|It had begun as an uneasy feeling that something was not quite right. The facts, as he knew them, and as they'd always been presented to him by those he trusted, just didn't add up.
As the doubt and suspicion grew he found the courage and language to confront those he knew held the truth. And finally the big lie was exposed.
It was a conspiracy of breathtaking proportions, designed to deceive an entire generation. The perpetrators, figures of authority in whom he and his friends had come to trust completely. The scale of the treachery, the sense of betrayal, blew his young mind.
"You are not to tell anybody about this," they'd told him. "We've told you the truth, but you must keep it to yourself," they demanded. They were trying to co-opt him into their network of deceit.
But he'd been raised well, with a healthy regard for the virtue of honesty. And so he knew what he must do. He was going to blow their dishonest enterprise wide open.
He'd decided upon his course of action in an instant, while standing before those who had constructed the lie. And now they were looking at him with suspicion. It was as if they could read his mind.
"Okay, I'll keep my mouth shut," he lied. He walked away aware of their continuing gaze, convinced now that they would ruthlessly defend their secret. Clearly he would need help if the truth were to be exposed.
He loitered in as innocent a manner as he could manage in the backyard of his home, waiting for an opportunity to slip away unnoticed. After what seemed to him an eternity, but was probably only a few minutes, he saw his chance and made a run for it.
It would not be long before his absence was detected, so he had to move fast. He carefully made his way up the side of the house, crawling on his hands and knees. He snuck behind the car, then under the window, before taking shelter amongst a cluster of shrubs at the top of the driveway.
There was perhaps five metres of open space between him and the street. Nowhere to take cover, an uninterrupted line of sight for the conspirators inside the house.
His heart pounded as he prepared to make the final dash to freedom. He took a last look over his shoulder, then made his move.
He ran through the gate, onto the street, turned to the right and ran as fast as his little legs could carry him.
The late December sun was beating down from a cloudless blue sky as he arrived, breathless and sweaty, at his destination.
"Hi, is Ross home?" he asked urgently as he was met at the door by his best friend's parents. "Yes he is," they replied, "but you are not to tell him what you know."
He was stunned. How did they know? These people were clearly more ruthless and better organised than he had anticipated. "No, of course not," he replied, unsure by their silence if they believed him. They studied him intently for a moment before finally relenting. "Okay, come in," they offered.
Ross, as usual, was pleased to see him. "There's something I have to tell you," he whispered. "Let's go to your room." But they were being watched. "Boys, stay out here and play please," ordered Ross' mother.
Clearly they were not going to make this easy for him. Once again he decided to bide his time and wait for an opportunity to act.
The phone rang, and finally they were left alone. He seized his chance, leant across to Ross, cupped his hand around his friend's ear and whispered his terrible secret. "There's no such thing as Santa Claus."
And in an instant the spell of childhood was broken.
Ross burst into tears. His mother came running. "You told him, didn't you?" she accused. "Right, it's time for you to go home," she ordered as Ross ran to her and threw his little arms around her legs.
He walked home slowly, the sound of Ross' wailing ringing in his ears. He felt he'd done a terrible thing. But he'd only told the truth. Just as they'd always told him he should.
His unsophisticated mind struggled to understand what had happened. The only thing of which he was certain was that nothing would ever be the same again.