There was snow on the ground outside a rural Colorado home. It covered an old and slightly cracked gazing ball in a garden that was well taken care of, though it showed the need for the touch of someone skilled in arranging plants. It covered the home itself, draped like icing across an angel food cake. It covered decorations on the house as if white out to blot them from existence. Twinkle lights and icicle lights light the house merrily, though in smaller numbers than the past. There is a garland across the porch with lights wrapped in it, but the lights do not seem to shine so bright this year. A flag proclaiming that the season is merry hangs limp, no wind to give it life. A merry Christmas is wished to all that gaze up on the house, but it seems that the occupants have trouble believing it will be merry for them. Only one of the two cars in the driveway is bereft of snow, and only half the driveway has been cleared. Neighbors know the second car hasn’t been moved in a year.
Regardless of the appearance of a winter castle, the inside of the house is warm and well lit. The orange lighting feels warm and brightens the heart of all that see it. Heaters run to keep the house warm, though they’re very firmly set at a specific setting and never touched. The inside decorations are hung with much more fervor than those outside. Dolls of Santa in various incarnations from various countries lay here and there in hopes that the big man himself would visit. There are hangings aplenty that declare the holiday is joyous and that those inside the house are given season’s greetings. Nutcrackers of characters synonymous with Christmas, such as Tiny Tim, stand guard against unhappiness in the house. A synthetic Christmas tree stands with a thousand ornaments that were put up with infinite care. Stockings, three, hang over the fireplace.
Two of the owners of the stocking were in their beds, sleeping soundly and happily together. Two little girls with smiles on their faces, knowing that their favorite holiday is only a few days away. Their door was slightly open for a few moments. Light poured into the room and gave a cheery outline to the silhouette of a man. The door closed silently and, if one listened hard, soft footsteps could be heard descending the stairs to the main level.
The house itself may appear cheery in a haphazard way. Decorated for the holidays in the absent-minded fashion of someone who doesn’t truly have time to really do the job well. But at nights, when the two little children are asleep and the house is silent, the table of the kitchen becomes a sort of war zone. A man sits there for several hours a night ad slowly splits envelops into categories. By the gripping of the hair and table, its obvious he’s doing his best to hold off the enemy’s advance. Armed with nothing but a calculator, a pen, a sheaf of lined paper, and a checkbook, he must somehow remove from existence all of the envelopes without going mad. It isn’t going well.
“Utilities. Six hundred dollars and forty six cents. I’ll have to remember to turn the lights off at night again to keep the bill down.”
His hand moves quickly, writing the check needed, then puts both envelope and payment to the side. With a heavy sigh, one he heaves every time he finishes a check, he turns to the next one.
“Phone bill. One hundred fifty dollars even. The girls didn’t stay on the phone with their friends for hours this time.”
With a weary and practiced motion he signs his name on his check and puts it to the side. This process continues for an hour on most nights before he’s completed all the bills. Eventually he finishes and rubs at his eyes. He glances at the calendar, trying to remember what day of the week tomorrow will be. December 7th. Tuesday. Something about the date runs through his mind again. A curse and another weary sigh line up in his throat for a chance to make themselves heard. He hasn’t begun his Christmas shopping yet.
The next day is like most other days. He’s up at the crack of dawn after only six hours of sleep. He goes and fills the dog bowl full of food and pets the pooch. He marches up the stairs like a tin soldiers and gets the girls out of bed and into the shower. Their clothes are ironed and ready by the time they get out. In fifteen minutes he’s driving them off to the front of their school and wishing them farewell. Like always, a kiss to each cheek for everyone and a promise that he’ll be there to pick them up when school is over. Then driving to his job.
The news is on as he drives down the highway. He’s barely listening to it for the majority of the drive. Too much sadness in the world, especially during a time of the year that should be happy. But one key phrase catches his ears on one of the interviews.
“So how are the sales for your new game system, Mr. Hashimoto? I hear it’s the most wanted gift of the year.”
The man’s ear catches this phrase and his attention is riveted. Perhaps a gift for the girls. A string of Japanese follows the question before the translator is able to answer.
“Mr. Hashimoto says that sales are good and that he’s confident everyone will be happy with the product. The factories are working overtime to make sure there’s enough for everyone.” The translator’s pauses between words are short enough that this phrase might have been rehearsed.
