The next thing Stan knew, he and Oldie were standing in front of a familiar house on a familiar street, ankle-deep in snow.
"Damnit, I would take us to a time when the snow came AFTER dinner," Oldie groused.
"What are you talking about?" Stan asked, pulling his feet out of the snow. "You just put us in the middle of the yard. Step back onto the sidewalk, it's shoveled." Oldie looked around, and with a rather sheepish look, he followed Stan's lead and stepped onto the clean sidewalk.
"OK, now that our feet aren't going to freeze off, you mind telling me what we're doing at Kyle's?"
"Well, the first trip is to Christmas Past," Oldie said.
"Yeah, I know that," Stan said. "If it's Christmases Past, why are we at the house of my Jewish best friend? He doesn't celebrate Christmas."
"No, but you do," Oldie said. Stan looked at him with a "No duh" look, and Oldie continued, "And Kyle always went out of his way to get you a Christmas present. If I remember right, this was one of the years it happened at his place. You should be about eight or nine."
Sure as shooting, in the living room a smaller version of Stan and a smaller version of Kyle appeared. Kyle walked Stan over to the fireplace and handed him a small, gift-wrapped box, complete with a red ribbon. His small smile while Stan unwrapped it tripled in size when he could see that Stan enjoyed and appreciated the present. He reached one red-mittened hand into the box and pulled out a baseball hand-autographed by Dante Bichette.
"Dude!" young Stan exclaimed. "How did you get this? I mean...wow."
The Stan looking through the window smiled as he watched. He remembered this very well. He'd always been a big fan of the Colorado Rockies. Not as big a fan as he was of the Broncos, of course, but he still loved them if only because they were the home team. Kyle knew this and also knew that he'd always wanted the autograph of a major league athlete, regardless of who it came from. That ball had meant the world to him, and it was still mounted in a place of honor in his room.
"That's my secret, Stan," young Kyle replied. "We Jews have our ways, though."
Young Stan responded by pulling a wrapped box of his own from his pocket. He handed it to Kyle with a grin and watched with nervous delight as his friend tore open the paper and looked inside. Stan hadn't been sure when he bought it if Kyle would like it, and it certainly wasn't as extravagant as an autographed baseball, but he'd done his best for his best friend, and he knew all the thought he'd put into it had paid off when Kyle's eyes lit up. He pulled out a small Star of David on a gold chain and inspected the trinket carefully. From where he stood outside, older Stan couldn't see the inscription on it, but he still remembered what it said:
HAPPY HANNUKAH TO THE BEST FRIEND I COULD ASK FOR
"Happy Hannukah, Kyle," young Stan said.
"Merry Christmas, Stan," Kyle replied.
Older Stan felt an arm on his shoulder and looked back at Oldie.
"Come," the man said. "We need to see more."
"No, I don't want to go," Stan cried, pressing his face to the glass. He knew his Dickens and knew that the two inside couldn't see him. He could walk right inside and sit down next to them and they wouldn't know the difference. "I want to stay and watch this. This was precious to me."
"I know," Oldie said gently, "but it's only a shadow. We can't stay here."
Back in the present, Fat One and Shorty were still debating what to do.
"We can't interact with unauthorized mortals!" Fat One said. Suddenly he sounded like an agent who cared about the rules.
"Maybe if we keep quiet and ignore the knocking, they'll go away," Shorty replied. "Ignoring people always worked in the Bronx."
"Right, because I'm sure the Gambinos and the Gottis were so civilized as to just tag the door to let their enemies know they'd been by and would come back at a more convenient time rather than kick in the door and let the Tommy guns loose."
"You jackass," Shorty said. "Shut up, or else the guy's gonna know people are in here!"
"Is anybody in there?" the mortal outside asked. "Stan? If you don't answer the door in ten seconds, I'm coming in. Don't forget I know where your spare key is!"
"Fuck!" Shorty shouted, making a run for the stairs to warn Oldie. When he got to the bathroom, he saw the razor sticking out of the wall, but no trace of Oldie or Marsh.
"Shit, Fatso, they pulled a Dickens on us!" he shouted, running back to the stairs to warn his partner. "For Christ's sake, HIDE!"
His pleas were in vain, however, as the door swung open to admit a scruffy-haired blond in a leather jacket. "...What the fuck's going on here?" he asked, raising his hands in case Fat One or Shorty were armed, kicking the door shut behind him.
Fat One and Shorty traded glances between them from the top of the stairs to the sofa, trying to decide without speaking who would answer the mortal.
"Oh, I see what's going on here. What's SPU want with Stan?" the mortal asked, stunning the hell out of the two agents.
"You...know about us?" Shorty asked, walking downstairs.
"I've seen you guys around the 'hood," the blond replied. "Lots of despondent people in the ghetto. That, and you morons left your badge and identifying documents just sitting on the coffee table. Junior agents?"
"OK, who the fuck are you?" the tub of lard asked.
"Kenny McCormick," the mortal answered. "Don't worry, you can talk to me. I'll make sure Gabe and Petey don't get their panties in a wad about it."
Both SPU agents were dumbfounded. Kenny McCormick was a legend around the Agency. He was the final test that stood between an Agent and Senior Agent status. Oldie had talked him down from suicide to earn the gold badge.
"I'll ask again...what does SPU want with Stan? And why are there more than one of you here?"
"He got himself Code Red status," Shorty finally spoke up. "Joseph, Gabriel, and Peter decided multiple agents were needed to rectify the problem. And they said that if we fail, we don't get any of Jesus' birthday cake tomorrow."
"So then why are you still here, looking like someone just killed your dog? And where's Stan?" Kenny asked, taking a seat in Stan's La-Z-Boy recliner.
