Two years back, I entered in a short story competition in our local city paper. I won the $75 prize (staggering amount, I know…)
So this year I thought, “Hey, why not try￼ again!”
I wrote a short story, which ended up becoming a medium length story… a tad longer than I had anticipated but I couldn’t bear to shorten it. It was a fictional piece, which a first for me I might add. Today once again, I found my piece published in the paper. This year I didn’t win, but I was runner up￼. Nothing huge, I know, but it does put a smile on my face.
Here’s the story, for those of you interested:
It was mid-November and the first snowflakes of the season were falling in graceful swirls, melting as quickly as they hit the ground. Tobias Williams shivered as he walked past Mardee’s Marvelous Toy Shop on his way to school. Glancing through the window, he saw exactly what he had begun to dread every single year. There, through the glass, he could see the extravagant holiday display of toys and decorations that were being set up along the shelves and a familiar knot began to form in his stomach. Tobias turned and began to run as fast as he could toward the school, willing his legs to carry him far away from the innocent display that would torment him for the next few weeks.
Having just turned ten, Tobias enjoyed many things that the other boys his age did. He loved candy, model cars, video games and Lego building sets. He enjoyed new baseball gloves and ice skates. He even liked comic strips and hockey cards. But there was one thing, which every ten-year-old boy loves, that he simply dreaded each year.
Tobias hated Christmas.
Not that he had always hated it. Although now a distant memory, Tobias could recall a time when he too had written long wish lists and awoken early on Christmas Day to open up a stack of brightly wrapped presents. He remembered trekking out into the wilderness with his family to find that perfect tree and kneeling together in the snow as they all took turns with the saw until the evergreen finally fell to the ground with a soft thud.
He still smiled when he remembered his parents despair upon bringing it into the living room, discovering that their perfect tree was leaning slightly to the left and had needles missing in patches all over. The tree had caused quite a disaster in his house that year when it had tipped over as they were decorating. Ornaments came crashing down around them and his father had had to turn the tree so that it leaned against the wall for support. His mother had been so embarrassed about that tree, lamenting about it to all her friends that they should’ve just bought an artificial one.
But to Tobias it had been perfect.
When the evergreen had finally been re-decorated, with its stunning tinsel, lights, and candy canes; magnificently topped with a glittering angel, he had been sure that a more beautiful tree could not possibly be found. On those days, early in the morning before anyone else in the house was awake, Tobias had snuck ever so quietly into the living room to plug in its lights. There he sat, gazing at the tree, in awe of the magic of Christmas. Little had he known that the crooked Christmas tree would be his last.
The following year Tobias’s life changed forever. That first week of January, Tobias had been staying at a friend’s place for night while his parents were out of town. Around midnight the call had come: There had been a devastating accident. His beloved mother had been killed instantly. His father was critically injured. The doctor had been clear: Mr. Williams desperately needed surgery if he ever wanted the ability to walk again. However, with the funeral costs and the care he had already received, the bills had mounted. Though many of their friends had reached out to help, without insurance coverage or family around, the boy and his father were forced to go on government assistance and try to survive without the much-needed surgery. At the tender age of seven, Tobias had been left motherless and felt in many ways responsible to care for his crippled father. He tried his best to help out with the daily household chores but, alas, there was only so much a small boy could do.
For two years in a row, he had poured out his heart in his annual letters to Santa, explaining about how since his Mama had died and his Dad was hurt, they just couldn’t afford the things they used to. He had explained that toys didn’t matter much to him anymore, but how he missed having a Christmas tree with its sparkling lights. He had told Santa that it didn’t need to be much, even a new pair of boots would be nice, as his had holes, leaving his feet cold and wet at the end of every recess.
And each Christmas, as the holidays had come and gone, all his friends returned to school with their lists answered. Some had brand new video games and iPads. Others had received large building sets and expensive RC cars. In fact, they had received every single item on their wish lists. And for the second year in a row, he had received nothing but a hand-me-down sweater and a pair of socks.
The truth had been painfully clear: Santa Claus simply didn’t care about poor children like Tobias. This year he wasn’t going to waste his time. He would NOT be writing a letter to Santa.
The next few weeks flew by. When Ms. Hannah Patterson announced the Christmas writing assignment to her classroom, the children got right to work making their elaborate letters to Santa. She had just settled into her seat and began to mark the ever-growing pile of papers on her desk, when, turning around she looked into the eyes of a young boy who was speaking so quietly she couldn’t make out his question.
“Can you repeat that please, Tobias?”
“Ms. Patterson,” the boy repeated a little louder, but still softly enough that she had to lean in to hear, “Would you mind if I would write to someone other than Santa?”
“What do you mean Tobias?”
“I mean, I don’t mind writing out my wishes, but can it be to someone else?”
