Christmas Fantasy Friendship

“I’m not going. I told you, this year, I’m really not going.”

Nick’s voice sounds like it’s coming from another wing of the house rather than from the other side of the door. I knock again, but without waiting for an answer I push open the door.

“I’m coming in, I hope you’re decent!” I announce cheerily, and my eyes begin to water. The room smells like sour milk, tobacco and sweat.

“Nick?” I walk to the bed, kicking aside food wrappers and clothes to make a path as I go. “Nick. It’s time to get up. Way past time. Come on man.”

I reach above my head to his elbow and give it a shake. He rolls his massive form over on the bed and I see his face looks as bad as the room smells. His eyes are bloodshot from too many nights of binge-watching Breaking Bad and his mustache and beard are a yellow ombre starting from his mouth. He’s wearing a stained sleeveless undershirt and boxer shorts. He probably hasn’t moved from this bed in several days.

“Aw buddy,” I sigh. “It’s worse than I thought this time. Come on. You need a shower. Maybe some coffee, after, to perk you up before you hit the road.”

“Dean,” he grumbles. “I’m not going.”

“You say that every year!” I chirp, trying to make it sound like a joke even though it’s the Gospel truth.

“I mean it this year. I don’t want to go and you,” he lowers his eyelids in a tired attempt at a glare, “can’t make me. So just go on and tell everyone and leave me alone.” He tries to roll back over but I reach up and grab his arm again.

“Every year you say you’re not leaving, and every year we do this dance, but every year you go. Can we just skip the part where I beg on my knees and get to the part where we do what is required? Please?”

“No.” Nick rolls toward the wall, and his lower back balloons out of his shirt above his boxer shorts, swelling toward my face like rising bread dough. I can’t take the smell anymore.

“I’m leaving,” I announce. “But I’ll be back.” Possibly with reinforcements, I think, as I retrace my steps through the debris toward the door.

I wish I had reinforcements. Or a fresh idea. Nick’s gotten more and more stubborn and I’ve run out of bribes and threats.

A few years ago I noticed he was sort of…phoning it in. He showed up dressed and ready for work on the 24th, but he was a little sloppy, a little less jolly, a little distracted and maybe even a bit harsh on the deer. I wasn’t worried. After all, I’ve been head elf here for the past 400 years. I’ve seen a few Santas, and I’ve seen Santa burn-out. They usually last 50, maybe 60 years and then it’s time for a replacement. Nick had been around the block about that many times, so I figured he was owed a nice retirement.

The problem is, when the other Santas passed their prime they just… disappeared. They would come home to the North Pole Christmas Day after delivering the presents, head to their bedroom, and the next day, they were gone. There’s usually a week with a vacancy, which no one hardly notices because we all take a complete vacation the last week of December, and on January 1st, a new guy appears in Santa’s bedroom, ready to go as if he’s always been there. And I know what you’re thinking, but no, it’s not the same guy after a refreshing trip to Florida. He always has a gut and white hair and a beard, but other than that I’ve seen all sorts, tall, short, snub nosed, different skin tones. We whip up some new duds for him and it’s off to the races.

So, what I mean to say is, it’s obviously time for Nick to go. I love the guy, I really do, we’ve become close over the last 5 decades. Which is why I wish there was a nicer way for me to express that I want him dead. But I haven’t the foggiest clue how to make that transition happen. It’s like the universe missed the cue to replace Santa five or six years back and now we’re limping along with this dud who has absolutely no interest in children or Christmas whatsoever.

“Kill him yourself,” muttered Melinda when I began my yearly twelve days of Christmas complaining. She is a good sport, but she’s never liked Nick much, and she finds hearing me complain about him even more obnoxious then when he used to come over to hang out and we stayed up way too late.

The thought of murder wasn't entirely repulsive. There might even be some mercy in a poisoned cookie allowing him to slip quietly away in his sleep, but what if it didn’t work? What if he died and no one replaced him?

Even if it did work, I could never be the one to do it. Anytime I’ve entertained the idea my memories of Nick in his prime have resurfaced. Sure, he’s acting weird now, but under that is still the old Nick: the one who laughed so hard during our taco eating contest that he nearly choked, the one who towered over me as best man at my wedding, the one who lost spectacularly at Monopoly ever time we ever played, but still came back for more.

The first time he tried to flat out refuse to go out on deliveries it wasn’t too hard to convince him. He was still pretty social then, and I could appeal to his sense of guilt for how the children would feel waking up to find that he hadn’t come. (Yes, I’ve read the Grinch and I just don’t find it to be very realistic). I told him when he got back we’d get wasted on eggnog and throw a rager to Celine Dion for a week solid, and he guiltily went off to robe up.

The next year he was a little more obstinate and I had to promise he could do whatever he wanted as soon as he got home, even leave the reindeer in their harnesses and I, personally, would feed them and brush them and put them all away, which is not a fun task, by the way, and he finally agreed but said it would be his last year.

The next year I had to threaten to change the Wifi password. The year after that I told him if he went, I’d set him up on a date with Delia from the electronics department. The next year I threatened to show Delia some of the embarrassing photos I still have from the drunken Dion rager Christmas.

This year, I’ve got nothing. He lost interest in Delia a long time ago. He lost interest in everybody and everything. He lays on his bed year-round, eating and sleeping and watching TV.

