(A semi-autobiographical short story… Except for the parts I made up. Which is is most of it.)
Although the clock had not technically ticked past Midnight yet, as far as I was concerned Christmas Eve was finished. Another fine family Christmas Eve get-together was now in the proverbial books, all present had been well fed (with the possible exception of a couple stubborn children that seem to regard any food which isn’t made of sugar to be a necessary evil at best,) friendships and kinships had been renewed, and all of the usual traditions had been carried on for another year. Everyone had gone their separate ways to prepare for their various Christmas celebrations the next day, and as far as I was aware, nobody’s car had broken down on the way home this year. I had retired to my own apartment to settle back into my usual late-night routine. If Midnight Oil is a commodity to be burned, I seem to have enough of the stuff to supply a small country with a healthy strategic reserve, and don’t anticipate a shortage anytime soon. When you frequently go to bed at 1:30 in the morning, the stroke of Midnight doesn’t often mean much more than a few numbers on the clock, and even though Christmas would be arriving soon, tonight didn’t seem to be any different from any other night. With maturity and responsibility (sort of) comes a certain degree of pragmatism, and the knowledge that even if I had a stocking hung by the chimney with care (assuming I had a stocking or a chimney in the first place) the chances of it being filled with anything were slim.
So on this particular occasion when Midnight arrived, I found myself momentarily startled when an unexpected clatter arose from the roof. Yet, after a brief pause as my mind sought out a plausible explanation, I dismissed it and went back to whatever task I had been working on. Until a couple of seconds later it started again, and sounded suspiciously like… hooves? By this point my mind seemed to be trying to rationalize the noises in one way or another, and yet at the same time virtually every bit of Christmas lore I had squirreled away over the years was flooding back into my conscious mind with a vengeance. I just knew that it couldn’t be possible, but at the same time I found myself wondering: Could it really be Santa Claus?
Of course, this being an apartment building, I figured that even if it were somehow true that Santa Claus was actually here, he would have to be here for someone else. And yet, morbid curiosity demanded that I investigate further. I hastily put a semi-decent looking shirt back on, found a convenient pair of shoes, and slowly opened the door to my bedroom… And almost jumped at the sight. There, in my very own living room, was Santa Claus! Every last detail, from the impeccably polished black boots to the jolly red stocking cap, was just the way you’d expect it to be. As quietly as I could, I closed the door down to just a crack to try to see what he would do… But he didn’t seem to be doing anything. He was just standing there, apparently looking out the window at something, until he turned in my direction:
“Oh, just come on out, I know you’re watching in there.”
As I slowly opened the door, my mind was racing even more than it was before. What I was seeing was impossible. There’s no possible way that what was happening right there, right before my very eyes, could ever happen. And yet it was undeniable. Santa Claus was standing right in front of me, staring me in the face. If I had been thinking rationally at the time I probably could have come up with at least a dozen different questions I would have asked in this situation, but I had never anticipated the possibility that this would ever happen, and even if I had I was clearly not thinking rationally at this point. After taking a couple of seconds to try to regain some semblance of composure, I stammered out:
“Um…. Mr. Claus?”
“Please, just call me Santa, I’ve never been big on formality.”
For some reason I found some small degree of relief in that statement, and I slowly began to calm down a bit.
“OK Santa… So… Um… What are you doing here?”
“Well, it’s Christmas, isn’t it? Why else would I be here?”
“Yes, I know that… But, why are you HERE? I mean, don’t you have presents to deliver?”
“Oh, that? Don’t worry, it’s being taken care of. Everyone will get their presents on time.”
It was quickly becoming apparent that I wasn’t going to be getting any clear answers out of Santa, but still, I had to ask. “I’m not worried about people not getting their presents, I’m just curious as to why you’re here, in my apartment. I mean, I’m just some random single guy in a big city full of nice little boys and girls, I certainly haven’t done anything that would warrant a visit from Santa this year. I mean, it’s not like I asked for a new bicycle or anything like that.”
“Hmmm… You’re right.” Santa paused for a second, almost as if to think. “I don’t think we’ve received any requests from you since you asked for that electronic Animator thing back in 1987. How did you like that one anyway?”
Pausing briefly to poll some of the dustier corners of my memory, I recalled the toy in question. “Well, I enjoyed it, but I was never much good at drawing on it. I think the batteries eventually leaked and it stopped working though.”
