Christmas has always been a hard time for me. Childhood memories of bickering relatives, drunken tirades, and hostile dinner conversations made me wince at the mere mention of the holiday. In the Christmas of 1989, I broke my collarbone on my new toboggan. In the Christmas of 1997, my brother drove the family car into a lamppost. And in the Christmas of 2000, my Grandmother set the kitchen ablaze while attempting to cook a turkey.
But it wasn’t until the Christmas of 2008 that a real tragedy occurred.
Jennifer and I met in the Fall of 2002, engaged in the Winter of 2004, and married in the Summer of 2006. She gave birth to our son, Noah, in the Spring of 2008. This was our first Christmas together as a family. It was a beautiful new model home in a quiet neighborhood in a peaceful little town.
It was just a few days before Christmas when he broke in. I was staying late at the office before locking up for the holidays. He didn’t take anything. He didn’t move a single thing out of place. He just walked upstairs and went after her. The police called it the most senseless and animalistic act they had ever seen. And somehow with her blood painting the walls they still never managed to find the monster who did it. And I would never know why it happened.
This year was going to be a new start for us. Despite the scrooge-like demeanor I developed every year at this time, Noah loved Christmas. At almost eight years old, he didn’t have much to say. But everything he did say had to do with stories of Santa, Elves, and Reindeer.
The little scoundrel was a better sleuth than he was a conversationalist. Last year he managed to find his Christmas presents behind my tool bench in the garage. But this year his presents were going into the attic where I knew he couldn’t get to them. The midcentury home we purchased after Jennifer’s passing had much older antiquated attic stairs than our old home did.
I had just finished packing the Christmas presents when in that dusty old attic when I realized it was time for his school bus to be dropping him off. As I pushed the heavy attic staircase up I had a smirk of satisfaction. That child was not making his way up those steps.
It was December 11th. Christmas Day was still two weeks away. My parents weren’t arriving until the 18th. The holiday shopping was done. And school was now out until January. So Noah and I were going to have a few days of holiday bonding all to ourselves. This might have been the first Christmas in many years that I would truly get to enjoy.
Five nights ago, Noah stayed up a little later watching holiday specials on the television. He went to sleep around 8:30 and I went to bed shortly thereafter. It wasn’t until 11 o clock when I first heard those light footsteps scattering across the hall. I suddenly became alert as the footsteps stopped at my door. I sat up as the door slowly began to creak open.
It was Noah. I was put at ease at the sight of him. But I was a little alarmed that he was up this late. He never stayed up past 9 o clock, let alone wandered over to my room at this time.
“Noah, what are you doing out of bed this late?”
“Dad… do you believe in Santa Claus?
I was taken a little off guard by the question. But I decided to put his mind at ease.
“Yes, of course, I believe in Santa Claus. Why do you ask?”
“Okay, that’s good because he needs to know that we believe in him.”
“I know, Noah. Now go back to bed.”
He smiled before closing the door. I heard his footsteps scattering back down the hall to his bedroom as I quickly drifted off to sleep.
Four nights ago, Noah and I were making Christmas cards for the relatives who would be arriving in the following days. We had construction paper, glitter, scissors, and glue. It was quite a messy scene but I thought he deserved to have a little fun on his first day of vacation. After finishing up the cards I began to gather them all up and look them over with Noah.
“There’s one for Grandpa and Grandma, and one for Uncle John, and…”
I paused at the sight of a card addressed to no one in the family.
“Who is this card for, Noah?”
“It’s for Santa Claus. He would be really happy if we made him a card, too.”
I smirked at Noah’s thoughtfulness and added it to the pile.
Later that night I was awoken by a crashing noise. Suddenly I heard the footsteps sputtering towards my room again with more urgency.
“Noah, this is the second night in a row.”
“You still believe in Santa, right?”
“Yes. I already told you that yesterday.”
“Okay, I don’t think Santa knows that. But thanks.”
“Noah, what was that crashing noise I just heard?”
Noah shrugged his shoulders in ignorance and scurried back to his bedroom. I was too tired to argue with him. I was probably just imagining it. I drifted back to sleep.
Three nights ago, I was sitting in front of the television watching a football game while Noah was drawing with his crayons beside me. During breaks, I became increasingly curious as to what he was drawing. When he left the room I picked it up and realized it wasn’t a drawing. It was a list.
“Hey, Noah, is this your list to Santa Claus?”
“Yeah, Santa told me I have to write him one.”
