I couldn’t be more excited to type that headline in! I entered at Christmas writing competition on the Writer Writer website, and I won! The story was posted yesterday on Christmas, which means I can now post it here for all you lovely people to read.
The story was originally posted here on the Writer Writer site.
All I Want for Christmas
There was nothing special about the sight in front of him. In fact, the very same scene could be found across the country, if not the entire world. The dull roar of the crowds blended with the cries of children and a contemporary holiday track. Dazzling decorations glittered from every conceivable surface, and the large, fake tree stood watch over the large, fake Santa beneath its boughs in the center of the mall.
He’d given a small shake of his head at the merry, “Ho, ho, ho!” and moved along to find the bench he’d been using since the mall had opened thirty years ago. It was tucked away in a corner, out of direct line of sight, but with a perfect people-watching vantage. The years he managed to circle back to this particular part of this particular country, he was always amazed they hadn’t commandeered the spot for a vending machine or trash can, but luck was with him again this year.
He sat down, getting himself settled for however long he needed to be there. It varied from place to place and year to year. At times he’d sit for hours on end, while others he needed less than an hour. Once he was comfortable, or as comfortable as one could get on the benches in a mall, he started watching the crowds. People were bustling along, trying to get the rest of their shopping done in the last week leading up to Christmas. Others were strolling through, having completed their holiday tasks and were out enjoying the atmosphere.
There was a certain magic in the air around Christmastime, and most people fed into it, and were fed by it. There was only so much one man could do, and though magic was surely a powerful force, it was far more efficient than people were led to believe. Reinforcing an idea that was already present—parents buying gifts for their children by proxy for Santa—was far more plausible than a man riding around the world in a sleigh pulled by flying reindeer.
As he sat, he smiled kindly behind his long white beard and curled mustache at the children who walked by, their eyes going wide as they tugged on the sleeves of their parents’ jackets. They’d point at him and whisper, and the parents, catching sight of him, would smile. He’d play along and wave, sometimes throwing in a little wink for the kids who didn’t get the attention of their parents, as though to say; ‘This is our little secret.’ He wasn’t wearing the traditional Santa garb like the one sitting under the tree, but the red plaid and black buckled boots were enough to set the tone. People saw what they wanted to.
Or what they didn’t want to.
Some people were jaded, seeing only the commercialism, when in reality the holiday season was about giving, and helping fellow beings on the planet all shared. Others were never up to feeling the holiday cheer, no matter how much he tried to encourage it with his presence.
“I don’t know why we’re here.”
“Because you promised your son you’d take him to see Santa. I don’t want to be here anymore than you!”
The snippet of conversation caught his attention. Away from the main thoroughfare, not far from where he was sitting, a couple were arguing. It wasn’t an uncommon scene this time of year. Holidays were stressful, he knew that, with people pushing themselves and their budgets to try and make the holidays the best they could for their children. However, that wasn’t the case here.
“He can’t hold me to things I’ve said while I’m drinking, I told him that. He did this on purpose.”
“You shouldn’t be drinking any—”
There was a tug at his sleeve. Startling just a bit, he looked down at a small, thin boy with large, somber brown eyes. His clothes were worn, and barely enough to keep the cold air outside from cutting through them. His head was covered by an old, grey beanie, and there was a smudge of dirt on his left cheek.
“Hello,” he said, smiling kindly to the boy.
“Are you Santa?” the boy asked, his quiet voice trembling but serious.
“What do you think?” the man asked, his eyes twinkling as the corner of his mouth was tugged almost into a full smile.
The boy considered him for a moment, looking him over from head to toe. After a long moment, during which his parents were oblivious to anything except their argument, he nodded.
“I know I’m not supposed to ask for things,” the boy said in a tenuous whisper that broke the man’s heart, “but if you’re Santa, then it’s okay, right?”
“Of course,” the man said immediately. “It’s the rule. Anyone can ask Santa for anything, no matter who they are.”
The boy looked down at his feet. “Even bad children?” The question was meek and fearful, as though he expected the man turn him away for admitting to such a thing.
