Part I: The Snow Fort
Christmas was always a whimsical time for young Christopher. For as long as he could remember, Santa Claus came down the chimney, left gifts, ate cookies, drank coco, and fed his reindeer. Then, he was gone without a trace left behind, with the exception of maybe some crumbs and some hoof prints. The time of year was mystical to Christopher, and he loved it so.
Just like any other child, Christopher was also obsessive when it came to catching Santa in the act. Oh, how he would boast to his friends when he finally captured a photo of Santa climbing out of his fireplace, or film of flying reindeer. He yearned for the opportunity, and this year, his desire was particularly singular.
You see, Christopher had an ingenious plan. There was no chance of it failing. His attempts in earlier years (four to be exact) had taught him what simply would not do. There would be no trying to stay awake, listening for sleigh bells, or setting up a video camera in front of the fireplace. No, Mr. Claus was just too clever for that.
This year, Christopher would hide outside, in the snow. After his parents went to sleep, he would take his father’s thermos, with his own hot coco, and hide in the snow-fort he and his brother built in the yard. That would be the last thing Santa expected! As for staying awake, he was sure he could do it. After all, he was nine now, and he knew how hard it was to sleep on Christmas Eve, anyway. But, he didn’t want to take any chances. So, he would take some fishing line from the garage and tie it to the fireplace door handle, then unwind it all the way to the snow-fort. That way, if he somehow fell asleep, the string would tug on him when Santa opened the fireplace door. When Santa finally appeared, he would get everything recorded on his older brother’s cell phone. Voila!
With bedtime on Christmas Eve, Christopher went to his room to feign sleep until his parents had gone to bed. He lay there for what seemed time without end, until finally he heard the master bedroom door creak shut at the end of the hall. He lay there another half hour or so, ensuring all was quiet, and then crept out from under his quilts. He dressed, took the thermos and fishing line that he had pilfered before, and slunk down the stairs, careful to avoid the dreaded creak in the third step from the top.
The front door was the final test, getting it open and closed behind him without making too much of a racket. Starting to sweat a bit in his coveralls, he held his breath until he had closed the door behind him, and no lights had come on upstairs. He walked backward to the fort, unwinding the fishing line, and then finally breathed deeply when he sat down inside. At last!
Christopher sat waiting for about an hour before he felt the sleepiness creeping in. He fought it, but he ultimately lost. He leaned over and went to sleep in the snow, depending on his fishing line to wake him.
Two hours later, around two in the morning, Christopher felt a tug. At first, his brain translated it to some fuzzy sensation deep in dreamland, but eventually his subconscious jolted him with real life. He bolted upright, fumbling for the cell phone, heart pounding. He slowly poked his head around the door of the snow fort.
Two people, dressed in black, stood at Christopher’s front door.
He froze, unable to think, but somehow knowing that these two were up to no good. Fright overwhelmed him, he wet himself, and he fainted, face-down in the snow.
He awoke a few minutes later to the sound of his mother’s screams.
Part II: Fractals
Chris (not Christopher since his parent’s murder) had not spoken to his brother, Jonathan, in almost a year. Two decades had passed since that Christmas, and no matter how hard Chris tried, the two just could not get along for more than a few days at a time.
Jonathan had awoken in the middle of the night that Christmas to get a snack downstairs, and on his way down the hall noticed that Chris was out of bed. He made his way downstairs, expecting to see his brother on the couch, endeavoring to catch St. Nick as he always had. That was when the front door creaked open, and two dark clad men sidled through the front door. He ran as fast as he could back up the stairs to his cell phone to call 911, only to find it missing.
Naturally, Jonathan blamed Chris for everything after that. The two men had come upstairs while Jonathan hid under some clothes in his closet hamper. He heard his mother’s screams and was too scared to come out. He heard the men leave (with jewelry, etc.), and went to check his parents…he could not, would not re-visualize that scene. He staggered downstairs and found Chris, in the kitchen, a blank look on his face and smelling like urine. Jonathan snatched the phone from him and dialed 911.
Years of therapy and foster homes later, Jonathan had not found it in his heart to forgive Chris. It was his fault that Jonathan could not call for help. His fault that the front door was unlocked. Jonathan couldn’t be in Chris’ presence very long without reminding him.
Recently, Chris and Jonathan had agreed to meet for lunch. Jonathan was wary of the meeting but his wife, Molly, insisted that he had an obligation- Chris was family. So there they sat, in a greasy spoon diner eating fried food that would surely shorten their lives in some capacity. In the way that awkward small talk does, the brothers found themselves talking about vacations.
