The Center: Christmas Comes Once a Year

The Center: Christmas Comes Once a Year

by:
Enemyoffun


Melanie Crane goes on her first mission for the Center, to help bring in a new Emergent at a Santa's Village.

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Author's Note: Here's a short little Christmas tale based in the Center universe,I came up with it this morning and rushed to get it done so I could post it today. Its a sweet little tale and doesn't really add much to the overall Center universe but its kinda fun. I'd liked to thank djkauf for the editing and wish everyone a very Merry Christmas.

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The tone during the ride over was quiet but I guess I couldn’t blame them. It’s not every day that a team gets sent out with a freak like me. Yes, I called myself a freak, you would too if you knew me. You see I’m not exactly the first choice for a mission but apparently I was the best one for the job. Ok, so not really, but I was available and I needed to start somewhere. Yes there’s a story behind that and yes it’s interesting but I don’t think it’s necessary. No, not because I’m a bitch, well, I am I guess but the only reason I’m not telling is because its already been told. You see I’m not exactly what you’d call a good person; well, at least I wasn’t until a few months ago.

But Dr. Tipps has been helping me with that. She’s a good person, contrary to what some purple streaked people might think. When they brought me in, I was kind of a wreck. I think they called me Priority One or something. After arriving---unconscious---I might add, I was rushed straight to the medical wing. They kept me sedated, which I guess isn’t anything new to me. There were a lot of doctors; at least I think they were all doctors. You see I have this thing, I can hear people when I’m asleep. It’s kinda a cool little ability, I wish it was my only one. But unfortunately, that’s not really the case.

Now where was I, oh yeah, Dr. Tipps? I woke up a day after they brought me in and there was this woman there. She introduced herself as Dr. Tipps and told me she was there to help. But I didn’t really trust her. I’ve been with a lot of doctors in my life, hell, my Father was one. They all seemed nice at first, showering me with praise and gifts. Then things started to happen. At first, I had no control over it after I changed. I didn’t even know what I was doing until people started screaming. That’s when more tests came. I started out at Section Four---they called it that, I call it Hell Number One---I liked it there at first. There were kids my age, going through the same problems as me. Then they got scared of me, all of them. That’s when they moved me---they sedated me and took me to Section One---Hell Number Two.

I was happy there for a little bit. Then the tests came. I think that’s when I started to regress. You see I’m a normal sixteen year old girl now---real name Ethan Boone---new name, Abomination. No, just kidding but pretty close, actually. I’m not exactly normal either, not as far as girls my age go anyway. I was young when they first brought me in, too young to understand what was going on. When I got to Section One and the tests started, I regressed my image to all those around me. So even though I was X Years Old, I always made myself appear about six.

Kinda fitting I think, considering what I can do. I’ve been called a lot of names: Nightmare Queen, Scarecrow, Fear Monger. Officially, I was a Dominator, Class Three---by Center standards---the Syndicate called me Subject 0F02-Beta. My father, Dr. Phillips, called me Melanie. I gave myself the last name Crane, kinda fitting if you ask me. After all, they called me the Scarecrow a lot.

But here I am digressing once again.

Where was I---Oh yeah, Dr. Tipps? When I first met her, I wouldn’t even look at her. She talked, trying to get me to talk to her but all I wanted to do was stare out the window. That’s when she moved me from the Infirmary into my own private room---not sure how she swung that. She tried getting through to me there, too. But I still wasn’t ready to talk. I was afraid to open, afraid to let anyone in just in case something bad happened again. I don’t like people getting close because whenever they do they either go away or they betray me. Dr. Tipps tried her hardest to break my shell but I resisted. I mean how was I to know that these people weren’t the bad guys. After all, they captured me. Ok, I was a bit delusional and fearful. But that didn’t stop the good doctor. She kept coming day after day.

About a month later, she got through to me. She helped me see some things about myself. She helped me realize that the child persona that I projected was a defense mechanism. She helped me see past it all. Contrary to what I believed before, she helped me become a better person and showed me that the Center was a good place to live. I owe her my life, my new newer life that is. I think I’ve had more than one rebirth. After our mutual breakthrough, she convinced the Colonel and Mrs. Fine to allow me into the regular population.

