With the help of a toy dragon, a boy learns the real truth about Santa Claus.
The workshop was huge. It was warm and brightly lit. It smelled of pine trees and gingerbread cookies, and jolly music lilted through the air. The whole place buzzed with activity, laughter and conversation as tiny, skinny-legged folk with mischief in their eyes and toys in their arms scurried from the workbenches all along the walls on either side to the conveyor belt that ran the length of the long, low building. Having deposited the playthings on the slow-moving belt, they scurried back to their benches again, the bells on the up-curled, pointed toes of their shoes tinkling merrily as they went.
One of the elven toy makers plopped a toy dragon onto the belt. Its long, sinuous neck was festooned with a big, green bow, and a tag that read, “Merry Christmas, Billy! Love, Santa.” The warm, yellow light of the lanterns glittered on its brilliant red scales and shimmered over the satiny membranes of its wings as it rode the belt down the length of the room. A last spark of it glinted in its golden eyes as it slipped through the green canvas strips that curtained the window between the workshop and the sleigh hangar next door.
Beyond the curtain, the toy dragon slid down a short ramp onto a circular platform that rotated around a central space filled by a giant Christmas tree hung with what might have been millions of colorful lights and gleaming ornaments of all shapes and sizes. Its boughs were garlanded with strings of popcorn and cranberries, and swags of red ribbon with bows at the top of every sweeping curve. Way up high, at the very top of the tree, was a bright, white star that lit the rafters of the hangar, even higher up.
As the toy dragon rode the platform around to the far side of the tree, a pair of mittened hands plucked it from the turntable and tossed it up to another elf perched high atop a bulging bag nestled into the open cargo bay of a very large, very highly polished crimson sleigh. Other elves were hitching reindeer into the traces in front of the vehicle. Beyond the reindeer team, the hangar doors rattled as a howling wind battered them, trying to break them down.
As if in answer, the vast room was filled with the jolliest laughter anyone anywhere had ever heard. The power of that merriment seemed to chase the mean wind away. For the moment, at least.
“Ho, ho, ho! It’s going to be quite an adventure this year, wouldn’t you say, my dear?”
“Yes, love,” answered the smiling woman who entered the hangar with the jolly, white-bearded man in the red fur suit with the white trim. She looked to be middle-aged, still pretty, with warm blue eyes and a kind smile, while he, despite the white beard and hair beneath his fur hat, seemed vital, young, hearty, and strong enough to face any challenge with a laugh and a twinkle in his eye. “Do be careful, though, won’t you? You don’t have that sweet Rudolph to guide you through the storm this year.”
“Yes, ho, ho, young Rudolph and Clarice have their hooves full this time round, with a fawn on the way. But don’t you worry, love; the team and I have faced worse than this and come through just fine. We can’t fail the children on Christmas eve, now can we?” The big man gave his wife a hug, and said, “Come now, sweetheart, how about a smooch for your old Santa, hm?”
“Oh, you!” She giggled and gave him a long, sweet kiss. The elf holding the toy dragon let out a whistle, and every elf in the building tittered with glee.
Santa looked up at the elf and grinned. “What’s the matter, Bingle? Haven’t you ever seen true love before?”
“Sure, Santa,” Bingle replied, still tittering. “We see it all the time, and it never ceases to amaze us.”
A thoughtful look came over Santa’s face, and he nodded. With a look at his wife, he replied, “I know what you mean.” He gave her another quick squeeze, and headed for the driver’s seat. “Stow that toy, Bingle, and hop on down. It’s time we got this show on the road.”
Bingle bent down to tuck the toy dragon into the sack, as the wind came back with a vengeance. The roar quickly rose from a murmur to a howl to a screech that shrilled through the cracks around the hangar doors. The reindeer began to shuffle nervously in the traces.
“Oh, my...” Mrs. Claus began, but her comment was drowned in the explosion, as the hangar doors burst open and the icy gale swept into the hangar, driving a frozen tsunami before it. The ice engulfed the reindeer in an instant, freezing their legs in mid-struggle and forever preserving the terror in their eyes.
A blast of absolute zero swept over Bingle and he stopped dead, the toy dragon still clutched in his frozen, frost-rimed fingers.
Santa, moving with the nimbleness of a teenager, danced backward, pulling his wife along with him, but even he was too slow to escape the raging cold. Ice crystals formed on the jolly couple, rushing up from their boots to stop them in their tracks. The ice slowed as it reached their shoulders, leaving their living heads untouched atop bodies that looked like statues of snow.
