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One Christmas Story


Late one Christmas Eve when Santa's work was nearly done, and the good little girls and boys on Earth had been rewarded (and the bad little girls and boys given lumps of coal), there remained in the world one good little girl whom Santa had forgotten.

"How could this happen?" Santa was dumfounded. "And out of presents, too?"

"What will we do? What will we do?" cried Egil. Elves were excitable by nature, and perennially curious.

But for the first time in his long, long life Santa had questions he did not know the answers to. Sure, he had to play along during the season - little kids sitting on his lap, telling him what they just couldn't live without - as if he hadn't already marked down their names in the big green book, next to each, clearly written, exactly what was wanted and where.

"As if!" he huffed.

He was worried, though. It was getting late and Mrs. Claus was definite about no overtime this year. He remembered half her baked goodies had gone into the freezer last Christmas, including an extraordinary blueberry pie that he and Egil hadn't found the time to eat. The pie had to wait under a light frost, with six little lemon cakes, until New Year's Eve when Mrs. Claus popped them all in the oven, sat Santa and Egil down at the kitchen table and made them promise not to work so hard the next year.

"You boys have to work smarter not harder," she had said. And that was that - pie, cakes, and all.

And now there was this year, night-of-nights again, with everything going like clockwork - a model of efficiency, in fact. The elves had handled the three rushes so admirably well that Santa sent e-mail at eleven commending all, reminding them that Christmas dinner would be at four p.m., dress casual. But he faced this last unfinished business with no more resources, no new ideas.

"Nada! Zip! I should have planned for such a contingency," was all he could say in his defense, still getting nowhere.

"At least there weren't so many B's this year," said Egil, trying to look on the bright side of the situation. He referred to the code Santa kept in the big book's margins used to sort out the good and the bad. It was a job no one liked, though someone on staff had to do the count each year, as required. Santa would have preferred that everyone had been good. But he was happy that lots of G's this year kept him busy - busier, in fact, than he had ever been. So busy, that now with Christmas Eve not yet over, there was nothing left in his sack. He rummaged around again, his big hands feeling far into the familiar corners and deep velvety folds. He even searched his pockets.


Three elves woke to the boom of Santa's voice. Outside, bells and hoofbeats ruffled the late night air and from the roof, a soft dust of snow, loosened by the single bass note, swirled a few feet out and fell on Hector, the house "guard" cat asleep on the driveway. Some minutes later, the jostling and the jingling died down and the third shift fell back to sleep. Soft, crunching, snow sounds told Santa the reindeer knelt at rest again. And then he noticed it. Over in the corner consoling the fireplace broom slumped the sad black bag that held only lumps of coal.

"Nothing in there worth giving to a good little girl." said Santa. "Honestly, I just don't know what to do, don't know what to do…" he repeated in a tired sigh to himself, then closed his eyes.

A moment later, as if in answer to an unspoken prayer, an angel appeared and offered one small miracle: the special nature of the situation, the lateness of the hour, the hallowed time of the year, etc., etc., she explained, demanded prompt resolution. And Heaven, always generous, had decided one of the "special gifts" would be appropriate.

"Hence, a miracle" said the angel. "But only a small one. Those are my orders."

The angel was emphatic to a fault and having explained herself, was eager to get down to business. Being new to heavenly service, however, and limited in her powers of creation, the angel insisted she must start with something. Surely there was something Santa had. Santa just shook his head. Even his beard was exhausted and refused to sway.

"What about in there?" She pointed to the black bag.

"Oh no," cried Egil. "That's just coal."

But there was one lump left and that was enough.

"So, tell me Santa, do you know what little Annie wants?" The angel's name was Gloria and she was beginning to enjoy this. First meeting with the big red man himself and holding her own. Excellent, she thought - though her wings were still shaking.

Santa was starting to perk up; his beard visibly stiffened. Something in the air? he'd think later. But no doubt about it, the room was crackling with a form of energy he'd never seen before.

"Shall I repeat the question?" offered Gloria.

Santa shook his head, this time smiling. He was wide awake now and suddenly everything seemed as it had been years ago, in his apprentice youth, when the world and every moment in it was new and exciting and a wonderful adventure. Then, in the next instant, he remembered the present day and hour and the one task left to complete this night.

