Stewart dare not touch the cookies. It was tempting, sure enough, the warm scent of doughy sweetness pervading the house, the cookies were meant for one very special man. The odd snowflake or two drifting to the ground outside the window in the twilight of Christmas Eve, Stewart tugged on his stocking to ensure it was secured to the fake fireplace mantle. He glanced at the small side table beside the armchair turned towards the fireplace. There, the plate of cookies were flanked by a tall glass of almond milk – Stewart was looking out for the Big Guy – setting the scene for Santa’s arrival. He could Santa not come here? The invitation was impossible to ignore.

“And don’t try to stay up to see Santa like last year,” Stewart’s mother had warned, “No one has ever seen him. He’s…he’s very shy is all. Just leave him be and you’ll get presents. Stay up too late and, let’s just say that bad boys don’t get presents.”

The seven year old’s mother had been warning the child off trying to catch a glimpse of many things lately, ever since the child’s curiosity saw him walk in on his parents embraced in a very unusual way. His parents should have seen it coming, of course; they were making a too much noise and had forgotten their child’s tendency to investigate the world. While they wanted this their five children, their explanation to Stewart for what they were doing was awkward and made them think he was too young to know about certain things. While they couldn’t protect their children from everything, they could at least warn them. It would be a child’s own fault if they didn’t catch on.

Stewart had already considered that his parents were thinking this and purposefully set out to expose all the world’s secrets. Why are mom and dad always trying to hide stuff from me? the lad thought as he glued a fishing line to a cookie before topping off the stack. So what if I see Santa? What does he care? Stewart ran the fishing line down the leg of the table, behind the Christmas tree, behind the sofa, around the corner and along the way all the way to his bedroom where he draped the other end of the line. There, he attached a bell he’d taken from the cat’s collar. As soon as Santa took the cookie, Steward would know the jolly old man was in the house. Then he’d know if Santa was for real. He’d been hearing things at school…

In the two minutes since he last looked at the time, a heavy wool blanket fell gently on Stewart’s eyes. He fought the sands of sleep, stinging his bottom lip as hip clamped his teeth down on it. As he bit harder to ward off the dream world, the cat’s bell jingled. The boy’s eyes flew open as he threw his blanket aside. A clever kid, though, Stewart stopped himself from setting his foot on the floor with too much fervor least Santa bolt like a reindeer. A ninja in a white dinosaur print onesie, Steward slid his own little hooves down the hall.

Stewart peeked his head around the corner into the living room and there he was in the glow of the tree’s lights – Santa Claus. His back turned to the Stewart, Santa appeared taller than the kid expected, though rotund enough for the occasion. With a cookie in one hand, the old man seemed to be taking stock of the Christmas tree, titling his head back and forth as if judging if the tree were worthy of having presents underneath it. Santa brought the cookie to his mouth, took a bite and quickly dropped his hand to his side. “Store bought,” he muttered without pleasure.

Steward had heard that tone before; his parents used it all the time. He stepped into the living room with no further hesitation. “Sorry, Santa. My parents won’t let me use the stove.”

Santa turned around without hurry and squinted at the youngling. To Stewart, the man’s garb didn’t seem so much as red as soiled grey underneath a coat of blotchy red paint. The kid would have taken Santa to be a little tidier but who really knows a person? This is exactly why Stewart had tried to catch Santa Claus putting presents under the tree.

“Hello, little fellow,” Santa said, “I’d ask you your name but you know that I already know what it is. Why are you up so late, Stewart?”

“I…I wanted to meet you Santa. Some kids at school have been saying you don’t exist. So, I just wanted to see for myself.” Stewart placed his balled up hands on his waist. The doubter were wrong. Right?

Santa stroked his wiry white beard. “Mmm, to them I might as well not exist. They’re bad children for saying that and that’s why they don’t get presents. Not from me anyway. That sad fact is that because they don’t believe in me, their parents have to buy presents for them.”

“I’m sure my mom and dad are relieved that their kids are true believers. Especially me!” Stewart closed his eyes, smiled and pointed his head to the sky.

“That’s all well and good, little Stewie, but you haven’t followed all the rules.” The boy brought his head down and opened his eyes at Santa. Saint Nick waved at the cookies and milk. “You sure did a good job of inviting me in. You’re up too late, though. Don’t you think there’s a reason you’re not supposed to see Santa Claus?”

Stewart scrubbed his chin. “Gee, I didn’t think much about it. Mom says you’re shy but I don’t see how that could be.”

Santa let out a big ho ho ho and slapped his belly. “Oh, it’s not that I’m shy.” Santa leaned in towards the boy and that’s when Stewart saw that Santa’s eyes had turned a fierce bright yellow. “It’s because whoever sees me must die.” The jolly old man raised his hands. Christmas lights and streamers came out of nowhere to bind and gag the lad before he could make a peep. Stewart fell on the floor bound up like a damsel on the train tracks. Santa licked his lips and glistened his sharpening incisors with saliva.

“You see, Stewie,” Santa half-giggled, half-growled, “I can only came to people’s houses who invite me in. That’s been a rule of vampires for…quite some time now. Inevitably some little boy or girl stays up too late thinking they’ll get to meet Santa Claus. Your parents tell you to go to bed for your own good. Your parents tell you to do lots of things for your own good. When you don’t do those things? That’s when other things happen; bad things.”

Santa turned around and placed some presents under the tree having grabbed them from seemingly nowhere. They were for the family but were any for Stewart? The boy didn’t know. He wasn’t thinking about that now as he wiggled and wormed and tried to scream for his parents. The old man from the north eventually turned back towards the child and picked him up with one hand. Santa slung Steward over his shoulder like a – like a sack of presents.

“Between you and undoubtedly several more children that pull this stunt every Christmas, I’ll be fed for another year,” Santa spoke cheerfully. Unnaturally nimble for his size, Santa slithered silently out the window he’d come in through. The window closed itself with a light thunk courtesy of some magic elf dust.

Stewart’s mother’s head popped around the corner a moment later. She’d just checked in on all the children and noticed that Stewart wasn’t in bed. Maybe the talking she thought she heard had come from the living room? Perhaps it had been Santa seeing how there were presents under the tree now and a cookie was missing. With Stewart unaccounted for, yes, it must’ve been Santa. The matriarch shook her head as she walked over to the glass of milk and took a sip.

“Some kids don’t know when to listen,” she said flatly. “Oh, well,” she shrugged. “This is why we’ve got four more of ‘em.”

 

All Rights Reserved (c) December 2018 John J. Vinacci

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