The Midnight Special – Christmas Edition

Anyone else find Christmas ripe for disquieting reflection?

Why do Santa’s eyes twinkle so? What terrible ideas is he delighting at so brilliantly?

What if he stays a little longer than he should, just to keep an eye on things, while you slept unknowing through the night?

***

“Presents”

© Copyright 2011

Sean Ganus

Tammy only made it halfway down the stairs before the shaking in her legs made her grab the banister. She felt like if she went any further, she wouldn’t be able to walk any further.

Besides, what if they got caught? What if Santa caught them?

“Lisa!” The older sibling had had no problem making it to the living room. Tammy fidgeted in footy pajamas, called out in a voice that barely wasn’t a whisper: “Lisa, what if we get caught?!”

“We’re not gonna get caught!”

“What if Santa gets mad at us?!”

“The presents are already here, dummy! Santa can’t take ‘em back!”

Lisa let her little sister fidget, felt her bare feet warm as they stepped from the hardwood and sank into the carpet. The tree was a squat, fat affair, weighed down with drowsy lights that glowed as gently as candlelight. The tinsel the girls had buried it in made the room shimmer, and as the heating vent made her nightshirt billow, Lisa had the unconscious feeling she was stepping into the night sky.

The seven-year-old ran back upstairs. Lisa crept to the closest box she could easily open, a shimmering green and red thing with a sumptuous golden bow. No tape or ribbon held the box’s lid in place.

Lisa quickly scooped the box into her arms, like an animal hoarding food, and shook it against her ear. Nothing rattled, nothing bounced against the sides. Lisa turned it, felt for any shifting weight. She listened for moving parts she might have accidentally activated.

All she heard was rushing wind. A music player?

The lid made a card-like clatter as it bounced on the floor. Despite the glowing room, the inside of the box was very dark.

***

“Bobby! Bobby, wake up!”

The kid swatted at the dark, missed his sister’s face but succeeded in shooing her back a few inches. Tammy reached back out and grabbed her brother when his arm fell back.

“Bobby!”

“What?!”

“You gotta get up!”

“Why?”

“Lisa’s gonna open the presents!”

Bobby sleepily opened his eyes. “The presents?”

“Yeah! She’s gonna get Santa mad!”

“Santa’s been here?”

“Yes!”

Bobby sat up, quickly but with his eyes still closed. He rubbed them open, broke the encrusted sleep with a balled-up hand as he shuffled out from under the covers. “Lisa already opened presents?”

“Yeah…”

Bobby was on his feet and out the door, with Tammy close behind. “Bobby, wait!”

Each pounding footstep made the kid sound like he weighed a thousand pounds. He leapt the last three stairs, came down heavy, stomped into the living room.

Tammy looked around for a scowling, bearded face, a gloved finger waving angrily over the naughtiness afoot.

Bobby ran past the shimmering box closest to the stairs, braced his shoulder against a package nearly big enough for him to hide in and knocked it over.

It went over with so little resistance that Bobby nearly fell with it.

Tammy, fearful, ran back to her room.

Bobby scrabbled to the lid, wrenched it off with both arms. But the living room was dim, and it was hard to see inside. Eagerly, burning in the cold night, Bobby crawled inside the box.

***

Tammy rocked on her bed, pillows against each ear, knees against her chest and sheet overhead. She waited for the muffled screams of naughty children to pierce the down stuffing.

Occasionally she thought she heard the deep cheer of chesty laughter, but no screams had come.

The night was nippy, even inside with the heat going. Curiosity brought her feet to the floor. The aching cold made her step into her slippers.

Tammy’s door could open a foot without any noise. She cracked it an inch and put her ear to the house. Nothing.

Bobby and Lisa had seen their gifts, and nothing at all had happened to them.

The fear was gone, but Tammy wasn’t old enough to know she should be embarrassed. It just suddenly seemed a strange, far away thing. Punished for being naughty. Afraid Santa would catch them.

Catch them, when he had all those houses to get to. Silly.

Tammy opened her door wide enough to slip through, made it to the stairs with her cloth soles eating any noise. Downstairs the living room glimmered and waggled fingers of shimmering light.

She heard the faint tinkle of the aluminum strips of tinsel as they danced in the drafts of heat. It was almost like they were asking what she was doing up there. Silly girl.

One, two. Twenty soundless steps, each one taken lighter than the one before. Then a brief space between her and the withholding tree.

The lights were coy. They winked and grinned, teasing her with what they knew were in the boxes.

The socks and carpet made her feel like she was stepping higher and higher, like clouds were building under her tiny feet. Lisa’s box looked boring, Bobby’s box was still tipped over.

But there was a new box under the tree.

A flat, long box, in smooth white paper and deep black ribbon. A silver tag stuck out beneath the bow.

Tammy…

The ribbon fell away with just a motion of her hand as soon as her fingers were on it. The paper fell away without a single crinkle.

The gold box had a little latch, and Tammy flipped it with her thumb. She bit her lip and lifted the lid.

The sparkles on the walls spun like angry winter stars.

***

Strange. The children never slept later than the parents on this day.

The mother and father rub their eyes. Dad ties his robe, Mom yawns. Odd, too.

There are three boxes Mom and Dad don’t remember putting there at all.

They all seem disturbed, all seem explored. That one in the white paper is even unwrapped.

Dad picks up the shimmering box closest to them, walks to the large gift while Mom lifts the little golden box. There’s an odd heft to the tiny thing. Mom has the unusual thought that she hears soft footfalls inside.

Dad lifts the lid from the massive box, screams and drops the package in his arm. It falls open as he drops to the ground.

Mom screams, and the golden box tumbles away.

Neatly packed away, tucked and folded, twisted and bent so they could fit the corners perfectly. Three naughty children, awake on Christmas night.

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