This was another contest entry in the SDMB holiday short fic contest. I blogged about the contest when it was starting, and shared another entry with you a few weeks ago, so here’s the Christmas 2010 story.
I’d love to hear what you think if you give it a read.
Eddie looked around the playground field. Most of the kids had gathered into two crowds, with a lot of children, like Eddie himself, scattered in between them.
“Of course Santa Claus exists,” Holly Scott declared from the center of the group to Eddie’s right, her blonde hair bouncing slightly as she nodded. “You have to believe in somebody like Santa Claus. Or else what’s the world coming to?”
“He’s not real,” Jason Berlin countered, and the other cynics gathered around him cheered slightly. “It’s all a made-up fake. The presents are all paid for by your parents, and the malls hire guys to play dress-up as Santa Claus. Nobody really flys around on a sleigh in the middle of the night delivering toys. Deal with it.”
There was more to the debate, and several of the undecided eventually picked a side, but Eddie still wasn’t sure what to believe in by the time Recess was over. So he walked home from school by himself and ended up telling the whole thing to his mother.
“Well, Eddie, this is something you have to make up your own mind on, but I think that I understand what Holly is saying more,” Mom said in the end. “Santa Claus is real, but he’s not going to go on bringing you presents every year unless you believe in him.”
Right, Eddie thought to himself silently. And that’s just what you’d say if you were in on the cover-up too. Or maybe…
“It’s all down to the elves,” he suddenly realized. “They’d know the answer, for sure – but how am I going to get an elf to talk to me honestly about it?”
“An elf?” Mom repeated, sounding somewhat surprised.
“Yeah, of course, a north pole elf,” Eddie told her. “I mean, if Santa Claus isn’t real, they’d have to know about it, they’d have to be involved in keeping the secret. But since I can’t get to the North Pole either, where am I going to find one?”
“I don’t know, sweetie, but I’m sure that you’ll figure it out,” Mom told him.
At the mall, Eddie wandered around, checking out all of the little bits of coolness that were available for sale. He was supposed to be looking for presents for his family, presents that he could swing on his allowance savings, but kept getting distracted by things that it would be so great to unwrap under the tree for himself, and that brought him back to the big question.
After spending a while pondering whether his father would really want to get something winterized, whatever that meant, he spotted the ‘Sit on Santa’s lap’ setup in the open space in front of Sears. Intently staring, he approached, steering well clear of the actual line of parents and little kids waiting to meet Santa, and doing his best to not get into the way of anybody else who might be so busy that they wouldn’t notice a nine-year old boy before bumping into him.
This Santa was better than some that Eddie had seen in malls before, but he didn’t look like the real deal, that was for sure. He looked old enough, and believably fat enough – it wasn’t just a fat sweater, this Santa actually had the weight, and the jollyness to go along with it. But Eddie didn’t trust the white beard and white hair – they didn’t seem right. And if those details were fake, then of course it couldn’t really be Santa, right? Not to mention, that Cole doubted any real Santa would have the free time to visit Southway mall in his town.
Two of the ‘Santa’s helpers’ were even worse – they weren’t even making the effort to pass themselves off as genuine elves, really. Just girls stuck somewhere in that gray area between being kids and grown-ups, dressed up in red and green outfits, helping the kids to and from Santa’s lap and taking pictures. But the third guy…
If there were a genuine North Pole elf who had been sent to watch over the fake Santa at Southway, then it would have to be the little man. He was an inch shorter than Eddie, but clearly not a little boy – not if the traces of grey in his black hair and the stubble on his chin were to be believed. There was something about his face and the proportions of his short limbs that were also very un-child-like, as Eddie watched him.
A person as short as a little boy, but clearly old. That could be a genuine elf, Eddie decided. He wore the red and green cap pulled over much of his head, covering the tops of his ears, and as tired as the elf looked, there was a little bit of true Christmas merriment that gleamed in his eyes now and then.
Daring, Eddie ran up to the velvet rope around Santa’s gazebo and waved at the little elf. “Hey, are you a real North Pole elf?”
The elf turned around and looked at him. “Merry Christmas, son. Do you want to see Santa? There’s not that much of a line, really.”
“No – not that Santa, at least. His beard and hair are fake.” He hoped that it wasn’t unpardonable to say such a thing. “But I thought that you might be able to tell me, if there’s a real Santa.”
