Little Bobby was so excited he couldn’t even shut his eyes, let alone sleep. The sounds of the night were muffled by the falling snow outside his bedroom window. The silent night was broken only by the soft, sweet breathing of his little brother and baby sister, her crib pushed into their room to make way for uncles, aunts and cousins in the nursery.
Bobby clutched his Teddy tightly, and strained his ears for a jingle of sleigh-bells, a tread of hooves on the roof, a rush and rustle in the chimney stack.
Only this week, that bad boy Danny Rawls had been teasing him and taunting that there was no Santa, that Santa was a lie. But Bobby refused to believe Mommy would tell him such a fib. Santa was too good, too generous, to beautiful and wonderful not to exist.
Still, Bobby had a hard, painful knot in his chest. Maybe Danny was right. Maybe there was no Santa. Maybe Daddy and Mommy laid all the sparkling presents, gay in their wrappings and festive bows, beneath the fragrant and shining tree each year. Maybe when he was older, the magic would end, and there would be no miracles, no beauty, no imagination, no Santa.
Bobby had suffered in silence all Christmas week, too miserable to ask his Mother the questions that tormented his days and haunted his dreams. Perhaps he was afraid of what the answer might be.
Through the interminable hours (we oldsters forget how time drags on for a children, especially waiting for a great event like a Birthday or a Holiday.) Bobby’s mind was fevered with doubt, sick with certainty, then alternately wistful with hope.
For in a moment of revelation, when praying in church the Sunday before Christmas, Bobby sent a small, beseeching plea to the large statue of Christ crucified, awesome and holy, to please let Santa be real, and to please Lord, let Santa be revealed to him.
And Jesus had answered him, looking directly at Bobby with his soft brown eyes, so full of understanding and love. Bobby could hear Christ’s answer in his head, as if God were speaking to him alone, and it gave him comfort and a resolute plan to find out himself if Santa were real or not.
So Christmas Eve night, almost midnight, Bobby was lying in the dark, as wide awake as if it were noon, praying to Jesus to be with him, and show him the great secret. As the night reached into the wee hours, Bobby heard the slightest sound downstairs, and he knew the time had come.
Bobby crept down the stairs, Teddy bumping his head on each step as he descended, dragging up the rear. Bobby’s eyes became accustomed to the dark, catlike, and he made out a form on the living room sofa. A chubby, jolly form, soft in the shadows, indistinct and hazy, but Bobby knew who it was.
He drew nearer, shyly at first, then as he saw the red fabric covering the seated form he knew his prayers had been answered and reached out his arms to embrace Santa.
Bobby saw a great light, a beautiful red glow, and felt himself leave the Earth, an angel, floating free and light, heard beautiful music and the gates of Heaven, and was happy. Then he everything went red at the edges and finally total blackness as he entered oblivion and then he knew nothing more, as if a candle had gone out, forever.
Bobby’s Uncle Barry lowered the shotgun and peered near-sightedly through the darkness to see if he his aim had been true, clouded as it was by the many egg-nog brandies he had consumed Christmas Eve. It was a good thing he had stayed up to guard the presents against the Christmas Burglar who skulked into homes after families were fast asleep. By the looks of the shotgun riddled remains at Uncle Barry’s feet, the Burglar had robbed his last house. Wait until the family, calling out in alarm at the shot, came in and saw Uncle Barry’s handiwork. Then they would be singing a different tune.
Outside the house there was a very faint jingling sound, then nothing.