The Christmas Chronicles

BOOK: The Christmas Chronicles
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The Christmas Chronicles
is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Copyright © 2010 by Tim Slover

All rights reserved.

Published in the United States by Bantam Books, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.

is a registered trademark of Random House, Inc., and the colophon is a trademark of Random House, Inc.

Slover, Tim.
The Christmas chronicles : the legend of Santa Claus, a novel / Tim Slover.
p. cm.
eISBN: 978-0-553-90800-8
1. Santa Claus—Fiction. 2. Christmas stories. I. Title.
PS3569.L6985C48 2010
813′.54—dc22    2010010577


Thank you for listening;
thank you for believing

Pine Boughs

could clearly hear the sound, even through the raucous wind that had suddenly kicked up. But it didn’t make any sense, and I couldn’t see what was making it. I had thought I was alone on that wintry mountain. Apparently I was wrong. The sunset was just beginning to paint the snow gold, and coming up over a gilded rise, through a stand of swaying white pine, was this
. So I wasn’t alone. Someone—or something—was approaching, fast. And, to
my complete astonishment, that something was making the unmistakable sound of—

But I’m getting ahead of myself. I want to tell what happened precisely and in the right order. That way you’ll have the best chance to make up your mind about it. Because, make no mistake, that’s what you’re being called on to do here: decide. Once you know what I now know, you’re going to have to figure out what to do about it. If you don’t feel up to that task, well, you might want to stop reading right now. But I wouldn’t. Knowledge is responsibility, all right, but in this case, if you let it, it can also be sheer delight.

The events happened last year, in that magical, occasionally peaceful, usually mad-dash season between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Despite our fervent September resolutions, late November found all of us without our Christmas shopping, Christmas decorating, Christmas cards, or Christmas baking done. Or, actually, started. But the first skiff of snow had just come to the particular valley of the Rocky Mountains where we live—my wife and I and our two teenaged sons—and we were all in love with the new weather. We felt energized and ready to plunge into Christmas toils.

“I love the first snow,” my wife said happily. “It makes
such a nice change.” The boys agreed. I saw my opportunity.

“Who wants to drive up the mountain and cut pine boughs?” I asked. A certain disheartening silence greeted my invitation, a pause while all three invented their plausible excuses. The wife spoke vaguely of golf clubs in need of polishing. A boy had a girlfriend to see. Another boy had to meet up with his band.

“But we need pine boughs,” I objected. “What about the Advent wreath? What about branches for decorating the front door? And the mantel? And the stair railing?”

“You get them, honey,” my wife said. “You’re the one who really loves getting the car stuck, slogging through snow, and committing theft on federal land.”

It was hard to argue with that. So, without accompaniment, I pulled on a pair of pack boots, grabbed some gardening gloves and lopping shears, and drove the car clear out of town up into the mountains, following my usual route. Just me and an MP3 full of Christmas music.

Usually I drive until the road—which is never plowed—gets too slippery and snow-packed for my old car to keep going safely. Then I drive about a quarter mile farther—just because it’s so fun to drive on slippery snowpack—until it’s definitely too dangerous to go on. And then I go about
another hundred yards and, if I haven’t gotten stuck by then, park on the shoulder of the road. I hike and scramble up into the trees until I strike an area isolated enough that even the most overzealous ranger would be unlikely to venture. Then I trudge around cutting until I have about twenty boughs of white pine and Douglas fir and drag them back to the car. The whole thing usually takes a couple of hours.

Remember, the snow came late on this particular year. That meant the car could go farther than usual before the road got too dangerous. Before long I was up higher than I had ever been. I found myself driving on a ridge with tall fir and bare white aspen pressing close on both sides of the road. On an impulse I rolled down the window—I don’t know why, maybe to see the trees without a pane of glass between us. The cold air that rushed in was unusual. It seemed to effervesce like soda water, as though every molecule were dancing. In fact, everything on that ridge seemed so alive that I had a strong impulse to sing a Christmas carol to the trees as I drove along. But the truth is, if you start singing to trees, you risk them singing back. And then you have to reassess your whole system of thought. So though I was tempted, I refrained.

But when you’re distracted by fizzy air and potentially musical trees, it’s not surprising that your driving might
suffer. Before I knew it I hit a patch of ice, swerved to the right, and skidded to a halt. I climbed out of the car, now distinctly listing toward the passenger side, and groaned at the sight that met my eyes: The car was up to its wheel wells, two of which were in the ditch running down from the shoulder of the road, in snow. The car was well and truly stuck as it had never been stuck before, and it obviously wasn’t going to get unstuck on its own steam, or mine. It was tow-truck stuck. On a very isolated road, well out of cellphone range. And with the sun riding down the sky toward setting. I would have to walk back down the road until I got a signal to call for help.

