A. Elizabeth Herting is an aspiring freelance writer and busy mother of three living in colorful Colorado. She has had short stories featured in Bewildering Stories, Cafe Aphra, Clumsy Quips, Dark Fire Fiction, Edify Fiction, Everyday Fiction, Fictive Dream, 50-Word Stories, Friday Fiction, Literally Stories, New Realm, No Extra Words, Peacock Journal, Pilcrow&Dagger, Quail Bell Magazine, Scarlet Leaf Review, Scrutiny Journal, Speculative 66, Storyteller, The Flash Fiction Press and Under the Bed. She has also published non-fiction work in Denver Pieces Magazine, bioStories, and completed a novel called “Wet Birds Don’t Fly at Night” that she is hoping to find a home for. For more of her work/contact her at sites.google.com/site/aehertingwriter or facebook.com/AElizabethHerting.
The house was dark, the only light being the moon that shined brightly down on an immaculate carpet of snow. The family was safely abed, locked in for the long night, the children fitfully dreaming. Even the family pets were at peace. In a rare form of solidarity, dogs, cats and the occasional mouse were all resting as one in their peaceful slumber. Into this perfect winter’s night stepped a man, large and intimidating, as he circled the house looking for a way to gain entry. The assorted human and animal inhabitants slept on, blissfully unaware of the man’s intentions as the clock struck twelve.
He creeped around the house, circling it twice, peeking through the windows at the darkened rooms within. He was dressed warmly for the weather, the fur of his coat helping to cut the winter chill as he continued to case the house, his bag thrown over his shoulder. He tried the front window, but it was locked up tight, the soft glow of the holiday lights illuminating his eager face. He made his way around to the back of the house, only to find the basement windows encased in bars, there would be no entry there.
The man became frustrated as he checked each window and door, finding every possible way to get inside barred to him. He inspected the garage door, wondering if he could find a way to get in without alerting the family. Could he pry it open somehow? He heard a sudden movement down the street and leapt into the nearest bush, his heart hammering away in his chest. There has to be a way to get inside, I must be losing my touch, he thought desperately. The car passed by leaving him in blessed darkness once again as he carefully climbed out of his hiding spot, resolute in his mission. There was one place that he hadn’t tried yet, it was risky but it just might work. He'd been an experienced climber in his younger years, maybe he could do it again?
He hopped over the backyard fence and onto the deck. A cloud slid by, the winter moon revealing a blanket of bright stars, momentarily distracting him from his goal. It temporarily lit up the sky, revealing the wide, snow covered roof above. He gauged the distance to the roof. He couldn’t see it from this angle, but he knew it was there. Thinking that he had run out of all other options, the man decided to try the chimney.
He began by stacking a patio chair on top of the giant aluminum trash can sitting up against the back of the house. Carefully he tested his weight, making sure he wouldn’t topple off before he could scale his way up to the first window ledge. He heard an animal sound, almost like a snort and froze in sudden fear, his body pressed up against the cream-colored siding. He waited for a full minute before resuming his climb, the frigid night air making his nose and ears painfully numb. He latched onto the decorative lattice halfway up the side of the house. It caused the dried-out vines to crackle and break away, his heavy boots hitting each rung of the makeshift ladder. Slowly he managed to climb up, one step at a time while using the storm drain running alongside of the lattice as a handrail. He was a good sized fellow and every step felt like it would send him crashing to the ground, but still he ascended.
Anyone seeing him in such a state would surely have laughed, his undignified assault upon the quiet home would be amusing if it wasn’t so perilous. As if on cue, a light sprinkling of snow began to fall upon his face as he looked up and saw the end in sight. The roof was there, just a few steps away.
The man began to imagine what would happen, how he would handle things when he finally got inside. He started to feel fatigued, forcing his feet to scale the last few steps as his hands latched on to the top of the storm drain. He hoisted himself onto the roof in a final burst of determined strength. He flopped onto his back, breathing heavily while laying in an inch of cold, fresh snow. All he needed to do now was get to the chimney and lower himself inside. The house was older, there was a good chance that the chimney would be wide enough to accommodate him. He flipped over onto all fours, beginning the final crawl to his destination when a sudden movement stopped him cold.