“It’s good to know that parents won’t have to fight for a system. We hear that the prices are meant so that any family can afford one?”
The man wasn’t able to hear the rest of the interview. He was at his office, parking in his space. As usual, there was a moment where his face was twisted into a frown at seeing the people going into the office. Unhappy faces on all of them. He scratches the back of his head as he fixes his tie and jacket. There are some people that no one is happy to have to visit. A doctor is one of them.
He was greeted by the secretaries that handled all the paperwork for him and kept him sane.
“Morning, Dr. Slaine. How are you today?” Asked the one who wasn’t busy.
“Just another day, Jessie. How’s the load today?” He replied.
“Not too bad. Gonna be mostly walk-ins today. Got a boy with a stomach ache who’ll be seeing you in five minutes. Then Michael Hollister is back for you to check on his broken leg.” She looked up from her paperwork, “Growing the beard back out again?”
The man rubbed at his chin and nodded, “Yeah, the girls thought I should try it for a change of pace. How does it look?”
The secretary smiled at him before replying, “I think it looks rather good. Don’t let it get too long though.”
Pleasantries over, he went back to his office and got ready for his first patient. Stethoscope ready, tongue depressors, otoscope to look inside ears… All set. He heads to the examination room and proceeds to handle checking up on the patient. As he does, playing the role of the good doctor, he talks to the boy.
“So, what are you wanting for the holidays this year?” He asked as he took the child’s pulse.
“That new game system that came out! It’s so cool!” The boy was very excited.
The doctor looked up at the mother of his patient, who shrugged. Evidently, she didn’t know anything about it.
“Really cool, huh? What’s so cool about it?” Dr. Slaine made getting an answer difficult by sliding a thermometer into the kid’s mouth. Still, he got the gist.
“Very cool. Well, I’m sorry to say, you have the flu. Your mom is going to get you some pills which you’ll have to take each day. You’ll be better in a week. Sleep a lot, drink a lot of water, and you’ll be right as rain.”
Dr. Slaine sighed as he finished the paperwork from his recent patient. He looked around at his office, at all the cards he got from kids getting well from unpleasant illnesses, of small presents from his daughters. Amazing to think that with as many patients as he sees, he’s still making very little money. And yet, the news always reports on doctors who are rich and famous doing less work than he.
“Lucky stiffs…” he mutters under his breath.
“Something wrong, boss?” The voice of his partner, Dr. Jackson, quickly removed him from his reverie.
Turning in his seat he shook his head, “Nothing really wrong, Ed. Just wondering what to get my kids for Christmas.”
His balding partner took a seat on the armrest of the couch Slaine left in the office for nursing mothers. “Ah, yes, the ever-present question. Balancing what you can afford and what they want.”
The man nodded and fiddled with a slinky one of his patients had given him, “I heard about those new game systems and thought about getting one. I might be able to afford it.”
Ed shook his head and interlaced his fingers behind his head, “You might have trouble with that. They’re sold out everywhere. Everyone wants one.”
Slaine’s face fell as he heard this. “They’re that good, huh?”
Dr. Jackson’s nod was a strong affirmation of this fact, “Supposed to be amazing. Good luck finding one. Anyways, I have a patient. I’ll talk to you later.”
After Ed left, Dr. Slaine rubbed his hands over the back of his head. He was sure he was feeling a bald patch.
A couple of hours later, after the practice had closed for the night, the man headed for a gaming store nearby. But checking the store and inquiries told him nothing he didn’t already know. The system was the hottest thing on the planet right now. There’d be no way he could get one.
“You might as well give up, man. There’s no chance of getting one of them.” Said one of the employees.
“That’s not quite true.” Said a girl working nearby. “Those online auction sites have them.”
“Well, yeah,” said the first employee, “but they overprice the things.” He turned back to Dr. Slaine, “You might as well wait until February.”
This wasn’t good news to the doctor. It got worse when he got home and overheard his girls talking about one of their friends who had already gotten one. They saw their dad and immediately hushed up. But when he was out of sight they started talking about how nice it would be to have one.
The doctor checked his bank account. Once he’d be done paying the bills he’d have something around five hundred dollars left. Not being one to buy much in the way of entertainment, he had no idea how much this game system would cost. But he resolved to find a system for his girls.
