Santa Encounters a Nonbeliever

Progressive Santa Does His Thing

 

Santa Claus had finally had enough. As the years advanced, much of the world became increasingly antagonistic towards him, as if he was some sort of religion. The general sentiment of “believe if that works for you” was championed throughout this yuletide season. He was cast aside—a relic of an archaic world which had outgrown him. So this year, he figured he’d meet the demands of this new society. Those who believed in jolly ol’ Saint Nick would find an expertly-wrapped package from their wish list under their trees. Those who did not would not merit a Christmas Eve visit.  No more Naughty or Nice lists. No more lumps of coal. This was the new Santa. These are his stories.

***

Santa Encounters a Nonbeliever

 

A trip to the grocery store would have been great. Going on vacation would have been preferable. But having sleigh trouble on Christmas Eve? Absolutely unacceptable.

Santa tried to land on the roof of an apartment complex in downtown Bridgewater, but as he landed, one of the sleigh’s runners caught briefly on the ice and was ripped violently off the sleigh. It flew through the air and crashed onto the sidewalk below, miraculously missing any nighttime pedestrians. Santa tried to activate the emergency brakes, but was a little too late. His carriage careened into the reindeer and fell right off the roof. The reindeer were appropriately stunned, but managed to recover in time to fly high enough that the sleigh did not plummet Santa to his death. They allowed it to gently land in the alleyway below.

Santa clambered out of his seat and cursed under his breath. This would cost way too much time to repair, and he was already under a time crunch.

“You alright, boss?” Blitzen asked? The other reindeer looked similarly concerned.

“I’m fine, guys. I hope you aren’t too hurt by the sleigh ramming into you.”

“Oh, we’ll be okay. But how are we going to finish delivering these presents?”

Suddenly, a man turned into the alleyway, carrying the sleigh’s golden runner. “Hey, man. Are you okay?”

Santa looked at the man and instantly recognized him. It was Tom Barrow! He was a delightful kid who had never once found himself on the naughty list. His adult face had not changed much from youth. But Santa realized he did not see Tom’s name on his list. Tom had stopped believing in Santa Claus. He cleared his throat and responded, “Yes, thank you. And thank you for returning my sleigh’s runner! I don’t suppose you have the time to help me reattach it?”

Tom laid the heavy runner on the ground. “Yeah, that’s no problem. Actually, my truck is parked around the corner. I’ll grab my toolbox from it and be back in a few minutes.” He looked at the reindeer team curiously for a moment or two before heading off.

He returned shortly afterward and extended a friendly handshake. “Tom Barrow. And you are?”

“Nick Claus. But most people call me Santa.”

Apparently, Tom had not put two and two together. “It’s probably the beard.” He knelt down and began inspecting the underside of the sleigh.

Santa was taken aback. Did Tom still not believe? There was a large man with reindeer and a sleigh who went by Santa Claus, out and about on Christmas Eve… And he still did not believe? He looked at the man, incredulous. “So… Do you live around here?”

“Oh, sure,” came the reply Tom had already begun repairing the damages. “Been in Bridgewater for about five years now. How about you? Are you from here?”

Santa scratched his head. “No, son. I’m from the North Pole.”

Tom turned his head. “You’re… from the North Pole.”

“Yes I am.” Santa paused before adding what he thought was already obvious. “I am Santa Claus.”

Tom chuckled. “Still a little kid at heart, eh? I respect that.” He turned back to the sleigh. “I played Santa Claus in a play once. I wasn’t very good, though. My beard kept falling off.”

Santa was frustrated. “No, I really am Santa Claus!”

“That’s great, bud. Hey, do you think you can lift this side of the sleigh, so I can line the runner up?”

Santa obliged, but was very unhappy. How could one still not believe in this situation? “So… Why did you stop believing in Santa?”

Tom chuckled. “I grew up! I mean, geez… You can’t tell me you actually still believe in him, right? Your parents didn’t have that conversation with you, or you didn’t find the receipt for something Santa supposedly got you?” He finished tightening a screw. “You can lower that sleigh, if you want.”

“I am Santa! I can’t stop believing in me!”