"We don't know," Fat One answered. "Our partner went up to talk with him ten minutes ago after he developed a laughing fit at our initial sales pitch, and when Shorty there went up to warn them about you, they were gone."
"Pulled a Dickens? Or maybe a Capra..." Kenny suggested, mulling it over. Shorty and Fat One shrugged, still a little uncomfortable with this guy knowing so much SPU terminology.
"Well, it's Christmastime," Shorty said, squirming uncomfortably.
"My money would be on a Dickens," Kenny decided. "Stan's had some fun times with Christmas. Besides, how else is it going to dawn on him that Kyle's gayer than Uriel for him, and that he's just as gay back, if he doesn't get a chance to examine his past Christmases...and what his present and future Christmases would be like without him. Kyle'd be a fucking wreck. I wish I could be there to see the look on his face when he figures out what Wendy was talking about when she said he needs something she can't give him. Such a shame Catholicism frowns upon strap-ons, otherwise she COULD have..."
Shorty and Fat One stared at Kenny as he rambled. "Jesus. I come here to wish a guy a Merry Christmas, hope he's a little more cheerful than he was when I saw him on my way to the strip club, and I find two SPU agents greener than the wreath on the door who tell me he's taking a field trip through the space-time continuum. Are you gonna clean that up?" Kenny asked Fat One, pointing at the seemingly abandoned Dagwood lying in pieces on the floor.
"Ey! That's MY sandwich!" Fat One protested, waddling off to rescue it.
"It's been on the FLOOR!" Shorty protested. "My GOD you're fat!"
"I'm fucking DEAD, what the hell is a little dirt gonna do to me?" Fat One shot back. Kenny, for his part, executed a perfect facepalm.
When Oldie and Stan touched down again, they were in front of Hell's Pass Hospital. Stan could see a twelve-year old version of himself sitting in front of the building, crying softly into his arms. Older Stan recognized this right away and shook his head in protest.
"No!" he cried. "I don't want to see this."
"I really think it's important that you stay," Oldie said softly.
"I don't really give a shit what you think, old man!" Stan shouted. "I want--"
"Stan?" a young voice called out. Older Stan turned to look and saw Kyle walking out of the front doors toward him. "Stan, what are you doing out here?"
Young Stan looked up at Kyle with eyes red from crying and sniffled.
"I can't do it, Kyle," he sobbed. "I can't watch my mother die. Not on Christmas Eve."
Kyle put his arm around Stan, taking a seat on the curb beside him. He sat in silence for a while, thinking about where to begin "I can't even begin to imagine how hard this is...about to lose your mom. But if you don't have much time left with her, I would think you'd want to spend as much of it as you could in there."
"You know how hard it is for me to deal with death," Stan said, leaning against him. "I couldn't watch Kenny go. What makes any of those people in there think my mom would be any different, and on Christmas?"
"Well, no offense to Ken, but he's just a friend," Kyle said. "Your mom's your Mom, dude. Spending her last hours with you is one of the last gifts she can give you."
"Why did it have to happen to her, Kyle?" Stan replied, wiping his face with his jacket sleeve. "Why does God have to take my mom?"
"I dunno," Kyle admitted, with a defeated sigh. "He must have some need for her in Heaven, though."
"Yeah," Older Stan said, turning to Oldie. "What was the deal with that anyway? He couldn't have knocked off a pedophile or a wife beater? He had to satiate his thirst for blood with my mother?"
"Kyle actually has it right," Oldie told him. "There's a reason every time God claims a soul, and only about two percent of the time is it because he forgot his meds and felt like smiting someone."
"So answer my fucking question," Older Stan persisted as his younger self sniffled and began to cry again. "What purpose did it serve? Why did he have to have HER so bad?"
"I'm not supposed to tell you this," Oldie said as Kyle held younger Stan and let him cry into his shoulder. "But there was an opening in the secretarial pool for one of the Departments, and He felt your mother would be the best fit for the position."
Stan was shocked into absolute silence. He stood there for a moment staring at Oldie in disbelief for several moments before his lip began to twitch.
"...You sons of bitches," he said, his voice rising from a mumble to a shout with every syllable. "You unimaginable bastards! You took a loving mother from her family so you'd have someone to answer the fucking PHONES?!"
"We don't use phones," Oldie said. "But that's beside the point. Her job now is helping to put people together and spread the sort of love she had for her family." He was regretting telling Stan anything, damn the boy's inquisitive spirit!
Stan opened his mouth to respond, but stopped when he heard his younger self speak up again.
"Do you think there really is a heaven, Kyle?" little Stan asked. "I mean, I don't know what Jews believe in really, but do you think there really could be a place like that, where nobody ever has to die again?"
"Of course there's a Heaven," Kyle said. "We can't all go to hell, can we?" he asked with a wry grin.
Young Stan tried to smile back, but his composure quickly slipped away and he found himself crying again. He threw his arms around his best friend and buried his face in his chest.
"It hurts to say goodbye," he said through his sobs. "It hurts so bad."
"I know," Kyle told his friend. "But you'll see her again when your time comes. After you've lived a long, happy life, and you can tell her about all the great things you did."
"I know," Kyle told his friend. "But you'll see her again when your time comes. After you've lived a long, happy life, and you can tell her about all the great things you did."
"You're mine too," Kyle said. "Now go be with your mom. I'll always be with you if you need me."
Stan didn't do anything right away. He just sat there, holding onto Kyle. Kyle never said a word about it. He just let Stan hold him as long as he wished. Older Stan watched this with a lump in his throat and felt tears sting his eyes.
"My mother died of breast cancer that day," Older Stan said, trying in vain to hold the tears back. "Kyle finally talked me into going up to her room, and because of that, I got to see her before she went. She told me she loved me, then just...closed her eyes and went to sleep."
