Jungle bar jingle bells

by Tym Greene

Sometime in the fifties, in a dive bar by the Pacific Ocean, a couple’a fellas provide Santa with an extra helpful hand.

Added: Jan 2021 5,522 words 1,587 views No votes yet

Author’s Note

Apespired by nakedape.


“Well, it’s definitely a dive, but I don’t see no broads.”

I shook my head: trust Cleve to be thinking with his shorts. He was right, though: apart from the usual barfly souses hunched over their drinks, and a gaggle of sailors, the joint was hardly jumping. “It is Christmas Eve…maybe they’re all home with their families.” I could see the cogs in his head working and held up a hand, “And don’t say anything about unwrapping your present, you lech.”

He socked my arm for my troubles, but followed me to the bar anyways. “I didn’t bring you here for dames. I brought you for the…atmosphere.” I held out my hands to encompass the whole small space.

A few strands of Woolworth’s Christmas lights were the Jungle Bar’s only concession to the season, and the heat they put off didn’t make much headway against the ocean chill seeping in. The quayside hooch joint’s corrugated tin walls had been painted mottled green at one point—though it had faded and been rubbed off by years of boothsitters—and the air was lousy with dusty silk palm fronds and ratty raffia dangling from the rafters. Curving metal beams—the kind with holes drilled along their length—held a broad panel of chromed aluminum over the bar proper, as though someone had used the ribs and skin of a wrecked airplane.

In short, it was decorated like someone’s idea of a modern-day Robinson Crusoe, and I loved every tacky inch of it.

“Hey Althea, what’s doin’?” I tossed an off-hand salute to the proprietress as she stepped behind the bar from the back room.

“Howdy Dix, merry tidings and so on.” Her hair glinted like new copper wire in the dimness, catching glints from the Christmas tree lights, as she dumped half-empty glasses in the sink. The sleeves of her tropical-print blouse were rolled up and I could see Cleve was ogling her arms, brawny from hefting cases of booze and ideal for ousting rowdy drunks.

I caught his eye and shot him a look: the surest way to get bounced out was to make a pass at Althea, and I didn’t want to get a rep for having that sort of friends.

Thankfully Cleve saw the daggers I was shooting and changed his tone. “Ma’am,” he nodded and tugged the brim of his fedora.

“Tom Collins for me,” I said, nudging my buddy with an elbow.


Of course, I thought. Any time we scoped a new hooch palace, he’d give the barkeep a stumper, as though trying to test their worthiness. Even though it was popular in the Hollywood set, the combination of vodka, Worcestershire sauce, and cold beef broth was hardly the sort of drink sought out by after-shift dockworkers.

“Nope, try again. I don’t stock beef broth—this is a bar, not a soup kitchen.” Althea’s comment was meant as a joke, I knew, but her deadpan delivery could put off the uninitiated.

Thankfully, Cleve was more interested in booze than in his little game, and ordered a sidecar with more success. We took our drinks to one of the little barrel-top tables well away from the chill of the walls, and began our elbow work.

We sat in silence, listening to the roar of the wind outside and the crackle of the radio inside; unlike some I knew, we went drinking for a bit of comradely silence, a counterpoint to the day spent in a noisy office. The only interruption was when Barton shambled over.

The lanky busboy was a good kid, but about as graceful as a donkey in ballet slippers. I lifted my drink and jerked an eyebrow at Cleve to do the same…just in case. “Merry Christmas, Mr. Dix,” he said with a broad grin as he plonked a bowl of popcorn on the table where our drinks had been. “On the house—I made too much, again,” he added with a loud sotto voce. In addition to busing tables, he also fixed sandwiches and tended to the old popcorn maker.

“Thanks Barty, merry Christmas to you too.”

