Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Eve

Okay, so I'm a few minutes into Christmas proper, but I got the idea, and wrote 95% of this on Christmas Eve. It's not an overly personal story, no deep emotions coming out or a commentary on life. I just wanted to write a happy story for the holidays. I hope that your day is full of joy and companionship. Happy holidays, merry Christmas.

A festive tale of the writer,
Nicholas Slayton

Christmas Eve

The moon should have illuminated the night sky, but the heavy gray clouds left things dark and dreary. Inside the house, the fire was burning brightly, the sound of crackling wood drowned out only by the shouts and screams of the children in the large house’s main room.
The six children ran around the room, doing their best not to trip over the presents under the Christmas tree. Jenna’s family came from money, and their Christmas decorations put both Desmond and Stephen’s families to shame. But to their advantage, it also gave Jenna a large house full of things to occupy their time during winter vacation as the twenty-fifth approached, especially since Jenna’s parents were out at some socialite gathering. They just had not counted on looking after Jenna’s little brother and his friends.
The three college students sat on the family room’s overstuffed couches and watched in a mix of shock and awe as the six kids scurried around. They seemed to jump from activity to activity, never taking a moment to breathe.
“Were we this crazy when we were kids?” Jenna asked, turning her head to look at Desmond. Her dark hair hung over half of her face, the green and red elf hat giving her usually-serious, femme fatale look a festive touch.
Her boyfriend shrugged, unsure. He ran his hand through his messy brown hair. “I’m really not sure. Maybe the cookies were a bad idea.”
“Seriously Jenna, did you spike those cookies with adrenaline or something?” Stephen asked. Desmond’s roommate wore and oversized Santa hat on his head, which hung loosely over his hair, adding to his rumpled look. The only thing about him that did not look like it had been through a tumble-dry was his razor sharp grin.
“Don’t look at me. It’s not my fault my little brother and his friends are like the Road Runner,” Jenna said.
Hearing himself mentioned, Jeff stopped in his tracks and turned toward his sister. The 10 year-old’s eyes were wide from excitement. “Hey sis, can we open some presents, please? Mom and dad won’t find out.
“Oh come on, you know the rules. No presents opened until Christmas morning, that’s tradition.”
“Oh come on, we’ve got to do something for fun. You already won’t let us go to see a movie.”
“It’s Christmas Eve,” Desmond said. “It’s time to sit back by the fire and take it easy.”
“Oh well, fine. But we’ve got to do something or we’ll go insane!”
“Okay then, what would you like instead?” Jenna asked.
“Tell us a story!” Jeff said. “Like, tell us a story about Santa Claus!”
Desmond sat back in his chair, exhaling softly. He looked at Jenna then at Stephen. “That’s quite a request. Any ideas on that one?”
“I’ve got this,” Stephen said with a grin. “Okay kids, you want the story of Santa Claus? Then get ready. This is what the greeting cards didn’t want you to hear.”
The bells were ringing. The elves had been defeated. The North Pole was going to fall.
The ninjas were here.
Santa Claus hefted his samurai sword as he snuck through the toy factory. The work benches were abandoned and the toys left unfinished on their conveyor belts. Everyone had rushed to grab a weapon when the attack had started. Now things were quiet, and the factory empty. The stables had been let open, and he wasn’t sure where the reindeer were. Santa gripped the red and white handle of his sword tightly. It had already been put to use escaping his office. The four dead ninjas collapsed over his desk were proof enough to that. He had tried to escape through the ventilation system, but it was built for elves, not for him. So much for Die Hard-ing it.
He snuck through the room, staying against a wall to not expose himself. His red coat was stained with a darker shade of scarlet, but he ignored that. Despite his size and age, the old man had a few tricks left up his sleeve. One did not survive spending a year in the North Pole without being tough. And he wasn’t going to let a clan of angry ninjas ruin Christmas. Not for the children. He’d had been through worse. The time Genghis Khan had tried to ravage the North Pole. The pirate raids of the 1600s. The Nazi invasion of ’42. The Nazi zombie reinvasion of ’09.
