The Terrible Night Before Christmas

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This story won a Kellan Publishing challenge in Dec. 2014. It had to fall between 1000-1500 words, and use the following words/phrases: Santa Claus, Popcorn, Photo Album, Black Cat, Train, Slide, Police, Sled, Typewriter, Horn, Alarm, Church, Glue, Bow, Fire, Dragon.

The Terrible Night before Christmas

The whole escapade started with the black cat. Santa leaned forward in his rickety office chair, puffing on his stumpy pipe and wreathing his head in smoke. He pecked with two chubby fingers at his typewriter, finishing a last letter to a second-grader in the Bronx. The kid was bound for disappointment this year, the result of a spectacular imagination and a dose of new-fangled animation that left make-believe characters appearing plausible. A challenge for the elves who prided themselves on unabashed creativity.

Dear Chuck,

I hope you enjoy the train set, hand-carved by a master elf in my workshop. I realize you requested a live dragon, but creatures that breathe fire are not only exceedingly rare but generally discouraged in apartment buildings where they’re apt to smoke the place up if not burn it down. Be good and Merry Christmas.

Yours Truly,

Santa Claus

He slumped back in the worn seat, adding the letter to his “regrets” pile. That’s when the black cat appeared in the window, yowling to come in. Why a cat haunted the North Pole in the midst of winter was beyond him. No doubt, a practical joke offered up by the elves who reveled in some idle time now that this year’s orders were filled. He’d have to remember to check the sleigh’s bench for Insta-Glue. Last year’s mischief had cemented his britches to the seat, leaving him to deliver gifts in his skivvies.

He cranked open the window to let the creature in, hoping a blast of bad luck didn’t blow in with the snow. Not that he was superstitious, but Christmas Eve was the wrong time for screw-ups.

Just then, the alarm clock on the mantel burst into a raucous version of Jingle Bells, jolting him into action. He quickly slipped on his black boots, red coat and furry hat, crammed the letters in a back pocket, and kissed Mrs. Claus on the cheek before bolting out the door.

The sleigh stood ready, the reindeer harnessed and snorting in the crisp air. Behind the driver’s bench, the elves had wedged a dozen red sleds and a mountain of bulging sacks. Shiny bows and curlicues of ribbon peeked from the cinched openings, and the elves had sprinkled the entire load with magic dust as white as new-fallen snow.

Santa checked the seat and studied the reins. A quick inspection of the runners revealed not one string of tin cans, and he made certain the reindeer weren’t sporting cowbells. Finally, he hefted the bags of magic dust, and satisfied that they were full to the brim, he clambered up and took the reins for the long winter’s ride.

With deliveries to Canada wrapped up, Santa breezed through New England. He descended on New York long after the children were all nestled in their beds. He planned to work his way south to the tip of Patagonia and eventually west across the Pacific toward the International Date Line, the last leg of his journey. Despite the late hour, the Bronx sparkled. Light-entwined trees and storefront displays twinkled with color. Christmas trees glimmered behind darkened windows, and from above, the streetlights formed strands of holiday cheer.

The reindeer landed on the roof of Chuck’s apartment building, raising the ideal amount of clatter. Santa hopped down and did a few lumbar stretches for his back. He lifted a sack from the sleigh and reached into the final bag of magic dust, tossing a handful over his head. With a finger pressed to his nose, he nodded. And nothing happened.

Another handful. Nothing.

He tentatively licked a finger…”Sugar!” Santa scowled and shouted at the reindeer, “Those blasted elves are going to pay if I have to stuff every perky little head in the coal bin!”

After several minutes of ranting, he puffed up his rosy cheeks and blew out a sigh. He grabbed his set of emergency lock picks from the sleigh’s toolkit, slung the sack over a shoulder, and headed to the stairwell.

