Notes: Written for coffeesuperhero for Yuletide 2012.
A Touch of Frost
The blizzard blew. A solitary figure, bundled up in thick layers of clothing, staggered up the hill against the wind. Seeking sanctuary, the wanderer stumbled into the doorway of a shop, slapping the door handle once, twice, before throwing it open and lurching inside. He collapsed face down on the floor inside the doorway, and was still.
Seated behind the desk, Fran sipped her wine reflectively. "Manny's back," she observed.
"Mm." Bernard regarded his lit cigarette.
Fran pried the wine bottle from his grip and upended it over her glass, groaning when just a trickle dribbled out. "Oh, no, out of wine already?" she said, her shoulders drooping. "I'm not drunk enough yet."
Bernard flung a careless hand out towards Manny, knocking a stack of books off the end of the table. "Check the beast's panniers."
As she approached Manny's prone position, he bolted upright like a startled prairie dog. Tufts of hair and beard stuck out from under his balaclava, fur-lined hood and pulled-down bobble hat. Ski goggles and a scarf completed the ensemble, and Manny peered myopically out through the tinted lenses.
Fran pulled the goggles away from his face and let the strap snap them back into place. "Wine," she demanded.
"Ow!" he whined indignantly, but he hurried to remove the loaded bags slung over his shoulders, lifting out bottle after bottle of wine and cartons of cigarettes. "See, I've got enough supplies to last us-" he contemplated the hoard, and then Bernard, and sagged, "-at least half an hour." Reaching the last carrier bag, he peeked into it, then folded it closed and hugged it tight against his chest. "And the rest of it is dull, boring, mundane stuff that neither of you would be interested in," he said hastily, and tried to scuttle off into the kitchen.
A casually extended leg from Bernard tripped him in mid-flight. Bernard loomed. "What's in the bag?" he said, eyes narrowing.
"Nothing," Manny said innocently, raising his shoulders in a shrug that looked more like a cringe.
"A bag of nothing. A bag of nothing... liar!" he bellowed, whipping out a hand that smacked into the bag. It made a metallic crinkling noise. He snatched it from Manny to peer inside, then raised his head to glare in absolute disgust. "Tinsel? Tinsel?" he demanded. He yanked out a glittering silver strip and made an ineffectual attempt to whip Manny with it. "I said no Christmas!"
"Oh, but Bernard, it's the season to be jolly," Fran said, coming up behind him. Manny nodded insistently, mittened hands still raised in a defensive posture. "A few decorations would brighten up the shop."
"I don't want it bright! I want it dingy. I want a dark, foreboding, unpleasant-smelling Christmas, just like the ones I used to know!" He whirled at the sound of the shop door, and barked at an unsuspecting woman in a santa hat. "Get out, get out, we don't want you in here with your cheer and your season's greetings and your figgy pudding. Out, I tell you!" When she hesitated, he rushed at her, urging her back through the door with shooing motions. "And don't come back! We're closed until the end of January." He flipped the sign on the door around and slammed it shut.
"You can be a real Scrooge sometimes, Bernard," Fran said, shaking her head. She handed the dropped carrier bag back to Manny. "Go on, put some decorations up. It's not the same without a bit of tinsel."
"Traitors!" Bernard said, as he stumbled back to the table and swigged wine straight from the bottle. "Infidels! I curse you all! A pox on both your trousers." He waved his cigarette irritably at Manny. "And take that balaclava off. You look like a sock with a hole in it."
Manny clutched his ears protectively. "I have to keep my extremeties warm," he said. "I get Snowman's Nipple!"
"What, three of them, in a line down the middle of your chest?" Fran said.
His protecting hands moved lower down, eyes shifting warily from side to side. "No, obviously, I have, er... two. Yes, definitely... two."
"Mutant!" Bernard pointed at him accusingly.
"Well, how many do you have?" he demanded.
Bernard lowered his chin to his chest. "I don't know. I've never looked," he said with a tight shrug.
"Oh, come on, you must have seen yourself naked sometimes," Fran said, pouring herself another glass of wine.
"Nudity is the devil's playground!" he said. "Full of rusty apparatus and dangerous holes."
"But you have baths," she said. "That's once a year. Sometimes even twice a year."
Bernard lunged forward over the table to grab her by the shoulders. "We don't talk about 1986!" he said.
"You must have to get naked to have your baths," Manny said sensibly.
"And leave my clothes unwashed?" he demanded. "I'm not an animal!"
"Anyway, if you had proper heating in the shop, I wouldn't need to wrap up," Manny said, folding his arms.
"We have heating," Bernard said. "It's that thing with the pipes that go glonk."
"They haven't gone glonk for years!" he objected. "Last time I tried to switch it on the pipes all shook, the showerhead fell off and half a dozen dead moths fell out."
Bernard pressed a hand to his chest in horror. "My moth collection! How could you?"
"We should have an open fire and roast chestnuts," Fran said. "That's what they always do in books."
He glowered at her. "Yes, well, people in books are always poisoning their husbands, running away to be pirates and having incestuous affairs with their sisters, should we do that too?"
"I always wanted to be a pirate," Manny said wistfully. "With my own boat, and an eyepatch, and a parrot called Kevin."
"Why Kevin?" Fran asked him.
"Oh, all my imaginary pets were called Kevin. Kevin the dog. Kevin the kangaroo. Kevin the karate sabre-wielding octopus..."
Bernard laid his head down on the table. "How delightful. Kill me now."
Fran set her empty wine glass down and stood up. "Let's get some proper holiday cheer in here. Come on, Manny, leave misery-guts to wallow. We'll decorate the shop."
Half an hour later, tinsel had been wound around the shelves, the stairs, the kitchen sink and Bernard, and everyone was very, very drunk.
"What's that one-" Fran waved her glass in the air, spilling some over the carpet where the three of them were slumped together at the foot of the desk. "What's that one with the, the, the things with antlers?"
"Rhinoceroses...eseses," Manny said, frowning as he tried to figure out how to end the word.
"Rudolf the Red-Nosed Rhinoceros, that's it. Had a very shiny... whatsit."
"'M not singing that one," Bernard said, shaking his head like a mop he was trying to get dry. "It's too jolly."
Manny struggled to sit halfway up before deciding that it wasn't worth it and flopping back. "What about the one about the king?" he said.
"King Kong?" Bernard suggested, peering at him blearily.
"No, not King Kong. King Midas? King Wensleydale." He attempted to sing. "Good King Wensleydale went out, on the feast of Stephen. By the something roundabout, eating crisps and... Edam?"
"Oh, stop, you're making me hungry," Fran groaned.
"If we get snowed in, we'll eat Manny first," Bernard said.
"Wait!" Manny said abruptly. "I think I've still got some sweets in my pocket from earlier." There was extensive rustling as he retrieved a crumpled, sticky paper bag from under his many layers and offered it around. "Anyone want one?"
Fran plucked a hard sweet from the bag and ate it with a crunch. "Cheers, Manny."
Bernard peered into the bag then shoved it back at Manny, grimacing. "Bah!" he spat in disaste. "Humbugs."
Outside the shop, the snow continued to fall.