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Wed Apr 21, 2010 4:45 pm

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With Christmas just days away, the streets were decorated with colorful lights, and the department stores brimmed to overflowing with every item imaginable. There were new gadgets for the technology enthusiast, and household items which guaranteed to lighten the overburdened work load of those who could afford them. There was jewelry especially designed for the new millennium, endless racks of clothing in every size, color, and style, and scores and scores of toy cars and trucks and baby dolls that seemed more real than they ought. Every direction your eyes could travel carried the busy shopper to yet another dimension of what life could be. Surely, this Christmas would be like none other.

This particular weekend was typical for the height of the Christmas season. Every store was crowded with pushy people, grabbing up armloads of items they neither needed nor could afford. As people took advantage of the "bargains," they grumbled as they stood in long lines, waiting to get checked out. Children, already overtired of the endless routine were crying, and some threw tantrums when they were told they could not have the toy that their little eyes fixated upon immediately after having entered the toy department.

Santas, some of whom looked very real, and others who looked and smelled like they had been through an unbelievably tough year, were strategically positioned in the center of every store. And parents, determined that this year they would have a picture of their toddlers perched atop of Santa's lap, lost patience with those in the endless sea of tiny tots who stood crying and fussing, and sometimes frightened at the mere appearance of the strange man in the red suit.

By mid-afternoon on this particular day, one of the large department stores had already broken its all time record for seasonal sales. No doubt about it, this year would set record sales for the Christmas holiday. Since opening early that morning, the endless ringing of the many cash registers came close to drowning out the sound of Christmas carolers, as they sang their old familiar Christmas carols outside. The crowds, now exceeding those of any previous day this season, pushed and shoved, grabbed and shouted at one another, as they fought over the limited supply of this year's hottest items.

In the midst of it all, a tired looking little old man with a long white beard and somewhat tattered clothing entered the store through the side entrance. Nothing about him seemed very remarkable, except for his penetrating deep brown eyes, and the almost contagious smile of his tiny little mouth. As he proceeded through the store, it appeared as though he was looking for something that he could not find. Almost unnoticed, he continued in his endless pursuit for something which, undoubtedly, would not be found there.

A short while later, an announcement came over the store's speaker system that they had just received a new shipment of this season's perfect Christmas gift, and people everywhere flocked to the area of the store where this item was to be made available to those who could get there first. Shoppers, concerned only how having this sought after item was going to make their Christmas the best ever, literally began trampling one another in the flurry.

The little old man with the long white beard just happened to be in that area at the time of the announcement. Uninterested in the product, but unable to move quickly enough to get away from the impending stampede, he was first pushed from side to side. Then he was shoved up against the counters, and finally knocked to the floor and stepped on by the many who, caught up in their greed, failed to even notice.

At first, tears came to his deep eyes, as he felt the pain inflicted upon him by an uncaring crowd. Then, he finally succumbed to the trampling of the angry mass. There he lie, no one even noticing, much less caring, as they continued with their shopping frenzy. Several hours passed, and finally the store closed for the night.

By comparison to the day's hustle, a sense of quietude now overtook the store. The noisy crowds had left, and by now, most were deeply involved in their parties, which they considered so critical to their celebration of the holiday season. Those who were wearied from attending to the cash registers throughout this busiest of shopping days were at home by now, resting their feet for another long day tomorrow.

Children were now safely tucked into their beds, lulled to sleep by threats that Santa would not bring them any presents this year if they were anything but good. And Santa. well he was sitting on a stool in the neighborhood pub, enjoying some seasonal libations. Only the janitor remained at the store. It was his job to clean up all the mess, and have the store ready for the next day's activity.

Like every night this holiday season, the store janitor began his duties, repositioning the remaining racks of clothing, and sweeping under the many counters strategically positioned throughout the store. About halfway through his duties, his eyes were suddenly drawn to something he thought quite strange. He spotted something lying there beneath a table, mostly hidden by the table skirt adorning it. At first he thought it was just a pile of clothing which had been dropped to the floor, but when he bowed down for a closer look, he bolted backwards with fear. He had discovered the little man in the long white beard, lying face down. There was no longer any sign of life in him.

After a moment, the janitor decided he must try to find out who he was. He pulled the table skirt away, and began searching the man's tattered clothing to see if he could find a wallet or something else which might contain a clue to his identity. There was nothing to be found. There were some bruises and abrasions on the little man's head, but even that gave no clue as to who he might be.

Alarmed and frightened by his finding, he feverishly began to do the only thing he thought might help. He rolled the little man over to attempt some means of resuscitation. Upon doing so, he noted something very disconcerting. In each of his hands was a deep puncture wound, and there was a large stab wound in his side. Who, he wondered, could this have been, and what could have happened to him?

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