Maybe a shower is asking too much. If I could just get the guy into a coat and trousers and out the door, that would be enough. He could just squeeze his stinky-self down the chimney and to hell with appearances. No one’s supposed to see him anyway.

I take a deep breath and barge back in.

“Okay, Nick, I’m not messing around. I’ve got no ace up my sleeve this year, buddy. We just have to put on our big boy pants." I grab a semi-clean pair of red sweats from a drawer.

Nick sighs heavily and rolls toward me again. He tips his body upward, like the Titanic sinking in reverse, and puts his feet through the pair of pants dutifully. But they stay around his ankles.

“That’s the spirit man! Just gotta put the pants on, one leg at a time, that’s the way we all do it.”

Flashing a big encouraging grin, I look up at his face. He doesn’t look mad or stubborn anymore. There are tears silently trekking down into his beard.

“No,” he moans softly. “I can’t.”

I am defeated. I turn so my back is against the bed, and slump down onto the floor. I’m not mad anymore either. Just perplexed.

I hear his voice, so quiet, float down from above me.

“Why am I still here?”

I wrap my arm awkwardly around his legs in a sort of hug. “What’s that, man?”

“I don’t want to be here anymore. I don’t want to do this anymore. It was fun for awhile but now, I’m just over it. And I know that sounds selfish but I just…can’t make myself do it. Not anymore.”

He’s sobbing now, and I can feel his body heaving even from my strange point of contact at his ankles.

“Just leave me alone, Dean. Just leave.”

“Okay,” I say, and give his calves a little squeeze. I scramble to my feet and out the door once more.

Outside the door again, I press my palms to my eyes and admit defeat. There’s nothing more I can do to convince Nick, and a big part of me doesn’t even want to. I might be disappointing all the children of the world, but my friend wants to be left alone, and I don’t have the heart for this game.

“It’s over,” I say as I get back to my room. Melinda is wearing a sparkling green gown, and holding a flute of Champagne. She breaks away from the crowd of our friends celebrating the holiday and walks over to me.

“What do you mean?” she says in a hushed voice. “You can’t convince him?”

“Nope, I got nothing. He’s got nothing. He just wants to spend Christmas alone.”

Melinda reaches over to the counter laden with food and picks up a bowl of popcorn.

“Well,” she says, “That's not happening.”

A few minutes later I’m back at Nick’s room, a bowl of popcorn in one hand and a DVD in the other. As soon as the door creaks open, Nick begins to grumble.

"Dean, I said drop it. Seriously man, get out of my room."

"It's okay, Nick, really, I surrender," I say, holding my peace offering aloft.

Confused, Nick, reaches for the popcorn and I use the opportunity to scramble up onto the bed. I toss him the DVD and he catches it with his free hand. Surprising agility for a guy who's been pretending to be a convalescent. He glances at the case, raises his eyebrow suspiciously, and sets it down gingerly beside him.

"Have you ever seen Die Hard?"

"Is this some kind of trick?" Nick's eyes are narrowed, and he takes a small handful of popcorn, sifting it between his fingers as if panning for answers.

“Nah man, it's not. I told you, I give up. I can't make you do the whole Christmas thing anymore. But I can, I hope, still make you hang out with me. Just this once."

Nick blinks a few times slowly, then wipes his eyes with the back of a grubby hand. His breath comes out in a barely controlled shudder as he begins to clear the bed of dirty socks and greasy paper plates.

"Okay," he says, "I think I can do that."

July 29, 2021 07:05

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Aman Fatima
04:18 Sep 08, 2021

The story was great and very cleverly written. I had fun reading it. :)


05:19 Sep 11, 2021

Thank you! I'm glad you enjoyed it, it was a fun piece to write. :)


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Palak Shah
09:41 Aug 09, 2021

Very creative and clever story. I enjoyed reading it. The title was great. Well done. Could you please read my latest story if possible? :))


05:20 Sep 11, 2021

Thanks for reading! I am sloooow at responding, I apologize (can I blame it on the four kids?) but I will read one of yours and comment, I promise!


Palak Shah
15:35 Sep 13, 2021

No worries :))


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Nk Hatendi
01:11 Aug 05, 2021

An enjoyable read with a cheerful ending! I liked the play on words such as the title and phrases like 'swelling toward my face like rising bread dough' and 'tears silently trekking down into his beard.'


05:20 Sep 11, 2021

Thank you for reading!


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A.Dot Ram
06:37 Jul 30, 2021

Haha. Very creative premise. It took me a while to catch on, which made it more clever. Funny, but also sad. It would be interesting to explore why this one hasn't disappeared. I think there's something he has to do first. Anyway, you've got some really visceral, disturbing in a good way imagery going on here. The yellow ombre beard, the back fat swelling like bread dough...I can see it.


19:35 Jul 30, 2021

Thanks for the read! I posted in a hurry and am still making some changes...my husband pointed out that we needed to see more of Dean's character and his thought process so I've been trying to add that in this morning. I toyed around with ending it with Nick's disappearance the next day, or figuring out what he needed to do to disappear, but I kind of took inspiration from life, and how some people live well into their 90s, and they don't even really want to be around anymore and don't know why they still are. Which happened to my grandpa a...


19:36 Jul 30, 2021

Oh and I'm glad it was a little bit of a delayed understanding, I was worried the labeling and title would give it away but I think it is a fun realization.


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