That was two months ago. I’ve been taking life one step at a time ever since. Then Dr. Tipps came to me with a mission, one that I was meant for, her words not mine.

______________________

“A mission” I asked, “are you serious?”

Dr. Tipps smiled. She was sitting in the chair on the other side of my single bedroom, a folder on her lap. She was the only one who came to visit me. I had friends---ok, maybe only one, Marcus. Yep, that Marcus, the kid who was there that brought me. I think he figured we were kindred or something. He and I had a lot in common. He was a Telepath, a powerful one. He was the closest thing to a Dominator the Center had---I was the only one apparently.

I smiled as big as I could. I’d been wanting to go on a mission for a while now. Things around the Center were slow these days. After this and that----I don’t need to bore you with the details---but let’s just say the excitement was over. I was getting kinda bored actually, wondering when it was going to be my turn for some action. I think everyone was getting kinda tired of having me lounge around too. It turns out that labeling me a Fear Monger was a little immature. Yes, I was still a Dominator and yes, I could still get into other people’s heads, but fear wasn’t the only thing I could manifest. It turns out that I have a thing for illusions of all kind. So instead of just tapping into what terrifies someone the most, I can do other things as well.

Dr Tipps set the folder on my little table., pushing aside the stacks of books I had there. I’m a reader, a big one. That’s my father’s influence; he was a big reader too. She opened the folder, showing me a few pictures. My eyes widened, she smiled. “Yep, that’s what you think it is.”

“Santa’s Village?”

She laughed. “According to our precogs, the Emergence will happen here. There’s a possibility that a lot of people are going to get hurt.”

I nodded. I knew all about that, I’d done my fair share of hurting myself. I flipped a few pages. The picture of the kid staring back at me looked normal enough. He was a skinny kid, with lots of freckles and bright red hair. He looked like Ron Weasley a bit. It was hard to believe that this guy was going to cause so much destruction. I read the name underneath, Victor Cruise.

“What’s he going to do?”

“He’s a Cryokinetic”

I nodded. We had a few of those. In fact, I sat next to one in History class, her name is Gloria, she’s kinda cool. No pun intended. “Why do they need me?”

Ok I’ll be the first to admit it. I’m not a fighter. I can fire a gun---I’ve had some training here and at the Syndicate---but that’s the extent of it. With a power like mine, I don’t need a lot of combat training. I’m a weapon onto itself. But to bring me a long on something like this, that must have been desperate. I suppose I screw with the kid’s head but there were a lot of other people more qualified to do that, Marcus being one of them.

“I’m not going to lie to you. This being your first mission, they need you on crowd control.”

I sighed. So that was it. I guess I couldn’t blame them. After all what good could an illusion girl do in an actual fight, especially against a guy who could probably throw icicles or something. Ok, I could probably really mess him up but I made a vow to myself to never do anything like that again.

The rest of the folder contained details of the mission, including my team. I smiled when I saw who the team leader was…

___________________________

“You ok” asked Marcus, brushing his hand across my thigh.

I turned away from the window, snapping out of my many thoughts. I’d been watching the snow covered road go by, moving ever so slowly. My stomach was in knots and it was taking everything I could bring to bear not to throw up. To say I was nervous was an understatement. I mean the last time I was out and about was several months ago and the last time it’s been with other people had been years. So to say I was nervous was actually only a part of it. I was horrified. I didn’t know how to interact with people anymore, not normal ones anyway. Dr. Tipps gradually introduced me into the general population at the Center, first interacting with Marcus and the team who brought me and then with others.

I took a deep breath. “I don’t think I can do this.”

Marcus squeezed my hand. “You’re going to be Ok; you’ve come a long way.”

I nodded. I turned to him and smiled, my heart skipping a beat. Never in a million years would I have thought that any guy would make me feel this way. But I couldn’t help it. There was just something about those icy blue eyes of his that seemed to make me melt inside. I never knew what it was like to be a boy; I was six when I turned after all. So I’d spent the last ten years of my life living as a girl, growing up, as any girl should. Before they isolated me and then put me into a coma, I had the life that a normal little girl lived. I had dolls and tea parties and wore frilly pink dresses. Being a boy was something that I was but it wasn’t something that I really remembered being. Having him staring at me made something stir inside of me, something that I’d never felt before. I turned away quickly, so he wouldn’t see my blush.

