It has nothing to do with Christmas
by Amanda McCoy
After months and months of hard work, I had finally gotten into an AP class.
Yay! ( And I got mixed in with some juniors or even seniors in this class. Super yay! Valedictorian was in the bag.)
Of course no one told me that being in an AP class meant now I had to do a holiday project. That’s right, while everybody else got to go out and have fun, I was stuck at home working on my research paper.
Yay. (wimper, wimper)
I guess the teacher thought she was doing her students a favor by assigning us holiday icons to research. Though at this moment, I didn’t feel all that grateful. I got the origin of the Christmas tree to track down and write about.
FYI, the Christmas tree had nothing to do with Christmas.
It was because of this stupid research paper that I was still in the living room at two in the morning on Christmas eve night. I was bundled up in my warmest jammies, my school books and research materials scattered all over the coffee table, my notes were a disaster of crossed out scribbles.
The clock on the mantel was ticking away my tiny window of time before I started missing out on something fun.
And that’s when I heard it.
The slightest of rustling coming from the. . . .fireplace?
I lifted my head up off of my history book and wiped the dampness away from the corner of my mouth (I wasn’t sleeping, I was absorbing information via osmosis).
Blinking to clear my vision, I stared at the empty, dark hole that was my family’s hearth. I didn’t see anything. We hadn’t used the thing in years. Maybe a bird flew in there by accident, I thought, my eyelids drifting downward again.
And then the chimney filled with a “Scuffle, scuffle, whoooooooosh, clatter, flop,” sound.
“Ouch,” wheezed the fireplace.
Slowly, with painful sounding pops and snaps of his joints, a man crawled out of the darkened hole in the mantle, pulling out his legs that were still stuck in the chimney last.
Blinking rapidly now, my tired brain tried to figure out what was going on. I saw a glint of a red shirt and . . .
“Santa?” popped out of my mouth, as the man unsteadily climbed to his feet.
“What are you—three?” he snapped, brushing soot off of the shoulders of his red sweater and flipping his curly black ponytail over one shoulder, “Of course, I’m not.”
Now that I could see him clearly, he was right, he was no Santa.
This un-Santa was a bit older than me, I’m guessing about college age-ish. Santa’s characteristic rosy round cheeks were gone, replaced by deathly pale skin stretched over razor sharp cheek bones. There was no sign of Santa’s snowy white beard adorning this man’s angular chin. Instead of eyes filled with joy and laughter, his eyes were filled with the frigid silver gray of a arctic desert. Santa’s smile was nowhere to be found in this man’s egotistic sneer.
He took a step towards me and his slightly too tight V-neck sweater rippled, not with a belly like a bowl full of jelly, but with a pack of ripped abs and lean muscle.
Taking another step in my direction, he lean slightly over, peering down his nose at me and my mess of papers and books all over the coffee table.
“Ah, another wasted youth, sleeping through your research paper I see,” he sniffed.
“What?!—no, I wasn’t sleeping,” I squawked, quickly swiping at whatever drool might still be on my chin.
“Uh huh,” the un-Santa said, raising one eyebrow.
“Well, at least I’m not some Santa wanna-be, popping down people’s chimneys, and harassing them about their homework,” I snapped back.
“One, I would never want to be Santa. Two, I couldn’t care less about your silly scribblings. And three,” he said, bending over the low table to look me straight in the eye, “I don’t pop.”
As he bit off the last three words, I saw a flash of teeth that were far longer and pointy-er then they should be.
Instinctively I leaned back away from him and his frozen breath that was curling icy tendrils around my face.
“Yeah, so what are you doing in my house?” I asked with all the bravado that I didn’t have, “Are you a robber or something?”
“Psh, as if it would be worth it for me to steal anything in this tiny little hovel,” he sneered again, this time at the room in general.
Hey, this house was totally theft worthy! Okay, looking him up and down (it was a pretty nice view, even with all his sneering.) Mr. Grouchy-pants probably had a point. He was wearing really expensive designer clothes. He could probably buy three of my houses without a second thought.
“So why are you h—”
(Thud!) sounded from the rooftop.
We both whipped our heads up to stare at the ceiling, as if we could see what was happening above our heads.
(thunk, thunk, thunk) footsteps trailed across the roof towards the chimney.
“What is that?” I asked, still staring at the ceiling in confusion.
