San Francisco - Christmas Vacation

Posted Nov. 19, 2020, 11:22 p.m. by Lieutenant Nathan Harland (Counselor) (Steven Sigle)

Posted by Ensign Chloe Harland (Nurse) in San Francisco - Christmas Vacation
Previously -


Two hours later.....

Chloe walked up and down the rows and rows of books. Places like this were few and far between in San Francisco. In the age of digital books, store like this were obsolete, still everything came back around given enough time. Where once consoles lined the walls, now shelves of PaDD’s dedicated to stories filled the racks. It was a quaint idea. A single PaDD with a single story or a collection of stories gave a feel of the old days when paper printed books lined the shelves. Even more rare was the scattered collection of real paper printed books mixed among them. Companies had began the retro read as the media was starting to call it. Classics from history were the main stays with Alice in Wonderland, To Kill a Mockingbird, and the Odessy were a few titles that Chloe’s finger tips traced as she walked up and down the aisles.

She needed a distraction from comparative anatomy. They had been studying here for hours because it was one of the few library type places one could talk, study, and eat. Finals at the academy had all the private study areas reserved weeks in advance. Dorm rooms held too many distractions, so the small shop always saw a boon in business for several set weeks of the year.

Almost to the end of the row, Chloe’s fingers found a fabric-bound book making her stop and look harder. The binding did not hold a title which made the book even more interesting. It was also considerably smaller and covered in the brightest of red fabrics. Using her fingertip, Chloe titled the title so that it fell from the shelf onto her hand. The title struck her as the most surprising of all things. It was not ink printed but hand written in black marker. This was easily recognized due to the slight bleeding of the letters. It was also in blocky capital letters as if the novelist had quickly written the inscription Go Ahead and Open Me or Don’t. What’s your choice? Flipping the book over in her hands, Chloe could not find an author. Glancing over her shoulder she looked about wondering if this was some kind of joke or prank. It would not be the first time someone had created a surprise to liven up the dreary hours of studying before exams. Closing one eye, as if she expected a canned fabric snake to spring from the innards of the book, Chloe was more than a little surprised to find nothing but text.

“It looks like you found me, in a sea of print you picked up the one book that seemed out of place. Congrats, you at least seem to at least be able to notice unusual patterns in stacked books. This places you in a world above most others, who look but don’t really see what is around them. It’s Christmas time, and there is holly and jolly all around, but not all smiles are real and not all hearts filled with the cheer around them.

Closing the book, Chloe flipped it over several times looking for anything identifying an author. Not finding any she went back to reading.

So if you are someone who feels that this Christmas, just feels a little different and wonder if the cheer has been gone and you don’t understand why, I offer you a challenge. It’s a simple one, but if you want to see what can be done to break from the mold, I hope you play along.

“But I like Christmas,” Chloe stated out loud leaning against the other rack of books behind her. It was not that she expected a response from the book, but so far she did like the holidays. While most however would have shut it and shelved it, Chloe was more intrigued on why this person did not seem to hold the giddy happiness the holidays brought. Turning the next page she continued to read.

So, the challenge… find each word by completing the clues. Everything can be found here in the store, you just have to know where to look.

___ _______ _____ ?

Question one, this one is simple… the first letter belongs to the music that never stops playing in the store. Even this time of the year, they find songs to match the theme of their very soulful vibe. Can you figure out bands like The Darts or The Orioles connect?

Chloe stood still and listened to the songs playing. It was Christmas but it could not be that easy. Everywhere was playing holiday tunes. What was special about this music? Closing her eyes, her lips moved along with the song playing. It was considered a classic but even more than that it was old even when music like this was novel. The fifty’s soda pop shop do wop suddenly echoed through clearly.

“Do wop,” she said out loud Looking down at the pages she pulled a stylus from her hair. As a nurse, their stylus had a small ink component to help write names on individuals or indicate what body part was supposed to be treated.

Do ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ _ _

Filling in the first blank, Chloe looked at the net clue.

Number two, this one can be found in the kids section. My father tried to read it to me, teaching the sins of want and thirsty rodents. If you can think of the title, it only takes the second word to find the word you seek.

