“Daddy, what’s with all the weird Santas?” said my daughter Alexandra, pointing to the hand-carved and painted wooden figurines staring back from the shelves, end tables, book cases and countertops.
Nearly every surface of our first floor was populated with little Santas. Short, tall, fat, thin, every size and shape imaginable, from four or five inches to a foot or two tall. Each one had a distinct personality. Some looked suspicious or paranoid, while others appeared blissfully silly. There was a Mr. and Mrs. Santa, locked in an embrace, eyes leering affectionately at one another. Some had their eyes shut, some frowned, some smiled and some were even laughing. Each one was as unique as a snowflake, different yet all part of one giant wooden family of miniature Christmas figurines.
“Well,” I said, “Your grandpa carved them just for you, right before he passed away. We like to call them Santa’s little helpers.”
“But I never met him.” said my daughter.
“That’s right. He passed the same year you were born. On Christmas eve, six years ago today.” I paused and looked around at the little faces.
“He made so many. How long did it take?” said Alexandra.
“I think it was a couple of months. Grandma said he locked himself up in his workshop for weeks and weeks, carving and painting. He wasn’t feeling well, so it helped distract him from being sick. When he was done, he packed them up in boxes with your name stenciled across them. He made Grandma promise that you’d get the Santas. He said he made them especially for you. He said he made them so they could watch over you and protect you.”
“Sometimes I think they’re a little scary.” said Alexandra, rubbing her eyes.
“No, they’re just a little funky, that’s all.” No sooner had I finished those words when the lights flickered.
“What was that?” said Alexandra.
“It’s just the ice storm outside. The weatherman said it could cause power outages.” I listened as the sleet and rain battered the windows and siding, clicking and clacking, like popcorn popping all around the exterior of the house. The storm had been raging since sundown and the world outside was now encased in an inch of ice. The smaller trees were bowed with the extra weight, some bending to the ground, some breaking or losing limbs to the glossy glaze, often dragging power lines on their way down.
”Don’t worry, we’ve got the candles and flashlights ready. It’ll be just like camping!” I said.
“I’m not really crazy about camping.” said Alexandra. “Last time I got poison ivory.”
“You mean poison ivy.” I corrected.
“Are they magic?” she said, pointing to the Santas.
“Well, grandpa said they were. He told me they were filled with a special protection spell for his only granddaughter.”
“But what if the magic wears off? There doesn’t seem to be much magic around anymore. Not like in the old days.” said Alexandra.
“I think we just have different magic now. Magic from technology. Folks in the old days didn’t have technology, so they used other magic. Magic from nature and the spirit.”
“I don’t think they’re actually magic. They’ve never said anything or moved or anything. I think the magic has worn off.”
“Well, you have the right to believe anything you like, but let me tell you a special story that I was saving for when you got a little older. I guess tonight is as good a time as any to tell you, since it’s Christmas eve and all.”
“Is it scary?” said Alexandra, moving closer.
“No, not really, but it could have been, if it not for those Santas.” I said, pointing to the little carved Saint Nicks. “Let’s see, it was February and you were just one month old. A late winter storm had dropped about an inch of snow on the ground and your mom and I were finally able to get you to sleep. You didn’t like to sleep when you were a baby. I always felt it was because you were nosey and never wanted to miss any action, no matter how small or dull. Anyway, we had taken down all the Christmas decorations except for the Santas. I think we wanted to keep grandpa in our thoughts a little while longer, so we left all those tiny guys lounge around the house.”
The lights flickered again and the wind howled outside. Lexi drew closer.
“Keep going, dad. It’s just the icicle storm.” she said.
“Okay, where was I. Oh yeah, this was back when we lived in a townhouse in the city. We had a tiny little front yard with a tall, skinny maple tree and a little blue birdbath. Nothing like the big yard we have now, with that giant oak tree outside your window. It wasn’t a bad home, but the neighborhood was not always the safest place. Especially for a little baby girl like you.”
“I don’t remember that house.” said Alexandra.
“No, we didn’t stay there very long. Anyway, Mom and I went to bed and were sleeping for a while when we heard a terrible smash downstairs. I got up and grabbed the baseball bat next to the bed and your mom dialed 911. I could hear someone, a man, shouting outside. I rushed to your room and saw snowy footprints on the carpet just outside your bedroom door. My heart pounded with fear. I opened the door and your were fast asleep. I closed the door quietly and followed the footprints down the stairs. The living room looked like there had been a big struggle. One of the windows was broken and the curtains were torn down. There was broken glass and furniture tossed all around. The Santas were scattered about the living room floor and our TV was in the middle of the room, somehow undamaged. I made my way down the stairs and noticed that the front door was wide open. Carefully, bat in hand, I walked across the disheveled room and out the front door.
