Kolchak: The Night Stalker
Yes, Carl Kolchak, There is a Santa Claus
Notes: The characters are not mine and the story is! This is both one of my Christmas stories for 2013 and a Christmas present for Crystal Rose of Pollux. A couple of throwaway references are made to a present-day setting, as per the Moonstone comics, but I intend this to be set in the television series verse and not the comics verse.
It was December 24th—Christmas Eve.
Christmas Eve, the lead-in to what's supposed to be the day of good cheer and peace on earth, good will to men! Sadly, it seems like a lot of people forget those keywords, judging by how crime doesn't grind to a standstill over Christmas. I know that sounds pessimistic, but it's the unfortunate truth. And after all, we newspapermen have a habit of writing the truth.
Another truth is that I can't say I'm the most festive person in the world, but I'm not a complete holiday Grinch, either.
That loving title is one I was about to bestow on my editor, Tony Vincenzo. He has the build to play a perfect St. Nicolas, but not the personality to match. He's more like a good old-fashioned Ebenezer Scrooge before his transformation into a man who knew how to keep Christmas well.
Every now and then, however, that big old bear can still surprise even me.
"So, Carl, what're your plans for tonight?"
I looked up from the latest article I was typing—boring, trite, and not likely to be thrown in the nearest dustbin, like so many of my more interesting copy. "Well, once I finish this snore you gave me, Tony, I really don't have any plans. Maybe I'll go find a bar and toast the arrival of another Christmas Day. What is it, the two thousand-thirteenth edition? That's quite a birthday."
"Oh, that's no good, Carl," Tony exclaimed. "You can't spend Christmas Eve alone in a bar!"
"I'm sure there'll be other patrons present." I leaned on the edge of the desk. Ron and Miss Emily had already left to visit family for the holidays, so aside from Tony's rising voice, the office was rather quiet. "What are you suggesting, Tony? That I come with you to that Christmas party of yours?"
Tony nodded. "Would that be so bad?"
"No, except I know they've roped you into playing Jolly Old St. Nicolas for the kiddies and you've been turning over every rock looking for a helper. Now you've finally got around to me." I gestured at myself. "Who ever heard of a tall elf?"
"Will Ferrell," Tony said without skipping a beat. "Oh, look, Kolchak, it's just for thirty minutes. Maybe an hour. Is that really so long to wear something other than that awful, out of style suit?"
"It's too long to prance around in green tights," I answered. Hey, sometimes I have a bit of the old Grinch in me, too.
Tony sighed. "Okay, Carl, okay. But if you change your mind, you know where to find me."
I really didn't plan on changing my mind. Spending Christmas Eve in a rowdy bar no longer sounded appealing, however. (Actually, it never had.) So, once my article was printed and on Tony's desk, I went for a walk.
It wasn't the best night for a walk. Weather had been crazy in Chicago for a while now. Currently, snow was again falling, unconcernedly swirling to the ground with the piles of white (and black) that were already there. Through the flakes, Christmas lights were blinking off and on at assorted houses in the city. I had learned from past experience that at least some of them would be staying on all night.
All in all, despite being a rather ill night for a walk, it was the sort of image that would look perfect on a Christmas card. And in spite of myself, I found that it perked up my spirits.
That was when I saw it. Climbing down from a snow-covered roof was another St. Nick—jolly, rotund, and carting a pack on his back.
Well, that isn't something you see every day. Assuming it was a father wanting to entertain his kids with the magical belief in the man in red, I paused to enjoy the spectacle. But the bitter chill of the Chicago winter soon drove me on and I disappeared into the flying flakes, not wanting to stand still for too long.
I wasn't really sure what I wanted to do. Running around as Tony's elf hadn't sounded at all like something I'd like to do. It still didn't. But it was awfully lonely wandering around in the cold, and seeing that other Santa Claus had stirred something in this gruff old heart. Suddenly, helping Tony bring a little Christmas cheer to a group of kids sounded better than staying out here with my memories of fighting kids' and adults' living nightmares.
That's one thing I hate about being alone with nothing to do. The memories really start piling up and there's no way to shut them out. And for someone who's seen as many horrifying things as I have, that's the last thing I want. It's one reason why I hardly ever spend time at my apartment except to sleep. And sleeping hasn't been such a pleasant experience the last few years, either. I can't remember the last time I slept through the night without one nightmare.
As I turned to head back to the office and pick up my car for the drive to Tony's Christmas party, St. Nick was suddenly there, standing in front of me when I turned. I yelped and jumped a mile.