The elf paused, and was about to answer him, before one of the gray area girls shouted at him to show the next little girl over to Santa. “Listen kid, I’d like to talk to you about Santa and Christmas, but if you’re not going to get your picture taken on Santa’s lap, then you’ll have to wait for my break. Probably best that way, so that we have some time.”
“Okay, sure, I’ll wait,” Eddie promised. “How long?”
“Three quarters of an hour.”
“Okay, I’ll keep looking for gifts, and come back at twelve thirty,” Eddie called as the elf headed over to get back to his job.
The elf was waiting a little distance away from the gazebo when Eddie got back. It seemed that Santa and the gray area girls all took their breaks at the same time, since the gazebo was empty, with the velvet ropes unbroken around it, and a little sign saying ‘Santa will be back at’ and an old-fashioned clock dial showing the long hand pointing straight up and the shorter hand pointing off where the one would be. “Listen, kid, do your parents know that you’re doing this?” he asked Eddie uncertainly. “Because – well, they might not understand about talking to elves and so on.”
“Well, no – my mom knows that I’m curious about Santa, but not that I’d go looking for an elf,” Eddie admitted. “I should be able to find her and tell, her, though. She told me to come find her in the big bookstore by one thirty, when I’m done shopping.”
“Maybe that’s a good idea,” the elf said. “By the way, what’s your name?”
“Eddie, Eddie Robbins.”
“Nice to meet you, Eddie. I’m Cole, nice to meet you.”
It took a little while to explain the whole thing to Mom once Eddie found her, sitting in the bookstore coffee shop and paging through a big hadcover. She suggested that the three of them all sit together and she could buy Eddie a hot chocolate, and wouldn’t say anything while Eddie talked about Santa with Cole if he didn’t want her to.
“Yeah, I guess that’ll be okay. If you really have something that you think is helpful, you can speak up.” Mom chuckled to herself about that.
“Well, the first thing I should tell you is, no, I’ve never been up to the North Pole,” Cole told Eddie once his coffee had shown up. “I was born in North Bay, actually, which is a long way north of here but still a long way short of the Pole. And I’ve been up much further north, a few times, even to the Arctic circle. And I’ve never actually met Santa Claus, but yes, I do believe that he’s real.”
“Why are you so sure?” Eddie asked him.
“Well, because it takes something real to change the hearts of people that believe. Working in places like this at Christmas, I’ve realized that I can tell who really believes in Santa, who really believes in Christmas, and that means that they’re real.”
Eddie thought about that. “Mom says that if I don’t believe in Santa, then he won’t give me anything.”
“Well, I’m not sure about that. I’m pretty sure that you’d still have lots of cool stuff to unwrap on Christmas morning.”
“Yeah, of course – because Mom and Dad would do what they could to pick up the slack.”
“I guess you’re right.” Cole grinned over at Mom. “But if you really want to keep believing in Santa Claus, I’d say the best thing to do is to throw yourself into the spirit of Christmas giving.”
“I’m here to buy presents for my family,” Eddie protested.
“Yeah, that’s a start. But there’s ways to give an incredible Christmas to the people that you love that don’t necessarily come out of your wallet – or that take a little thought as well as money.”
“You mean, like trying hard to think of the perfect present for somebody that’s hard to buy a gift for, instead of going with the first thing you’d find that they’d like a little?”
“So, how many different places have you worked as a Santa elf?”
“Gee, I’m not sure if I can remember them all. Let’s see… downtown Toronto, North Bay, Huntsville, Gravenhurst, Guelph, Saint Catherines… this little town just outside of Winnipeg that I can’t really remember.”
They chatted on and on for a while, until Cole told Eddie that he had to get ready to go back and work for the stand-in Santa. Mom thanked him for taking time on his break to talk to Eddie, said that it was nice to meet him and all of that kind of stuff. Once he was gone, she turned to Eddie. “So, are you ready to go home?”
“No, not quite, there’s one more thing that I want to look for.”
“Okay, well, there’s a few things that I’ve remembered I want to pick up myself, but I can meet you back here in an hour. Does that sound good?”
“Yeah, sure mom. Thanks.”
It took most of the hour, looking through hats before Eddie found the perfect one. Mom always complained that she didn’t have a warm hat for the winter, and this one looked perfect. It had big flaps that would fall down around the back of her head and her ears, and long black furry trim that would fall down around the sides of her face. She’d love it.
And hopefully, Santa Claus would love that he’d made the effort.