“The wife and I want to get away this weekend, as a matter of fact, but we can’t find a baby sitter. We can go another time.” Jonathan said.
“I could watch the kids for the weekend, I’m home. Haven’t seen them in a while anyway.” Chris offered, over-eagerly trying to buy some sort of approval, as always.
Jonathan didn’t stop to think about what he said next.
“I wouldn’t be comfortable with that.” He stated, abruptly.
Chris looked Jonathan in the face, anguish filling his eyes with glassy hurt. He wiped his mouth, stood, left twenty dollars on the table, and exited the diner.
That was how they had left it…Jonathan making a snippy remark and Chris solemnly walking out of an already shaky lunch meeting. Chris had looked at him like a puppy at a rolled newspaper. Jonathan hadn’t been able to face him again since.
Meanwhile, Chris tried to move on with his remedial life.
Oh how he’d hated watching his mother and father being lowered into the cold ground on a grey, snowy day in January. His brother would not look him in the eye. The lady from CPS that smelled like hair spray and cigarettes wouldn’t even hold his hand. What was going to happen to him? Would he and his brother be separated? How come Santa had never appeared- he was partially to blame for being late.
He had fallen asleep in the snow and woken up without parents.
Now back from the awkward lunch, as he sat in his cubical at his dead end job for kids-without-parents-that-grew-up-to-be-adults-without-parents, he pondered the last twenty years of his life. He punched numbers and symbols into a monotonous spreadsheet for Sentinel Home Security as he spiraled down into his regret and resentment, traipsing a snowflake of repeating fault, despair, and longing.
Christopher was robbed of experiencing joy at Christmastime ever again. His brother hated him, and for what? Because a jolly fat man had disappointed him year after year. He could not be trusted. To make matters worse, everyone thought it was his fault. They had even tried to tell him Santa was a fake, that he did not exist. They insisted, but that simply could not be true. If it was, Christopher had deprived his parents the chance to live. No, Santa was no saint. Just a man that perpetually lets people down.
After the murders, Santa stopped visiting Christopher. Home after home, never again did he receive anything he put on his list. Eventually, he quit making them. He added Santa to another list- a list of people that had abandoned him. He despised the phonetic parallel between his name and Kris Kringle.
Eventually, Chris figured out that mentioning disdain for Santa earned him quizzical looks from…well…everyone. He learned that most thought of Santa as a myth for children, incapable of causing any harm. But how they were wrong- Santa Claus had caused the death of his parents. He was an arcane, evil man.
Day after day, Chris sat in his ringlet of blame and desperation for people to understand. More than anything, he wanted Jonathan to comprehend, to forgive him for a crime he had never really committed.
As he trudged home one November evening in the curbside slush, he passed what may have been the last window shop on earth. In it, a 4K television played How the Grinch Stole Christmas, in all of its Suessian majesty. The idea practically slapped him in the face, with all of the grandiosity that the season could muster.
Part III: Making Christmas
So simple it was, the notion of imitating Santa Claus, yet so brilliant. Chris would have no problem emulating the man. No, not emulating, but embellishing. A suit was easy to come by, and if he started out small, it would be rather inexpensive. Money wasn’t even really an issue, since Chris hadn’t spent much expect for necessities. Grandiose, but, oh, the joy he would bring! Children and adults everywhere would be convinced of what Chris already knew.
What’s more, he could start with Jonathan’s children! This would inevitably kill two birds with one stone, as long as Chris could keep his own secret! He would simply sneak in on Christmas Eve, leave gifts, and Jonathan would be forced into believing that Santa had left them. This would prove Chris’s claim that their parent’s death was caused by Santa, because he was real. It was infallible! All that was left was to find a suit and decide what Michael and Samantha wanted. The latter would require a bit of reconnaissance.
So, for two weeks Chris used his lunch break to drive his dying-but-not-yet-dead Impala past Jonathan’s house. Each time, he would check his surroundings for onlookers, and then quickly open the mailbox to search it for Samantha and Michaels’ letters to Santa. Each time, he would be disappointed. Chris had almost given up when, finally, he opened the box to find a white envelope, addressed in a child’s handwriting to the North Pole, with a Claymation Rudolph stamp on the wrong side. He quickly pilfered it, and returned to his apartment, brimming with pride for his master plan.
