An Earl Grey Christmas
About the Author
It was Christmas Eve, and I was working. This was nothing new, of course, as I worked in one of Amazon’s massive shipping warehouses and the holiday season meant plenty of overtime. It was a little like being an elf in Santa’s workshop, if Santa was a bald geek and elves were a couple of feet taller and a couple of degrees sadder. Not that I needed the money: I was married to Earl Grey, a man so rich he once bought every seat in a movie theater just so we could watch The Avengers without having to smell fanboys wetting their pants. However, I think of myself as an independent woman, and thus kept my job at Amazon. I had hoped to work my way up to an editorial position within their publishing division, but after two years was still stuck in the warehouse. My husband, who was a majority shareholder in the company, wanted to put in a good word for me with Jeff Bezos, but I would hear none of it. If I was going to make it in the publishing industry, I was going to do it on my own terms.
“Anna!” my supervisor yelled. I looked around, but I was the only Anna in the warehouse. Also, my supervisor was looking directly at me. She often did that when she was talking to people.
I set the box of ebooks I was carrying back on the shelf. “Yes,” I said. “What can I do for you?”
“There’s a call for you,” she said, handing me her cell phone.
I pressed the phone to my ear. “This is Anna.”
“What time will you be home, baby?” It was Earl Grey!
“Why did you call my boss’s phone?” I asked, as my supervisor stood idly by with her arms crossed.
“I tried calling your phone first, but it went to voicemail,” Earl said.
“Sorry, the battery died and I left my charger at home.”
“It’s okay. I just bought AT&T, Verizon, and every single other American cell phone carrier until I found your supervisor’s cell phone number in their records.”
“It would have been easier to pull it out of her personnel file,” I said, lowering my voice to a whisper. “After all, you do own the company…”
“Hindsight is twenty-twenty,” he said. “So what time can I pick you up?”
“I don’t know yet. My shift is scheduled to end at midnight…”
“By then Christmas will be over.”
“I thought today was the twenty-fifth of December…”
“It is. December twenty-fifth is Christmas Day, not Christmas Eve,” Earl said. “Look, you’ve been working too much. I haven’t seen you in two weeks…”
I sighed. I had been sleeping in a cardboard refrigerator box for the past couple of weeks—more like napping in between twenty-hour shifts. “If things let up at all, I’ll call you to have you pick me up early,” I told Earl. “Otherwise, I’ll see you at midnight.”
There was a long pause on the other end of the line. Finally, he answered. “Fine. I love you, baby, no matter what,” he said. “Laters.”
“Laters,” I said.
It wasn’t until after I handed the phone back to my supervisor that I realized something: I had totally forgotten to get Earl Grey a Christmas present!
“So what do you get the man who has everything?” I asked my co-worker and former roommate, Kathleen.
“I don’t know,” she said, absentmindedly dropping a boxed Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy into some poor, unsuspecting box and covering the hideous thing with a packing slip. “How about a BJ?”
“A basketball jersey? I don’t even think he likes basketball,” I said.
“Damn,” she said. “How about a blowjob, then?”
“Too vanilla,” I said.
“Then add some chocolate,” she said, winking at me.
“Maybe,” I said.
“Or maybe not,” she said. “That reminds me of the time Jin turned my hoo-ha into a hot fudge sundae. I got a painful UTI that—”
“Do you know what TMI means?”
“Of course,” she said. “Too many Indians.”
My inner guidette rolled her eyes. “Anyway, I only have a few hours before he picks me up in his helicopter,” I said. “Where would I get sundae toppings—or anything—between now and then?”
“Um, you’re at Amazon. The center of the shopping universe. If you can buy it, it’s in this warehouse,” Kathleen said, motioning at the boxes piled hundreds of feet in the air around us.
I glanced down the aisle we were standing in, which seemed to go on for miles. “You aren’t suggesting I…steal?”
Kathleen shook her head. “Is it really stealing if you guys own the company?”
“I guess not,” I said, convinced. Truthfully, though, I was in such a pickle I could have been convinced to rip my employer off even if my husband and I weren’t majority shareholders. I was desperate, and it was the only plan I had—mostly because I’m not very creative.
