Someone approaches, a mysterious object thrust towards you. A low snarl escapes your throat as you back up. Your eyes dart left, right. Sweaty fingertips find no hidden panels in the wall behind you. Trapped. As the person with the too-big smile bears down, your hand plunges into the satchel at your side and closes around the Beam Claw...
Skepticism is a good thing. Most people are, after all, inclined to murder you. When the holiday season comes around, however, you have to be aware that some people simply want to give you things. These items are called "gifts", and this guide will help you cope with them.
Gifts add an element of unpredictability to the fight-or-flight process that governs your every encounter with another human being. The added stress, however, can be worth it.
No one knows why a subset of the populace gives gifts.
Perhaps they are attempting to soften the blow of future wrongs they wish to commit against you. Some argue that the present is symbolic of the giver's hatred, and that within each package hides a malevolent spirit. Many scientists believe that the process of giving a gift is a genetic memory of our shared ancestor's first hesitant steps out of the primordial ooze, a neatly wrapped wine bottle opener clutched to his side.
We may never understand the why these items are presented to us, but we do know that they are typically wrapped in decorative paper. That's a starting point, even if the subterfuge introduces a whole new set of questions.
Look the giver in the eye. Peel your lips back and bare your teeth in a close approximation of a smile. Although necessary, this gesture can be perceived as a sign of weakness. To make up for this, assert your dominance by punching yourself as hard as possible in the neck without flinching or jumping very high.
When the gift is within reach, resist the urge to bat it away or crush it between your thighs. Take the item - without losing eye contact! - and express your thanks through the recital of a prepared poem, preferably set to music.
The giver will very likely want to watch as you open the gift. Do your best to ignore the sexual overtones of this situation. Remind yourself that, like any act of coitus, the shame will wear off in due time.
Try to locate a weak point in the gift's wrapping paper. Perhaps there is a seam where the paper has been folded over that you can leverage. Maybe there's an exhaust port through which an explosive of some sort can be inserted.
If the wrapping paper appears to be made of a solid diamond, there is good news and bad news. The good news is that you are holding a very large diamond. The bad news is that you won't be able to open it.
Let's assume that you've managed to peel back a layer of wrapping paper. Before you is a present, which typically falls into one of two categories.
Is it a creature? If so, take a moment to regard it. Note the resignation in its eyes, as it clearly understands that you will never love it. The poor critter is doomed to a lifetime of being fed and cared for, a monotonous stretch of time in which the two of you simply occupy the same house without holding any meaningful conversations.
If the gift is not an animal, it is an ill-fitting deerskin jacket, the kind that has a zillion turquoise beads dangling from strips along the underside of each arm. Congratulations. This is the best possible outcome.
Sometimes a gift giver will linger after you've opened your gift, revealing his or her intent for this to be an exchange of goods rather than an altruistic gesture.
Do you have a felt pen handy? Divert the gift giver's attention momentarily, then take the item you received and scribble "DIFFERENT" across its flattest surface. Now you can present it as an entirely separate thing.
If you don't have a pen, take the decorative paper from your present and - subtly! - use it to wrap the gift giver's hands. This symbolic gesture will remind them that life is too short and precious to get through with one's hands covered in paper.
Humanity would be better off if we all reminded ourselves of that universal truth every so often.
The first 48 hours following the reception of a gift are difficult. You may experience sleepiness at some point. You might get hungry. The level of light in the sky may change dramatically.
To cope with this terrible aftermath, it is best for you to remain exactly where you were at the time you received the gift with your weeping eyes squeezed shut and your hands tugging at your hair. The feeling will pass. Eventually, all feelings pass until we are ready to do what we must without a trace of revulsion or remorse.
"Don't you get it? What we have to understand is it's them or us. It can't be all of us, or one. It's got to be us, or they become it. Then we lose what makes us we."
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