Short Story: What’s A Christmas?

Written for A Writer’s Plot Christmas.

It was a day like any other. Up before sunrise Darren was already sitting on the train into Wellington dressed in an ironed navy shirt, a striped blue tie, black dress pants and a belt done up tight. He chose a seat next to the window so when the train reached the harbour he could admire the way the sun sparkled on the water. He tutted to himself as he spotted a middle-aged woman a few seats ahead of him reading Fifty Shades of Grey. Every day was the same, with the tunnel approaching he pulled out his phone and fired up his Twitter app. Darren’s fingers started moving: That time of the morning again. Here comes the tun. He hit send just as the train disappeared into the shade of the tunnel.

Inside the tunnel Darren noticed something unusual; a purple light filtered through the air around the tunnel. He took a closer look outside the window and a sudden flash of white light made Darren shield his eyes. He pulled away his hand and looked around the carriage. None of the other passengers looked up from their books or newspapers, or the heads of the people in front of them. The train came out into the light of day and Darren reached Wellington Railway Station without further incident.

As he walked past the shops on Lambton Quay, Darren noticed something strange. The Christmas trees and decorations displayed in the shop windows had vanished. How bizarre, Darren thought. Have I missed Christmas? I mean there were definitely decorations yesterday and now they’ve gone. After a few more shops Darren decided he had to find out what the true story was.

He entered Kirkcaldie & Stains, the windows usually dolled up to high heaven with Christmas displays by now, but not today it seemed. He strode past the usual trappings of fashion and accessories and walked straight up to reception. A large middle-aged woman stood behind the counter wearing a dark green blouse and a bizarre verdant lipstick. Her name tag read Dolly.

She spoke through a smile of gritted teeth. “How can I help you today Sir?”

Darren hesitated, thinking that it might be too strange a question to ask after all. He asked anyway. “What happened to all your Christmas decorations?”

“Pardon?” She leaned over the counter giving Darren an unwanted view of her cleavage. He looked away and pointed at the windows. “They were there just yesterday.”

“I’m afraid I’m still a little confused. Can you spell it?” Dolly asked, looking down at her computer keyboard.

Darren looked puzzled, but complied. “Sure. C-H-R-I-S-T-M-A-S.”

She typed each individual letter with her index finger as he spoke them.

“I’m afraid we don’t have any Chur-ist-mas in stock.”

“Christ-mas,” Darren stressed the word. “December 25th. Jesus Christ. Santas Claus. Presents. Pine trees. Any of this ring a bell?”

“I’m sorry Sir. In New Zealand we don’t celebrate Chur-ist-mas,” Dolly said, still saying the word wrong.

“What do you mean we don’t celebrate it? Since when?”

“I’ve never heard of it. I don’t know where you come from…”

“England,” said Darren, clearly annoyed. His accent was easily distinguishable he thought.

She put back on her fake smile, “Is there anything else I can help you with today Sir?”

“No, there isn’t,” said Darren, turning away.

He strode only a few paces when he yelped out in pain, half tripping over. He looked down to see a small wooden box at his feet. With his big toe still throbbing Darren picked up the polished mahogany box and examined it. There was a lock on the front. He tried to pry the lid open but it wouldn’t budge. “Figures,” said Darren aloud. He turned back towards the counter when something stung his side. He reached into his pants pocket and pulled out a long silver key with the silhouette of what must be a greyhound on the head of the key. It was certainly not one of his. “What the devil?” He tried the key in the lock. The box clicked and Darren lifted the lid. A flash of bright light blinded him. “Not again!” After blinking a few times he looked into the box to see it was empty. “Well that’s disappointing.” He continued onto the counter and dumped the box in front of Dolly the receptionist. He was about to launch into a tirade about leaving things on the floor when he realised she was stark naked — with that same verdant, toothy smile, in nothing but what God gave her. Customers didn’t give her a second look. Darren shuddered and avoided Dolly’s gaze. “Found this on the floor,” he mumbled and immediately fled the scene, high tailing it out of the store.

“That’s enough excitement for one day I think,” said Darren as he strode down Lambton Quay looking for the nearest Starbucks. He walked under the shadow of the Old Bank Arcade and spotted the familiar Starbucks sign. In front of him a man in a tailored suit entered the café. Darren followed until a gust of wind came out of the store and stopped him in his tracks. Darren tried to take another step forward still encountering resistance. He leant into the wind, pushing forward with all his strength. His tie moved with crazy abandon and his cheeks flapped against the air pressure. The wind blasted Darren backwards, knocking over one of the outdoor tables. He found himself sprawled on the ground, his lips only inches away from kissing concrete. Immediately he picked himself up and dusted off his shirt only to find passers-by staring at him. “Don’t worry about it. I’m fine.” The people carried on walking and Darren stood the table back up. He looked longingly inside the Starbucks. “Right. No coffee for me today then.”