“We’re coming up on our destination now, sir,” said the Private from the front seat.

“Thanks, Thomas” said Marcus, letting go of my hand.

I turned back to take a look at the rest of the team. There were six of us altogether, including the driver, Private Jones. I didn’t know the others well but Marcus had handpicked them specifically. The other two E’s---Becca’s word not mine---were both kinetics. They were both sitting behind us, looking like solemn sentinels, quiet and staring ahead. I knew Jessica but only from class. She was an Aerokinetic, which matched well with her wispy, white blonde hair. She had this little beady necklace that was currently in her hands, rolling the beads around in her fingers. Sitting next to her was Franklin---Frankie to his friends, I wasn’t one. He was tall and gangly and a real hothead. I don’t think you need to know his ability but just in case he was trying to show off by snapping his fingers, making a little flame appear on his fingertips.

We were unofficially the new Delta Team. The old one was the team that brought me in from Section One. Its original leader was Becca Howe but the team disbanded after she was given control of SIRS---Stealth Infiltration Reconnaissance Squad. Kris reorganized the team and gave leadership to Marcus. I’m not sure if this was going to be the regular team for every mission but the prospect kinda excited me. I think I could get used to going out on missions, helping people.

Frankie finally spoke. “C’mon this has to impress you,” he said, making the flames dance across his fingertips.

Jessica rolled her eyes. Then she leaned forward and blew. A small gust of wind filled the cramped SUV interior, blowing off his flames. Frankie frowned, Jessica and I laughed. Both of them turned as one, looking at me strangely.

“It speaks,” said Frankie, smirking. “We thought you were a mute.”

“Nope. Just the scary girl who can make you live out your greatest fear.” The color drained from his face. “Let me guess, everyone ignores you; right?”

Jessica laughed. Frankie frowned and turned away.

I smiled and turned around. Marcus looked at me and shook his head. I turned back to the window, watching as snow began to fall. I hate the snow; the last time I was in a snowstorm was on the streets. I don’t remember much of my parents. I know that my mother died in childbirth---that’s normal for people like us I guess. My father was kind of a deadbeat---my real dad I mean. He was a drunk who squandered whatever hard earned cash he made on booze. I’m not really sure when he abandoned me. I vaguely remember going to a supermarket and wandering down an aisle by myself. No one seemed to notice me. I ended up on the streets, in an alley. A few days later, I was in foster care. Because I was so young, things are kinda fuzzy though.

“Here we are” said Marcus, softly in my ear.

I looked ahead, over the heads of the two soldiers in the front seat. Sure enough, there was a winter wonderland laid out before us. When I saw the picture of the village in the folder, I thought it was some kind of joke but now that I saw it in person, there was nothing funny about it. It looked just like Santa’s Village should. There was a wall around it---brick probably, but made to look like gingerbread. Beyond that were a large castle---probably made of plywood---and several other smaller buildings around it. I never believed in Santa Claus, my father always thought things like that was foolish and frivolous. He was a man of science and as a man of science; he told me there was no point in filling my head with foolish things. He still gave me presents at Christmas but he never pretended they were from anyone but himself.

Marcus gave orders to Private Jones. Our SUV pulled into the little parking lot, trying to find a place to park. It was jam packed with vehicles. We found a spot at the end, beating out a little car for it. A woman behind the wheel gave us a look and the finger. I scoffed, so much for Christmas Spirit. Jessica seemed to think the same because she made a nasty comment behind me.

Once we were all parked and set, Marcus laid down the plan. “According to our intel, the target will be emerging in about an hour. We’re going to break up into pairs.” He turned to Jessica. “You and Frankie are one, Private Thomas and Melanie will be another.” He looked at Jones. “I need you to stay with the truck.”

Jones and Thomas nodded. Jessica groaned.

“You’re really going to stick him with me,” she said, with a refined British accent.

How cool was that? Even though she was as American as you and I, she somehow picked up this really cool accent after she Emerged.

“What about you?” asked Frankie.