The howling of the wind became jeering laughter, and a familiar voice resolved itself from the gale. “Yooooooou moooooooron! Yoooooou liiiiiittle baaaaaaybeeeee! Theeere’s noooo... suuuuuch... THING as SANTAAAA CLAAAAAUUUUSSSS!”
The ice crystals crept up over the horrified faces of the Clauses, then the howling, laughing, icy-cold wind began to erode them, their faces dissolving as the tiny ice crystals were torn away.
The great Christmas tree, unbalanced by the heavy coating of ice on its windward side, tilted, in slow motion at first, then crashed down on the sleigh, shattering the frozen bodies of Bingle and the reindeer as if they were made of glass, and burying the toy dragon in darkness.
Billy Taylor sat up straight in bed, eyes open wide, heart hammering, lungs filling with air for another shout of denial. He caught himself before it burst from his mouth, though, and expelled it as a long, calming breath.
His room was dark but familiar; there was nothing in it to frighten him, though a gust of wind rattled the panes of his window. He saw snow building up outside the glass. It looked like there would be a white Christmas this year, after all.
No, there was nothing scary in his room, but the sound of the wind brought back the memory of the voice in his dream, Renny Jerard’s voice, making fun of him for still believing in Santa Claus. Renny wasn’t a mean kid, not really; in fact, Billy still thought of him as a friend. He was just mad because Billy wouldn’t say he was right. Because Billy said Santa was real.
What an awful dream! Santa and Mrs. Claus... the reindeer... that elf, Bingle... had all died. Turned to snow and blown away, or into ice and shattered by the falling Christmas tree. The sleigh was wrecked, and who knew what had happened to the workshop and the other elves?
It was only a dream, though, wasn’t it? A nightmare, caused by Renny’s teasing? It couldn’t have really happened? As he lay there worrying, becoming more certain by the moment that what he had seen was a true vision, Billy became aware of soft music playing downstairs. Christmas carols. Mom and Dad must still be up. That meant it was still early. Santa hadn’t come yet.
Billy knew he should just roll over and go back to sleep. It was probably just a dream, after all. He knew he should stay in bed, but the wind nagged at him, and worry overcame his restraint. He pulled back the covers and climbed out of bed.
His flannel jammies were warm, but their house was an old Victorian, and no matter how much caulk Dad used, drafts sneaked in somehow. He slipped his feet into fur-lined slippers and pulled on his Super Mario Brothers robe. Leaving its belt untied, he headed for the door, walking softly, in case he decided he should sneak back to bed. No sense being reckless.
As usual, his door was ajar; he slipped through, turned left and padded down the carpeted hallway to the stairs, which descended to a landing and made a right turn. He paused at the landing, looking down. At the foot of the stairs he could see the foyer and the front door, lit by the warm light that spilled through the glass-paned pocket-doors into the living room. The doors were closed, muffling the sound of the music.
Billy crept down a few steps, then stopped and sat, looking between the balusters of the stair rail into the living room. The Christmas tree sat in the bow window in the far corner. It was lit, the colored lights twinkling merrily. At its base, Dad was on his knees, pushing a wrapped package backward, under the lowest branches. Mom stood next to him, a big Toys R Fun shopping bag on the floor at her feet. Dad sat back on his calves and twisted around to Mom, who pulled another package out of the bag and handed it to him. He grinned at her and turned to put it under the tree.
For a moment, Billy didn’t understand what he was seeing. Then it hit him, and tears filled his eyes. He sat, stunned, and watched his parents empty the bag of packages. Then, they got up and went to the fireplace, where the stockings hung from the mantel. From a couple of smaller bags that were sitting on the coffee table, they began to stuff candy and little toys into his stocking.
When they were finished, he and Mom picked up all the empty bags and stuffed them into the big one. Dad scrunched it up and held it in his left hand, then put his right arm around Mom. They stood with their backs to Billy, looking at the tree, piled high with pretty packages, the filled stockings hung over the mantel, with the last embers of the fire glowing in the hearth below them, and he heard Mom say, “There. Santa’s work is done for another year.”
“Not quite,” said Dad, and he went to the little table beside the tree, where a plate of cookies and a glass of milk stood. He picked up a chocolate chip cookie – one of the ones Billy had helped Mom bake that afternoon – took a couple of bites, and washed it down with half of the milk. “There. Now Santa and Mrs. Claus can go to bed.”