Quiet as a church mouse, he crept through the building, picking locks and sneaking into apartments. Dutifully, he ate gingerbread cookies and drank milk, packing carrots into his pockets. He stuffed carefully-hung stockings and unloaded his sack beneath the bright trees before tiptoeing back into the hallway and starting on the next door.

In Chuck’s apartment, the sugarplum cookies were homemade. Santa snacked first and then rearranged the presents beneath the tree, placing the train set and letter in front, and flanking it with gifts for the girls. He was just closing the door with a soft click when a light flipped on and he heard a tense voice, “Who’s there?”

Santa took off at a scamper, not glancing back as the apartment door opened. “Hey, you!” the voice yelled. “I’m calling the cops!”

As Santa ran, he cursed the naughty elves once again. In a panic, he burst through the building’s front door onto the snowy street and took off down the slick sidewalk, the bundle of toys bouncing on his back. His belly jiggled like jelly as he high-tailed it around a corner, trying not to slide into traffic. Police sirens wailed and a horn honked as he dashed across the street. Ducking into a narrow alley, he tripped on a filthy snow pile, whirled into a trashcan, and landed flat on his back in the city’s ashes and soot. Lights flashed as a police car screeched into the narrow entrance.

The fluorescent lighting in the police station gave Santa a headache. A plastic tree sat atop a file cabinet, decorated with looped strings of popcorn, and the remnants of a holiday celebration littered the desks.

Santa’s interrogation hadn’t gone well, his candid explanation regarding recent activities rendering him fingerprinted, photographed, and handcuffed to an interview table. His captors were arranging for a mental health evaluation and overnight accommodations, prospects that didn’t bode well for Christmas.

“We’re booking you on breaking and entering,” the tired-eyed detective stated. “Do you have an attorney?”

“I was delivering presents,” Santa explained again.

The man sipped from a cup of black coffee and ate snowman cookies from a paper plate. “Want one?”

“No, thanks, I’ve already eaten about two billion.”

“Yeah, right.” The detective shook his head wearily. “So you were delivering presents with a lock pick. Isn’t Santa supposed to use magic?”

“Ordinarily, yes,” Santa assured the man. “But the elves gave me sugar instead of magic dust.”

“Uh huh.”

“They’re ruthless pranksters,” Santa explained. “Last year they glued me to the sleigh.”

“Uh huh. And the carrots we found stuffed in your pockets are for the reindeer?”

“Precisely.”

“What about the sack of presents?” the detective asked. “Some children are going to wake up without gifts under the tree.”

Santa heaved a sigh and scratched his cherry nose. “Only if I don’t finish my route. I’ve two continents to cover before dawn.”

“That’s only three hours from—“

The interview room door opened and a uniformed woman entered. She leaned over the table and whispered in the detective’s ear. His chin drew back as he frowned at her. “Is this a joke?”

“Nope. Eight tiny reindeer. I counted.”

“On the roof?”

She shrugged. “And a miniature sleigh filled with presents.”

“Stolen?” the incredulous man asked.

“No one’s missing anything,” she informed him. “In fact, they report unexplained gifts.”

“Holy…moly.”

While both officers stared at Santa, he raised his eyebrows and smoothed his white beard. “I have a route to finish if you don’t mind.”

“Uh…yeah…okay. I guess.” The detective unlocked his cuffs. The pair not only escorted him from the station but drove him back to the apartment building. With the officers in tow, he hiked the stairs to the snowy roof. The reindeer pranced and pawed their hoofs, impatient with the delay.

“You should probably get rid of this,” the detective said, handing him a folder. “We’ll just pretend it never happened if that’s alright with you.”

Santa accepted the folder, and after they removed the yellow police tape from the sleigh, he passed each of them a gift from his sack. “Merry Christmas.”

“Merry Christmas,” the two murmured in unison.

With a twinkle of his eye, Santa mounted his sleigh. He whistled and shouted the reindeer’s names. Eagerly, the team dashed to the edge of the roof and leapt. The sleigh dipped, and then the harnesses snapped taut as the reindeer flew up over the city rooftops with their sleigh full of toys.