Darren pulled out his phone ready to type some tweets about the bizarre day he was having when the screen suddenly went black. Darren pushed the power button. Battery can’t be dead, he thought. I charged it overnight. He smacked the phone against his palm and a white silhouette of a greyhound ran across the screen. “What the devil is going on?” Something in his head clicked. He turned around and shouted out into the busy street. “Right, you got me! I’m Punk’d, Candid Camera’d or whatever lame TV show you’ve got these days. Show me the cameras. I’ve had enough and I need to get to work!” The people of Lambton Quay carried onto their destinations, barely giving Darren a second glance.

Darren noticed his phone was working again. Immediately he made an Internet search for Christmas. Zero results. Not even a passing reference or mistyped word. The word Christmas had been erased from the world. Darren took a few seconds to take it all in. Another gust of wind came along, but this time instead of blowing Darren off his feet it simply picked up his tie and held it aloft. “What, so I’m Dilbert now? Is that the best you’ve got?!” Darren huffed into the sky. If it wasn’t Ashton Kutcher to blame then it could only be God. Darren turned and noticed his tie blew in the same direction regardless of which direction he was facing. He began to follow its advice.

The tie was not a compass; it was more like a turn-by-turn GPS. The tie took him down streets and around corners. For hours he walked until he arrived at a little house up one of Wellington’s steep suburban streets. Behind a wireframe fence waiting patiently at the gate sat a thin, brown greyhound. It eyed Darren as he approached. The tie pointed to the house beyond the gate. The house with peeling paint, an overgrown lawn and beer bottles scattered among the blades of grass. Darren felt for the gate latch keeping an eye on the greyhound at all times. “Now, now… You wouldn’t’ do anything stupid like bite me now would you?” The dog sat rooted to its spot. Darren moved the latch and slowly opened the gate. The greyhound didn’t budge, not even a flick of the ears as Darren closed the gate and passed by cautiously.

He walked the mossy path with weeds growing through the cracks, arriving at two little steps leading up to a front door. As Darren took each step, the tie became less lofty until it hung back to normal down his front. He was standing in front of the door now. No turning back, Darren thought. He knocked twice. He heard a movement inside, a squeak of springs and a shuffle of feet towards the door. It opened. A filthy looking man in a white singlet and underpants stood before him. He scratched the white but discoloured bushy beard growing out from his chin. His singlet was stained with what could only be chocolate. Hopefully chocolate. Above the singlet his white chest hairs curled. His feet were bare and his toenails extra long, yellow in parts.

He coughed throatily before speaking. “Who are you then?”

Again Darren was at a loss on how to begin. For a second he caught a glimpse of the bearded man in the nude. A trick of the mind. He closed his eyes and reopened them, and the filthy man was wearing clothes once more.

“Can you tell me what’s going on?” Darren asked.

“I’m afraid I don’t know what you’re talking about. Who are you again?”

“Darren.”

The man’s eyes lit up at the name.

“So you do know who I am?”

The filthy man shook his head. “Not a clue, sorry lad.”

He began to close the door when Darren jammed it with his foot. “Please sir. This day is getting weirder by the hour. I need answers.”
The filthy man paused waiting for Darren to continue.

“I skipped work to follow a magical tie. I’ve been haunted by greyhounds, paranormal gusts of wind and horrid, horrid images.”

“Greyhounds you say?” The filthy man looked out at his front yard where the greyhound sat by the gate. It was facing towards them now, still rooted to the same spot, but facing them nonetheless. The filthy man reopened his door. “Come inside.”

Darren followed him into a room containing two couches with the stuffing showing, and a coffee table covered in Chinese take-away containers and oily scrunched up newspapers. Inside a pint glass dirty cutlery, including a greasy steak knife, pointed towards the ceiling. A small television sat in the corner atop a makeshift shelf built out of Playboy magazines. The filthy man motioned for Darren to sit down on the empty couch seat. He removed some rubbish from the other couch and made space to sit down. He sat down slowly, wincing as he bent his knees. They clicked loudly. Darren bit his lip.

“Old joints,” said the filthy man. His white haired pot belly hung out from under the singlet. “I would say excuse the mess but frankly I don’t give a toot. This is my place.”

“I didn’t say anything,” said Darren.

“Good. And if you were after some kind of backstory; my wife left me. Let’s leave it at that. Now about your problem… I still can’t believe it was you of all people he picked,” the filthy man chuckled to himself.

“Picked? By whom?”

“My greyhound. He sent you here.”

“Excuse me?”

“Even after all that has happened to you today, you’re still going to question me? Well, that’s human nature for you.”

Darren clasped his hands together not knowing what to say.

“You see, I was in the job of charity,” said the filthy man. “I would work hard all year for just one day of reward. One day to see the smiles on children’s faces. But all that’s gone now. I packed it in. What good is it bringing joy to people when you can’t even be happy yourself? Although apparently Rudolph here would still like me to pick up the reins once again.”

“Rudolph?”

“My greyhound.”