“Miz Althea says everybody’s gotta order banana drinks next. Somethin’ about them being expensive in winter and not wanting to waste money, and how you’d think that people coming to a tiki bar would want tropical drinks, but no everyone wants eggnog.” He rattled it off in a rush as though afraid of letting his tongue get away from him. I suspected Althea didn’t mean for his spotty memory to catch the whole tirade, but at least he got her point across.

“Fine, Bart old boy, we’ll dance to her tune,” Cleve said, winking broadly at the towheaded palooka.

I shook my head, then smiled. “Thanks for letting us know, Barton. We’ll be sure to order banana drinks. I like banana drinks,” I added for good measure, though truthfully I could take ’em or leave ’em.

We finished our eel juice in silence, then rose to get the required second round. We were just tucking into our drinks—banana daiquiri for me and a dirty banana for him—when we heard a voice outside.

Seemingly far off and far up, it drew nearer as it cried: “Ho-ho-oh no!”

It was followed by a loud crash that clattered our glasses and gave me the wim-whams something fierce—like those knock-over, knock-off jobs you hear about on the radio. By this point Cleve and I were the only ones left in the joint, apart from Barton and Althea. He shot me a look and I shrugged: we’d seen our share of action in the war, and between the two of us knew enough first aid to help if there’d been a wreck; even without snow the wintry streets were slick and treacherous.

“Watch our drinks,” I hollered at Barty as we tugged our coats tighter and trudged outside. The source of the noise was easy to spot: just next to the Jungle Bar’s low-slung roof was a tall warehouse. In all my years of going to Althea’s hooch palace, I’d never seen it as anything but dark and boarded up, but now an eerie green light emanated from the cloudy upper windows.

A falling beam had burst the doors open, allowing us to climb inside. “You know,” I told Cleve as we clambered over the rubble and between hulking machines with dusty glass tanks, “I heard scuttlebutt that this place was doing strange things during the war—trying to make some sort of super-soldier, far-out experiments, real mad scientist pulp fiction stuff.”

“That does sound like something I’d have read in Astounding Stories growing up,” he scoffed, then froze. “Wait. Do you hear that?”

I nodded, bending an ear towards the far side of the building. Someone was moving around, casting reddish shadows on the high walls amid the emerald glow that seemed to shift and change, accented by gold, like a fritzing neon light. We crept closer, and could see a man, maybe five and a half feet tall, his crimson flight suit taut around his round belly, and his aviator goggles glinting above a snow white beard.

“And I was almost done with California, too,” he groaned. “Dang low-flying airplane. You’ll be getting coal next year, by thunder,” he added, shaking his leather-gloved fist at the sky half-heartedly.

“Coal?” Cleve whispered, “Dix, I think this kook thinks he’s Santa!”

“He’s probably got a concussion,” I replied just as quietly, pussyfooting closer. The glass tanks looming over us were labeled like the ape house at the zoo, but we were more intent on getting to the accident scene without spooking the hinky Santa hombre. It almost sounded like there were animals moving around too as he bent and stood and kicked at something that rang like a flivver’s side panel.

As soon as we crested a bank of dials and switches, we could see the whole shebang: there was a whopper of a hole busted through the ceiling and upper wall, and several tanks had been smashed, their contents pooling on the floor like booze after a prohibition raid. Not only was the red-suited fella standing next to what looked like a sleigh—albeit with rocket boosters and a fading golden aura—but there were nearly a dozen reindeer milling around, green goop sticking to their hooves and hides.

And he actually seemed to be talking to one of the deer. “I know, Rudy, I know: once we get back I’ll have the elves install that radar screen like you suggested. You can stop with the ‘I told you so’ look. Just because you were right doesn’t mean I can’t put you on the Naughty List for being a pill about it.” And then the damn thing replied!

“Well, I am the leader.” I stared as its mouth formed the words, highlighted by the stoplight glow of its nose, unable to believe what I saw.

And then another one turned its head and said in a sultry feminine voice: “Leader… or hood ornament? You’re only in front because of your headlight, Rude-ey,” and she stuck her tongue out at the radioactive reindeer.

