Snow fell in gentle flurries, covering everything in a light dusting. Lights twinkled in a multicoloured haze inside windows sprayed with snow-in-a-can snowflakes. Music blared from a house at the end of the street. Christmas Eve was a time of excitement for children of all ages.
Ben looked from his bedroom window and knew that other little boys and girls would still be awake, listening for the magical sound of sleigh-bells; their tummies all a tingle. When he was younger, he had been the same; too excited to sleep, imagining the bells jingling.
But last year, when he had turned ten, he had found out the complete truth. Not the truth that everyone else knew to be true; that Father Christmas was a myth, an invention of marketing companies perpetuated by adults who’d been stupid enough to buy poorly made toys for the dream that children were conditioned to believe.
No, not that truth. He found out that Father Christmas came in the night with a sack to steal away the children. He must have used magic to stuff them inside for he saw it happen to Tommy Berlinger across the road. He didn’t scream or put up a fight as the old man forced him into the sack.
And, in the morning, when he asked Tommy’s parents where he was, they said ‘Tommy? Who’s Tommy?’
And their family portrait, which hung in the hall at the foot of the stairs, only had the two of them in it, whereas before Tommy was in the middle wearing his blue rimmed glasses and his silly grin.
And Ben’s parents didn’t remember Tommy either. How could they forget, Tommy? He had eaten so much cake at Ben’s birthday party in September that he’d vommed on their new sofa. His mum said it was okay, but he could see the malice in her eyes as she wiped up the mess. It took weeks for the smell to go away.
At school he found himself sitting next to a girl instead of his best friend, Tommy. No one believed him. The other children laughed at him and teased him. Eventually, Ben’s parents made him go to a doctor lady. The lady had nodded her head, and smelled a bit like his aunt, but she was nice and encouraged him to talk. But Ben was sick of talking about Tommy, sick of asking the same questions and sick of everyone thinking he was going mad.
Last year, when he saw Tommy stuffed into the sack, it had been a clear crisp night, just like tonight. The old man looked out of Tommy’s window, straight at Ben. He winked and then smiled revealing broken teeth.
Now Ben is certain this will be his last Christmas Eve. He knows the fat old man in a shabby red cloak will be coming for him. And in the morning no one will remember Ben, no one will try to find him or help him. When he asked his mum if he could stay up, she had said ‘But Father Christmas won’t come if you’re awake, sweetheart.’
‘Good. I don’t want him to come – you know what happens when he comes.’
‘Not this again. For the last time, your imaginary friend is gone. You’ve just grown up, that’s all. Now go bed. Try to get some sleep and in the morning, you’ll have lots of nice presents. Won’t that be nice?”
Ben waited for Father Christmas.