Oldie stood there, not saying a word. He knew this was very difficult for Stan to relive, and thought it best to just let him say whatever it was he needed to say uninterrupted.
"Afterwards, Kyle was there for me every second. He slept in my room with me for those times I'd wake up in the night crying and screaming for my mother. Any time he had to leave to do anything, he was always a phone call away. He attached himself to me for over a month, until I could function on my own. I...I..."
Oldie nodded. He understood very well.
"Why did you bring me here?" Stan screamed. "Why did you make me live through this again?! Don't you understand how long it took me to block that out, to push it so far into the back of my mind that I didn't even think about it anymore?"
Stan fell to his knees in the snow and wailed into his hands. Oldie stepped away from him and the scene dissolved, bringing them back to the bathroom. Without another word, Oldie walked out, stopping only to place a brief, consoling hand on his shoulder.
"Sounds like they're back," Kenny commented, hearing the sobbing. "Jesus, what'd your partner do to him?" he asked, heading up the stairs and running smack-dab into Oldie.
"Kenny McCormick?" the Senior Agent asked.
"Oldie? What the hell are you doing here?"
"Trying to keep your friend from slashing his wrists," Oldie commented. "But I seem to have struck a nerve with the second Christmas Past. I think he needs a friend right now. Let me know when he's ready to move on to Christmas Present. You didn't traumatize Shorty and Fatso too badly did you?"
"Not that I know of," Kenny replied, flashing his trademark grin at Oldie as he headed into the bathroom to be with Stan.
Oldie smirked as he headed down the stairs.
"Where the fuckin' hell have you been?" Shorty asked, accosting him as soon as he reached the bottom. "I've been stuck down here with Fatso and the mortal whose not really a mortal and knows way too much about SPU for my liking and ... shit, Oldie, you made the target cry!"
"Oh be quiet, Shorty. You're taking Christmas Present, when he's calmed down enough," Oldie said. "I think I did a very good job getting him to believe we're legitimate and laying the groundwork to making him open to accepting his homosexuality. If you can manage to not fuck up the next segment as you did the surveillance at the Burger Hut and the initial presentation, I just may put you in for a commendation."
"What about me?" Fat One asked. "It's not like I'm having the time of my eternal life here."
"You're Christmas Yet to Come, Fatso," Oldie said. "And you're playing to save your damn job, make no mistake. I've just about had enough of you, and I guarantee I can find enough Senior Agents to back my play to get you sent over to the Nurseries and have you spend the rest of your eternal life changing the diapers of the cherubim."
Fatso gulped. Cherubim may look cute and innocent, but they had a HUGE design flaw...they ALL had Irritable Bowel Syndrome. They produced more shit - and more runny shit - than an entire Third World country infected with diarrhea.
"Yes sir," he muttered. "Keep him alive, make him a fag. Got it."
"Good. Now, I'm going to phone back with our progress. Try not to kill each other." With that, Oldie pulled out a giant, 80s-style cell phone and headed into the kitchen.
"Senior Agent 18402 calling Headquarters," Oldie said into the phone, which automatically sent his signal to SPU Headquarters. "Requesting to speak with Joseph." The operator routed the call as instructed, and soon Oldie heard the commanding tones of his superior in his ear.
"How's it coming, Oldie?"
"Well sir, not so well at first. I had to go it myself to lay the proper groundwork. We'll be taking a Dickens approach. Subject Marsh has experienced his Christmases Past, and we're preparing to move on to Christmas Present with Agent Shorty, and Christmas Yet to Come with Fat One."
"What's your prognosis?"
"My current guess is a 89 percent chance of achieving the primary objective, with a 72 percent chance of achieving the secondary objective. Should Christmas Present go well, I would up both of those, to 99 percent on Primary, and 90 percent on secondary. 100 percent chance of success on both objectives should Fat One not fuck up Christmas Yet to Come."
"Good work as always. I knew we could count on you in this one, Oldie."
"Thank you sir. And, if you could relay news of this situation to Sharon Marsh in the Secretarial Pool for Matchmaking...I think it would be good to have an ace in the hole."
"Consider it done. She'll be available if you need her. Anything else?"
"No sir. I'll report back after Christmas Present. Oldie out." He terminated the connection and returned the phone to his jacket, then stepped back into the living room, where Kenny was standing with an arm around a still-sniffling Stan.
"He's calm, Oldie. Who's going with him to Present?"
"Shorty is," Oldie said. "You and I can catch up while he continues his field trip."
"Fun time," Kenny said, as Shorty stood up to take Stan's hand, vanishing to God-knows-when.
Stan suddenly found himself on the main street of South Park. Considering the size of the town, that meant that Shorty's trip had fallen far short of miraculous, taking them a whopping three blocks down the road.
"Oh, I'm impressed," Stan said sarcastically with a roll of his eyes. "If I'd had you around when I was a kid, I wouldn't have needed to take the school bus."
"Hey," Shorty said, giving him a very stereotypically Italian pat on the cheek, "shut your pie hole for a few minutes and listen, will ya?"
"'Pie hole'," Stan snorted. "You're not a walking stereotype or anything."
"You know," Shorty said, "you're lucky I'm trying to save your life, because otherwise I'd be tempted to stab you to death with an icepick."
He grabbed Stan by the arm and--rather forcefully--led him down the street. He took him to the middle-upper class neighborhood, which was basically two houses on the opposite side of Main Street, and up to a familiar house.
"Recognize it?" Shorty asked.
"Yeah, it's Kyle's house," Stan replied. "So?"
Shorty slapped him in the back of the head. Stan took this as his cue to move forward, and they marched unseen into the house. As they ascended the stairs toward Kyle's room, Stan decided that he probably liked Shorty even less than the old man. Not because his methods were rough, but because he was just so stereotypically Bronx that it was almost sickening. He was like the Italian version of Kyle's cousin Kyle. Every stereotype ever concocted for one group of people rolled up into a big ball and shaped into human form.
