“So, let me get this straight: you’re…”
“Santa Claus? Yes.”
Suffice to say, this was not exactly the Monday morning I had been expecting. There I was, reluctantly sipping on a coffee that had long gone cold before it had left its humble home. It was not long before I was stopped by a thin, elderly man clothed in a scarlet suit, a look that I’m sure you will agree not many can pull off. His white hair was slicked back into a greasy mane, exposing his withered features which told a tale that words could never express. At first I mistook him for some kind of eccentric survey taker, ready to remind me of how if Jesus were alive today then he too would appreciate the fast speeds of Christmas broadband. However, what I had gotten myself into was far more…bizarre.
“This is insane,” I kept muttering to myself, a sentence that had essentially become my catchphrase of the day “you can’t be…I mean you’re not-”
“What? Round and jolly? Sipping an ice cold cola while hijacking a truck?” the elderly man spat with such venom, something which I could not help but be taken aback by “Believe me son, there was a time when I used to be like that. All I wanted was the chance to make people happy, to spread joy in their hearts. Not like nowadays…”
The man’s head drooped low as he coughed out those final words, clasping his hands in a moment of silent reflection before continuing. His immaculate black shoes tapped rhythmically upon the ground below as he clucked his tongue. I don’t know why I decided to stop on the wooden bench to speak to him. After all, it was cold, soggy, and I’m pretty sure that my backside had fallen asleep. Even still, my feet had been screaming since I took my first step into the icy exterior in a crusade to buy Christmas presents, sighing with relief as I finally got the chance to rest, albeit empty handed. The ramblings of the crazy individual before me were just an additional bonus to the experience.
“Look over there,” he nodded towards a couple who had their arms interlocked with one another, awkwardly shuffling through the crowd at an uneven pace “what do you see?”
For a moment I remained silent, entertaining his request as my eyes scanned over them like a real life game of spot the difference. Other than their poor choice of attire for the season which made a napkin look toasty in comparison, there was nothing out of the ordinary.
“Exactly!” the elderly man cried before I had a chance to open my mouth, causing those walking by to steadily increase their pace ever so slightly “They can’t get their bloody beaks out of their phones!”
On second glance I realised what he meant by this ludicrous statement, noticing that the duo’s eyes were fixed more upon the flashing contents of their screens as opposed to the poor souls desperately trying to get out of their way. It was like something out of a nature program, the only thing missing being a mild mannered narrator.
“Margery Jones, thirty four,” he nodded towards a woman whose thumbs were caressing her screen with such care, a scene that would be more suited over a candlelight dinner “when she was five years old she wanted a shiny red wheelbarrow – now look at her. Playing that sweetie smash or whatever the hell you call it!”
“So what?” I found myself saying before I could stop myself, two words which caused the man before me to snarl angrily. His frail frame resembled more of a cat learning the harsh implications of what its vet intended to do with that thermometer as opposed to being remotely threatening. Nevertheless, I dared not contradict him.
“I’m dying son,” he spoke with a raspy cough, spluttering into his curled up fist with such ferocity “I’m dying and there’s not a damn thing I can do about it. Technology has evolved faster than I can keep up and when that happens, well, the NPC isn’t exactly the most forgiving of organisations.”
All it took was a twitch of my eyebrow for him to sigh heavily, shaking his head with grave disappointment.
“The North Pole Corporation – what, did you think I did it all by myself in a little igloo?” he chuckled, causing me to bashfully avoid his gaze “They’ve been behind the scenes all this time watching, separating the good from the bad. With all your twit-twats and enimails it’s easy enough to figure out what you all want.”
I could feel his bony hand curl around my wrist before I even had the chance to move, frozen with a mixture of horror and intrigue. For a man who had apparently survived for generations, he was surprisingly persistent.
“You said you were dying,” I reiterated, a sentence that he did not look at all phased by “what exactly are you dying from? A lack of holiday cheer?”
“You’re a cheeky bugger,” he chortled at the top of his lungs, smacking me on the back which caused me to wince in pain “if only it were that simple. What do you do with old presents you have no further use for?”
It was at that moment a thin smile slithered across his withered features, winking towards a man who was innocently sipping coffee behind the shelter of the crowd. At first I had thought nothing of him, just another person taking a break from the extraneous task that was Christmas shopping. However, he did not look like the kind who would be willingly to wade through a sea of screaming toddlers and agitated parents in order to get his mother that tea set she coveted. His shoes were as immaculate as the suit that clung tightly to his body, doing little to protect him against the bitter chill of the wind. This was punctuated further by his short, cropped hair which looked as if it had been hacked off by a serial barber.
“He’s been nursing that coffee for the past hour,” my conversation partner noted as he pointing towards him “he’s the man who is going to try and kill me. I’d say we have a minute before we have to run.”
“W-we?!” I found myself shrieking in a tone I never thought was possible “what are you wittering on about?! Why would he care about me?”
“Don’t look at me, you were the one who stopped to listen to a random old man!” he tried feebly justifying himself “You should have considered that I was being chased by hit men before you acted out of the kindness of your heart.”
I realised two things that day: firstly, Santa Claus was an inconsiderate prat who was surprisingly athletic as he vanished in the blink of an eye. The second, and most important thing, was that since my attention had been focused on cursing the jolly fat man, I failed to realise the man standing at the other side of me. His hand felt like a vice grip upon my shoulder, demanding my attention with ferocity I could not say no to.
“Excuse me sir, I need you to come with me.”
And just like that, I was dragged into a conspiracy which resembled some kind of Christmas cracker joke, with the punchline being my life.