What I saw was confounding. A young man was tied to the Maple tree. His hands were bound behind him and his feet and torso were lashed to the trunk of the tree with twine. He was gagged with a napkin from our table, but I could still hear his muffled shouts. He thrashed wildly about, but the twine held tight. I just stood and stared for a moment, unable to make sense of what I saw before me.
“What did you do? Who tied him up?” asked Alexandra.
“Well, the police showed up and they arrested the man. When they removed the gag from his mouth he shouted “Santas! Them Santas got me! It was them Santas!” over and over again as they took him away. The police said he was hallucinating. They said he had taken all sorts of bad drugs and it made him see things that weren’t there. And while that may be true, there was one thing that no one could ever explain.
“What was that, daddy? What couldn’t they explain?” said Alexandra.
“All those little footprints out in the snow of the yard. They were all around the tree to which the burglar had been tied.
“It was the Santas!” said Alexandra. And then she smiled and cocked her head to one side. “That’s just another one of your stories, daddy. None of that is true, is it?”
“Well, you never know. There’s lots of strange things in this world that people can’t explain.” I said, smiling. Just then the lights went out. I grabbed a flashlight and flicked it on. My daughter hugged my arm. I could hear my wife upstairs, fumbling for her flashlight and mumbling.
“That story scared me!” said Alexandra. “Now I’m afraid to go to sleep! Tell me it’s not a real story, daddy. Tell the truth!”
My wife came down the stairs to the living room. “I almost got it all done. Stupid ice storm.”
“Daddy scared me!” said Alexandra, as she left my side and clung to her mother.
“Ok, ok. You got me. I was just pulling your leg. That story is totally made up.” I said as the lights flickered back on.
“Seriously. On Christmas eve? You’re gonna go put her to bed and undo what you’ve done! Come on sweetie. Daddy was only fooling. You’d better get to bed before Santa gets here. Remember, if he sees you’re awake, no presents!” said my wife.
“Yeah, you’d better get your little butt in that bed right now!” I said and scooped my daughter up into my arms. She giggled as I carried her up the stairs to her room. I told three more happy christmas stories, one about a bunny that was half kitten named “Bitten” and one about a rabbit that was half cat called “Rabbicat”. I finished it all off with a tale of silly bedtime nonsense courtesy of the “Bed Hogs” – a family of swine who want ALL of the bed.
With my daughter finally asleep, I helped my wife finish wrapping the presents. We piled them beneath the tree, set out the milk and cookies and the carrot for the reindeer, and had a glass of wine. We sat in the quite, listening to the storm fling ice at our windows.
“I hate ice storms.” said my wife. “I always worry about that big oak tree outside her room. That one branch goes right over top.”
“It’ll be OK. I said. I think it may be slowing down a bit.” I said. “I am wiped out. I think I’m ready to hit the sack.”
“Me too. I can’t believe you told her that story on Christmas eve! That whole thing STILL creeps me out when I think close that wacko was to her room. He was a murderer. A wanted murderer was in our house!”
“I know. I still get that weird feeling every time I open her door when she’s asleep. I’m takes me right back to that night.” I said. “And his face when they took him away. His eyes were really freaky, remember how he stared at us in court?. What was his name again?”
“Raymond Rankaler.” said my wife with a shudder. “I’ll never forget that name. He killed that family up in Carbondale, just for kicks. He was a real psychopath.”
We fell asleep quickly and the storm intensified. Just after midnight, however, we were awakened by a sudden massive impact to the house. It was as if a giant had karate chopped our roof. I jumped from the bed and ran to my daughter’s room. My heart seemed to drop to my feet as I threw open her bedroom door. A blast of ice, sleet and cold air stung my cheeks as I stared. A giant oak branch had torn loose from the trunk of the great tree outside and sliced through the roof of my daughter’s room. I could hear her crying from beneath her covers, so I knew she was alive. That she was un-touched by the mighty wooden arm was miraculous enough, yet it was the manner in which she had been spared that dropped me to my knees. I knelt down and pulled my sobbing six-year-old daughter from beneath her sleet and rain soaked covers. I brushed the bark and ice from her face and held her tightly in my arms.
“You’re OK, you’re ok, sweetie.” I whispered and checked her ams and legs for injury, but found nothing out of kilter.
After a moment, she stopped crying and looked up at me. A smile spread across her face and she pointed to the floor around her bed.
“Daddy, look! The Santas saved me again!”
She had seen what I had upon entering. The little wooden Santas had amassed themselves into a ring around her bed, arranged and piled into a barrier that was just high enough to prevent the giant icy bough from crushing grandpa’s only granddaughter.
Merry Christmas, and thank you again, Santa’s little helpers.