“Ankh Ahmet,” a voice said from the darkness.
Chris looked in the direction of the voice.
“Hello?” he said.
“Ankh Yupid,” the voice continued.
“Look, I don’t know what you guys are playing at, but the guy with the ears promised me-”
A blur of motion, a whish of red shroud, a glint of steel.
“Ahn Donderanblitzen,” the voice whispered in Chris’ ear as he felt the blade plunge into him.
Honk? Chris opened his eyes, wincing at what suddenly had become a bright, chilly sun. His eyes were playing tricks again. Suddenly, the world was bright, the daggers of light stabbing his retinas except for a dark blotch that seemed to be congealing into a 2014 Toyota RAV4.
He jumped out of the way just as the SUV blasted past. He was on State Street again. State and Wacker, just by the corner where the road hiked north around the Christian Science church and where Chris had spent the last few weeks with bucket, bell and Santa suit, raising charity money from yuletide joy.
Blinking, dazed, still in the left turn lane, Chris stumbled 20 feet to the curb where he sat and considered.
He remembered the job. He remembered the bucket, bell and suit, the last of which he still seemed to have.
But he remembered other things, the small man with the crooked ears, curved and pointy like Mr. Spock. He remembered an offer of more money than he or the charity had ever seen for a personal visit by Father Christmas himself if Chris went to a certain address at a certain time in a certain red hat.
“Andah Shur,” the wind seemed to whisper. “Tahpada wahl.”
Chris shook his head and considered. He didn’t know what happened, but it could wait. Chris, sitting on the corner of State and Wacker in his red suit and hat, was hungry.
Despite the body type that nabbed the bell-ringing gig, Chris normally ate rather frugally. He picked at lactose-free oatmeal or nibbled some salty chips.
Not today. Today, he gorged. Cake. Pie. Cookie after cookie dipped and slammed in the glasses of milk he kept ordering from an increasingly concerned Golden Nugget server on Western.
The hunger wouldn’t leave, although Arturo the manager would soon ask Chris to. In four hours, Chris had devoured five pies, three chocolate cakes, a bowlful of jelly, 47 raisin oatmeal cookies and a six-inch section of the lunch counter.
Chris bumped his head on the doorframe as Arturo and three of the larger line cooks pushed him out the door. He hadn’t bumped his head on the way in. He had a few feet of clearance, in fact.
“Strange,” Chris thought.
It was the last human thought he would ever have.
“AIEEEEEE!!! GOJIRA!!!” a man shrieked as Chris, now 70 feet tall and rising, stumbled through the restaurant-lined streets of Greektown.
The hunger had compelled Chris south and east from the diner, compelled him now as he pushed down Halsted, tangling power lines and knocking sections of brick from the walls that stood between him and his meals. His red suit and hat had continued to grow with him, a side benefit of the dark magicks behind the crook-eared man’s blade.
He strode across the Eisenhower toward downtown, getting caught in a bit of a gaper’s delay but still making good time. With each step, with each mouthful of metal or brick or mortar or meat, he grew.
He shrieked an unearthly howl as his body spasmed with each new spurt of height and mass and hunger.
Waist-deep in Lake Michigan, he eyed his prize. His eyes, how they twinkled. His dimples, how merry. In a language below language he let out a long, guttural shriek to the kaiju skies.
“HhhhhhhhhHHHHHhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhoooooooooooooooooooooo hooooooooooooo ho!” he howled as a timely bolt of lightning tore the heavens.
He had clutched onto an ‘L’ car during his devastating amble through the Loop, the elevated tracks stopping him no more that night than a cobweb would have that morning.
Now he hoisted the train car near his gaping maw, inspecting it as one would hold an ear of corn to see if the butter spread even.
He eyed it with a subhuman comprehension, knowing only that this would pause the hunger. Behind him, the skyline called, asking if he wanted seconds.
And that is the only possible explanation for the ad for the CTA Holiday Train. Thank you.