He stopped where he was. A movement from up above. He couldn’t be sure what it was, but it was a time to take caution. He slowly regripped the katana and started to raise it when the bench he was crouching under exploded in a spray of splinters as razor sharp ninja stars embedded themselves in the wood. Santa jumped to his feet, running parallel to the bench as six black-clad ninjas dropped into the darkened factory from the ceiling from an open skylight. They landed almost silently, but the old man’s eyes were sharp, honed from years of reading the skyline and detecting different houses.
The ninjas threw another round of stars at him, but he rolled under the bench, using the work station as cover. He leapt to his feet, picking up a half-full scarlet bag from the ground. He swung it as hard as he could. It caught one of the ninjas in the face, the heavy toys inside of it sending the attacker to the ground with a loud crash and a sharp crack. It must have been the action figures production line. Santa should not have been upset with the elves for making those new toys so heavy and dense.
Santa did not stop to watch the ninja go down. He was already swinging his katana at one of the surprised attackers. It cut through his midsection, and he dropped to the ground with a thud. The other ninjas were quick to react, pulling out their ninjatos from behind their backs. In unison, the four ninjas rushed at Santa Claus.
Santa ran to meet them. He blocked one swipe, using his mass and momentum to knock the ninja back, sending him tumbling over an elf’s small stole. He then swung around, blocking another attack aimed at stabbing him in the back. He pushed the blade away, slashing downward. The ninja screamed, grabbing his left thigh as it erupted in a splash of red.
Santa saw the other two ninjas still standing move toward him to attack, but instead of charging them, he turned and ran in the opposite direction. They followed, but they were too far away to stop his plan. Santa leapt to the ground, rolling over the corpse of the first ninja. As he rolled over the toy-covered body, he reached into a pocket. As he came to his feet, the ninjas realized what was going on. Their eyes, the only parts of their body visible under their black outfits, widened to new heights as fear took them over. Santa threw the handful of ninja stars directly at them. At this distance it was impossible to miss. The shuriken caught the two ninjas in the face and the chest, and in their momentum they came tumbling to the ground around Santa, twitching as life left them.
Santa snorted at their foolishness. It was a bunch of young men holding a pointless vendetta. Men could change. A lump of coal for one ninja clan this year didn’t mean it was a mark for the rest of their lives.
He had no time to dwell on that thought as the only uninjured ninja, back on his feet after Santa’s body had tackled him, leapt into the air, screaming murder and vengeance. As Santa swung his katana into the air to block the ninjato’s strike, he whistled as loudly as he could. The ninja landed on his feet and launched into a lightning fast series of attacks. Santa’s speed was not as fast, and he struggled to parry the stabs. The ninja forced him back, into the middle of the factory’s spacious main room. Another attack from the ninja left a cut on Santa’s sleeve, sending rich and heavy red velvet flying into the air.
“What’s the matter old man?” the ninja asked. Santa could almost see the sneer under his mask. “Has the Katayanagi Clan finally got your attention? We’re important! More important than what you think! We deserve respect, not little black lumps of coal! Come on old man, say something!”
“I was just waiting for backup to arrive. On Dancer!”
“What?” the ninja asked, his stance dropping, his body language displaying confusing. Before he could readjust, a neighing filled the workshop and a large, angry reindeer came flying in through the open skylight, his antlers crashing into the ninja. Santa heard a loud cracking sound as the body was sent flying into a wall; where it fell from, limp.
“Good boy,” Santa said, patting the reindeer on the head. He stopped as he heard a pained groan.
He turned. One last ninja remained. He was gripping the large gash in his left leg, a pool of blood starting to form around the injured limb. Santa walked over slowly. The ninja looked up, eyes widened in fear. What he saw was an angry old man, dressed in red. His white beard was splattered in blood and his grandfatherly face betrayed raw wrath.
