For Christmas I would like a Dreamy Donna Doll, a new notepad to draw in, a bright blue bicycle, and a surprise. I promise I have been very good this year, as my parents will tell you. I have told them everything I want, and they promised they would get them, so please, Santa—don’t take them away! I will leave mince pies and whiskey for you, and a carrot for Rudolph, and if you want to take one of Billy’s presents, I’m sure he wouldn’t mind (he has too many already). But I didn’t get any presents last year, and I really think I’ve been good this time, so please, please leave me something.
“Have you finished your letter to Santa, Sally dear?”
Sally nodded. “Yes, Mummy. It’s all ready to leave under the tree.”
“And what about Santa’s treats?” asked Daddy.
“I had trouble pouring the whiskey,” Sally admitted, “but the mince pie is all ready for him! And the carrot for Rudolph.”
“That’s okay,” Daddy patted Sally on the head. He took the whiskey and poured two tumblers—one for Santa, one for him. Santa, it seemed, didn’t need as much.
“Run along now,” Mummy said. “You and Billy had better get into bed before Santa gets here. You know what’ll happen if he catches you out of bed!”
Sally nodded, and Billy followed her with wide eyes. Billy was only four. Together they brushed their teeth, put on their PJs, and slipped under the covers of their beds. They shared the small bedroom, which Sally was not strictly happy about, but she never complained—not once, all year.
“Mummy,” said Billy, “can you tell us the Christmas story?”
Mummy came into their bedroom, her own glass tippling around in her hand. “Do you mean the one about Harry and Santa’s helpers?” Billy nodded. “Of course, dear. It’s an important one. You remember your brother Harry, don’t you?”
Billy shook his head, but Sally had a vivid memory of a young boy, perhaps a few years older than herself, with bright orange hair and freckles covering his chin. She was certain she had once played with Harry, but it seemed so long ago, it was hard to tell the difference between memory and imagination. Was Harry real? Mummy certainly said so.
“Well, you both had an older brother Harry once, who was not nearly as well-behaved as you two darlings. And one year for Christmas, he threw an especially nasty tantrum right on Christmas Eve! Can you believe that? Well, the next morning, what should he find but that all the presents that your mummy and daddy had bought for him were gone! Yours were there, Sally” —she nodded to Sally— “and you, of course, weren’t here yet, Billy, but Harry … well, we certainly thought he had learned his lesson.”
“He didn’t though, did he, Mummy,” said Billy.
Mummy shook her head. “No, he didn’t. The very next day he threw another tantrum. And the day after, and after that. All the year long. And then, do you know what he said come the following Christmas?”
Sally, of course, knew this story by heart and knew exactly what Harry had said.
“He said, ‘I don’t believe in Santa, and I think you’re just mean old parents!’ It just broke Mummy’s heart to hear, but come Christmas morning, Sally was up, and Mummy and Daddy were up, and the presents were all there … but there was no Harry. He was gone!”
“Where did he go, Mummy?” Billy asked.
“Santa took him,” she said soberly. “He didn’t learn his lesson when his presents were taken, so Santa took him instead. And now he works for Santa, day in and day out, making the toys that you two” —she smiled at them— “are getting from your mum and dad tomorrow.”
“You mean you get the toys from Santa?” asked Billy.
“Well of course, silly. You didn’t think we got them from the toy store, did you?”
Of course they didn’t, thought Sally. That was only where spoiled children got their toys.
“All right,” said Mummy, “lights out—it’s time for a good night’s sleep. And in the morning, let’s hope all your toys are still there!”
It wasn’t long for Billy to fall fast asleep, but for a while, Sally lay awake. She had seen the boxes in silver wrapping paper under the tree, and the large package that looked suspiciously like a bicycle. She knew that last year, Santa had come and taken all her presents. She didn’t want Santa to take her away this year.
But she couldn’t sleep. Soon, she heard the familiar sounds of Mummy and Daddy going to bed, and before long there was silence all through the house. The lights on the tree blinked slowly on and off; the streetlamp outside cast an eerie glow through the window.