“Vixen,” the man cautioned, lifting his goggles to give her a warning stare. “We’re all under a bit of pressure right now, so let’s none of us lose our heads. Ah, I see we’ve got some visitors.”

He hadn’t even been looking at us, but if he was who he seemed to be, that wouldn’t really have mattered. We stood, feeling like kids caught shaking presents, and clambered down into the swirling green sludge. I held out my hand. “Dix Drummond. This is Cleve Mathieu.

We heard the crash and came to help—are you hurt at all?”

“Give him our full bio and shoe sizes too, why doncha,” Cleve grumbled, clearly more interested in getting back into the relative warmth of the Jungle Bar than in lingering in the abandoned warehouse over cold pleasantries.

“I know who you are,” he said, tapping the side of his cherry-red nose with a gloved finger. “And thankfully no one’s hurt…apart from Blitzen, but he just lost half an antler.”

“I’ll grow a new one next season, but my aerodynamics are totally compromised,” moaned a thick deer beside me, reminding me of the guys I’d seen sweating on Muscle Beach, that time I went down to Santa Monica.

“Good thing we’re almost done,” remarked another reindeer.

“Yeah, if we can get this heap back in the air…maybe if we jettison some of the extra weight—” began still another, but was interrupted by Santa’s upheld hand.

“Now Comet, you know we can’t do that. Even with most of the children delivered to, we can’t just lose presents. Have faith, my friends, we’ll save Christmas yet.”

“I wasn’t talking about the presents, I meant leaving Rudy behind,” replied the lithe reindeer called Comet.

“Ha ha fellas, very funny. Extremely helpful.”

“Speaking of help,” the bearded aviator turned back to us, putting the kibosh on any further comments from the carrot gallery, “would either of you gentlemen be mechanically inclined? I’m afraid I’m more of a big picture, logistics kind of fella.”

“Cleve here’s a dab hand with a monkey wrench,” I offered cheerfully, getting an elbow in the ribs for my troubles. “He was in the Army Air Forces during the war,” I added, gesturing at the sleigh’s more modern attachments.

“Yeah, but that was jets, not rocket ships.”

“I’m sure you can make it work, and I think I’ve…” Santa rummaged in the big velvet sack that weighed down the back of the sleigh, muttering, “Cleve…Cleve Jarrow? No…Cleve Kircher, Kyburz, LaMont…ah! Cleve Mathieu.” He withdrew a large flat package and handed it to my drinking buddy. “Merry Christmas, Cleve!”

Reluctantly, he tore through the paper, revealing a comprehensive tool set, the sort that you’d expect to find in a hot rodder’s workshop, gleaming and neatly organized. “Gee…you know, I’d been meaning to get back in the garage, get my hands greasy after all day at a desk. How’d you know?”

For all he’s my friend, Cleve can be a bit of a sourpuss, so seeing his mug lit up like…well, like a kid at Christmas, was really something. I slapped him on the back and laughed. “How’d he know? Buddy, this is the real McCoy.”

“Thank you, son. Now if only we could find some fuel, it seems the tanks were ruptured in the crash.”

“Well, what do you use? Hydrazine? Methanol?”

“Eggnog.” Seeing our expressions, he added: “The old-fashioned kind, strong enough to make an elephant tipsy. Plus a little magic,” he gestured at the last few of the golden sparkles fading from the air around his sled’s engines.

“Well, I don’t know how much eggnog she’s got left, but I’m sure Althea’d be glad to help out.” I explained how there happened to be a hooch joint next door, and Santa decided he’d go back with me to see what could be had.

“Blitzen, you stay here and help Cleve make his repairs; you know the plans backward and forward—”

“Yeah, and if I had hands I’d be able to do something about it,” the muscular deer interrupted with a wistful look.