And that’s when I got the idea that led to everything else. A higher hill crowned with white pine reared up from the other side of the ditch.
Don’t trek back down the road,
I thought;
climb up the ridge and see what you can see. And, as a bonus, you’ll get a strong signal for your cellphone, and you can make your call and get rescued
. I didn’t question the impulse; I just started hiking.

Once I got to the crest of the hill, I knew I’d made the right decision. I looked out and saw an amazing sight. To the west, the sun was now dipping toward the horizon, bathing everything in that rich amber light that sometimes comes at sunset. But in the east gray clouds, heavy with snow, were rolling down from the top of the
mountain. A wind came up, first stirring and then tossing the boughs of the trees on the hill. I stood stock-still. It was a scene of utter enchantment: the golden sunlight streaming from the west, the dense clouds blowing down from the east, the roar of the wind, the glad, dancing trees. I got the powerful feeling that when those clouds met that sunlight, which would be happening in a moment right where I was standing, anything, absolutely anything, might happen.

That’s when I heard the sound. It was rhythmic, silvery: jing, jing, JING! jing, jing, JING! And it was coming up on me fast over the slope, just as the snow clouds were rolling down from the mountain.

Jing, jing, JING! jing, jing, JING! And now the clouds were upon me, and with them the snow: big white flakes blowing in with the wind. And when the gray clouds and swirling snow met that amber sunlight, the scene instantaneously transformed. Gold lit up the clouds like a flashlight shining through tissue paper, and turned each snowflake into a dancing firefly. Every pine needle and bare aspen twig was sharp and clear. The snow on the ground was a dazzling carpet of fiery diamonds. I could have stared at it all for hours.

But I didn’t get the chance. Because now the jing, jing, JING! was actually upon me. And at last I could see what
was making the sound. It was merry, silver harness bells! And the harness was around the neck of—

You will hardly believe me; you will think I’m making up a story. Well, all right, yes, I have been known to make up a story or two, but this isn’t one of them. What I’m telling you is the simple truth. The harness bells were around the neck of a small reindeer with graceful two-point antlers. And the reindeer’s coat glowed red—not orange, which is what we usually mean when we say hair or fur is red—but actually deep, vivid scarlet. I didn’t learn until later that I was in the presence of a legend.

The crimson reindeer was pulling a swift, light sleigh, which dodged through the trees on its silver runners with great nimbleness and speed. I only caught a glimpse of its driver, but he looked like a perfectly ordinary young man, except that he, like the reindeer, seemed to give off a faint light of his own. He held no reins. He simply clutched the bench where he sat as the sleigh raced on. His expression, if I read it right in the split second I saw it, was one of worry and dread. “Hurry!” I heard him say. “It’s right behind us! And you know they can’t anchor the Road for more than a moment!”

In response the reindeer replied fiercely—

But no, how can I report to you what a reindeer said? You won’t believe me. You may already be wondering if I
was drunk up on that mountain, or deranged. Well, I’m pleased to report that I have never taken a drop stronger than eggnog in my life and have passed every magazine mental acuity test my wife has given me. With flying colors. So you must make of it what you will when I tell you that the reindeer replied, and he panted as he said it, “I would … rather stand and fight … Professor Wyatt!”

“No!” cried the Professor, and he seemed very alarmed. “Not this time! We’re wanted at the castle!”

Then the sleigh flashed past. I spun around to watch it go. I’m sure neither man nor beast saw me. But as they drove with single-minded concentration, not two yards away from me, they suddenly made a sharp left turn, too sharp, trying to get onto—

Look. I’m going to be revealing so many wonders over the course of this account that you might just as well get used to contemplating them. I’ve had to. So I shall stop hesitating and trying to prepare you for the incredible. I’ll just assume you’re keeping up.

They were trying to get onto a road that a moment before did not exist. At least I had not seen it. Of course, I was intent on looking at snowflakes and scarlet reindeer, so I might have missed it. It might have been there all along. But I don’t think so. I believe it appeared just as this Professor Wyatt and the reindeer were trying to enter it.
The road was very steep, about twenty feet wide, made of a single sheet of white ice as smooth as a mirror, and led up about thirty yards directly into the swirl of cloud and light overhead. At its foot were two neatly trimmed variegated holly bushes in brightly polished silver pots, one on each side of the road. On each pot was etched a reindeer rampant and a star. The scent of peppermint wafted from the holly, and inhaling it, I felt as though I wanted to run a marathon and then swim the Pacific Ocean.

Meanwhile the sleigh was trying desperately to get onto the road, but was approaching it at too acute an angle.

BOOK: The Christmas Chronicles
13.02Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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