"Oh, I'm sorry, Carl. I didn't mean to startle you."
I frowned, peering closely at him. "Tony?" I ventured in disbelief. He didn't really sound like Tony, and even with the beard he didn't look like Tony, but what other Santa would know my name? None that I could think of . . . unless, of course, he happened to be the real McCoy. But that was ridiculous, right?
St. Nick shook his head. "No, not Tony. We never actually met in person, but I remember the letters you used to write to me."
This was definitely feeling a little surreal and weird. If I'd gone to the bar, I could blame it on having too much to drink. But here I was, stone cold sober, with an old man basically telling me he was the real Santa Claus. Well, I wasn't going to fall for it hook, line, and sinker. It was most likely a very bad joke.
"The letters," I mused in thoughtfulness. "Which letters were those? Do you remember any of the things I said?"
"Yes," came the firm nod. "It's true that I have a little trouble remembering every single thing that each person has asked for long ago in the past, but I try to remember at least one item for each one." He closed one eye as he pondered the rest of his answer. "You, as I recall, wanted a writing kit."
I rocked back. "T-That's . . . that's right," I stammered, understandably bowled over. "When I was eight years old."
He smiled, satisfied that he had remembered. "And you're still putting that interest to use now," he proclaimed. "You've made a career out of printing the truth."
"Well, such as it is," I grumbled. "Most of the darker truths I try to tell get thrown out with the garbage."
"But you keep trying anyway. I like that." He nodded thoughtfully. "You don't believe that people should be lied to or not understand what dangers are really out there. And you've fought quite a few of those dangers single-handed."
"How do you know all that about me?" I retorted, still not fully willing to accept as fact what seemed to be happening. "I mean, even if you are . . ." I made a hand-wavy gesture. "I'm not a kid any more."
"No, but I like to keep track of what all the former children have been up to," he said. "You know the song—'He sees you when you're sleeping, he knows when you're awake.'"
I scoffed. "I don't believe everything I hear in songs. Next you're going to tell me you really live at the North Pole and drive a sled with eight tiny reindeer. Or wait. Nine tiny reindeer; we can't forget Rudolph."
He looked more amused than anything else. "Some things are true and some others are not."
I persisted. "What about how you make it to every house in one night? That can't be true. There's hundreds of kids who wake up without anything on Christmas morning."
He sobered. "You're right, Carl. I'm not all-powerful. I can't make it to everyone who deserves my visits. But for a lot of those children, I'm keeping the faith in my helpers to reach them."
"Helpers?" I repeated. "You mean those bell-ringer Santas?"
"Them, and department store Santas, and any human living on this planet who has an honest desire to make life better for others."
I sighed, shaking my head. "There's just not enough of them to help every person who needs it."
"I know. But they make differences in many lives. And perhaps someday, with our combined efforts, we will reach every deserving child in the world."
I frowned. This was still hard to believe. The guy could be some genuinely nice kook who thought he was Santa Claus. But somehow I just didn't believe that, and not only because he remembered something I'd asked for when I was eight years old.
It's hard to explain, really, but something about him felt so real, so like the magic of Christmas I remembered as a kid and had lost somewhere along the way since then. Those feelings, more than anything he'd said, were why I found myself unable to fully reject the idea that I was talking to none other than St. Nicolas himself.
"So . . . who are you, then? The real Santa Claus? Have you always been Santa Claus? Or is it like that movie and there's a replacement every fifty years or so?"
He quirked an eyebrow at me. "The real Santa Claus? Carl, everyone who gives freely and unselfishly to others at Christmas is Santa Claus, whether or not they're wearing a red suit and have a beard."
Then he thoughtfully nodded. "But if you really mean am I the first Santa Claus, the first to bear that name and the one for whom the traditions and myths sprung up, the answer is yes. I have never been replaced; my life has been miraculously preserved through the centuries."
"You're immortal?" I couldn't help asking.
But he shook his head. "No . . . no, I don't think so. My time will run out someday. But whatever powers I have—an extended lifespan, being able to deliver presents to deserving girls and boys—has been given to me by God."
Now my eyebrows were shooting up. "You really believe that? You know, for a lot of people, Christmas isn't even about the birth of God's Son. It's about you and presents."