“You go find your Christmas gift, and I’ll cover for you,” Kathleen said.
I glanced around nervously. We were the last ones working on Christmas night, besides our supervisor. “You’re a lifesaver, Kathleen.”
“Don’t mention it. If our boss comes looking for you, I’ll just fake a cocaine-induced seizure,” she said. “It shouldn’t be too difficult, because I’m pretty high already.”
“I don’t know how I’ll ever repay you.”
“A rolled-up twenty would be nice.”
I dug in my jeans pocket and didn’t find any cash, but I did find a short coke straw.
Kathleen snatched it out of my hand. “That will do for now. Good luck!”
I ditched my orange safety vest and vowed to myself that I would find something for Earl Grey, something to prove I hadn’t forgotten that it was Christmas Day…
A half hour aimlessly wandering the warehouse and I was no closer to finding a gift than I was to finding the meaning of life. I passed boxes of flat-screen TVs, Kindles, Blu-Ray players, and countless other electronic gadgets before stopping at a stack of boxes wrapped in clear plastic, the UGG logos visible. Maybe a pair of UGG boots for myself, but definitely not for Earl Grey. He had recently started wearing those shoes and socks with toes, and I didn’t think he would be impressed by a pair of boots that didn’t treat each one of his toes with the proper respect. Pass.
Next to the boots sat hundreds of boxes of Movado watches, stacked a hundred feet into the air. Earl Grey didn’t wear a watch…but no. If he wanted to know the time, he would pay someone else to wear a watch and ask that person the time. Pass.
I wandered some more and found an entire aisle filled with hundreds of thousands of copies of Nickelback’s greatest hits CD. His favorite band! I had never seen a copy of this album in Earl Grey’s collection, so…could it be? The perfect gift?! When I picked one of the CDs up and looked at it, however, I realized that it only contained two songs (the total number of actual hits Nickelback had). Pass.
Finally, I stopped at an intersection that split left and right. The aisles of merchandise stretched for miles in either direction. I turned right. As long as you have your phone with you, you won’t get lost, my inner guidette said. [_Just don’t use Apple Maps. _]Suddenly, I froze: I remembered that my phone was dead. I turned around, but couldn’t tell which aisle I had come down. I had turned right, hadn’t I? Or left? I was officially lost. My main objective quickly turned from finding the perfect gift for Earl Grey to finding my way back to the exit.
I tried to retrace my steps. My pace quickened as I frantically searched for a signpost that would guide me back to my starting point. It was the first time in my life I wished to see a stack of Nickelback CDs. My only hope now was to camp out and wait for someone from third shift to show up and rescue me. They didn’t start until eleven, which meant another hour on my own in the vast depths of Amazon’s bowels. All I had on were my jeans and a T-shirt; I had no way of knowing how cold it would get before I was found. I needed to stay warm, which meant finding something to burn. I looked around and found the perfect firewood: box upon box of the appropriately-named Kindle Fire. I ripped a half dozen of them out of their cardboard coffins and piled them on the floor. Now to set them on fire…
If only you smoked, you would have a lighter! my inner guidette said. I keep telling you to start…
“Shove it,” I told her. “I’m not going to start smoking just on the off-chance I need a lighter.”
It could save your life…
“It could kill me,” I said. “And if you don’t shut up, I’m going to kill you.”
“That’s it,” I said, preparing to fight my inner guidette to the death. Then I realized she was only a figment of my imagination, and I was going to have a difficult time killing her without hurting me. How did Ed Norton do it in Fight Club?
Suddenly, I was distracted by a shuffling noise in the next aisle. Footsteps! I was saved! Or was I? Who knows what horrors stalk the Amazon wilds at night? I picked up one of the Kindle Fires, sure that I could use it as a shield in case I was attacked by some creature of the night. I peered around the corner and into the adjacent aisle, and saw two short men loading boxes onto a golf cart. They were dressed in rags and sported war paint on their faces.
I must have gasped, because they turned around and looked directly at me.