“You know the Gift Bag doesn’t work that way, I’m sorry to say. Rudolph, Vixen, you come with Dix and me, we might need help carrying fuel back.”

We left Cleve scratching his head and looking at the damaged sleigh, muttering: “Santa…booze rocket…talking reindeer…what did she put in that drink?”

Once we’d made it back onto the street, Santa slumped like a popped balloon, leaning heavily on my arm. “I’m sorry, lad; that crash took more out of me than I thought. Couldn’t let the others see me like this, or that’s all they’d think about. We’ve just got to finish the run, and then I can rest. Rudy, Vix, you’re sworn to secrecy on this, understand?” The two reindeer bobbed their heads, antlers bright in the misty air. “Once we get back home, it won’t matter anyways.”

The rosy cheeks had a pallor beneath them that I’d seen all too often in the service: he might not have been injured, but he was definitely suffering from shock. “We need to get you inside and sat down, Sir.” To be fair, I wasn’t feeling so swell myself, and found it increasingly hard to walk, like my shoes were suddenly a size too big.

To distract us all, I changed the subject. “I thought only female reindeer had their antlers over the winter. I read that in a National Geographic once.

But Rudolph shook his head (and judging by the swinging lemons I saw between his hind legs, there was no doubt that this buck was no broad) and simply said: “Magic.”

I scratched the top of my head, puzzling it out, then shrugged. If it can make reindeer fly, and talk, then magic could just as easily allow them all to keep their headgear too. Though for some reason it seemed like both reindeer’s racks were smaller than they’d been back in the warehouse.

Once we were back within the Jungle Bar’s relative warmth, Santa plonked himself onto one of the seats, muttering: “Need a sit-down to clear my ho-ho-head.”

“How ‘bout we get you something to drink,” I offered. “A little liquor to calm your nerves, a little sweet to bring up your blood sugar, get you back on an even keel.”

“Thanks, lad.” He said as the reindeer nuzzled up beside him. I got the feeling they’d never seen their leader so shook up before.

It wasn’t until after I’d ordered a banana old fashioned and brought it and the remains of my daiquiri back to his table that I realized two things. First, that I’d ordered a banana-flavored drink that didn’t actually contain bananas—so Althea had grumbled as she poured out the crème de banane. And second, that I’d tracked green-glimmering footprints right through the bar. I could see the same underneath Santa’s table and marking the reindeer’s steps.

I lifted an arm up to scratch at my head: surely there wasn’t anything odd about it, perhaps it was just a new glow-in-the-dark dye they’d been developing. I tried not to think of the “Radium Girls” and the effects of their glowing paint. Once again, I noticed that my clothes felt looser, ill-proportioned, like I’d bought them off some hop-head tailor.

We sat with our drinks, and I kept an eye on the man in red: his pallor had gone but instead of color his face seemed to be darkening, the skin glossy as it went from pale to concrete to licorice. His beard, too, was losing some of its snowy whiteness, streaking itself with the same black. He raised a hand, the glove looking more like a sausage casing than a comfortable accessory, and flexed his fingers. With a sound like the shuffling of a deck of cards, the seams popped, the leather tore, and with a final fist clench, the glove disintegrated around the swollen black digits.

Had an unnoticed injury caused the blood to pool and the limb to die? By the way the fingers moved nimbly to pick up the glove pieces and pile them neatly on a corner of the table, this was obviously not the case. He then repeated the display with his other hand. It was remarkable how much bigger and stronger his bunches of five now looked, their skin black and leathery.

But Santa didn’t seem struck by the oddness of having hands almost twice the size they’d been moments ago because—as though not even realizing what he was doing—he poked a finger in his left nostril, rooted around, then pulled it back out to examine his findings. With a grunt, he shrugged and took another swallow of booze like nothing had happened.

