Holiday Fiction: The Last Will and Testament of Ugly Joe the Hermit, Part Three

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A Holiday ‘tall tale’ in five parts

In the tradition of such beloved writers of serialized fiction as Charles Dickens, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Harriet Beecher Stowe, we now bring our readers a five-part Christmas “tall tale” by Community Editor David Templeton. The story began last week, and will run through Dec. 20, with a new part appearing each week. Each installment will be posted online at

(In last week’s installment, the isolated gathering of hermits have just read the will of Ugly Joe, requiring them to throw a Christmas party for his frozen corpse. Just then, a wild little boy appears — a resident of the town of Frozen Corners, which is abandoned every winter during the worst of the weather — and immediately demands to see Santa Claus.)


The noisy intruder of a boy — who was named Henry Hay but was commonly known as “Lucky” — was, the hermits soon learned, not lucky enough to have avoided pulling the short straw back in November, just before the annual evacuation, when the children of Frozen Corners held a secret meeting to decide which one of them would stay behind.

It was part of a plan the young ones had been hatching for months.

To discover once and for all what went on in their town when all the people were gone, the children drew straws, and Lucky was duly elected to do the job. The boy had no parents, having lost them to a mudslide when he was four, and he’d been raised up, more or less, by a long and weary succession of Frozen Corner residents. Though a hard enough worker, and reasonably quick at learning, Lucky was a handful, bossy as an English Lord, and not one to ever shut up. From sun-up to lights out, Lucky talked, and talked, and talked, quieting down only while chewing his food or sleeping, and then only occasionally.

Then there was that voice.

It was a voice like metal being shredded into ribbons, a voice that was part scream and part avalanche. No one could stand to be around it for longer than a little while; therefore, ever since the wooshing away of his parents, Lucky had been shuffled from house to house on a nightly basis. Because he never slept in the same home twice in a row, it was highly possible that down in Butcher’s Foot, only the children were aware that Lucky was no longer among them. After pulling the straw, the boy hid himself in the hotel’s pot pantry, until the townsfolk were all gone. He had been camping there out in Frozen Corners, alone, bundled up in the hotel kitchen, for over 40 days, waiting for Christmas and the answer to the mystery.

It took Lucky two minutes to explain all this and it was the longest two-minutes in any of the hermits’ long and arduous lives.

None of them doubted for a minute that the boy’s short straw had been rigged.

“Ever’body says Santy Claus comes to Frozen Corners while ever’body is down in Butcher’s Foot, ’cause I guess Santy ain’t smart enough to figger we’re down the river a ways, or maybe Santy just don’t like Butcher’s Foot enough to go there, or maybe he’s just a’ crazy a little,” Lucky rattled off, loudly. “So I want to know, then — which one of you fellers is Santy Claus?”

Perhaps if they hadn’t been so entirely mired in that discomfiting fog of sentiment, the hermits might have said something harsh and according to custom. Perhaps they might have suggested that the boy go look for Santy Claus out in the wood shed. Instead, after a long moment of stunned silence — or rather, a long moment in which the baffled hermits could think of nothing to say as Lucky went on accosting and bossing them with his terrible voice and disrespectful manners — Spitless Jeff improvised, standing up to croak, as civilly as possible, “Uh, Santy ain’t showed up yet. Whyn’t you run along now?”

A Holiday ‘tall tale’ in five parts

In the tradition of such beloved writers of serialized fiction as Charles Dickens, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Harriet Beecher Stowe, we now bring our readers a five-part Christmas “tall tale” by Community Editor David Templeton. The story began last week, and will run through Dec. 20, with a new part appearing each week. Each installment will be posted online at

It was the wrong thing to say.

“I ain’t goin’ nowhere, mister, till I seen Santy Claus!” Lucky shrilled out at the gaping assembly. “The other kids’ll wail the tar outa’ me if I don’t show ’em some proof of some kind or t’other.! I need proof!”

To punctuate his steadfastness, Lucky leaped on Spitless Jeff, biting him in the leg a little before the other hermits were able to pull the boy away.

Under normal conditions, such behavior would have been enough for them to send the young noisemaker packing, but the fact that it was growing dangerously cold outside, and that Butcher’s Foot was a four-day journey down the mountain, forced the hermits into a difficult position. They had to let the boy stay. It’d been decades since any of the hermits had given a thought to the needs of children, or to the particular rituals of Christmas, and now it seemed they were faced with both.

It did not take Lucky long to grasp the situation, once it was explained, though his youth and defensive disposition did tend to color certain details.

Here’s what he now knew for sure. One. The people who’d invaded his town were squatters, of sorts. Two. A man was dead, and the dead man wanted a Christmas party. Three and Four — Christmas was two days away. And Santa Claus, presumably, would be arriving at any moment.

What the hermits now knew was even simpler to understand.

One. They had a Christmas party to plan and a boy to watch out for. Two. The boy, being a child, was the closest thing they had to an expert on Christmas. Three. Since the hermits needed Lucky’s expertise in regards to the holiday, and since he ended up biting anyone who told him what to do, he should be immediately invited to take over the whole Christmas project as its leader, designer and all around boss.

There seemed to be the following elements to Ugly Joe’s request: a Christmas dinner, a Christmas tree, Christmas presents, and Christmas carols.

The dinner was easy.

Ugly Joe, after all, had accidentally provided his own dinner: a fine, fat, frozen goose. Scandalous Sam, who did most of the cooking anyway, volunteered to roast the bird and pull together enough cans of beans and things to round out the feast.

As for the Christmas tree, the botanical showpiece itself would not be difficult to acquire, since appropriate specimens surrounded Frozen Corners.

The decorations, however, would be somewhat tricky. Two-Eyed Tom and Sacrilegious Jim were appointed to dig pine cones out of the snow, while Malodorous Mike and Inconsiderate Sue were sent off to make stars and angels and flowers and assorted “foo-fa-raw” out of old cans and paper.

Of all Ugly Joe’s requests, the most challenging turned out to be the singing.

Lucky, who’d spent a bit of time lurking in the corners of the saloons, knew the words and melodies of a whole mess of songs, including some half-a-dozen Christmas carols. But when the boy was persuaded to start up a tune, his singing voice proved a far more agonizing affront to the ears than even his speaking voice did, and no one assembled could stand to listen.

Nameless Bob, it turned out, could reasonably recall the tune and lyrics to Deck the Halls, but when the hermits learned the words, “Deck the Halls with Boughs of Holly, Fa-la-la-la-la La- la-la-la,” another impasse was reached.

No hermit worth his salt will willingly sing the words “Fa-la-la-la-la” in public, even as a final favor to a fallen brother.

As for the question of presents, the hermits decided that all of Joe’s things, which Ethical Fred had thoughtfully brought down from the cave, would be individually wrapped in whatever paper or fabric scrap they could find. On Christmas Day, each hermit would be randomly given one of the “gifts,” and anything left undistributed after that could simply be fought over.

As regarding a present for Lucky, the very notion chaffed the ever-more-exasperated hermits.

Lucky, for his part, held fast to the notion that nothing the hermits could offer would be up to his standards, or his particular expectations this particular Christmas. Clearly, he had something special in mind, and he was determined to see his dream come true.

“You squatters can give each other what you want,” he insistently screeched. “But as for me, I’ll be waiting for Santy Claus!”

(To be continued next week, Dec. 13)

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