“Are you…elves?” I asked.
“Are we elves?” one of them said in a thick Bronx accent. “I’m five-and-a-half foot tall. That’s a little taller than an elf.”
He looked more like five-foot-two, but I wasn’t going to push it. I had no idea how tall elves really were anyway.
“Where’s your vest?” the other, slightly taller guy asked me. “Do you work for The Man?”
“My boss is a woman,” I said.
“No, no you idiot. Do you work for [_the _]Man. Bezos.”
“Oh,” I said. “Then yes. But technically I work for my husband, since he’s the majority shareholder. Well, we’re the majority shareholders. I’m still not used to—”
“You don’t say,” the one with the accent said, rubbing his chin. His hair was wild and untamed. It was then that I looked up and saw the faded white letters spray-painted on one of the steel support beams. District 13. That could only mean…
“I’m sorry, I need to leave,” I said hurriedly. “I got lost, that’s all…”
I turned around and bumped into a tall, muscular man with long gray hair. He was flanked by two more men that could only be described as savages. “If you’re lost, maybe we can help,” the tall man said.
But I knew immediately that they did not intend to help me. I was no longer on Amazon soil…
Years before I started at Amazon, a warehouse employee had stumbled upon District 13 by accident. I’d only heard bits and pieces of the story, but supposedly an entire tribe of natives was found living in a section of the warehouse the size of a football field. No one knew if the natives had been there first, or if they had moved in after the warehouse was built, but one thing was certain: they weren’t to be moved. At least that’s what I was told. Allegedly, the government had granted them immunity or asylum or something of that sort, and the area they were inhabiting was turned into a reservation, where they could continue to live, hunt, and farm as they had been doing for centuries. It was a fantastical story that I had never believed, at least not until I happened upon District 13 myself.
In quick order, the savages tied my hands behind my back using nylon rope. It reminded me of the games I played with Earl Grey. Next, they blindfolded me and told me to start walking. There was just one problem. “I can’t walk with my eyes closed,” I protested.
“What do you mean, you can’t walk with your eyes closed?” the gruff one said.
“I mean exactly what I said. I can’t walk with my eyes closed.”
“Maybe we should take her blindfold off,” the other savage said.
“What? No way. That’s ridiculous.”
“What if she falls?”
“She won’t fall, you nitwit.”
“I will too,” I said.
“Shut. Up. And. Start. Walking.”
I tried to imagine my left foot going forward, followed by my right foot, and then…what? Repeat steps one and two. Right? It was all so confusing without being able to see my feet! I gingerly stepped my left foot forward, and wobbled ever so slightly… “I’m falling!” I shouted.
One of the savages gripped my arm to steady me and removed the blindfold. “Thank you,” I said.
“I swear you are dumber than the cast of Fox and Friends on whippits,” the New York savage said. He didn’t appear to be happy that his friend had removed the blindfold. “Now move.”
“Okay, okay,” I said. The five savages flanked me on all sides so I couldn’t run for it, but really, where would I run? I was as good as dead: no one could save me from the District 13 savages’ villainous clutches.
I was brought to a large makeshift building composed entirely of empty boxes. All looked dark inside. “Inside,” one of the savages said, prodding me with the sharp end of his spear. I walked through the door. Sitting on a throne of printed books was a man shrouded in darkness, lit only by strings of Christmas lights draped from the ceiling.
“We caught her inside the perimeter, sir.”
“Thank you,” the man on the throne said. “Stand guard outside. I wish to speak with her in private.” The savages left.
“So, we finally meet…Mrs. Earl Grey.”
Dammit! He knew my name. “You can’t keep me here. Earl Grey will find you!”
“And what?” the man said, still shrouded mostly in darkness. All I could make out was a tight black shirt and jeans; his face was almost entirely hidden in the darkness. “Will he buy you back? Is that what you think this is, ransom?”
“I have no quarrel with you or your savages. I didn’t mean to enter District 13. It was an accident.”
“Or maybe it was fate.”
“Do you believe in fate, Miss Grey?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “I’ve never thought about it, I guess.”
