Anthony D Redden
Nicholas - A Christmas Story
Updated: Feb 1, 2022
When Joseph and Charlotte Reeds tiptoed downstairs in the early hours of Christmas morning, they hoped to catch a glimpse of Santa Claus. Despite their parents warning that unless they stayed in their beds, he would not leave them gifts, the siblings had gone to every effort to remain awake long after their parent’s bedroom light had gone off. When they, at last, heard the unmistakable sounds of movement on the roof and the jingle of sleigh bells, they quickly and quietly snuck from their rooms, across the landing and down the stairs. Each step had been carefully planned for weeks, each footfall and handhold executed with precision, avoiding every creaky floorboard and squeaky doorknob. The children emerged from the shadows and stood with bubbling excitement. They were in awe at the sight of the jolly old man in a red suit who was munching on the cookie they had left for him by the fireplace. The wonder of finally being in the presence of the real Santa was enough for them to forget themselves, and all discretion disappeared.
‘Santa?’ Charlotte’s voice quivered with excitement.
There came a grunt of surprise as Santa swung around to face the siblings.
‘What are you doing up this late? You shouldn’t be out of bed!’ he barked at the little ones.
The children froze in a mixture of fear and confusion as the jolly old man was not as they had imagined him at all. The figure before them was wearing a red suit and black boots, and he did have a big bushy white beard and a sack over his shoulder, which bulged with presents; however, there was something very wrong with Santa. The old man stared at the children with eyes that were dark emotionless holes; welts and rainbow bruises covered his face. He breathed heavily through gritted teeth and clenched his one free fist as if preparing for a fight. But more disturbing still was that Santa was covered in blood. It soaked the white fur trim of his coat, stained his once white beard, and dripped from his leather-gloved hands. He barked again at the children.
‘Naughty children who don’t stay in their beds get nothing!’
The children immediately burst into floods of tears and ran from the lounge, screaming for their parents. Santa threw the remains of his half-eaten cookie to the ground and stomped across the room, kicking presents and furniture flying. He instantly vanished in a spiral of glowing sparks and reappeared in the front garden.
It was snowing outside, a rare white Christmas for this part of the country, but it was no greeting card image to behold, for the street was awash in bloody carnage. Cars were aflame, bins upturned, fierce wild beasts fought over the corpses of those they had hunted down, house alarms squealed, and overhead, a police helicopter flew, casting a darting spotlight over the chaos. The lights were coming on in every house amid the screams of parents and children alike. A Christmas wish here, a letter to Santa there; I want to be a monster, I wish my teacher were dead, I wish I had a pet tiger, I want a dragon, I wish my baby sister would explode. All these wishes and dreams would have normally been vetted via a strict evaluation process; however, normally, someone in charge would be in their right mind. Time can pass by so quickly, and age can be a terrible thing, even to the most beloved, kindly, and responsible of people.
The old man looked at his sodden hands; he could still feel the warmth of the fresh blood even through his gloves. Each footstep stained the snow red on the journey up the mountain, and a pool was beginning to form where he stood.
‘This isn’t my blood, is it?’ he asked, but he already knew the answer.
‘No.’ Peter shook his head.
‘What have I done?’
There came a rustling from the bushes as reinforcements moved into position. Peter waved a hand, gesturing to the forces to hold their ground for now.
‘Are they here for me?’ Nicholas asked.
‘They’re a precaution, but they won’t be necessary, will they.’
The old man looked again at his bloody hands. He turned them back and forth, stretching out the fingers, allowing blood to drip between them; the delicate tapestry work of his gloves was barely visible beneath.
‘We’ve known each other for almost two thousand years. I know you better than anyone else alive. That’s why they sent me.’
‘Did any children get hurt?’
The old man dropped his face into his hands and began to sob.
‘And will they be okay?’
‘I’m afraid not.’
‘I only gave them what they wanted, like I always do. I reward the good children with gifts of their choosing.’
The two old men sat in silence; neither had anticipated it might come to this. Another rustling from the undergrowth broke the silence—a half-dozen rifle barrels all trained upon their target.
‘What are they going to do to me?’ Nicholas asked.
‘You will be expected to step down.’
‘And if I refuse?’
‘They won’t let you refuse. You either leave this mountain with me now, or you leave with them. And nobody wants you to leave with them, least of all me.’
‘Maybe that’s what I deserve. Maybe I don’t want your compassion.’
‘Nicholas, you have been a good man and a shining example to all of what good men are; you’ve brought out the best in humanity, given hope and joy to countless millions of people the world over for 1600 years. Hell, you’re more popular than Jesus! There are not many who can claim that. Maybe I should have kept a closer eye on you, picked up on the signs earlier; maybe I am more at fault for not having been there to offer help when it was needed. Heaven knows the pressure you were under was immense.’
‘There are others older than I that have never lost sight.’
‘But they have also never borne the responsibility as you. The world looks to you each year as a symbol of love and miracles; they even expect a personalised gift delivered directly to their homes; no other deity has ever had that expectation of them.’
‘What of the children?’
‘Your legacy will go on, and the children will not be forgotten. Another will take your place and continue the work. Obviously, they won’t be the great Saint Nick, but the children will never know. Everyone will get their gifts, as usual, and the legend will live on. Because what you stand for is bigger than you or I, Santa Claus is forever.’
‘I think I might stay peter, if I may, on the mountain.’
‘They are not going to allow that, Nicholas. They will insist that you go with them. A place has been prepared for you.’
‘Somewhere far, far away, where you can never hurt anyone again.’
‘I don’t want to hurt anyone.’
‘I know. But this way, we make sure.’
‘And will you come to visit me, my friend?’
‘If you want.’
‘I would like that.’
‘And what of your powers?’
‘I can’t control them like I once did; they run away from me. I used to know what was right, what was for the best, but now...You always knew Peter, I always thought you were cruel for spiting the naughty with a lump of coal, but I knew deep down you cared. Without you, I guess I lost perspective.’
‘You weren’t in your right mind.’
‘That’s little consolation to those I’ve hurt.’
Before Peter could respond to his friend, a solitary gunshot rang out, echoing across the mountain.
‘Who fired that shot? God damn you, he was coming peacefully. Do you know who that man was?’