Christmas couldn’t come early enough for James. After seeing the first roll of film developed a week before as a means of testing the camera, all he could do was wait. Everything was ready, from the makeshift dummy that lay in his bed to the route devised as an escape once he got the proof he sought. Two, maybe three more hours, and he’d have photographic evidence to prove Santa’s existence, one way or the other. He was sure he’d seen him at least once the year before, and revealed the discovery to his father.
The plan fell into place once the camera arrived in the mail. It was the first thing James had ever received that was addressed to him, though it was purchased with a money order by his mother with an order form torn from one of the many comic books that his father would bring home for him. It was smaller than the palm of James’ hand but could produce pictures nearly as well as the camera his mother used to capture moments from birthday parties, memorable vacations, and holidays past. It was advertised as a Miniature Spy Camera, useful in Top Secret Investigations, and James’ intent was just that.
The first batch of pictures, taken as a practice test, lay on James’ nightstand. Several photos were of his father, on his way off to work at his Monday through Friday job in the city. There was one of him at the front door. In it, only his back is visible. James had waited for him to turn around and wave or say goodbye until the last possible moment, then depressed the tiny button. Another photo shows his father getting into his car. The picture served to remind James of things he had either forgotten, like the three large suitcases in the backseat, or hadn’t noticed, like the Sunday paper rolled up on the driveway. The photos were taken two weeks ago. James had them developed at the local drugstore and brought back by his mother later, unlike the picture’s subject.
Sleep and prickly tingling were James’ adversaries. On a normal night, even any other Christmas Eve, he would have been fast asleep in his bedroom upstairs, not wedged between the sofa and the back wall of the living room. The twinkling lights on the tree were in synch with the blood trying to pump its way to his legs, folded awkwardly underneath him. The dim illumination they provided was scarcely enough to stop him from nodding off time and again. He pinched his arm and face, determined to remain alert and uncover at least one open mystery.
A noise came from outside that roused James, sleep getting the drop on him for how long he couldn’t be sure. From what he knew, the fireplace would be the point of entry. His position was such that he would have a direct line of sight to the holiday intruder’s path to the tree. Just a flip of the light switch above then a well-aimed snapshot, and he would make a beeline for the hallway and the staircase before he could be identified. But his intended target was deviating from his routine. Another sound, this time from the front door.
When the man closed the door quietly behind him, James crouched further out of sight. The man, though not nearly as large as suggested in his well-established profile, blocked any means of making an escape unnoticed. Once he made his way to the tree, albeit unarmed with his standard sack of presents, James realized he would be exposed. He slid the camera under the sofa and tried to come up with a plausible alibi, solid enough to pass off as truth to a person who knew things about children.
The man remained at the doorway, evaluating his surroundings. He removed his jacket, leather and brown rather than woolen and red, and hung it on the coat rack. As he made his way to the stairs, James saw the bottle of wine and the absence of white hair or a beard of any kind. He wasn’t sure if it was the same man he recognized last year. Perhaps he was in disguise. He appeared young to have been delivering gifts to children around the world for so many years-even younger than James’ own father.
Footsteps sounded overhead, toward his parents’ bedroom. There were a few words spoken that James couldn’t make out. The nothing, save for the occasional sound of what may have been his getaway vehicle, restlessly parked on the rooftop.
James retrieved his camera and remained in position. He silently made adjustments to restore feeling in his legs. There was still a chance to obtain the information he sought, as long as he maintained surveillance. He could still have his mother retrieve the developed prints from the drugstore. At the very least, they might allow James to recognize the man if he came back the next year. He imagined his parents’ expressions once he turned over his findings.
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