They reached the second floor and proceeded down the hallway. Stan didn't need to be told where they were going, and if he'd thought to stop and ask, he probably just would have gotten hit again.
"Tell me something," he said.
"What's that?" Shorty replied.
"Is it not against policy to assault and threaten to kill the people you're trying to help?"
Stan was rewarded for his cheek by another slap across the back of the head.
"Shaddup and move," Shorty ordered. "We don't have a lot of time."
They moved unseen into Kyle's room, but Shorty stopped him at the door. Apparently, they were only to come this far, and no more. Stan didn't understand why, really. He could easily just walk over from his own house, using his own two legs, and go visit with Kyle any time he liked. Why did there suddenly need to be boundaries and rules? Were they that determined to stick to the Dickens way of doing things? That certainly was a lot of pomp and circumstance just to teach him some moral lesson.
"Watch this," Shorty said, more kind than he'd been thus far in the trip. "This is important."
Kyle was sitting on his bed, looking at a photograph, though neither of them could see who or what was in it. All they could see was the back of the silver frame. Stan was sure he'd seen it before, though he couldn't really place it. He'd been in Kyle's room lots of times, surely he would have noticed something like a silver pictureframe. He supposed after so many visits to the same place, stationary objects just start to become such a part of the setting that you don't even really notice them anymore. One thing was for sure, though: whatever he was looking at was very precious, because he had a look of pure adoration on his face.
He put it face-down on the bed and got down on his knees. He clasped his hands before him and, to Stan's surprise, started praying! Stan wasn't sure he'd ever seen Kyle pray, even one time, in the entire time they'd been friends.
"Look," Kyle said, sniffling a bit, "I don't know who's up there. I don't know if you're Moses or Jehovah or Jesus or some Being that nobody even knows about yet. The thing is, someone very special to me needs help, and I can't give it to him. I don't know what to do. I think...I think he may be thinking about killing himself, and I don't think I have the power to stop it..."
He suddenly burst into tears and began sobbing uncontrollably. Stan's heart went out to him. He'd done his fair share of crying lately. He started to move forward to go comfort him, but Shorty's arm was suddenly blocking his way.
"No," the agent said. "Watch."
"I...I love him," Kyle cried. "I love him SO much. Please do something. I'm begging you."
Kyle began pounding the bed with his fists in frustration.
"Please, please, please! I don't want to lose him!"
In his desperation, Kyle accidentally knocked the picture frame off the bed and it hit the carpeted floor with a thud. Stan could easily see the old photograph of himself and Kyle at the age of thirteen, arms over each others' shoulders, looking happy as two young boys could possibly look. He remembered the day that photograph had been taken. It had been at Kyle's Bar Mitzvah, and they had partied for hours, dancing and drinking punch that they pretended someone had spiked.
"This is the reason we've come to help you," Shorty said. "Kyle prayed for you, and his prayer was heard. He really does care about you, Stan."
Stan was too stunned to speak. To hear Kyle screaming that he loved him, really loved him, was overwhelming. Surely he didn't mean it...that way...did he?
"You actually talked a guy out of a suicide bombing?" Kenny asked, amazed. "Damn, man, you deserve that gold shield, I'll tell you what." Oldie nodded, sipping at his mug of eggnog Kenny had nicked from Stan's refrigerator.
"And, to top it all off, I got approval from Gabriel to let him mail the explosives to his bosses as a mail-bomb."
"You solved a code red by instigating another one?" Fat One asked.
"Privileges of being the best," Kenny told him. "It's not seventy-two virgins, but this guy's not really up to that kinda task anyway," he added, with a good-natured elbowing of Oldie's ribs as he made his point.
"Thanks for reminding me how long it's been since I got laid, Jesus," the Senior Agent remarked dryly. "Though you'd probably burn through seventy-two and just consider yourself warmed-up."
"Oh yeah. I could easily do another one-forty-four, and that's just in one night," Kenny replied, winking at Fat One. Everything about him oozed self-confidence.
"So, you're saying that if you were up to it, you could deflower every virgin in the world in a week?"
"Yeah, pretty much. Maybe eight days, depends on how much travel time I need," Kenny said.
"How the hell are you two friends, then?" Fat One asked, confused. "Oldie's not exactly renowned for his sexploits, and that's all you seem to talk about."
"Well, like I told you earlier, we met when he was up for Senior Agent status. God made me a deal that if I agreed to be this test for SPU, I could get a week in heaven with naked angels with big tits. Naturally, I agreed. Anyway, for his test, I went up to the top of the Empire State Building and threatened to jump. Now, I knew I wouldn't be harmed, but that's not the point. I was being as sincere as I could about it, and difficult to the Agents I was testing. Oldie here gets to me with stories about the good little Catholic boys who lived just down the road from him, back when he was alive, and the next thing I know, I'm walking out the door of the place like any other tourist. Besides, he's grateful enough to arrange for a dinner whenever I'm passing through Heaven. I probably know the layout of SPU Headquarters better than you, Chubby."
"Jesus you're chatty," Fat One remarked. "We've barely been able to talk since you got here. Are you drunk?"
"Drunk? No. Just a bit tipsy, maybe. I only had five Bloody Mary's at the strip club...and those three Jagerbombs I did with that one stripper who had the huge rack. She was good in bed, I remember...but nah, I'm fine. Just in a talkative mood tonight, I guess. You're just too uptight. Do I have to get you some additives for your eggnog or something? Or is he always this uptight?" Kenny asked Oldie, who shrugged.
"You've never had whiskey eggnog, have you?" Kenny asked Fat One.
Fat One shook his head no.
