animal remains, and so the daughter can have a doll that needs its little arse wiping - just fantastic.
Want to know what I got for Christmas last year? Slippers, a fishing rod, and a bottle of Scotch. I hate slippers, fishing, and everything Scottish. What's more - I had to work overtime in a sawdust factory where the line manager is fresh-from-the-closet camp and he's on a non-stop liberation high and the cuddles and winks and "oh, Darlings" flow freely. Modern times and human rights be damned - that stuff is annoying. I always have to work overtime to give the kids money to buy gifts for me and the wife. Meaning I paid for the fishing rod and slippers myself - which sucks.
My wife of eleven years still hasn't figured out I don't like Scotch. She buys me Scotch maybe three times a year. I say she buys it - but she doesn't work in a sawdust factory. She never worked a shift in a sawdust factory in her life.
All this brings me this late-open shopping centre and this toy shop and this Goddamn queue. To this pearl-draped zombie that seems to have had a mobile phone superglued to the side of her head. This late-open shopping centre is a vault of plastic nightmares guarded by students in elf costumes - bloodshot eyes and a smell of marijuana give them away - all of whom want to sell insurance for my purchases.
Goddamn Space Stompers. Lucky me - got the last pair on the shelf. They're a size larger than I need but with the rate the boy gets through school clothes he'll grow into them soon enough. They're dumb looking - clumsy and chunky - painted silver and there's a horn jutting from the toe-caps. Lovingly covered in rubber of course. Limiting the damage the little man will be able to inflict on his sister's legs. The heels are fashioned like jet-boosters and there's a button on the side and - oh, Christ - when you press the button it makes jet-engine noises and now the pearly, undead lady turns and glares.
She snaps at me - "Do you mind?" - then goes back to her conversation. "Sorry about that," she says. "There's some weirdo behind me playing with the toys. Probably one of those perverts you read about. Yes, don't worry, honey, there are security cameras."
All I want is to crash in front of the TV and watch the European cup match. It starts in half an hour so this queue better get a move on. I want to crack a beer and stick my hand down the front of my pants and have a good rummage. Fourteen hour in a sawdust factory that always has the heating turned to make up for the draft from the leaky roof - this will leave a man with clammy bollocks.
And come on now. What's this? What the Goddamned Hell is this?
A trio of Santa Clauses - no kidding, they have proper costumes - bundle into the store. They're carrying double-barrelled shotguns. One fires into the ceiling and a foam tile turns into dust and rains on the head of some guy who was carrying a bunch of stuffed farmyard animals but just dropped them. I feel the shot rather than hear it - like somebody punched me in both ears. "For crying out loud," Mrs Cadaver-with-the-oyster-fruit-necklace says. "It's that pervert again." Then she turns and just about kisses the end of a shotgun. Even though this situation sucks and I hate people that dress as Santa at the best of times - never mind when they've got guns - I laugh at the fathomless look stamped on her wrinkled face.
The ringing in my ears fades and now the only sounds to break the stunned silence are those of the farmyard animals scattered at our feel. "Moo," they say. "Baa, baa, cluck, cluck." Then the old lady screams like she caught her husband in bed with the maid.
The Santa Clauses grab us both and drag us to the front of the shop. All the other zombies gawp and scream and I swear to God one of them says - "Hey, that's cutting in line" - then a Santa jabs him in the guts with the butt of his gun. The guy vomits on his shoes and the screams get louder.
This is really starting to suck. I didn't work overtime today just to be shot by a Santa Claus with a double-barrelled shotgun. It will be hard to watch Liverpool versus Barcelona on TV with no head. With no brain, how will I tell my hands to scratch my clammy bollocks?
Because they're really quite itchy.
I sneak my hand down the front of my jeans and under my boxers. I hope they don't think I'm going for a weapon. Getting shot for having itchy bollocks would be the suckiest thing I can think of. Definitely worse than missing the football.
"Open the fucking tills," one Santa shouts.
"Put the money in here," yells the second. He tosses a suitcase on the counter.
