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Rated: 13+ · Short Story · Holiday · #1041101
My holiday gift to you is from Walker’s “Home of the Red Fox”.
         During the week after Thanksgiving, the snow fell almost constantly. Finally, one day in the middle of December, the sun came out to blind everyone with its brilliance on the white snow. Sue Beth and Joshua, suffering from a case of cabin fever, ran outside and headed for the area on the other side of the driveway.

         “Come on, Joshua,” yelled Sue Beth, as she raced ahead of her older brother. “You’re always such a slowpoke!” This taunt caused the boy to catch up to his sister and push her none too gently into a snow pile. He continued to the wide yard, leaving the girl sitting there sputtering and shivering, with snow going down her neck.

         “Who’s a slowpoke now?” said Joshua, with a laugh. Since he did not have a mean bone in his body, Joshua returned to help his little sister up and started brushing the snow off her clothes. For his kindness, he ended in the same snow pile when Sue Beth tackled him.

         “Uncle, uncle,” cried Sue Beth, holding her hands up in mock surrender. Joshua stood up and once again helped her to her feet.

         A handful of the guests helped them build two forts in the snow, and soon a regular storm of snowballs, aimed with surprising accuracy, went from one fort to the other. Both children and the adults enjoying their second childhood interrupted the mayhem now and then to create snow angels. Two giggling women slowly created a large snowman decorated in cast-off finery. An old man, who in years past had forgotten how to even smile, soon joined in on the fun. Those nearby heard a rusty laugh when a misfired snowball found him.

         As the day progressed, the sky again turned dark with another snowstorm threatening. Around three in the afternoon, the two children slowly and reluctantly headed toward the mansion, but stopped by the door to watch the familiar limousine come up the long driveway. Walker joined them outside to wait for the vehicle to stop. His recruiter’s phone call about this particular person intrigued him. Walker had been working practically nonstop for the past week helping to get the mansion ready. The holidays were swiftly approaching, and he looked forward to a hot meal and a few hours’ sleep once he had met the newest guest.

         Two days ago, a policewoman had found the elderly man, who had been living underneath a highway’s overpass, suffering from exposure and malnutrition. She notified Robyn De Sousa, the mansion’s recruiter she knew was in the vicinity. The two women had persuaded the confused man to climb up the bank to the road above where the limousine’s chauffer was waiting. Knowing any delay might be detrimental to the man’s shaky health, the driver pushed his vehicle to its limits on their rush to the mansion.

         Normally, Walker turned down the elderly who were ill, knowing local government agencies would better serve them. Robyn's phone call from the car, as they raced the many snowy miles toward the sanctuary of the mansion, convinced him to make an exception. His quick call to Dr. Robinson at the hospital let him know he had made the right decision. Walker was relieved to see the lanky physician pulling his car up behind the parked limousine.

         Robyn was the first to get out of the car. Eric, the driver, followed her. They got on either side of the elderly man as they helped him out of the car and guided him toward the mansion’s front door. The children’s eyes opened wide in awe at their first sight of the man coming their way, and looked up at Walker standing next to them. “Is it really him?” whispered Joshua. His sister pulled at Walker’s sleeve to make the tall man lean down to their level. His tired face broke out in a smile on hearing what she said next in childish wonder and joy.

         “That’s Santa Claus. You found Santa Claus and brought him here.”

         He was the exact image of Santa Claus, from his white hair and beard to his still rotund body, this last despite his malnutrition. Instead of the familiar red suit, he wore shabby, brown slacks and a red plaid shirt with worn shoes held together with duct tape. His wire-rimmed spectacles did not hide the sadness in his eyes, though, as he reached the small group waiting at the door.

         Robyn gently stopped his forward motion when they reached Walker and said, “All I could get out of him was his first name, Nick or, I think, Nicholas. I’m not sure which since he has a slight accent.” Robyn smiled at the old man standing quietly next to her and turned when Dr. Robinson came up behind them. Later, the doctor would examine Nick, but for now, he just stood there.

         Walker left the two children and held out his hand to the stranger. “Welcome, Nick, to Maison du Renard Rouge. My name is Walker, and we’re all here to make your stay with us pleasant.” He turned to see Samantha coming outside to join them. She still was a bit peeved at Walker, even though weeks had passed since he ordered her out of the cavern.

         Samantha put her hand on Nick’s arm in welcome. “Nick, I’m Samantha, and I’ll always be here if you have any questions.” She smiled and eased him inside out of the cold. Sue Beth and Joshua, who did not want to let the man they thought of as Santa Claus out of their sight, followed them closely. Walker, the doctor, and Robyn brought up the rear while Eric drove off in the limousine to park it before the brewing snowstorm overtook them. By now, snowflakes slowly drifted down and soon put a new coat of snow on the deserted snowman and forts.

         Inside, the entrance room welcomed the small group with its fragrance of pine and bayberry. The smell of dinnertime cooking came down the corridor from the main kitchen. Anna, the tiny woman of the mansion's bakery fame, had spent the afternoon making apple pies; the pungent smell of cinnamon made mouths water in anyone walking by the guest kitchen.

         Stopping in the middle of the large room, Nick looked around at the festive decorations, and a small smile appeared on his haggard face. The menorah caught his attention, and he slowly walked over to its location on the long table. He reached out his hand to touch the item, and paused only inches from it. Next, he stood in front of the crèche built on a second table. The lovingly crafted stable, with its animals and baby Jesus lying sleeping in the small manger, deepened his smile and took away some of the gray from his sad face. Lastly, he walked over to the growing pile of beautifully wrapped Christmas gifts underneath the large front window. Nick stood in front of them for a few minutes. His smile grew even bigger and more joyful as time passed.

         It probably was only their imagination, but to Sue Beth and Joshua, the man changed right before their eyes. He no longer was a despondent, sickly-looking, old man. He now looked healthy with sparkling eyes and rosy cheeks. Even his white hair and beard bristled with life. The adults nearby, of course, noticed nothing different about the man. It was sadly true most adults eventually lost their ability to see the world the way a child did. There was one in the small group of adults, though, who still had traces of a child left in him. Walker had a feeling that Nick was not the homeless derelict he seemed to be at first glance.

         Maybe he was Santa Claus as Walker’s two children swore he was. After all, it was nearly Christmas, and perhaps Santa was out checking first hand who was naughty and who was nice. Walker started laughing when this whimsical thought crossed his mind, which caused the other adults to look at him as if he had lost his mind.

         Only Nick seemed to know what Walker was thinking and confused the others by saying, “Exactly, Walker!”

If you enjoyed reading this excerpt, why not read the complete, published e-book novel along with the two sequels?

Home of the Red Fox
(Amazon e-book)

Home of the Gray Dog
(Amazon e-book)

Home of the White Dolphin
(Amazon e-book)

© Copyright 2005 J. A. Buxton (judity at Writing.Com). All rights reserved.
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