Short Story Saturday: Christmas Eve in Utqiagvik

Short Story Saturday: Christmas Eve in Utqiagvik - Photo by David Dibert from Pexels
Photo by David Dibert from Pexels

Hello everyone! As part of Short Story Saturday, I have posted another short story, this one entitled Christmas Eve in Utqiagvik.Please enjoy.

I’m sure most diners get out of town visitors all the time. Sure, I mean, I’m sure every eatery has their regulars but a stranger coming into the diner would hardly be a momentous occasion for most. The visitor would have to be quite the character to leave an impression. However, when you live in my neck of the woods, or should I say tundra, all you have are regulars so a visitor definitely leaves an impression. I will say, though, it is doubtful that anybody would forget the man who came in a few nights ago.

My diner was closed for nearly an hour. I had just finished mopping the floors and was about to head home when my plans were suddenly interrupted.

It was subtle at first. A low rumble that I initially thought was a passing eighteen wheeler. Especially with chains on their tires, they make an excessively large amount of noise. Passing trucks were a common phenomenon in my town so naturally, I assumed that was the source of the shaking and the noise. My mind hardly even processed the ordeal when it first began.

Yet the noise did not dissipate. Rather, the sound continued to crescendo. The shaking only increased. My legs turned to gelatin as the cacophony of clacking noises thrashing against the pavement continually grew accompanied by gigantic gusts of wind that blew against my diner. Grabbing the counter, I managed to stay on my feet but only just barely.

After taking a moment to recover from the incident, I checked my appliances and various other tools to see what had been knocked over. I was pleasantly surprised to find that none of my things had been misplaced. Doing a scan of the diner, granted a hasty one, the diner appeared to be completely unaffected by the vibrations.

Satisfied with the results, I looked out moved to the window and opened the blinds to see what had caused this artificial earthquake.

My eyes were drawn to a red orb of glowing light. Bewildered, it took me a moment to realize to whom that light was attached. It was connected as the end piece of a long, brown snout. That nose was connected to a brown head which was attached to a brown neck and a brown body and a white speckled back. Four legs and hooves were attached to that body. At the top of the head were two small antlers.

He was connected to the end of a long harness. Attached behind him were his eight brothers, lined up in four pairs of two. They were larger, their horns were at a more advanced stage, and their noses were black. They were identical to each other save for the white patterns on their which served as their only distinguishing feature.

These reindeer were attached to a red sleigh. Pulling their reigns was a rotund gentleman with a flowing white beard clad in red and white.

I think you’ve guessed it by now. Santa had just arrived at my diner.

I sprinted out the door to greet the man.

“Santa! Is that really you?”

“Well, I’m certainly not the Easter Bunny,” he answered as he exited the sleigh, “That’s kind of a cliché answer these days, isn’t it?”

“What are you doing here?”

“Looking for food. What else?”

“But you’re parked in the middle of the road? I mean, aren’t you going to block people, not that there’s much traffic at this hour, but I mean, you’re practically a celebrity! People will be shocked to see you and you’re just casually going to stop by my diner? This is insane!”

“Relax, Bill, nobody can see me or hear me but you. That goes for my reindeer and sled too.”

“What are you talking about?”

“You’re still open, right? I’m in the mood for eggs.”

“Technically we’re closed but for you, I’d be happy to turn on the friars for you.”

“You’re a good man, Bill. Thanks.”

“You know my name?”

“Of course, Bill, I know everybody’s name, though your name is displayed for the entire world to see.” He pointed at the neon red sign attached to the top of my building.

Santa entered the restaurant as I followed him. He sat on a barstool across from the kitchen. I went over to my stove in the kitchen and began frying eggs. “How would you like them?”

“Scrambled’s fine. Do you mind if I bum a cigarette off of you?” He must have seen the cigarettes I carried in my shirt pocket.

“I didn’t know Santa smoked.” I pulled a cigarette and handed it to the man.

“Thanks. It’s a bad habit I picked up during the 1600s during my visits to Jamestown. Don’t worry. Nothing bad will happen to me. I’m magical so cigarette smoke doesn’t affect me at all. I do it mostly because I like the sensation. Same reason I eat, really. Don’t need to but still enjoy it.”

I turned my attention away from the eggs momentarily and lit his cigarette with my lighter. “Thanks again. You, on the other hand, should quit smoking, though. It’s really bad for humans.”

