by Max Elliot Anderson -
“I just can’t do it,” Santa Claus said with a trembling voice.
Another large man stood in the shadows, his face warmly lit by flickering orange flames from a stone fireplace in Santa’s workshop. “But you have no choice. Children all over the world are counting on you, and it’s only three more days ‘till Christmas.”
Santa shook his head. “Why me?”
“Because you’re...Santa Claus.”
Everyone knows the story about Rudolph; how Christmas would have been a disaster for all the children in the world if Santa and the other reindeer hadn’t had that red nose to guide his sleigh. But what most people don’t know is there could have been an even bigger disaster that night. Even to this day, Santa is still embarrassed. He doesn’t like to talk about it much, but sometimes Mrs. Claus teases him anyway.
Santa and Mrs. Claus live at the North Pole. Of course, everybody knows that. But there are some other things everyone doesn’t know, until now.
First, Santa has a brother. His name is Harold. Santa calls him Harry for short. It was Harry’s idea to build the workshop in the first place. He was very good with a hammer, nails, and saw. Harry knew something about his older brother, and it had to change before Christmas Eve.
One day at lunch, Harry cleared his throat, wiped his white beard, and said, “Today’s as good a day as any to get started on our little problem.”
Santa nearly choked on his sandwich. He cocked his head to the side, closed one eye, and looked over the top of his gold-rimmed glasses. “And what would that be, Harold?”
His brother lowered his head slightly and looked straight at Santa. “We both know the answer to that question, but I have an idea.”
Santa opened his other eye, took a deep breath, and sat up in his chair. He reached over and picked up his coffee cup to take another sip. “Let’s hear it.”
“After we finish lunch, we’ll climb up to the top of the highest tree.”
Well, it’s a good thing Santa’s cup was only half full because his hand began shaking so hard, he sent coffee flying all over the table.
“Santa, dear,” Mrs. Claus said, “what’s gotten into you?”
Beads of sweat formed on his cheeks and forehead, sending droplets cascading into his beard. With a cloth napkin, he wiped them away. His face turned every shade of red. After a short gulp for air, he said, “You know what happened the last time.”
Harry nodded. “I sure do.”
“I nearly fell to my death.”
Harry shook his head. “That’s because we didn’t pick a strong enough tree.” He smiled to his brother. “Not only are you the oldest, you’re also the...biggest.”
Santa set his empty cup back on the table. “I’m certainly not doing that again.”
Harry shifted in his chair. “Fine. Then I have another idea.”
Santa wrinkled his face. “I hope it’s better, that’s all I have to say.”
“Trust me,” Harry said.
Santa grunted. “Last time I did that, I fell out of a tree.”
“Just get your coat and hat, and follow me.”
The brothers backed away from the table, dressed in their warm clothes, and headed for the front door. Outside, a freezing blast of air changed Santa’s drops of sweat into small ice bumps. The bothers’ breath turned into small white clouds. Their boots crunch, crunch, crunched in the frozen snow until they’d come around the side of the workshop where Harry had already placed a wooden ladder.
Santa stopped, gazed up, and shook his head. “Oh, no you don’t.”
Harry looked up at the roof. “What we’re going to do is climb up there, walk to the top, sit down, and slide off into this gigantic snowdrift.” He pointed to a drift that nearly covered to the top of the workshop window.
Santa gulped. “But what if I fall off?”
His brother could hardly keep from laughing. “That’s the idea.” He poked a finger into Santa’s big belly. “Besides, you have plenty of padding, and the snow will catch you.”
Santa looked down at his feet. He took an extra deep breath and let it out slowly into a large cloud of steam. “You know why I can’t do that.”
His brother nodded. “Sure I do. For as long as I’ve known you, you’ve always been afraid of heights.”
Santa looked up again and raised the palms of his hands. “Well then?”
Harry clenched his fists. “Come on now, brother. How’s it gonna look to all those kids if Santa’s afraid of high places?”
“There’s probably plenty of children who are, too.”
“But they look up to you. How could Santa be too afraid to fly to their houses?”
“Fly?” All the color drained out of Santa’s face. Even his rosy cheeks turned
whiter than his snowy beard. He slumped down and sat in the snow drift. “You never said anything about flying.” Santa buried his face into his hands. “Oh, dear, oh, dear,” he groaned. “Whatever am I to do?”
Harry plopped down beside his brother. “Well, how else did you expect to deliver all those gifts in a single night?”
Santa shook his head. “Never thought about it I guess.”
Harry put a hand on Santa’s shoulder. “I know. You’ve been so caught up in schedules, the elves, and making all those toys.”
Santa looked up at him. “And I left the other details up to you.”
“Right,” Harry said. “So now we gotta get to work.”