“I’m going to scan the crowd, seeing if I can find Victor before things get out of hand.”

After that, we broke up. Jessica and Frankie went off, arguing like a pair of siblings. I turned to Thomas. He was a tall guy, with a thick neck and closed cropped blonde hair. I suppose he was cute if you like that whole soldier thing. But I wasn’t Emma so he did nothing for me. He gave me a nod and I shrugged. I guess that was the only thing I was going to get out of him. So I started walking, he kept close to my heels. Our cover was as brother and sister, even though there was no way anyone would mistake him for my brother. Not that he looked all that odd or anything. I was the odd one. What with my long green hair and short stature, I’m barely five feet tall.

We slipped through the crowd, trying our best to mingle. I groaned. Everything was overwhelming. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d been in a place with this many people. There were a lot of kids, too, bringing a pang to my heart. Until very recently, I’d been one of them. Ok, not really but everybody thought I was. Dr. Tipps said it was a defense mechanism, a way for me to hide behind my fear and anger. So I projected the image of me being a little girl to the rest of the world. Marcus and the other telepaths were the only ones who could see through it. Dr. Tipps spent a long time helping me getting over my fear and my “regression” as she called it.

I dropped the façade about a month ago. But it still pained me to see all these kids running around and not being one of them.

“Not a Christmas fan?” asked Thomas over my shoulder.

“Not a people fan, actually.”

He nodded. He didn’t say anymore after that.

The two of us had about an hour to spare so we disappeared into the crowd, keeping our eyes open too. All the workers wandering around were dressed in horrible Christmas sweaters with Santa hats and fake smiles. They were weaving through the crowds too, handing kids and adults alike candy canes and things like that. One of them passed one to me but when he looked at Thomas, he turned green and rushed off. Thomas frowned so I passed over mine. I’m not a sweets person. The Private was like a kid in a candy store, directing me to one Christmas themed booth after another. Me, I barely paid attention. But he was really into it. He bought some cotton candy and candy apple. There was a stall selling gingerbread cookies and he bought three of those and another stall giving away free hot apple cider, he took two cups and tried handing me one but I waved it off. There were game booths too. Stupid things meant for kids, like Pin the Tail on the Reindeer and Beanbag Toss through a wooden cut out of Santa’s Head.

But the main attraction of the whole place was Santa of course. There was a huge line of little kids waiting to see the big guy himself. Santa---who was probably a fat guy in a suit---was sitting in a little mock wooden structure, meant to resemble a castle or something. There was a large chair where the phony sat and a bunch of huge fake presents scattered about. Next to him was a giant Christmas tree and beside him was a huge velvet bag with little stuffed animals. After sitting on his lap and getting his picture taken, he would hand a stuffed toy to a little kid and then another would sit on his lap. I smirked. I thought elves were supposed to do those kinds of things.

I scanned the crowd, looking at all the delusional little brats. I was barely paying attention when I spotted him. At first, I wondered what a teenager would be doing in a line to see Santa until I saw the little red headed girl in front of him. She was cute in her little green velvet dress, white tights and pigtails. The file didn’t say Victor had a sister but I suppose there was a reason he was here, after all. There weren’t many teenagers except those who worked here and us, of course. I looked at Victor and I could the telltale signs of the Change already. He looked awful, sweating and fidgeting.

Damn it. I tapped my throat mike. “Marcus, I found him.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yep, same flaming red hair and freckles.”

He sighed. “Ok, don’t do anything. I’ll talk to whoever is in charge here; see if they can evacuate the area.”

“You think that’s a good idea?”

“You read the report, you know the alternative.”

I nodded. According to the file, when Victor emerges he sends a wave of ice in every direction around him, freezing hundreds of people. I looked at the happy little girl in front of him, dancing on the balls of her feet. There was no way I could allow that to happen. I bit my lip and moved closer. I know Marcus told me to stay put but I needed to get Victor away from all these little kids. I took a deep breath and slowly made my way through the throng of people, trying my hardest to get to them. Thomas was at my heels, his voice squawking in my earpiece. I ignored him. There was no way I was going to stand by and watch all these people die.