"Hurry or we shoot this gimp" - meaning me - "and the old lady. We'll fucking shoot this old lady." This is the third Santa. Clearly he's a lazy bugger - he's wearing white trainers instead of red felt boots.
The guy behind the counter is skinny and spotty and looks like he's married to his laptop. He looks at the suitcase and frowns. "You needn't have brought that. Hell, everyone pays with plastic these days. There's a few hundred in the tills you can have but I hope you didn't travel far."
Damn - this geek has balls. I bet his aren't sweaty either. I'd never have been fast enough for a comeback like that. Damn - that was cool.
Then the Santa with the white trainers shoots the geek with his double-barrelled shotgun and makes his whole head disappear. One moment it's there - all pimpled like he has chicken pox - the next it's gone and his stumpy neck is spraying blood into the air like a can of soda pop that somebody shook up before they opened. That was not so cool.
The old girl is still screaming. What with the second explosion and the flecks of geek blood spattered on her glasses she's properly hysterical now. She flaps her saggy arms up and down like a flightless bird and the pearls around her neck starts to jiggle. Is this the start of one of her shit-fits? A stupid little part of me hopes so. A Santa grabs her shoulders and shakes her. "Shut up," he yells in her face and his fake beard bobs around loosely on his weak chin. "Shut the hell up lady or we will shoot you."
She doesn't shut up one little bit. If anything she gets louder. She stamps her feet in time with her flapping arms like a toddler throwing a tantrum. A bubble of snot bursts from her left nostril.
The Santas stare like they never saw anything like it. Which is quite likely - I've never seen anything like it either. But I'm not watching anymore. Because while all the Santas are staring at the old broad nobody is looking at me. While nobody is looking at me I'm slipping off my shoes and jamming on the Space Stompers. It's a tight fit but I've always had small feet and by curling my toes I can just about wedge them in. Nobody sees me do it.
Nobody watches as I take two steps back then rush and kick the first Santa right in the bollocks. A few people are watching when I take another two steps back then rush and kick the second Santa right in the bollocks. By the time I've taken another two steps back everybody is watching but they don't seem to quite believe what they're seeing so I rush and kick the third Santa right in the bollocks.
I didn't spend fourteen hours in a sawdust factory just to get shot by a Santa Claus. I have a tenner on Liverpool beating Barcelona and I am not missing the match - not a fucking chance. The Santas are down and they're twitching and moaning with the stomach cramps but the first of them is already reaching for his gun.
Keeping my head down I run like a dog being chased by a vacuum cleaner. There's a roll of thunder behind me and nearby dolls and toys cars disintegrate. Tiny hands and button-eyes fly past my face - along with a rogue tyre. Little bits of foam stuffing drift in the air like it's snowing in here. Yet somehow none of the gunfire hits me. I duck and weave through the aisles of the toy-shop - almost tripping over a plastic dinner table set - then barge through the doors a moment before a shot blows out the glass.
This really, really sucks. I have a bad heart for Christ's sake. I did not spend all day at work just to have a fucking heart-attack while running away from killer Santa Clauses. That was not on my agenda when I woke up this morning. That has never once been on my agenda - not ever.
These Space Stompers though - I have changed my mind about those. They're really something. I keep running through the crowds in the late-open shopping centre until I'm a long way from the toy shop and a bunch of policemen in riot gear pass me headed the opposite direction. Finally I make it to the street and collapse all over a bench.
My heart is pounding like heavy metal drumming - which sucks. My balls are itching - more so now for my little jog - this also sucks. I check my watch and it's going to be cutting it close as to whether I get home in time for the match - which sucks.
I have to be at work again in the morning - another fourteen hours in that goddamn sawdust factory - that sucks most of all.
But these Space Stompers - they rock. I had Terry Tempest wrong. The kid knows good footwear. Even though they're too small they're strangely comfortable. I think I'm going to wear these beauties to work tomorrow. So maybe the jet-boosters aren't real - the noise they make when I press the button is still pretty cool. This year the boy can have the slippers, the fishing rod, and the Scotch. I'm keeping these.