Almost instantly after the words had left my mouth, I felt cool hands clamp over my lips, silencing me.
“Quiet,” the un-Santa’s voice hissed in my ear, “He’ll hear you”.
“HO, HO, HO!” came thundering down the chimney.
There seemed to be an odd, almost vicious tinge to what should have been a jolly laugh.
“He’s coming,” un-Santa whispered as a tremble vibrated through his hands.
We both froze as the sounds of boots scuffling on brick came trickling down the chimney.
“Oh, we are so out of here!” un-Santa squeaked, grabbing my hand and bolting for the front door.
The un-Santa nearly went into spasms when I tried to stop and put on my coat and boots, before he all but picked me up and carried me outside into the snow.
Still tethered at the hand, un-Santa dragged me through the icy white blanket that covered everything on my street at least a foot thick. It was hard to keep up with his fast pace, my boots crunching through the frozen crust of ice only to send me slipping and sliding through the softer slushy stuff underneath. We finally stopped across the street from my house, hidden in the deep shadow of a narrow alley between two houses.
“Seriously, could you be any slower,” the un-Santa turned on me and snapped.
“I don’t get it, why are we running away from Santa Clause?” I asked through wheezes as I tried to catch my breath, the frozen air stinging my lungs.
“Does that look like Santa to you!” he asked, grabbing both sides of my face and pointing it towards my home’s roof top.
There I saw a blobby black mass wrapped in a ragged, fur trimmed black coat attacking my chimney.
“What the hell is that?” I asked, my face still locked in positions, staring at the strange creature.
“That obese tub of evil is Krinlich, a homicidal wizard that wants something that I have,” the un-Santa said, turning my face to look at him as he talked.
“One, let go of my face. Two, why are you dragging me around if he’s just after you. And three, why don’t you just give him what he wants, maybe he’s leave you alone,” I said, trying to wrangle my face free of his grasp.
“One, you can have it, I didn’t want it anyway,” He said, releasing my face while I was still pulling on it, making me stumble backwards a little.
“Two, I’m only bringing you with me, because if Krinlich got a hold of you, you would crack like a chestnut and he would know which way I went in a few seconds.”
Hey, I’m tougher than that.
“And three, what he wants is this,” un-Santa said, pulling on a thin chain around his neck to reveal a sparkling silver pendent that was tucked under the collar of his sweater. It was in the shape of a star burst, and was shining brighter than it ever should have been possible in this darkly shadowed alley.
“Wow, it’s beautiful,” I said, reaching out to touch it.
Un-Santa quickly snatched it away from my fingertips.
“It’s the Destiny Star. I’ve been protecting it for centuries,” he said, still holding it away from me.
“For centuries?” I asked, looking him up and down, he barely looked twenty-one.
“Centuries,” he bit off the word, again flashing teeth that looked an awful lot like fangs.
I took a long step back from him.
“HO, HO, HO, Mwahaha!” broke the frozen silent night air, making us both jump.
“Crap, we need to get out of here,” un-Santa said, holding the sparkling star out in front of himself.
“What are you doing?” I asked as he turned one way and then another, still staring at his pendent.
“The Destiny Star is a fate compass, it shows you which direction is your best possible out come,” he said, distractedly.
Woah, no wonder the evil wizard guy wanted it. Having a necklace that showed you how to win all the time would be awesome.
After a few false starts, we were racing through the alley and down the street on the other side. It wasn’t easy running through snow in boots, and I quickly lost my breath.
“Wait un-Santa, slow down, I can’t keep up,” I panted after him, shuffling to a stop.
Though he was a few strides ahead of me, between one heart beat and the next, he was suddenly right in front of me, his scowling face glaring down at mine.
“What did you just call me?” he asked.
“My name’s Theodor. That’s The-o-dor,” he said, grabbing my face with one hand and squishing my cheeks with each syllable.
With one smooth motion, he released my face, turned on his heels, and started marching down the street again, not slowing down even a little bit for me.
“Keep up Santa-girl, or Krinlich with get you,” he called over his shoulder.
“Hey, I have a name too,” I called back, trudging after him as fast a I could.
“And yet, I don’t care,” he shot back.
Un-San—er, I mean, Theodor had come to a stop in front of a house with a huge picture window. And filling that picture window from top to bottom and side to side was the biggest menorah in the world.
