It Happened at Midnight, One Christmas Eve

Aaaaah fuck it.

Here I was being as quiet as possible, avoiding all the damn booby traps and there he is at the foot of the stairs, pointing a goddamn smartphone at me. He’s not taking photographs either, he’s actually shooting video.

Hope that’s something you were planning to upload later and not live-streaming to a mate somewhere else, little buddy.

“Gotcha,” he says with a smarmy, gap-toothed grin.

Fair cop, kid. You got me. Here I am in the jolly red suit, long white beard and lugging a sack full of loot, and you’ve sprung me. I’m even lit up by Christmas tree lights to make the video clearer. What did you reckon, you too-clever little shit? This time of year is easy pickings for all sorts who want access to people’s houses. Despite all the fear being peddled by politicians and the media, people just get too fucking trusting around the holiday season.

Doesn’t mean I should be less cautious, though.

I hate when this happens.

Does he genuinely believe I’m Santa? He’s young, like eight or nine, and the superhero graphics on his pyjamas suggest he reckons he’s older than he really is, but he’s not too old to not believe in Santa any more. Is he the one who insisted on the home-baked biscuit and glass of milk on the coffee table? There are even carrots there for the reindeer. It’s a nice enough house. Both parents work by the look of things, and the home-made decorations on parts of the tree show the little sister is a big believer with a heart of gold and the artistic talent of a deranged meerkat.

He’s still grinning, but even from here I can see he’s trembling too.

“So what’re you gonna do now?” I ask. He shrugs. Springing me had been the priority. What came next was something he was probably going to try and work out later. He hasn’t yelled for anybody yet. Maybe I can sweet-talk the phone off him. “Did you get my best side?” He nods. “Can I see?” He shakes his head and holds the phone behind his back.

Devious little bastard.

“What did you bring me?” he gushes with a little hop. Like I haven’t heard that one before. This whole area has always had some snot-nosed junior piss-artist ready to challenge the rumours Santa’s not real and wait in the shadows on Christmas Eve. Makes getting around a bit harder than usual, but the pickings are just too easy to resist.

“You’ve been naughty this year, so no bike for you,” I tell him flatly. He’s genuinely upset. There are the beginnings of tears, but even from here I’ve got doubts they’re real. If he wails, the rest of the family will be awake and down in a shot. “I did get you a mini drone,” I quickly assure him, gesturing to the pile of presents under the tree. The tears evaporate and his appreciative eyes widen.

“What did you get for your sister?” I ask, trying to distract him. Maybe I can make my way over and snatch the phone away. He points. There’s a wooden doll house. It’s not big by any stretch, and looks like the carpenter had hiccups when he put it together, but the thick coat of paint and big red ribbon are guaranteed to win over his sister’s heart.

“I made that for Maddie,” he says.

Did you now? Clever and talented. Hmmm. At least he’s been a bit good. His sister’ll be thrilled.

“I’m gonna show my dad the video of you coming in through the door. He said you came down the chimney but we don’t have one and he didn’t believe me when I told him you’d have to come through the door,” he declares and turns to head back up the stairs. “It’s why I left it unlocked.”

“Jasper,” I call. He looks back, shocked. Of course I know your name. It’s all over every second tag under the tree. “Don’t. You can’t let your parents know I’m here.”

“Screw that,” he says with a laugh and takes the first step.

You made me do it, you stupid little shit. At the end of the day, you’ve only got yourself to blame.

“Now, Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Prancer and Vixen! On, Comet! On, Cupid! on, Donner and Blitzen! Hang on tight Jasper, this is going to be a bumpy ride!” I yell with a crack of my whip as the sleigh rises from the roof into the crisp night air.

Mother Christmas is going to have to set an extra place this year, but we’ve always managed every time it’s happened. Besides, there’s always room for another pair of hands in the factory.

Just have to remember to magic him up some pointy ears.

Child labour’s a no-no these days, but nobody bats an eye at elves slaving away in Santa’s workshop.

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