|Art: Steve Daniels|
“Santa Claus isn’t real, and I can prove it!”
As soon as the words escaped Damon’s mouth, he wished he could take them back. While they had been out Christmas shopping last week, Mom had told nine-year-old Damon the truth, but under one condition: he was not to tell his seven-year-old brother, Eldon, who still very much believed in Santa Claus.
But the words Damon could not take back went straight to Eldon’s ears. It was bad enough that Eldon was standing at the edge of the couch, playing with that stupid toy – a race car with a Santa Claus figure he’d stolen from the Christmas tree – but he had just told Damon to be nice to his toy or the real Santa wouldn’t bring him anything.
“How do you know?” Eldon said.
Damon, lying on the couch, felt bad enough as it was. Having the flu was a lousy way to spend Christmas Eve.
“How do I know what?” he said, stalling for time.
“That Santa isn’t real?”
Damon thought for a moment. It was bad enough that he had disobeyed Mom, but now his pride was on the line. It would be all right, he decided, as long as Eldon promised not to tell Mom that Damon had leaked the truth. “You know how Santa always comes down through a chimney?”
“Yeah?” Eldon perked up, as if he were about to be let in on a big secret.
“We don’t have a chimney.”
“So? Maybe Santa comes down a magic chimney.”
Damon shook his head in frustration, which made him cough even harder. When Eldon got an idea like that in his head, there was no convincing him otherwise.
Still, Damon would not give up. “Okay,” he whispered, making sure his mother, who was in the kitchen, could not hear. “We’ll stay awake all night. After Mom and Dad go to bed, I’ll use my darkspace on both of us. Then we can sneak downstairs and watch for Santa.”
Eldon beamed at the idea, though Damon knew he was excited at the prospect of staying awake all night and watching for Santa, not at the idea of Damon creating darkness – the reason Damon and his family had to live in the district in the first place. The darkspace would blot out any light and sound from outside, but it also meant his parents couldn’t hear the two boys sneak down the creaky stairs. Damon would just have to be very careful and guide Eldon down the stairs, since only Damon could see and hear inside the darkspace.
“El, stay away from your brother,” Mom called.
Eldon scurried to the other side of the room as Mom approached Damon, carrying something in her hand. “Open wide,” she said.
Damon opened his mouth. He was greeted by the thermometer, which he always liked – it was like sucking on hard candy – but this time he could barely taste it. He watched cross-eyed as the mercury rose up and up and up.
“I’m so sorry you’re sick on Christmas Eve,” Mom said, brushing his hair off his hot forehead. “You’ll have to sleep downstairs again so your brother doesn’t catch it.”
Damon’s eyes darted to Eldon, who was crouched by the furnace, playing with the Santa Claus and race car. It annoyed him to see his brother still playing with such a stupid toy while Damon himself couldn’t get the toy he wanted for Christmas: a Captain Meteor action figure. Now that he knew Santa wasn’t real, there was only one way he could get Captain Meteor.
“Mom, I know what will make me feel better,” he said, straining to sit up. “If you get me a Captain Meteor—”
She shook her head. “Honey, I told you. Captain Meteor is too expensive. Besides, a doll isn’t going to make you well.”
A coughing fit prevented him from shouting, “It’s not a doll! It’s an action figure."
“Now hold still,” his mother said, gently pushing him back down. “I’m going to get you an extra blanket and pillow.”
As soon as she left the room, Eldon darted back over to Damon’s side. “I heard what Mom said. You have to sleep downstairs. Too bad.”
“We can still watch for Santa,” Damon replied between coughs. “You’ll just have to be extra careful when you sneak downstairs.”
Eldon shook his head so quickly Damon thought it would fall off. “I’m not gonna sneak downstairs. Last time we did that, Dad heard and we got in trouble, remember?”
Damon remembered, but it was a long time ago. “We were just sneaking downstairs to get cookies from the fridge. This time, we’re going to prove Santa doesn’t exist!”
“He DOES exist,” Eldon argued, clutching the toy. “But you can stay awake and see for yourself.”
“Oh, what’s the use if you’re not there to see whether he’s real or not, too.”
“If you tell me you saw him or didn’t, I’ll believe you.”
“If you swear on a stack of Bibles.”
They didn’t have a stack of Bibles, except imaginary ones, but that was good enough. Damon raised his right hand. “Okay, I swear.”
|Art: Darryl Woods|
“What’s he drive, then?” said Damon, humoring his brother.
“He drives a Chevrolet.”
* * *
Staying awake wasn’t going to be as hard as Damon thought. His nose was so stopped up it felt like a diesel truck had parked inside it. His throat was still raw, and he gagged if he lay on his back for very long. The chills and fever kept him cold and hot at the same time.
But there was more than the flu keeping him awake. It was Christmas Eve. He wasn’t going to let being sick ruin the special day. Damon tried to decide whether or not he should pretend to be asleep when Dad removed the presents from the locked closet by the front door and placed them under the tree in the next room. If he did, he would have to try really hard not to cough.
As the hours dragged on, Damon wondered what time it was. He didn’t feel like sitting up, reaching across the table, and turning on the lamp to see the clock on the wall, but there was a better way. Damon closed his eyes, concentrated, and exhaled. When he opened his eyes again, the room was much darker, but Damon could see perfectly. Everything appeared in black and white, like an old horror movie. He glanced at the clock. It read 12:01.
Damon couldn’t recall having ever been up past midnight before. It made him feel both excited and scared.
The curtain behind him glowed – headlights. A car driving past the house. At this hour? Damon recalled what his brother had said. It was a silly idea – Santa driving a Chevy – but Damon had to be sure. He thrust the covers aside, climbed up on his knees, and pushed the heavy curtain apart.
He couldn’t see the yard or the trees or the street. It was as if the world outside his window had disappeared!
Damon felt embarrassed. I forgot to send the darkspace away. He shut his eyes, concentrated, and inhaled. When he opened them again, the darkspace was gone, and the yard, the trees, and the street reappeared where they were supposed to be.
But the car was gone. Damon caught a glimpse of something moving past the tree in the back yard, but it was much bigger than a Chevrolet. It looked like a Hummer. He could still hear the vroom of the motor as it faded. It’s just the district police, making their rounds.
Suddenly, the vroom stopped, as if the car had parked nearby. Why would the police park so close? He waited to see if they would come back into view, but they did not. Bored and shivering, he lay back down and buried himself in the blankets.
The sound of something moving through the snow startled him. Footsteps. And more than one person. Maybe it was just somebody walking by the house – after midnight? On Christmas Eve? He lay perfectly still and listened. The footsteps are getting closer!
Damon no longer felt safe, lying on the couch in the living room all by himself. He got up and started to run upstairs. But there was another sound. A creaking sound. They’re on the front porch!
He exhaled. The darkspace came, and everything appeared again in black and white. He looked at the front door and waited. Maybe I imagined it. Mom and Dad would be upset if I woke them up for nothing.
Then the door handle turned.