“Grandma, do you know where Mommy and Daddy is?” asked Susie over chocolate-chip pancakes. It was after 8 pm, when usually her younger brother, Noah, and her are watching cartoons together on the living room floor of their home. But this time, Grandma picked up Susie from school instead of their mother. At Grandma’s house, they get to eat pancakes or cereal for dinner, which Noah enjoyed without much else going through his little head. Susie, however, felt uneased the absence of her parents this December evening.
“They’re getting their Christmas shopping out of the way, my dear,” said Grandma, dining on chocolate-chip pancakes herself. “You have aunts and uncles and cousins staying over for the holidays, and your mommy and daddy want all the presents under the tree when they arrive”
“But Santa’s going to bring everyone’s gifts on Christmas Eve,” said Susie.
“Santa only delivers gifts to good girls and boys,” said Grandma. “Us grown-ups have to get gifts from each other. And nobody wants Uncle Larry snooping around while his gift is being wrapped.”
“I want a Roman Reigns toy,” said Noah with a mouth full of pancake, momentarily pretending to be like the pro wrestler he watches on television as he punched the air in front of him.
“When are you going to go Christmas shopping, Grandma?” asked Susie.
“Oh, Grandma hasn’t done that in a long, long time,” said Grandma.
“Why not?” asked Susie. Grandma gathered the empty dinner plates from the table. As she placed them in the sink, she took one last look outside the window behind it. The backyard that’s normally shown through the window was darkened by the evening sky, yet she could clearly make out the snow covering the grass and the old wooden swing. But she most certainly could not make out the little red sleigh floating just below the clouds.
Mrs. Claus leaned over the edge of the sleigh, sitting next to Fritz, a young elf with a scar across his eye, behind two reindeer (Comet and Cupid, specifically) strapped to the sleigh. She stared through the scope of her DXL-5 Havok, but perhaps a little North Pole magic allowed her to see Grandma’s house from fourteen miles above ground.
“I can’t believe I’m actually going through with this,” said Mrs. Claus, pulling the rifle to her side. “If I shoot Sharon Adams, it would be the naughtiest thing I’ve ever done.”
“We could break into her house and chop her to bits,” said Fritz as he picked his teeth with a chef’s knife.
“No no no, the crimson would clash with my scarlet garment. How you can stomach such messes is beyond me.” She repositioned the rifle over the edge of the sleigh.
“How is this beef with this Sharon lady personal if you don’t want to settle it in a personal manner?” asked Fritz.
“Oh, it’s personal, all right,” said Mrs. Claus. “It’s been personal for thirty-five years.”
Grandma settled into her recliner with Noah resting on her lap, moments away from sleep. Susie leaned against the side of the leather couch and gazed at her grandmother with anticipation of another fascinating tale from the past.
“Your father was four or five at the time,” said Grandma. “He was such a rowdy boy that I was sure he’d be on Santa’s naughty list that year. But I knew it would break my heart if all he got for Christmas was a lump of coal. That evening, I left him as my sister’s house and went to the mall to find a Transformers toy.”
Susie looked crestfallen. “Is that why Mommy and Daddy are taking so long? Because I’m on the naughty list and they have to buy something for me?”
“Oh, heaven’s no,” said Grandma. “Mommy and Daddy are taking so long because grown-ups are hard to shop for. I know for a fact you’re on the nice list.”
“Thirty-five years ago,” said Mrs. Claus, who now gave Fritz her full attention—Fritz rolled his eyes, for the last thing he wanted was to listen to a long story—“Nickolas and I went to a mall in Jacksonville, FL. It was the beginning of December, and you know how we like to see what the kids are into in advance so we’re prepared for the big day. There was no internet in the North Pole at the time, so we had to walk inside physical toy shops to see what’s selling so you elves know what to whip up for all the good boys and girls. I know it was all business, but I do miss those days of leisurely strolling with Nickolas among dozens of happy shoppers.”
“That evening,” said Grandma, “just making my way to the toy shop was a nightmare. The mall was busy, and chaotic. People were trampling over each other with a dozen bags in their arms. It wasn’t even Christmas Eve yet! I even saw two fist fights, one over a television—and televisions weren’t nearly as fancy back then as they are now—and a toaster.”
Susie giggled. “Who would fight over a toaster?”