“Well, I’m glad you liked it, I had a particularly clever elf that came up with that one.”
“Wait, the whole elf thing…”
“I’m sure you’ve heard of the operation. Granted, some people have taken a few creative liberties with that one over the years, but I’d like to say I’m pretty proud of the way we’ve been able to modernize the whole operation over the past decade.”
Although I probably would have been fascinated to learn more about the logistics of elf-based mass-production techniques, it seemed to me that Santa was dodging my questions. It looked like I was going to need to take a different strategy if I was going to get any answers. Although I remained in a state of shocked disbelief at this point, I figured that I could at least follow the standard rules for this type of thing.
“Oh by the way, I’ve got some extra cookies over here if you’d like some, and there’s some milk in the fridge.”
“If you don’t mind, I think I’ll pass. I’ve gone through about 756 million cookies so far tonight. A glass of water would be nice though.”
I fetched a cup from the cabinet, poured a glass of water, and handed it to Santa. He accepted it, and quickly drained half the cup.
“Thanks, I was getting thirsty, and all that eggnog really gets to you after a while. So, have you been good this year?”
I found myself taken aback by the question. Pausing for a second to think, I briefly considered making up some sort of story, but quickly came to the realization that any effort to do so would prove futile. After all, who in their right mind would think they could get away with lying to Santa Claus? Finally I replied, “Well, um… I’d like to think I’ve been good this year, but sometimes I’m not so sure of that. I’ve got things I need to improve on, and things I need to stop doing, and some that I should be doing that I’m not. For the most part though, I think I’ve been reasonably good.”
“Well then, let’s see here…” Santa went to his bag, and pulled out what appeared to be an incredibly long list of names. “Lute, Lutt, Lutto… OK, here we go, Lutz.”
Santa paused for a minute, squinting into his glasses, providing just enough time for a certain degree of low-grade dread to settle over me, for reasons that I still couldn’t quite explain. Finally, Santa looked up.
“Well, It looks like you made the nice list, but just barely. You really should work on not judging others so quickly.”
At that moment I felt some relief, but at the same time a bit of reproach. I still couldn’t be sure that I was seeing what I was seeing, but I could not deny what I had heard.
“So… Um… What does that mean? If this is about presents, I really don’t need any. I have what I need, and can get what I want.”
“I know that. I just wanted to make sure you know where you stand. So, is there anything you’d like to know?”
By now, I had no shortage of questions, and almost no answers, but some of the sounds coming from the roof seemed to suggest that the reindeer (or whatever else happened to be up there) were getting impatient. Knowing that time was of the essence, I quickly asked the first question that came to mind:
“So, what’s the deal with the whole Rudolph thing?” Silently I scolded myself for asking something so frivolous, but Santa answered.
“Oh, Rudolph? Yeah, he’s up on the roof leading the sleigh team tonight. I do have to say that the whole thing’s been exaggerated quite a bit over the years though, The nose is more of a brownish-red really.” A thud from the roof startled Santa for a minute, then he looked back: “Well, I better be going, I’ve still got most of the West coast to finish up. Have a merry Christmas, and remember that I’m watching…”
At this point Santa moved toward the door and went into his familiar laugh, which faded quietly into silence as he walked straight through the closed door and off to attend to the rest of his duties. I stared blankly at the door for some time, still not believing what I had just seen, until I caught an unfamiliar glint in the corner of my eye. Turning toward the Christmas tree, I found myself looking at a new ornament I hadn’t seen before hanging from one of the upper branches of the tree. This ornament, although relatively plain compared to the rest of the ornaments on the tree, seemed to sparkle a lot more than one would expect it to. I stared at this ornament for a few moments as rational thought slowly began to return to my mind. As I looked out the window, I could see a faint glimmer of what almost appeared to be a sled pulled by nine reindeer. I could almost swear that I heard some jingle bells off in the distance too, but couldn’t be entirely sure of this. Still a bit shaken by the whole experience, I returned to my room, and prepared to settle down for what I suspected would prove to be an unexpectedly short Winter’s nap, with a lot more than visions of sugar plums dancing through my head.
Once again, I would like to offer a thank you to all of my Blog readers, and wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.