It was a cold, stormy night, the kind that sent shivers down my spine. I lay in bed wide awake, wishing I could snuggle up to my parents instead of bearing the brunt of crackling thunder alone. Branches tapped on the window. Once my climbing tree, now a harbinger of foreboding. If only I could sleep through the chaos raging outside.
My eyes drifted, mind awake, body lazy. Then clunk! I shot up. The sound came from above. Softer beats pattered clip clop clip clop , then the sound of boots treading upon the roof.A burglar!
I thought. The steps were in the hallway now. Clomp clomp clomp
. The door handle turned, hinges creaked. I screamed.
“Ho, ho, ho!” a bellowing voice boomed.
I opened my eyes and was startled to see a big fat man in a red suit, one I recognized from commercial images that bombarded town once a year in the dead of winter.
“Who, me?” the man said. He burst into a jolly laughter. “Of course, it’s Santa! Santa Claus of the North Pole. Nice to meet you.”
He bowed low.
“What’re you doing here?” I asked. “It’s the middle of July!”
“Ho, ho, quite so, little one! Isn’t the real Christmas supposed to be sometime in July? Or was it June?” He stroked his beard, pondering.
“I dunno. I’m just a kid.”
“Right, right. Look, I need your help. You’ve been extra good this year. Checked my list twice and you’re the best kid on the block!”
“Just the block? What about the whole world?”
“Never mind that. Can you help me?”
“Does that mean I get to ride in your sleigh?” I asked, hopeful.
“Why, of course!”
Next thing I knew, I was outside in nought but my pyjamas. The sky was clear, but I could’ve sworn there’d been a storm recently. Santa Claus, a smile ever on his lips, climbed in beside me. He plopped himself down on the bench so hard the sleigh shook under his weight and I nearly toppled over. Then he took the reigns, cracked them and whoop!
Into the air we flew!
So exhilarating! So fun! I threw my hands into the air. We climbed higher and higher. The ride was a roller coaster, soaring above treetops and mountains. Soon, the land disappeared and a vast ocean spread out before us. For a moment, I was happy, free.
But then that happiness ended. Clouds rolled in. An eerie green glow reflected off them, coming from up ahead. Santa’s sleigh began to circle and below I could detect a darkened form. It was a house that fit the description of a typical haunted mansion.
“What is this place?” I asked, wide-eyed.
“First stop!” said Santa. The change in atmosphere hadn’t fazed him.
Ground materialized, but the sleigh didn’t land on it. Instead, it dropped onto a floating dock in the water. Square pieces of wood made for stepping stones to the shore.
“C’mon,” said Santa, grabbing his enormous sack of presents.
“Are you sure it’s safe?”
“Of course!” he boomed.
I wasn’t so sure. Looking over the edge, I saw a ripple in the water. Then something else. Pairs of glowing spheres drifting around the wood steps.
“Crocodiles!” I yelled.
Santa scoffed. “Crocodiles? Nonsense! I’ve come here a million times and more, and there’s never been any crocodiles.”
“No, Santa, they’re there. Look,” I said, pointing. “There’s one there, and there. They’re everywhere!”
“Poppycock!” Santa bellowed.
He stepped out onto the dock, his boots pounding on the wood. Then he stepped out. One, two, three. Splash!
A reptilian burst from the water, snatched the man in its jaws. Then it was gone. Santa, too. I stared in disbelief at the scene. Then the fear caught up with me and I screamed.
“Well, dear, go on,” a gentle voice told her. She looked and saw an elderly woman knitting beside her, a calm expression on her face. Mrs. Claus, I recognized.
“Me?! But I’ll be eaten!” I exclaimed.
“The presents must be delivered, dear, and you’re the only one around to do it now.”
I looked behind. In the back where Santa’s enormous sack of presents once lay, there was a small multicoloured bag.
“No buts, dear. Just go.”
The woman had a passive aggression similar to my mother. And a vicious, awkward stare to match.
Reluctantly, I took the bag and stepped out. I could see the crocodiles looking back at me, their eyes eager to feast. I gulped. With a deep breath, I to the first step.
One, two, three, I counted. Four, five. Splash!
I burst into flight. The croc just missed me. I jumped the last three steps, avoiding another’s snapping jaws. A giant reptile met me on the shore. It dashed after me. I screamed and ran as fast as my feet would take me. The soft sand swallowed up my steps, slowing my speed. Snap, snap
went its jaws. I looked ahead. The house rose up from the shore, a big, black dwelling with a pointed roof. I cleared the porch and hurried inside.
Fear gripped my chest and I gasped for air. No thud came upon the door. I was safe.
Or was I?
A greenish yellow light glowed from the upper floor, illuminating a staircase and a hallway. In a trance, I took the stairs, heading toward the light. It came from an open door down a narrow hall. Cautiously, I crept forward.Creek!
I winced. The light flared and around the corner emerged a pair of glowing eyes fixed to a hideous monster. Its body was hairy like a wolf’s but its face lay bare and flat like a man…or a demon. It growled at me, revealing two rows of stained, jagged teeth. Another appeared behind it. Then another. Three of them, giant and strong.
“P…presents!” the first one wailed.
Terrified, I dropped the bag to the floor and ran back downstairs. Thudding followed, along with raging, repeating voices.
I burst through the door outside. The crocodile was gone. The sleigh, for reasons unknown to me, had taken its place. Only it wasn’t a sleigh anymore. It was a roller coaster. And it was starting to leave without me!
“Wait!” I cried, and jumped into one of the carts.
The demons came after, piling into the cart two down from me. Then the roller coaster was off, zipping into the sky. Without a seatbelt, I clutched to the front handle of my cart, my screams muffled by the wind rushing through my ears. The cart twisted and turned, dodging first mountains, then a city of buildings. Up and down, around.
“Well, look what you’ve done now.”
I looked up. Mrs. Claus was still knitting, sitting in the cart ahead of me. She appeared oblivious to the fact that she wasn’t wearing a seatbelt, but unlike me, she didn’t fall out of her seat. Her calm complexion was unnerving.
“What have I
done?” I said.
“Because of you, the children won’t get their presents.”
“But I didn’t do anything!” I cried.
Growling caught my ears and I snuck a glance back. The demons were scrambling, struggling to get to me. I knew I had to do something if I didn’t want to get eaten. I had to be the hero. The sleigh!
I realized. I’ve got to steer the sleigh!
Getting to the cock pit was easier said than done. I could only move when the carts were level. Slowly, arduously, but staying ahead of the demons, I made my way to the front. One, two, three. Only one more to go. The demons were right behind me, growling, saliva dripping from hungry jaws. With one last burst, I jumped to the front, landing with a thud on the bench. Then I grabbed the reigns and pulled hard.
The sleigh looped up, down, up again, then plummeted. Falling. The ground materialized below. Falling.
* * *
I opened my eyes, found myself livid, lying on my back. The ceiling above me. My bed below me. Tapping on the window from the raging storm. Crackling thunder. I panted, failing to catch my breath.Just a nightmare.
But the memory of the bad dream echoed against the walls of my skull.
I lay awake, wishing I could snuggle up to my parents instead of bearing the brunt of nightmares alone. If only I could sleep through the chaos raging in my mind.
Gradually, my eyes drifted, mind awake, body lazy. Turning to my side, I pulled my blanket tighter around me. A glowing, greenish yellow light streamed underneath my door.