They moved out of sight into the dining room, probably heading for the kitchen to put the bags in the recycling container. Heartbroken, a snowman Santa and wife eroding before his eyes in a gale of sorrow, Billy crept back upstairs and slipped back into bed. A few minutes later, he pretended to be asleep when they peeked in to check on him.
He lay in bed for a long time, at first crying softly, then just staring at the ceiling. Renny was right. There was no Santa Claus. His parents had been lying to him all this time. They had been tricking him! How could they do something like that? They were worse than the Grinch!
After a while, the shock and pain began to harden into anger. That was when Billy got an idea. An awful idea. Billy got a wonderful, awful idea.
When he was sure his parents were sleeping, he got out of bed again. He crept back downstairs and into the kitchen, where he fished the plastic shopping bags out of the recycling bin. Into the living room he went, to the twinkling Christmas tree, its lights left on for Christmas eve. There, he began to quietly stuff all of the packages back into the Toys R Fun bag. When he had cleaned out the area beneath the tree, he carefully dragged the bag through the dining room and into the kitchen, to the cellar door. There, he turned the knob and eased the door open. He had a frightful moment when the hinges squealed, sounding like a burglar alarm in the silent house. He stood frozen for a long moment, listening for the sound of footsteps on the stairs, which were right above the cellar stairs. When only silence followed, he began to back down the cellar steps, dragging the bag carefully, quietly behind him.
Once in the basement, he dragged the bagful of gifts to the far corner, where Mom’s canning pantry was located. He opened its door, shoved the bag inside, and closed the door again. He went back upstairs and emptied the stockings into the other shopping bags, then put them in the pantry, too.
There. The Grinch’s job was done.
He came back upstairs, closed the cellar door, and went back to survey his handiwork. He considered trying to take the decorations off of the tree, but decided that a real-life Grinch couldn’t do everything the cartoon one could. It was a pity, though. His trick would have been much better if he could have done that, too.
As he stood gloating over his thievery, he noticed something sparkle under the tree. He was sure he had gotten all of the gifts out of there. What could it be?
He got down on his hands and knees and came face to face with the beautiful red toy dragon he had seen in his dream. Its golden eyes glinted with light. Billy stared into them. They seemed to be deep pools of gold. He reached out to touch the toy dragon’s glittering red scales.
It spoke inside Billy’s head. Hello, Billy, it said.
“Hello,” Billy answered, out loud, but very quietly.
You’ve been very busy tonight, haven’t you?
“Sort of,” said Billy. “I’ve been playing a trick on my Mom and Dad, to pay them back for tricking me about Santa Claus. They’ve been lying to me my whole life!”
Oh, the dragon said. Well, I guess you could look at it that way if you want to.
“How else can I look at it? They’ve been pretending that Santa Claus brings me presents, and it was them all along.”
Would you like me to show you another way of looking at it?
Billy’s broken heart cried out for another way. “Um... okay.”
First, you need to take me outside.
You’ll see when we get there. Come on, pick me up.
Billy picked up the toy dragon and carried it through the kitchen to the back door, where he set it down on the floor and put on his boots, winter coat, hat and mittens. Then, he picked up the dragon and opened the back door. Immediately, a gust of frigid air snatched at the door and nearly tore it out of Billy’s hand.
“Wow! It’s a real blizzard out here! I’m freezing already!” Billy stepped out onto the rear stoop and pulled the door shut behind him. “It’s really dark, too.”
Don’t worry, Billy, said the dragon, everything will be fine. Just set me down on the ground.
Billy did so. The toy dragon’s scales, which always seemed to sparkle, even when there was no light to reflect, grew brighter, each spark like a red strobe flash, as the toy grew larger. Its long, sinuous neck uncurled, and its head turned to face Billy, its golden eyes shining like lanterns. Still it grew, its wings unfurling, stretching out as big as the foresails on the tall ships Billy had seen on their family visit to Boston.
The dragon, no longer a toy, stood on its four legs and stretched, arching its back like a cat, its wings held high. Then it relaxed, and its toothsome mouth smiled in a way that made Billy just a little nervous.
Relax, Billy. I won’t eat you. Are you ready to go?
“Um, where’re we going?”
To the North Pole, of course! We have a monster to slay!
Yes! We must save Christmas!
“B-but I’m just a kid!”
Who better? Come on!
