The Last Sleep

Here we go, folks – last one of the year. Thanks for reading, and have a great Christmas!

See you in 2017.


 

Jack turned over again, totally unable to sleep.

He’d been in bed for what seemed like hours. “The sooner you go to sleep, the sooner Father Christmas will be here,” his Dad had said.

That didn’t help. It only made Jack even more excited, if that was possible.

The wait had been long and painful and now – finally – it was Christmas Eve.

Everything was ready. Jack and his little sister had helped to decorate the tree and the rest of the house. The mince pie was out for Santa (with some milk), along with a carrot for Rudolph. Jack had asked why the other reindeer never got anything – his Mum had said that Rudolph worked harder. That made sense. Navigation was tricky.

Jack had asked to stay up to meet Santa himself. He was still young, but old enough to know that sometimes – if he pushed his luck – he might be able to get what he wanted.

Not this time, though. He’d just have to wait it out like everyone else on Santa’s “nice” list.

Jack had waited too long to mess it all up now, so he reluctantly went to bed.

But he couldn’t sleep. He could still just about hear the TV downstairs droning away. He pictured the fairy lights and the tinsel on the tree and wondered if Santa would be impressed. Dad promised Jack to let him know in the morning if he said he was.

At last, Jack felt himself start to drift off into sleep.

Only the feeling didn’t last long. He heard a bell.

Jingle bells, just like the ones on Santa’s sleigh.

Jack leapt out of bed, reaching for his dressing gown in the dark. He knew that one of two things had happened; it was Santa’s arrival, or the daft old beggar had fallen into Jack’s cunning trap.

He’d deliberately put jingle bells on the tree, near the bottom – like some sort of festive burglar alarm. The moment anyone tried to put anything under that tree, Jack was going to know about it. He’d finally be able to meet the man.

He tore downstairs, into the living room, and froze.

He tried to process what he was seeing.

The TV was still on – it was the same show that had been playing when he’d gone to bed. He could only have been lying in the dark a few minutes. Mum was tucking into the mince pie. Santa’s mince pie. Dad was in the middle of wrestling a large present – one of several in the middle of the room – into position under the tree. The bell ringing was his doing.

Jack stood there for a few seconds. His parents seemed to notice him and he seemed to understand what was going on at exactly the same moment.

It was the Tooth Fairy thing all over again.

Of course, he’d never really believed there was a Tooth Fairy. Fairies were stupid. But Santa… Part of Jack hoped he’d read the scene wrong. Though in that moment, as all the excitement faded, he also had the distinct feeling that this was just confirming something he’d always suspected deep down.

His Mum and Dad frantically tried to explain. Santa was very busy so he’d just dropped the presents off. Mum could have his mince pie as a thank you for their help – that, and he was thinking of going on a bit of a diet.

None of it mattered. Jack didn’t believe them.

Why would he? They’d been telling him Santa was real for as long as he could remember. They’d lied for so long.

He slipped off to bed and tried to not feel too betrayed.

The next morning, he didn’t bound from his bed like normal. By the time he went downstairs, he could hear his little sister was scrambling around excitedly.

It was still early, but it was the first time his parents had ever been downstairs before him on Christmas Day. He tried to be civil and replied to their tired greetings without too much resentment, even as he vowed not to believe anything they told him ever again.

Then his sister looked up at him from the little nest of brightly wrapped presents she’d made for herself. She hadn’t even opened anything yet, but she was having a brilliant time. “Santa’s been!” she cheered.

Jack saw his Mum and Dad give him strangely pleading glances. He looked back at his little sister’s excited expression – in that moment he understood why they’d gone to all this effort over all those years.

As he grew up, he understood even more. It was a cold, cynical, cruel world sometimes – there was precious little room for magic, surprise or wonder anymore. But on Christmas morning, for those few years, that’s all there was. Magic.

But on Christmas morning, for those few years, that’s all there was. Magic.

So Jack looked at his little sister, smiled, and played his part.

Santa was real, and the world was magical again – just for a little while longer.

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