The contents of the letter broke Chris’s heart, but re-affirmed the need for his mission-
My dad wood be so mad if he fownd this leter. He says you arnt real and that yore just a way for adults to not cept responbulity. But I beleeve in you. I am only 5 years old but I no sumthing happened to dad when he was little. So for this Chrismas I just want something to prove yore real. Anything will be fine, I just want him to feel beter.
Chris’ eyes brimmed with tears, and he knew that he had to do this thing for the kids, as well as Jonathan. He had to do something to assuage the pain Santa was causing this family.
Part IV: There’s a Light On This Tree
At last, Christmas Eve had arrived. Chris laid the suit out on his bed along with the gifts he would leave Samantha and Michael, an Easy Bake Oven and a Creepy Crawlers kit, both purchased at a vintage toy convention with cash. Chris thought the vintage nature of the toys were a nice touch…who else but Santa could acquire such things?! He also knew he needed the anonymity of cash…no one would ever be able to prove it was him. Yes, he would put the fat man to shame. A few hours from now, the kids would wake up and exclaim their excitement, while his brother accepted that Chris was expunged of any blame.
Around midnight, Chris put on the suit, and loaded the packages into his car. He drove the ten minutes to Jonathan’s neighborhood, and parked a hundred yards down the street, avoiding the risk of his car being seen and recognized. He gathered the kids’ packages, and walked briskly down the street, careful to avoid the halo of the one street light in his path.
He approached Jonathan’s house from the side yard, avoiding the eyes of any night-owl neighbors who may still be up. He peeked through the side window, and found himself gazing into the dining room, through which he could see the living area, devoid of any children staying up to catch the man that Chris now considered a charlatan. Yes, now Chris was the real deal. Santa would soon find himself obsolete.
Then came the most critical moment of the entire operation- gaining entry. Once again, Chris had planned well, and also benefited from his obvious destiny. Having worked for the security company, he had sold Jonathan his security system at a steep discount in a previous attempt to buy reconciliation. It hadn’t worked, but it had provided Chris with the knowledge that to save money, the back windows had not been wired into the system. After assuring that no one remained awake in the house, Chris slunk around to the back and started popping off screens and testing window locks. He was beginning to get nervous that he would have to break one, when the second to last slid open.
“And he blames me for leaving the door unlocked.” Chris mumbled quietly.
The rest was easy. He closed the window behind him, found his way to the living area and started to place the gifts. Then he heard the gasp.
Chris wheeled around towards the hallway to the bedrooms and found Samantha there, standing with an empty cup (how Suessian!). In full Santa garb, he waited without breathing to see if he would be recognized.
“Santa?” Samantha questioned, as she rubbed an eye.
“Why yes, little one,” he smoothed, “that would be me.”
“I didn’t think you were real…wha-“
“It’s okay, Samantha! Not many do anymore, but I’m happy to have changed your mind!” Chris interrupted.
Chris again waited with no breath.
“Me too.” Samantha said, wide-eyed and apparently struggling to find the right things to say to a mythical being.
Chris resumed breathing again, the adrenaline fading, as he began to think of how to get Samantha back to bed so he could finish his plan. But just then, perhaps the single most unfortunate wardrobe malfunction since that one Superbowl took place.
As the adhesive beard fell from Chris’s face, compromised by the fight-or-flight sweat, Samantha’s jaw dropped open.
“Uncle Chris?!” she exclaimed.
“Shhhhhhhhh!” Chris held his finger to his mouth as he shushed her, the adrenaline surging back. He thought quickly, desperate to preserve his masterpiece.
Part V: Run Run Rudolph
So Chris resolved to take her. He did not consider the consequence. All Chris could think is that if Samantha told her father what she saw, his plan would unravel.
“Yeah, Sam, its me…why aren’t you in bed?” he had asked.
“I heard a noise. Daddy tells us that Santa isn’t real but I thought maybe he was wrong. But it’s just you.”
The lie came to his lips as a final piece of a puzzle that locks in with its comrades. Destiny again, Chris thought.
“Oh but Sam,” Chris whispered, “Your Dad says all that stuff so that no one suspects…I am Santa Claus!”
Samantha’s face showed the delight that only an eight year old could. Chris didn’t have to try very hard.
“If you can keep a secret…I’ll take you to see the reindeer, right now.” He cooed.
Samantha nodded with the enthusiasm of a hummingbird sipping Coca-Cola. So Chris took her by the hand, and led her outside, back through the window he’d entered through. He had to keep the plan together, for Michael, and for Jonathan. He took the gift for Samantha with them, thinking that perhaps an Easy Bake Oven would be a good distraction for her as he calculated.