Billy hesitated for just an instant, his newfound cynicism pulling at him. But it was too new to be a match for the healthy belief that he had nurtured for his whole ten years. He climbed up the dragon’s front leg and straddled its back, right between its wings.
“Let’s... um, what’s your name?”
You may call me Playfair.
“Let’s go, Playfair!”
Playfair stretched his wings once more, and with three powerful strokes, they were airborne, rising up above Billy’s home, up into the roaring wind and driving snow.
I should be freezing, Billy thought, but he wasn’t. The dragon’s body radiated warmth enough to keep him as comfortable as if he were snug in his own bed. It glowed with a soft, crimson light that felt comfortable, too, somehow, and kept the dark at bay.
Then they rose above the storm clouds, into the crystalline night. A billion stars twinkled overhead, and the full moon made the cottony clouds below glow blue-white. They extended as far as he could see in every direction. It was as if the storm covered the whole world.
“Wow,” he murmured.
Yes, replied Playfair.
They flew north for what seemed to Billy like hours, before Playfair plunged into the clouds once more. The storm was worse here; the wind blasted at them, changing direction seemingly at random. It was as if the storm had a mind of its own, and was determined to knock Billy from his perch on Playfair’s back.
Hold on tightly, Billy, said the red dragon in his mind.
Billy didn't even try to yell a response. He just bent low, closed his eyes, and hugged the dragon's neck as hard as he could.
The wind was so cold that even Playfair's warm body couldn't keep Billy from shivering. It was the kind of cold that reached right down into a person's heart.
After an eternity clinging to the dragon's neck, Billy opened his eyes to take a look around, but he might as well have kept them shut, for all he could see in any direction was white, blowing snow. He was about to lower his face once more, when Playfair's wings began to backpedal furiously. A moment later, they landed in a large cave.
We have arrived.
Look around, Billy. You know where.
Playfair was right. Billy did know. Hanging icicles obscured the edges of the door opening, and the snow had covered every surface, but there was the horizontal cone-shape of the toppled Christmas tree. This was Santa's sleigh hangar.
“How is the workshop? The other elves? Are they okay?”
They are frozen, too, replied Playfair. Be wary. The enemy comes.
The wind rose into a howl, the voice of despair venting the terrible anguish of loneliness, sharp as shattered glass and cold as deep space. In the snow outside the hangar door, a shadowy form took shape, just enough to hint at its nature, to give a rumor of its hideous countenance, a suspicion of its horror.
"Wh-what is it?" Billy could hardly hear his own voice inside the black howling of despair.
It is the worm that squirms into the heart of innocence, Playfair replied, the spoiler of purity, the essence of doubt, of cynicism, of unbelief. The name it gives itself is how it leaves the hearts of broken believers: Hollow.
Billy began to see things. Awful things. Renny Jerard laughing at him. "Look at the stupid little baby! The stupid little baby still believes in Santa Claus!" Then his whole class joined in, laughing at him, calling him names, even Tyler and Alexa, his best friends in the whole world.
Then the vision changed and he was back on the stairs in his house, watching Mom and Dad putting the presents under the tree. He could hear them talking, but the words they said were different. They were mean, hurtful things.
"Another Christmas," grumbled Dad, "another round of 'Let's play pretend.' "
"I know," said Mom, rolling her eyes. "I don't know if that boy will ever stop living in fantasy-land."
"You'd think his classmates would have filled him in by now."
"Oh, they've tried," Mom said with the kind of sigh that Billy knew went with disappointment in him, "but he won't listen to them. He comes home and tells me all about it after school. He's so attached to this fairy-tale that he'd rather be an outcast than let it go."
"We'll, he'd better let it go soon," Dad said, "or we'll have to intervene."
"Take him to a psychiatrist."
Billy knew these weren't his parents, that Hollow was putting words into their mouths that they would never say in a million years, but it seemed so real. It sent an icicle dagger into his chest. He couldn't help himself; he started to cry, great sobs ripped from his chest.
Billy, came Playfair's voice, don't let it get to you. Remember what is real, and what is illusion.
"What is real," he screamed into the wind. "What's real, and what's pretend? Are you real, Playfair? You're a toy! Is Santa real? What if I'm really crazy?"
You're not crazy Billy. Imagination is not a sickness. Have faith in yourself, my friend. Remember what your parents are really like. Remember your friends as they are, not as suspicion would paint them.