“Do you think you can mail it to him in time?”
“No, I can just leave it here, and he knows what I want because he’s magic.”
I nodded at his flawless logic and handed it back to him.
Later that night I heard the scurrying of footsteps across the hall again. I was growing impatient with Noah’s sleep cycle but I was still awake reading at this time anyway. But he didn’t come into my room that night. He just stood in front of the door for a moment and ran back to his room.
Two nights ago, I decided to sit down with Noah and ask him about his late-night wandering. He suddenly became nervous when asked. But he finally uttered that he was waiting for Santa to come with his sleigh and reindeer. I couldn’t help but smile at this.
“Santa won’t be coming until Christmas though, Noah. We’ve got a few more days to wait.”
He seemingly brushed my statement off and made an odd request.
“Can we leave him some milk and cookies for when he gets hungry?”
I wasn’t going to argue with him. I’d just make him a deal.
“Alright. But if we do, you have to promise to stay in your bed after bedtime, okay?”
He nodded excitedly. But he didn’t seem as happy about Santa’s arrival as he did a few days ago. I guessed that he was getting burnt out from waiting so long.
Later that night, the scurrying of footsteps began again. At first, they were feint. But then they headed straight to my room. I was more than a little upset at this point as my door opened.
“Noah, I thought I told you to stay in bed.”
“He came and ate them, dad.”
“The milk and cookies. Santa came.”
I marched downstairs and had to admit I was surprised to see the milk and cookies gone. But this wasn’t a difficult trick to pull off, either. I was done with this game.
“Noah, Santa isn’t coming until next week. And if you keep making up stories and getting out of bed, he’s not coming at all. Do you understand?”
Noah’s face turned to tears as he ran back up to his room and shut the door. I didn’t want to be so mean. But there was only so much foolishness I could take at this time.
Last night, things got very weird. Noah did not speak to me for most of the day. I finally apologized and told him just to stop making up stories. He seemed to be focusing elsewhere though. I didn’t like the disrespectful attitude he was developing.
“Would you like to tell the truth about who ate the milk and cookies last night?”
He just pouted at me with an angry look. He ran back to his room and came back with a folded piece of construction paper. I thought this was his apology. That was until he spoke.
“This is a card from Santa. He told me to give this to you.”
I finally lost it. I took the card and crumpled it up without even bothering to read it. I threw it into the trash bin right in front of Noah.
“Noah, I don’t know what’s gotten into you, but Christmas is going to be canceled if you don’t stop with these stupid little games. What do you want from me?”
“I want my mom and dad to be back together!”
He once again rushed off to his room in tears. I felt guilty for managing to make him cry twice in two days. We never really talked about his mother. He had every right to be upset now that he was older and was beginning to understand her absence.
I let him cool down for a while. I decided to let him sleep in my room both to comfort him and to keep an eye on him. It wasn’t until 11 o clock last night that he once again woke up.
“Dad… it’s time.”
I was angry at being awoken at this hour again, but decided to be patient with Noah.
“Time for what, Noah?”
“Santa has a surprise waiting for us downstairs.”
I was beginning to get a little nervous at Noah’s delusions. But I finally decided to play along. Noah dragged me downstairs and into the living room. When I saw it for myself I quickly became scared for a different reason altogether.
The tree was lit up and all the presents from the attic were laid around the tree.
“Noah, how did you get all these down here?”
“I didn’t do it, dad… Santa did.”
The hairs on my back began to stand on end. There was no way Noah could’ve lifted all these gifts or even gotten into the attic to find them.
“And how did Santa get into the attic to get them?”
Noah turned to me and meekly replied, “He’s been living up there all week, dad. He made me promise to keep it a secret.”
My jaw dropped as I tried to remain cool.
“… Is Santa still in the house?”
Noah paused for a moment before answering.
“No, he said he had to leave after you found your surprise. And after you read his letter.”
My breathing became heavy as I started to panic in fear. I rushed across the house towards the wastebasket. I pulled out the crumpled letter I had thrown there earlier and opened it.
The front of the card was written in eloquent handwriting.
“All you want for Christmas…”
I slowly opened the inside of the letter. I almost burst into tears at the sight of it.
It was a picture of Jennifer and Me. Taken days before her death. Written in blood across the picture was:
“Together again. Soon.”
My hands were shaking. I couldn’t even move. He was back. And he was going to finish what he started.
On the back of the card, there was no blood. There was no ominous message. Just one simple little line.
“Ho… Ho… Ho…”
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