After a month off from all non-NaNoWriMo-related writing, I’m ready to get back to business. And that means #fridayflash! Now that it’s December, I present to you a little Christmas story, inspired by an idea my sister gave me this afternoon. I hope you enjoy.
THE SEARCH FOR SANTA
Michael stared out the window as the bus drove him home. Usually one of the rowdiest of the bunch, he was completely oblivious to the furor around him. Today Michael had more serious matters than elementary hijinks on his 10-year-old mind.
The topic at school that day had been “Holiday Traditions Around the World,” and it had always proven popular with the kids leading up to the holiday break. Indeed, this year was no exception, except for Michael, who proved the rule.
As soon as Michael walked through the door, his mother could tell something was wrong. “What happened?” she asked, going to him and helping with his coat in that overly worried sort of way mothers do.
“We talked about Santa today,” Michael said, looking up at her with a grimace that he felt should explain everything.
His mother looked at him as if she’d been expecting this somehow, and she sighed and pulled him into a hug. Michael tolerated the hug for a few seconds and then pulled away. “Why is Santa different everywhere?” he asked.
“What?” his mother replied.
“Mrs. Dunning says he’s called Père Noël in France, and he goes around with Black Pete, and Black Pete gives bad kids coal. But Black Pete doesn’t come here.”
“And in Austria and Germany and some other places he’s called Kris Kringle, and he’s a little angel.”
“That’s because… Um…”
Michael looked at his mother with increasing frustration. “And sometimes he’s called Father Christmas, and sometimes he’s called St. Nicholas, and sometimes he wears all fur, and sometimes he wears all red. He always comes down our chimney, but Ryan says they don’t have a chimney and so he just comes in the front door. And in some places he leaves stuff in shoes. Shoes, Mom!”
His mother simply stood there, mouth opening and closing, but nothing coming out. Michael huffed, grabbed his backpack, and stomped his way into the family office where the computer was located. He sat down and pulled out the sheet of traditions his teacher had given him, the source of all his angst, and placed it next to the keyboard with the precision of a scientist. He would get to the bottom of this mess, with or without his mother’s help.
Hours passed, and his focus never wavered. His mother brought him dinner, but it remained untouched. His father tried to convince him to give up his search, at least for the night, but, having no more answers than his mother, Michael refused him. Darkness fell, and the house grew quiet. Soon only the glow of the computer screen illuminated the room. Finally, fatigue began to gnaw at him, and he allowed himself a yawn. The handout was now covered in notes, none of which had helped shed any light on the situation. If anything, poor Michael was even more inundated than before, as the internet — even one with parental controls on — had much more to say about Santa Claus than any of his peers or teachers.
Michael leaned forward and rested his chin on his crossed arms. His eyes drifted to a picture frame on his father’s desk. It was from three Christmases ago, and his mother put it out every holiday season. In it, almost too big for such a thing, he sat on the lap of a white-bearded man in a red suit — a man whom Michael had thought was Santa — while his parents stood proudly on either side. He’d been so certain in that picture, but now here he was, full of doubts. If Santa had so many names and behaved so differently around the world, perhaps he wasn’t even real at all. He’d heard other kids proclaim this, of course, but he’d always thought them fools. The thought that perhaps he had been the fool all along was enough to bring tears to his heartbroken eyes. He closed them and buried his head in his arms.
Had the tap on his shoulder not been so gentle, he might have screamed. He turned around slowly, ready to admit defeat to whichever parent had come to shuttle him off to bed. But the tap had not come from a parent. In front of his very eyes stood — well, it couldn’t have been anyone else — Santa Claus. Somehow, he looked exactly as Michael would have imagined and also like nothing he’d ever dreamed. Michael opened his mouth to speak, to ask, to cry out in happiness, and then, perhaps, in anger at all the confusion for which this man was obviously responsible. But before he could get a word out, Santa put a finger to his lips.
“Never stop searching,” he heard Santa say.
Michael leapt out of his chair and embraced the jolly old man with all the relief and thankfulness of a child who has just had hope renewed. As much as Michael wanted to beg Santa to stay, for some reason he knew he couldn’t. He watched with both longing and joy as he disappeared into the night, and then he turned back to the computer, his determination to find out as much as he could renewed.
His parents found him asleep the next morning at the computer. Seconds after they had tenderly shaken him awake, he launched into his story, sparing no detail nor enthusiasm. His parents nodded patiently and smiled patronizingly, and even though they never said it, he could tell that they thought it had been nothing more than a dream. But Michael knew better.
© 2009 Elizabeth Ditty