Saturday, December 20, 2008


Author's Note: The following tale is an original fictional Christmas story that first appeared in this blog a few years ago, when it was on AOL. Now that the blog has been evicted from AOL and moved here, I have several new readers who haven't read it before, so I'm presenting it for an encore performance here. If you have read it previously, I hope that it will be worth re-reading again. -- L.J.W.


The familiar voice of Crankhandle's dispatcher came through the cellphone. "Deagan. What can I do for you?"

"Hey, Mike. This is Crank. You asked me to call, so what's up?"

"Oh, yeah, Crank. Uh -- hold on just a second, okay?"

Crankhandle shook his head. "All right." What else could he say? He whistled tunelessly to himself as he waited on hold. Listening intently, he could make out voices talking in the background in the dispatch room, back at the yard, but wasn't able to make out any words. He drummed his fingers on the steering wheel for a moment before Mike's voice spoke again.

"Uh, Crank?"

"Yeah. Still here."

"Okay. We want you to relay your load to another truck at the truckstop in Fairfield. It's right on your way home. The load you're swapping for will still get you home for Christmas, so there's no problem there. Other driver's load is out of route for him to get home and, uh, well, he needs to get there for the holiday. Is the swap okay with you?"

"Crap, Mike!! This load gives me a long holiday at home. Been out for almost three weeks now and I've really been looking forward to the downtime, y'know? Ain't there anybody else who can swap with him?"

"Nope. You're the only truck anywhere near the other driver that has a load that'll take him home. Look, I understand his kid's sick or something and he really needs to be home."

Crankhandle let out a long sigh. "Hell, why me? Why does this always happen when I get a good load??" He paused a moment, his shoulders slumping in disappointment. "Okay. Yeah, I guess I'll help him out. When does the load I'm getting deliver?"

"The day after Christmas. I can set the eta up in the afternoon, so that you don't have to leave out at dawn, but it's gotta get there that day. Best I can do."

"Double-crap!! There goes my extra day off! Oh, man!! Okay -- all right. I'm rollin' soon's they get me loaded. Probably another hour."

"Sounds good. Let me know when you get to the truckstop. I know you'll beat the other driver there by a few hours. He's not even at the shipper yet."

"Wonderful!! Got any more good news for me?? No, never mind! I don't want to hear it. I'll talk to you later, Mike."

"Merry Christmas, Crank. "

"Yeah. Right."

Fuming as he drove, Crankhandle headed for the truckstop as soon as he left the shipper. Dammit, it seemed like something like this happened every single time he got a good load that would give him extra home time! Aggravating wasn't even the right word for it! "Bah! Humbug!" he snorted. His Christmas cheer was definitely gone now and he was truly feeling like a real Scrooge.

It took him about two hours to get to the truckstop, which was about halfway between the shipper and his hometown. At this relatively early time of day, he had no trouble finding an easy pull-through parking spot and he braked to a halt, popped the parking brake handle, and got out of the truck, heading inside for a cup of coffee. He got back in the truck and sipped the coffee, surfing the channels on his satellite radio set until he found one he liked. It wasn't playing Christmas music. He was definitely in no mood for that now. After awhile, he called his girlfriend and unloaded on her, telling her about his woes. She didn't want to hear his complaining.

"Cheer up," she told him sternly. "You're still getting home. That's the main thing. You did the right thing. Heck, you might need another driver to do you a favor sometime! Now get over it, get it done and get here as soon as you can!"

"Yeah, yeah, yeah. What goes around, comes around, right?"

"That's right. Now put a smile on your face and be glad you'll be home with me on Christmas."

He ended the call and settled down to wait. He nodded out briefly, then woke back up with a start when some asshole let out a long blast on his air horn. "Got no respect for anybody!" he growled. He looked at his watch, then typed out and sent a message on the Qualcomm unit beside his driver's seat. 'Got any idea when the other driver will be here?' He waited patiently for more than ten minutes before the reply came through. 'Probably another three or four hours.' "Great!" He slumped against the steering wheel in boredom and frustration. "I need my head examined," he muttered out loud. "Why in the hell do I do these things?? I must really be a soft touch!"

"No, Crank. You're a really good person, down inside. That's why you do it." The voice came from the passenger seat and Crankhandle's head immediately whirled in that direction. A distinguished-looking man, dressed in spotless white clothes sat there. He had a short beard and had the most piercing eyes Crank had ever seen in his life. The figure looked to be older, in his 70's maybe, and the hair on Crank's head stood up as he realized he could see the truck's door panel dimly through his strange visitor's body.

"Who the hell are you?? How'd you get in here? I know that door over there is locked. It always is."

"I don't have to open doors," the figure replied. "As to who I am, let's just say I'm a sort of -- teacher. That's close enough for introductions."

"Teacher?? And just what do you teach?"

"Life, Crank. Life."

"And what about life?? What the hell can you teach me that I ain't finding out for myself, the hard way?? It's a bitch, that's what it is!"

"Oh, I can teach you many things, Crank. Things that you can't see or hear otherwise, but true nonetheless. Things that might help you live a little better."


"I see you're skeptical. Very well. Consider the other driver whom you agreed to trade loads with -- the trade that's made you so mad and aggravated. Do you know why that man has such an urgent need to get home this year?"

