Christmas on Pleasant Hill, Excerpt 4

This is the last section of the short story, “Kyle Helps Santa”, from “Christmas on Pleasant Hill.” This is one of 12 stories in the book, available from Amazon. To read “Kyle Helps Santa” from the beginning, click here.

When Christmas Eve arrived, Kyle’s excitement about delivering presents to Andre turned into fear. He had a plan. He had a clear description of which house Andre livedProduct Details in; one from the corner with the nasty couch on the porch. But the obstacles that had seemed like no big deal loomed enormous that night, when Kyle climbed into bed. He knew he needed to wake up before it was light outside. He didn’t want to deliver the gifts in the middle of the night though, because he didn’t want them stolen. He was going to knock on the door, hide and wait for someone to come and take the bag inside.

He had asked his dad when it would get light on Christmas morning and his dad had said, “Don’t worry about that, buddy. You’re not going to get us till it’s eight o’clock, no matter how long it’s been light.”

Kyle googled, “When does it get light?” and the sun calculator told him seven fifty-two. That was too late. People would be up and around by then. He set his phone alarm for 6:30 am.

When the alarm went off, Kyle turned it off as quickly as he could. He put on boots and a coat over his pajamas. He picked up the bag, which he could barely carry, and walked out to the stairs. The boards of the old house creaked alarmingly. His parents wouldn’t notice at first, thinking he was going to the bathroom, but he knew if he took the stairs they might get up and tell him to go back to bed. So he wound the top of his bag around his wrist twice, and, wincing at the weight of it, held it over the stairway railing, letting the thick wood rail take most of his weight. He carefully moved sideways down the stairs, holding the bottom of the bag with one arm and keeping most of his weight off his feet. It worked. The creaks could barely be heard as he slid himself down the railing. He hauled the bag to the back door, and slipped outside, closing the door softly behind him.

Outside, the ground was covered with snow, and the cold of the air made him gasp. As quickly as he could, he moved to the place at the back fence that was easiest to climb. It loomed high in the darkness, and he realized he had no plan for how to get such a heavy bag over it.

He couldn’t risk dropping a game system. It took all his strength to get the bag to the top, but the fence was smooth on the other side and if he tried to slide, the weight of the bag would make him fall. A car passed by, its headlights flashing through the trees. Kyle froze, afraid the world was waking up and he was running out of time. Tears of frustration clouded his vision. He couldn’t slide and he couldn’t risk dropping the bag. Then he thought of lowering it with a rope. He had a rope in his tree house.

It was excruciating to haul the bag back over the top of the fence, slowly climb back down and run to the tree house. Adrenaline zinged through his arms and chest as he ran through the snow, aware that he could be seen from his parents’ bedroom window. He felt an intense urge to pee, but ignored it. He grabbed the rope, glad he had untied it from the tree last week when he was pretending to be a cowboy. He looped it three times around the bag, double knotted it and went through the whole painful climb again, carefully lowering the bag to the ground on the other side.

He was glad to find that the tied-up bag was a little easier to carry. He stomped through the snow as fast as he could, through the neighbors’ side yard to the street. He paused at the curb. He had never crossed the street alone before. Looking both ways twice, he breathed deeply and trudged across. He felt like a runaway who was leaving home for good.

As he faced the empty street ahead, his heart thumped hard. He had never been out alone, and it was dark. Passing the park out in the open he felt exposed, with the lights of a retirement home illuminating him. But it was worse when he cleared the park and had to walk past small, dark houses. He was afraid of someone looming behind every tree and car, ready to grab him.

When a car came down the street, he crouched behind a parked car, shaking with fear. It was going so slowly, he was sure it must be his dad, looking for him. Slowly it passed and crawled around a corner, leaving him in the dark again.  Staying still had rooted Kyle in his fear. He had an urge to drop the bag and run home. He slowly rose and looked ahead. The end of the street was only four houses away. He was almost there.