“Damn, you could see that thing from space,” he said, then started up the path to their front door.
“What are we doing here?” I asked, trailing after him.
“The Destiny Star says we’ll find help here, so here we are,” Theodor said, jiggling the knob of the front door.
“It’s like three in the morning, I don’t think anyone’s going to answer the door,” I pointed out.
“I wasn’t expecting them to,” he said, wrenching the door knob, with a symphony of metal shrieks and snaps, and then popping the door open with his hip.
Then he strolled in like he owned the place.
“Hey, isn’t this illegal?” I asked, wandering in after him.
“Hey, does it look like I care?” he drawled, slipping into the dark living room and starting to poke around.
“Santa?” a sleepy little voice asked from the darkness.
We both turned to look at a heap of blankets mounded on the couch. A little face wiggled it’s way free of the blankets and blinked the sleep out of it’s eyes.
“Why does everyone keep calling me that?!” Theodor huffed, shooting an extra glare at me.
Hey, what did I do?
“Oh, I thought Santa had come to grant my wish,” the little boy mumbled, still a little sleepy as he crawled his way out of his wrappings and waddled over to us.
“Not even close,” Theodor sneered, moving away to poke and snoop through the rest of the living room.
“Besides, aren’t you Jewish? You can’t believe in Santa,” he said over his shoulder as he picked up a vase off of an end table and tipped to look inside.
“Hey,” I said, giving Theodor a sharp glare and then bending over to look the second-grader in the face.
“Don’t listen to that grumpy-pants. You can believe in anything you want, Santa is for everyone,” I said, with a big smile and patting the little boy on his messy hair.
“Don’t tell him that, if his granny hears about it, she’ll smack him up side the head,” Theodor snapped, wandering around the room.
“Santa is totally for everyone,” I repeated in a whisper, the little boy nodded sagely in agreement.
“ I heard that. Yeah, you two just go chasing after Santa Clause, and leave me to deal with the real problems,” Theodor grumbled, bringing a decorative box to his ear and shaking it.
Jeez, was he looking for help or trying to rob the place?
“You could use my grandma’s magic potion. She says it’s the only way she survives the holidays,” the little boy chirped in, pointing to an old cabinet across the room.
What the boy pointed out to us was a cut glass bottle of clear liquid with green leaves and pine needles floating around in it.
Theodor pulled the glass stopper off of the bottle and took a sniff. He instantly flinched away, coughing and wheezing.
“Woah, I don’t know if this will get rid of Krinlich, but it certainly will pickle him,” he said, hurriedly jamming the stopper back on the bottle.
Theodor held the bottle up to what little light there was in the living room and squinted again at the leaves floating in the container.
“This just might work,” he said, then started off across the room to the front door again.
“Come on, we need to lure the wizard out into the open,” he said, pulling the star pendent out of his sweater.
Both the little boy and I hurried after him.
“Oh no, you’re not coming,” Theodor said, pointing at the grade schooler.
“Why not,” I asked.
“We’re dealing with a homicidal wizard here, not having a parade!” he snapped.
Ten minutes later Theodor stomped out of the house looking grumpier than ever, trailed by me, shivering in my jammies and clomping along in my boots, and one little boy bundled up in a bright red snow suit.
“So, what’s your name?” I asked the little boy, as I swung our linked hands between us.
“David,” he chirped happily, crunching through snow that came up to his knees.
“What’s that?” David asked, pointing to the sparkling star that Theodor was holding out in front of himself like a compass.
“That’s the star that’s guiding us,” I said.
“A star?” David asked, his voice filled with wonder.
“A magic star,” I said, nodding.
“Oo,” David cooed in awe.
The little boy’s eye were locked on the twinkling pendent as if entranced. My eyes wandered to the person holding the treasure, even from the back it was a very nice view. Then something popped into my head.
“Aren’t you cold?” I asked Theodor, while trying to calm my own shivers from the cold.
“Not hardly. I don’t even need this sweater, I just wear it to be fashionable,” he replied with a sniff.
I suddenly really wanted to throw a snowball at him.
“We’re almost here,” Theodor said, looking from the star to our surroundings.
We were almost to the town square now, and I was getting a funny feeling that I knew exactly where we were going.
We rounded a corner, and there it was.
“Wow, look at that Christmas tree!” David crowed with glee.