As the dawning sky pearled the horizon, Santa left the team in the elves’ care, too tired at the moment to exact his revenge. Mrs. Claus met him at the door and took the folder as he unbuttoned his coat and kicked off his boots. “My, my,” she exclaimed. “Here’s one for the photo album.”

Santa glanced at his mug shot as he plotted this year’s retaliation, a merry grin curving his lips like a bow. “Ho, ho, ho, ho, ho.”

 

A Christmas Story – The Snow Globe

Pixabay image composition

The Snow Globe

Delores perches at the scuffed counter of Dee’s Diner on Christmas Eve, keeping one bespectacled eye on Angie as the waitress mops the linoleum floor. The sign on the front door has already flipped from “Open” to “Closed,” and the crimson Panhandle sky fades to a duller shade of rose, a single bright star glimmering on the eastern horizon.

“Thanks for closing early, Dee,” the teenager says.

“No problem, honey. I got plans too.”

Angie looks up and smiles, clearly skeptical, but too kind-hearted to ask. It’s no secret Delores lives alone, unmarried, and childless—except for Buster the cat, who’s not particularly festive when it comes to the holidays.

At closing time, sole proprietor, boss lady, and down-home cook, Delores has slipped off her God-ugly orthopedic lace-ups and donned her purple slippers. She’s been on her feet since a quarter to dawn, and the dogs are hurting puppies. While Angie dumps the dingy water and tucks in the chairs, Delores cleans the kitchen grease from her fingernails with a tarnished nail file. She squints at an old yellowed newspaper, occasionally popping wilted pea pods between her dentures, too soft to serve up and too wasteful to toss out with the trash.

“Are you going to the carnival this year?” Angie asks.

“No need.” Delores looks through the front windows, ignoring the old rain streaks. Across the paved lot, just to the other side of the train tracks, this year’s carnival sets up at the parish fairgrounds. Through the thick lenses of her bifocals, the colorful lights trimming the booths and spanning the spokes of the Ferris wheel blur into a kaleidoscope of stars. A white-suited man on stilts, graceful as a heron, hangs gold garland decked with chrysanthemum blossoms along the arch over the entrance.

“Have you ever gone?” Angie asks, her tasks done, a denim purse hanging from the crook of her elbow.

“Not since I was sixteen, the first year they came.” Delores looks at the young waitress over her glasses as a lock of white hair slips from its bun, brushing her cheek. “Honey, it’s the same carnival every year.”

“For a hundred years?” Angie asks straight-faced and then giggles.

“Not quite but close enough,” Delores replies.

“How come you don’t retire, Miss Dee?”

“And miss out on working Christmas Eve?” Delores shoos her off with a huff. “Get going and have a Merry Christmas now. I’ll see you Monday.”

Angie gives her an awkward kiss on the cheek and echoes a “Merry Christmas” before letting herself out.

As Angie’s taillights turn the corner, Delores picks up the paper and shuffles back to her closet-sized office. She rummages in the bottom drawer of her old metal desk, unearthing the small box she stashed there a year ago and leaving the paper behind. From the box, she gently lifts a snow globe the size of a plum.

Back at the counter, she places the magic ball before her, adjusting her glasses to better see the tiny carnival inside, its eternal snow blanketing the painted fairgrounds. With a sigh, she waits, tapping cracked fingernails on the counter, clicking her false teeth, and peering into the night.

The light post at the corner flickers on, attracting swirling bugs like gold dust, and an armadillo in search of insects scurries from the palmetto and arrowroot at the lot’s edge. That’s the sign she’s been waiting for, and her memory draws near.