I stared at him for a moment. Through gritted teeth, he continued, “Yeah, I know how ironic it is for me to tell you to quit while inhaling one myself.”

“No, it’s not that. A lot of people have told me to quit, I just never expected one of them to be the legendary Santa Claus.”

“Maybe you’ll take it seriously now.”

I nodded, took the cigarettes from my pocket and threw them into the nearest trash bin.

“You could have given those to me.”

“Sorry”. I placed the finished scrambled eggs on a plate and set it down in front of the man. “Can I get you anything else? Perhaps some milk? Maybe some cookies?”

“God no, especially not tonight. I’ve had my fill. It’s nice of people to leave them out for me but the truth is I’ve gotten tired of milk and cookies two hundred years ago. Do you have any orange juice?”

“Sure do.”

“Pour me a glass of that instead.” I did as the man instructed. “So what brings the fabled Santa Claus here tonight?”

“Last stop of the night. I wanted to talk to someone before I spend another year in the North Pole. Don’t get me wrong. I love talking to the Missus and the elves, but when you’ve been around as long as I have you start getting tired of seeing the same old faces over and over again.”

“You make it sound like you’re stuck at the North Pole.”

“That’s because I more or less am.”

“Really?”

“Afraid so.”

“God, that must be awful!”

“Eh, it’s not so bad. Most of the time, it’s actually very pleasant. My wife’s the sweetest person in the world and the elves are like the most well-behaved children a father could have, not that they’re actually my children, mind you. It’s just, sometimes I would like to visit places outside of Christmas Eve every now and again.”

“Why don’t you?”

“I can’t.”

“Why not?”

“It’d be against the rules.”

“I don’t understand.”

“And there’s no reason you would. Basically, in exchange for becoming a magical being able to spread joy and cheer to all the little girls and boys in the world, I have to abide by a certain set of rules. It’s kind of like a pact.”

His answer left me stuttering. “But how? And with who? Who did you make the pact with? How was he, or she for that matter, able to grant you magical powers? What’s going on?””

“Sorry, Bill, I wish I could tell you more, but I’m afraid you’re just going to have to accept the fact that there are things you are simply not meant to know. “

I looked at him for a moment and scratched my head. “How was it tonight?” I asked trying to change the subject. “Did you visit a lot of children tonight?”

He sighed. “Not as many as I used to. There are more people in this world, William, but ironically enough I’m visiting less and less.”

“Why?”

“The world’s just too cynical these days. Far fewer children believe there’s a fat man delivering presents on Christmas Eve. I understand some of the reason for the cynicism. When you’re living in a war torn country where you wake up to the sound of gunfire every morning, it’s hard to believe there’s a man like me in the world. I wish I could help them out anyway but like I said, there are rules.

As for the other children in more favorable conditions, I couldn’t say exactly why they no longer believe. If I had to hazard a guess, I think it’s because parents no longer let their children believe. It’s funny. Parents these days are so quick to have their children grow up they forget to let their kids be kids. Ironic too, because so many of them act like children themselves.

That’s the worst part, too, how adults treat each other. If they kept the Spirit of Christmas in their hearts all year round even if they didn’t believe in me, that wouldn’t be so bad. They don’t, though, and that’s been hard to deal with lately.”

“Is faith in you the only criteria for getting presents?”

“That and being nice, of course.”

“That’s what I thought but now I’m a little confused. I’ve heard stories of children not receiving presents in spite of believing in you and being good all year. What happened then?”

“Well, maybe their faith or behavior wasn’t as strong or as good as they thought!” Santa put out his cigarette in an ash tray I had placed in front of him before continuing. “Sorry about that. I didn’t mean to shout and I admit that’s a bit unfair.

People are naturally cynical, I understand that. It just seemed like you guys were more resilient before and that your faith wasn’t shaken so easily.

Bad people have always existed on this planet. Bad things have always happened. It’s not like this is the only era that has had bad things happen to good people and vice versa. Violence has always existed. Greed has always existed. Hypocrisy has always existed. Tragedy has always existed. Yet people these days seem to let things shatter them more than ever before.

Moreover, the Christmas Spirit just seemed more prevalent. People just seemed more willing to try, to believe. Odds are humanity will never achieve peace and serenity, at least not globally, but at least try. People used to find meaning in this effort. Not anymore. The world is just too nihilistic.”

