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The Accidental Podcaster: A Christmas Mystery
It is Christmas morning, 1989, and my sister and I are beside ourselves with glee. Santa came last night. We had heard the sleigh bells jingling long after our parents had tucked us into bed, faintly at first, then progressively louder as it seemed to get near. I could remember whispering excitedly as it got ever closer, it had to be just outside the house now, reaching for the curtain to peek, and...

Our eyes popped open at the same time, blue pools staring back at each other in wonder. It was morning now. Seestor's honey-framed face looked as surprised as I felt to find us tucked neatly under the Huggabunch comforter and the Strawberry Shortcake bedspread, warm and snug. Had it been a dream? We race, very quietly, to the landing of the staircase. We've already been warned that we aren't allowed to go downstairs until after the baby is awake, but nothing was mentioned about not creeping down a few steps to have a look. We carefully but expertly hang off the bannister as far down as we dare. The tree lights aren't turned on but sure enough, we spot piles upon piles of presents heaped about in the dim light of the morning dawn. I have to grab Seestor's hand to stop her from barrelling down the rest of the stairs in excitement.

It was real!

Like pink ninjas, we swing silently back up the stairs. We aren't allowed to wake our parents, either, so we make a pit stop in the nursery to poke our baby brother through the bars of his crib until he starts to cry, then race back to our own bedroom swifter than St. Nick's reindeer. From the safety of our covers, we wait with tense anticipation. A few moments pass before we hear our parents' door latch click, our mother shuffling out to heed her offspring's wail, and suddenly the covers come flying off as my sister pops up from our bed like some toddler sized jack-in-the-box.

"Mommy!" she cries, "is it time?"

It is not yet time. We can hear our father grumbling in the next room about the ungodly hour, punctuated by our mother hissing at him about being pleasant and not ruining Christmas and for the love of Christ to get out of bed and go put the tree on while she changes the baby. They don't know it yet, or maybe they do, but this will be the last Christmas they spend together. But that's not what will make this particular morning stand out in my mind nearly thirty years later.

I don't remember which of us spotted it first, just that one minute we were dancing around the pale pink bedroom with the joy that only comes to small children on a Christmas morning, and the next we were both pressed up against the cold glass of the window that looked over our back porch roof and to the backyard beyond. It had snowed the night before, big white flakes covering the road and the fields and the drive as our father slowly drove us all home from the celebrations of our grandmother's house. It would wash away with the rain the following afternoon, but for the morning at least there was a thick blanket of white all over everything.

A thick, pristine blanket of white on which was imprinted a trail of pristine hoof prints on the roof outside our second-floor window.

I remember my sister running to get our mother, pulling her by the hand to see this miraculous sight. Santa was right outside our window, she was relaying, and we heard the bells but we didn't see him but LOOK.

My mother politely telling her how wonderful that was until she looked out to where my sister was pointing, almost dropping our brother as she let out a "What the hell...?"

My father starting to give her the same chastising for swearing in front of the kids that she gave him, only to be shushed as he, too, saw what we were looking at. Her whispering to ask how he'd pulled it off, then growing pale when he quietly replied that he didn't.

How they gently pulled us away from the window so they could get a better look, periodically rubbing the steam from their breath off the glass with the sleeves of their bathrobes.

The prints themselves made a clear and distinct path, starting at the edge that faced Miss Annabelle's house next door, continuing straight past our window across the middle of the roof, and dead ending at the wall to the second-story bathroom. There are no other prints or tracks, just two and a half feet of pristine snow between the house wall and the tracks and another three-ish feet of blank between the tracks and the edge.

"Maybe something jumped up?" my mother suggested timidly. "Maybe a cat or something."

"Twelve feet from the ground?" My father is perplexed, staring at the prints. "Those definitely look like hoof prints. And it just dead ends. Like...how did it get down? Did it jump sideways?"

I am indignant at our parents confusion. "Because they fly," I explain with derision, while my sister yawns and asks, "Can we go open presents now?"

*****
To call this incident peculiar would be an understatement. As said before, rain would wash away the evidence before any additional witnesses arrived, though not before my father would go outside to confirm there were no tracks on the ground anywhere near our porch.

Like most children, as the years passed, my belief in Santa and magic in general waned. All too soon would come the time where I realized planting Cheerios in my grandfather's garden would not, in fact, cause a box of donuts to sprout at dinnertime without some human aid; likewise, a sting operation exposed the Tooth Fairy as really being our parents when my sister and I managed to successfully steal back a tooth paid for at our father's apartment and used it to gain a second payment (with note of apology!) at our mother's house when I cried that the Tooth Fairy didn't come for it. For us, the magic that remained was the kind we conjured up ourselves, and they were skills that would serve very well in the future. Whether it was the inflection and excitement that brought stories to life, the crafting that brought things from our imaginations into the real world, or the acting that convinced our audience that what they saw was real, our magic - the magic we created for others, be it for children, readers, concert patrons, or whomever else - was very much in our own grasp. We knew the tricks that went into it. And when we would on rare occasion be dazzled by some new magic that brought us joy, part of that fascination was invariably spent figuring out how it was pulled off. After all, it's only magic until we discover how it works; then it's science, art, or some combination thereof.

But even though I've long accepted this to be true, from time to time my mind still wanders back to that Christmas morning so many years ago and how those tracks got to be on a rooftop a story-plus above ground. My parents are decent actors, but they have tells, especially if trying to pull something off as complicated as sneaking up a roof on a cold and icy night, leaving reindeer prints on a rooftop in a thoroughly improbable place without getting caught or leaving any trace behind. I'm inclined to believe the confusion and concern they exhibited about how the tracks got there was real. Which begs the question:

What the hell left those tracks for us to find?


*****

WHAT I'M CURRENTLY READING: Howard Blum, The Last Goodnight: A World War II Story of Espionage, Adventure, and Betrayal
THREE THINGS I'M LISTENING TO ON REPEAT: Dishwalla, Once in a While; Mumford & Sons, The Boxer; Bush, Swallowed
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