William Bernhardt

Midnight Before Christmas

“I would rather live in a world where my life is surrounded by mystery than live in a world so small that my mind could comprehend it.”

— Harry Emerson Fosdick


He just couldn’t stand it anymore. He cocked his arm back, clenched his fist, and propelled it on a line drive toward the other man’s jaw.

His fist connected with a sickening thud. The other man’s body crumpled to the front lawn like a hand puppet without a hand.

Bonnie screamed. “Frank! Frank!” She pressed her hands against her cheeks, seemingly paralyzed with shock and fear. “Carl, what have you done?”

She crouched beside the stricken man, cradling his head in her lap, brushing her hand over his closed eyes. “Frankie, are you all right? Speak to me! Please!”

Carl stepped back, somewhat subdued now that his opponent was out of commission. “I didn’t think I hit him that hard.”

“You maniac!” Bonnie shouted. “He’s unconscious!”

Carl inched forward. “Let me take a look at him.”

“Get back! Stay away! Help! Help!”

Neighbors began to emerge from the Federal-style homes lining the streets. Women in aprons stood in elaborate fan doorways, men burdened with packages huddled beneath porticos, all of them wondering what the commotion was about. A crowd gathered at the closest corner.

Carl grabbed Bonnie by the arms and jerked her to her feet. “Stop yelling! Stop!” He raised his hand as if to slap her.

“Help me!” Bonnie continued. “Someone please help me!”

Out the corner of his eye, Carl could see some of the neighbors cautiously moving forward. One woman was dialing a cellular phone.

He lowered his hand. “I just want to see my son!”

“You can’t. He’s mine!”

“He’s ours, Bonnie.”

“The judge gave him to me.”

“The judge gave you custody-”

“And he gave you nothing!”

“Bonnie, please. I have to see Tommy. I need to see him.”

“Why? So you can beat him up, too? I’m not letting you anywhere near him!”

Carl clenched his teeth. “I have to see him, Bonnie. He’s my son!”

“Over my dead body!”

Carl’s face became grim. “Don’t say that, Bonnie. Don’t say that.”

Frank, the man sprawled across the front lawn, stirred. He propped himself up on one arm, blinking rapidly.

“Frankie!” Bonnie ran to his side. “Are you all right?”

Frank rubbed his jaw. “I … think I’ll live. But there’s an off-key symphony playing in my head.”

“Frankie, go into the house.”

“I’m not going to leave you here with-”

“Frankie, please. It’s for the best.”

Frank hesitated, as if itching to disagree, but finally relented. With some effort, he pulled himself to his feet and hobbled toward the front door of the house.

Bonnie whirled back on Carl. “You could’ve killed him!”

“I wish.” Carl pounded his fists together. “That sorry SOB sees more of my boy than I do.”

“That’s because Frank doesn’t lose his temper.” She drew in her breath. “And he doesn’t drink.”

Carl’s face seemed to dissolve. “Bonnie …” He stretched out his hand. “I’ve been going to meetings.”

“Save it for your parole officer, Carl. I can smell your breath from here.”

“Bonnie, please-”

“I don’t want you hanging around, Carl. I don’t want you stalking us, harassing us. And I especially don’t want you anywhere near Tommy.”

“But, Bonnie, it’s Christmas Eve!”

“I don’t care, Carl. I can’t trust you. I can’t take the risk.”

“But it’s Christmas Eve! A family should be together.”

“The family is together, Carl. Me, Tommy, and Frank.”

“I’m his father. Not-”

“You don’t know what being a father means, Carl. You never did.”

“Bonnie, I’m begging you-”

“It’s time you learned that no means no, Carl.”

A few of the braver neighbors were edging closer, crossing the street. “I can’t take this anymore. I can’t take being scared all the time, worrying that you’re going to do some permanent damage. I want you to go away and never come back.”


“You heard me, Carl. Go away!”

His fists tightened like tiny balls of super-concentrated energy. Rage boiled through his body, coursed through his veins. “I can’t accept that, Bonnie. I won’t.”

“You don’t have any choice.” She ran through the front door of the house and slammed it between them.

“No!” Carl rushed forward, his face flushed with anger. He pounded on the front door, beating it so hard it splintered the wood. “Let me in! Let me in!”

One of the neighbor men ran forward, grabbing Carl around the shoulders, trying to pull him back. “C’mon now, Carl. Let’s calm down.”

Carl whirled around and shoved the neighbor against the chest. The man stumbled backward, tripping on the front steps. He tumbled down, cracking his head against the concrete sidewalk.

“I want in!” Carl roared. “Do you hear me, Bonnie? I want in!”

“Go away!” she shrieked from the other side of the door. “The police are on their way!”

“I will see my boy!” He pounded the front door again and again and again, sending paint chips flying in all directions, making the whole frame of the house shudder. He was making a dent, but even in his rage, he knew he would never get in this way.

He jumped over the hedge and azaleas and crossed to the front window just to the left of the door. “I want in, Bonnie!” he howled.


Carl reared back his fist and sent it sailing through the window. Glass shattered all around him as his fist broke through to the other side. The harsh insistent beep of the security alarm began to pulse. Blood dripped across

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