The Sack by Jason Darrell

Bertie Boulton had known the risks when accepting the job of Santa. Like, the real Santa.

In theory, any contractual elements paid lip service to the insurers; for, by their nature, any successful Santa's aspect was so unlikely to invoke Gaia's wrath that the contract's clauses should never get enacted.

Yet, here he was, stripped of everything but his suit and hat. And rightly so. Whatever his defence, the reality was: he'd failed.

It was the unfairness of the circumstances, courteous of a seemingly innocuous event, that rankled, though.

As Santa, he had scope enough to appear to kids should the deliverance of 'hope', via the vessel of festive cheer, warrant it. Who in the supernatural up chain would question his judgement?

No one had in the two centuries he'd served...

...until Logan happened.

***

A 'Straight-A Nice List' kid until the pandemic, Logan was 15, but had since slipped to borderline Nice/Naughty.

Like many young adults, lockdowns had robbed him of two critical formative years. The social graces his parents — all parents — had learned at school were becoming inaccessible to a swathe, if not a generation, of adolescents.

Any social skills Logan had acquired were those distilled into a microcosm of one-upmanship on social media, the outlets for all teenagers' news, views, and Barney McGrews. Tick, tock, indeed.

Between lockdowns, Logan intermittently reconnected with his peers, including his girlfriend, Lilly. But, living in a community of inner city tower blocks, he perceived a huge developing divide. On one side, parents wrapped their kids in bubble wrap. Meanwhile, other kids flouted every law and recommendation, hugging and kissing, mouths uninhibited by the masks Logan's parents forced upon him.

Lilly's family were 'doubters'. So, naturally, she navigated towards unfettered, like-minded peers.

On the flip side, Logan's best friend was Jacob, whose parents were 'believers'. The only way to save humanity, they believed, was to mask up, get boosted and forego unnecessary mixing.

Thus, Logan was torn.

Hanging out in supervised bubbles appeased Jacob's mom (and his own parents). Absconding to meet Lilly afterwards, he revelled in the freedom that stuffing his PPE in his back pocket to feel her skin against his bare hands garnered. If there were bests in either world, Logan had them.

On one such sneaking sortie, during a moment of innocent, undirected adolescent exploration,

Lilly slid her hands into Logan's jeans' back pockets. Her eyes brightened upon feeling the tackiness of the gloves therein, believing them to be condoms. After plucking them free, she turned, aghast: a vinyl glove flopped, the winter breeze cajoling its lifeless fingers and thumb.

The gang spat scorn at a blushing Logan, who turned tail sharpish towards his family's 9th floor flat.

That finished Lilly and Logan. It pleased his parents on the surface, but heightened the barrier between him and them. With schools preventatively closing two weeks early for Christmas, it boded ill.

Shortly after this humiliation, Logan's bezzie caught Covid, despite the plethora of precautions. Jacob came through, but potentially faced lifelong complications.

From his elevated bedroom window, Logan pined for Lilly. On the concrete community park, she appeared free and healthy, cuddling her new beau, Patrick for warmth, and more.

Where was the justice?

Next morning, Logan himself was too ill to get out of bed. His parents mistook his illness for the lethargy of teenage moodiness; meanwhile, the virus raged through Logan's body. Too late they took notice, and all caught Covid for Christmas.

***

At the North Pole, a List-monitoring Elf (named Boris, for real) saw Logan's predicament as an opportunity for Santa: a chance to invest in Logan and revive the happy-go-lucky kid he'd been before his world had imploded.

So, trusting Boris's wisdom, Santa visited Logan three nights before Christmas. On Logan's bedside table sat a negative flow test, which Santa took as a positive omen.

What Boris hadn't seen (because of a party, allegedly) was Logan's next surreptitious sojourn to the concrete jungle's park.

Logan longed both to tell Lilly, 'No hard feelings', and escape the flat, heedless of the expected derision from the gang. But they'd accepted his presence without issue. Patrick even offered to sell Logan several used negative flow test strips to 'prove' to his parents he was cured; he bought them.

Using this 'proof', Logan ventured uptown, buying his folks (begrudgingly) and Lilly (optimistically) Christmas presents. The excursion only compounded Logan's symptoms, though.

It was one of Patrick's dubious flow tests that Santa now saw, oblivious to its origin.

Logan 'felt' Santa presence; he murmured, shifted, and flushed face beamed. Between hacking coughs, Logan beseeched him, "Santa, please make sure Lilly gets my present, won't you?"

Santa nodded and, with a deep, virus-laden cough, Logan rolled over and slipped into a deep, unconscious sleep; he'd never recall this encounter. To ensure the amnesia, Santa wiped the sweat from Logan's fevered brow, simultaneously bringing the kid pleasant dreams.

Santa then reached into his magic sack, hid a special gift for Logan that would only materialise on Christmas Day, then dematerialised himself, heading to the next 'prospect' on Boris's List.

***

Unwittingly, millions of children around the world would get a special gift from Logan that Christmas. Via Logan's sweat, the virus had soaked into Santa's glove. Once entering the magic sack, it mutated, gorging on the joy and magic therein.

By Boxing Day, kids everywhere were becoming seriously ill. 

Gaia stepped in, instigating a supernatural Test and Trace audit of Her own. The trail led to the only person who could have visited so many children: Santa.

She sacked him on the spot, despatching him into the void to serve his sentence and reflect on his oversight; there he remains, today.

Boris, meanwhile, has decamped, still somehow avoiding capture and sentence. Santa's sack is with the only other Santa ever to be exiled, Old Nick, getting thoroughly decontaminated with fire and brimstone. And Gaia is interviewing for a jovial Santa...

...without, thus far, success.


Published in Issue # 22

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