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Naughty List 4 Lyfe

Thomas J. Griffin is a life-long fiction lover and sumo wrestling enthusiast. He lives in Nashville, Tennessee and writes out of an attic that could use more natural light.

The first time I caught Santa, I was ten years old. The trap was simple--you'd think someone with Santa's reputation would have seen it coming a mile away, but nope. Hook, line, and sinker; or should I say, milk, cookies, and an unsophisticated small game snare. It was never going to hold him for long, but he gave up willingly. Real respect real.
That's when I learned about the rule. Catch Santa and he'll grant you a wish. Not just a Christmas present, but anything you want, so long as it doesn't involve making someone fall in love or bringing the dead back to life. In other words, the Aladdin rules. Allegedly, the movie's writer, Ron Clements, also managed to trap Santa, back in the day. The difference was, Robin Williams' genie gave out three wishes. Santa only grants one at a time.
That suited me just fine. I only had one wish anyway--I wanted proof. Jimmy Butler in Ms. Riggins' class had been telling anyone who would listen that Santa wasn't real, that it was just our parents and they'd told him so, right to his face. I'd had to watch him hold court like some prophet of the playground for the entire last week of school and I was fed up.
Santa gave me his hat. Then with a wink he was free of my snare and squeezing his fat rear back up the chimney. No gifts, not even a lump of coal. I guess that was part of the deal, but I didn't care. I had the genuine article, bright red with the white pom on the end. The inside smelled like sweat and the funny-tasting eggnog my uncle always brought to Christmas dinner.
The kids at school didn't believe me, of course. I'd seen the hat come right off his head, so it never occurred to me that you could pop right down to Walmart and buy one just like it off the rack. The fat man had pulled a fast one on me. Fair enough. Point to Jimmy.
The second time I caught Santa, I was fourteen. I didn't even have a wish in mind, I just wanted to see if I could do it again. It had taken longer than expected. I'd made plenty of mistakes along the way, but in my defense, it's hard to hide a plot from someone who can see you when you're sleeping, who knows when you're awake. Who knows when you've been bad or good-- you get it.
Santa was less than enthused to see me again. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, Naughty List 4 lyfe. Plus, no one likes getting caught in a drag net. Knocked him right to the floor. But it was worth it just to see him again, to know I wasn't crazy. I asked him for a white Christmas and sent him on his way.
The blizzard that hit us the next morning plunged all of California into a state of emergency. The weathermen called it a "meteorological miracle." I called it a week stuck inside. The governor eventually had to borrow a fleet of snowplows from Idaho to clear the roads.
The last time I caught Santa, I was seventeen. Luckily, my little sister was a perennial lock for the Nice List, so he couldn't skip us. I'd blown my first two wishes, but this time I was ready.
I asked to live forever, just like him. Go big or go home, right?
Santa gave me the funniest look, a quirky little smile all but hidden beneath his whiskers. Then he asked me if I'd like to go for a sleigh ride. Sure, I said, so long as he granted my wish after. He spoke not a word, simply nodded. Then up the chimney we went, together this time.
He brought me along for the rest of his run. Since I lived on the west coast, he didn't have much left anyway. It was the most magical night of my life, house hopping with Santa. Soaring through the night, wrapped in reindeer furs while beside me he snapped his reins and set the bells to jingling. He laughed constantly, each "Ho!" carried away by the winter winds the moment it left his mouth.
The end came all too soon, the eastern horizon awash with the pink and orange of pre-dawn promise. Far below, children everywhere were waking up to gifts beneath the tree, but I was still riding shotgun. The compass on the sleigh had been pointing northward for a while. I asked Santa when he was going to drop me back off. He didn't answer.
It wasn't until the compass began to spin that I realized this wasn't a round trip. There were people waiting for us at the north pole. Not elves--kids, my age or younger. A dozen or so, all huddled together against the artic chill, watching us with blank expressions as we made our final descent. I looked from them to Santa, and it was then I knew.
You don't catch Santa. He catches you.
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, December 23rd, 2020

Author Comments

All the best Christmas movie classics have an element of mischief to them. Kevin McCallister from Home Alone definitely wasn't on the Nice List, but if he messed with Santa, would he still come out on top? All the stories agree, Father Christmas is not to be trifled with. Sure, he always gives you what you ask for, but you might not like it when he does, and I wanted that darker side of the Christmas legend to play a part as well.

- Thomas J. Griffin
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