“You know it’s just dad, in an ill-fitting red suit,” insisted my sister Bethany, a mere 2 years older than me and The Authority On Everything. I could feel my temper about to spiral out of control so I put down my cup of hot cocoa and clenched my tiny hands.
“Bethany,” I said with a calm I did not feel, “I don’t know who your sources are-”
“Billy Quinn. He’s that creepy kid from class that always tries to talk to me.”
“-whoEVER it is, they do not know what they’re talking about.”
“Stop talking, Beth. You’re embarrassing yourself.”
I glanced over at our father, the man accused of being Santa Claus. He wasn’t fat enough, for starters. He looked like an older version of me, but sadder. Where was his booming laugh? Absent. He rarely even chuckled or sniggered or guffawed ever since the Divorce. He spent his days staring defeatedly at the newspaper, searching desperately for a job to stave off our poverty.
“The question is ‘why’, Beth. Why would our poor unemployed father – who can barely afford to pay the gas bill – pretend to be someone else to give us our present? Would he not want us to know the gifts came from him instead of a third party?”
Bethany just shrugged and ate the last almond biscuit (mine). “It just is, ok? Jeez. Why do you even talk the way you do? You need to act your age.”
“You know what? I’m going to stay up and confront Santa to prove you wrong.”
“Whatevs,” she replied as she grew bored of our conversation.
And so I sit and wait after everyone went to sleep, wearing pyjamas festooned with cartoon octopi and spaceships, huddled under a blanket. The need for sleep coursed through my body like a deadly paralytic poison. I pinch myself to stay awake. If I could last another hour or so I could finally meet Santa and…I don’t know. Subdue him? Take a photo? I hadn’t thought it through.
As the night inched sluggishly along and my weakened body was about to succumb to the inevitable, I hear it. From the shadows, a figure slowly takes form. “Santa?” I ask, my weariness melting away. The shadows stare back at me like rapiers.
What was I expecting Santa to look like? Fat and bearded and happy and adorned with the red and white of a 1930’s Coca-Cola ad, I suppose. But not…this. His multitude of pulsating purple-and-black tentacles was terrifying enough.The rippling, eel-like motion under his exterior hinted at horrors lying just under the surface of his skin. His breath was like a furnace, a preview to a Hell that thousands of sightless scholars had alluded to in various ancient texts. And his eyes…his terrible, terrible eyes. With a glance, I fear he saw who I really was and ever will be.
“Y E S, C H I L D?” he said, his voice a rusted cacophony of noise, cutting into my ears.
“Wh…what are you?” I mewled.
“I A M S A N T A.”
“That’s not possible.”
“I S I T N O T? Y O U H A V E N’ T F E L T T H E T R U T H?”
I knew, even as Santa spoke, that he was telling the truth. Damn me thrice, I knew this from the core of my very being. How did he reach every house at the same time? Simple. He was there, even as we spoke. For an evening, this frightful evening, he is everywhere at once, an omnipresent dark deity, invited by our greed. He is in the homes of dentists, the factory workers, the substitute teachers, the ridiculously mediocre, the Zumba instructors, the Nigerian princes, the janitors, the atheists, the Christians, the vegans, and even in the homes of the know-it-all Billy Quinns of the planet. The cookies he consumes, the milk he drinks – a sacred pact made between the early humans, too stupid to realise the hideous bargain that they were making annually: that in exchange for worldly goods, we give Him a little piece of our soul. Each year we become more bitter and jaded and cynical and hateful. We give up our chance at redemption as a race for trinkets.
Before he left, he reached into his cancerous chest cavity and extracted a brand new PS4, still gooey from his ancient intestinal slime. “M E R R Y C H R I S T M A S,” he disgorged. I could hardly believe I was still alive. I had soiled myself minutes ago and my body was a puddle of sweat and fear. All this…all this for a few lousy presents. I threw up, wishing to expunge myself of the images forever etched in my mind.
The next morning, we are at the dining table at my father’s apartment. My uncle is here with his new girlfriend, cousin George is hungrily unwrapping his gift (a robot dinosaur that would end up being auctioned off on eBay come July). Father smiles weakly as he takes a sip from his mug. The room smells of burnt turkey and brandy and forgiveness. It could be a Rockwell painting in the right angle.
“So,” Bethany asks, “was it dad?”
“Santa Claus, dummy. Was it just dad?”
“Yeah,” I reply hollowly, in a voice that imitated mine nearly perfectly, “you were right, Beth. I was wrong all along. It was dad.”
And nothing was ever the same again.