Pink Santa is a Christmas novelette of twelve chapters, posted serially by me, your influenza-riddled host, Cheeseburger Brown.
Nothing says Christmas like the flu: gluey eyes, tight lungs, aching joints, a cough like a Titan unsubdued by Zeus. I slept all day yesterday and I might so the same today, given my 'druthers. At least I don't have to go to work. I'm dedicating 100% of my resources to recuperation.
Meanwhile, we continue our tale:
Mike peeked out from behind the fuzzy sock he clutched. He dared to look into the face of the security guard who was holding him off the floor, and what he saw made him smile.
"Santa!" cried Mike.
The security guard frowned. "How did you get in here?" he asked gruffly.
"Through a cat door," explained Mike, "which is a small door for cats to use."
"Where are your parents?" asked the security guard.
Mike said, "I don't have any parents."
"Where do you live?"
"Saint Anne Mother of Our Lady Orphanage South, sir."
The security guard grunted. "What are you doing here?"
"Eating popcorn and sleeping," said Mike. "My friend Chloe ran away. She's eight."
The security guard shook his head and sighed. The part of his face Mike could see was wrinkled and lined; the rest of his face was covered by a big white beard. He did not look very jolly. He wiped his hand over his eyes and said, "What else can go wrong tonight?"
In answer a loud squeaking sounded. The security guard looked around in time to see a cart full of flavoured popcorn zooming toward him out of the dark, its squeaky wheels spinning. His eyes opened wide in surprise just before the cart bowled him over, popcorn spilling everywhere.
Mike landed on top of the security guard. He looked up to see Chloe racing toward him. "Come on, Mike -- run!" she cried, grabbing Mike's hand and pulling him to his feet.
The kids scampered away as quickly as they could. At the penny fountain they paused to catch their breath. "Are you okay?" asked Chloe.
"Why did you knock Santa down?" Mike wanted to know.
"That's not Santa," said Chloe.
Mike frowned. "How do you know?"
"Don't make me tell you," replied Chloe darkly. "It's just a thing eight-year-olds know about that five-year-olds don't. Trust me."
Mike wasn't sure what to think. He ate a piece of caramel popcorn that had stuck to his pajamas. He said, "Yum."
"We have to find a new place to hide so he doesn't find us," said Chloe seriously. She sighed. "I thought the security guards went home to sleep at night."
"Santa doesn't need to sleep," said Mike. "He's magic."
Chloe rolled her eyes. She took Mike's hand and they went exploring to find a new hiding spot. They passed by racks of skirts and slacks and then wandered through a big room full of refrigerators and ovens. They were about to move on to the next section of the department store when Mike saw something that made him forget all about the Santa security guard. "Toys!" he cheered.
There were toys on tall shelves, toys in displays, toys lining the walls, toys upon toys lined up on racks up and down the aisles. Mike had never imagined that there were so many toys in the world.
He was about to run into the section when Chloe grabbed his shoulder to stop him. "Wait," she whispered. "Listen!"
They heard footsteps. A moment later they smelled popcorn. The Santa security guard had somehow guessed they could come to the toy section, and he had gotten there first. Chloe and Mike peeked out from behind one of the shelves to see him. Mike asked quietly, "What is he doing?"
"I don't know..." said Chloe.
The security guard was playing with toys. He sat down on the floor and zoomed a toy firetruck around in circles until it broke apart, little plastic wheels popping off and bouncing away. The security guard took a notebook out of his pocket and wrote something in it with a pencil, then picked up a doll house and opened and closed it until the hinges cracked. He made another note in his notebook.
"Guards don't care about toys," reasoned Mike. "He is Santa."
"Don't be silly," said Chloe. "Let's get out of here."
"But Santa Claus likes kids," said Mike. "Maybe he could help us."
Chloe frowned as she watched the security guard break another toy. "Mike, for the last time, that is not Santa Claus."
Mike stuck out his lip. "How come?"
Chloe told Mike to sit down on a low shelf next to a toy pony farm. He did. Chloe walked around in a little circle in front of him for a moment, not saying anything. Mike cuddled his fuzzy sock. Finally Chloe looked Mike right in the eyes and said, "Mike, I really didn't want to have to tell you, but I think I do have to tell you."
"Tell me what?" asked Mike, his voice muffled by the sock. He was scared by Chloe's serious voice. Sister Bethany always used a serious voice when she was going to tell you something you wouldn't like.
"Mike," said Chloe slowly, "there is no such thing as Santa Claus."
Mike snorted and then giggled. "Don't be silly," he said.
"I'm serious," said Chloe. She was not laughing.
"So where do Christmas presents come from?" Mike challenged her.
"Grown-ups buy them," she answered. "They buy them from a store, like this one, and then wrap them up and lie about where they came from."
Mike became worried that Chloe was telling the truth. He shivered. "Why would grown-ups lie to us? The nuns say lying is a sin."
Chloe said, "The nuns lie to us all the time. They probably lie more than anybody."
Now Mike was very worried. "You're just trying to scare me, like Hallowe'en," he told Chloe. "But I'm not even scared because you're just being mean. Right?"
"Wrong," said Chloe. "That guy is just an old man with a white beard. He's not Santa. He's just a regular grown-up. And if you let him he'll catch you and you'll be in the biggest trouble you've ever been in in your whole life."
Mike started to cry.
"Be quiet!" hissed Chloe, but it was too late: the security guard heard Mike's sniffles and looked up. "Run, Mike!" said Chloe.
Mike kept sitting on the shelf beside the toy pony farm. He shook his head. He was too sad to move.
"You're such a baby!" said Chloe.
Mike hid behind his fuzzy sock. Chloe ran away alone. When Mike looked out from behind the sock he saw the security guard with the white beard standing over him, hands on his hips.
"Am I in the biggest trouble ever?" asked Mike, his nose running.
"Not from me," said the security guard. He knelt down on one knee and put a big hand on Mike's little shoulder. "Don't cry," he said. "Everything will be alright, little fellow. You'll see."
Mike wiped his nose with his sleeve. "It's nice that you're nice," said Mike.
For the first time the old security guard smiled, the wrinkles around his eyes pressing together. "Of course I'm nice," he said. "Being nice is my job. What's your name?"
"Mike Zhang," said Mike Zhang.
The old fellow shook Mike's hand and winked. "It's a pleasure to meet you, Mike Zhang," he said.
"But who are you?" asked Mike.
He chuckled, his eyes twinkling. He said, "Why, I'm Santa Claus."