Chloe walked with a smile toward the small children’s section. She had an idea of the books there but it was better to look than start writing down names. “Stuart Little, The Mouse and the Motorcycle, Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, Give,” she stopped immediately laughing. Part of her had realized she was thinking way to classical literature. What ever the plan was with this, the writer was either a young kid or had children of their own. “If you give a mouse a cookie,” she said out loud looking at the cover. “Yep, there is a cup,” she shook her head smiling shifting the book behind the notebook she was carrying. Carefully she filled in the next word before reading the third clue.

Do You _ ___

So, you are still playing, I commend you. Hopefully you are having fun, and be sure to get a cookie on me, tell the Barista Buddy said to give you a treat. Before you ask aloud to yourself, no that isn’t my name. Next, part was always important to my family, but I always had my moments of uncertainty. This book can be found in the religious section by a Jennifer Michael Hecht. That might seem a little easy, but the trick is… I always had the opposite of her book, even if I didn’t always go to church. Some might say I felt in my heart Santa, and more, was always real.

Chloe bit her lip-reading this passage. Her family was religious which in itself was unique however they were more of the Connecticut religious where one claimed they were religious rather than showing up every Sunday in the pews. Her family showed up for all the important events like Christmas, Easter, and fundraisers once Chloe and her siblings aged out of Sunday School but not all the Sundays in between. A fat weekly credit transfer stopped any questions as to why this was as with most of the other families in the town. She pondered hard on this question about religion wondering where the mystery writer stood in his beliefs. Scanning the selections by the designated author, Chloe settled in on one title in particular immediately. A History of Doubt.

Chloe re-read several sentences of the clue to herself. Next, part was always important to my family, but I always had my moments of uncertainty. I always had the opposite of her book, even if I didn’t always go to church. The opposite of doubt was faith only that word did not fit in the blanks he left. As part of her brain ran synonyms, the other half contemplated the author’s intent. Did he believe in, “Believe” she yelled out figuring out the next word. The sound of her voice startled her slightly causing Chloe to laugh as she scribbled down the word in the book.

Do You Believe _ ___

The curiosity of his faith or wavering faith at times was forgotten as Chloe moved onto the next clue.

Okay that one might have been a little on the nose, might have even confused you. But you have to have faith, I know what I believe in very strongly. So the next answer, is in that last sentence. You just have to look between the lines.

“In,” Chloe found the word easy enough. “Do You Believe In _ ___, What do you believe in my friend,” Chloe asked rhetorically tapping her stylus to her lip. She continued reading hoping for more answers as she answered each question.

You made it, somehow you didn’t get turned away from non sequitur rants of faith, cookies, and classic music. I’m impressed, but this last part there is no hints. If you know what the last word is, and I believe you just might, take the mic and wish real deep upon a star you might just find it there is more to come if you only believe.

Do You Believe In Magic,*”, she read the last sentence as she wrote it out as she read the last instruction in the book.

If you do believe, and want to keep playing the 12 days of Christmas, challenge me back with the book nestled next to the original singers album at the record store across the street. If not, place me back where you found me and have a Merry Christmas.”

Chloe closed the book and walked back to her table with a smile. Her leg stretched had turned from a distraction to a mystery. There was no way she was going to be able to study now. Strolling to the coffee counter, Chloe rested her elbows on the bar. “Hey you have a cookie for me,” she asked the barista with a smile.

“I might,” he said pulling one from under the counter. He had no idea if this was the chick he was supposed to give it to but the guy didn’t look like he was hurting. If she wasn’t the right one oh well.

Seeing the cookie, Chloe wrinkled up her nose. “Can I pick my own,” she asked.

“Um sure,” he said raising an eyebrow.

Looking over the case she pointed to not just a cookie, but a cookie that was more a piece of art than the simple chocolate chip Nathan had designated. “That one,” she pointed with her finger. Chloe’s cookie was confectioner’s art. The snowman sugar cookie had a peanut butter cup hat with perfectly piped white icing sprawling all over the base as if it were melting. The body of the snowman was a homemade marshmallow topped with a braided peppermint sugar scarf. The crystal sugar stick arms glistened off the lights as he removed it from the case.

Taking the coffee, Chloe moved to the mic and tapped it twice with her finger making sure it was on. Hearing the feedback, Chloe cleared her throat and began belting out the challenge.