"Uh -- well, Mike said something about a sick kid at home. But that kid'll get well, with or without his dad there. I just don't see why it's so desperate a thing. Maybe Mike was trying to make me feel sorry for him, to get me to swap. That makes me feel like a fool. Playing on my sympathy."

"No, Crank. You're no fool and nobody's playing you for one. I want to show you something. Will you come with me? It won't take long and it'll make the waiting go faster. I promise."

Crankhandle thought about it a moment, then shrugged. "Hell, why not? Where we goin'?"

"You'll see. Come along then." With that, the figure slowly waved his arm in a circle. From nowhere, a cloud of fog seemed to fill his truck's cab. It was so dense, Crankhandle could barely see his own hand on the wheel. He had a momentary whirling sensation as well, before the fog began to clear around the area of the windshield. The glass cleared, but the familiar sights of the truckstop's parking lot was gone. Instead, Crank was looking into what was obviously a hospital room. The small figure of a young boy lay in a bed with a pretty, but very weary-looking young blonde woman sitting in a chair beside it. The boy looked like he was perhaps six or seven years of age and his head was completely bald. Not a single strand of hair. When his eyes slowly opened, Crankhandle noticed a drugged glaze in them. This kid was obviously very, very sick indeed. The boy looked at the woman expectantly.

"Has dad called?" he asked, in a weak voice. His eyes were filling with tears. "I want dad to be here for Christmas, Mommy!"

The boy's mother leaned over the bed and brushed her son's cheek. "I hope he'll get here, honey. He's doing all he can to get his load swapped so he can get home. If some other nice driver will swap with him, he'll be home to spend Christmas with you and me!"

"I hope and I pray, Mommy."

"So do I, honey. You don't know how much I've been praying. Look, I'm gonna go get some coffee. I'll be right back, okay?"

"Yeah, okay. You gonna call dad?"

"No, he'll call if the swap comes through. Let's give him a little time, all right? These things don't happen that fast."

"All right. Hurry back, mommy."

"I will."

The woman left the room and Crankhandle could see that she didn't go to the coffee shop. Instead, she made it as far as the nurse's station counter, where she broke down, leaning on the counter with her head in her hands, sobbing. The head nurse, whom she knew well by now, heard her and came over, sympathetically cradling the woman against her shoulder, letting her cry it out and patting her back. The nurse's eyes grew damp as well.

"He'll be here," the nurse reassured her in a comforting tone. "I just know he will! Don't you worry none!"

"I -- I just -- I hope he will. If only they can find someone to swap loads with him. That was the only load anywhere near Danny's truck and it wasn't routed through here at all. Stevie's -- well, you know. . . This is probably his last Christmas, from what the doctor told us. The cancer's inoperable and he doesn't have long. Just a shame if he can't see his dad for the holiday. God, I hope they find somebody!!! This means everything to Stevie!!!"

The woman bent over as the sobbing began again and the nurse continued trying to calm her as best she could. "Please, God," she prayed in a low voice. "Help Stevie's dad get home!" The nurse was by now crying openly as well.

Their tears were interrupted by the ringing of the woman's cellphone. Sniffing and drying her eyes, she yanked it out of her purse and flipped it open, hoping against hope. It was Danny, her husband, and the driver Crankhandle had agreed to swap with. As they spoke, the woman's face brightened and the tears turned into a smile.

"They found a driver to swap with you?? Oh, Danny, that's wonderful!! Stevie'll be so thrilled!! I want to know who that driver is, so that I can thank him personally!! Find out his name and how we can contact him, okay? You're on your way now? Great!! Call me when you've swapped and let us know when you'll get here! Okay -- love you too. Bye!"

The woman darted back into her son's room, almost knocking the nurse over in the process. "Stevie!! Guess what?? Daddy's on his way home! Another driver's swapping with him. He'll be here as soon as he can!!"

If Crankhandle had ever wished he had a camera at hand, it was at that moment, when he saw the grin come over Stevie's little face. The boy was beaming, with probably his last wish coming true for him.

"You made that happen, Crank." His visitor spoke again and suddenly, the cab of his truck was normal again, with the scene on the truckstop lot filling his windshield. Stevie and his mom were gone from his view. "You made a little boy's dying wish come true. How do you feel now?"

Crankhandle hung his head and wiped a tear from his own eyes. "Like I'm a class-A asshole for the way I acted about it," he confessed. "I'm not feeling very good about myself right now."

"But you agreed to the swap, Crank. That's the important thing here. Have you learned anything?"

"Yeah, I guess -- don't second-guess anything or question the reason for it. Just do it willingly and quit feeling sorry for myself so much."

"There you go. Good lesson for you. You are a good guy, Crank. A real good guy who plays by the Golden Rule most of the time, anyway. You just needed a little polishing up, that's all."

Crank slowly turned his head toward the passenger seat again. The figure was now dressed and looked exactly like Santa Claus. "What the hell? Santa Claus?? Hey, who are you, anyway?? Are you Santa Claus?"

Crank's visitor laughed long and heartily. "I can be anyone I want to be. I'm a spirit, you see. Let's just say that I'm the Christmas Spirit." The figure winked at Crankhandle. "Merry Christmas, Crank."

Crankhandle grinned broadly. "Merry Christmas! And Merry Christmas to Stevie and his family!"

"NOW you've got the spirit!"

Copyright 2005, Larry J. Wayland   All Rights Reserved

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