Every year the town’s holiday committee got the biggest tree they could get their hands on and this year was no disappointment. It stood fifty feet high, almost as wide as the stage that was set up in front of it for event speeches and the tree lighting ceremony, and was encrusted with enough ornaments to bend it’s branches nearly to the ground. The lights blazed like a bonfire in the empty night.
It was the stage in front of the tree that the star was guiding us towards.
As we trudged up to the platform, I mentioned, “You know, the Christmas tree has nothing to do with Christmas. It originally was a pagan tradition to celebrate the—”
“Yeah, don’t care,” Theodor cut me off, hoisting David up onto the stage and then vaulting up after him. Leaving me to climb up on my own.
FYI, snow boots are not great for climbing.
Huffing and puffing over to where Theodor and David were looking around the base of the tree, I asked, “So, where is this evil wizard of yours?”
“Not, sure. The star pointed us right here, there should be a reason. I thought it was showing us where to confront him, but maybe I was wrong,” Theodor said, frowning and squinting at the tree.
And that’s when the mass of squishy evil thundered down from the sky onto the stage not twenty feet from us. His landing shook the stage enough that it felt like it would collapse. The great tree swayed with the impact.
“Ho, Ho, HO!” the evil wizard howled, he slithered more than stepped towards us.
Now that he was close enough to see, it was like looking at a blubbery mass of swirling shadows wrapped in a filthy black coat trimmed with rotting fur. The smell that rolled off of him burned my nose and stung my eyes.
“That’s not Santa, that’s so not Santa,” David squeaked at my side.
The creature took another slithering tread towards us.
“Maybe he just needs a little Christmas cheer,” Theodor said, yanking the stopper off of Granny’s potion, and flung it at the approaching mass of shadows.
Where ever the drops of liquid struck the creature, it burst into hissing bubbles and smoke as if on fire. Theodor swung the bottle again, sending another arch of potion. The creature howled and snapped at him, which only brought it closer for another dose of potion. As if it were the Wicked Witch of the West, the mass of shadows slowly collapse in on themselves, and by the time the bottle was empty, all that remained was a very smelly coat with wisps of thin smoke drifting out of it.
“Woohoo, you did it Theodor!” David cheered.
“Not without help from your grandmother’s potion,” Theodor said, handing the little boy the now empty bottle, and smiling for the first time the whole night.
And that’s when we heard it, the joyous ringing of sleigh bells chiming through the clear night air.
“Where is that sound coming from?” Theodor asked.
“I don’t see anything,” I said with a shrug, scanning the empty sky.
“Maybe it’s the real Santa!” David piped in.
Theodor grumbled something under his breath and rolled his eyes, but at least he kept it to himself.
None of us wanted to touch the smelly coat to throw it away, so we just left it up on the stage and headed home.
When we dropped David off at his house, there was a puppy with a big red bow around it’s neck waiting for him in the living room.
Scooping the puppy up into his arms, David squealed with glee, “It’s just what I was wishing for!”
The tiny Labrador was just as happy to see David, and covered his face with doggy kisses.
By the time we got the little boy tucked in on the couch with his new puppy, it was a Christmas miracle that we hadn’t woken up the whole house.
“I guess that little star really works,” I said, smiling at the sparkling pendent hanging around Theodor’s neck.
We were in my living room again, the night was getting long, and I was feeling a little light headed from being awake so late. I knew this was the part where we said good bye and Theodor disappeared into the night.
A tiny ache in my heart said that I didn’t want to see him go.
“Of course it works. If I have it, than it must be of the utmost value and taste,” Theodor said with a sniff, looking down his long, narrow nose at me.
I chuckled to myself and ducked my head, I was starting to kind of like his confidence.
Just a little bit.
Then I felt it, a gentle patter around my collar bone. The cheerful sparkle of the Destiny Star gleamed up at me from the little hollow just below my neck. Shocked, I looked up to find Theodor’s smile shining even brighter than the star.
“Merry Christmas Santa-girl,” he said, and then planted the tiniest kiss on the very tip of my nose.
“You know, I do have a real name,” I said, trying desperately to stop blushing.
“And what would that be?”
“Of course it is,” he said, rolling his eyes.
And then, between one heart beat and the next he was gone.
The house was so silent, I could hear snow gently drifting onto the roof.
“Merry Christmas, un-Santa.”