Winter Holidays - Story 3 - When Friends Come to Call by Zach Shephard

This story originally appeared in Kazka Press's 2012 e-book anthology At Year's End.

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“This’ll never work.”

“Of course it will.”

“Do you really think no one’s tried before?”

O’Hara adjusted a knob on the machine in his living room. The scent of peppermint grew stronger in the air.

“Of course people have tried,” he said. “Probably for centuries. But now we actually have the technology to make it happen.”

Blackman squinted at O’Hara’s machine. It was a boxy, dryer-sized contraption with a plate of cookies on top. He reached for one of the treats.

“Don’t touch those,” O’Hara said, slapping Blackman’s hand. “Those are for him.” He carefully nudged a lever on the machine’s side. “There.  You can practically taste the cookies on the air, can’t you? He’s sure to come any minute.”

“Yes. And he’ll probably have the Easter Bunny with him. Although I don’t know who’s going to feed the Loch Ness Monster while they’re gone.”

“Santa does not live in Scotland.”

“Right,” Blackman said, lowering himself into the recliner. “Because that would be silly.”

O’Hara ignored the comment and returned his attention to the machine. He checked the monitor on its side.

“Cookie and peppermint aromas are high.” He moved his hand to the machine’s vent and felt the output that flowed into the fireplace. “Temperature is cozy and inviting. Perfect.”

“Would you like to know why this won’t work?”

“If you’re going to tell me Santa isn’t real, you can just go home.”

“It’s not that. It’s that he’d never fall for something this obvious.  He’s some sort of wizard-illusionist-thing, coming in any form and leaving magic glitter in his wake.  Do you think he can’t tell the difference between love-baked cookies and this store-brand bait your machine is using? And that milk—it’s soy, isn’t it? I can tell from here.”

“He might be lactose intolerant.”

“He’s not. Also, he isn’t real.”

“I told you not to—”

“You’re fifty years old, man. Why do you still believe?”

O’Hara’s gaze moved to the tree in the corner. Its lights twinkled in his eyes, fairy sparkles of red and gold. “I believe,” he said, “because when I was four, my parents told me not to.”

He turned away, busying himself with the machine.

“All right,” Blackman said. “I’m sorry.  But I have to know—what’ll you do if you catch him? What happens if he comes down that chimney and your laser-grid keeps him from going back up?”

“I—” O’Hara stopped. “I don’t know. I suppose I just want to make sure he’s real. Then I’ll let him go.”

“Hmphf.” Blackman looked at his watch. “Well, I’ve got to go. I just came to drop this off.” He handed O’Hara a glittery box from his pocket.

“But—I didn’t get you anything. I was just so busy—”

“It’s fine.” Blackman stood. “I don’t need anything else. Good luck with the project… And merry Christmas.”

***

Ten minutes later, there was a knock at the door.

“Sorry I’m late,” Blackman said, shedding his snowy coat. “Is that the machine?”

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Zach Shephard’s fiction has appeared in places like Fantasy & Science Fiction, Galaxy’s Edge and Intergalactic Medicine Show.

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