Later that night he was checking a couple of the auction sites for the system. Most of the auctions had soared well over six hundred dollars. But, looking a little closer, he found that most of them also included a small library of games and all sorts of extra things. He searched a little further and found an auction that sounded good for him.
“System + 3 controllers + 14 games!” read the title in loud and obnoxious type.
Still, it sounded like a good deal. He put a bid in under his maximum price range. That done, and with nothing done left to wait, he turned off the computer and went to bed. There wasn’t much hope in him to get the system. A great bundle like that would certainly fetch a great price. He fell asleep still hoping that he’d have the luck to win the auction.
Two days passed with the doctor checking the site every few hours. The clock was ticking down but it wasn’t going fast enough. He was impatient to hear if he had won or not. His bid was still the highest on the list. That gave him a small manner of satisfaction. He paid off a few bills and took his girls off to he park that afternoon. He noticed a few full families with mothers and fathers and silently cursed to himself. The sun set and found his own family at their house.
He checked one more time on his computer and found that he had actually won the auction. He called up Dr. Jackson for help finishing up the deal. The payment would take at least three days to clear. Three long days. Christmas was coming up fast. He’d just have to hope that the guy got the game out fast.
Three days came and went with the wind and found Slaine none the wiser about the system he had bought. He hadn’t gotten a phone call from the seller, nor had he gotten any package. After work he checked on his computer and searched around for the seller’s contact information. He eventually found it and made the phone call. It took a few rings for someone to pick up.
“Hello, Hinton residence.” The voice on the other line was a woman, not the man who was selling.
“Hello, this is Daniel Slaine. I bought a game system from you a few days ago?”
“Oh, hello! You need my boyfriend then. Let me grab him.” There was a light tap of the phone being set down and the sound of a yell coming from a long ways away. Eventually a man picked up the phone. “Hello, this is James.”
Dr. Slaine repeated his name and introduction.
“Oh, right. We haven’t gotten the money yet, so we haven’t sent yet. When we get the money, we’ll send the system.”
The phone call left Slaine partially annoyed. He checked his online account and found that the money had been transferred and received. He decided to give it a day to make sure that the man had time to check his bank account. He called back the next day to find the money had been received and the item sent. The game system would take three to six days to reach him.
“But that means it might not be here until the 19nd!” Complained Daniel.
“Hey, not my fault man. You didn’t pay for fast shipping.”
Dr. Slaine hung the phone up, feeling rather bitter towards the seller of the item. But he brightened up. He’d have the system well before Christmas.
It was well before Christmas and six days later when Daniel got a package. Sent by James, the seller of the system. But inside was not what Dr. Slaine had expected. The system was there in its original box, but there was only one other game box. He looked through the package before he found what he was looking for. “This system comes with a disc that has five minigames on it.” He checked the back of the second box. “This box comes with an extra controller and nine minigames to play with your friends!” Daniel felt cheated. He checked for two extra controllers. Apparently the system itself came with a controller and an accessory. Those two plus the one in the box with the minigames made three. More than ever, the doctor felt he had been scammed.
Without knowing what he was doing, Daniel went back on the auction site. He quickly went to the support section and filed a complaint against the seller. He didn’t know what he was going to say but he felt that something had to be done. He took a certain amount of satisfaction in the knowledge that the money would be withheld from the seller by the site itself until the dispute was resolved. It didn’t take long for the seller to call him.
“What the hell is this, man? You got your thing, right?” James sounded rather upset. Daniel rallied.
“Oh yeah, I got it all right. But you didn’t give me all you said you did. You said three extra controller and fourteen games. There’s only one extra controller and game in here. You cheated me.” Daniel made sure to put some venom into that last sentence.
“Wrong, man. Wrong. I didn’t say extra. I just said plus. Go look at the rules of the site, man. Go read. Learn to read, man. I didn’t do anything wrong. You just didn’t read enough. Send me my money when you finish reading.” James sounded rather angry.
Daniel hung up and quickly went to check the site. But try as he might he found no rules that said anything that backed James up. Part of him was worried that James was right. Was there a punishment for filing a wrongful dispute? Daniel decided to get some help. Soon he had Dr. Jackson on the line helping him look over the site.
“I don’t know what to tell you. The rules don’t say anything about what a plus means. Did you check the auction itself?”