"God, how lame. Try everything once, that's my motto. Well, that, and 'do anything with tits.' Anyway, c'mere, lemme get you something to loosen you up. We've gotta find SOME way to pass the time, or else we'd just be sitting around, watching the seconds tick by until Stanny-poo and that little greaseball get back, and God, how boring would THAT be on Christmas Eve, eh?" Kenny asked, rummaging around in his jacket for a flask of whiskey that he eventually found, pouring a liberal amount into Fat One's eggnog. "There, try that. See if it doesn't make you feel a little more comfortable."
"I'll pass, thanks, I'm technically on duty, and I've gotta stay sharp for when Shorty does get back, since it's my job on the line."
"Oh don't worry about it, I'm sure you'll be fine. Between you and me, Stan's not that tough a nut to crack. He just needs a little...persuasion, sometimes. He'll come around to seeing how much he wants to be a good little cocksucker by the end of the night, and can't you just imagine how pleased Kyle's gonna be with his Hannukah present THIS year?"
Fat One just looked at Oldie, who grabbed Kenny's flask and without hesitation, knocked back a big gulp of the fine Tennessee whiskey contained within.
Stan felt the world disappear around him again. When it reappeared, he was standing outside Wendy's house. He looked at it for a moment in shock, then shook his head viciously.
"No, no, and NO!" he declared. "I don't care HOW many times you hit me in the fucking head. I'm NOT going in there!"
Shorty sighed and rolled his eyes.
"Look," he said, "you may as well go along with it. You should know by now that we always get our way, one way or the other. If I have to call Oldie and Fat One to come help me drag you in there, I'll do it, but I gotta tell you I don't want to. You don't want me to, either. Fat One is a lot like the one you call Cartman, only about a thousand times worse, and you're going to be spending some quality time with him when I'm done with you. If he has to get up off his chunky ass before his shift and come here to force you into this, he's going to be very cranky. You don't want to go with him if you make him mad."
Stan thought about this. Shorty had a point. Thus far he'd protested nearly everything, and had ended up doing it just the same. Plus, that fat slob of a SPU agent was already a nuisance, and he hadn't even really dealt with Stan directly.
"Will you promise to make it quick?" Stan asked.
"Yeah, okay," Shorty agreed. "We'll make it quick, if only to shut you up."
They walked around the side of the house to the window that looked into Wendy's room. Sure enough the bitch was there, talking on the phone to one of her girlfriends. Bebe, most likely. God, those two spent so much time talking, Stan sometimes wondered why they never decided to just les out.
"Bebe, I had to do it," Wendy was saying. "It's not like I wanted to."
Stan felt his heart beginning to break all over again just looking at her.
"Well of course I love him," she said after a moment. "You can't be with a guy that long and not love him, unless he's beating you or something. I'll always love Stan...Why did I break up with him?...No, it's not that...No, it's more complicated than...Will you just listen?"
Stan wasn't sure this was right, listening in on her conversation like this. Wasn't this kind of like reading her diary or going through the call history on her cell phone? Only creepy guys did shit like that, and Stan didn't like to think of himself as a creepy guy.
"Look, Bebe, I'm gonna put it to you like this..." Wendy said.
"Listen closely now," Shorty said.
"I can't be with Stan because I'm not his type," she said. "No...No...No, I'm not his type because he's got a huge boner for Kyle, okay?"
Stan felt as though he'd been hit in the face. Wendy broke up with him because she thought he was hot for Kyle? That was outrageous! It was also damn insulting. Why couldn't she have said any of this to him? Why did she have to step around the issue and feed him a bunch of obnoxious bullcrap? He expressed this opinion to Shorty, who clucked his tongue and stared down at his feet.
"Tell me," Shorty said, "what did she say to you when she broke up with you?"
"Crap," he replied.
"No," the other said, feeling his patience begin to slip. "Word for word."
"She said, and I quote: 'This relationship is hopeless, Stan. I'm not the right one for you, because you need something that I can't provide.'"
Shorty simply raised his eyebrows at him and motioned for him to go on.
"Well!" Stan protested. "Obviously when she said that...she...she didn't mean it that way!"
Shorty shrugged and pointed at the window. Stan turned his attention back to Wendy and listened in.
"I'm just worried, Bebe...No...He's just been wandering around town looking like he's lost the will to live...I wish I was being paranoid...I really hope he doesn't try to kill himself. Our relationship may not have worked, but I'd hate to see something happen to him...I don't hate him, Bebe. You know, as far as guys go, he was my best friend..."
Stan felt flabbergasted. What the hell was going on? Was he really that blind? People thought he was gay, Kyle seemed to be in love with him, and the reasons he'd thought his ex-girlfriend a cold-hearted bitch were actually completely inaccurate. How had he trapped himself in such a bubble of naivete?
"It's hard when the world we think we live in turns out to be a lie, isn't it?" Shorty asked. "I think you're starting to catch on."
"Please, just make it stop!" Stan pleaded. "I can't take any more of this Dickens treatment. It's a wonder that Scrooge didn't go completely insane!"
"I wish things were that easy," Shorty said as he put a hand on his shoulder, "but the formula calls for three. You've still got one to go."
Then the world went black.
"...OK, I'm bored now," Kenny said. "Anybody got some cards, or anything. Euchre, Solitaire, 52-pick-up, I don't care right now..."
"Shorty might," Fat One said, bored himself. "God only knows what he's got in those pockets. And even then, I doubt He wanted to know, but that's the downside of omniscience. You can't claim there's any such thing as TMI."
Just then, Shorty and Stan popped back into the room, next to Kenny.
"Well, at least you're not crying this time, that's a plus," the blond quipped.
"Shut up, Kenny," Stan muttered.
"Phase two is complete," Shorty announced. "Next up, a trip to a future without you in it. Fatso, if you would care to do the honors?"
