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An Evening With Santa Claus

Santa held his phone out at arm’s length. He squinted, adjusting his spectacles with a white-gloved hand.

"Dear Mrs. Claus: Insufficient Cookie Magic gathered on the East coast; my sled broke down in Eastern Illinois, alarmingly close to the Indiana border.”

“I thought you said you crashed? And that it was because you had too much Cookie Magic?”

Santa glared at the teenage boy sitting behind his computer in the basement bedroom, then took a sip from the Thermos on the bedside table and shivered.

“Let’s not get bogged down in trivialities, eh, Tim?” Santa said, his deep voice tight. He closed the Thermos and refocused on his phone. “I'm in Tim Carreno's basement. His ID is xZoDEVqk3B; check the database for his address. He has supplied donuts and a latte, but I haven't any money to repay him. Please send some Elves to help me, and have them bring ten U.S. dollars."

The jolly old elf looked back up. "This doesn’t sound like what Santa asked you to type, Tim."

“I, uh, wasn’t sure if you wanted me to refer to you in the third person in your own email.” The teenager glanced over the top of his computer monitor. “You can always tell Siri what to type if you don’t like it.”

“She’s on the naughty list. Ah - I suppose it’s good enough,” Santa said, his brow furrowed. He jabbed a finger at the phone, then ho-ho’d half-heartedly. “SENT! Thank you for helping me with that, Tim. Is there anything Santa can do for you?"

"I could use a new GPU for my gaming rig."

"Ho, ho, ho! Use words Santa can understand, Tim!"

Tim sighed and pushed himself back from the desk. "I want to upgrade my computer."

"Didn't your parents just buy you a new Playcentral?"

“You mean Playstation? I thought that was from you.”

Santa burped softly. “Do you have one or not?”

Tim shrugged. "I mean, yeah. And it’s cool and all, but ... there's a game on my PC I've been playing a lot lately, and it doesn't run all that great."

"Oh! You know, Santa’s something of a gamer himself.”

“What do you play?”

“Minesweeper!”

“Like, ‘Minesweeper’ Minesweeper? ‘Preinstalled on every Windows computer since 1990’ Minesweeper?”

Santa frowned. The muffled sound of the Ronettes playing on Tim’s parents’ stereo upstairs filled the expanding silence as Santa frowned.

“Well, when you put it like that …” Santa began.

“You know what? Sure, Minesweeper is a game,” Tim finally said.

“YES! Anyway, Tim, what's your game about?"

"It’s called Legend of Benzium. I play as a Dark Elf Warrior, and my guild --"

"Ho, ho, ho! Santa knows just what you need!"

"A quad-core processor?"

"No! A girlfriend!" Santa ho-ho’d gleefully, putting his arm around Tim's shoulder. "You see, Tim, there's a whole wide world out there!"

The jolly old elf waved his arm at the wood-paneled basement wall as if casting a spell.

"Ah, God! Your breath smells like peppermint Schnapps!" Tim struggled free. "I know there’s a world out there! And it sucks!"

Santa's narrowed his eyes to slits. "Now, Tim, that's not nice to say!"

"Well, it's the truth!" Tim slumped in his chair. "Other kids tease me all the time. I don’t even know why or what I did wrong. At least when I go online, they don't know who I am." Tim looked away. "And...sometimes, online, I get to be the mean one. It feels good to give it back sometimes."

“Are you really giving it back or just paying the hurt forward, Tim?” Santa said gravely. “That's a good way to end up on the naughty list."

"I know. Look -- there is one person who makes me feel better about everything. Like, hopeful, or whatever."

"Is it--"

"It's not you."

"Not Santa?!" The old elf wailed, waddling over to the edge of Tim's bed and plopping down. The springs groaned in protest as he shifted his weight to reach for the box of donuts near the foot of the bed.

"No. For, like, the seventy-fourth time." Tim sighed. "Pass me a donut, wouldja?"

Santa held the box out to Tim. "But if it's not Santa, who is it?"

"It's this girl in my guild, and she--"

Santa snapped the lid shut and pulled the box away.

"Hey!"

