Christmas Lights in the Middle of August

Almost done catching up on the 52 week writing challenge. This one’s for the prompt “a story set in a strange small town.” Inspired by the season. Enjoy!

The sunbaked clay road seemed to go on forever, but finally I found civilization. At least, I thought I had. The small town had a few scattered houses as I made my way in to its center, and every single one had Christmas lights and decorations still up. Or up too early. It’s all about perspective.

I didn’t see any kids running around the park I passed. No neighbors sitting out on the front porches. Who’d be out in this heat, though? Still, the air seemed to stand still around me, like not a living soul dwelled in the area to breathe it in.

For a second I thought I’d stumbled upon an old, abandoned Christmas village. Like Santa’s Enchanted Hell Forest. Then, a jingling doorbell caught my ear just off to the side. I turned my head and saw a sweet, smiling elderly woman with snow white hair. Mrs. Claus. I smiled back.

“Hello dear. Are you lost?” Her voice sounded like a lifelong smoker’s. Didn’t match the rosy cheeks and bright eyes at all.

“I’m afraid so. My car broke down a few miles outside of town. Was looking for some help.” I brought a hand up to shield my eyes from the bright rays of sunlight hitting me directly in the face.

She beckoned me forward. “Come in, dear. We have food, water and a phone. Let’s see what we can do.”

I obeyed and followed her inside. It looked like a little mom and pop hardware store. A tall, robust around the waist old man sat behind the counter, a full white beard and head of hair to match. I was really starting to think this was the famous Claus duo from stories.

“Afternoon, son. What can we do for you?” His gruff voice expelled bursts of air, like it was hard for him to breathe.

“His car broke down, dear. Is there someone we can call?” his wife asked.

He waved a hand. “Nonsense. I’ll take a look.”

She shook her head. “Oh, Nick. There you go again. Thinking yourself a mechanic.”

“Every vehicle’s the same inside, Ilsa. Don’t matter it’s outside,” he insisted.

“Oh, I don’t want to trouble you. If I could just use your phone, I’ll gladly call Triple A,” I said.

Old Nick chuckled. “Won’t get a service car out here. We’re not even on a map.”

I frowned. “How do you get mail then?”

“We don’t. Mail doesn’t come here. Only comes to our other house.”

He pulled a utility belt around his big belly and pulled a tool kit from behind the counter. “C’mon, son. Let’s take a look at her.”

“Well, it’s a few miles outside of town. I don’t wanna make you walk so far.”

He waved a hand again. “We’ll the take the wagon then.”

Ilsa bustled forward with cold glasses of water in hand. “Dear, please, take something to drink first. You’ll faint from dehydration.”

I licked my lips at the sight of the water. I’d forgotten how parched I was. “Thank you.” I grabbed for the water and brought the sweet, cool elixir to my lips. Without stopping for breath I drank it all the way down to the last drop.

I looked around as I wiped my mouth. “Where is everyone else around this town, anyway? I didn’t see them as I walked in.”

“Oh, they’re around.” Ilsa smiled, a twinkle in her eye. “They’re just shy around strangers.”

“Guess you don’t get many visitors out here, huh?”

Nick laughed. “You got that right.”

“And what about all the Christmas décor? It’s the middle of August.”

“It makes us feel at home,” Ilsa answered. “So far from the north, we get lonesome sometimes.”

“This is our summer home,” Nick explained. “A place to get away and regroup for the coming year’s work load.”

“It certainly is isolated.” Why would anyone vacation here?

“Ready, son? Let’s get going on that car.”

Nick led me out to a shed where he unveiled a bright red convertible that looked brand new. “I though you said it was a wagon?”

He gave another rumbly laugh. “I only call it the wagon. It’s actually a Corvette.”

“I can see that.” I smiled like an idiot. Santa Claus drives a convertible when he’s away at his summer home.

We made our way to my car, Nick taking the convertible to its max speed and me grinning like a kid on Christmas. We arrived in no time to find my abandoned car still sitting in the sun, hood up and a sign I’d left in the grime-ridden window that read “PLEASE DON’T STEAL ME!”

Nick waddled over to look at the engine and went to work with his tools. I stood by, watching his nimble fingers run back and forth like he was casting a charm and within minutes, I don’t know how, but the dead engine roared to life and my car was back in commission.

“That’s amazing. How’d you do it?” I gaped.

Nick winked. “Got the magic touch.”

He got in his convertible and called back, “Follow me back in so we can get you on your way.”

Back in the weird, seemingly empty Christmas town, I saw something strange as I drove in. A few tiny kids playing on the jungle gym and swings in the park I’d seen empty before scattered as I drove by. Real skittish, these townsfolk.

Like shadows that disappeared just out of the corner of my eye, I saw more and more of the people in the houses. Everyone seemed so small, and elf-like, but I couldn’t get a good look to tell who they were.

Inside the hardware store again I looked closer and noticed the shelves were not full of tools and things to buy, but rather projects, half finished, complete and just started. Objects that looked like toys and machines and gadgets. I scratched my head and finally blurted out, “Okay, I know this is gonna sound ridiculous, but who are you guys?”

“Just ol’ Nick and Ilsa, dear. With our closest friends.” She smiled as she handed me a plate of cookies.

“Uh huh,” I muttered as I took a bite.

Nick laughed. “No need to worry about us, son. We’re just a couple old farts getting by out of the way of society. City’s too noisy and these old bones need a break from the cold from time to time.”

I decided not to press the matter. Besides, a grown ass man shouldn’t be thinking that Santa Claus, Mrs. Claus and their elves would build a whole town in the middle of nowhere for their summer vacation. Or that they’d exist altogether.

Nick pulled out a map and set it on the table, marking the route to take out of town. “Now when you come up at this crossroads, take the road right. It’ll take you straight to the highway and that should get you back on track.”

I nodded as I packed away the snacks and water bottles Ilsa had given me. “Thank you both so much. It really was nice of you to do so much for a total stranger.”

“Nonsense. We’re not strangers. We’re old friends.” Nick laughed.

I couldn’t help but laugh along with him. It really did feel like I’d known them my whole life.

Outside, I got back in my car, turned the key and put my hand on the gear. “Thanks again, Nick.”

“No problem, Jack.” He patted my shoulder, his grip warm and firm.

At that moment I realized I’d never given either of them my name. “Hey, how did you—?”

Nick winked. “Mind the snow on the roads as you get close to home. Old man Frost likes to play tricks sometimes.”

I shook my head, unable to believe what I was hearing. I decided to just accept it and go on. As I drove out of town, I caught a better glimpse of the residents as they turned the lights on for the coming night. Behind me, in the rearview mirror, sparkling flashes of color flickered, the whole town lit up like a Christmas tree.

I smiled. Santa’s Enchanted Summer Getaway.

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