Angry, frozen snowflakes hissed against Derrick’s window. Cold seeped through cracks in his Dad’s stupid, sagging house and gathered around his ankles.
He pulled his afghan off the bed and pulled it to his chin. The scratchy yarn smelled like gingerbread and sage incense. Like Mom. Like home.
It masked the sawdust and paint smell of Dad’s house and helped him to forget that this was the worst Christmas ever.
At least Santa should be able to find him here. That’s why Mom had left him when she went away with Uncle Marty. She called every night, and Derrick tried to pretend he was happy. He tried not to feel a spiteful spike of happiness at the guilt in her voice. He tried to forget that none of his friends believed in Santa.
A dull red glow grew in the swirling snow.
"Rudolph!" Derrick whispered, his doubts forgotten. The light grew closer, brighter. He could almost see reindeer shapes. Was that shadow the sleigh?
The wind screamed, pushing the glow away, buffeting it down. The scream stretched, and the glow faltered, then flickered.
Derrick cried out, but his voice was lost beneath the wind’s cruel laugh. He gathered his afghan around his shoulders, ran down the unfinished stairs, shoved his feet into his boots, and ran out into the storm.
He saw a glimmer of red, and pushed toward it.
Snow pelted his face, clung to his eyelashes, and weighted down his boots. The wind pushed him back and howled. It was a rough, animal sound, but Derrick heard words in it. "Unwanted. Unloved. Burden."
He pushed toward the glow.
He heard a wet coughing, then he found them.
The red light from Rudolph’s nose cast hellish shadows over the crumpled reindeer bodies. The sleigh was already half buried, and presents lay scattered about, their glittering paper torn and wet, their ribbons crooked, their corners crushed.
Santa slumped in the sleigh. His blood was black in the red light, and it stained his beard and the white fur trim of his suit. Derrick rushed to his side and shook him. His skin was cold. "Santa, wake up!"
Santa’s eyes opened, focused. "Hello, Derrick," he said, his voice ragged and thick. "You should get back inside."
"I want to help."
Santa shook his head. "The cost is too great."
Tears burned down Derrick’s cheeks. He could never help. He remembered holding his parents hands, trying to pull them back together.
The wind laughed.
"Please," Derrick said. "Let me help. I can do it."
The wind cackled and swirled around him, covering him in stinging snow. Ice crackled across his eyes, and he saw his mother.
She laughed and ran into the bright blue ocean. Uncle Marty followed, and they kissed.
Derrick wanted to look away, but he couldn’t.
"I wish we could stay here forever," his mother said.
"We could, you know," Uncle Marty said. "I can work from anywhere."
Derrick’s mother shook her head. "I can’t."
"You know why."
Uncle Marty kissed her again. "The kid would be fine without you. Why not live for yourself for a while?"
His mother shook her head. Derrick waited for her to get mad, to tell him that she’d never leave her son–that she didn’t want to leave him, that he wasn’t a burden. "I never even wanted kids," she whispered.
The ice on Derrick’s eyes shattered, and he fell to his knees. The wind whispered one last word in his ear, then faded. The sky cleared.
Santa stood before him, his face sad and his beard whiter than the glistening snow. "Thank you, Derrick." He handed Derrick a present. "I hope this helps."
Then he was gone, and Derrick was alone with his tiny present. Penguins danced on the wrapping paper. He wanted to throw it into a snowbank.
He wiped his aching eyes and opened it.
Another vision appeared before him. His father, holding him as a baby, cooing. Then his father standing in a store dithering between two small bikes. The blue one had been Derrick’s favorite birthday present ever.
His father, sitting in his new house alone, holding Derrick’s old baseball glove and crying.
Then his mother, on the beach. "But I can’t imagine my life without him, now. I couldn’t leave him."
The vision faded as Derrick’s father ran through the snow. He still smelled like sawdust and paint. "What the hell are you doing out here?"
"I was looking for Christmas," Derrick said. He took his father’s warm hand between his.
His dad stared at Derrick for a long moment, then picked him up, even though he was really too big to carry anymore. "Did you find it?"
He smiled up at his Dad and breathed in the scent of home. "I think so."