Storyteller

A young child, just shy of his tenth birthday, lay motionless in a spotless, white-colored hospital bed, the sheets pulled up to his chin and tucked in under his feet, to help him stay warm. Despite being in a ward fully-outfitted for four patients, he was lying there alone, what with his last ward companion having checked-out of the hospital some three days earlier.

After all, it was Christmas Eve, and the weather department had been playing their bets down that it would be a White Christmas. So far, Mother Nature had smiled on the hopeful meteorologists, and had been sending down gentle masses of snowflakes that blanketed this part of the world in a layer of soft, beautiful snow.

But for the boy in his hospital bed, things weren't all as beautiful and idyllic as the things around him were. Numerous tubes and electrodes snaked out from various parts of his anatomy, to be connected with electronic monitors and bags of solutions that dribbled into his bloodstream via several intravenous tubes.

In short, the boy was dying, and no one was here for him on the eve of this White Christmas, not even his parents. Mom was busy working to stay at the fore of the corporate rat race, and dad had never really been around in his life to begin with.

With a soft squeaking noise, the ward's door opened, and a bellicose man in red stepped into the room.

His entrance barely-stirring the boy's prone form, the man decided to wake the boy up with a hearty cry of, "Merry Christmas, Johnny!"

The boy almost immediately jerked awake, panic written openly all-over his features. But as soon as he saw the red-suited man, his youthful face broke into a smile. His visitor had a set of red clothes on, and was holding a large sack over his shoulder.

"Santa Claus!" he exclaimed, remaining in his horizontal position to prevent his numerous medical attachments from moving around too much, "You came..."

"I always come to children who have been good for the whole year!" declared the man who was apparently jolly ol' Saint Nick, "And you, Johnny, have been top-class with your behavior! Gold stars for you!"

"Wow, gee," Johnny blushed, waving a hand weakly at the old man from the North Pole, "I wasn't that good. Remember when I shouted at Doctor Thomkins? Or what about when I was mean to Nurse Summers?"

"Now, now, Johnny," huffed the big-sized man, as he eased himself into the chair by Johnny's bedside. Somehow, despite his rotund physique, he didn't make much noise as he sat down on the flimsy-looking chair, "Everyone has a lapse in judgment now and then. It's alright if you didn't mean it. Just try not to do it again."

Johnny's eyes widened, "But they looked so sad after I got bad! They-"

'Santa' wagged a finger at Johnny, as though he was a mischievious child to be told-off, "Have no fear, child. I see all, and remember everything. You are a good boy."

The ill child sank back into his mattress, visibly relieved, "Oh, alright then."

His bearded, red-coated companion glanced at the clock, and spoke to him again, in that same, fatherly voice.

"So how about a story?"

The boy's eyes lit-up with excitement, "Hoo, boy! Yeah!"

Remembering who he was in the company of, he added hastily, "Please?"

Loud laughs echoed throughout the ward, as 'Santa' ruffled little Johnny's unruly, black-colored hair, and started to tell him his story.

"Once upon a time, there was a boy. He lived on these islands..."

Outside the ward, several nurses and doctors, as well as orderlies and candy-stripers, lay unconscious on the white linoleum floor of the corridor, as 'Santa' continued telling his tale to his audience of one.

xxx

"-and so, everyone was free once again, from the clutches of the evil sorcerer Chernabog," finished the man whom Johnny knew as Santa, "Hope was restored, and good won over evil in the end."

He looked down fondly at Johnny, noticing that the sick boy had taken-on a dreamy expression during his storytelling.

"The end," he said, smiling at the boy from behind his bushy white beard.

"Wow, Santa," the boy wheezed, as his lungs struggled to work properly, due to his lack of necessary medication some two minutes ago, "That story was... awesome..."

"The world of stories is always a wonderful escape from our lives, son," 'Santa' replied, his voice empty of any emotion, "If you ever need to get away from everything, remember that you could always take a step into another world."

"How? I'm not a storyteller," protested the boy, as 'Santa' fished around in his pockets.

"Just look inside your heart, and you shall find the way. We all have enough magic within us to find our way into any of the other worlds out there, Johnny," the man replied, as he pulled a bottle of tablets out of his pockets, "Before I forget, the nurse asked me to give you your medicine."

"Aww, do I have to?" Johnny whined, his eyes pleading.

"For me?" his companion asked in response, his eyes twinkling.

The boy reluctantly nodded, and the red-dressed man helped him take the tablets with a cup of water.

With a quick glance at the clock, the man got out of his seat, and picked up the sack he had dropped on the floor beside Johnny's bed, "I have to leave now, kid. So here's your present."

