THE REAL SAINT NICK, OR HOW HENRY AND JACK LEARNED THE TRUTH ABOUT FATHER CHRISTMAS
Published in Unholy Night: Christmas Fears 2, from Static Movement.
It was four days before Christmas, and Henry felt none of the joy most children his age were feeling when he came home from school that Friday afternoon. The children had been let out early to give them a head start on their winter holiday. Never mind the teachers were exhausted of chasing and yelling after students and needed a reprieve from their riotous behaviour the past week. But Henry did not join his fellow classmates’ game of seeing how many grey hairs they could give their teacher, Mrs. Woods, before the end of the day. Rather he sat slumped at his desk, his hands cupping his chin, as he stared at the floor.
It all started at the beginning of the day when, waiting on line to enter the school, Henry admitted to one of the other boys he still believed in Father Christmas. The confession spread like wildfire, and by the time the children had taken their seats, Henry had been laughed at and teased by nearly every member of his class. Most of all by Toby Wellington, a nasty little brat renowned for bullying other children, especially those who took too much pleasure in their childhood and loved to do things like laugh and play. Sometimes Henry just wished he could punch his fat little head.
So when Mrs. Woods announced they were all dismissed and to have a wonderful holiday, Henry was all too glad to start his walk home, but not at all looking forward to Christmas. He did his best to avoid the other children as he cut his way home, meeting with only a few chuckles in his retreat. Only when he rounded the curve where Sylvan Road became Baker’s Lane did he at last feel he had escaped his tormenters.
On most days when he was feeling upset, Henry would stop by Mr. and Mrs. Taylor’s house. They were always happy when Henry dropped by (having no children of their own and being very old) and seemed to have an endless supply of the candies Henry liked best. Or perhaps he would visit Mr. Harrison’s house and play with his Great Dane, Duke. But today even the Taylors’ candy seemed unappetising, and bark as Duke may, Henry kept his head down and continued home.
When he reached the front door, he sighed hard before turning the knob. The heat from the fire burning on the hearth in the living room quickly warmed his body, and Henry hung his coat on the rack to his left. As he did this, he noticed a small hole in the corner near the floor, just behind the coat rack. Mice, thought Henry. The house was far from infested with them, but no matter how many times Henry’s mother set poison about, they kept opening new holes in the walls. Henry suspected she kept the poison upstairs in his parents’ bathroom, and he often wished he could find it and pour it down the bathroom sink. He found mice rather charming and dreamed of finding one and keeping it as a pet, though his mother would hear nothing of it.
As he stood there thinking about the mice, the smell of cookies being baked came to him, and his stomach began to grumble. Henry had not touched his lunch all day, having lost his appetite with all the ridicule he had endured. But now being safely at home, he found he was hungry at last and thought he would steal a cookie or two. Though lunch or not, this was often Henry’s ritual on the day his mother baked the Christmas cookies.
As he walked down the short entry hall toward the dining room and the kitchen beyond, his shoes clicking on the hardwood floors, his eyes caught a sight that made him stop for a moment. At the door of the living room he turned. There he saw the fire burning brightly, and the chair where his father would sit at night and smoke his pipe while Henry and his brother played or were read to from one of the many books that lined the room’s walls. But what caught Henry’s eye most was the Christmas tree.
That was always Henry’s favourite part about Christmas, and the tree looked as beautiful as ever. It gleamed bright by the light of the fire, the star at its top shining as though it were made of pure gold. All about its branches elves and gingerbread men danced while reindeers pulling sleds filled with shining packages and ices-skaters raced in circles between glittering white and red balls. On most days Henry would have sat and stared at the tree for hours, wondering what presents Father Christmas would bring, but today the sight of it only made Henry more unhappy. He looked away and continued toward the kitchen.
When he came into the kitchen, his mother looked up from the oven and smiled. Henry found it difficult not to smile back (and he did). His mother was just that sort of person, with bright, blue eyes and a pleasant face. No matter how terrible a mood Henry was in, he felt some cheer just being around her. Without saying a word, he reached for a cookie, but the memory of his day at school came back to him. He lowered his hand, and the smile faded from his face.
“Henry, dear,” said his mother, lines of care creasing her forehead. “What’s the matter?”
“Well, it’s about Chri–,” he began but thought it better not to say. “Nothing, really. Just that Toby again. He really is rotten.”
“Oh, Henry, just ignore the lad. He’s only jealous of you, you know? Someday you’ll see people like him don’t get very far in life. Why don’t you go upstairs and play for a bit. Jack will be home any minute, and I’ll be starting supper soon. Your father shouldn’t be too late tonight. Go have a bit of fun and try not to think of that Terrible Toby Ton.”
That name always made Henry laugh. He would imagine Toby twice as fat as he was, stuffing his face, and yelling foul curses. Instead of being afraid, everyone just laughed at him. But Henry did not laugh today. He merely sighed, and his mother watched as her son slowly walked out of the kitchen with his head down. Her heart sank when she noticed he did not take even one cookie.