“You’ve been naughty,” Santa said as he raised his katana. In one swift movement he brought it down on the ninja.
“So…why were the ninjas trying to kill Santa?” Timothy asked.
Stephen looked up at Timothy, confused. His eyes shifted back and forth as he tried to figure out how to answer the question.
“Well, you know, they hate Christmas,” he said.
“Why? What did Santa ever do to them?” Zack asked.
“Santa gave them a lump of coal in the past. You see, they’re ninjas, they were running around killing people with ninja stars and all sorts of non-pirate weapons, so they made it onto the naughty list. And thus, the Tokyo-North Pole Feud was born.”
“I don’t believe it,” Jeff said.
“I’m Jewish, I don’t think I’m the expert on Santa-related stories,” Stephen said.
“Clearly, on the last part,” Desmond said.
“Oh, you can do better?”
“I can give it a try.”
The village was almost obscured entirely by the dreary winter fog. The few lit lanterns of the early morning guided Nicholas toward the settlement. Through the haze he could make out the church’s bell tower, rising above the snow-covered ground like a spear in the sky. With a tired smile, he shook the reins, urging the reindeer forward. The animals pulled the sleigh toward the village, its blades sliding along the icy ground.
Nicholas was disturbed by the village. It was early morning, true, but he expected the people to be up and in the church for mass, especially on today of all days. But the streets were empty and the houses silent. The plague must have affected the village more than he had expected.
He reined in the reindeer in front of the church. The lanterns seemed to be grouped together here. He got out of the sleigh and tied the animals to a post. Despite his thin clothing, the white fur lining of his red cloak kept him warm. And he was not concerned with himself; he had others to help today. Reaching into the sleigh, he pulled out his large bag. It had been filled to the top when he had departed; he was on one of his last stops. Hefting the bag, he knocked on the church doors.
A tired layman opened the door for him. The man looked as his colorful guest with mild confusion. Nicholas was not old, but his face had a serene calm on it. With his long brown beard and hair that curled at his shoulders, he looked the picture of health, something the village had not seen in quite some time.
“Hello,” Nicholas said, opening his arms and nodding in greeting. “I am Nicholas, I have come with gifts for the sick here. I take it the children have been moved into the church?”
“Ah, Nicholas!” the layman said, recognizing the priest’s robes under Nicholas’s red cloak. “We did not expect you to visit us this year. Yes, the children are here, please come in. But I warn you, the plague is strong in our village.”
“I have been to all the villages in the area this last night, if I get sick, I will get sick. I am more concerned for those already ill,” Nicholas said as he entered the church.
The lanterns had lit up the exterior, but the interior was as gray as the morning haze. Children lay strewn out on the pews, the visiting monks tending to them. A priest walked through the church, swinging a thurible back and forth, the incense smoke filling the church. At the altar a few men prayed, their wishes for an end to the plague echoing through the stone building.
Nicholas surveyed the scene before them. Turning to his guide, he set the bag down on the ground, opening it up to reveal a collection of small toys. “If you can, please take these and give one to each child here.”
Father Nicholas reached into the bag and pulled out a large bundle of toys. With a nod to his compatriot, he turned and walked toward the pews. As he reached the first group of children, he smiled. With a few words of encouragement, he began to hand out his gifts to the children. The plague had ravaged the countryside, killing many. But to his sadness it left the young in throes of agony and sickness, no cure or quick end in sight.
As Nicholas handed out his presents, word began to spread. Father Nicholas had arrived, and he had his presents with him. The children began to talk, a glimmer of happiness flickering in their voices. Those who were not too far gone in their sickness sat up, eager to catch a glimpse of the wandering priest. As he passed through the pews, the children began to talk to him, excitedly engaging in conversation with him. With a polite reply and a blessing of health, Nicholas gave them his gift and moved onto the next one.
As he halfway through the pews, one of the children grabbed his arm. The child was young, no more than eight or nine. His smile was wide and full of life, but his sunken eyes showed how the plague had affected him. “Father Nicholas.”