It was then, in the deepest, darkest part of the night, that Sally heard it: a faint jingle from above. The sounds of hoofs on the roof. A sliding through snow. Sally’s heart stopped in her throat.
Then came the sound of dust and soot falling in the chimney, and a log rolled across the parlor floor. Sally held her breath.
And then there was nothing but silence for a time. Ever so slowly, Sally began to think that perhaps Santa was gone. Perhaps she had in fact imagined the whole thing. But how could she be sure?
There was only one way to find out. With dry palms and tingling feet, Sally slid the covers off of her and crossed the carpeted floor to the bedroom door. The door had been left ajar, and she peeked out. From here she could see down the hall, but not into the parlor itself. The walls blinked on and off with the tree.
Ever so carefully, she tiptoed down the hall, back to the wall. She didn’t know why she did this; it wasn’t like Santa couldn’t take her anyway. Foot by foot, inch by inch, the parlor doorway grew closer. Finally, she peeked around the corner.
She nearly shrieked: there was Santa, big red boots and long white beard, sitting in Daddy’s armchair, whiskey in hand, staring straight at her. He was really there; he was really real! She knew she was doomed.
Santa let out a loud grunt, and stood—clearly with effort. “Ho, ho, ho,” he said softly. Sally swallowed.
“Are you little Sally?”
Sally could only nod.
“I hear you think you’ve been good this year,” he said, again in a soft, soft voice. “You think you deserve your presents.”
Sally nodded. Then she shook her head. Then she nodded again.
“Well?” asked Santa. “Which is it?”
Sally opened her mouth and shut it again. Finally, she croaked, “I … I thought I was.”
“Then why are you up so late, little Sally?”
“I couldn’t sleep.”
Santa nodded slowly. “Couldn’t sleep. Hm … very good.”
Finally, Sally plucked up the courage to ask, “Santa … have you come to take me away?”
And then, for the first time, Santa seemed suddenly kind, and he leaned down close to Sally. “Do you want me to?”
Sally shook her head.
“I don’t want to make toys for all the other girls and boys,” she whimpered.
“Is that what you think will happen?”
“That’s what happened to Harry.”
“Harry? Who’s Harry?”
“Santa?” Sally could hardly hold back the tears. “Why are you here?”
Santa bobbed his head, his beard waggling. “My dear Sally … I haven’t come for you. Oh my no, not at all! Sally … I’ve come for your parents!”
In her shock, Sally could only sputter, “Have they been naughty?”
Santa’s eyes widened, and he grinned. “Oh, so very, very naughty.”
And Santa kept his word. In the morning, the tree was still up, the stockings were hung, and all the presents were there. But there was no Mummy and no Daddy. At first, Sally was scared, but then she thought that it was somewhat more peaceful without Mummy crying that all the presents were gone, and Daddy shouting about why he had such naughty children. And the bike was a beautiful, gorgeous shade of teal. Perhaps it was better this way, she thought. Perhaps she hadn’t been naughty at all.
In the end, a new Mummy and Daddy came, and they took her and Billy and said that they would come to live with them, in a place where presents were never taken away, and bad behavior was talked about and not punished. Sally never had to pour whiskey again, and every Christmas ate all the mince pies she could stomach. She never did see her old Mummy and Daddy again and wondered if they had been put to work making toys for the children in Santa’s workshop.
She never did know what happened to Harry, though.
Chris, features writer. Raised between the soaring peaks of the Swiss Alps and the dark industrialism of northern England, beauty and darkness have been twin influences on Chris' creativity since his youth. Throughout his life he has expressed this through music, art, and literature, delving deep into the darkest parts of human nature, and finding the elegance therein. These themes are central to his current literary project, The Redemption of Erâth. A dark epic fantasy, it is a tale of the bitter struggle against darkness and despair, and an acknowledgment that there are some things the mind cannot overcome. Written from a depth of personal experience, Chris' words are touching and powerful, the hallmark of someone who has walked alone through the night, and welcomes the final darkness of the soul. However, for now, he lives in New Jersey with his wife and eleven-year-old son. You can also find him at http://satiswrites.com.
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