I was almost to them when someone stepped in front of me. He was an older guy, looking flustered. He gave me a once over and smiled. “Excuse me, Miss. I don’t mean to be a pest but could you do us the biggest favor ever?”

I groaned. I didn’t have time for this. “I’m kinda busy sir.”

He sighed. “Please, you’ll be doing us all a big favor, especially the kids.”

I groaned. “What do you need?”

“Well our usual Elf came down with the flu and we’re kinda swamped. You’re the only one I’ve seen that can fit her costume. Do you think you could fill in for her, at least until her replacement gets here.”

You’ve gotta be kidding me. I opened my mouth to tell him off but Thomas beat me too it. “She’d love to sir. My sister loves Christmas.”

The man smiled happily. I shot Thomas a big glare.

“Thank you so much, Miss,” said the man, gently taking my arm and leading the way to wherever.

“You’re so dead,” I mumbled into my throat mike, knowing that Thomas heard me.

_________________________

This is so embarrassing. I was standing in front of a floor length mirror, looking at myself in the tiniest green dress I’d ever seen. It had white fuzzy trim and I was wearing cute little bell shoes and a stupid hair. Mr. Spooner---the older guy from before---tried to get me to wear the fake ears but I drew the line there. It was bad enough that I wore the makeup that went along with it, making my cheeks look rosy and glittery. I groaned. There was no way I was going out there like this. As soon as everyone saw me, I’d be the laughing stock of the whole place.

But right now, I didn’t have time for that. I looked at the clock. There was only forty-five minutes left before Victor emerged. So far I had heard no announcement to get these people out of here. I bit my lip. If Marcus didn’t hurry up soon these kids were in serious trouble. That’s the only reason I was still here. I needed to be with these kids, I needed to make sure they were Ok. Ok so I’m a softy after all but there’s no way I can stand by and let little kids get turned into popsicles, especially Victor’s little sister.

There was a knock on the door. I groaned, tugging on the hem of the tiny dress.

Mr. Spooner opened the door. “Ah, I knew it would fit. C’mon, there’s a huge crowd outside.”

I nodded and slowly walked toward the entryway.

Once outside the little changing booth on the other side of the wooden cutout castle, I walked around the corner and sure enough, there was a huge crowd. The line was three times as long as before. Unfortunately, I couldn’t see Victor and his little sis anymore. They were really far down the line when I spotted them before but things were moving really slowly. I did see someone else, though or rather some ones. The whole team was there, lingering about. Jessica and Frankie looked at me, both of them trying to contain their laughter. Thomas had a big smile on his face; he even gave me a thumbs up. Marcus just stared at me with those piercing blue eyes of his, causing me to blush.

“Ho, ho ho” said Santa loudly and then under his breath said.

“Where the hell have you been, bitch, I’m dying here.”

You’ve gotta be kidding me. “Trouble at the North Pole, Santa”

“Don’t smart mouth me. Get you pretty little ass into gear and start handing out those things. The faster they go, the faster I can get these little bastards off my lap.”

What a jackass! I rolled my eyes and went to work. Things moved a lot faster with the two of us working. He talked to the kids; I smiled real big and passed out little stuffed toys. Every so often, I’d look to see if I could see Victor and his sister. I thought I spotted a bit of red but it was moving away. I bit my lip and tapped my mike.

“I think the subject is moving off.”

“He is” said Marcus in my ear. “Jessica, you and Frankie stay on him. I’ll go see what’s taking that Evac so long.”

I watched as my three teammates disappeared. I sighed. At least Victor was away from this crowd now. I relaxed a little and continued passing out little gifts. I actually started to get into it, smiling and laughing. I can’t say I was having a wonderful time but it was a lot better than I thought I was going to have. Things were going pretty well, too. We still had a lot of stuffed animals left and the line was moving a lot faster now. I scanned the line, trying to see who was next and then I saw her. It was Victor’s little sister, she kept looking worriedly over her shoulder. I bit my lip. Damn it. It was good that she was nowhere near him but she looked really scared.

“Ho, ho, ho” said Santa loudly, getting my attention. “My Elf, Smelly, will give you a toy now.”