Tom stood up. “Okay then. How do you get into houses without chimneys? Or how do you go to every house in the world in just one night? Or how do your reindeer fly? Why haven’t you gotten a heart attack from eating a billion cookies on Christmas Eve? Can you answer these questions, buddy?” He waved his wrench in the air as he spoke, giving an odd, threatening look to the young face.

“I can answer some of them. But I won’t. There are some things that are better left unsaid. Besides,” he said, as he climbed back into the sleigh, “if there were overwhelming evidence for my Christmas travels, then everyone would believe in me, and it wouldn’t really be a choice. But the way it is now, people believe because they want to believe.”

Tom didn’t have an answer for that.

“Thank you for helping with my sleigh. I hope to repay you one day.” Then, grabbing the reins, he gave them a crack and shouted, “Hyah!” The reindeer team rose and gave flight to the sleigh.

Tom Barrow watched as the curious fat man flew out of sight. Then he picked up his toolbox and walked back to his truck.

Santa Visits the Cat Lady

Progressive Santa Does His Thing

 

Santa Claus had finally had enough. As the years advanced, much of the world became increasingly antagonistic towards him, as if he was some sort of religion. The general sentiment of “believe if that works for you” was championed throughout this yuletide season. He was cast aside—a relic of an archaic world which had outgrown him. So this year, he figured he’d meet the demands of this new society. Those who believed in jolly ol’ Saint Nick would find an expertly-wrapped package from their wish list under their trees. Those who did not would not merit a Christmas Eve visit.  No more Naughty or Nice lists. No more lumps of coal. This was the new Santa. These are his stories.

***

Santa Visits the Cat Lady

 

There was a big discussion at the North Pole on what the new rules were to be. Originally, Santa only gave gifts to children, with the occasional exception for the most deserving adults. But now that he only visited those that believed in him, did that include those that were older? No doubt, belief often left with age, but a few did remain. After much debate, a consensus was unanimously reached by the board of directors that age was no longer a qualifier. Any believer would get a present.

This presented a new problem that Santa had not foreseen, though, which caused another round of meetings among the North Pole higher-ups. Does Santa visit animals? Obviously, most of the world’s animals (with the exception of reindeer, polar bears, and some species of rabbits) could not believe or disbelieve in Santa. But many children across the world believed that Santa would get their pets something. Before the new rules were instated, Santa tried to leave a bone or a new birdbath for the good pets of the world, though with budgetary restrictions and whatnot, he often couldn’t. But the board decided that these new progressive rules meant that believers who thought their pets received gifts would get their beliefs fulfilled.

So on Christmas Eve, Santa found himself landing on the roof of a house he had not ever visited before, to give a gift to a lady he had not seen for years. It was a sad thing to be sure, adulthood. But Santa was excited to be able to see some people who had not forgotten him. He remembered little Suzie Flanahan. She wanted a cat for years, but he could never give her one. Firstly, her parents did not want her to have one, and as a general rule, he tried not to cross parents. But secondly, transporting live animals by sleigh was always tricky and there was too much paperwork involved. But he became excited at the thought of seeing how little Suzie had grown up. He exited the sleigh and started pulling his sack out of the back seat.

Blitzen looked back at him suddenly with tears in his eyes. “Hey boss?”

Santa was startled to see all of his reindeer beginning to well up. “What’s wrong guys?”

“Nothing, boss. I think it’s just allergies or something. You mind if we land over there on that house,” he gestured with his head, “while you visit here?”

Confused, Santa shrugged. “I guess so. I’ll try to make it quick then.” He watched the sleigh pull away from him and land next door, wondering what was going on. But he didn’t have time to dwell on irregularities, so he slung his sack over his shoulder and walked over to the chimney. An uneasy feeling grew in his stomach as he swung his legs over the brick border. Sliding down, he felt a pungent smell crawl its way up his nostrils and smack him around on the inside of his head several times over. He landed at the bottom of the chimney with little grace as his eyes began to water and sting. Rubbing them furiously, Santa looked out into the living room.

Seventeen pairs of yellow eyes peered at him through the gloom.