He found the right house, the couch on the porch lit by a street lamp. He climbed up onto the rickety porch, carefully set the bag down just to the left of the door. He looked for a door bell but there was none.  He would have to knock. He looked around for a hiding place, settled for a car parked nearby on the street, closed his eyes and thumped hard three times. He tore down the stairs, slipped on the second last one and fell. He scrambled up and dashed to the car. He hid behind it, terrified that another car would come down the street and spot him.

It seemed as though minutes passed. He wondered if he should go knock again. He waited for another car to crawl down the street, crouching down near the parked car’s headlights to stay hidden, hoping the driver didn’t look in the rear view mirror. He decided to go knock again. This time he pounded as loudly as he could, seven times, then closed the top of the bag into the screen so it could not be missed.

Right away a light came on behind the door. Kyle ran to the edge of the porch and threw himself over the railing and down into a bush, crouching lower than the porch just as the door opened. It was not Andre. It was a woman, thin and small in a big t shirt. She put her head out of the screen door, then touched the bag with her leg and looked down. She untied the rope and opened it. She opened it wide, to the light from the street, and examined the contents, bending over.

Kyle could see her through the bush, where he crouched frozen, afraid to breathe. The woman looked around. Then she stood up and leaned on the door frame. Kyle had a sinking fear that she would go back inside and leave the bag, but she just stood there. She looked up towards the street lamp, or maybe the sky. She put her hand to her throat and stayed there with the door open to the cold night, still as a statue. Finally her hand moved up to her face. She wiped under her eyes, she bent and picked up the bag, and she went inside.

Kyle stayed crouched in the bush for a minute or so, a smile spreading over his face. Then he ran across the little yard and up the street, barely aware of scratches on his hand and face from the bush, or the ache where he had fallen on his right knee. He ran, fearless and joyful, all the way up the street. As he reached his house, the joy persisted. Now he didn’t even care if he got caught.

He couldn’t climb the fence where he had escaped. He had to go all the way back to the place at the rear of the property where he and Andre came back from the woods. A tree trunk by the fence gave him height to reach the top and he swung himself over as smoothly as Andre had ever done it. As he neared the back porch, he saw his dad looking out the window.

His dad opened the door and stood there as Kyle made his way up the snowy steps. “What are you doing outside before seven in the morning on Christmas?”

“Well you said not to wake you up till eight.”

His father touched the scratch on his face. “What were you doing out there?”

Kyle wiped some blood from the scratch on his hand, looked up at his father and said, “Nothin. I was just helping Santa.”

 

 

 

 

 

Christmas on Pleasant Hill, Excerpt 3

This is the third section of the short story, “Kyle Helps Santa”, from “Christmas on Pleasant Hill.” This is one of 12 stories in the book, available from Amazon. To read “Kyle Helps Santa from the beginning, click here. final cover

That night Moriah lay in bed staring through an uncurtained window at a street light. Andre was in a sleeping bag beside her; he had heard scratching noises in the wall of his room and was afraid to stay there. She looked at him in the beam of light, at his beautiful face, narrow like his dad’s, but with her large eyes. She hated that she had brought him to this broken down house, to this uncle who had been such a joy to her in her childhood but who now was as broken down as his house. She felt trapped. Andre’s dad’s people were no good, her brother was in a group home, her auntie in Atlanta already had a house full of kids and grandkids. This uncle was her only option. She would have to make it work. They were one drunk of an old man away from homelessness. She let some tears spill out of her eyes. She realized, having cried twice in a day, how much she had let herself hope for a new start. She felt foolish.

She kept seeing Andre’s face on Christmas morning, twisting in disappointment that there was nothing to unwrap. Her biggest fear was that this hopeful, optimistic child would become bitter. Just before going to sleep tonight, he had said, “It ain’t so bad, Mom. There’s a park, and basketball courts and a pizza place. It’ll be alright.”