"Ho, ho, ho! Guilds are for nerds, Tim! Besides, you don't know if she's a “for real” girl or just some sweaty guy in a basement."

"I do too! She uses voice chat!"

"Oh?" Santa leaned forward. "Is she a smoking hottie?"

"Uh...I mean...her voice sounds really cute. Does it matter?"

"I geff snot," Santa said around a mouthful of donut.

"Come on, man!” Tim groaned. “You're getting crumbs all over the place!"

Either not hearing Tim or choosing to ignore him, Santa stood, brushing crumbs and sprinkles off himself, then made his way over to Tim's computer.

"Show Santa this guild where you met your hot girlfriend."

"Hey, wait, gimme a sec! I just need to close my --"

"Is that where you keep your games? The 'Not Porn' folder?"

"Get your hand off my mouse!" Tim batted Santa's hand away and started Legend of Benzium, then sat back in his chair. The computer hummed and whirred as it loaded the game's world. Through the ceiling, Tim could hear Alvin and his brothers squeaking through their Christmas song.

"Why is this taking so long?" Santa finally asked.

"My computer's ancient. Why do you think I asked for--"

"Tim -- Santa is ancient," Santa said. “Santa can barely use a word processor, but he can say with certainty: this is just the actual worst computer."

As the game’s world began to render, Tim’s Dark Elf dropped into a field outside town. Santa grabbed Tim’s shoulder.

"Oh-ho! A lush fantasy world simply teeming with possibilities! Show Santa Ye Olde Gentlemen’s Club, Tim."

"There are no strip clubs in Legends of Benzium. Look, let's go talk to the friar. Maybe he has a quest –” The teen stopped short as a message popped up on the screen.

"Who's Cecilia49?" Santa asked. “Is she your hot girlfriend?”

"We're not -- I mean --"

“Santa thought she made you feel hopeful, or whatever?”

“Look, I like her, but she doesn't know, okay?"

"Don’t be a dweeb, Tim. Just tell her!”

"It's not that easy."

Santa thought for a moment. "Santa could tell her for you."

Tim squeezed his temples between his thumb and middle finger. "I don't think that'd go over well.” He glanced at the blinking message bar. "What should I say?"

"You know, Tim, in all Santa’s time on this Earth, one thing Santa has learned is --"

There was a soft pop behind them. They whirled to see no fewer than five Elves clad in a loud assortment of Christmas colors, ribbons, and streamers.

"What took you all so long?" The end of Santa’s question turned into a deep, rumbling belch.

"Ah, God, he got into the Malibu again," one of the Elves said in a squeaky, high-pitched voice.

The Elves started to fuss around Santa, gathering up his things. One stepped forward to address Tim. "Hey, kid, thanks for making sure the Boss stayed put. He has trouble sitting still this time of year." The tiny being shoved a crumpled ten-dollar bill into Tim’s hand. "Here's for the donuts and coffee."

"Wait, he was about to tell me how to talk to this girl I like!"

Tim and the Elf looked at Santa, swaying unsteadily, the box of donuts clutched to his chest.

"You know, kid, I wouldn't worry too much about it. Hitting the sauce always makes the Boss a little weird.”

“At least he’s not maudlin today!” one of the other elves squeaked.

“Ha! Too true, Lenny. Anyway,” the elf turned back to Tim. “Good luck with your girlfriend, kid!"

The elves formed a circle around Santa, who waved to Tim. "Ho, ho, ho! See you next year!"

“No, wait! Seriously, I need help! You can forget about the GPU – ”

Santa tapped the side of his nose and fixed his glasses. “Just don’t be a dweeb, Tim.”

"What does that even mean?!”

Tim threw up his hands as a bright flash filled his basement. When he lowered them, the only evidence of his visitor was a half-drank latte, a few shreds of ribbon, and donut crumbs.

The teen sighed, turning to his desk and grabbing the waste bin beneath it. Then he spied the blinking message from Cecilia49. He set the wastebin down and opened the window. Cecilia had wished him a Merry Christmas and asked if he was doing anything special to celebrate.

Tim hesitated, then smiled and started to type.



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