“Yes, my child,” Nicholas replied.
“You’ve brought your gifts. You didn’t have to.”
“I do what I can to help. I have no medicinal talent, but if I can cheer you up, I try.”
“But why?” the child asked.
Nicholas stopped. His smile lost its enthusiasm, turning mournful. He set his pile of toys down, crouching to reach eye level with the sick boy. He stroked his beard in thought, before responding.
“A long time ago, before I was a priest, a strong plague had gripped this area. It was the dead of winter, must like now, and many children had fallen ill. I had been blessed enough to avoid the sickness, but not those I knew.
“I had a brother, Cyril. He was younger than me, and he had so much life in him. When the plague came, it sucked the life out of him. He was so weak, and I was so powerless to help him. I prayed nightly for my brother to get better, but no matter what I said, he only got worse. Finally, Christmas came. I returned from mass to find him at his weakest. He looked up at me and begged me to not cry. He did not want his sadness and health to make others sad. He told me, everyone deserves to be happy. He died that night.
“Since then, I’ve done what I can to make others happy, especially children like you. You do not deserve this, and you will get better. But you should not suffer. If my humble gifts can put a smile on your face, then that makes me happy.”
The boy smiled at Nicholas. Tightly hugging his new toy, he said, “I am happy. Thank you, Father Nicholas.”
Nicholas smiled back. He picked up his toys and got to his feet. Before he turned to continue down the pews, he looked back at the boy. “Merry Christmas, my son.”
“And I guess that’s how Nicholas became Santa Claus,” Desmond said.
“Wow. You should switch from cinema to creative writing with that one, pal,” Stephen said.
“I liked it a lot,” Jenna said.
The kids had mixed reactions.
“Way too old. I mean, where’s the modern stuff?” Andy asked.
“And why couldn’t the reindeer fly?” Timothy asked.
“I’m just the storyteller, you should ask Santa tonight about that,” Desmond replied.
“It’s okay. Can we get another story?” Jeff asked. “Come on Jenna, you haven’t told one yet! Tell us a story!”
“Really Jeff?” Jenna asked. “You usually don’t like stories. I thought you had grown out of those.”
Jeff frowned under his older sister’s teasing. “Well, it’s Christmas Eve. Come on, stories about Santa are what this is all about, right?”
“I guess you’re right,” Jenna said. “Okay, let’s see. Do you want to know why Santa went to the North Pole?”
The church bells rang, signaling another hour in the already late night. The fog flowed over the river, casting the low hanging bridge in a level of obscurity. The gas lamps cast the narrow bridge hanging over the canal in a rich golden hue.
Kris Kringle adjusted his heavy red coat one more time, anxiously patting down the wide lapels. Did he look okay? He rubbed his stubble, feeling the coarse brown hair. Maybe he should grow a beard. He shoved his cold hands into his pockets, looking around for her. He wasn’t sure how he was going to say it, but he had to. He didn’t want to leave things unfinished.
He turned to look at the north end of the bridge. Sarah ran toward him, the tails of her black coat rippling in the wind behind her. She was beautiful in the wind. Her footsteps echoed over the cobblestone streets. She seemed every bit the classic movie actress, a timeless beauty.
She reached his spot on the bridge, embracing him in a tight hug. He rubbed her back, enjoying the intimate moment. After a moment, she broke the embrace, smiling as she took his hands in hers.
“Thank you for coming, Sarah,” Kris said.
“Why wouldn’t I?” she asked. “What was so important that you called me out here?
Kris let go of her hand, turning to the bridge’s railing. He gripped the stone work, looking down at the foggy river. Sighing quietly, he said, “Do you remember that conversation we were having a few weeks ago? About finding a purpose in life?”
“Of course,” Sarah replied. “What about it?”
“I think I’ve found mine. I’ve found a way that I can do some good in the world.”