Do you believe in magic in a young girl’s heart
How the music can free her, whenever it starts
And it’s magic, if the music is groovy
It makes you feel happy like an old-time movie

After the song, Chloe sat down and began her entry into the book. An hour later, she gathered up her books. There was one last thing she had to do before going home. Crossing the street, she entered the store and slipped the book next to the album by the Lovin’ Spoonfuls.

The Stack

Nathan walked in as he hugged Antonio, the owner of The Stack which was his favorite spot to find old records, and work on his craft. While Nathan had a band, he found it best to test material outside of the home studio in Benny’s apartment their drummer. Today had a sense of optimism as he wondered if someone had taking him up on his adventure. He honestly doubted anyone would care to read and play along, it felt a bit silly but still if they had played the book would be here.

“You have a taker, I found this by the album today.” Antonio said as he handed the book to Nathan as he held a small smiled as he looked it over.

“Did you get a look?” Nathan said with a wide eyed look, curious as to who might be behind the response. Nathan really didn’t expect much, he would be more surprised if they got all the hints.

“Nope, they came in as I was locking up the back door and where gone just as fast.. all I saw was brunette hair leaving but that could be half the city.” Tony said as Nathan nodded in agreement.

It was time to read though as he exited the store as he sat in front at one of the tables. San Francisco was chilly this time of year, but it never got arctic in the its chill. Despite the lack of snow and sub freezing temps, he felt him wrapping his coat around him a bit more as he sat down as he ordered a coffee from the waiter that monitored the tables. The restaurant was a nice bistro on the corner of this shopping center, Café Del Toro. It was one of the favorite parts of this area, as all the seats in front of the other stores all were covered by the restaurant, leaving you plenty of room to spread out and enjoy the early morning.

“Thank you.” Nathan said as the coffee came promptly as he took a warm sip before he began to open the bound notebook as he began to flip, curious to see what he would find.


Before I start I have to say that cookie was one of the best cookies I had ever had. Now that I have said thank you, time for me to see how clever you are. Christmas is a time for giving. You said you have faith but have doubted before. Doubted what? Doubted Christmas? Doubted faith in something? Doubted people? I am not sure what you doubted but let’s see if we can change that huh. ”

Try everything… Shaun said as he leaned back as he reached down into his bag as he pulled out a warm fleece blanket that he wrapped around his feet. Some might find the fact he had a bag at all strange, but a student required notes and the season always made a way to make one feel frigid even without snow, with the cold bay winds and damp morning air seeming to freeze a soul if they were not prepared.

“Go to the corner of fifth and Market at four pm. Outside you will see something that always annoys me. Take off your hat and beat them at their own game until you reach their hourly goal. Depending on how good you are will determine how long you have to remain there but time is of the essence. Just like the magic that turned Cinderella’s coach into a pumpkin, you are on a time limit. When your cup runneth over from your task pack up your belongings and head to the abandoned parking lot on McCreary Street. Use your holiday gains to purchase the most expensive item there. If you are short, work off the difference. Do not use your own money to make up the difference. It’s not about how much money you have but how you use it. If you have to beg, borrow, and steal to get the biggest item do it. Sometimes a wrong does make a right. ”

“Fifth and Market…” Nathan said to himself, curious what he would find there. He wasn’t sure what would make this writer angry, as often this season it was filled with carolers and charities. Did he find someone as cynical as himself?

“Once you have the biggest item head to Bayview Drive. You will know the building when you see it. Go in, drop the item off, and leave the book with the receptionist.”

“Seems you like charity after all.” Nathan said as he pulled back his coat and shirt as he flipped his left wrist right side up so he could read the time on his iMapple Watch. “8 am… I guess I have some time to try out some new songs.” Nathan said as he put the book back into his bag as he finished the rest of his coffee before he reached back into his bag to put away his blanket and grab his other notebook, which seemed to be worn and torn.

Entering back at the store he went to the corner as Antonio came out and a few others who where inside turned to watch. Nathan had become a local icon, everyone expected him to give up the crazy notion of Starfleet and make it in the music scene any day. Least that was the hope of the fans who came to listen to what new musings he had. Putting his bag to the side Nathan sat at in the chair, which held next to it a guitar and mic as he positioned himself.

“Alright, I found a little bit of hope today… so I thought I would start with something.. cheery… cheery for me at least.” Nathan said as he began to fret a little as he began to tune the guitar.

