Four weeks from today is Christmas Day, and if you’re looking for a bedtime story for the kids who might not quite believe in Santa Claus anymore, pick up a copy of Christmas Angels, featuring my story, “Hoofbeats on the Rooftop.”
Here is a teaser of my contribution to the anthology:
I believe, Virginia. I most certainly do, but not in the way most grown-ups do. You know how they twist things around so that anything can be true, depending on your point-of-view? Not this guy.
I wanted to watch Gremlins on TV, but my folks said it was too scary for Josh. We could both have another cup of cocoa, and then it was off to bed before Santa skipped our house. That really got Josh. He gulped down his cocoa and told me that the peppermint whipped cream tasted like Santa’s beard. It made me want to barf.
“There is no Santa Claus!” I said coolly.
Mom’s face went white. “Peter! What if he hears you?” She looked at Josh, who was still staring at me.
“Aw, mom,” I said. “Simon’s brother told us that’s just made up.”
“Go to your room!” she said icily. “I’ll send your father in there in a minute to say goodnight. I don’t suppose you’ll want him to read you ‘The Night Before Christmas,’ will you?”
The corners of Josh’s trembling mouth went down, making my brother look vaguely trapezoidal. His eyelids filled up and a fat, salty tear rolled down his face. He started vocalizing like a deaf person. “G-g-g-guh-rummm-puh-s-s-s!”
Mom muffled Josh’s sobs in her Rudolph sweater, and he seemed to cry even louder to make up for it. “I hope you’re proud. And on Christmas Eve, of all times! Something tells me you won’t be getting the visit you expected tonight.”
So I laid there in bed, listening to Josh cry. A small, nearly silent part of me wanted to take it all back and let Josh have his Christmas the way a little boy should, but I was enjoying the power I was feeling a little too much to care. Right then, everyone else got in line behind me.
I don’t know how much later it was, but it was dead quiet in the house. When I heard it, Josh was asleep, and mom and dad were long gone into their bedroom after an argument about what was going to happen to me. Brass bells over the house. I thought it was my imagination, but then I heard hoofbeats. Honest-to-goodness hoofbeats, and there was no mistaking it. I skipped down the stairs three at a time, all alone. He would be coming down the chimney, filling up the stockings, and propping up the low-hanging branches of the Christmas tree with Star Wars toys after all. Simon’s brother was wrong … but not in the way I expected.
The lights from the Christmas tree bathed everything in a dim red light, and even then, I remember thinking how weird it was, that all those different colors on the tree added up to red in the room. There weren’t any presents covering the tree skirt like I had expected, but there was a rustle behind the branches, like someone trying to scoot between them and the wall, so I held my breath tight, like a fist, and waited for that right jolly old elf to show himself—and his giant bag of goodies, just waiting to be played with. I could feel the smirk on my face. It was huge.
“Peter,” said a voice, as dry as winter branches on a window pane. “Peter, come here for your Christmas present.”
That voice didn’t sound anything like Santa Claus, and I stayed where I was…