I turned to a little boy standing patiently in front of me. I reached into the bag, grabbed a stuffed elephant and stuck it into his hands. The little boy smiled happily and ran off to his mother. I turned back to Victor’s sister but she was gone. Son of a bitch. I looked along the line and saw her or at least her retreating back. Of course, she’d go looking for her missing brother. I bit my lip and made a split decision. I took off after her, much to the chagrin of the fake Jackass Santa and all the little kids in line. I heard someone shout for me, I think it was Mr. Spooner. But I didn’t give a damn. That little girl’s safety was far more important than anything else.

As I was running, I heard a voice come over the loud speakers.

“Ladies and Gentlemen. We apologize for the inconvenience but Santa’s Village has to close earlier today.”

There were some moans from people around me. I looked at my watch; we only had about ten minutes left now. It’s amazing how quickly time flies when you’re handing little kids stuffed things next to a jackass. As I ran, people started pushing their way in front of me, moving toward the exits no doubt. I pushed through them, wishing I were a lot bigger than I really was. Someone stepped on my foot and I squealed, another person slammed into me, knocking me to my knees. Another person helped me up; I smiled and thanked him before running on.

Then I heard it, a little girl’s voice. “Victor, Victor where are you?”

I sighed and pushed my way ahead.

I found her a few feet ahead, standing on a bench, trying to see over the ground. She couldn’t have been more than six. There was a bunch of adults walking past her, completely ignoring her. What the hell kind of people ignore a child in distress. I groaned and pushed forward. The little girl was hopping up and down, trying to see over the throng of people. She continued to shout for her brother, I could see the tears in her eyes. I was almost to her when she jumped off the bench and disappeared into the crowd. Son of a bitch. I bit my lip and plowed on, shoving aside a young couple, apologizing quickly as I pushed through them.

I spotted her little red head bobbing through the crowd, making her way toward the center of the Village. There was a little Nativity scene set up there, coupled with real live animals. Unfortunately something else was there, too, Victor. It took me to stand on my tippy toes to see him and he didn’t look so good. He was on the ground, groaning, clutching his chest. I saw Jessica and Frankie there too, trying to talk to me, speaking reassuringly to him.

I wasn’t the only one who spotted him though. “Victor” shouted the little girl, pushing her way through a sea of legs to reach her brother.

NO!

I ran as fast as I could. I was almost to her when Marcus stepped in, sweeping her into his arms. He spun around and saw me, passing the struggling little girl into my arms. “Get her out of here, quickly.”

The girl kicked and squirmed. “I need my brother. Daddy said not to leave him. He’s supposed to be watching me today.”

“Its ok, sweetie” I said, she started to cry. “Your brother is going to be fine.”

I carried her away from the center of the village. I went back the way I came, finding it easier going now that all the crowd was gone. I found the bench she was standing on before and sat down, slipping her out of my arms. She finally looked up at me and her eyes widened.

“Are you a real Elf?”

I smiled. “Of course I am,” I said, showing her my hair. “How many normal people do you see with long green hair?”

She grabbed a little bit of it, running it through her fingers. “It’s real pretty.”

I bipped her nose with my finger. “You’re really pretty. What’s your name, Princess?”

“Daisy” she said in the cutest voice possible.

I smiled. “That’s a pretty name. What do you want for Christmas, Daisy?”

She opened her mouth to tell me then frowned. “I can’t tell you. I wrote a letter to Santa.” Then something seemed to dawn on her. “Oh no my letter, I was going to give it to him.”

She reached into her pocket; taking out a folded red envelope, on the outside was words scrawled in crayon. She clasped it in her fingers and cried. I stood up, trying to pull her close. But she pushed away and took off running. Damn she was fast. I gave chase, knowing very well where she was going. It didn’t take her long. I was right before her but when I got there; I found her standing in front of the empty chair, crying her eyes out, the letter on the ground.
She turned to me, bawling. “I missed him. He was right here and I missed him.”

I walked over to her and hugged her. “It’s ok sweetie. Why don’t you give me the letter and I’ll give it to him for you.”

She shook her head. “I need to give it to him or else I won’t get what I want.”

