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A Christmas Story
A Christmas Story
"Do you believe in Santa Claus?"
Prologue - Christmas Morning
The pilot once again checks his bearings. Then he signals to his commander who turns on the thermal cameras to sweep the huge swathes of Arctic ice below them. Five anxious faces stare nervously at the screen for some hint of life.
"There, right there." One of them screams, hardly able to contain his excitement mixed with a generous dose of nervousness.
Moments later the rescue chopper is landing amidst numerous flags fluttering around. The five member team gets out and starts to dig into the Arctic snow, fully aware of their race against the clock and the weight of expectations on their shoulders. Its not always you are sent on a rescue mission to North Pole on Christmas.
The Beginning - Two days before Christmas
"What can I do to make you believe?"
And with that the boy stared into the camera. He felt eyes of thousands watching him and he stared right back into them.
He was just an ordinary five year old boy. Well, as ordinary as a five year old with a tumour the size of a baseball in his head can be. So, he was like any other five year old boy except for miniscule facts that he had no hair [thanks to extensive chemotherapy], no parents, no more years to live and most importantly of all... he didn't believe in Santa Claus.
However, he was one of the many chosen by a charity organisation that made one wish of every terminally ill child true. In his case it just so happened that a celebrity came dressed as Santa Claus with a trail of news folks. "So, what can Santa do for you? What is your wish?" the favourite for next year's Best Actor award asked him. "You are not Santa. You are just an actor pretending to be a Santa."
"Ho ho ho... and why do you say that? I am the real Santa and can give you anything you want." He tried to play the part and hide the minor setback and embarrassment that the boy's remark had caused him. The boy stared him into the eyes, beyond his fake white eyebrows. "I don't believe in Santa and he doesn't exist."
"Oh no my boy, you are wrong, he does exist. Tell me, what can I do to make you believe?" the actor continued to play the part, aware of stares of many other kids around him.
But the boy was in no mood to give up so easily. He stared into the camera, a coy grin spread across his face.
"A trip to North Pole to meet Santa. And only gift I want from him is the gift of life."
A cold fog of silence fell upon the entire ward. No one took a breath for what seemed like forever.
Finally the actor removed his beard, Santa cap and the person behind the mask showed his face.
"Trip to North Pole it is then." he smiled as he took the boy's hand in his. The boy noticed a strange faint tattoo on his palm that looked like a snowflake, a giant snowflake.
So this was how a five year old boy with nothing to live for ended up on a chopper to North Pole. But it was awfully windy and they had to land a few miles south of North Pole. They set up camps to wait out the weather. But the boy, like all boys his age was too restless, reckless and a bit angry too. So, when all were sleeping he slipped out of his tent and started to walk towards the North Pole on his own.
He went on and on in search of North Pole, guided only by the North Star. But soon cold and hunger caught up with him. He fell down, shivering in the cold and derelict. Before anyone could find him he was buried under three feet of snow. His journey was over before it truly began. Or is it???
The North Pole - Christmas Eve
"He is opening his eyes now." "Lemme see lemme see." "Come." "Wait for him." "No." "Yes."
And many other strange noises seem to be swimming around my head. Last I remember I fell down. Wait, I also remember something about being buried in snow, about some weird creatures waving their hands at me... or was it all a dream?
I slowly try to open my eyes and bright white light instantly blinds me. I wince in pain and shut them tight, not before catching silhouette of a few "things".
"Will you switch off the lights?". A little more shuffling of the feet and sounds of a few things falling around me. "You can open your eyes now."
I give it another shot. Aha, it seems better now. I slowly open them and find a cute cherubic face with pointed ears smiling at me. I look around, more such faces greet me. As I try to see beyond them, all I find is heap upon heap of toys all around me. I must be dead, I tell myself, for this is what I thought heaven would be like, except that I don't see my mom and dad in here. But then, they might be, how can I really know if I have never seen them in my life? "Oh you will know when it comes to that, but you are not dead."
I turn my neck so suddenly towards the voice that am surprised my neck didn't snap.
Lo and behold. Standing right in front of me is the man himself. Santa Claus. He looks just like they show him, only looks much older with very visible wrinkles on his face and almost bald head, just the way I thought he would be if he were real.
"Yes, you are right. Even I don't really like that wrinkle free face they give me. Not that I don't wish for it, but it makes me miss the good old days. Oh yeah, I can read your thoughts. I can read every kid's thoughts. I am Santa Claus, how else you think I know who been bad and who was good. We will talk later, but first, you drink this up and then I'll show you around. Its rare for us to have visitors down here. In fact you are the second one, if my memory serves me right."
"Oh yes he is." A small jack-in-the-box type birdie pops out of Santa's hat and goes back after taking a silver strand from his beard. I almost choke on the buttery golden liquid I am drinking.
"That's my memory, never misses the cue. Only if it didn't need to be fed grey hair." and with those words Santa wistfully removed his hat and ran his hand on his almost bald plate. "Lets go."
The moment I step out of Santa's Palace [or Toy Factory, as elves like to call it] I fall down, rather up. Its tough to tell. Underneath my feet I find the sky and snow covered ground above our heads. Santa lets out a laugh as he explains to me that we are not on North Pole, but right under it, around a mile to be exact. It used to be more than a dozen miles at the height of ice age but with polar ice caps melting the "sky" was literally falling for denizens of North Pole. It takes me quite a while to get used to walking on the sky with ground above me.
