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By D. A. Ratliff
“Twas the night before Christmas, my ass. More like the nightmare before Christmas.” Jason Bartow lamented softly to himself so as not to wake anyone. He sat cross-legged on the living room floor, bits and pieces of toys and an unassembled bicycle spread across the floor. Dropping his head in his hands, he sighed. “My kingdom for a screwdriver.”
He rummaged once more in the old metal toolbox that had been his father’s, looking for a Phillips-head screwdriver. Any screwdriver. There was nothing inside but four wrenches that were the same size, two rusty hammers, an adjustable wrench big enough to take the tires off a monster truck, and more Allen wrenches than he cared to count. He dumped everything out only to find a handful of electrical wire connectors in assorted colors, a bunch of screws, and a box of nails lurking at the bottom of the toolbox.
Not one screwdriver found among the lot.
The grandfather clock in the foyer chimed midnight. Crap. The kids would be up by five am, six at the latest, and he hadn’t started putting the toys together. How could he? No screwdriver.
He stood. There had to be one somewhere.
Starting in the kitchen, he rummaged through every drawer and cabinet. Sonja or the kids must have used the screwdriver and didn’t put it back, leaving the tool wherever they had it last, just not in the kitchen. Next, the laundry room where he checked in the junk drawer. Clothespins, rubber bands, old bottle caps, assorted appliance manuals, some objects he didn’t recognize, but no screwdriver.
Giving up, he went back to the kitchen and got a knife from the silverware drawer and headed to the living room. Sitting on the floor, he picked up the first plastic toy and inserted a screw. Rats. The knife head was too large, wouldn’t fit into the recessed area where the screw sat. He tried another toy and another toy, and none worked. He threw the knife down, which startled the cat who was sleeping on the couch. The cat uttered a sharp meow.
“What are you looking at? Get over here and help me.”
The cat stared, circled on the pillow, and went back to sleep.
“Yeah, Peaches, I thought so. Okay, where else can I look?” He spent the next half-hour checking every closet, every drawer, every hidey-hole on the first floor. He found assorted balls, cat toys, dog bones, and a Barbie doll but no screwdriver.
“Okay, back to the garage.”
Frustrated, he returned to the living room with a hand file and tried the pointed end in the hole. That didn’t work, and he tossed it aside. It struck the stone hearth eliciting another angry meow from the cat. It was now after two am, and Santa’s toys for the kids sat in pieces on the floor. Sonja was going to kill him.
Time to risk going upstairs to look, but the kids and Felix, the dog, were asleep, and he didn’t want to risk waking them and blowing Santa’s cover. Standing in the middle of assorted plastic parts, he decided he had no choice.
Stealthily, he climbed to the second floor. Felix, the family dog, was asleep in the hallway between the kids’ rooms. The Golden Retriever raised his head but settled as Jason scratched his ears. He realized there were limited places to look, but he had to try. A quick run through the guest rooms turned up nothing, nor did a search of the bathrooms and closets.
He opened the door to the master bedroom as quietly as possible. Sonja lay curled up on the bed, facing away from him, sleeping soundly. He used the light on his phone to check the bed table drawers, and desperate, the chests and closets. The master bath was as disappointing. He leaned against the sink, head down, when he spotted Sonja’s eyebrow tweezers. Small, flat—maybe they could work. Grabbing them, he raced down the stairs, Felix bounding behind him.
Buoyed by his find, he grabbed a toy part and started to assemble. The tweezers didn’t work. The tips were flat but slanted and couldn’t get a grip. He dropped back against a chair. What was he going to do? He was tired. It was now close to three in the morning and no toys. Spotting the plate of decorated sugar cookies and cup of cocoa the kids left for Santa, he ate a cookie, gave a cookie to Felix, drank the cold cocoa, and promptly fell asleep.
He woke to a whimpering noise. He was very groggy but was aware that Felix was wagging his tail as a rotund man was rubbing his head. The man wore a white glove and spoke with a soft but jovial voice. Jason struggled to wake up, but he felt drugged, unable to move. The man turned his head as Felix whimpered again, then turned toward Jason. “You are right, my boy, the spell is wearing off.” A flick of a wrist and Jason saw sparkles of light race toward him and then blackness.
A cold nose against his chin brought him to consciousness. “Felix, stop. I gotta get this done. Shouldn’t have fallen asleep.” A glance at his phone told him it was three-thirty am. He had to figure this out. Sitting up, his hand brushed against something. A red plastic case was sitting next to him, a note attached to the top.
He unfolded the note and uttered a small gasp as he read it.
My dear Jason, you have always been one of my favorites, and finding you here trying to assemble these toys melted my heart. Parents are so touching. They always think they do this, but I only allow them to think that. I make sure the memory of putting them together is present, but I assemble the toys. However, your determination has inspired me. This year I will allow you to assemble the toys and the bicycle. You deserve that honor for your perseverance. Next year, however, leave this to me. Oh, and please don’t eat my cookies again.
Merry Christmas, K. Kringle.
His fingers trembling, Jason opened the plastic box to find a set of every screwdriver made. He laughed. “Come on, Felix, we have work to do.”
At six-fourteen am, a sleepy Sonja and two wide-awake kids came bounding down the staircase and into the living room. With squeals of delight, their son and daughter began playing with the toys Santa left them.
“You look tired, were you up all night doing this?”
“Yeah, I was.”
“Such a good dad.” She kissed him and then walked to the couch to sit down. “Ouch.” She stepped on something and bent down to pick it up. “How did my tweezers get down here?”
Jason shrugged. “I couldn’t find a screwdriver. Thought those might help.”
Sonja pointed to the table. “There’s a whole set of screwdrivers. They look brand new. Who gave you those?”
Jason smiled as he touched the note, now stuck in his jeans pocket.
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