"I-I'll try." He remembered last Christmas, when he had been sick with a fever. Mom had been with him, putting cool cloths on his forehead, making sure he took his medicine exactly on time, running to the kitchen to fetch him cold drinks, or whatever he wanted. Dad was there, too, playing pretend games with him, and making him laugh, even though he didn't feel like laughing. They both worried about him. They both loved him. They didn't think he was crazy.
Tyler and Alexa, too, were always on his side. They would never join in with the kids who teased him, or anyone else. They were nice. He and Tyler built wild inventions with Lego blocks, and made up all kinds of goofy uses for them. Alexa would join them sometimes, and her ideas were even goofier than theirs. The three of them did a lot of laughing together, but it was a different kind of laughter – warm and friendly, not cold and cruel.
Those things were real. They were the things he needed to remember. As he came to that conclusion, warmth flowed through him from his chest outward, melting the dagger of ice and pushing back the biting wind.
Good, Billy, said Playfair. Very good, indeed. You are strong. You are equal to the struggle, as long as you continue to believe.
But Hollow wasn't finished. Its attack on Billy’s spirit a failure, it tried a more physical approach. Its head flashed into the hangar, mouth agape, forked tongue lolling, jagged, rotten teeth ready to snap Billy’s body in two.
Now, it was Playfair’s turn to attack. The shining red dragon launched himself into the side of Hollow’s head, deflecting its attack. It got only a mouthful of Christmas tree before it snapped back out into the wintry gloom. The wind’s howling grew louder, insane with rage.
The beast slithered into the hangar. Billy got his first clear look at it, and immediately wished he hadn’t. It was snake-like, but covered with shaggy, filthy fur, matted with things that stank so much that even in the freezing cold, they turned Billy’s stomach. He was afraid to look too closely at them, but he instinctively knew what they were: the putrid remains of spoiled dreams. Its face was rimed with a foul slush, its mouth hung open, tongue drooping from one side, dripping saliva. Wherever a drop fell, the snow turned black. Its eyes, though, were by far its most horrible feature. They were a dull gray, empty of life; to look into them was to feel your soul being sucked from your body.
Playfair moved to stand between Billy and the creature.
Billy was shocked by how small, how fragile, the red dragon looked compared to the gigantic evil he faced. Like a toy.
Hollow reared back, as if preparing for another strike. Playfair folded his wings and crouched, preparing to meet it. But the creature didn’t strike. Instead, it belched a gale of icy-cold, stinking wind, the same sort of blast that had frozen the reindeer solid.
Playfair met the gale with a gout of blistering flame that parted the blast, leaving Billy and him unfrozen. It was clear, though, that the dragon’s flame was a mere candle in that wind. Soon, it would be snuffed.
Hollow launched his next attack at Billy. His head was suddenly filled with images of Santa Claus – taking money from people on the streets, selling things in stores, on TV and the internet, his face a mask of greed.
This is the real Santa Claus, boy, its oily, Renny Jerard-voice said in his mind. A shill for manufacturers; a crook, selling cheaply-made junk to people who can’t afford it, sending millions of people into debt they cannot pay. Taking money on street corners for so-called “charities” that give it away in bonuses to their rich CEOs.
Santa Clauses, hundreds, thousands of them, all raking in money and laughing the jeering laugh of the eternal cynic. The images spun around and around in Billy’s head, the laughter pounding at his skull, sending him to his knees in the snow.
Billy! Playfair spoke to him even as he launched himself at the monster ten times his size. You know the truth about Santa Claus! Remember!
The red dragon’s jaws snapped shut on the creature’s neck, but it was so much bigger than him, the bite was only a nuisance. Playfair had to leap away before Hollow could sink his rotten, snaggled teeth into him.
Billy clutched his head in both hands, his teeth gritted against the awful visions, visions that he knew were also true, but only from the perspective of someone who has traded the truths of childhood away.
Billy had not traded them away. Those truths still lived in his heart. He remembered the Santa who had held him on his knee for a photograph in the mall when he was three. He had pulled that Santa’s beard, and it had come away from his face, snapping back when Billy released it. It had hurt that Santa, and Billy had been afraid, but the Santa just laughed, kindly, and asked him what he wanted for Christmas.
Playfair attacked again, but this time, Hollow was ready for him. He struck like a rattlesnake, his head a blur of speed. His jaws snapped shut, crushing Playfair’s left wing to his body, and clamping it fast to his side. There was a sickening crackle of bones breaking. Hollow shook him violently and threw his broken body aside, into the branches of the fallen Christmas tree.
