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The Christmas Palm


Elizabeth D.
It all began quite innocently.  The Seaview was headed home to Santa Barbara.  She was set to arrive in the afternoon of December 23, in time for the crew to be home for Christmas Eve with their families.  The cruise had been fruitful if uneventful.  They had visited several small islands in the South Pacific studying a particularly rare species of reef coral. 
At one of the islands, the crew was released for a little r and r, and Kowalski and Patterson returned with a 6 foot palm tree, which they proceeded to decorate in the crew’s mess with whatever they could find that looked festive.  Cookie mixed up some eggnog and an impromptu celebration began.
Captain Crane and Mr. Morton were coming back from checking in with the Admiral in the lab.  There was a little extra bounce in their steps as the requisite amount of coral had been gathered and cataloged and the Seaview was headed home a whole half day early.  The Captain was particularly happy to be giving that news as so often it was just the opposite.  As they approached the crew’s mess they heard a raucous rendition of God Rest Ye Merry Reef Coral.  Breaking into big grins, they stepped into the room.
“Hey, Skipper! Mr. Morton!” hollered Cookie.  “Grab some eggnog and join the party!”
            “Well, actually men,” Mr. Morton cleared his throat and put on a serious face.  “The Captain is here to update you on this mission.  Captain.”  He took a step back and lowered his head.
            Lee, picking up on the ruse, followed his lead.  “Men, we’ve just checked with the Admiral in the lab.  He was separating and cataloging the coral samples to be sure we have what we need.  And….well…” He looked up and saw 22 nervous faces staring back at him.  “We have all we need and we’re headed home,” he checked his watch, “12 and ¼ hours early.”
            Cheers broke out and Crane and Morton were each served a brimming cup of eggnog.   Crane took a sip and his eyebrows rose.  “Cookie…”
            “Rum flavoring, Skipper,” Cookie assured him.  “But give the word…”
            They all laughed and Morton stepped in.  “I see at least a dozen men due on B watch soon.  Better hold off, Cookie.  We don’t want to scratch the paint bringing her in.”
            “Aw, Mr. Morton,” Kowalski crowed, “we can bring this boat in blindfolded.”
            “Be that as it may, let’s do it the traditional way, shall we?”
            “I think the Admiral would insist, Mr. Morton,” the Captain chimed in.  “However, he is missing a spectacular tree.  Very festive.  Especially the star.”
            Atop the lush palm tree, centered among the leaves was a lumpy six pointed brownish yellow star, almost covered in multi-colored glitter.  “My kids made that, Skipper,” beamed Patterson.  “It’s made out of 6 cans of Playdoh and then they rolled it in glitter.   They hid it in my duffle bag.”  He blinked away the moistness in his eyes.
            “Well, it is a most impressive star, Patterson.”  Lee clapped him on the back.  “Most impressive.  Who made the birds?”
            Riley popped up from his seat.  “Me, sir!  They’re socks!”
            “I hope they’re clean ones,”   Miller shouted.
            “Hey, Dude, whaddya think?”
“I think you have hidden talents, Stu,” Crane smiled. 
“You know that star is quite something,” Morton posited.  “What’s keeping it up there?”
“Oh, we wired it, Mr. Morton,” Patterson said.  “See.”  He reached up into the branches of the palm to expose the star’s rigging as Morton and Crane leaned in.  At that moment a verylarge and very hairy spider decided that there were just too many people and too much noise around his tree and dropped directly on to Chip Morton’s shoulder.
Eggnog and cup flew in the air as Chip swung wildly at the six inch arachnid.  Cookie grabbed a spatula and came running, while Kowalski made a grab for the creature.  In the process, Chief Morgan, who had been standing near the mess line, was inadvertently pushed into the extremely top heavy tree.  Before anyone could change their focus from their XO under attack, the tree began to slowly fall forward, quickly gaining momentum as the unwieldy star exerted it’s pull.
When Admiral Nelson turned into the noisy mess hall, he saw what appeared to be several crew members attacking Mr. Morton as a palm tree with what appeared to be a sparkling mace hit his captain on the head.  As Crane hit the floor unconscious a large hairy spider scuttled across the floor and stopped at Nelson’s feet.  Riley ran up and dropped one of Cookie’s pots over it. 
“Got him, sir!”
“Thank you, Riley,” the Admiral said in a quietly menacing voice.  “Now would someone like to explain what the devil is going on while we release the Captain from this…whatever it’s supposed to be?”
            An hour later, Lee Crane was resting on a gurney in the middle of Sickbay, his least favorite place, with an icepack on the sizable knot on top of his head.  He had regained consciousness as they lifted the Christmas palm from on top of him, but made the mistake of trying to get up on his own and went out again.  By the time Doc had checked him over and declared him damaged but not broken, each of the crewmen from the mess had filed through offering and embarrassed apology.
            Crane waved their apologies away.  “It was just one of those freak things, men.  Not to worry.”  His only concern was whether or not he had broken Patterson’s star. 
            “Um, no, sir.  Just some of the glitter got knocked off.”
            “All right, you men.  Let’s let the Skipper get some rest.”
            The men shuffled out of the Sickbay and went to repair the damage to the mess.   “Oh, uh, Admiral?”
            “Yes, Riley.”
            “Uh, what should I do with the spider?’
            “I think a burial at sea it called for,” Morton said with a shudder.
            “Take it to my lab, Riley.”
            “But, sir….”
            “It’s perfectly harmless, just don’t get one of the hairs stuck in your skin.”
            “Uh…aye, aye, sir.”
            “Hairs?  What about the hairs?”
            “They can cause a mild irritation or an infection, right, Will?”
            “Mmm, yes, Admiral, sometimes worse,” the doctor mused.
            Chip tried to look at the shoulder of his shirt without touching it, causing him to lose balance and bump into the gurney.  “Have a little respect for the dying, hey,” Lee groaned.
            “Sorry, Lee.  Hurts a lot?”
            “A bit.”
            “Well, it certainly is the most colorful injury you’ve ever had,” Doc said, brushing multi-colored glitter from the Captain’s hair.
            “Yes,” admired the Admiral, “gives him a rather angelic look, wouldn’t you say doctor?”
            “I guess, it is poetic justice to have been cold-cocked by a star—I mean, he was the star pupil at the Academy…”
            “Chip…” Lee warned.
            “Mr. Morton, it’s not fair to pick on a man when he’s down, even if he is decked out with piles of glitter.”
            “Fa-la-la-la…” Doc and Chip chimed in.
            “Oh, great,” Lee groaned and shook his head, unleashing another a cloud of glitter.  “I’m being serenaded by the three wise guys!”
            “Ah, you’d better straighten up, Captain,” grinned the Admiral, “or I won’t share the home made plum pudding I have waiting in my cabin.”
            “Edith’s home made plum pudding?”  Lee asked.
            “The very same.”
            “Doc, I think I’m getting worse.  Can you put me under?”
            Amid laughter and good fellowship, Seaview made her way home for a very happy holiday.

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