“May I ask you a question?” The boy looked up from beneath his lashes, not able to make direct eye contact, and nodded. “Have you tried your best to be good this year? Your very best?” he asked, his gentle words slowly coaxing the boy to look him in the eye.
The boy hesitated for a moment, considering the question, but finally gave the man a slow nod. “I have tried my hardest, yes.”
“Then that is all I can expect. No one is perfect; everyone makes mistakes,” he said, wanting nothing more than to give the boy a hug, but refraining. “Now, what did you want to ask for?” he asked cheerfully, getting back to business.
“I-I just want my parents to be happy,” the boy said, and looked over his shoulder at the two, who were now screaming at each other and attracting quite a crowd.
The man’s mouth curved down and his eyes lost a fraction of their sparkle. The boy’s request caused his heart to clench, and he had to swallow against the tears threatening to overtake him.
“Do you know how to keep a secret?” he asked the boy. The man already knew the answer, of course, otherwise the child would not still be with the two ‘adults’ he came here with.
The boy’s face was serious as he nodded, his eyes alert and ready.
The man motioned for him to come a little closer, and he whispered: “Well, did you know one of the stories about Santa got something wrong?”
The boy’s eyes went wide. “What story?” he asked, curious and eager.
“Well, I don’t actually have elves working for me,” he said, his voice grave as he conveyed this groundbreaking information.
The boy gasped. “Really?”
The man nodded. “Really. Have you ever heard the story of Peter Pan and Neverland?” At the boy’s nod, he continued: “Well, my workshop is something like that. I take special little boys and girls to the North Pole, and they help me make toys for all the children in the world, and they stay young forever. That’s why they think they’re elves; they never grow up!” he said, and grinned.
The boy let out a small, surprised burst of laughter. “That’s so cool!” he said.
The man nodded. “Yes, it is. Now,” he paused, and looked around. The parents were still going at it, now with a large crowd who had their cell phones out, recording the whole fiasco. “Each year I choose a new boy or girl to come and join me at the North Pole. Only one a year. If you’d like, I think you just might fit in very well at my workshop with the other boys and girls.”
The boy’s eyes went wide again, and his mouth dropped open. “You-you’d pick me?” he asked, incredulous.
The man smiled, his eyes warm as fresh gingerbread. “Of course.”
The boy opened his mouth to say something, but stopped, and looked back over his shoulder. “Do you think it would make my parents happy if I went with you?” he asked, his hesitant whisper back.
The man pondered before he spoke. “Some people are never happy, no matter what. I can’t say whether you leaving would make them happier, but if none of you are happy now, maybe knowing that you’re safe and happy with me would help them,” he said.
The boy turned back to the man. “You’d let them know where I’ve gone?”
“I can’t tell them that, exactly, but I can let them know that you’re safe, and in a better place. Would that work?”
“Yeah, I think that would work,” he said.
Mall security was coming to the scene, trying to break things up, and one of them was calling over their walkie talkie for someone to contact the police.
“Are we leaving now?” he asked the man.
The man stood up, and held his hand out to the boy. “I think that would be best.” As they walked away the man spoke again; “There’s something I have to do with you first. A kind of magic, to make sure your parents don’t get in trouble for you running off, and to make sure you can go to the North Pole, but you have to trust me. Okay?” he asked the boy.
The boy nodded and smiled wide. “Okay. I trust you, Santa.”
The man smiled back. “Good.”
Christmas Tragedy: Missing boy found, deceased, in park near mall
Five days after missing boy, Ethan Taylor, disappeared from the Governor Square Mall, police K9 units found his body in Hall Park. Though the police aren’t sharing many details at this time, they did disclose that foul play was involved, and would be launching a full investigation.
Though he’d been missing for five days, a delay in his search occurred due to the arrest of his parents, followed by a freak blizzard that shocked the local weatherman and residents alike.
An investigation is also being put in motion regarding complaints against the parents and the boy’s home life, as many who knew the family are leveling abuse allegations their way.
“It’s such a tragedy,” the boy’s grandmother said, through tears. “To have to live like he did, and then to be killed.”
When asked how the family were doing, all she had to say was:
“All we can hope is that he’s in a better place.”