“How is that possible? You’re, what, twenty-three? And you’ve never once contemplated the interconnectedness of the universe and your place within it?”
“Not once,” I said. It was true: I just didn’t ever think about such things. Maybe if I did, I wouldn’t always get myself into such stupid situations.
“You called us savages,” the man said. “But do we not resemble learned men?”
“Your ‘men’ wear rags and paint their faces. They carry spears. What would you call them?”
“Warriors? In what? What ‘war’ are they fighting?”
“We are fighting for the future of publishing.”
“You’re just a bunch of natives,” I said.
“Natives! I can assure you that my warriors are indeed native, at least to this building. They are all ex-Amazon employees, recruited to the cause.” The man stepped down off his throne and walked slowly toward me. I didn’t flinch. What could I do? My arms were still bound behind my back, and the door was guarded. When the man was just two feet from my face, I could make out his visage finally: the black turtleneck sweater, the thin-rimmed glasses, the scruffy facial hair and close-cropped hair…
“Elvis Presley!” I said.
“What? No, no, no. Steve Jobs.”
“Co-founder and ex-CEO of Apple? The inventor of that iPhone you carry?”
“Doesn’t ring a bell.”
“How is that even possible? I’m Steve Jobs. Ain’t nobody who don’t know who Steve Jobs is.”
“Sorry,” I said. “I like my iPhone, though.”
“Damn straight you do,” he said. “I still can’t believe you aren’t astonished to see me alive.”
“See, that’s why I thought you were Elvis,” I tried to explain. “Most dead white guys look the same to me.”
He shook his head. “I’m not dead. Just in hiding, training an army to one day retake the future of publishing—and, by extension, the future of the world—from Jeff Bezos. The only way to do that is by using his own people against him. It’s the ultimate inside job.”
“Did you invent the iPad too?”
“Did you invent the iPa—”
“I heard your question. Didn’t you hear anything I just said? I just explained my big, bad master plan to you, and you’re asking if I invented the iPad?”
“Yes,” Steve Jobs said, with a sigh. “Guards! Take Miss Grey to a holding cell.”
“Wait, so that’s it?” I asked as the guards surrounded me. “You’re not letting me go?”
“Of course not,” he said. “We’ll return you—unharmed—to Earl Grey in exchange for his majority stake in Amazon.”
“I thought you weren’t going to hold me ransom!”
“I never said that. I did dodge the question, because I had to explain my master plan to you.”
“So once you control Amazon, then what?”
“Then I merge it with Apple and create the largest technology-slash-publishing-slash-retail corporation ever seen. I’ll use my newfound market clout to squeeze the last juice out of Barnes and Noble, Penguin, and whatever other players are left in the publishing business.”
“You’ll destroy them all!”
“We’ll have to, you see, if we want to rebuild everything in my image,” he said.
“You have some kind of sick God complex. This isn’t about the ‘future of publishing’ at all—it’s just one big ego trip for you.”
Before he could respond, there was a loud crash as one side of the building toppled to the ground. There was a flurry of hooves and sleigh bells, which could only mean one thing…
“Santa Claus?” Steve Jobs said, picking himself up from a shamble of boxes and facing down the Man in the Red Suit: Santa Claus. He was sitting in an enormous metal sleigh, pulled by eight reindeer.
“Am I interrupting anything?” Santa said.
“Sort of,” Steve Jobs said.
“I’ll make this quick, then,” Santa said, pulling a pair of Glock handguns from his leather belt and aiming them at Steve Jobs. “Have you been naughty or nice?”
Steve Jobs hesitated. “Nice.”
“Wrong answer,” Santa said, spreading his arms wide and firing the guns five times in quick succession, putting a bullet through the head of each of Jobs’ henchmen. “Now I’m going to ask you again: Have you been naughty, or have you been nice?”
