It was ten days to Christmas. The sleepy neighborhood of Wishing Cross was undergoing its annual transformation. All through the year, people here led simple lives minding their own hectic business, but come December and they would all be out decorating their yards in the most amazing ways possible.
On this particular December afternoon, three families, children and all, were out in their yards decorating them with all the festive adornments they could gather. The Junebottoms had built a wonderful nativity crib, detailed with real cacti and dates hanging from the fake palms. The Ginmallows had lighted up the fir tree in their yard with a brilliant shining star, for which Mr. Ginmallow had to climb all the way to the top of the tree on a rickety ladder held in place by his wife. The Hammonds had put up lights all around their picket fences and built asnow-house with Santa riding his sleigh outside it.
Mr. Junebottom placed the statues in his crib — all except Baby Jesus — and stood back to admire his creation. “Why aren’t you keeping Jesus?” asked his four-year old son. “Oh, my cutie Percy,” said the mother kissing him. “Dada will place him on the midnight of the 25th. Jesus isn’t born yet, is he?”
Mrs. Ginmallow came out and stood beneath the bedecked fir tree. “That’s fantastic, Shelly,” she said intertwining her fingers with her husband’s. “I am sure in the evenings, when the lights come on, this tree will be the talk of the town.”
Mr. Hammond put on the lights to test them and his whole house lit up. The other families turned to look. His Santa had red lights all over his costume. Regardless of the daytime, the bright red lights shone through, leaving no doubt as to the magnificence his handiwork would display when evening came on.
The neighborhood was so brightly done, even Saint Nicholas would have a difficult time ignoring it during his annual visits.
Little Marsha Ginmallow was inside the house, having a little afternoon siesta. Hearing her mother call her out, she arose rubbing her eyes, and came out reluctantly. She came holding her cuddly teddy bear in her left hand, its foot dragging along the floor, and stood at the doorstep. Still rubbing her eyes, she turned her head upwards along the height of the tree and blinked at the shining star.
And just then, even as she was looking at the star, she saw something come whizzing by and hitting the star, smashing it right there into little pieces that flew all over the place.
“It’s the Greenhorn boy,” shrieked her mother.
Marsha saw him. Hank Greenhorn — the little terror of Wishing Cross — sitting on his bike and smiling evilly at the mess he had created. Mr. Ginmallow ran to grab the boy, but the man was portly and couldn’t run as fast. In a trice, the boy bounded off on his bike and came right up to the Junebottoms’s doorstep.
“Don’t you dare!” screamed Mr. Junebottom, seeing Hank Greenhorn standing near the crib in his yard. But, Mr. Junebottom was away from his crib at that moment, and it did not take any time or hesitation for Hank to pick up one of the statues. It was a shepherd holding a lamb across his shoulders.
“No you don’t,” warned Mrs. Junebottom.
However, Hank had no intentions of letting go. Holding the shepherd by his legs, he smashed it against the gate and held it out for everyone to see. Mrs. Junebottom let out a scream of anger, and Mr. Junebottom ran out in pursuit of the puny rascal.
With two grown men hot on his chase, Hank sped up his bike and came up to the gate of the Hammonds. He already knew what he had to do here. Fishing out a ball of mud from a pocket of the overalls that he wore, he took a careful aim right at Santa’s head.
It took a moment for the slow Mr. Hammond to realize what was going to happen. When he did, the mudball was already plastered on his beautiful Santa’s face and beard, now looking uglier than ever. Not just that, the impact of the ball loosened the light streamer that ran through Santa’s hat and a whole portion of it fell off from its perch on the picket fence.
Mrs. Greenhorn had never expected much from her son Hank, but when she saw three adult men dragging him by the ear to her doorstep, followed by their ladies and children, she knew she was in for a big problem.
“Mrs. Greenhorn!” yelled Mr. Junebottom, the tallest of the three men. “Come out this instant.”
The woman came out demurely. She had faced complaints about her wayward son before. She had no illusions about her son whatsoever. If she played silent, this problem, whatever it was, might just pass.
“This has gone too far this time,” continued Mr. Junebottom, his fist shaking in the air.
Mrs. Greenhorn came ahead and took Hank in her arms. The boy didn’t show any sense of regret or shame. He actually smiled at his mother, and that’s what made matters worse.
“See the boy! See the boy!” fumed Mr. Hammond. “Is there any shame in him?”
“What did he do?” asked Mrs. Greenhorn, taking care that her voice didn’t sound defiant in any manner.
“What did he do, you ask? What did he do?” said Mr. Hammond. “He spoiled our Christmas, that’s what. This year again! Don’t you know that by now? Every year, we put up our decorations and there this little scoundrel is, ruining our labors for Lord knows what reason.
“Did you do that, Hank?” asked Mrs. Greenhorn.
The boy only grinned at her. Then he winked.
“He winks!” Mr. Ginmallow put his hand on his balding head. “He winks! You people know what that means? His mother is on to it. The whole family is out to ruin our Christmas.”
“It is not like that,” protested Mrs. Greenhorn.
“Where is his father?” Mr. Ginmallow demanded to know.
“He’s at work.” Mr. Greenhorn worked at the supermarket, and his job entailed packing bags for customers at the billing counter.
“When he’s back,” said Mr. Hammond, “tell him about it. That boy doesn’t need your love. He doesn’t need anyone’s love. What he needs is a good spanking. Tell his father I said that.”
Mrs. Greenhorn nodded.
Mr. Junebottom now came forward, his breath almost running into Mrs. Greenhorn’s face. “No, you don’t understand. This is the third year he has done that. We don’t care he is just twelve. The next time he does that — and I mean it — we are not going to drag him here. We are going to carry him right to the police station. Let them keep him with the murderers and the robbers, for that is where this ruffian belongs.”
A small tear left Mrs. Greenhorn’s eye as the angry crowd stomped out of her house, muttering and cursing under their breaths.
And that night, when the other families repaired their decorations and lit up Wishing Cross, one house remained unlit. It was the house of the Greenhorns. Only a faint flicker of an incandescent bulb was seen through one of the windows, and the dark silhouette of a little boy on his father’s knee, yelling from the spanking he received for his misdeed.