He handed over a large box to the bedridden boy, who looked positively delighted.

"Thanks, Santa!"

"Be good, Johnny!" said the man cheerily, as he walked towards the ward's door, "Tara!"

"Where are you going, Santa?" Johnny's soft voice called out from behind him, "Back to your home in the Pole?"

"It's 'North Pole', Johnny," 'Santa' answered, before speaking further, his voice holding a note of sadness, "I'm just going to rest somewhere for a while."

"Rest?"

"It's hard work, delivering presents," the man replied, looking over his shoulder at the sick child, his eyes betraying a hint of sadness, "So I have to rest for a year, before the next Christmas."

"So will you be back next year?"

"I should be, kid. I should be."

"Well then, have a good rest!" chirped the boy, as he started to unwrap his gift from 'Santa'.

"I will, Johnny. Where I'm going, they even mattresses on the walls..."

Before the boy could process his cryptic words, 'Santa' had exited the ward.

xxx

The man who had impersonated Santa Claus walked out of Gotham General Hospital, stripping-off his costume as he walked. First to go was the beard, then the hat. Then went the coat, followed quickly by the trousers. Leaving a trail of red and white behind him, the man walked towards the car he had used to get to the hospital, when a low, rough, and distinctly male voice was heard from somewhere behind him.

"Going somewhere?"

He stopped in his tracks, the keys for the stolen car jingling in his hand, "About time. I'm surprised it took you this long, you know."

"That's a nice thing you did."

"I have no idea what you're raving about."

"The boy. You made his Christmas a happier one."

"What about it?" he asked nonchalantly in reply.

"Why did you do it?"

"Excuse me?" his voice contained a hint of exasperation, "What did you say?"

"Why?"

Silence filled the space around the two men as the speaker awaited a reply from the other.

The Santa Claus impersonator finally broke the silence with a few, gingerly-spoken words.

"Well, to be honest, I don't know myself."

"You broke out of Arkham two weeks ago. You made an appearance in the hospital once. Then you vanished again. So why today, and why the kid?"

"When I was in Arkham," replied 'Santa', "The man in the cell next to mine used to go into rants in the middle of the night. Something about not seeing his son again, nonsense like that. I eventually knew everything about the boy save for where he lived, and how he looked like."

"When I broke out two weeks ago, I needed to get some antibiotics - scrapes from Arkham's fucking barbed-wire fences will do that to you - and so I made a showing at the hospital. Coincidentally, I saw an open file on a table, and who would've known it? It was my damn neighbour's kid."

The other man spoke up again, still in the same, raspy voice, "That still doesn't explain why you did what you did. And what about telling him that you'd be back next year?"

"I read his file, idiot. The kid isn't expected to live beyond April next year," retorted the man hotly.

"So you decided to play Santa?"

"Shut the hell up!"

"I know how you think. There's more to it than that."

"Fine!" snapped the man, turning around to face his adversary, "He just... reminded me so much of myself as a kid, alright?! The damn kid was just so... alone."

For a while after that, neither of them spoke. Silence returned to haunt their immediate vicinity, and for several minutes, the two men stood there facing each other, one of them with his face behind a black mask, with a billowing cape behind him.

"You might have done some good for that dying boy," said the masked man softly, as he withdrew a pair of handcuffs from somewhere within the folds of his cape, "But I'll still be taking you back to Arkham."

"You're so full of shit," snorted the other man, rolling his eyes, "It's always a matter of time, isn't it? You would always be there to bring me back to Arkham, I'd always break out, and the damned kid would most probably be dead come May. It's all a matter of time, isn't it?"

The masked man stepped closer to him, and he didn't back-down from the other's approach.

"Whatever you say..." the masked man said, "You still need to go back to Arkham. The people there can help you."

"Bullshit," replied the mask-less man, some of the sting in his voice gone. His masked adversary cuffed his hands together, "They're as much help as a group of loan sharks."

Wordlessly, the masked man led him by his handcuffs to a large, armored car that was parked nearby. He was pushed into the passenger seat, and the door closed on him.

xxx

A short drive later, the armored car drew close to the wrought-iron gates of Arkham Asylum. The masked man disembarked from the car, and got his hand-cuffed quarry out of the vehicle.

They waited momentarily at the gates for a guard and several orderlies to arrive, since the masked man had called-up the asylum from his vehicle en route.

As the guards and asylum staff walked-up to the gates, the masked man turned to his prisoner.

"Merry Christmas, Crane."

The Scarecrow never threw so much as a backwards glance at the Batman as he was led back into the asylum by two orderlies and a guard.

END