“Isn’t there any way to convince them you exist? I mean, you are right here in front of me, the real Santa Claus! Surely if you just called a press conference somewhere you could prove your existence. Sure, you look like any other man dressed as good old Saint Nick, but I’m sure you can prove you’re the real deal. I mean, just show them your flying reindeer and perform a few tricks.”

“It doesn’t work that way, Bill. People have to believe in order to see. It’s why I’m invisible to so many adults. It’s why I had complete confidence that parking my sleigh in the middle of the road would be just fine. You’re literally the only one who can see me right now Bill.”

“Wait a second. Does that mean anybody who passes by will think-?”

He interrupted. “Yes Bill, they’ll think you’re speaking to nobody.” I nearly turned pale. “Don’t worry about it,” he continued, “It’s almost midnight in Barrow. Nobody’s going to be out and about.”

With a relieved sigh, I conceded he was correct.

“We’re Utqiagvik now, by the way,” I said.

“What?” he asked.

“Our city is named Utqiagvik.”

“Get out! When did that happen?”

“A couple of years ago. A city referendum changed it to a traditional Iñupiat name.”

“No kidding. I really need to update my records. It’s been a few years.”

“I have a question for you, Santa,” I said as he finished his eggs, “How can I see you, if you only appear to those who believe?”

“What do you mean? You believe in me.”

“No I don’t, or at least, I didn’t. I’m an adult.”

“Bill, you tell people that but who do you think you are talking to now? Who do you think you are fooling? I know what’s in your heart. Deep down you never stopped believing. You just denied it for obvious reasons. Society just wouldn’t accept it.”

I nodded and agreed. “That hardly speaks well of my intelligence, does it?”

“I wouldn’t go that far. At most, it’s a commentary of your naiveté, or so people would have you believe. I don’t think so, though. I think you just have resolute faith. Besides, the word naïve implies gullibility. Can you really be called gullible if you correct the entire time? I do exist, after all.”

“Nobody’s going to believe that Santa came to visit me.”

“Does that really matter, though? Faith isn’t about how many people agree with you. Faith is about believing what you know is right even if no one else agrees.”

“Should I spread the word? Should I try to tell people that you really exist?”

He paused. “You know something, Bill? I’ve been thinking about this for a while. I think it’d more beneficial to spread the Spirit of Christmas into people’s hearts as opposed to having them believe I’m real.”

“You said that earlier. What do you mean by Spirit of Christmas?”

“Peace on earth, goodwill towards all men, generally being kind to each other, you know, basically the opposite of what most of humanity does.” Our conversation was interrupted by the chiming of the clock hanging above the kitchen window.  “Would you look at that? It’s already midnight. Merry Christmas, Bill.”

“Merry Christmas, Santa.”

“I need to get going. It was good talking to you, though, Bill. It’s good to talk to an adult for once, besides the wife I mean and a few of the elves. I love kids but I need a conversation with a grown-up every now and again, though I suppose all of you are kids compared to me.” He let out a belly laugh most are accustomed to hearing from good old Saint Nick.

“How much do I owe you?”

“Like I’d ever charge Santa Claus.”

He smiled. “You were always a good one Billy.” Santa got out of his chair and headed out the door.

“Will I ever see you again?”

“We’ll see. Maybe next year. A year’s a long time, though, Billy. You may not be working here anymore for all I know. Who knows where any of us will be in a year?” He waved as he once again headed towards the door.

“Um, Santa?” He was just beginning to push the door open.

“Yes Billy?” He turned his head towards me.

“What you said about the world being too cynical, about their being serious problems in the world causing people to lose faith. Do you think that could ever change?”

He hesitated before answering. “I honestly cannot say but I really don’t know. I will say, though, that I’d like to think so even if that is naïve, as long as there are people like you who continue to have faith. Merry Christmas, Billy.”

“Merry Christmas, Santa.”

I followed him as he exited out my diner. He got into his sled, waved, and with a hearty “Ho-ho-ho!”, his majestic reindeer immediately ascended into the starry highway in the sky that caused a force of wind so great I was nearly toppled over.

As I moved my arm that I had used to protect my eyes from debris, I looked towards the heavens. Illuminated in the moonlight was an iconic silhouette of Santa and his reindeer. Not long after, he was gone.

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