"Hold on," Kenny said, interrupting Fat One's rise from the couch. "Stan...you alright?"
"I'm fine," Stan said, though he looked the complete opposite.
"You need a few minutes? It's not like we're lacking for time, it's only a little before midnight," Kenny asked, laying a hand on Stan's arm. "Take whatever time you need. You wouldn't happen to have any cards, would you?"
"They're in the hall table," Stan said quietly. Kenny jumped up to find them, since he was definitely staying to the finish of this mission. "Really, I'm fine. I just wanna get this over with. I'm dead in the last one, aren't I? I mean, it's what life will be like if I go ahead and kill myself anyway after you all leave?"
"Yes," Oldie said.
"Oh, great. This is gonna be so...so morbid..."
"Not as morbid as actually watching yourself die, like you would have if you'd slit your wrists," Fat One said.
"Or if you died of diabetes, like fatso," Shorty leered across the room.
"Ey! I didn't die of fuckin' diabeetus!"
"Oh no, my mistake, a 'heart attack'," Shorty said, rolling his eyes. "Seriously, you think the idea of seeing a world without you is morbid, try the idea of seeing a world without you with that jackass by your side."
"I'm gonna have the best time of the night, huh?" Stan asked sarcastically.
"Damn right!" Fat One said. "Now c'mon, I wanna be back at HQ when they start handin' out birthday cake."
"Birthday cake?" Stan asked, confused.
"Yeah. For the J-man," Shorty answered. "Always double-chocolate, with fudge frosting, and icing, and sprinkles. Same damn joke every year, about it being a sin to eat something that good. After 50 times, it wears thin on ya, right Oldie?"
"Try after 100 times," the oldest Agent said. "You almost wanna go jump off Cloud Ten."
"Ugh," Fat One groaned. "Can we just get on with this, please?"
"Alright, alright. Fatty, make it quick," Stan said, as the miffed Agent struggled his way out of the chair to whisk him away.
"We don't have to do this, you know," the Agent suggested, taking him by the arm. "If you've decided that suicide isn't the best option for you, we can skip the whole trip."
"Fatso..." Oldie warned.
"No," Stan admitted. "I'll still kill myself if you leave now. Taking me to see the day my mother died and then taking me to see my ex-girlfriend probably wasn't the best strategy to use."
"Fine," Fatso said with a sigh. "Let's go."
"Bye Stan!" Kenny said with a wave, re-entering the room with the deck of cards as Fat One and Stan vanished from view.
They reappeared on the main street of South Park. There was a cold wind blowing, which Stan was surprised to find he could actually feel, considering he was supposed to be a ghost in this time.
"Where are we off to?" he asked. "The cemetery?"
"Puh," Fatso scoffed. "You've watched A Christmas Carol one too many times."
"So where are we going?"
"I thought you said we weren't going there!" Stan cried indignantly.
"No," Fat One replied. "I said you've seen A Christmas Carol one too many times. You know too much for your own good."
They walked down the main street, which looked a little different than it did in the present time. Stan thought it looked like a slum. Buildings were boarded up and abandoned, others were covered with graffiti, thugs and greaseballs leaned in dark doorways, and trash was everywhere.
"What happened to South Park?" Stan asked.
"Chain reaction," the other said. "After you died, your family moved to Pueblo. They felt memories of you everywhere and couldn't take it. After a year or so passed, the Broflovskis followed, not wanting to be too far from their closest friends...among other reasons. The Stotch family kept hearing all these good things about Pueblo, and they followed shortly after that. This led to some open houses where there weren't any before, and some unsavory characters moved in."
"And that drove other people out of town?" Stan suggested.
"Very good," Fatso answered. "I see you're familiar with the way most Anglo communities work. Yes. When someone they find unsuitable moves into the neighborhood, be it thugs, blacks, Mexicans, or whatever, they get hot feet and suddenly want to sell the property before the value depreciates. After so long, South Park became what you see before you."
Stan was shocked. How could the loss of one person have such devastating effects?
"You'd be surprised how big an effect the seemingly little things have," Fat One said, anticipating his thoughts.
They turned and walked down the street heading toward the cemetery. This led down Stan's old street, and he was sorry to see that it had become quite an unpleasant place. Many houses had fallen into disrepair. The grass of some lawns looked to be about waist high, while others were littered with trash, plastic toys, and old car parts. The rest sat completely empty and rotting on their foundations.
"This is ridiculous," Stan said. "You're making this up. This wouldn't happen just because one person kills himself."
"I'm not making it up," the Agent said, not even bothering to glance at him. "I'm not emotionally involved enough with this mission to feel the need to make things up, Stan."
Stan saw his own house, or what was left of it, to his left. It had apparently been gutted by fire quite some time ago. There was nothing there but some scorched rubble on the bare, blackened foundation.
"GAH!" he cried. "What happened to my house?"
"Does it matter?"
Stan gulped and walked on, wondering how much worse things would get before they left this bleak, almost ridiculously post-apocolyptic future.
"What do you think would happen if Stan succeeds?" Oldie asked Kenny, who was attempting to play poker with Shorty (difficult, as they had no chips or cash).
"Dunno," Kenny replied. "To me, personally, or just, in general?"
"Oh," Kenny said, tossing his hand into the middle of the table. "What a question, jeez. Me personally, it probably wouldn't affect that much, cuz I could still see him whenever, ya know? But in general...I dunno. Kyle'd be a total fuckin' wreck. I wouldn't be surprised if he offed himself that long after the funeral. Wendy, I dunno. She broke up with him all the time, but she did have a soft spot for him. I guess she'd just find a guy that didn't secretly want cock and move on with her life. His dad would be appropriately traumatized for about a month and a half, then he'd take up golf or something and forget about it."