“Playfair!” Billy screamed in anguish, terrified for his new friend, and the Hollow visions redoubled, buffeting his brain with scenes of greed, inspiring deep, strangling despair.
“No,” Billy shouted, drowning in sorrow. “Nooo!” Hollow’s laughter filled his brain to bursting.
Billy... came Playfair’s voice, fading, but still able to cut through the flood of despair, remember... what is real...
Billy remembered. He remembered Santa arriving at the hospital where he and Mom volunteered last Christmas, giving brand new toys to the sick kids. He remembered Santa welcoming homeless people into the shelter near Dad’s office for a Christmas dinner. He saw, as if he was Santa himself, little children sleeping all over the world, while Santa and Mrs. Claus put presents under their trees, before transforming into parents once more. He saw his own living room, and his own Mom and Dad, and they were Santa and Mrs. Claus, too.
Then, he realized the truth about Santa Claus.
Truth: Santa Claus was a dream, told to children to spark their imaginations at Christmas-time.
Truth: Santa Claus was also real, as real as the love in the hearts of every man and woman who ever gave something to someone else without expecting anything in return. The magic of Christmas was love, and that love was embodied by Santa Claus.
At that revelation, a wave of warmth swelled up within Billy’s heart and burst outward, sweeping away the cold despair before it. As it grew, the ice and snow vanished in an ever-widening circle around him. When the circle touched Hollow, the beast screamed once in frustration and disintegrated, the few crystals of ice left behind swept out of the hangar by the growing bubble of warmth. Outside, the storm dissipated, the clouds parting to let the billion stars shine down.
All around Billy, the hangar transformed, the damage done by Hollow the Cynic repaired in a twinkling of colored Christmas lights. The tree righted itself, its decorations as good as new; the shattered bits of the sleigh jumped back together and fused, fixed as if it was never broken. The broken shards of frozen reindeer, too, reassembled, thawed, and began dragging hooves on the floor in their eagerness to fly.
Bingle the elf stood up on the big bag of gifts and gave Billy a thumbs-up. “Nice job, kid.” He turned to catch another toy tossed up to him, as the conveyor belt started running again.
Billy looked everywhere, frantic to find him, but of Playfair the red dragon, there was no trace. Tears filled his eyes as he mourned his friend.
“Billy,” came a voice from behind him.
Billy turned to find Santa and Mrs. Claus, both as good as new, looking at him with kindness and compassion.
“M-my dragon is dead.” They came to him and wrapped him in a hug.
“There, there, son,” said Santa, “don’t you give up on him. It’s been my experience that dragons don’t die easily.”
“That’s right, dear,” Mrs. Claus agreed. “You never know what might happen. Especially on Christmas eve.”
“Speaking of which,” said Santa, “we’d better get going, if we’re going to deliver all this before morning. Come on, Billy. Climb aboard!”
Billy climbed onto the bench, and Santa settled in next to him. He picked up the reins and said, “Hop on down, Bingle.”
“Yes, Santa,” the elf replied. “Thanks again, kid. You did real good.” He hopped off.
“Now Dasher and Dancer, Prancer and Vixen, on Comet and Cupid, and Donner and Blitzen,” Santa cried with a flick of the reins, and the reindeer leaped forward, pulling the sleigh out of the hangar and into the sky. “Next stop, Billy’s house!”
As excited as he was, Billy was even more exhausted. He snuggled in close to Santa’s side, burying his face in the warm, red fur, and drifted off into a dreamless sleep.
He awoke in bed with sunlight streaming through the window. It was Christmas morning! With a jolt of horror, he remembered his Grinching. He threw back the covers and jumped out of bed. Without pausing to get slippers or robe, he rushed out into the hall and down the stairs, still trying to rub the sleep from his eyes.
He rounded the corner at the base of the bannister and there, in the living room, he saw Santa and Mrs. Claus. They were kissing in front of the fire! He blinked a few times and rubbed his eyes some more. When he looked again, it was Mom and Dad.
“Merry Christmas, Billy,” they said in unison.
He looked at the stockings on the mantel. They were bursting with goodies. His gaze flicked to the tree and he saw that all the presents were there, just as they had been, with a single exception.
A red toy dragon sat in front of all the other packages. Around its neck was a big, green bow and a tag that read, “Merry Christmas, Billy! Love, Santa.”
Dad smiled at him and said, “It looks as if Santa was here last night.”
Billy looked at his parents with tears in his eyes, and said, “I know.”