A glance at the reindeer told me that they’d seen it too, mouths hanging slack as they stared at their boss. But even as I watched them, they seemed to be changing as well: their antlers were smaller than before, about the span of my hand now, and their muzzles seemed to be drawing shorter, even as their haunch-sitting posture shifted. “Ook?” I asked, then froze. What had come out of my mouth?

“I’m sure they’re fine,” Santa said, now probing the other hole in his flattening shnozz.

Vixen seemed to have taken an interest in Rudolph’s hide, and was probing at his back with her hooves…but they weren’t really hooves any more. Instead, she had three fingers and a thumb, growing longer by the minute and each tipped with a dark nail. And, given what I could see, she wasn’t a “she” any more. Indeed, the hefty smoothskinned sac that rested on the floor between her drawn-up legs was more than proof, contrasting brightly with the dark fur and underlining her new half-sheathed shaft. Rudy, for his part, ooked quietly, contentedly, under the grooming, as Vix’s physique swelled up behind him until she was built like a stevedore, bigger even than Blitzen had been.

“You want another round, Dix?” asked a chirping voice. I turned and stared into a face as pink as a wad of Dubble Bubble, surrounded by a dirty white cottonball fluff of fur; but the messy hair and apron were very familiar.

“Barton?” He nodded, mop in hand, the strands glowing green. He also seemed to be almost a foot shorter than he’d been earlier in the night, and at some point he’d either removed or torn out of his clothes: the thick neck and arms showed that what he’d lost in height he’d regained in musculature. I turned from the new-minted Japanese macaque and looked at my glass, if only to have something to do. After a pause, I said: “Yeah, yeah, I’ll have anoth-ook banana daiquiri.”

While I froze, flummoxed by my involuntary mid-sentence hoot, I watched him turn and shamble off, pink rump flashing underneath the tail that lifted up his apron strings. And beneath that rump? A pair of balls that would have made a prize boar envious. I swiveled in my seat to ask Santa if he’d seen and heard the same, but he was occupied.

He was leaning back, his lips pressed to Vix’s; the former female former deer was standing while the former saint was sitting, but Santa still had to lean down for them to mash mush. Even as I watched, his mug shifted and twisted, like a dame trying on a too-small cardigan, pushing forward slightly, giving prominence to the upper lip, the round nostrils, the heavy brow. He hooted and grunted softly, eyes closed in pleasure. I couldn’t see Rudy anywhere, but I could hear suspicious sounds coming from underneath the table, and could see a long brown-haired tail flicking and coiling.

I stood, not saying anything—they were too busy to notice I’d gone—and shambled across the bar. The space seemed different somehow. The fake greenery seemed almost real, like expensive silk flora, and the dusty knickknacks had vanished. It seemed to take a lot longer to cross from the one corner to the other, but I finally made it into the bar’s grungy little bathroom.

Only it wasn’t grungy, and it wasn’t little. Someone had tracked more of the warehouse goo in there before me, but as I stared it sank into the dirty tiles, darkening them to a glossy black that—for some reason—reminded me of Santa’s altered face. I stumbled to the sink, splashing water on my face, but then I saw that the faucet was different too: no longer a cheap banged-up spigot, it was now gold and shaped like an elephant head. Water streamed out the up-curled trunk until I turned the tap, which looked like an elephant’s foreleg. The mirror had been upgraded too…as had been my reflection.

Staring back was a small face in a too-big shirt and coat. I grimaced, and so did the unrecognizable face. It looked like a wad of gum in its muff of white fur, with black poking out of the shirt collar below. For one, it was about two feet lower in the mirror than it should have been, for another it was too small, too flexible, too…inhuman. A small voice in my head told me that I did know that mug… it was mine… and was perfectly suited to a white-faced capuchin, which is what I was. Wasn’t I?

I poked and prodded it with my still-human hands, but before long they were what felt alien. I chittered happily to myself as I watched the digits dwindle, dark hair creeping out from under my sleeves, until they were the knobbly nimble things they should be. Of course, fur under fabric is maddeningly uncomfortable, so I stripped off my ill-fitting rags.