Moriah could see herself getting this house cleaned up and livable. She could see herself finding some emergency help to get food and bus fare. She could even see herself getting a job. But she could not imagine how she was going to find money in time for this boy to get presents on Christmas morning. She wished she could pray. She had not been able to pray since her mother had died. It seemed as though there was a wall between the light of faith and the darkness of life and she was on the wrong side of it. She stayed awake for a long time.

***

After Andre’s first visit, Kyle could not stop thinking about how the boy did not get what he wanted for Christmas.

That night he asked his father, “Dad, is Santa always right?”

“Santa? Yeah, I guess so. Why?”

“Well how come I get what I want, but other kids don’t?”

“Well, maybe they ask for stuff they shouldn’t have. Like, say, if you asked Santa for a car, he wouldn’t give you one because you’re too young.”

“But what about when they just want games rated E or something, and all they get is a sweat suit?”

“Who only got a sweat suit?”

“I don’t know, I just heard of it.”

“Well, maybe that kid wasn’t very good that year.”

“But my friend Andrew’s never good and he got rockets last year. That’s what I want this year – rockets.”

“Well, I guess Santa can arrange that.”

“But why does Andrew get rockets when he’s bad and other kids get crummy stuff?”

“Buddy, you’re asking too many questions. You need to go to bed.”

Kyle couldn’t sleep. He kept thinking of Andre getting up on Christmas morning and having nothing. He considered writing a letter to Santa but feared there would not be time for it to reach the North Pole before Christmas. Then he wondered whether Santa might just get things a little mixed up once in a while; he had so far to go in one night. Maybe some of the presents Kyle was getting were meant for Andre; they lived close, and they were about the same age. Sometimes the mail people got letters mixed up, and he always got so much stuff, more than one kid needed. This explanation rang true for Kyle, preserving the benevolence of Santa, if not his omniscience.

Kyle decided it must not happen again. He would give some of his presents to Andre. But as he thought it through he realized that wouldn’t work. Andre would still wake up and be disappointed that nothing had come to his place, and it was not likely that Kyle’s parents would understand. They probably wouldn’t let him take half his Christmas haul down to Andre, especially since he wasn’t supposed to know Andre in the first place. Then he got an idea. He could give Andre some of his old stuff that still looked new. His parents wouldn’t notice. His dad used the telescope sometimes, and sometimes they built with Legos together, but they didn’t pay attention to his other toys. He had put his old game system in the closet when he got the new X box, so he could give that to Andre, and the games that went with it.

The next day he got a big plastic garbage bag from the kitchen when Ania was cleaning the bathroom. He ran it up to his room and put the game system in it, in the original box, with all its cords and controllers and games. He hid it in his closet under some clothes, and over the next few days added to it things he thought Andre might like: a board game he had never opened, a book about pirates, a foam football that looked new, and two of his nine action figures. The action figures were a true sacrifice; he even included Batman. The bag got heavy, so he snuck another bag for reinforcement.

Kyle’s regular level of excitement about Christmas multiplied.

In the days before Christmas, Kyle saw Andre almost every day. The weather grew colder and Andre showed up with no gloves or hat. Kyle smuggled some out to him. They pretended they were in the Revolutionary War, fighting with George Washington in the middle of winter. Kyle had learned to scale his back fence, gaining access to the woods behind his house, which extended for miles to the west and south. They slid on a frozen creek bed. They spotted rabbits, deer, even an eagle. Andre had never been in the woods before. Kyle looked forward to every afternoon. He was in a new world with a friend to share it with.

Two days before Christmas, Andre said, “Can’t we go in your house? I’m cold.”

Kyle winced. “I know, but if my parents find out I’ve been sneaking around, they might not let me play with you.”

“Well when it gets all snowy we can’t be playing in the woods all day.”

Kyle sighed. “OK. I’ll ask them. But we have to wait till after Christmas. Let’s just keep everything quiet till Christmas is over.”

***