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Necessary Santa

Christine Layton is a freelance writer, ukulele player, and a private detective. She lives in the Chihuahuan desert. Her nonfiction writing can be found in various publications from Rabbits USA magazine to Cracked.com. Christine's science fiction can be found on DailyScienceFiction.com and MadScientistJournal.com. You can learn more about Christine (and see a bonus video trailer for "Necessary Santa") on her author website, ChristineLayton.com.

Mary Shelton steps into the kitchen of her efficiency apartment on Christmas morning and quietly fixes a small pot of coffee. Long ago divorced, with no children and no family living close by, Mary is prepared for a solitary Christmas day. While the coffee pot burbles and drips, she turns on the television for some company.
A reporter speaks excitedly. "...a phenomenon that cannot be accounted for. I repeat, this is not a hoax. Police stations across America began receiving calls in the early hours today, when individuals across the country phoned to report the break-ins. Police Chief Richard Burley is here with me at the station."
The authoritative voice of an older man, "Yes, well, at first we thought we were facing a Christmas crime wave. All those calls to report break-ins, we naturally assumed burglary. But soon it came out that nothing had been taken. It was the same story again and again. 'Someone's broken into my house and left presents...' well you can imagine what we were thinking down in the call room, hehe. We get our share of prank calls around the holidays."
Mary finishes fixing her cup of coffee and sits down on the sofa. The reporter is staring straight at her, clutching his microphone, and he is nearly shouting.
"But this is not a prank or a hoax. We're reporting live along with every other major news station in the country and the fact is that between midnight and two o'clock this morning, presents have magically appeared in every single house in America. Of course we can't jump to conclusions, but in this reporter's opinion, we're looking at a real-life Christmas visit from Santa Claus!"
Both the reporter and the chief of police beam giddy grins at the camera until the news feed switches back to the studio. The news anchors babble on excitedly, but Mary isn't listening. Her attention is fixed on a small red box with a small red bow perched on top of the TV. It's sitting right under the plastic Christmas tree decoration--the only tree in the place. Mary's mouth falls open slightly. That box was definitely not there when she went to bed last night.
"Well... I'll be danged." She says.
An hour later Mary sits, turning the small red box over in her hands. The bow and ribbon are still fixed. The news coverage continues on the TV. A young boy in basketball pajamas is standing with his mother and father in front of their home. His brown hair is still sleep-tousled and his cheeks are pink from the morning air. The boy frowns and holds up a cube of something for the camera and the reporter.
"It was a pack of deodorant." He says flatly.
"I think it's just awful." The boy's mother cuts in. "Who would give such a terrible gift to a young boy? Here he thinks it's Santa bringing him something special, and lord knows we all got our hopes up for something special, and it's deodorant. Well if you ask me, it's just plain offensive."
The boy's father is standing with his arms crossed. "And why don't you go ahead and tell them what Santa gave you, honey?" He says with barely concealed aggression.
The mother narrows her eyes.
"She got a book. The Idiot's Guide to Divorce!" The man turns and marches off camera.
"He got a waxing kit for removing back hair!" The woman barks at the reporter.
Mary turns the red box over and over in her hands, gingerly feeling the smoothness of the wrapping paper, the taut ribbon, the springy bow.
The coverage is constant throughout the morning. All across the nation, excitement turns to disappointment, defensiveness, and recrimination. Fights break out and doors slam.
"I got mouthwash."
"It was a gym membership."
"I got a book: He's Just Not That Into You."
"It was Just For Men hair dye."
"Nose hair trimmers."
"Declaring Bankruptcy for Dummies."
"Ladies and gentlemen" the news anchor says tiredly to the camera, "Merry Christmas and happy holidays to you all." A commercial starts. Slowly Mary stands up and stretches. She's still wearing her bathrobe and fuzzy slippers, but her coffee is stone cold. A nice grilled cheese would hit the spot. She takes the mysterious box with her into the kitchen, and drops it into the garbage can with a thud. She opens the fridge door.
"Fa la la la la," She hums as she digs for the bread. And she thinks to herself, ignorance is Yuletide bliss.
The End
This story was first published on Thursday, December 25th, 2014

Author Comments

Necessary Santa was inspired by all of the well-meaning (but vaguely insulting) gifts people give each other under the guise of holidays and birthdays. The first time I witnessed this type of gift slap was my friend Natalie’s tenth birthday. Her parents gave her a basket of deodorant, soap, and mouthwash. I shouldn't have laughed so hard… I got a toothbrush for Christmas last year. (Thanks mom!) The question is, do you have a thick enough hide to receive a gift from Necessary Santa, and if you did receive one.... what would it be?

- Christine M Layton
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