Stepping back for a better view of myself, I turned and posed, grinning to show off my tiny teeth. The golden glow of the bathroom’s bulb caught highlights in my silky fur and made my dark eyes sparkle. On a whim I plucked the red Christmas tie I’d been wearing and slipped it back around my neck. Properly dressed, I bundled the rest of the useless fabric into the wastepaper basket and sauntered back out.

The Jungle Bar I reemerged into was entirely unfamiliar. Gone was the cheesy dive bar I’d been frequenting and in its place was a ritzy joint with dark-painted walls, gold palm tree columns, and an actual banana tree in a planter smack dab in the middle. Dodging scattered pots of bamboo, I made my way to the bar.

“Hey Dix,” rumbled a booming voice. What I’d originally taken to be a shaggy curtain behind the bar’s now-gleaming counter shifted, revealing that it was in actuality a living, breathing, massive thing. “Got your drink,” it added, running a long-fingered hand through its orange hair. I could see tattered tropical print fabric festooning the creature’s arms and chest like bunting at a fair, the greens contrasting boldly with the russet fur.

“Thanks Alth,” I chirruped, stretching up to reach the glass he’d placed on the bar. A small voice in my mind remarked that if this were Althea, she shouldn’t be a big male orangutan, but I just shrugged: if it weren’t Alth, then who would it be?

Duty discharged, Alth turned his attention to the approaching Japanese macaque. “Tables all clean,” Barty said as he ambled up to the bigger ape.

“Good boy,” Alth rumbled, bending down to smooch Barty’s mug, making him blush even brighter red. While the orangutan’s hand reached beneath Barty’s apron to fondle his macaque-le-berries, I turned back to my table.

Cleve had returned, and had stuffed as much of his ugly mug as he could into his glass; I could see his tongue flicking and pressing against the bottom, like watching a dog trying to get the last out of a jar of Peter Pan peanut butter. When he finally came up for air, I saw that he too had been changed. He grinned at me with long fangs, his nostrils red beneath blue-striped cheeks and scruffy dark brown hair.

“Hey *hic* Dix, some party, eh?” He grabbed my glass and scooped out a tongue-full, then leaned in and smooched me, right on the lips. I could taste the rum, the bananas, and something else. Whiskey, the same whiskey that had been in Santa’s drink. I had a sneaking suspicion that my friend had been making out with the big man, and the leer in that darkening face did nothing to suggest otherwise.

Santa was leaning back as far as the booth would allow, each arm around a deer…of sorts. Both Vix and Rudy looked more monkeyish than deerish by now, brown howler monkeys with shaggy fur in reindeer patterns, a long thick tail, and grey faces. The only obvious holdovers to their previous state were the round-tipped antlerettes and the broad and glossy black (or in Rudy’s case, red) snout snout that seemed so out of place on their primate faces. When they saw me staring, they both started up hooting, somewhere between a boozy belch and a busted In-Sink-Erator grinding away.

Santa reached up and grabbed their handlebars, silencing the pair. His eyes met mine, gold flecking the black like the Northern Lights. “Dix was just telling me,” he said in a low rumbling voice, “that the sleigh’s all set. So we just need to fuel up and be on our ooh ooh OOK!”

I leapt backwards as he rose in his seat, pushing aside the table. He was changing more, his body straining within the red velvet suit, black skin showing between the buttons. He pawed at his chest with thick clumsy fingers and the buttons flew off, like the rat-a-tat fire of a Chicago typewriter, freeing the vast expanse of gut and chest. His belt snapped like it was made of cardboard and the buckle landed somewhere among the bamboo pots.

The massive form dwarfed the tackle I saw below: a carrot and two plums that wouldn’t have been outsized at the local tennis club lockeroom…or at least, that’s what part of my mind tried to tell me. The rest of me was gaga over the appropriately underhung gorilla looming before me. His bowlegs put his hips at just the right height for me to knee-walk closer and nuzzle up.