“That’s amazing, Kris!” Sarah said. She walked over to him, putting a hand on his back. “What’s the matter though?”
“If I do this, I have to go away. I won’t be able to stay here with you. I have to go far away to the North. But it’s an opportunity I can’t pass up. I…it…it’s what I think I was meant to do with my life. I have to take this opportunity, Sarah.”
“Oh…” Sarah stepped back, her mind full of confusion and shock. Her happy smile faded and her arms fell limp to her side. “So…you’re just going to go then?”
Kris turned to her. Without a word he walked over to her, taking her hands in his. “Yes. But I’m not going to leave you.”
He reached into his coat pocket. “This is – this is hard for me to do.”
He dropped to one knee, pulling a small ring out from his coat. It was a band of white gold, a small ruby on top, glimmering in the gas lamps’ light. “Whatever I do, whoever I help, I’m not doing it without you. Sarah, I love you. Will you come with me? Will you marry me?”
Sarah raised her hands to her mouth. Tears started to well up in her eyes. “Yes, yes, a thousand times yes! Kris, I love you!”
She pulled him to his feet, and he pulled her into an embrace, kissing her passionately.
“I prefer Santa to be fat and funny,” Timothy muttered.
“I like it when he’s fighting ninjas,” Jeff said. Stephen smiled at the comment.
Jenna’s smile dropped as the kids started their commentary on her story. The slip was barely noticeable, especially since the kids were too busy arguing amongst themselves. Desmond slid an arm around her waist, giving her a quick hug. She smiled up at him, mouthing the words “thank you.”
“I think it’s time we wrap this up, maybe get everything ready for Santa,” she said.
Desmond looked around the room, lingering on the fireplace. The fire was starting to die out, the bright yellow flames turning to a low red.
“The stockings were hung by the chimney with care…” he said with a grin.
“…in hopes that Saint Nicholas soon would be there,” Jenna finished. She waved to Jeff and the others. “Come on kids, it’s time for bed.”
“Oh come on Jenna, one more story!” Andy said, looking up eagerly.
“Yeah, especially from Stephen!” Timothy said.
“Hey now, you’ve had three good ones,” Stephen said. “Besides, the quicker to bed, the quicker the morning comes, and all the presents and hot chocolate that goes with it.”
“Hot chocolate!” the kids said with excitement.
The three college students led the kids upstairs, into the sleeping bags that Jenna’s family had set up for all of their guests. After wrangling in a few pre-teens who were developing an early case of insomnia, the trio made their way downstairs to the family room. Stephen eyed his watch, and then grabbed his jacket from the couch.
“Well my favorite lovebirds, it’s getting late,” he said. “I’m going to head out, maybe try and get home before dawn comes and the screams of a million kids make it too hard to sleep.”
“You have such a way with words,” Desmond said slyly. “Serious, ninjas versus Santa? I only thought you were this much fun on Halloween.”
“I’m a man for all seasons, Des,” Stephen replied.
“You’re still coming by tomorrow afternoon to hang out though, right Mr. Welles?”
“I wouldn’t miss it. See you later guys!”
“Thanks for coming by,” Jenna said, opening the door for Stephen as the latter left.
As she shut the door, she turned to Desmond and started laughing. He joined in, pulling her into a hug. Exhausted, the two moved back into the family room, collapsing onto the couch. Desmond pulled a blanket over them. The fire had almost died out entirely; it was nothing more than a few ruby embers casting the room in a soft glow. Jenna rested her head on Desmond’s shoulder, and for a few minutes, the two just sat there, enjoying the sound of the dying fire after the chaos of the day.
“Merry Christmas to all…” Jenna whispered as she drifted off to sleep. Desmond looked down at her, smiling. He kissed her gently on the forehead.
“And to all a good night.”

1 comment:

  1. wow. a very original look at christmas, nicholas!
    great work, as always. i love it when a really talented artist or writer takes on a festive theme and creates something innovate and moving. merry christmas, nicholas! keep it up bud!