"That's...a rather cynical outlook, Kenny," Oldie said. Kenny shrugged.
"What can I say? Die enough times, it loses its impact on ya." Oldie fell silent, watching Kenny and Shorty play cards and silently hoping Fat One wasn't ruining everything.
His brooding was interrupted by a knock at the door, freezing Kenny and Shorty's poker game as well.
"Who d'you think that is?" Shorty asked. "Carolers?"
"You've never been here before, have you?" Kenny asked with an amused glance at the short agent. "I'll get it. My presence here is actually believable." He got up and walked over to the front door, looking through the curtain at who was outside before opening the door.
"What the hell are you doing here?" Kenny asked, admitting a gangly (though bundled up), snow-covered man, who pulled off a hunting cap and shook small amounts of snow out of a mane of curly, firetruck-red hair.
"I'm trying to find out why Stan won't answer his damn phone," the mortal said, as realization dawned on Shorty's face. "What are you doing here, and who are these people? And where's Stan?"
"I dropped by to wish him Merry Christmas and found 'em here," Kenny said. "Turns out, the old one is a guy I met in heaven. He works in Suicide Prevention. So does this midget, and there's a fat guy here with 'em." The redhead paled at the words "Suicide Prevention," Oldie noted.
"S-suicide prevention? He's..." the man asked, despair in his voice.
"No," Shorty said, interrupting. "He's still alive, Kyle, and we're here to try and make sure he stays that way. He's on a field trip with our colleague right now, but our mission on Earth tonight is to keep him here...and answer your prayer."
"My...my prayer? Somebody heard that?" Kyle asked, somewhat relieved, and willing to suspend his disbelief if it meant getting Stan back alive.
"We have extra ears on the Jewish Prayer Line during Hannukah," Oldie said. "Yours got flagged and sent over to our agency with High Priority, considering Mr. Marsh is a Christian and it's Christmas Eve. God frowns on suicides during the Holidays. Ruins the mood, you see."
"Right..." Kyle said, slowly, because really, this was a lot to take in at once.
"You're welcome to take a seat and wait for him to come back. You may just be what we need to successfully complete our mission," Oldie said. "Kenny and Shorty here have a poker game going on, if you're interested. If not...well, I'm done with the paper."
"I'll take the news section, if that's OK," Kyle said, sitting down in the chair vacated by Fat One. "Jesus, this was a lot springier the last time I was here..." he commented as he took the paper passed over by Oldie.
"The Fat One was sitting there," Shorty told him.
"Oh," Kyle said, cracking open the paper and trying to not worry too much about Stan.
The cemetery was just as bad as the rest of the tow. There apparently hadn't been a groundskeeper on staff to trim the grass and take care of the graves in quite some time, therefore the lawn was shabby and unkempt and many of the headstones had been either broken, stolen, or pushed over. The main gates, once glorious works of wrought iron Gothic art that had cost the city at least twenty grand, now hung loosely on their hinges. Stan had a feeling that it wouldn't be long before they fell off completely and were carried away by someone in the back of a pickup truck.
"Somehow I can't say I'm surprised," Stan said. "The cemetery where Scrooge is buried is always depicted as a derelict dump of a place. Why should it be any different for me?"
Fat One didn't bother to answer. He kept walking, not bothering to stop to wait for his charge. Stan was actually surprised at how fast the tub of guts could move. He didn't think a fat person could be so spry, especially not a dead one.
"If you think taking me to see my own grave is going to shake me up and make me reconsider," he challenged, "you might want to come up with a different idea. I mean, you're basically just showing me that committing suicide is going to kill me. You don't think that's a little pointless?"
"If you don't shut up," Fat One said, "I'm going to use my authority to perform miracles to seal your mouth closed."
They crossed the rest of the cemetery in complete silence, the only sound their feet swishing through the tall grass. Finally, Fat One stopped them by a large Elm tree and pointed toward two graves less than three feet away.
"Guess I don't have to tell you who's buried there, do I?" he asked.
"I see two graves," Stan said. "They didn't bury me in pieces, did they?"
"No," Fatso said. "Only one of the graves is actually yours."
"Who else, then?" Stan asked, confused. "My mom's?"
"No, she's in the row behind us. Haven't you learned anything tonight?" Fat One asked, giving him a push. "Go look, if you're that dumb." Stan walked forward to look at the inscriptions on the headstones. One was his, yes, and listed his expiration date as today. Well, today back in normal time, not today in whatever year this was. Next to his, however, was an inscription that took his breath away.
LOVING MAN, SON, AND BROTHER
26 May 1990-24 January 2016
"What happened to Kyle?" Stan asked, whipping around and glaring at Fat One. He smirked and pointed at a couple of figures heading towards the graves he stood on.
"She'll explain," he said, leaning up against the tree. Stan backed out of the way as the figures - a woman and her son - approached. Stan didn't recognize either. The woman had long, scraggly hair, and looked rather gaunt. She wore a thick overcoat, with a purple scarf wrapped around her face. In her hands were bouquets of flowers (though why anybody would bother setting flowers on a grave in this wind was beyond Stan), one set of blue periwinkles, the other of green orchids. She set the periwinkles on Stan's, and the orchids on Kyle's.
"Momma," the boy, who couldn't have been more than seven, asked her, "why do we come here every Christmas Eve?"
"Well," the woman said, "there's a story behind it. Would you like to hear it?"
"Sure!" the boy replied with the kind of enthusiasm that only a child could have in a cemetery. He obviously loved stories.
"Once upon a time," she said, "there was a girl..."
"Was the girl you?"
"Yes," she said, "now listen. This girl had a boy that she loved very, very much. He was everything to her, like her prince in shining armor. Whenever he showed up, she felt happier inside just to be around him."
