The 65th Fire: A Tale of Christmas
As I get older, I realize how important traditions and routine are not just to me, but for my loved ones as well. We all need events and reasons to gather, to become one. Christmas is one of my favorites for bringing everyone together and making our happiness and joy with each other known. Thanks for reading, I'll see you in 2020!
Was it snow or ash that fell outside the long-ransacked shack in which he solemnly ate his lunch? With crumbs falling off his faded-red woolen coat, the white bearded man with wrinkles around his eyes reached his bare hand out, catching a few flakes in his open palm.
It was both. The snow flakes melted and mixed in with the ash, making a gray water that he shook off his hand. He adjusted his cap, patched with strands of red felt, and smiled a bit. Both ash and snow were appropriate for this, this day of once jolly. This day, once called Christmas eve.
Now? Now it's just another day in hell on earth.
Swallowing the last bitter bit of his acorn cookie, he reached for the red backpack, full of toys and gifts for the children of Madam Annette’s orphanage. He had to make it before the next morning came, before Christmas day was here and the last legend of Santa Claus and joy to all the good boys and girls would be gone, never able to be recaptured.
He had done this for a couple decades now. He remembered seeing Santa at a mall when he was a child, before the world changed and grew sour. Back when times were good and even bad boys and girls got toys for Christmas. After becoming an orphan himself, he took on the persona and name Santa Claus when he got old enough to care for himself, vowing to never let a child go another Christmas without knowing that someone loved and cared for them.
He pulled his old bushnell binoculars and focused into the barren distance, winds of ash gusting across boulders and rusting steel wreckage from the old world. If any of it was radioactive, he didn’t know.
What he did know was that raiders and roving rapists were becoming more frequent and much more rapey. The last thing the legend of Santa Claus needed was being raped to death.
With no fires or lights visible on the horizon, he looked up into the night’s sky, spotting the familiar constellations and angling himself toward the northwest, towards the direction of the orphanage. Come hell or high rapists, Santa was going to deliver tonight.
The nervously jolly man clamped his black leather boots into his hoverboard and tilted forward, causing his two-wheeled device to steadily pick-up speed, spreading the man’s white beard into two as he squinted through the stinging grains of snow and ash. Though the occasional pebble or divot would jar the vehicle on whichever wheel was struck, it did not stop the man and his journey.
Only a 2x4 wooden plank swung into his head could do that.
He felt no pain at first, just stars and ringing, the edges of his sight going dark. He knew only two things right now. One, he’d been hit, and two, he needed to fight or he would not live to see the smiles of grateful children.
He pulled out his snub-nosed .357 magnum from his waist and began firing in all directions he could aim. The booming blasts and violent kick-back from the tiny, but excessively overpowered pistol brought his vision back to focus and his head, though screaming in pain, back into the moment.
Only one shot hit an assailant, the sound of punctured flesh and agonizing screams confirming. Santa peered quickly at the source of the dying moans and saw his victim, squirming in the dirt, making red mud in a blood-soaked panic.
The dying man, hair blackened and face covered in soot, choked on his blackened blood oozing from the corners of his mouth. He weakly raised his hand in an attempt to beg for mercy, cut short by two more blasts from Santa’s hand cannon.
The smoke and steam rose slightly from the hole where Santa’s assailant’s face used to be, fading out in contrails to the ever-falling snow and ash. Santa pulled the empty casings out and reloaded his revolver, giving the barrel a spin before snapping it close. Christmas was still on time.
As his two-wheeled hoverboard kept it’s pace after returning to his task, Santa could see the orphanage’s flaming torches on the horizon, their light slowly being overtaken by the yet-to-rise sun. Guarded by men more viscous than he, Madam Annette’s orphanage used to be a maximum-security prison. Now it was the last place a child could grow up without parents and still feel safe and secure in this post-apocalyptic hellhole.
Santa waved his red velvet cap to the guard at the gate, allowing it to be opened without Santa breaking his hoverboard’s stride. The children had all gathered by the old tree in the middle of the courtyard, lit up with multi-colored lights, surrounded by the cells that now housed children.
Their faces lit up brighter than any of the lights seeing the red coated, white-bearded man as he gave a heavy, “HO, HO, HO!”, which echoed off the cells and harmonized in a pleasant sounding way. They rushed and surrounded him, eager to see what Santa had brought for Christmas.
Madam Annette had already given this Santa man all the children’s names and their letters. He read them, most of the requests for food or their parents back. Though he couldn’t do miracles, he did know the location of a long-forgotten toy store, hidden under soot, containing treasures of a different time and worth.
Still, toys are toys to children, and each child left Santa’s side with a dazzling and interesting item in their hands. From toy trucks to dolls and even plastic guns, Santa had enough in his red backpack for every child at the orphanage.
As the day grew to night, the festivities continued, with fruit cakes and an entire pig roasted in the pit, filling all the children's bellies. The lights were still on, though they seemed to have faded with the day’s events. It was time for bed.
Santa told one more story, the tale of Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer, before it was time to say goodnight and that they would all see Santa next year. Santa hoped that would be true.
After a few words with Madam Annette, Santa gathered his emptied backpack and stood on his hoverboard, ready to face the wild wastelands for another year. The gate opened and he left Madam Annette’s orphanage.
Driving in one circle around the orphanage’s perimeter, he loudly exclaimed the line he remembered from his childhood in the old world for all the children to hear as they slowly faded to sleep.
“HO, HO, HO! Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!”
Santa put his hand reassuringly on his .357 and grinned at another Christmas well-done.
The legend of Santa Claus would survive another year in a world where he was needed most.