Reverently, she shakes the globe, the tiny Ferris wheel and colorful tents caught in a swirling underwater blizzard. In the corner of her eye, Christmas lights trimming the window sparkle on. The diner shines like new, red booths without a single burn or duct-taped patch, floors pristine, the counter gleaming like a sheet of ice. A garland bearing real pinecones drapes the kitchen door. Dainty jelly-jars with sprigs of native mistletoe and sand pine adorn every table. And a Christmas stocking hangs from the counter by the register, filled with gingerbread stars she baked that morning, on sale for a nickel.

In the diner’s corner, The Dean Martin Christmas Album spins on the record player, the needle hitting the vinyl with a soft crackle and hiss. White Christmas fills the warm Gulf air.

She hears it before she sees it. A brand spanking new 1966 Mustang convertible cruises into the lot. The car with its long hood is the color of ripe cherries with a red and white pony interior and Rally wheels that shine like polished silver. The man at the wheel parks by the orange trees that border the diner and glances toward the door, looking disappointed until she hurries over and flips the sign from “Closed” to “Open.”

He smiles and steps from his car, tossing the keys and snatching them from the air like a man with a silver dollar to spend. He’s a few years older than she, maybe twenty, dark-eyed with a halo of black gypsy curls and a black leather jacket. The bells over the door jingle. “Are you open?”

“A little while. It’s Christmas Eve,” she explains, brushing back a blonde lock and fighting a blush. “I was closing, but I can get you some pie or something.”

“Coffee,” he says. “Twenty of them…in a box, if you have one.”

“Twenty?”

“For the carnival.” He gestures over his shoulder.

“I’ll have to brew a pot.” She walks behind the counter. “It’ll take a while.”

“I don’t mind waiting if you don’t,” he says.

He sits at the counter while she scoops coffee into the big percolator and Dean croons I’ll Be Home for Christmas. “Is it fun traveling so much?” she asks, turning to face him, elbows on the counter between them. “Do you ever wish you were home for Christmas?”

From his pocket, he pulls a snow globe and swirls the snow. The tiny carnival inside comes to life as the storm spins. He holds it up between their eyes. “My home,” he replies.

“The carnival,” she whispers, caught in the whirling snow. “How long you been with the carnival?”

“A hundred years,” he replies softly, his words drifting into the air like magic.

She smiles as the snow falls. “Will you stay with the carnival forever?”

“Forever if I could.” His eyes catch hers over the globe. “You sure are pretty. Are you alone?”

“Yes. I was closing.”

“Would you like to dance?”

“Dance?” She laughs. “Where? Here?”

He nods and reaches across the counter, taking her hand and guiding her to the end and into his arms. Silver Bells sings from the record player as they dance in the center of the diner floor, hand in hand, like a pair of old lovers. He plucks a sprig of mistletoe from a jar, and holding it over her head, kisses her, a first kiss that lays open her heart and seals it like the carnival in a swirling globe of snow.

“I should get back,” he says, finally letting her go.

“Oh, the coffee!” She laughs and hurries behind the counter. In minutes, the steaming coffee cups are nestled in a sturdy box. “That’ll be three dollars, please.”

“Leave the globe on the counter next Christmas Eve,” he says as he hands her four singles and cants his head toward the snow-laced carnival. “I’ll come home for Christmas.”

“For a hundred years?” she asks.

“I’ve loved you a long time already.” He kisses her sweetly and picks up the box. She holds the door open to the balmy night and watches as the red mustang crosses the track and glides under the carnival gate.

“I’ll wait for you,” she whispers and flips the sign to closed. Silent Night ends with heavenly peace, and the record player’s arm lifts.

Delores drags her feet to the office and tucks the snow globe in its box in the desk drawer. She pulls out the paper and rereads the old article about a young carnival worker killed in a Ferris wheel accident back in ‘66. David Williams. She’d never asked his name that night.

The paper slides into a plastic bag and joins the small box. Back in the front room, she switches off the old diner’s lights and steps outside to lock the door.

Across the tracks, the carnival is a radiant haze of color and light. “Merry Christmas, David. See you next year.”

 

Happy Holidays ❤