Santa swallowed. “Uhh…”

Immediately, the cats scattered in all directions with lightning speed. He understood what happened to his sleigh team earlier. Reindeer noses were much more sensitive, and most of the reindeer at the North Pole were allergic to cats. It was an interesting problem. This had never happened before. But, Santa reasoned to himself, the night was bound to be full of surprises.

He climbed out of the chimney and tried not to think of where he stepped as he let his eyes adjust to the darkness. The Christmas tree was on the other side of the room behind a couch where little Suzie Flanahan slept underneath a knitted quilt, though, “little” was no longer an acceptable descriptor for Suzie. The years had not been kind to her poor frame. One black cat slept by her feet at the end of the couch, but most of the others seemed to be awake, peering out at the festive intruder with curiosity.

With the rush for the new rules, Santa did not know ahead of time (this year) everything he was delivering to each house. He opened his sack and gazed in, finding twenty-eight identically-wrapped packages. He could only assume there was something special for the myriad felines in the house, but rather than Christmas joy, Santa only felt disgust. He crossed to the other side of the room and emptied the contents of his sack with no amount of ceremony. The noise made most of the surrounding eyes retreat for safety, but one cat’s curiosity got the best of him and he came closer to investigate the presents.

Santa looked in and wondered if there was anything for Suzie herself. It seemed that all the presents were for her pets. Did she no longer believe she would get a present? Did she think her pets were the only “good” ones this year? He made a mental note to check Suzie’s files when he got back home.

He looked around the house to see if any cookies had been left for him, but then decided he probably wouldn’t want anything that was left out in the open. Santa walked over to where Suzie was. He remembered her face. She was always a good girl and almost always obeyed her parents. His helpers in the mall always noted she was a delight—she always asked for a cat, and they’d respond that they’d see what they can do. It seemed that whenever she moved out of the house, she took matters into her own hands. Santa stood there wondering what had happened to her over the years. She seemed to be alone in the house. There were no other names attached to his travel list for this address. She’d gained weight. The house she lived in was not of a high quality, and it reeked. He wished he could feel more pity for her, but the cat urine sting in his eyes had become unbearable.

The sound of a cat purring suddenly took his attention towards the tree. Twenty-eight cats had invaded the space underneath the branches, apparently smelling the catnip treats Santa had brought. Another cat purred, followed by another—and another. A split-second later, all twenty-eight beasts were purring as loud as possible, like some demented feline jet engine. Santa rushed toward the chimney to leave before they woke Suzie up. As he turned around, he saw hairs bristling as they tore into their gifts with no degree of stealth. He was sure Suzie must have caught at least a glimpse of his boots as rose up the brick shaft.

Upon seeing his bright red hat, the sleigh team returned to the roof. Dasher looked at Santa. “How many were there?”

“Judging by the number of presents, there were twenty-eight.”

Dasher’s eyes widened. “My God…”

Santa looked at his reindeer. “Do you guys think the new rules are right? Aren’t we just pandering to the crowd that says, ‘Santa works for you, dear’?”

The reindeer, though usually in a cheery mood were impatient to leave. “You want to get all philosophical on us, wait until we get to Arizona or something. These allergies are killer.”

Santa clambered into his seat and nodded. It was too late for second-guesses. This is what society seemed to want. It was the ultimate Christmas present.

“Hyah!” He gave a crack of his reins, and the sleigh team pulled off.

Drink the Milk

Please don’t ask the context for this post, because there is literally none. And now…

***

“Drink the milk,” the man commanded.

I did not want to drink the milk. I did not want to sit in this chair. I wanted to be at home with my girlfriend, watching Seinfeld reruns and eating ice cream.

We stared at each other. Neither one of us moved. Condensation formed on the glass.

“Drink the milk.”

The clock on the wall seemed to grow louder with each passing tick.

Drink.

The.

Milk.

What if I just drank it? Got it over with. No one would have to know. Of course, except me. And then I would live a lie for the rest of my life… I’d have to look my son in the eye one day and unflinchingly say I never drank the milk. That was something I could not look forward to. I can’t drink it.

