The first story I ever got published was a request. The following is the first story I ever got published by sending it in and hoping for the best. Reading it over again there's a few things that I wouldn't do now, but overall it's still one of my favorite things I've written. It fits the holiday season well, and I wanted to share it with you.
Ghost of Christmas Presents
Emily turned the lantern up until the light's glow filled the better part of the living room, leaving only the far walls and corners in shadows. Her brother Terrence who was gazing out the window quickly turned around with fear in his eyes.
"Turn that down!" he hissed at her. "He'll pass us right by if sees that the lights are on!"
"Oh shush," replied Emily. "If you kept the curtains drawn, he won't be none the wiser. He'll see your big head peeking around before he sees the light."
"You take that back!" yelled Terrence. "I'll tell mummy and daddy if you don't!"
"Keep your voice down!" whispered Emily. "Go on, tell them. Then they'll both know we were up waiting for him. They'll be cross with both of us, then it probably won't matter if he shows up or not." Terrence frowned petulantly at his sister, but it was obvious that he saw the wisdom of her words. Their parents would be quite sore with the both of them if they were to find they were up and about at this hour. As much as he disliked being teased by his sister, he disliked the idea of Christmas being jeopardized even more.
"He is going to show up, isn't he?" he asked, his voice small with concern.
Emily gave him a serious look. "I don't see any reason why he shouldn't. We've been quite good this year, even you haven't messed up too bad."
Terrence stuck his tongue out at his sister. "Like burning the pie?"
It was Emily's turn to stick her tongue out. "That was an accident! I had much to take care of while mummy and daddy were sick. You can't hold one pie against me!"
"I can hold a lot of bad cooking against you. Your soup made me wish for burnt pie." teased Terrence, happy with the roll he was on.
Emily slowly started to get up from the table, obviously angered by her brother's remarks. This hadn't been the first time the boy had needled her however, and she decided to change tactics. She purposefully sat back down in her chair. "I understand the need for children to act rudely. I shan't stoop to your level." Despite her words, a condescending grin slowly spread over her face.
"Children?!" huffed Terrence. "What are you, then? You're only eleven!"
"And you're only nine." rebuffed Emily. "I can't expect you to act in a mature fashion."
Terrence got three inches away from his sister's face. "Stop acting like you..." He was cut short by thudding noises on the rooftop.
They looked at each other, mouths open. They both looked up at the ceiling, then back at each other again. Hostilities ceased immediately.
"It's him!" whispered Terrence excitedly. "He's really here!" A smile of joy started to spread over his face, quickly turning into a look of absolute fright. "He's really here!" he squeaked in terror to his sister. "He's going to find us up and be angry and we won't get any presents and..."
"Hush!" interrupted his sister, grabbing him by his shoulders and shaking him. "Calm down! He'll find us for sure with your blabbering." Emily hid the fact that she was just as worried about their predicament as her brother. She gazed quickly around the room, well aware of the footsteps on the roof. "Behind the couch, quickly!" she said, pushing her brother ahead of her. Not having a better plan, Terrence ran around the couch and huddled behind it, his sister right behind him.
They crouched in silence as the footsteps made their way across the roof and stopped at the chimney. There were a few moments of absolute silence that seemed like an eternity, then the sound of debris falling into the fireplace. The two children stared at each other in mounting excitement as the debris continued to fall, then almost jumped straight up when a heavy thud came from the fireplace, followed by steps on the hardwood floor. Someone was in the living room with them.
Sounds of walking and rummaging came from the other side of the couch. The children realized at the same moment that neither of them had any idea of what to do next. Terrence looked at his sister, then nodded his head in the direction of the noise, daring her to look over the couch. She was terrified of the prospect, but rampant curiosity rose in equal measure. She slowly raised herself up to peer over.
There he was. Just as her mother and father had described him in bedtime stories. A large figure in a red robe trimmed with white fur and a matching hat stood by their Christmas tree, rummaging through a large, crimson bag. She watched in amazement for long moments, then remembered that she was visible and quickly crouched back down behind the couch.
Her brother silently mouthed "Santa?" at her, to which she nodded excitedly. The wide smile returned to his face and he quickly started to rise up to see for himself. Emily's hand shot out to restrain him but she accidentally knocked him off balance, causing him to fall loudly on his rear. The rummaging over by the tree stopped.
Both the children tried their hardest to contain their quick, panicked breathing but they knew it was useless. They had been found out. Santa Claus knew they were there. The silence was broken by a deep, rumbling chuckle.
"No use in that, little mice." rumbled a deep voice from the other side of the couch. "Come on out." The children were now quaking in fear at their predicament. Not knowing any other recourse they slowly stood up together, their eyes as big as saucers.
They stood looking at Santa Claus himself. He gazed at the two children with kind eyes and let out another chuckle that caused his stout frame to shake. He shook his head with amusement. "Why the fright, children? Come around here. Come along now."
Without either of them taking their eyes of off him, they slowly walked around the couch and towards him, stopped a good yard away. He continued to smile at them, but as they were now closer to the lamplight Emily could see there was a slight forced quality to his smile underneath his great beard, and his eyes looked quite tired.
Santa gazed down at the two and clucked. "Now, children, what are you doing up at such an hour? Shouldn't you two be in bed?"
Despite Santa's obvious good nature, Terrence was still in a state of fright. "She made me!" he said, pointing to his sister without taking his eyes off the kindly old man.
"I did not!" sputtered Emily indignantly. "You perfect little beast! How dare you accuse me when you..."