He led her down the walk to the car, again careful to avoid the street lamp. Samantha, of course, kept asking why there weren’t any reindeer and why he hadn’t used the chimney. Chris absentmindedly kept saying he didn’t always use either as he tried to bring some sort of plan B into focus. The easily procured contentment of an eight year old once again saved him. He got Samantha into the car and began to carefully navigate the freshly plowed streets back to his apartment.
Once there, he told Samantha that because she had seen him, plans for the evening had changed. He would have his elves finish up for him this year, and it was important that she be patient, because they wouldn’t be able to return for a day or two to retrieve them and take them back to the North Pole. He gave her the Easy Bake Oven, and left her in his tiny living room while he went into the bathroom. His plan was beginning to coalesce.
Chris grabbed several of the Xanax tablets he had leftover behind his mirror from his years of psychiatry visits and used a glass to smash them into powder on the counter top. He scooped the powder into the now empty pill container, and pocketed it. No way would Samantha cooperate when he started driving her out of town.
Next, he went to the closet and opened his small Wal-Mart bought safe. In it, he kept a large sum of cash, wary of the next time the economy crashed and the banks screwed everyone…he was in security after all. He would withdraw what was in his accounts later; the banks would be closed on Christmas anyway.
He went to the tap and filled a glass with water. He poured in the powdered Xanax and stirred as he took it into the main room. Samantha was still trying to figure out how to use the oven, not realizing that the brownie mixes that came with it were long expired. He offered the water.
“Just realized I interrupted you before you got your water earlier.” Chris said, with the sweetest voice he could muster.
“Oh thanks!” Samantha said.
As she drank, she paused occasionally to ask questions about the North Pole. How many elves were there? How do reindeer fly? How long does it take to make the gifts? Chris had a smooth answer for each, pandering to her as she finished the cocktail. Finally, the glass empty, he took it and returned to the kitchen. He busied himself with packing and mapping his route to Canada while he waited for the drugs to take effect. About thirty minutes later, he peeked around the corner from the kitchen to the living room, and smiled as he found Samantha sleeping soundly on the floor.
He hoisted her over his shoulder (just like Santa and his sack!) and took her to the car. He returned once more for the suitcase he had packed with all of the essentials. Taking one more look around to the apartment he knew he would never see again, he found comfort in knowing he was doing the right thing.
The car pointed north, Chris had a long drive to the Canadian border. He would have to cross three states to get there, but he needed to get as far as he could before anyone realized Samantha was missing. Jonathan and the rest of his family would probably be waking in the next couple of hours and be terribly upset, to say the least.
But wait! Oh, how could he have been so stupid?! What would Jonathan think if Chris had disappeared at the same time his daughter had? No, that simply would not do. He would certainly be suspected then, whether or not Michael’s gift did its job. No, he had to have a talk with Samantha, get her to understand.
He brought the car back around to the south. His plan required he be present, as if nothing had happened. But could he really depend on an eight year old to keep his secret? Chris thought not. He hated how complex this had all become. And then, another thought came to him.
In the past, Chris had experienced a lot of short-term memory loss when he took the Xanax. In fact, that’s why he’d quit taking it. What if it had the same effect on Samantha? Even if it didn’t, what if he could get her back into her own bed while she was knocked out? Then, anything she did remember was just a very vivid dream. Short of keeping Samantha hidden somewhere, it was the only way out he saw that still achieved the effect he wanted.
It would be close but Chris had to get Samantha back into her bed. He sped back to Jonathan’s neighborhood, arriving just before five o’clock in the morning. He took Samantha out of the back seat, and moved as quickly as he could back to the back window. He went first, and pulled Samantha in behind him. Jeez, Chris thought, she was really out. He took her down the hall as hastily as he could while still being silent, and placed her in her bed. As he left, he took one look back, the pride of a job well done swelling in his chest.
Part VI: Ghost of Christmas Past
At seven o’ clock on Christmas Day, Michael sat bolt upright in his bed, looked outside at the growing light of morning, and hopped across the hall to his sister’s room.
“Sammy, get up, it’s Christmas!” he exclaimed.
There was no response from Samantha. Michael pulled the blanket back, shaking her. When she didn’t budge, even Michael’s young mind knew something was amiss. He tried for a few more seconds, and noticed how stiff Samantha was, like she was frozen. As fear began to take over, he ran as fast as his short, coverall pajama clad legs would take him to his parents’ bedroom.
“Daddy! Mommy! Sammy is sick, she wont’ get up!” he cried, as he shook Jonathan awake.