Ms. Patterson smiled knowingly. Of course, the boy had probably found out the truth about old Saint Nicolas and felt foolish writing a note to a fairytale man.
She shrugged. “Sure, write a different name at the top if you like, but please make sure you still do the assignment.”
“Thank you, Ms. Patterson,” said the boy, the relief on his face evident. The teacher stared at the unkept boy for a moment thoughtfully, then shook her head and chuckled to herself before going back to her marking.
Later, long after the students had been dismissed, Hannah sat at her desk looking through the stack of letters her students had written. She had always loved giving the “Note to Santa” assignment. It was one that few kids complained about. What was not to love about listing off all your favorite toys and wishes to a lovable, gift-giving, old man?
Today, however, she scanned for a different letter. Tobias Williams was a quiet child and though she had heard a bit about his mother’s death a few years prior, she knew very little about the boy who rarely said a word in class. But his strange request earlier that day had caught her off guard and now, as she searched for his letter she found herself feeling rather sorry for the young lad.
Ah, yes. There it is. Hannah thought to herself as she began to read the carefully written child-like print:
I don’t know if this letter will do any good, because my ones to Santa didn’t, but I thought I’d try anyways because I heard someone say that you were also poor so I figured that maybe you’d care. Also, I have to do this for school. And I’m NOT writing to Santa. My Mama died three years ago, but then, I suppose you already know that because she lives with you, right? Or is heaven made up too? I hope it’s real, because I miss her a lot. I even miss that tree she hated. Could you get me another tree like that? I’d even like it if it were crooked, with candy canes, and that sparkly angel. Also, could you help my Daddy? I sometimes hear him crying at night. I think he’d be happy if we had a special dinner, like Mama used to make. I know it’s a lot to ask, but if you could also make a way for my Daddy to get that surgery he’s been needing, that would mean more to me than anything else I could get. I just want things to be the way they were, when my mom was around and he could walk. I think that’s enough things to ask for. Thanks.
Sincerely, Tobias Williams
Hannah’s vision blurred as she finished the letter and thoughts began swirling in her mind. The tears kept coming as she gathered her things to go home for the evening, as she locked up her classroom and on her drive home. When she lay in bed that night, her mind could think of nothing else but Tobias’s letter.
By the next morning, Hannah had made up her mind and, reaching for her phone, she made three important calls. The first, to Tobias’ father, who tearfully listened to his son’s words, reluctantly giving his consent for her to share them. The second was to the local pastor, who after hearing the note, agreed wholeheartedly to help with her plan. As Hannah dialed the last number on her list, she breathed a silent prayer as the phone rang on the other end.”
“Hello, TCC News, how may I help you?”
“Hi, my name is Hannah Patterson. I’m an elementary teacher at the Stoneville Academy and I have I story that I think your station is going to want to hear…”
Tobias stirred and opened his eyes a crack as the morning light shone into his window. It was Christmas day. He exhaled slowly, painfully. Though he had waited all week, his letter had proven as useless as the ones to Santa. There was just no reason to hope anymore. Life would never be the same. He sadly turned over, pulling the blanket over his head and had just started drifting back to sleep when he thought he heard a funny sound. He lifted the blankets and listened. Muffled voices. A soft chuckle. A loud scraping noise.
What in the world was going on?
Slowly, cautiously, Tobias crept out of his bed and down the hall. He heard a voice hushing the others. More giggles. Coming around the corner, Tobias could hardly believe his eyes. There, in the middle of a living room full of smiling people and reporters with cameras, was the most beautiful – and slightly crooked Christmas tree he had ever seen. His gaze drifted to the base of the tree. Presents! He turned around, scanning the kitchen countertop which was usually bare. Now it was overflowing with Christmas food, homemade baking and delicious store-bought treats, enough to last for the rest of the month! Maybe even the month after. Finally, his gaze rested on his father’s smiling face in the middle of the room.
“Whaa..what’s all this for?” Tobias stammered in astonishment.
His father wheeled across the room and took Tobias into his arms. “Merry Christmas son! Wasn’t this your Christmas wish?”
The young boy stepped back and once again looked around at everything in disbelief.
“That’s not all,” his dad gently motioned to the large crowd of people who filled the small room, “The community has heard about your Christmas wish…” Mr. Williams swallowed hard and his eyes grew moist. “Tobias, they’re paying for the surgery.” Overcome with emotion, the man put his hand over his face and his shoulders shook with sobs. Tobias rushed into his father’s arms and a hush fell over the room as the pair wept together.
Finally pulling back, Tobias searched his father’s face for answers, “How could this be? I mean, how did they…” His voice faded out as Hannah Patterson stepped forward, and suddenly Tobias knew.
“You read my letter?” Tobias murmured, looking up at her through his tears.
Hannah’s eyes grew moist and she nodded, adding with a whisper, “But more importantly Tobias, Jesus heard your prayers.”