The officer leaned forward. I could see my worried expression in the reflection of his sunglasses. “Drink it.” He pushed the glass closer to my side of the table. “Pick it up and do it.”

I swallowed. The air seemed so thick. The room so small. I began sweating. This milk was everything wrong with society and my defiance was one step closer to a better future. But… This officer…

I grasped the glass with a strong grip, letting the condensation beads squeeze through my fingers. I don’t know why I grabbed it. The officer must have thought I had changed my mind because a wry smile slowly crawled its way on his face. I let go. The officer frowned.

“Drink the milk.”

I sat there and twiddled my thumbs. I had heard the stories—the rare stories where people did not drink it. They reentered society and proudly proclaimed their triumph. Of course, the officers did not let them live long after that, but the principle of the issue was brought into greater light.

How would I get out of this one?

To recap…

Today is the final day of NaNoWriMo. The goal was to write 50,000 words in a month. Question is, did I do it? Did I win?

No. Not even close.

In my defense, I found this to be probably the busiest month of the year with work and school. But I tried to find time to get writing done. I got just a little over 9000 words in total, which is at least a personal achievement. But I don’t plan on giving up either. I’m going to see this story out to the end. My new goal is to finish the first draft by the end of the year.

I learned something this time around. First drafts are awful. Every time I’ve attempted to write a novel, I’ve drowned myself out in editing and reediting everything. This time, I refrained from editing at all and just focused on getting words on paper, even if it sounded bad. And boy, do many of these sentences sound bad! My inner editor is screaming as best he can with the duct tape I placed over his mouth.

I’m adding an excerpt of my writing here, as a sort of milestone. Keep in mind what I just said: First drafts are awful. This excerpt is not the best thing I’ve written. But I want to include it as a celebration of this month. I look forward to the day where I can make it sound fantastic.

Without further ado, a portion of Plunder the Children.

***

Tom came back into the realm of the conscious when his knees were slammed into cold concrete. His hands were tied behind his back. His head was inside a small black bag. He attempted to move his arms, but relented, unsure of how many men (or weapons) were in the room with him. He did not feel his holster in its usual spot and tried to remember if he had taken it off at home. He didn’t think so, but his head was throbbing so he couldn’t be sure.

He suddenly realized he was breathing incredibly fast. He tried slowing down his breathing rate, but realized it would probably not matter anyway. Whoever this Zay person is already had him. They had his family. They’d be doing whatever it is they wanted to be doing.

The bag was suddenly and violently ripped off his head. It caught on his chin, lifting his head up so he was staring directly at bright lights before his eyes tried to adjust. He made a small whimper in pain, but concealed it before it grew into something bigger. His eyes finally began acclimating to its new light so he took in his surroundings. He was in a cold, prison-like room, with sea foam green paint flecking off the wall. The lighting was dim. There was an intricate cherry wood table maybe twenty-five feet in front of him. One man, well built, sat on top of it. Two men stood against the wall on the right. One stood by the wall on the left. And one man sat behind the table. This man was different than the others. Everyone else wore tight leather jackets or tank tops. This man wore a sharp, perfectly-tailored business suit. Everyone else looked menacing and threatening. This man was calm. No scowl on his face or tattoos on his biceps. He looked as out of place as the table he sat behind. Tom looked behind himself quickly. The room extended several feet that direction, but no one was there. Looking back, he realized there was no escape. The only door in the room was in the far corner on the left. All five men could get to him before he could get to the door.

The men simply stared at him for a while. Tom was unsure if he needed to say something or not. He still could not control his breathing, but tried to puff his chest out nonetheless. He thought it probably looked stupid, but if there was any way he could look more intimidating, he would take it. His life would not end without a fight, especially if there was a chance to get his family back.

“Thomas McQuinn, correct?” The man behind the desk broke the silence, every word echoing ominously in the room.

Tom considered doing this the hard way, without cooperation. But as he thought about it, he realized it was probably better to play along. “Yes, that’s me.”

The man looked down at a stack of papers on his desk. “Ah. You are the one in charge of the investigation against Lakes Army at the Phoenix Police Department. Is that correct?”