“If you put it that way, I guess I’ve been naughty, Santa,” Steve Jobs said. “Very, very naughty.” With superhuman speed, he pulled a ninja throwing star from his jeans pocket and flung it at Santa, knocking both guns to the ground with a ricochet shot. Before Santa could retrieve his weapons, Steve Jobs launched himself at me and tackled me to the ground. When he stood me back up, he had a curved dagger to my throat. Santa pointed the guns back at him. “Take the shot,” I said. “Take the shot!”
“You trust Santa with your life, little girl?” Steve Jobs said. I could smell the Dr. Pepper on his breath. “Now drop the guns.”
Santa set the guns down.
“Now raise your hands, Kris Kringle,” Steve Jobs said. “Nice and slow.”
Santa raised his gloved hands into the air. “Just let the girl go,” he said.
“I’m afraid I can’t do that,” Steve Jobs said, holding the blade firm against my throat. My hands were still tied; I was useless. Even worse, I was about to be used as a pawn in Steve Jobs’ bid for world domination. Once Earl Grey showed up, he would have no choice but to bargain for my life.
“You’re a dead man walking, Jobs,” Santa said.
“That’s what most would say, ha ha!”
Santa lowered his right hand quickly and laid a finger aside his nose. This was obviously some sort of signal, because the reindeer sprang to life, charging straight at Steve Jobs and me! He shoved me to the side and flung his dagger into the throat of the lead reindeer. Hot blood spewed from the wound, but still the reindeer marched on. Santa snapped the reins as they trampled Steve Jobs. It turned out this was only the set-up for the next act. After the deer were done tenderizing their victim, they began to bite into him with their powerful jaws and tear away chunks of flesh. The cries—of the deer, or of Steve Jobs—were inhuman and gave me the chills. Finally, Santa hopped down off his sleigh and leveled a Glock at the carcass. The reindeer backed away. One pull of the trigger later the deed was done. Steve Jobs was finally, once and for all, dead.
The remaining District 13 warriors were rounded up by Santa and his reindeer, and willingly surrendered once they saw the carnage Santa hath wrought. Santa tied the two dozen men and women up and left them for the police.
“You forgot one thing,” I said to Santa as we stood and surveyed his handiwork.
“I’m still tied up.”
Santa winked at me. “Maybe that’s how I like you.”
“Are you hitting on me, Santa?”
He reached a hand up to his beard and pulled it down, revealing…
“Earl Grey!” I exclaimed.
“You didn’t really think I was Santa, did you?”
“No, of course not,” I lied.
“Are you disappointed?”
“That you’re not Santa? Not really,” I said. “Because Santa comes only once a year…”
“I’ll say,” I said. “How did you find me?”
“I had a tracking device implanted under your skin, in your upper left arm.”
“When did you do that?” I asked.
“It’s not important,” he said. “What’s important is that I was able to save you. If I hadn’t found you, who knows what would have happened?”
“Well, I know—Mr. Jobs pretty much told me his entire evil plan.”
“Oh. Okay, then.”
“There’s a small problem still,” I said. “I forgot to get you a Christmas present. That’s how I got myself into this whole mess. I’m sorry.”
“You’re all the present I need, baby,” Earl Grey said.
“Really? Because Kathleen suggested I also give you a BJ.”
“That sounds wonderful, actually,” he said, unhooking his belt.
“Great!” I said. “I have only one question: Who’s your favorite basketball player?”
Read Fifty Shames of Earl Grey, the bestselling Fifty Shades of Grey parody that[_ The Hollywood Reporter ]called “the literary equivalent of a good _Saturday Night Live skit”:
Fanny Merkin lives in a Beverly Hills mansion purchased using the embarrassingly large advance she received for Fifty Shames of Earl Grey. She is a former Walmart employee who writes under the pseudonym, “Andrew Shaffer,” for publications as diverse as Mental Floss and Maxim.
For more information:
Copyright © 2012 Andrew Shaffer.
All rights reserved. No part of this publications may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the publisher.
Published worldwide by 8th Circle Press. Previously published by Order of St. Nick.
This is a work of parody. The dialogue, thoughts, attitudes, and actions of its characters, even those based on public figures, are all fictional.
Cover photograph by Tiffany Reisz, based on a design by Alex Camlin.