This had completely slipped the doctor’s mind. He went back to check the page of the auction. He found what he was looking for under a big list of the seller’s positive reputation and comments.
“Package includes the system,” the description listed what the system included, which said the controller and the accessory, “the minigame disc that comes with the system, and the developer package that includes another remote and another minigame disc.”
Apparently, the seller had described it all. Daniel wasn’t happy about this. Apparently he just didn’t read the fine print on what he had bought. He went and perused the seller’s reputation while steaming about the whole thing. There he found someone saying the seller had forced them to leave feedback. Interesting. Daniel refused to drop the dispute. He went and checked the rules of the auction site again. There had to be something that the seller was doing to break the rules. He got a call a few hours into the night.
“When are you sending me my money? I’m sure you went and looked and saw that you are breaking the rules, not me. If you don’t sent me my money, I’m taking you to small claims court. You’ll have to fly out here and spend a lot of money to fix this mistake you made. Learn to read and send me the money.” James was angry and didn’t give Daniel a word in edgewise before hanging up.
The doctor decided to sleep on this problem. It was only the nineteenth. He still has the system and the present. Even if this isn’t resolved until after the holiday he’d still be able to get things fixed.
The next day he found, to his dismay, that the auction site wouldn’t take action. He was checking their rules and regulations and found that a complaint wouldn’t be resolved by the site itself. He could only get them to fix it with a dispute, and then the site itself would handle this. He knew that James was wrong. He wouldn’t drop the complaint, and he’d put it to a dispute of the seller didn’t admit to being wrong. Hopefully it wouldn’t come to that. He went to work after dropping the girls off at the house of one of their friends.
Things continued much in this same manner. The good doctor would get threatening calls from the seller. He and his friends would check the site’s rules to see if they could find anything else. Everyone agreed that the seller was being a cheat, but they couldn’t find a rule that he was actually breaking. Daniel didn’t want to stop the dispute though. He knew that there had to be something to be done. He had price checked the system and the game he had been given, and they didn’t even come to two thirds the price he had paid. Sure, he got a system when no one else had them, but he had still been fleeced.
On the twenty third, Daniel was tired of this game. He couldn’t find a way to get part of his money back. He just wanted to drop this and enjoy his Christmas. On his way home from work he had decided he’d just drop the dispute, let the man have his money, and let his girls have their system. He checked his messages once he got home and, as usual, heard the same angry message that he’d gotten every day.
“You can’t read! My auction says clearly what it gives! I didn’t break any rules! But you’re breaking rules by not giving me my money, and I’m going to take you to court! Get me my money or I’m going to sue you, and you’ll lose a lot more than you bargained for!” Then a string of expletives. Daniel deleted the message and went to get the mail.
On the front porch was a package. A box of beer wrapped in packaging tape proclaiming it to be from a one of the big office supply stores. Why would an office supply store send him a case of beer? He doesn’t even shop at this one. He takes the package in and checks the return address. A puzzled frown crossed his face as he read who it was from. Apparently, the seller had sent him something. Expecting it to be a package of dog excrement, Daniel left it for a moment and checked his email to see if the seller said anything about a package.
But five minutes later, the doctor was none the wiser. There was no email from the seller. But if it was what he expected, there wouldn’t be one. He went back to the package and slowly opened it, careful for anything bad. To his surprise, he found a package exactly like the one he had gotten on the nineteenth. A game system and the game with the extra controller. Quite confused, Daniel checked to make sure it was real. There was nothing fake about it.
He called Dr. Jackson and told him what had happened. The other doctor started laughing.
“My friend, he sent it to the wrong address! Did you have to sign for it?”
“No, I didn’t. The delivery man just left it here.” Daniel was beginning to see what Jackson was going after.
“That means he doesn’t know he sent it to you. Even if he was tracking it, he can’t prove you received it. You just got yourself a free game system. He’s out several hundred dollars. I tell you, Daniel, if there ever was proof that karma is real, this is it.”
After he ended the call, Daniel went to his computer and ended the dispute. The website asked for a reason for the end of dispute to send to the seller. It only took Daniel a few seconds to come up with a message to send that was suitably vague, doesn’t say what happened, but would make him feel good about himself. His kids would have a rather good Christmas this year.
“Dispute ended. And I might not be able to read, but you can’t count.”