A large black boot came directly into his line of sight, first one and then the other, barring his final path to the chimney. He froze in place and slowly looked up, thinking that he must have lost his mind, this simply couldn't be happening. A huge man dressed all in red towered over him, his bemused expression partially hidden by a full, snowy-white beard. A look to the man’s left revealed an animal, bigger than any he had ever seen before, with a majestic head of antlers and a shiny, glowing red nose. He swallowed hard, the fear and disbelief waging a war inside of his mind as the big red man leaned down and placed a hand on his shoulder.
“You’ve been a very naughty boy this evening, Charlie. Almost as bad as the year that you threw the ball inside of the house with your sisters and broke your mother’s good china cabinet,” the big man said, laughter coloring his voice. “Just because you are all grown up and in college doesn’t mean that I can’t still see you.”
Charlie was too astonished to notice that he was beginning to slide backwards down the roof. He picked up speed and went halfway over the edge, precariously clinging to the greatly-distressed storm drain. The big man effortlessly made his way over to him as Charlie hung on for dear life.
“Merry Christmas, Charlie,” he chuckled, his eyes bright with amusement. “The next time you come home to visit and stay out all night with your friends, please do remember to bring a key.”
Charlie lost his grip and fell backwards into the night. In an instant, the enormous reindeer leapt off of the roof and caught him mid-air, depositing him gently onto a snowbank in the backyard. He watched in amazement as the noble creature gently nuzzled him before shooting straight up into the air and rejoining the man on the roof.
The big man threw a giant red sack onto his glittering, gold sleigh. He laughed loudly as he climbed in and gave a shrill whistle, his team of reindeer springing into action with his red-nosed reindeer in the lead. Charlie saw them silhouetted against the glow of the winter moon, the man raising his arm in a final wave before disappearing into thin air.
As he stood up and brushed himself off, Charlie saw that the back door had been propped open, just enough to let him in. He picked up his backpack and made his way to the door. He'd lost his key months ago and kept forgetting to ask his parents for a new one. The warmth of his childhood home enveloped him as he tiptoed up to his room as quietly as possible and instantly fell asleep.
Charlie woke up to the sounds of his twin eight-year old sisters pounding on his door, up at first light to see if Santa had come on Christmas morning. He slowly swung his legs over the side of the bed, cradling his head in his hands and tried to make sense of his crazy dream. The door had been left open the whole time, he must have dreamt the rest. It was the only explanation that made any sense. The smells of freshly-brewed coffee and bacon frying compelled him the rest of the way out of the bed. He'd always had a very healthy appetite.
A quick look outside revealed very little of what had happened the night before. The vines on the lattice were pretty demolished, but the snow covered up any traces of his incredibly foolish attempt on the roof. He must have landed into the snowbank, breaking his fall--he was very lucky he didn’t break anything, or worse. His parents would be furious with him if they knew, but so far no one had said a word. No, the big man was a figment of an overactive imagination, nothing more.
His sisters were squealing with delight, jumping around the cornucopia of gifts that surrounded their Christmas tree. His parents smiled fondly at them as his father handed him a cup of steaming hot coffee, the adults trying to chase the sleep away while the children danced all around them in anticipation.
An hour later, the entire room was covered in ribbons, tinsel and bits of ripped wrapping paper, his sisters curled up together playing with their brand new dolls. Charlie looked over at the tree and saw one last present, small and unassuming, sitting on an outstretched branch. He could hardly believe the “twin tornados” missed one, they were a force of nature where Christmas gifts were concerned. He picked it up and saw that it was for him, somehow they had missed it.
He tore away the simple red wrapping paper and found a small velvet pouch, Santa’s bag in miniature, trimmed in white. He opened the bag and reached in, pulling out the small object and holding it in his hand. He could feel goosebumps break out all over as he realized just who must have placed it there and why, its message clear and concise.
Charlie held the brand new house key up in front of his face, its golden exterior reflecting the lights on the tree. It was attached to a key chain with a portrait of the big man himself, exactly as Charlie had seen him the night before. His parents looked at him quizzically, each of them wondering if the other had put that gift on the tree the night before.
The intruder sat next to the tree, holding his magical key. He smiled as he relived every detail of his midnight encounter, his face filled with awe and wonder. He was a child again, reveling in the excitement of Christmas morning and the absolute certainty that Santa had come and reindeer really do know how to fly.