In the lead-up to Christmas – where did the year go? – here’s a flashback to last November when I was shortlisted in Australian Writers Centre’s Furious Fiction. The given prompts were:
- Your story must include someone PACKING A SUITCASE.
- Your story must include the phrase “ACROSS A CROWDED ROOM” (as dialogue or narrative).
- Your story must include the words CHARM, CRUSH and FAINT.
If you’d like to see the winner and the other entries, click here.
I hope you enjoy watching poor Santa walk out on the job…
Santa perched on an armchair, puffing as he bent over to untie his laces. No matter how many Pilates sessions he attended, his potbelly wouldn’t budge. He pulled off his boots, which were softened with age but polished to a gleam, and placed them in an open suitcase on the floor. With a faint sigh, he undid his belt, wound it around its silver buckle and tucked it in too. His hat came next.
As he shrugged off his red fur-lined jacket, Mrs Claus came in from the kitchen, smelling of nutmeg, her hair pulled into a neat bun.
She eyed the suitcase. ‘You’re leaving? A month before Christmas? Don’t tell me this is about little Johnny.’
He admired her across a crowded room filled with soft toys, LEGO sets and a myriad of fancy bots and Nintendo games he didn’t have the first idea how to play. ‘My love, Johnny doesn’t believe I’m real. You know how it goes … if I fall in a forest and no one’s around to hear me—’
‘You’re not a tree.’
‘Still. My whole job’s based around the premise that I’m never seen.’ Santa heaved up to his feet and slipped off his red trousers. He’d never liked them; they made his bum look big. Into the case they went, crushed next to the furry jacket.
‘Your job brings hope and happiness.’
‘If children like Johnny don’t have faith, I’m nothing.’ In his singlet and Y-fronts, he strode to the bathroom and grabbed a pair of scissors.
Mrs Claus watched, hands clutched at her throat. ‘Please don’t. It’ll never grow back in time.’
He hacked off his beard, leaving jagged white tuffs like cactus spines. ‘In time for what? Don’t you see? It’s over.’
He returned to the workshop, closed the case and hefted it into a corner behind the toys, which, understanding they were no longer required, had depleted in number.
‘Come on now. I know it’s hard, a crisis like this.’ Mrs Claus grabbed a pile of papers from the desk. ‘But look, here’s a letter from Lily, begging for an iPad. And Anastasia says she’s been behaving herself all year and will leave out milk and cookies.’
Santa stared out the window at the wind-driven snow. ‘You can’t charm me like that. If she really cared, she’d know I was lactose intolerant.’
‘Now you’re just feeling sorry for yourself.’
‘Maybe so, but I’m all out of ho-ho-hos. It’s time I did something for myself instead of living my life to please others.’
‘But what if you don’t exist outside their dreams?’
‘Precisely. Can’t you see? That’s why I must go.’
‘Then take me with you.’
Their eyes locked, and their love welled, stronger than the day they wed.
He smiled. ‘You understand if we walk out that door, there’s an equal chance we’ll live or die?’
‘But who’ll ever know?’
Hand in hand, they stepped into the storm, and the treacherous night swallowed them whole.
Next time: a summary of my 2022 author interviews in a Christmas Book List 2022 to assist you in your gift buying this season or year round.