Almost Like Christmas


By Joseph Heller

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ebook (Digital original)


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This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around December 6, 2016. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.

A masterful short story from the acclaimed author of Catch-22, about one long night of anticipation.

In a small town in the American South, it is night in the middle of the twentieth century. Carter, a high-school teacher and football coach in the newly desegregated schools, is awaiting news of two of his students who have been in a serious altercation. Outside the building where Carter has kept his vigil, a crowd of townspeople have also gathered to keep watch. Carter must choose how much he wants to participate in the spectacle, and how much he can afford to keep his distance.

“Almost Like Christmas” by Joseph Heller is one of 20 short stories within Mulholland Books’s Strand Originals series, featuring thrilling stories by the biggest names in mystery from the Strand Magazine archives. View the full series list at and listen to them all!


Almost Like Christmas

Joseph Heller

The coffee was gone again. Mercer swore softly, tiredly, and carried the coffee pot to the basin. He moved slowly. His eyes were red and he ground them mercilessly with the heels of both hands while the percolator was filling. He needed a shave now, and the total relaxation of his heavy face gave him the hopeless, stupid, waxen look of a drunkard. Carter sat limply at the large pine table and watched him, scarcely seeing him in his own fatigue. It had been a long night, he was thinking, a fantastically wicked, confused, and diabolical night, and it was only just beginning.

He watched Mercer start back across the room and stop at the window to stare out glumly at the entrance to the hospital across the street. The chill fog outside had streaked the glass with drippings of mist that gleamed like cheap jewelry in the light from the naked yellow bulb in the room. The window was dirty, and each time that Carter's eyes fell on the coarse patterns of grime he was reminded of photographs of diseased tissue that he had seen a long time before in Life magazine. They had been drinking coffee for hours, and the warm odor was thick and stale in the air and made him nauseous.

"Is anybody out there?"

"A few men," Mercer replied, after a full minute had gone by. "Men from the railroad, probably."

He turned from the window and set the coffee pot on the electric burner. For several seconds there was a quiet fury of hissing and sputtering as the water on the outside of the can boiled off.

Only Henney was in the room with them now. Beeman and Whitcombe had gone to the hospital to wait for news of the Wilson boy. There were no prisoners in the jail downstairs, and there was little for Henney to do. There never was any real need for a night porter, but Henney was Mercer's cousin, a consumptive, simple-minded man with very weak eyes who could not hold down a job anyplace else, and Mercer maintained the sinecure for him. Henney was reading the newspaper. He had been reading the same eight pages all night. Suddenly he began humming aloud, unconscious of the annoyance he was creating.

Mercer stood it as long as he could, and then said:

"Henney, go down to the diner and get some chicken sandwiches. Don't let him put any butter on."

Henney came to his feet with a start and hurriedly folded the newspaper. "Sure, Jay, sure."

"Cigarettes," Carter said moodily.


On Sale
Dec 6, 2016
Page Count
48 pages
Mulholland Books

Joseph Heller

About the Author

Joseph Heller (1923-1999) is an American satirical novelist, short-story writer, and dramatist. His debut novel, Catch-22, introduced the concept of a catch-22 to the English lexicon, and became an anti-war classic during the U.S. conflict in Vietnam.

Learn more about this author