I nodded. She was right. I didn’t know much about Santa Claus but that sounded about right. I looked around, making sure there was no else in the area. But the place was deserted. That bastard Santa Claus was probably the first person to flee. He was definitely getting coal in his stocking this year. I bit my lip; yeah, I know I do that a lot. But what I was about to do was serious stuff and I had to make sure that I was going to do it right. So I checked once again that we were alone then closed my eyes. I concentrated as hard as I could and then reopened my eyes.

I pointed to the chair, Daisy looked too. There was a sparkle of red and green sparks then slowly Santa Claus appeared on the seat, laughing and smiling. Daisy’s mouth fell open. It was a good likeness, the best one I could conjure. Daisy scooped up her letter and ran for the chair, jumping onto his lap. I found if I concentrated hard enough I could make the illusions tangible as long as the person didn’t move too much. So little Daisy was actually able to sit on Santa’s lap.

“Hello, Daisy” he said, in a rumbling jovial voice. “I see you’ve been a very good girl this year.”

Daisy nodded, awestruck. “I have a letter for you, Santa.”

My illusionary Claus reached out and took the letter from her tiny fingers. I turned away, allowing the little girl to talk to him in private. I tapped my throat mike. “How are things over there?”

Marcus came on a few seconds later. “Situation contained. The new Victor is unconscious but she’s doing fine. How’s the little girl?”
I turned around. Daisy was giggling and laughing with Santa, having a good time. “She’s good.”

Marcus sighed. “Give us a few minutes then we can wrap things up.”

I smiled. “Take your time.”

___________________________

When the authorities arrived, Daisy was reunited with her father and mother---Victor’s Stepmother. I stood nearby but not too close in case she saw me. She told them all about the green haired elf and Santa Claus. Her mother held her gently, crying. Apparently, the police were looking for their teenage son. It was a sad sort of business but it was necessary I guess. I hated the fact that this little girl was going to grow up without her big brother but maybe one day she’d get to meet her new big sister. I knew it was kind of a stretch but it was the only thing that was keeping me from crying.

I sighed as Marcus came sidling up to me. “I think she’s going to be ok.”

I nodded. “What’s going to happen now?”

“We’ll have to send someone to adjust her memories, make it so her brother wandered off and left her here.”

I gasped. “You can’t do that.”

He sighed. “We don’t really have much of a choice. She saw what you did, even if she didn’t understand it. It was a sweet thing but there’s no other way.”

I shook my head. “I’m not going to let anyone do anything to that little girl.”

He nodded. “We’ll discuss this on the way back.”

“You can’t let that little girl think her brother abandoned her.”

He nodded then looked at the red envelope in my hand. “What’s that?”

I lifted the envelope. After Daisy was done talking to Santa, I led her over to the entrance of the Village. I found a security man and left her with him, telling him I found her alone in the Village. He nodded. Then I went back to the Santa chair. My illusion disappeared as soon as I stopped concentrating on it but her letter was still there. I didn’t have the heart to open it but I did anyway. It was a sweet letter, written in crayon. Daisy asked for a doll and some coloring books and for her brother to stop being so mean to her. I cried as I read it but at the same time, it warmed my heart.

“It’s Daisy’s letter to Santa” I said, clasping it to my chest.

He nodded. “Did you read it?”

I shook my head. “That would be cheating.”

He smiled. “I am a mind reader you know.”

I nodded. We left the discussion at that. We both wandered over to the SUV where the rest of the team was waiting. Frankie was rubbing his arm; apparently, he got a little freezer burn. I smiled at that, anything to cool off his hot head. Jones was in the back, making sure the new Victor was secure. She looked a lot like her old self, except with less freckles and redder hair of course. In fact, she looked a lot like her sister, maybe ten years older.

“Can we stay a little bit, have some fun?” asked Jessica with pleading eyes.

Marcus sighed and shook his head. “We gotta go, the plane is waiting.”

I climbed into the SUV. Before I got all the way inside, warmth filled me. Earlier today, I thought this place was a joke but now I saw it for what it was, it was a wonderland of dreams and happy thoughts. I closed my eyes and when I opened them, Santa’s sleigh and his reindeer appeared above the sky for all the crowd to see. Everyone gasped and pointed. I saw little Daisy waving.

Hey, Christmas comes once a year. Why not have a little fun with it?



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