“Wh….What?” Jonathan yawned, as he came out of a deep sleep.
Michael continued to share his dismay, Jonathan never really thinking anything was wrong until he got his glasses on and saw the look on his son’s face. After that, instinct took over, and he leapt out of the bed.
“Molly, wake up, something’s wrong.” he yelled, as he strode to the door and down the hall to his daughter’s room.
He entered Samantha’s room, and knew from her color something was gravely awry. He did what any parent would, shaking her. When that didn’t work, he checked for breathing. There was none.
“Molly, call 9-1-1!!!” his voice cracked, as he started doing chest compressions.
Part VII: And to All a Good Night
Chris got a phone call around noon on Christmas Day, coming out of the sleep of a full night’s work. His sister-in-law spoke as he muttered a hello.
“Chris, something awful has happened,” she sobbed, and after a long pause she finished, “Michael found Samantha in her bed this morning…she died in her sl- sl- sleep.” She broke down as she finished her thought.
Chris sat bolt upright, his hand over his mouth. What had he done?
It only took a moment for him to realize his error. The Xanax was too much. He’d euthanized her. Tears began running down his face.
“Oh my God, Molly…”
Yet, the self-preservation instinct was strong. He had to lie if he wanted his plan to work, and there was still hope it would. Eventually, Michael would realize that he had a gift from Santa, and so would Jonathan. He’d been careful, and his only loose end had been silenced forever, albeit unintentionally.
“What happened, Molly?! Is Michael okay??” he asked.
And so it went.
A week later, Chris walked into the wake for Samantha, not having to fake sadness- he had loved her dearly. But she had died for the greater good. Yes, this would be painful for some time to everyone, but the intended outcome of his design had already started to take hold.
Jonathan had let Michael open his gifts as a distraction. He didn’t know what to make of it. Michael, of course, was convinced it came from Santa. Jonathan was not. Chris overheard him talking about it with some family friends in a hushed tone. He approached cautiously.
“Jonathan…I…” Chris couldn’t finish.
Jonathan stared at him a moment, Chris seeing what was coming. He had made a terrible miscalculation.
‘WAS THIS YOU???” Jonathan bellowed, grabbing Chris by the tie.
“Wha- what?? What do you mean?” Chris stammered, retreating.
Several attendees rushed in to pull Jonathan from Chris, Jonathan screaming about the gift, and how he knew Chris had somehow been involved.
“EXPLAIN THE GIFT, CHRIS!!!” he kept screaming, falling to his knees.
Chris cowered, and he fled outside. Molly chased him.
“Chris, I’m so sorry…he’s just in so much pain…we both are.” She said.
“It’s okay, Molly…he’s always hated me.” Chris replied.
Molly looked at him, heart broken not only for her daughter but for Chris as well. She watched him walk to his car, and then went back inside.
Another few days went by, and Chris went back to his life. His co-workers sent condolences, his desk covered in cards and flowers each day when he came in. Slowly, he thought, things would turn out how he liked. Jonathan would see no other explanation. Santa would be real, and Chris would receive the forgiveness he’d purchased with Samantha’s life.
His desk phone rang. It was Molly again.
“Chris, the police took Jonathan in for questioning this morning. I don’t know what to do” She deadpanned, clearly in some sort of shock.
The autopsy on Samantha had been completed. Of course, her blood had been tested, and the Xanax had been there in gratuitous amounts. Unbeknownst to Chris, Jonathan also had a prescription for Xanax.
In the end, the police decided they didn’t have enough to actually arrest anyone. Jonathan and Molly didn’t seem the type to intentionally poison their children, and no one could ask Samantha if she’d taken them on her own. Also, there was the question of the unexplained gift, lending credence that there had been an intruder. Jonathan did eventually come off of accusing Chris, telling him that despite their differences, he knew Chris loved the children and wouldn’t hurt them on purpose. The police canvased everyone living on the street, to no avail. Chris had been thorough, and lucky.
That February, Chris was invited over for coffee, Jonathan softened by his grief and Molly still pushing for the brothers to have a relationship. They sat in the living room, Michael on the floor playing with his Hot Wheels. Eventually, inevitably, the conversation turned to Samantha.
“I still can’t sleep, knowing someone was in this house and no one will do anything about it.” Jonathan said, quietly to avoid Michael overhearing.
He heard anyway.
“Someone was here, daddy,” he said, without even looking up from his toys, “Santa did it. Santa hurt Samantha.”
Oh how perfect, Chris thought.
Credit : Pen_Phantom13
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