Should I just say ‘Yes?’ He does not seem to be a typical gang member… “Somewhat.” He waited for the man to shout something like, “That’s a yes or no question.”

“How so?”

Tom blinked. “The investigation has been ongoing for several years and the man who started it retired two years ago. It is not an active investigation, but we have been having recent success against you—er, the Lakes Army gang.”

The man nodded. “I see. You are, however, the officer in charge of arresting Howard Dunham?”

Does this man not use street names? “Yes, that was me.”

“Ah. Well, it is a pleasure to make your acquaintance. I—”

“I’m not your acquaintance,” Tom snapped, before he could stop himself.

The man paused for a moment. “I’m sorry. No doubt you are worried about your family. Well, put your mind at ease. They are safe. They are in our custody and our care. A little shaken up, but then again, so are you. We would have taken you at the same time, but you oddly weren’t around when we showed up. Is everything okay at home?”

Tom clenched his fists, but held himself back. He already lashed out once. Here it would be more justified, but he still could not risk it. The man must have sensed his tension, as did the others in the room, who stood more alert, ready for a move from their captive.

“My mistake. Your personal life should remain yours. I meant no offense.” He waited for a reply. Receiving nothing but an intense stare from Tom, he continued. “I should introduce myself. My name is Exzayvius VonTrapp. Many call me Zay, but I am not a big fan of nicknames.”

Tom sat up straight upon hearing this. This man sitting just a few feet away, was Zay? The Zay? The mythic leader of Lakes Army was here in this room talking to him as casually as if they had been best friends?

Zay continued. “You are a good man. You uphold the law and everything decent in this country. I respect that and I respect you. That is why we have not done anything to impede your arrests of our gang members. You have to make a living. Unfortunately, I have to make a living as well.”

What is this guy talking about? Respect? He’s going to say he respects me after he just kidnapped my family?

“One of my associates was unavoidably involved in a large scale drug deal in person. We usually like to do things like that in a satellite location, you see. But technology being the mess it is, we had to send him in. But as he was leaving the location, you were able to grab him before we could conceal him. I’m not certain of all the details, but I must congratulate you. There was a very small window of opportunity for you, and you were able to take it. Bravo. But that puts me in a difficult position.” He cleared his throat.

The room suddenly seemed taller to Tom. He felt everyone’s eyes burning holes in his neck.

“Mr. Dunham was an integral part of my plans. He and another member of our company were in charge of narcotics. He is now in your custody, so we need to replace him.” Zay stood up, looking as frightening as ever. “This is where you come in.”

Tom looked at his captor. He hoped his face didn’t show it, but he was terrified.

“You are going to be with us for two weeks. Day one starts tomorrow morning. You will do whatever we tell you to do and you will not alert the police or raise suspicions in the minds of anyone at any time. You will be able to see your family every other day, as long as we receive your full cooperation. Once you are released, you are free to live your life. However, you must discontinue your investigation of Lakes Army. Do you have any questions?”

Tom had a million questions. He thought about asking one, but took it back. His face must have betrayed him.

“Was that a question? Anything at all, sir. I want you to fully understand what is happening here.”

Tom remained silent.

“Very well then. You will be put in the care of Emery, here.” He gestured to the man sitting on the desk, who then stood up, arms folded with a don’t-care attitude etched into his face. “You will be with him for these two weeks. He will guide you to and from your cell, will serve you food, and will take you to wherever we need you to go. Be nice to him.”

Emery walked over to Tom and stood beside him. He clasped his hands in front of him and cocked his head up, staring at Zay. Tom looked up at him, unsure if he was unhappy with being assigned to “serve” him, but he didn’t personally relish the idea. He wanted to see his family now. He wanted to let them know that he would do anything possible to get them out of this hellish experience. He wanted them to know he loves them dearly. But he saw no way to escape at the moment.

Zay pulled his suit down and wiped some dust from the breast pocket. “It has certainly been a pleasure to meet you and I sincerely hope this ends well for you and your family. This should be the last time you will see or hear me.” He turned abruptly and walked out the door, one of the goons following him.