Caught in a bad romance
Caught in a bad romance”

The song was a cover, some might know but few could tell from the aching dark brooding tone he held as he sang, the crowd cheered lightly as Nathan began, letting his day wind down before heading out for his 4pm dare.

Fifth Street and Market Avenue

The corner streets of Fifth and Market met placing someone in the heart of the downtown shopping areas. Large stores decorated with colorful ribbons, bows, and greenery created a sense of the holidays. People bustled about with bags as they shopped for gifts to give family and friends. The area had an energy to it with people laughing and passing greeting smile after smile. Above all the bustle however one could hear a bell ringing up and down the street. A man with a large kettle clanged out a steady beat asking for donations to his cause. While the sign stated the money would be going to a well-known charity, many knew only a small portion of the funds being donated actually went into the hands of the people it was intended for. To Chloe, if you were giving money to a donation it should go to the people it was intended for and not for high-priced advertisements or the large salaries of CEO’s who could strut around talking about all the work they did for others. A sign held a thermometer which indicated the amount it wanted to raise every hour. This hour the goal was three hundred credits.

Chloe Kendrick

Nathan arrived looking at the men who rang their bells as he wondered exactly what he was supposed to beat. He had an hour, and these men collecting donations was the only competition he could see. Bringing out the notebook Nathan began to re-read the message, he found this interesting as he felt he was right. She wanted him to make more money than this men in their charity drives. He suspected he knew why, he heard OMAP ran these and the CEO was not a very nice man. Fat, old and often times known for grooming a little too young, he was the type of fat cat that could make charity feel dirty.

“Okay… how do I beat this though?” he said to himself as he looked around. Stanley’s Pawn shop was nearby, the last seedy joint in an otherwise pristine part of town. It seemed to be the eye sore for most travelers, even if they all bought and sold all other times of the year. Entering Nathan looked around, knowing he didn’t have much time he placed money down on a Fender Stratocaster and wireless amp.

“No rules about buying this…” he said, he didn’t really need a new guitar, but a time crunch was going to prevent him from getting any of his own from his place. Placing the case down he opened it up as he looked as he used the amp to prop it up as he began to hook it up. Technology had come far from his ancestors, now they had built in power supplies and amplified warless emitters. Cords had become a thing of the past but it wasn’t complete. He was missing something as he looked around.

Nearby he found a piece of carboard sticking out of the trash can as he ran over and pulled it off, cleaning the gun as he reached into his bag as he pulled out a black marker. On the surface he wrote in bold letters the following.

“Do You Believe In Magic?” as he placed it down inside the case as he turned on the amp as the familiar crackle of sound came out as Nathan began to tune, people walking about eying him. Some seemed to stare but few paid too much attention. This wasn’t an unfamiliar sight, especially this time of the year. Thinking something missing, Nathan looked over at the Santas who all seemed to be eying him as he walked with guitar strapped across the street as he whispered in the ear of one before walking back with the hat from one of the good old saint Nicks.

Nathan took a deep breath as he wondered for a minute on where to begin, the eyes seemed to be wondering just what his plan was as more people kept watching. Reaching into his pocket with a smile he grabbed his phone as he synced it the amp as he cued up a piece he knew could accompany him. The tone was familiar to most, as the bells slowly began to plays as he began to strum to the beat as he nodded in rhythm. When Nathan played he became one with all around as he the cords struck the listeners with a familiar warmth and glow it gave to all who heard him play.

The song roared as it wasn’t long before people began to crowd as Nathan began to ham it up with the crowd as he played. Old and young, boys and girls, men and women, it didn’t matter who came by as Nathan seemed to always have the most perfect charm. Kneeling down with one of the young children of Andorian decent Nathan couldn’t help but smile at the little girl. The holiday season could touch all races, all people. He just never found as much use for it. Yet here he was, with a small blue girl with bright as snow hair and tiny antennas poking through her wool knitted hat as she smiled and bopped along.

It wasn’t long before everyone was clapping cheering, as credit chips flowed into his case even without him asking. It was the charm and spirit it seemed of giving something to get something. Nathan’s natural charm had others of like minded musical minds notice as he found soon he was being accompanied by a cyborg drummer who set up a set next to him as he kept rhythm. It wasn’t took long that Nathan no longer needed any pre-recoreded music as Nathan arched his eyebrow but found himself not going to look a gift horse in the mouth.