Finally Santa takes me to North Pole. It is in fact like any other regular pole only it is perennially decorated like a Christmas tree, complete with bells and lights and the star at the top. "Yep, that's the North Star or Pole Star."
Suddenly I have a question, but I momentarily forget about it and instead wonder about how my head was so full of questions and doubts and now they seem to have vanished. As I said, momentarily. So, I ask Santa what was driving me crazy now. "Santa, its Christmas eve, yet I see no reindeers or sleigh. Why so?"
At this Santa has a funny look in his eyes, the sort of look a kid has when about to reveal his secret.
"Ho ho ho... you really believe all those stories about me going to every good kid's house, sliding down the chimney and giving all those gifts?"
I shake my head in negative, after a brief reluctant thought. I never really believed...
"...how a man as fat as me could go down all those chimneys, right? Well, to be honest in early days I used to do that. In fact started the whole Christmas gift thing during the Dark Ages. There weren't too many good kids back then, so meeting deadline wasn't too tough. But that was long ago. Now I don't go around on Christmas eve. But there are many others who do this for me. I never leave this home of mine anymore. But there are many who know me, believe in me and they do my work. They keep my legend alive, Christmas spirit alive... they keep me alive." Santa turns away from me and takes a few moments before he faces me again, with a somewhat fake smile.
"Haven't you wondered why Santa has never aged or changed all these years? Its because that's the way I was when last someone saw me for real. That was so long ago that I don't even remember it. And I never really was as fat as they made me out to be, its just the suit that made me look fat." "Liar liar liar" the cuckoo once again sprang out of his hat, Santa's memory had betrayed him.
Suddenly strong winds start to blow and I can hear and feel a huge fan somewhere in the distant frozen horizon.
"Well, its time for you to go now. But before you go, here is something for you." Santa gives me a small box, gift wrapped and all. "Go on, open it." he prods me as all the elves look on. I open it and inside is a slimy black thing.
"You were really sick when we found you. Your head was so full of doubts and questions and disbelief that you won't have survived here for long. So the elves had to operate and surgically remove them all from your head." Santa explains to me. Now I realise where all that white light and silhouettes came from. "Yeah, you are right, the anaesthesia is not very good and you did pop open your eyes a few times during the surgery." Santa once again reads my thoughts and replies on his own.
"And this is for you, a gift from us all." the head elf steps forward and replaces the pocket on my trousers with a new one. I put my hand into the pocket and when I take it out I hold a snowflake the size of my palm. "This is the magical snowflake from which springs the first snow of the winter. Its like a walkie talkie. When you hold it in your palm in presence of a kid who needs Santa, you will be able to read his thoughts and know what he wants. Trust the snowflake and friendly Christmas spirits, they will show you the way to fulfil that wish. But remember, if you take it out of your pocket, you lose it forever."
"That reminds me," Santa turns to me with a serious look on his face, "you can't tell anyone about this place. If they find out, you know the way realtors work. We all will be drive out of here well before polar ice caps melt. Or worse, be made to work in the new amusement park they will build here. I want to enjoy my retirement in peace." Santa suddenly adds as an afterthought "In fact forget that, I don't think anyone will believe you anyhow. And yeah, Merry Christmas."
With those words Santa pushes me onto a pedestal on the North Pole and presses a red button with a huge label "Never Push This Button." All the elves wave goodbye to me and I notice a faint imprint of a giant snowflake on their palms, an imprint even more prominent on Santa's.
A rush of red green and white twirls around me as I spin like a top. All the spinning makes me feel dizzy. I feel like a drill boring through the icy "roof" of North Pole. It suddenly comes to a halt a few feet from the "surface" and my head hits the snow hard.
Suddenly I feel very cold and everything around me goes black.
Epilogue - Morning After Christmas
"Do you believe in Santa Claus now?"
All news channels were present at the hospital. "A Christmas Miracle", "The Kid Who Met Santa" etc. were the headlines of the day. I had told the doctors about my trip to North Pole and Santa Claus and elves and all, even about the magical pocket. They said they didn't find any snowflake in my pocket, they said it would have melted anyhow, they laughed, they mocked. Some of them said something about post-traumatic stress, delirium, hallucinations and some more complex medical terms like that. Some of them used simpler terms like fertile imagination of a child. Still, none could explain the disappearance of the tumour. But am sure in time they will explain that too, there is always a rational explanation.
As I sat in my ward a few news channel reporters thrust their mikes into my face. "Do you believe in Santa Claus now?" I fingered the snowflake in my pocket.
The snowflake that they all had been unable to find yet it was in there. The snowflake I couldn't show to them without losing it. And the snowflake that told me that the cameraman had been a bad kid while the girl thrusting mike in my face wanted a little brother when she was a little girl but now all she wanted was diamonds.
I wondered if I could tell them what I truly believed in. I knew what they wanted me to say, the snowflake told me. I could say it, but would they ever understand?
I held on tightly to the snowflake, closed my eyes and asked for the answer. I swear I could hear Santa's voice in my head. A smile spread across my lips.
I took my hand out of the pocket, could see a very faint imprint of snowflake on my palm. "No, I don't." Another Santa was born.