He looked very sad. "It was never supposed to be that way, Carl. I was meant to bring people to the true meaning of Christmas. My gifts were to put people in mind of the earliest Christmas gifts, the gifts that the Magi brought to the Christ Child, as well as the Child himself. He was the very first Christmas gift, and the most important. And when He grew up, He taught all about giving oneself to the service of others. I give gifts because I never feel closer to God than when I'm bringing something good to someone who longs for it and genuinely deserves it. And I want to share that spirit, the joy of giving, with others so that they'll feel it too and want to join me in my quest."
Suddenly I realized that I hadn't been writing any of this down. I hadn't even pressed Record on my tape recorder! Chagrined, I said, "This would have made a perfect article for the Christmas editions of the papers, instead of the yawn my boss had me write."
He smiled knowingly. "And that is my Christmas gift to you this year." He pointed to the tape recorder. I knew I hadn't hit Record, but there it was, pressed down while the tape was rolling. "I want you to share this conversation as much as you want to share it."
I stared at it in awe. "But I thought . . . I mean, I'm not a kid anymore. And I'm getting a gift like this?"
"Yes, you are getting it. No, you're no longer a child, but you are most certainly deserving. Santa Claus is for all the deserving souls, young and old."
I looked to him. "Will I ever see you again?"
He considered the question. "It's hard to say," he mused. "I wouldn't discount the possibility." He laid a hand on my shoulder. "And now I have to be going. Christmas Eve rounds and all."
"Oh. Right, right. Of course."
He smiled, a twinkle in his eye. "Merry Christmas, Carl. And have a good sleep tonight."
I blinked and he was gone. I was standing alone in the falling snow. Above me, the clock chimed the hour.
I jumped a mile. We had to have been talking thirty minutes or an hour, but according to the clock, it was one minute past the time it had been when I had left the office and seen Santa climbing down from a roof.
"Time slowed down?" I said aloud, in surprise. Well, that would explain how St. Nick managed to get to so many places but couldn't get everywhere.
The tape clicked as it went off.
I stared down at it. One entire side of the tape had been used up.
And I still had time to make Tony's Christmas party.
I turned and hurried back through the snow to the office and my yellow Mustang. On the way, I rewound the tape and played back our conversation. It came through crystal clear, in higher quality than my trusty little tape recorder could usually record.
I couldn't help smiling. This was one interview Tony Vincenzo was going to let me publish. I was sure of it.
I looked up with a start. I had arrived back at the office building and Tony had just come out, in full Santa Claus regalia. He was adjusting his fake beard as he regarded me in pleased surprise.
"That's right, Tony," I declared, clapping him on the shoulder. "I've had a change of heart, just like good old Ebenezer Scrooge, and I'm here to be your Christmas elf for the party."
Tony blinked but then broke into a wide, happy grin. "Well, let's get going!" he exclaimed. "Time's a-wasting!"
"Just one thing, though, Tony," I said. "How about we don't go with green tights for the costume?"
"Huh? Oh, sure, sure." Tony unlocked his car and leaned in, checking his bag of gifts.
I leaned on the roof. "And I have a perfect angle for my Christmas article."
That jerked him up. "What? Kolchak, you gave me your article! And it was very nice and quiet and peaceful, not something that'll make waves or get us kicked out of the state!"
"Just hear me out, Tony," I shot back. "This is something really good. How about an interview with Santa Claus?"
Tony stared at me, not getting it. "You wanna interview me?"
"No! Tony, I've got the interview right here." I patted the tape recorder. "And I'll play it for you on the way to the party."
And that, dear readers, is exactly what I did. Tony listened to every word, growing increasingly sober as he did. At the conclusion, silence reigned in his car.
"Well?" I asked. "What do you think?"
Tony shook his head. "I don't know what to think," he said. "But I'll tell you this, Carl. Go ahead and write it up. I'll put it on the wire. It won't be the first interview with Santa Claus to go in the newspapers, but I don't think there's another like it."
I certainly agreed with that.
The party wasn't so bad, really. It was too noisy, especially as the hour wore on, but the kids were basically good and Tony made a perfect St. Nicolas. I have to say, I don't think I did too badly myself.
When I arrived home late that night and climbed into bed, for the first time in years I didn't dream about monsters. I don't recall dreaming about anything, but I woke up feeling refreshed and not like I'd just run a marathon.
Well, Santa did tell me to have a good sleep. And when St. Nick tells you something, he means it.
And that is my story, my interview with Santa Claus. Was he or wasn't he who he said he was? There will probably never be any concrete evidence to prove it one way or the other. But I know what I believe.