As the song ended Nathan smiled as he looked around, the budding band had formed for him as if by magic, making Nathan wonder how much of what he set up was really true or just a fantasy. “Thank you…” Nathan said as he smiled around at the cheering people, they clearly wanted more and he had the time as he saw a new player sit next to him with a piano. They all seemed to be looking at him knowing he would lead them next as he thought on the next song as he looked past the crowd and saw the Santa who let him have the hat had been dancing along as he smiled at the cheer.

“Okay, this one goes out to my big red fan… you know who Mr. C is.” Nathan said as he looked back as he began to talk quietly to the other players as they all nodded in agreement as the pianist next to him began to lead them off.

This time lead Nathan to sing, as he started the soulful tune that everyone began to seem to move in rhythm to as he began to sing with a sense of soul and urgency in his voice.

“Well, it’s Christmas time, pretty baby
And the snow is fallin’ on the ground
(Christmas, Christmas)
Well, it’s Christmas time, pretty baby
And the snow is on the ground (Christmas, Christmas)
Well, you be a real good little girl
Santa Claus is back in town (Christmas, Christmas)”

The song continued as Nathan took some pauses in the song, dancing with some of the women who seemed to not be able to keep their eyes off the young man as he twirled and dipped before getting back to singing the lines as no one seemed immune, as the money kept pouring in as the crowd knew where to find their cheer.

As the song ended Nathan bowed as everyone clapped and cheered as Nathan looked up at the time. His challenge was almost over, but he had one more song up his sleeve. “For this next one, I admit I have a little bit of what some might call Goth adjacent tendencies, so lets go with the best Christmas song if you find a little coal in stocking…” Nathan said with a wicked smile as he winked charmingly at the crowd who wondered what was next for the young singer as he began tapping his foot in rhythm before beginning his song.

Carol of Bells to Nathan always seemed to have the dark overtones he loved in any song. The fact that this song was played so much at Christmas lead him to be able to get his darkness out and still get the cheer and credits out of the people. The players with him followed him perfectly as he began to strum, the sweeping Christmas epic rising and falling as those around him kept the credits flowing.

As the song got the the triumphant ending as he shredded the guitar, ending in a flourish he bowed his head to the crowd as he thanked them all. “I am Nathan Harland, and these…” Nathan turned unsure who everyone was… “Well they are the best damn impromptu band a guy could want.” Nathan said as the men nodded as the high fived Nathan as they began to slowly disperse along with the crowds as Nathan looked down. He had more than enough to get surely whatever was the most expensive item his dare had requested. Putting the credits in his pocket he closed the case up as he walked backed to the Pawn Shop giving it without requesting for any money back as he then headed back to the Santa, giving him and each of his friends a credit chip in thanks as he began to walk off to the next portion of his exciting dare.

Nathan began heading to McCready street, as he found a large tree loot in the parking lot as he had to smirk as he looked around at all the people buying and going from the lot. Walking up to the owner Nathan knew he had more than enough, as he had gathered over 800 credits almost tripling with the street Santa’s had. He didn’t find this to be a challenge but he wasn’t going to stop as he smiled at the owner.

“What is the most expensive tree you have?” he asked the man as he turned to greet Nathan as he had a slight grimace on his face. “Most expensive… just walked out there.” he said pointing at the woman, blonde and clearly not from this area from the looks of her clothes as she began to drag the tree to her hovercar as the man looked back at Nathan.

“But I have other options, not as long as a 12 footer but I can hook you up.” he said as Nathan shook his head, handing the man a 50 credit chip as he winked at him.

“Thanks for the info, but I think I can buy that one.” he said as he left the tree lot as he went chasing the woman as he caught up to put himself in front of her.

“Can I help you?” the woman asked as she looked Nathan over, unsure of just what he might want as he smiled softly at her as he nodded politely.

“Ma’am, I need to buy this off you… if you could be so kind. My mother is sick, and this tree is going to be the centerpiece for our Christmas… I’ll pay double what the asking price was but I just need this… please.” Nathan said as he lied in hopes of completing his mission, expecting this to be an easy mark as he felt the smile leave his face at what he heard next.