"Mushy stuff!" the boy replied, scrunching up his nose.
"Lots of it," she agreed with a nod. "Well, after awhile the girl began to misbehave. She was mean to her handsome prince, and broke his heart many times. The prince cried lots of tears over her, and always wondered why she did it. He thought sometimes that she didn't really love him, but she did. She just sensed something in him that she couldn't change, and she didn't understand how to deal with it."
"She didn't hurt him cause she wanted to?"
"Goodness no! She only hurt him because she knew she couldn't keep him, but had such a hard time letting go. She did things to maybe make him go away on his own, like finding other handsome princes and flirting with fat ogres, but he always held on to her and refused to believe that she wasn't the girl for him.
"Soon the girl had no choice but to tell him that...that he actually liked his...uh...squire...a lot more than her, but didn't realize it. The prince didn't like it, and went away with his heart more broken than ever. The girl thought he could eventually put it back together like always, but this time he couldn't. This time he died."
"He died?!" the boy moaned. "That's awful! Why that...that poor prince!"
"I'm afraid there is no 'happily ever after' in this story, son," she said somberly. "You see, after the prince died, his squire, who had always been...uh...very fond of the prince...probably moreso than was necessary...Well, he got very sad. Some people say that the prince was his soul mate, and without the other half of his soul, the squire was destined to follow him to the afterlife. Whatever caused it, the squire wasted away. He wouldn't eat, he wouldn't drink. He just brooded for hours in the castle, thinking of his prince and how great things would have been if the girl hadn't ruined everything."
"So now the girl brings them both flowers because she's sorry?" the boy asked.
"Yes," she answered. "That, and because she likes to think that the prince and his squire are happy together on the other side. Maybe they take turns....riding each others' horses. Maybe they're getting the bliss in eternity that they should have gotten in life."
"Momma," the boy said as they walked away, "why do you suppose the prince didn't realize how much he liked his squire?"
"Oh, Stanley," the woman said, "he didn't see it because he didn't want to."
When they were out of earshot (as if it meant something), Stan walked forward to Kyle's grave and fell to his knees in front of it. He felt the tears stinging his eyes already.
"No!" he cried. "No, I won't believe it! I...I can't believe it! How could I have missed it?"
"It's like Wendy just said," Fat One said, "you missed it because you wanted to. You didn't want to be in love with your best friend, just like you didn't want to see the signs that he was so very in love with you."
Stan grasped frantically at his shaggy black hair and his breath became more panicked. He felt an asthma attack coming on, which was rare considering how mild his asthma was.
"I'm sorry, Kyle!" he cried. "I'm sorry! I'm sorry! I'm sorry! I didn't want you to die for me. I love you! I'd do anything to keep this from happening..."
"You don't want to kill yourself then?" Fat One said with a rare grin.
"No!" Stan answered, crawing toward the agent on his knees. "I want to live! I want to be with Kyle. I want to experience all that happiness that we'll miss out on if this happens! Please, I'll never even think of committing suicide again if you take me away from this awful place."
"So be it," Fat One said, clapping his hands and causing the cemetery to dissolve around them.
They reappeared in the living room, shocking Shorty, Oldie, Kenny and most of all Kyle, with the sudden appearance of Stan's begging in the otherwise mostly silent room.
"Stan?" Kyle asked, throwing the paper aside at the sound of his voice.
"Kyle? Kyle!" Stan answered, jumping up at the sight of him, living and breathing, in front of him, running over and pinning Kyle to the chair with a kiss that was equal parts sweet, desperate, and passionate.
"Mmmf!" Kyle protested at first, before his mind caught up to the fact that Stan was kissing him!, and he returned the kiss with equal passion.
"The fuck brought that on?" Kenny asked, observing the very homo lovefest that had erupted five feet away from him.
"Us accomplishing our secondary objective," Oldie told him. "Getting him to realize his love for Kyle."
"Oh," Kenny answered, as Stan and Kyle broke apart.
"Stan?" Kyle asked, not unhappy with what had just happened, but more than a little surprised all the same.
"I love you, God I don't know how I didn't see it sooner," Stan said, apologizing. "But I don't want you to die just because I'm an idiot...a big blind idiot."
"I'm not gonna die," Kyle promised. "If you had, I would have, but ... you're not gonna, are you?"
"Never!" Stan said firmly. "Not now that I can see what I would lose..."
"Merry Christmas, Stan," Kyle said, pulling him down.
"Happy Hannukah, Kyle," Stan replied, kissing him again.
The ignored Agents clustered together in the kitchen, giving Stan and Kyle the privacy they needed at this point. Kenny followed, as Oldie pulled out his old cellphone and called HQ again.
"Special Agent 18402, calling Headquarters. Joseph, please," Oldie said, waiting to be put through once more.
"Tell me the good news, Oldie," Joseph said.
"100 percent success, on both objectives sir," Oldie reported. "Subject has promised never to commit, attempt, or even think of suicide again, and presently has his tongue down Mr. Broflovski's throat. Are they handing out cake yet?"
"I'll let them know to save three pieces for you and your partners. Be ready to translocate in 90 seconds."
"Understood, sir. Oldie out."
"Kenny, it's been a pleasure seeing you again," Oldie said, holding his hand out for the blond to shake while replacing the cellphone. Kenny shook it, as well as those of Shorty and Fat One.
"Pleasure to meet you both," he said. "And I'll see you around, Oldie."
"How do you plan to leave?" Shorty asked, since the front was blocked by Stan and Kyle.
"Ah, I'll sneak out the back. I'm good at that," Kenny replied with a wink, as the three SPU agents began to fade away.
"Bye!" he said with a wave, waiting until they were completely gone before walking through the space they'd occupied to Stan's back door. At least now he knew what to get his friends for Christmas.