One Winter Night
By Marie LeClaire
Lily was smarter than the average seven-year-old. She knew it. She was certainly smarter than her brother who was two years older than her, beating him at most games easily. Tonight, he was fast asleep in the room next to hers, but she was too excited for that.
The house was silent as she laid awake listening intently for any unusual noise. She was just about give up when she heard a creak from beneath her bed. She took in a quick breath, excitement pumping through her little body. Was that him? Had she missed the noise on the roof? Maybe the roof didn’t make any noise, not like the rest of the house. She knew all the creaks and squeaks of the inside of the house like the back of her hand. She had caught her brother on many hide and seek occasions by tracking him through the noises of the floors and doors. And that sound she just heard? It wasn’t her floorboards squeaking. It came from the room just below hers. The living room. She was sure of it.
As quietly as she could, she crept out of bed, over to the window, and peered out into the darkness. The night sky was clear and starry. The snow on the front walk, undisturbed. She carefully donned her slippers and robe, tying the latter tightly around her tiny waist. Tip-toeing over to the staircase, she leaned over and listened hard. Was that the crinkle of wrapping paper? Her heart skipped a beat. She leaned over a little more and heard an almost inaudible Ho, Ho, Ho. Oh my god! It was HIM! She could hardly breathe. Then she leaned over just a tiny bit more to get a peek. She spotted him, dressed in full regalia, just before she went, head first, down the stairs.
Santa wasn’t surprised at all. He’d heard her as soon as she got out of bed. Dashing over to the stairs, he swept her up in his arms before any real damage could be done.
“Santa!” she squealed.
He gently shushed her, pressing a white-gloved finger to her lips.
She silenced herself, staring wide-eyed at the man of myths and legends around the world. He looked just like she thought he would. “Santa,” she said again in the softest whisper she could manage. “I can’t believe it. I mean, I can, because I do, you know, believe. But I can’t believe I caught you.”
“Just like you catch Jimmy for hide and seek?” Santa whispered back with a twinkle in his eye.
Lily’s eyes got huge with amazement. “Y-e-a-h,” she breathed out in awe. “Just like that.”
Santa smiled. He loved this part of his job. “I knew you’d be up,” he admitted as he placed her feet squarely on the floor. “I thought I’d give you a special treat and take a little break for myself while I was at it.” He took her by the hand and lead her past the Christmas tree, now surrounded by presents, to an overstuffed couch. With a little heave-ho, he plopped himself down on one end. Lily perched herself on the arm at the other end and leaned in on her knees, staring at him, her little brain recording every move, every nuance, every twinkle.
“Did you make these?” Santa asked as he gestured to the plate of cookies decorated with green and red frosting. A tall glass of milk stood at attention nearby.
“Yes. Me and Dad made them this afternoon. Jimmy ate a bunch already.”
“Is that so. But not you?” Santa tilted his head and eyed her sideways.
“Well, me too,” she admitted reluctantly. “Dad made us stop so there’d be some for you.” Lily looked up at Santa to see if she was in any trouble. He just smiled.
“Well, are they any good?” he teased.
“Yes, they are. Quite good,” she said emphatically. “But Dad’s the expert. I just helped.”
“And you did a great job. Let’s check them out.” He took one, then picked up the plate and offered some to Lily. She took one but hesitated with the sweet half way to her mouth. She was looking at him very intently.
“I have a lot of questions for you,” she said with childlike seriousness.
“Well, okay then. Let’s hear them.”
“I need to know how you visit every house in one night.”
“Well, it’s magic,” Santa replied as if it were obvious.
“Duh, I know t h a t,” she said with exasperation. “I mean how? Like is it a time distortion or something? Global? Or just a local, one that moves around with you? Or maybe it’s a wormhole network? Multidimensional portals?”
“Ha!” Santa started to let go a hearty laugh, then shushed himself so as not to wake the others. “Hmmm. Those are pretty big questions for such a little girl.” He tried to get serious.
“Dad says I’m pro-co-shiss,” she overly enunciated the syllables.
“I’ll bet he does.” He struggled to suppress a grin.
“So? What is it then?” she insisted.
“Well,” he pondered his answer for a moment. “It’s a little of all those things,” he said. “But mostly it’s all up here.” He tapped the side of his head with his white-gloved finger. His eyebrow raised up slightly as he tipped his head toward her. “You see, the world is based on our beliefs. What we believe we are going to see is what we see. What we believe is going to happen is what happens.”
“Really?” she asked skeptically.
“Really. Didn’t you believe you were going to see me, tonight, before you went to bed?”
She thought a moment. “Yes, actually, I did.”
“Believed it one hundred percent?” he nudged.
“Well, maybe only ninety.”
Again, Santa stifled a laugh. “It’s the same for me. I simply believe that I can deliver presents to every household in one night.”
“A hundred percent?” she grilled him.
“At lease a solid ninety.” He winked at her.
She thought for a moment. “And what about this list of good and bad kids? How does that work? Do parents rat us out?”
“Oh, no,” Santa said, shaking his head seriously. “There is no list. All children are beautiful, exciting spirits, always doing their very best all the time. I love them all.”
“So, no list?” she grilled him again.
“No list,” he asserted. “Lists were made up by grownups as a way to scare children into behaving the way they want them to. It doesn’t really work though. It mostly just makes kids feel bad about themselves.”
Lily thought about this a minute then changed tracks. “And how about elves?”
“Oh, yes, quite real. A delightful race of beings, incredibly skilled and happy to be helpful. The fairies chip in too, from time to time.”
“Fairies?” Lily’s eyes got big with wonder.
“Sure. They don’t like the cold much, though, so I can only count on them to work remotely. Mostly, they check names and addresses around the world.”
“Now, is there anything else?”
“Ah, no. I don’t think so. Not right now anyway,” she added, wanting to leave the door open for future discussion.
Santa rose off the couch. “Well, if something else comes to your mind, put it in your letter next year. Okay?” He patted her gently on the head.
“Okay,” she nodded slowly. She watched as he put one more present under the tree.
Then, laying his finger aside of his nose, and giving a nod, up the chimney he rose.