Santa had heard Annie's wishes throughout the year, as he heard all the wishes of all the girls and boys throughout all the years. Not a terribly difficult case - nothing time would not heal, thought Santa - though he knew some hurts took a long time mending. Like her "alone times" - crying through the long, winter nights when the wind whips up a frightful noise like high-pitched voices that go on and on, and a chill comes in through the edges of the windows of a life no matter how tight they are shut.

A small miracle would be something very fine here, thought Santa.

Egil read his mind and grinned. As head elf he was required to know everything Santa knew ("well, almost everything," he had admitted to another elf one year) and mind-reading was much used on the job. Egil would be included in something this big, this late this night, with only one gift left to give and a miracle with which to give it! Egil danced wildly at the prospect; he would have quite a story to tell generations of elves.

"We've never had a miracle, Santa!" cried Egil, truly beside himself now and blurring into a dervish.

Santa knew, too, that he wasn't going to miss this opportunity. Of course he was satisfied bringing goodwill and cheer and presents, year in and year out, wherever he could. Absolutely! He loved it. But the possibilities with a miracle here, even a small miracle, were so tremendous - had so much potential, that he - Santa paused for a moment, a bit worked-up himself.

"We've never had a miracle, Egil," he finally said.

Egil, having completed his whir about the room, now hung straight upside down, his feet planted firmly on the ceiling. He calmly pulled a little yellow book out of his pocket and wrote Christmas Eve, late - Santa stressed tonight. Good thing the elves are here.

The angel broke their reverie.

"Well, I've never had a miracle, either." said Gloria, "Let's get on with it!"

"Yes," said Santa, somewhat composed, "a small miracle will be perfect. But there isn't much time." So Santa told the angel what Annie wanted and the angel gave him a kiss.

"Standard reward," Gloria explained, winking at Egil, and in another moment the miracle began.

The small lump of coal the angel held was blacker than jet. But off its cragged and faceted surface glinted the candle and fire light, spraying a spectrum of reflected rays throughout the room that belied the carbon's original intent this Christmas. The angel spoke a few words that only heaven could hear and the black rock began to tremble. It floated up, in an intense unearthly light, like some soft, dense fog turned electric white and in the control of an unknowable power. The glow expanded to a small sphere with just a haze of an edge barely defining the boundary between itself and the surrounding air. Then it stopped and hovered. A whisper of a shape wavered within, but still not a sound. A glow within a glow tried to take a form. A shifting blue ribbon of electricity became something recognizable - an outline faint at first, until it intensified and filled in and finally emerged as the solid, unmistakable fact of a small black teddy bear, whose short lustrous fur was punctuated only by a brown nose, a slim smile and two remarkable hazelnut eyes.

"Oh my!" cried Egil. The hazelnut eyes were that remarkable.

"That's one nice teddy." Santa could see that plainly. No other teddy quite like that one he thought.

"What does he do? What does he do?" cried Egil. All eyes were now on Gloria. This was getting good!

But in the next instant they were in a little room, half a world away, where they found Annie asleep in her bed, black bear still aloft and staring at a cloud-shrouded moon painted on Annie's ceiling. Santa and Egil just looked at each other and then at the angel.

"Well, you said there wasn't much time," justified Gloria, who was obviously project-oriented. Santa was impressed. She was right, of course - almost morning now. But he wanted to know more - about her, how she traveled, how she knew Annie's name. After hearing the explanations, Egil made another note in his yellow book read Einstein again.

Then the angel spoke once more:

"Little bear, stay with Annie now. In the morning, when first light comes to lift the veils of sleep, whisper your name. Share her secrets and her worries. Share her sadness and her joy. Above all, share your love. For in a miracle tonight, you have been given something wondrous to give of yourself: a love that can never die. It is a love that forever heals and comforts. It is a love that will enlighten and inspire. It is a love that strengthens the heart. Stay with her always, Our little Percy bear."

And when the angel kissed him goodbye, Percy floated into Annie's bed under the soft covers and snuggled up close, his furry ears just touching her cheek. He did not go to sleep - nor could he. He felt for the first time this little girl's arms around him and she felt warm. He could also feel his heart touching her heart. And when Annie gave a little squeeze, Percy had to lay very still. Not long now, he said to himself. Not long now. And just at dawn, when he thought she would wake, Percy gently whispered his name. Precisely as instructed.



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Last Updated Saturday, November 20th, 2004