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"The Real Saint Nick," by H.L. Fullerton


“Are you sure you don’t mind having a tree in the house?” Glitter’s eyes flick from me to the perfectly-coiffed pine tree I’d just coaxed from our hardwood floors. Her floor-length, iridescent wings thrum with delight and I’d hardly say no now. This is to be our first Christmas together (we’d wed only a solstice ago) and we both want it to be greeting card-perfect. Neither of us has done this before, mostly because neither Fae nor Olympians celebrate Christian holidays. Different belief systems, different celebrations, yeah?

I brush magical residue from my hands. “If it were an oak, I might have some qualms”—I am a dryad and some things remain sacred, even after exile—“but since we agreed to grow our own and not slaughter one in waste, I see no reason not to adorn it.” I’d told her this before, but Glitter, like all fairies stuck in the mundane, is prone to forgetfulness and anxiety. I’m not sure which she’s dealing with at the moment, so I send her a kiss in the form of a leaf.

She tucks my leaf into her hair and wears it as she once wore her crown. “I love you too, Lyre.  But are you still okay with Christmas?

It’s a fair ask since we nymphs often decide first and consider later. “I like gifts and cookies and holly, mistletoe, peace on Earth…” Glitter gives me her I’ll-ensorcell-you look. “Maybe not mistletoe. It’s a filthy murder-grubber, yeah? I don’t see anything kissy-face about it. Strangled a cousin of mine.”

My spouse plucks my leaf from her hair and presses it to her lips—which I feel everywhere and she well knows.

“Christmas is great,” I say, clutching the back of a dining room chair. Sprigs of holly bloom on the entire set. “The most wonderful time of the year.” Spring’s the best, of course, but Christmas can have wonderful and holly, jolly and merry.

“It will be. I can’t wait till Santa comes with our gift.” In a wingbeat, Glitter has the pine completely decorated.  She’s a Maker fairy so all the ornaments are Glitter originals and it’s lit with chips of stolen sunbeams and dusted with her own fairy scales (which looks like glitter to humans). It’s beautiful.

Except…

What I initially thought to be cavorting candy canes are actually misshaped Santas. And the angel on top of the tree has a long, sharp, orange nose. And a corncob pipe.  Its eyes smell like they’re made of coal. I think Glitter got her Christmas songs mixed up. “Glitter?  Why do all your Santas have feathers?”

“Because the real Santa has feathers.”

The real Santa? I decide to table the Santa has feathers discussion. “Um, I… You don’t actually believe Santa’s going to land his sleigh on our roof, slide down the chimney we don’t have”—wood nymphs and fireplaces don’t mix—”and leave presents under this pine tree, do you?”

Glitter’s wings go still. Not a good sign. “Actually,” she says, speaking slowly, as if I were a dense human who’d lost themselves in Faerie, “since Santa has wings he doesn’t need a sleigh or a chimney because he’ll just fly through the window we’ll leave open for him.”

We’ll leave open for him? The pine tree starts to shed needles as I panic. Glitter thinks Santa is real? She expects him to show up at our house? Tonight? “It’s a human story: merry old elf drives sleigh and brings gifts to all the good little girls and boys. Makes lists, checks them twice. Ho, ho, ho…” My voice knots in my throat. Glitter’s skin is changing colors, flashing like lights on a human’s seasonally decorated house.

“Santa is not an elf!” she screeches. “And he isn’t escorted about by reindeer! Reindeer can’t fly! And,” she adds gleefully, “they eat elves. All deer do.”

I spent most of my eternity in a forest; I know about deer eating elves, yeah? I tactfully don’t mention this. “Okay. Not an elf. Just a human named Nick who—”

Glitter doubles over in laughter, skin returning to its normal icy tone, her wings humming in counterpoint. “Santa isn’t human.”

I check our tree topper. Glitter is an amazing Maker.  Her ornaments aren’t off. They look exactly how she intended. “An angel? From Heaven?” Angels could have long pointy noses, yeah? Or perhaps Glitter’s never seen a trumpet. It kind of looks like…

“Santa’s a stork.”

I shake my head. “Saint Nick isn’t a bird. I think you have your people stories confused.”

“No, Lyre, I don’t. People confused their people stories. Nicholas is the stork that delivered the little baby god to those humans in the stables. And tonight, St. Nick the stork is bringing us a baby.”

“Wait. What? You think Santa puts god-babies under Christmas trees? You think he’s going to put one here?” Pollen drifts from my pores like snow. The pine tree shoots up three inches; stressed floorboards creak.

“Don’t be silly,” Glitter says. “I don’t expect a god.”

“Oh,” I say. “Good.”

I wonder how to explain to a former member of the royal Fae family that Santa Claus didn’t deliver the Christ King and neither of them will be showing up at our house. Then I wonder if perhaps Glitter intends to steal a baby, then claim it’s a gift from Santa. Not to stereotype, but it wouldn’t be the first time a fairy ‘found’ a newborn. Glitter’s brother was a changeling. But bringing her brother up would ruin the festive spirit. I sighed. “Glitter? I think a child under the tree might be more Christmas than I can handle.”

“Like kissing under the mistletoe?”

Exactly.”

“Very well. I’ll put Santa’s treats outside and keep the windows shut. Should I change the ornaments?”

“No, Santa art is fine. But we’ll do the gift giving ourselves and skip the baby part of Christmas—no babies, god, human or otherwise.”

Glitter wraps her arms around me and tucks her head under my chin—dryads are naturally taller than fairies. “Santa is a stork,” she whispers.

“Okay,” I say, not really caring one way or the other. “Maybe don’t tell the humans that.  They like their lies about elves.”

“Mmmmm,” she hums her reluctant disagreement but her wings are vibrating Ode to Joy. “So you know, I never stole a human baby and never will.”

I notice the qualifier preceding baby and it hits me hard. If she were any Fae but the one I married or it were any time before now… But I decide to take her promise in the spirit it’s intended. Consequences can wait ‘til later. “Merry First Christmas to you, too.”

 


 

H.L. Fullerton writes fiction—mostly speculative, occasionally about angels—which is sometimes published in places like Lackington's, Gamut, and Daily Science Fiction. On Twitter as @ByHLFullerton

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