Santa Waits at the Mall

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 Waits at the Mall

 

It was a fact that most businessmen in the shopping mall industry were believers in Santa Claus. They had to be. That’s how they contacted Santa to get him to sit in their rotundas for hours on end. There was a time Santa thought he’d have to stop doing mall visits because of his bad knees, but now he found them indispensable. Belief in him was reaching an all-time low. He needed the publicity. But Santa learned something. Not only was belief in him plummeting, but so was belief in shopping malls. He looked around the dimly lit corridor, festooned with “SPACE AVAILABLE” signs. There were maybe four people within view, none of whom were kids.

Santa sighed. He didn’t like leaving early for fear of a kid coming in vain, but he felt the need to indulge in his selfish desires today. He gave a few presents to Marge, his contact at this particular mall. Marge reluctantly accepted the gifts, but she understood why Santa wanted to leave. She’d leave if she could. The place was a dismal relic of a better time.

He thought back to just a few weeks earlier. The Christmas season kicked off right on Thanksgiving Day with the big Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York. So many children (and some adults!) were ecstatic to see him. The excitement waned fast. He couldn’t recall a December where he felt sad. How could he? There was joy and merriment to go around, right?

Santa looked back to his schedule. He had three more malls today, all at the same time. Though time constraints usually weren’t a concern for Saint Nick, he thought to himself that he’d only have time for one.

When he traveled to his destination, he saw more of the same. Boarded up shops lined dimly lit halls with meager lifeless faces patrolling their length. He sat there for a little while, anxiously hoping someone would come for a picture, but no one did. He left early and headed for the second mall on the list. Again, no one bothered to visit.

Begrudgingly, Santa went to the third and final mall. He wanted to return home to give his wife at least something that was hopeful. The North Pole needed hope.

This time Santa didn’t leave early. He sat there on his fed faux suede throne, surrounded by cardboard red and green gifts, feeling miserable. Not a single child came to see him. The only interaction with people he’d had were his contacts at each mall. But they were busy—too busy to chat with. Too busy to ask them if they’d been a good boy or girl (he’d still ask this, despite the new rules), too busy to pose for a photo, too busy to give them a small candy cane… He glanced at his watch. He’ll need to be leaving soon.

“Santa?”

The yuletide saint looked up from his chair at see a young girl smiling at him. Little Suzy Arbogast. He beamed. “Hello there! Why don’t you come on up here and talk to me a bit?”

Suzy skipped over to Santa and jumped onto his lap. They had a marvelously long chat. He asked if she was a good girl (she was), they posed for photos (ten of them!), and she ended up taking the basket of candy canes home with his blessing.

Santa smiled a smile he’d been needing since the day after the parade. The entire day, he decided, was worth it, to bring that kind of joy and excitement to Suzy. He’d sit through another week of depressing mall visits for a chance like that again!

Santa got into his sleigh and went home for the night. Hope rang true at the North Pole that night. Though the number of believers kept dwindling, the bad times could always be weathered.

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.