Emily's rant was cut short by another deep laugh. "Now children," tutted Santa "Is that any way to behave on Christmas? You've been so nice all year. Are you really going to be naughty now?" The children both went wide eyed and shook their heads emphatically.
"That's what I thought." said Santa, nodding approvingly. "Now then, I was going to be leaving presents for you under the tree, but seeing as you're already up, that would be a tad anticlimactic."
"What's anni...anniclimmatic?" asked Terrence.
"Shhh!" hissed Emily. "Don't interrupt him!"
Santa laughed through it. "So instead, how about I just gave you your presents now?"
The children were instantly all smiles. "Oh can you?!" exclaimed Terrence.
"I see no reason why not." replied Santa good-naturedly.
"Mummy and daddy won't be upset, will they? Won't they be mad at you?" asked Emily. She saw the sad, tired look wash over the kindly face briefly, then it was gone.
"No, child." Santa replied. "They'll never even know I was here."
That's all Emily needed. She joined her brother in eagerly rushing over to where Santa stood crouched over his bag.
"Hrm, let's see here." muttered the old man to himself. "That's not it...no,no...not it either...no..." He looked up to see the two children practically dancing with mounting excitement. He smiled at Emily. "I believe this is for you." He said, pulling a beautiful China doll out of the bag and handing it to her.
Emily gasped as she took the doll. It was the most beautiful doll she had ever seen, with a wonderfully painted porcelain face, raven black tresses, and a gorgeous ruffled dress. "Oh, thank you Santa!" she exclaimed, hugging the doll to her.
"You're most welcome, child." beamed Santa, noticing that Terrence was on the verge of exploding with anticipation. "And this is definitely for you, Terrence." Terrence gave a soundless laugh as Santa handed him a big, woolly teddy bear with a red tongue and big button eyes .
The children appeared to completely forget about Santa, so immersed they were with their new toys. He watched as they played for awhile, then slowly started to back up into the shadows of the chimney.
Emily broke away from the enchantment of her new doll long enough to notice Santa leaving. "Santa, wait!" she said, rushing forward. "Do you have to go so soon?"
Santa smiled at the young girl. "Yes, I'm afraid so."
Emily frowned briefly, then nodded with a child's seriousness. "I understand. We're not the only children you need to visit tonight. Christmas is a busy night for you."
Santa sighed. "Just so, child. Just so." he whispered.
Terrence noticed the conversation between his sister and Santa. "Wait a minute, Santa." said the boy, running over to the table with his teddy bear dragging behind him. He took a plate off of it and brought it over to Santa. "We made you chocolate chip cookies!" he said, holding the plate up.
Santa smiled widely. "Well, now don't those look delicious, thank you!" he exclaimed, reaching to take one. He suddenly hesitated for a moment, then he took two. "Would you children mind if I saved these for later? I've got a long night ahead of me still, and these would definitely make a welcome snack later on." The children both nodded, quite pleased with themselves. They watched as Santa put the cookies in the pocket of his great red coat.
"Well, then." started the jolly old man, hoisting his bag over his shoulder."I must be off. It was indeed a pleasure to meet both of you, and I hope you enjoy your gifts."
"Oh we will! Thank you!" said Terrence, hugging his teddy bear to him.
"Will we see you again next year?" asked Emily expectantly.
Santa's eyes glistened in the lamplight and he paused, then he tapped Emily on the nose with a gloved finger, causing her to giggle. "That's all up to you now, isn't it?" he asked.
"Oh we'll be quite good. Won't we, Terrence?" The boy nodded enthusiastic assent.
"Well, good! I must be off. Merrrrry Christmas, children!" And with that, he went up the chimney, listening to the children's farewells as he rose...
Santa emerged from the crumbling brick chimney and immediately went over to his distraught reindeer. They were always agitated by these visits, and rightly so, but his gentle petting and soothing words were always able to calm them down some. As he stroked the frightened animals, he gazed down through the hole in the decrepit roof. The cold moonlight shone in, illuminating the living room of the abandoned home. An old porcelain doll with faded features and a ragged teddy bear missing an eye lay on the dusty wood floor, both staring back at him.
Santa slowly pulled himself into his sleigh, looked up at the hunter's moon in the chill night's sky, and let out a long sigh. It never got easier. Not with all the many years he'd been making these visits, it always left him as melancholy as the very first time. He put his hand in his coat pocket and pulled out a handful of old cookie crumbs. A light smile played under his beard. He put the crumbs back in his pocket. He knew he shouldn't play favorites, but in some ways he treasured what was in his pocket more than all the cookies he ever got from living children. A little kindness from the hopeless was a lovely thing.
He moved aside two great rolls of parchment next to him on the sleigh's seat to reveal a large, black leather bound book. While the two scrolls never really changed...children grew up, new ones were born...the black book only seemed to get bigger. When there were wars, epidemics, and other tragedies that took lives in wholesale, he could practically feel the book get heavier as whole pages of names were added.
He unclasped the book and looked at the next name on it, frowning slightly when he recognized it. Terrence and Emily were two of the nicer ones, ignorant of their situation. This next one...the boy knew what he had become, and it had embittered his shade. Santa did not look forward to the visit. None of them ever remembered his visits from all the previous years, but he at no time considered skipping the visit. That would be unforgivable.
He gave himself a shake and refocused. He had many visits to make, and being maudlin led to idleness. He was thankful that he wasn't bound by the same rules for the little lost souls as he was for the living. The living children he had only Christmas night to attend to. The others...Christmas was whenever he visited them, and there were so many more of them. He'd find the time for all them. All they had was time.