“No…” was all that was said as the woman began to push him aside. As she began to use the hover lift to put the tree on top of her car.

“No… but please ma’am.” Nathan said, shocked a little at the response but not willing to give up. The woman had to have a reason to say no but he wasn’t going to back away just now after all the work he had done. “Please.” he repeated once more as the woman turned in a huff.

“It’s people like you that give this season such a bad experience, I need this for the Huffington ball, all the finest guests will be there and I am not going to let some dying mother stop me from showing up the Petersons and their smug family. No one cares about sob stories, and money isn’t going to stop me from getting the Tipton’s to let me get into their yacht club… go buy something else and leave me alone.” the woman said scathingly as she turned as the lift had gotten the tree even with the top of her car.

Something stuck in his head in this moment, something the mystery girl wrote. Sometimes a wrong does make a right she had written, as Nathan looked over at the lift as he knew this wouldn’t be the first time he had spent the night in jail during Christmas as he moved past the woman quickly as he pushed the lift as he began to fly off as he hopped on to control the vehicle. He knew the Tree lot would need this back, as it was there’s but Nathan wasn’t going let anything get in his way.

Looking back he reached into his pocket as he tossed the credits behind them as they went flying as the woman screamed as she chassed him, finding herself pelted with money. “Maybe buy yourself a bitter attitude next time!” Nathan shouted as he quickly had to pivot and dodge an on coming car as he began piloting. He knew his next destination, and maybe for once he could get somewhere not on foot with his newly requisitioned lift.

As Nathan got closer to his final destination he stopped as he noticed the place. It was a children’s home, like the ones he often volunteered at back in Boston. He never bothered charity in his home town, too many people like the woman he jacked the tree from. These places though needed the help year round, and cynic or no he couldn’t deny that children had it toughest this year. Despite all the toys he could want as a child, he never felt that connection others might.

Christmas was made for families, and his had always been fractured and never quite whole. His cousins and aunts and uncles tried, but they never understood that deep feeling of sadness as he saw them all happy with everyone there. It was bad enough his mother had passed, but most holidays found his dad gone and distant working on some project he was too busy to remember he had a son on. It wasn’t always about the gifts, it was about the care of those who loved you too.

Nathan got off the lift as a older attendant came out looking Nathan over. “Are you lost son?” she asked as Nathan nodded that he was not as he began to remove the tree. “I wanted you to have this, a friend of mine… that I think you might know… wanted you guys to have this.” he said as he began to help her inside with the tree as kids began swarming.

They all wanted to thank Nathan, hugging and thanking him as they asked him to stay and decorate. They had donations of ornaments and lights, they just needed a tree was all and now they had it. Spending hours Nathan helped the children, sipping coco and cider with the ones who worked as he began to play the piano they had as they all sang songs from White Christmas to the Happiest Christmas Tree, which seemed fitting as his night went on.

Nathan, sitting in the couch from his long exhausted day reached into his bag as he began to pen inside a note, one of joy he felt in the moment. As he finished he got up as he thanked everyone as he meet the elderly woman up front as he offered her the book as she smiled. “She will be curious to hear from you… thank you again for the tree.” she said as Nathan reached into his pockets, feeling some more credits he had left over that the other woman wouldn’t take he placed them on top of the book as he smiled as he left the building.

Inside the book, the reader would find the following note.

“Thank you, seriously from the bottom of my heart. I am not sure who you might be… and maybe that’s the point of this game. Learn someone without knowing them, but I needed an adventure in kindness. You asked what doubts I had before… and honestly there was too many to really count at times. People… they disappoint more than they don’t. Finding a way to commit larceny and charity is a unique way to find the joy sometimes lost around you.

With all that said, I think we need to take this up a notch, you found a way to get the spirit in me, lets return the favor. There is an event in town at Oracle field. The Giants are playing tonight there and I happen to know they are missing Lou the Seal. Go to the Stadium and tell them Mr Kringle said to let you see Lou, and see if you can find the cheer when no one knows who you are. Wearing a mask sometimes is the only way some of us can get by from day to day. So, find a way to have fun, and go Giants. If you can stay for the whole came, and not break character, leave me next to Willie…you’ll know who when you get there.”

Nathan Harland.

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