“So you’ve heard of Christmas then?”

“Of course I’ve heard of Christmas. Who do you think invented it?”

Darren sat forward in his chair. “Wait, you’re Santa?”

“Yes, well, used to be. Since I erased Christmas, now I just go by Kris.”

“Erased Christmas? Is that why no one recognises the word? Why all the decorations have gone?”

“Don’t tell me you miss it. How old are you? You must be as sick of the whole thing now as I am.”

Darren looked at the filthy Santa with new eyes. “It’s not that I miss it…”

“That’s what I thought. Why Rudolph would–”

Darren stood up with a newfound optimism. “But that doesn’t mean I don’t think it should exist. Forget that commercial crap. Forget storefront decorations and Christmas sales and Chrisco hampers. It’s the one time of year we can experience something magical. I get a day off work and I get to spend time with my family.”

“And what about me?” Santa croaked. “What do I get out of it?”

“The children. Don’t you want to make them smile again?”

A tear rolled down Santa’s cheek. He slowly lifted his arm and pointed to the table. “See that knife. Pick it up would you?”

Darren looked at the steak knife inside the pint glass. He picked up the knife uncertainly and held it in both hands.

Santa’s cold hard eyes stared into Darren’s. His lips trembled as he spoke. “Stab me.”

Darren was taken aback. “Stab you? What would I want to do that for?”

Santa’s face was unflinching. “It’s the only way.”

“You’ve got to be joking. Can’t you use your magic? Turn everything back the way it was?”

“When I turned my back on Christmas I lost all my power. For Rudolph, he was forced to leave his home. Leave his duties. He still retains his power. It’s in him you can bring Christmas back.”

“Then what on earth do I need to stab you for?”

“He can’t do it with me still around.”

“But how will Christmas still exist with you gone?”

“You will have to wait and see.” Santa motioned at the knife. “Do it. Now.”

Darren grasped the black handle in one hand and took a step forward. “I hope to God you’re right about this.”

Darren lunged at Santa and plunged the knife into his chest. He pulled it out and tossed it to the floor. The hole in the dirty white singlet oozed a sickly red. Santa’s eyes began to glass over. His arms went limp. Darren held onto the doorframe for support. “I’m so sorry.”

He left the messy room and the corpse of Santa Claus behind him. He looked around the front yard. The greyhound had vanished from in front of the gate, but there was something else trotting along the grass now; A reindeer. It stopped in front of Darren at the bottom of the stairs. It was huge; the size of a pony, if not bigger. Darren hesitantly walked down the stairs and Rudolph delicately bent over. Darren scratched the exposed fur on its head in between the massive branch-like antlers.

“Can you fix this mess?” Darren asked the magnificent creature.

The reindeer lifted its head forcing Darren to remove his hand. It took a step back and a flash of light erupted all around Darren, blinding him once more.

When his vision returned, Darren realised he was no longer in the front yard. A silver train was stopped in front of him. He was standing on a platform inside Wellington Railway Station. He looked down and noticed his tie. He untied it and threw it onto the platform. He stared at it like it was a wild animal. It didn’t budge. He scooped the tie back up off the ground and stepped inside the train. Darren spotted a woman with a book propped open on her lap. He was relieved it wasn’t Fifty Shades of Grey. “Excuse me. I know this might sound funny, but does Christmas exist?”

The woman looked up at him with a puzzled expression. “Uhh… you mean December 25th?”

“Yes. Presents. Santa Claus?” Darren asked.

“The present giving I know about. I don’t know about a Santa Claus though.”

“Santa. The red guy in a suit. Has a beard. Delivers presents.”

“Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer delivers the presents leading an army of flying reindeer,” said the woman matter-of-factly.

“Yes, Rudolph leads the way, but who controls the sleigh?”

“Rudolph does. The sleigh is empty apart from the sack full of presents.”

“You still have Christmas trees?”

The woman pointed to a poster on the wall of the train. It contained an image of a Christmas tree covered in red and white striped candy canes with colourfully wrapped presents underneath.

“Thanks,” said Darren, turning away.

The woman watched curiously as he continued down the aisle, eventually returning to her book. Darren took a seat by the window with the view of the sea. After a few minutes the train departed and the train staff moved down the aisle clipping tickets. Darren was relaxed. He was happy. Sure he was still kind of bummed he killed Santa Claus but Christmas was back again. The sea came into view when Darren was reminded of the first flash of light he had that day. The thought hit him like a lightning bolt. “The tunnel.” Darren leapt up from his seat and yelled “Get me off this train! We have to stop before the tun–”

The train vanished into the tunnel and light consumed the carriage. Darren was still standing up, holding onto the railing. He returned to the woman reading her book. “Does Christmas still exist?”

“You already asked me this.”

“Just tell me!”

“Yes. Presents. Rudolph. Naked Santa Claus. The lot of it.”

Darren took a step back. He sighed heavily and returned to his seat, mentally preparing for the long journey home.

THE END

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