Girl’s talk with Santa suddenly interrupted

Editor’s note: This is the fourth of a 12-chapter holiday tale running daily until Christmas. Parents are encouraged to read aloud to their children.

“I don’t believe in Santa Claus,” Joy said defiantly, despite all the evidence surrounding her as she followed the man — Santa? — through the brightly lit hall.

Even though it was warm inside, fat snowflakes fell from the ceiling, disappearing as they hit the floor. The walls of the hallway were covered in brightly painted murals, depicting happy scenes of Christmas and winter.

She tried hard not to show her amazement as she realized the characters on the mural were moving, living out the painted scenes.

She also tried hard not to show how hungry the scent of freshly baked cookies was making her. She’d smelled it outside, but in here the delicious scent was almost overwhelming.

Santa chuckled. “Well, regardless of whether not you believe, it doesn’t change the fact that I’m here, as real as can be.”

Joy jumped aside as a man who looked very similar to Franklin pushed a cart piled high with boxes of puzzles and board games down the hallway.

“Batch 945,668 is finished,” he called over his shoulder, and Santa nodded in satisfaction.

“Splendid,” he said, grinning. “Everything is going brilliantly this year, I must say. Although we can use some help in a few areas.” He peered down over his glasses at Joy, pausing outside of a set of huge wooden double doors. “That’s where you come in, Joy Noelle.”

“It’s just Joy,” she said. “Nobody calls me Joy Noelle.”

“Oh, but I’m not nobody,” Santa said with a wink. “What a shame it would be to have such a delightfully festive name and choose not to use it!”

He pushed open the doors, revealing a small, cozy sitting room with another set of double doors on the far wall. Those doors were also painted, like the hallway, but this scene depicted a peaceful snowfall onto a meadow.

A small train track ran across the floor, appearing from a tunnel in one wall and disappearing into another across the room. Joy stepped over it and sat in one of the soft, overstuffed chairs against the wall.

On a small table next to her was a big candy-cane-striped plate heaped with giant sugar cookies. She helped herself to one while Santa watched in amusement.

“Sugar cookies are Mrs. Claus’s specialty,” he said, settling in the chair across from her. He pressed a button on the side of his chair, and the sudden piercing whistle of a train almost made her drop her cookie.

A child-sized train chugged out of the tunnel, slowly pulling railcars filled with plates of food. Turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, corn, bread, pasta with meatballs, pizza, burgers, fries, grilled cheese sandwiches, tomato soup; the variety of food was incredible, and her mouth watered at the sights and smells.

“Grab what you’d like before it leaves,” Santa said, taking a plate and piling it high with ham, potatoes, and a variety of vegetables.

Joy did the same, filling her plate until it was overflowing with food more delicious and plentiful than she’d seen in a long, long time.

Everything tasted even more scrumptious than it smelled, and it didn’t take long for her to clean her plate. Santa watched her with his twinkling eyes.

“Now that we’ve settled the business of our empty bellies, let’s move on to more important things,” he said, leaning back in the chair and folding his hands over his stomach.

“This isn’t a dream,” Joy said, her full stomach somehow the final proof she needed. “So … what is this? Why on earth am I, of all people, here?”

Santa smiled. “Simple, my dear Joy Noelle. We needed you here.”

Joy frowned, watching the painted snow on the doors fall in swirls of white. “But I’m nobody. I’m just a kid no one wants.”

“That’s not true –,” Santa started to say, but Joy stood up, glaring.

“Don’t say it’s not true,” she said loudly. “If it wasn’t true, then I would have been with a family tonight, doing all the fun things families do at Christmas. Instead I was stuck at Sunnybrook, same as every other year, with no one who cares.”

Santa started to respond, but was interrupted again, but this time not by Joy.

The doors slammed open as Franklin burst into the room. His face was red and his eyes were wide.

“Sir, I’m so sorry to interrupt, but we have an emergency!” he exclaimed, wiping his brow. “We have — oof!”

He was pushed to the side, and Joy gasped as a line of life-sized nutcrackers marched into the room.

Read the next installment on Page 5A of Monday’s Tribune Chronicle.