The two days flew by as Chrissy and Joe finished the items on the list. Sometimes, Joe would stop and listen. He’d walk to the door hoping to hear the wolf’s cry and see him bounding from the woods.
But the woods remained silent. Joe realized his friend, for that’s what he considered the wolf, was gone.
“I’m sorry, Joe,” Chrissy said. “The wolf was very brave, just like you when you came for me. He may be gone, but we will never forget him.” She patted his back. “Now, c’mon. We got a few more things to do before we’re finished.”
As they threw themselves into finishing the list, a nagging doubt roiled in Joe’s mind.
How am I gonna finish this? I don’t know the secret of Christmas or what the envelope held. What if I can’t figure it out?
“We’re done!” Chrissy said, and a shout went out from all the elves. Gathering around Chrissy and Joe, the elves sang.
“Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells…”
Joe tried to sing along, but he just couldn’t. Doubt was winning him over. He knew this was all for nothing. He’d let his grandfather down. Walking once again to the door, he could see the first of the evening stars rising. Soon, he and Chrissy would have to head home. And Christmas would never come.
A tear slid down his face. He wiped it away and turned back inside. And then he heard it. Faint, fading in and out, then growing stronger. The wolf’s cry! He was alive.
Chrissy and the elves surrounded him, all looking for their friend. With a leap and a crash, the wolf charged from the woods. Running to Chrissy and Joe, he nuzzled the two with his warm fur and cold nose.
Joe hugged the wolf. After a moment, the wolf nudged him toward the sleigh. Joe stopped and the wolf pushed him again. “What are you doing?” Joe said, as the wolf grabbed the sleeve of his jacket and tugged him inside to the sleigh.
Everyone gathered around watching Joe and the wolf. After a moment, the wolf lay down at Joe’s feet.
“He wants you to do something, Joe,” Chrissy said.
“But what? I don’t know what to do?”
“Yes, you do,” a familiar voice said and his grandfather, dressed head to toe in red trimmed with white fur and wearing the lighted Santa hat, peeked from inside the sleigh.
“Grandpa!” Joe yelled, climbing into the sleigh and throwing his arms around the smiling old man. “But how, I mean…you’re…”
“Dead?” the old man smiled. “What did I tell you about holding onto memories and I’d always be with you?”
“That’s real?” Joe said.
“As real as all this,” his grandfather said, waving his hand around the room. “Now I have another surprise for you. Someone who’s been waiting to meet you for a long, long time.”
“Hi, Joe.” came a voice, and a gray-haired old woman all dressed in red like his grandfather, came over to the side of the sleigh. “I’m glad I finally get to meet you in person.”
Joe looked between the woman and grandfather. “Is this…?”
“It is my boy, allow me to introduce your grandmother, the woman who kept love alive in my heart for all these years.”
Joe hugged the woman, then hugged them both.
“Okay, my boy. Now we have some presents to deliver. We have to be on our way.”
“But I lost the envelope, Grandpa. I don’t know what the secret of Christmas is so I can finish this.”
His grandpa smiled. “Oh, you know it very well, my boy. Doesn’t he, my dear?” Joe’s grandma nodded and laughed.
“You do, Joe. Just look at Chrissy there. While all this was going on you both took care of each other. You risked your own lives to stand by your friends. You learned to love a wolf and the wolf came to love the both of you. You know the secret, Joe, it’s been in your heart the whole time.”
Joe thought a moment. “There was nothing in the envelope was there? The secret of Christmas isn’t a thing, or magic, or anything else. The secret is just to believe.”
“I told you he took after me,” his grandpa said. “Boy’s a genius.”
“Yeah. But without Chrissy and I, neither one of you two would last a minute.”
Joe’s grandpa laughed. “Now that is a true statement.”
“But how is it you’re Santa Claus?” Joe asked.
“Because I believe, Joe. I believe. Santa Claus is more than one person, he is an idea. All this is the power of believing in something with all your heart. This is my Last Christmas, but it is not THE last Christmas. As long as you hold it in your heart, Christmas will last forever.”
All the reindeer now stood ready, hooked up to the sleigh and straining to fly. Joe hugged his grandparents one last time and climbed down from the sleigh.
“I’ll never forget you,” Joe said. “Never”
“And that my boy is the only secret you’ll ever need. Embrace the ones you love while they’re here and hold them in your memory forever.”
With a snap of his fingers, the door to the barn opened. Handing the reins to Joe’s grandmother, his grandfather leaned back in the seat. He winked at Joe. “She’s a better pilot than I ever was.”
The sleigh gained speed and then flew up over the trees. Looping around the barn and waving at them, Joe heard his grandpa’s voice…
“Now Dasher! Now Dancer!
Now, Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! On, Cupid!
On, Donner and Blitzen!
To the top of the porch!
To the top of the wall!
Now dash away! Dash away!
Dash away all!”
“Joe,” his wife said, “time to head over to Kelsey’s house. You know she likes to get the kids to bed early on Christmas Eve.”
“Ready, just got a few things to pack before I go.”
His wife stood in the doorway. “It’s not one of those crazy pranks of yours, is it?
“Of course not, just something I need to pass on to Nicholas. Something my grandfather gave to me.” He turned to look at his wife. “Remember, Chrissy, the secret of Christmas? They gave it to us both.”
“Oh, I remember, Joe. I remember.”
Thanks for reading my story. I wish for all of you, be it your first or last, a very Merry Christmas. Remember, believe!
If you’d like a downloadable pdf copy of the story you can put on Kindle or print out, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’d be happy to send you one. I will also post the whole story Christmas morning.