I felt the heavy hand resting on my head, tousling my fur as I leaned in. I saw two grey-skinned feet step closer, and saw Cleve’s long face out of the corner of my eye. He leaned in over me, his whiskery muzzle meeting Santa’s bearded gorilla lips. The dick prodded my cheek, and I opened my own little mouth to slurp it up.

Santrilla tasted just as you’d expect: sweat from his long night’s ride, sweet from his banana habit, with just a hint of hot coco and cookies. It seemed to fill my whole mouth, and I wanted more. My nimble fingers found his balls, used them as a base camp from which to explore his thighs, his massive rump, his smooth-skinned belly that loomed over me like the front of a skyscraper.

Cleve’s knees bumped my head as Santrilla drew him closer; I could hear the sloppy sounds of their necking and feel the way it made the gorilla’s cock bounce and throb. Cleve’s own red crayon was poking my neck, so I reached back to grip that too. It’s good to be a busy little monkey.

Then, on the radio, a big band version of “Jingle Bells” piped up: horns blaring and tuba marking the bassline as our newly-primatized toes started tapping. There was something about the swingin’ way they were playing the melody that just reached inside you and flipped a switch. I’d always been a dead-hoofer at dances, happy to keep an eye on the table while everyone else shimmied and swayed, but now I wanted nothing more than to be out on the floor—now a proper dancefloor instead of just a space cleared in front of the radio’s perch—jitterbugging like a fiend. Cleve had a devilish look in his eyes, and I couldn’t help noticing the way he licked his fangs as he pulled me away from the gorilla’s crotch and led me to the dance.

Soon we all were jitterbugging away, me and Cleve, Alth and Barty, Santrilla and his two deerkeys. All of us mostly naked, mostly monkified, and more-than-mostly aroused. A real jungle swing-ding!

As we danced, it was easy to forget…everything. All that mattered was Cleve’s arms around me, mine around him, looking up at him across the now two-foot difference between our heights. The music swayed us and I could feel my heart trip-hammering in time with its syncopation. Ook, what fun it is to ride on a primate holiday, I thought with manic hilarity.

Then, just as the song’s last strains faded away, the harbor clock struck midnight. Cleve shook his head, running a hand down the blue and red muzzle, as though just coming back to his senses.

He turned to Santrilla, who was standing motionless with his massive arms draped around the smaller shoulders of his two deerkeys. “I wanted to tell you-oo-ook that the repairs are done, sir. All she needs is a gas-up.”

“Good lad,” the gorilla beamed, then returned to the remains of the booth. Bending over—and showing off his massive silky-furred rump—he fingered through the debris his sudden growth had caused. Smiling fangily, he stood and dumped a handful of buttons from his torn suit on the bar in front of Alth, who seemed just as stunned as the rest of us. “You’ll find they’re gold, more than enough to cover my tab. Keep the ooh-ooh-ook change,” he added with a merry twinkle in his eyes. With his new strength he tucked a case of clinking booze bottles under each arm, and strutted back towards his sleigh with the deerkeys trailing after. The last I saw of them was Rudy’s tail wrapped around a bottle of gin as he scampered out the door.

A while later, we might have heard the sleigh flying overhead, Santrilla’s “Ho Ho-Ook-Ho” echoing over the waterfront, but Cleve and I were too busy exploring one another.

“Some Christmas present,” he whispered in my ear. My tail coiled around his nub while we caught our breath. A thought floated in, some remnant of my human self trying to figure out the night’s happenings. As to the why, I’ve got no clue; this whole thing was miles above my pay grade. Best I could guess is some blend of magic and mad science. But as to the rest—more chimp than chump—I decided that I agreed with Cleve.

As I stretched up to kiss him, I could only think that this was the best Christmas present I’d ever ook ook gotten.

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