The Christmas Mission

The Christmas Mission

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Santa, I'll get you next year!
Santa, I'll get you next year!
Illustration: Angela Ho

My name is Elmer Huntz, and I am what they call a child prodigy. I won't act embarrassed, or try to deny that I am special, simply because modesty stands in the way of greatness. As the Ukrainian author Leonid S. Sukhorukov said: "Modesty is the shortest route to obscurity. But once you are famous, you can afford to be modest."

At eight years of age, I have already invested my pocket money in stocks and shares, and have found ways past certain government firewalls, while my peers choose to spend their time shouting in a most unbecoming manner.

Last December I set myself a quest, a mission, for the Christmas holidays. I planned to kidnap an individual who was, and is, quite possibly the richest man alive. He owns a chain of factories, and is so wealthy he can afford to give a gift, free of charge, to every child on earth. And no, for those of you dear readers too dim to have cottoned on, I am not referring to Bill Gates. Who else could I be talking about but Santa Claus?

And so, the plan. It was quite simple, really. But then simple plans often work best. As Einstein once said: "Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler."

The plan goes like this. Step one: wait for Santa to enter the house via the chimney. Step two: overpower him. Step 3: tie him up with elastic bandages taken from mum's nursing supplies. Step 4: demand Santa hand over all his wealth in return for a safe passage back to Lapland.

And that brings us to a vital problem in this brilliant plan. How does a 120.5cm-tall eight-year-old, with no particular liking for physical activity, overpower a large (bordering on obese) adult man? The solution was not very complicated, really, though I consider it a stroke of pure genius.

Fact number one: when the television is turned on, you can't help but look at it. I don't think anyone on this planet would dare dispute that fact.

Fact number two: TV commercials make people sleepy. I have often observed how my mother becomes inactive, almost zombie-like, staring at the changing colours and shapes, mouth half-open, breathing as slowly as our internet connection, only to jerk back to consciousness once the programme comes back on.

Fact number three: I spent the week prior to Christmas recording exactly seven hours and 18 minutes worth of television advertisements.

Fact number four: last Christmas, the tree was conveniently placed next to the TV. I'll assume you readers are smart enough to connect the dots.

For extra security, I also laced Santa Claus' milk with some sleeping pills I found in the medicine cupboard, though I seriously doubted their effectiveness. I mean, how can an object so small make one fall asleep?

And so, it was nine o'clock on December 24. Mother had just left for the night shift at the hospital, so I had the house to myself. Ever since Father left, around three years ago, Mum has had to go back to working nights. I didn't like it, and still don't. I missed having her around all the time. We still had fun though, like earlier that day we baked chocolate chip cookies for Santa together. They smelt so good in the oven. Before she left, Mum told me not to wait up too late for Santa. Heh, she had no idea ...

Everything was ready. The laced milk and chocolate chip cookies were on the coffee table, the carrot for the reindeer by their side. The fireplace had been cleaned, so Santa wouldn't get too dirty on the way down. On the computer screen, a picture of Santa was smiling out from the Norad website for tracking Santa. Apparently, Santa was currently delivering in France, and would shortly make his way across the English Channel.

The lights on the tree were winking, red, green, blue, yellow, and beautiful. That must have been what the stars look like close up, from Santa's sleigh maybe. The TV was slowly playing the seven hours and 18 minutes worth of advertisements, with the volume turned down low. The streetlamp outside was shining through the windows, providing enough light to see by, and casting very elongated shadows on the carpet. And I was hiding behind the two-seater couch, elastic bandages lying ready beside me.

There was nothing left to do but wait.

And wait.

And wait.

When enough time had passed for the grass outside to grow to 10 metres high, I decided it was probably time to sneak a peek, just to properly monitor the situation. Slowly, quietly I crawled around the couch, pressing against the tan fabric with its familiar smell. The milk, cookies, and carrot were still on the table. The TV was still promoting squeaky clean washing powder. The space under the tree was still ridiculously empty. Where was Santa?

I ran to the fireplace, and looked up the chimney. Nope, there was no one there. Just an empty rectangle of night sky. Hastily, I scampered to the computer, and clicked the refresh button. And clicked it again. And again and again and again. Why was the internet being so slow? Finally, the page popped up again. Santa was in London, about to move on to the smaller English towns like ours. It took Santa that long to travel across one small stretch of water? I thought Santa had an amazing, lightning-fast sleigh, faster than even the fighter jets. How long had it been, anyway?

It was quarter past nine. Bedtime. I settled back into my position behind the couch, and tried to force myself to stay awake. I couldn't let Santa get away, not now, not after days and days of planning and preparation. But no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't win the battle with myself. I felt my eyelids closing, and I buried my head as best as I could in the comforting smell of the carpet. The drone of the TV slowly faded away in my ears, and I hugged the bandages close to my body. After all, I reasoned, there's no way Santa Claus would be able to slide down our narrow chimney without making enough noise to wake me up.

****

Scuffle, scuffle, scuffle.

I jerked awake, banging my head on the couch in the process. Something was on the roof! I could hear it! I hastily untangled the bandages, a ridiculous smile on my face. Finally! Gripping the bandages tightly, I slowly crept towards the fireplace. I watched it intently, still mostly hidden behind the couch, very tense, like a tiger preparing to pounce on its prey.

But nothing happened.

I waited for a couple more moments, but still, nothing moved. I began my wild dash to look up the chimney, when a rustling from behind stopped me in my tracks.

Santa was already in the room!

I whipped around, almost forgetting to breathe, swinging the bandage like a lasso. But what I saw made me overbalance in shock.

The TV had been switched off.

There were presents under the tree.

The milk and cookies were gone!

And the rustling had come from my mum, still in her nurse's uniform, asleep on the couch.

In the space of four or five heartbeats, nothing happened. The stillness weighed down, pressing its way into every corner of the room. If there had been a barometer nearby, the mercury would have been jumping off the scale.

And then I heard it again. Scuffling, tapping, clattering on the roof. One big thump, like the last step of a gymnast before performing the vault. And the soft jingling of bells. No way - it can't be Rudolph taking off, surely? I raced to the window, but it was too fogged up to see properly. I fumbled with the latch, threw the window open, and stuck my head into the freezing air outside. But already Santa and his reindeer were lost in the clouds. In that instant, my mind was as empty as the sky. They'd disappeared. A small piece of displaced snow fell off the roof onto my head.

"Next year, Santa," I murmured. "Next year I'll catch you for sure. You'd better be ready, because I'll have an even better plan." I shook off the snow, and stared fiercely at the heavens.

"I'll get you next year, Santa!" I shouted, loud enough for him to hear.

"Did I spend all night on the couch?" asked a surprised voice behind me. "I didn't mean to, I just felt so tired. Felt almost like I'd taken some of those sleeping pills. Urgh. Disgusting things."

All of a sudden, Mum's arms were around me, my head resting against her pillow-like stomach.

"Merry Christmas," she said. "I hope you didn't stay up too late."

And together, my mother and I watched the sun rise above the wonderful sheet of snow on Christmas morning.

And so, valued reader, my experience last Christmas only goes to show, that no matter how clever or innovative I might be, there will always be some things in this world that I can never begin to understand.

Not that I will ever stop trying.

Because, as Thomas Edison once said: "Many of life's failures are people who did not realise how close they were to success when they gave up."

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