“Exactly,” Grandma began to laugh, but stopped herself so to not wake Noah, who had fallen asleep in her arms by now. “Anyhow, I managed to stag the last Transformers toy from the shelf at the toy shop before three other mothers could get to it. And it was the fire truck one, too, which was supposed to be the main one. I wasn’t rude about it because they were giving me dirty looks, but I really wanted to wave it in their faces, to show off that I got to it before they did. When I left the shop, I clutched the toy to my chest real tight so I wouldn’t lose it.”
“As Nickolas and I made our way to the toy shop,” said Mrs. Claus, “he noticed that Sharon Adams dropped her Transformers action figure. Of course, he noticed her, with her big, curly red hair and her tiny waist and so much makeup she almost looked like a clown elf. I remember how she was always on the naughty list until she was eleven, and if Nickolas made a naughty list for adults she would most certainly be on it. But I’ll admit that she worked hard as a mother. Anyway, Nickolas helped her pick it up.”
“Someone bumped into me and I dropped it anyway,” said Grandma. A shocked expression came over Susie. “I went to pick it up as fast as I could, but some dirty old man tried to steal it before I even bent over. Oh, gosh he was disgusting. His white beard was huge and matted. His gut poked out of his t-shirt. His hands were wrinkly and dry. Yuck! I didn’t want his disgusting fingers touching my little boy’s toy. So, guess what I did.”
“And guess what that hussy did,” said Mrs. Claus.
“What?” asked wide-eyed Susie.”
“As soon as he handed her the action figure,” said Mrs. Claus, “she kissed him on the cheek and whispered something in his ear before walking off. When he turned to look at me, he was blushing! How could that bonehead let some tramp kiss him in front of his wife of several hundred years?” Fritz gave her a curious look. “We stopped counting after 600. He was most certainly in the doghouse for the next two weeks, I assure you.”
“As soon as he picked up the Transformers toy,” said Grandma, “I headbutted him before he could turn to run away and snatched it from his hands.”
“What’s a headbutt?” asked Susie.
“It’s when you hit someone really hard in the face with your forehead. I got that greedy old man right in the teeth. I even have the scar to prove it.” Grandma leaned over carefully so to not disturb Noah to show Susie the tiny horizontal scar in the middle of her forehead. “He covered his mouth, but I saw from between his fingers that he was bleeding, so I walked away as fast as I could.”
“Wow!” said Susie.
“I was shaken up by the whole thing, though,” said Grandma. “Everyone was fighting over material things that get forgotten in no time. Your father loved that Transformer toy, but after a month he was begging for an entirely different toy. I felt like I hurt that old man for no reason. I made a promise to myself then and there to never shop for Christmas gifts again. No more will I fight people I don’t know for something the people I love won’t treasure forever.”
“Is that why you make Christmas cakes every year?” asked Susie
“That’s right,” said Grandma. “It’s cheaper, not meant to last forever, and always made with love. Plus, everybody loves cake.”
Susie laughed. “That’s why Daddy’s so fat.”
“That should have been the end of it,” said Mrs. Claus, “but two weeks ago, as Nickolas watched all the boys and girl to make necessary adjustments to his lists, I caught him watching Sharon Adams while she was sleeping. Nine times I caught him watching her! He doesn’t even deliver gifts to old prunes like her. I feel in my gut he’s going to try to make a move on her Christmas Eve while making his rounds. As you know, he can be cleaver when he wants to be. Well, ol’ Margaret Claus has a secret or two of her own.” She nodded toward her rifle. “And I’ve been keeping tabs on Sharon, too. Whenever her grandchildren get picked up from her house by their parents, Sharon always meets them by the door. Tonight should be no different. That will be my moment to strike.”
“How sure are you that that’s what he’s going to do?” asked Fritz.
“100 percent,” said Mrs. Claus. “And how dare you question me like that.”
“I never killed off of a hunch or a gut feeling,” said Fritz. His gaze got lost in the night sky. “I made sure to dig up concrete evidence to make sure the bastard gets what he deserves. Like when I caught Hans using my sunflower pen for twenty minutes when he said he’d only need it for one. Or when Edgar admitted that he lied to my face when he said he hated my choo-choo train designs when he really liked them. But my therapist in prison taught me that it’s important to talk out your feelings with the people who upset you, so you can come to a peaceful resolution together. Maybe you should do that before you—wait, is that her?”
Mrs. Claus rushed to position her rifle scope over the edge of the slay. There she was; Sharon stood In the doorway of her humble home, waving goodbye as her son and his wife carried off their sleepy children, Susie and Noah, after a late night of Christmas shopping.
Fritz offered to do the deed if Mrs. Claus still wanted it done, but Mrs. Claus told him her hands were steady enough.