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Naughty List

“We’re on the naughty list!” Daniela said, her eyes wide with bewilderment. Sweat clung to her brow, and her small hands gripped a glowing scroll.

Mateo whipped around to look at his sister, his eyes narrowing. “How do you know that?.”

“I found this under my bed!” Daniela passed over the scroll.

Mateo unfurled the glowing piece of parchment, shedding golden rays of luminescence across their dark bedroom that outshone the worn glow-in-the-dark stars on the ceiling. The top of the scroll read ‘Naughty List’ in perfect calligraphy, followed by a directory of names that were also written with perfect penmanship. Mateo’s brows furrowed as he began reading the names from the top.

“Look at the bottom,” Daniela said.

Mateo further unscrolled the parchment till he reached the bottom. Then, his eyebrows shot up to his hairline as he read the two names at the very end. ‘Daniela Blanco, Mateo Blanco.’ His little hands started to shiver. “No,” he whispered in disbelief.

“What do we do?” Daniela asked, her voice straining.

“I...I don’t know,” Mateo replied, his gaze still fixed on the two names at the bottom. “Christmas is tomorrow. We don’t have any time to do anything.”

Daniela fell to her knees, and tears welled in her eyes. “Is it because we ran away from the other family?”

Mateo dropped the scroll and reached out to pull his sister into a hug. “We couldn’t have stayed there. They...were bad.”

Daniela kept sobbing, and Mateo hugged her tighter, willing the sorrow out of her. Then, a sparkle caught Mateo’s eyes, and he turned towards it. It was coming from below his bed. He let go of Daniela and pulled up the bed skirt. He reached out towards the glow, and his hand touched something cool and smooth. He bit his lower lip and grabbed a circular object. As he pulled it out, warm rays filled the room, adding to the golden glow of the scroll. It was an antique snow globe with an ornate wooden base. Inside the globe, silvery snow delicately fell around a wooden cabin in the middle. The warm glow was coming from the window of the cabin in steady pulses, mimicking the movements of dancing flames.

Daniela wiped her cheeks. “What is that?”

“I don’t know,” Mateo said, curiosity sparking in his eyes. He ran his finger across the base, feeling the pattern carved there. He found an odd bump at the base of the globe and upturned it. There was a little protrusion that almost loosed like a button. Mateo bit his lip in contemplation and then pressed it.

Immediately the silver snow shot out of the globe and started swirling around the siblings. At first, it was delicate, eliciting excitement from the children, but then, it began to get stronger and more aggressive.

“Mateo!” Daniela gripped her brother’s arm, the fear rising in her voice.

Soon, the snow completely enveloped them in a violent torpedo, blocking out the surrounding bedroom. Mateo clutched his sister and closed his eyes, hoping the swirling snow would vanish. Soon after, silence fell around the siblings.

Mateo opened his eyes and gasped. He was no longer in his bedroom; he was in a winter forest. Pine trees rose to unreachable heights all around him, and snowflakes delicately fell from the starlit sky. String lights and fairy lights that were hung on the trees illuminated the surrounding.

“WOW!” Daniela gasped. “Where are we?”

Mateo looked around till his eyes fell on a cabin before him. The light emanating from the window thrummed in steady pulses. “We’re inside the snow globe,” he said in wonder.

A cold breeze wafted past the siblings, and they began to shiver.

Mateo grabbed his sister’s hand and marched forward. “Let’s get to the cabin. It’s warm there.”

They went down the path and past a frozen lake, crunching snow under their night slippers till they reached the entrance of the cabin. A wreath decorated with pine cones hung around a brass reindeer knocker. Mateo grabbed the metal ring attached to the reindeer’s mouth and struck it against the wood of the door. To his surprise, instead of a knock, the sound of sleigh bells filled the air. Then, the door opened with a soft creak, bathing the siblings with golden light.

“Hello, love!” A short elf smiled at the children. He was dressed in green and had pointed ears. His cheeks were rosy, and his dark curls peeked out from under his green stocking hat that had a bell at the end.

“I…” Mateo started.

“It’s freezing out there! Come on in,” the elf said, stepping aside from the doorway and waving them in.

As the kids walked past the threshold and inside the cabin, warm air wrapped around their bodies, taking all their shivers away. The scent of chocolate and pine filled their senses, adding to their growing comfort.

The inside of the cabin was small but very cozy. Heavy maroon curtains hung by the windows, and simple furniture was placed around the expanse. Cushions of various colours were placed at every corner, and overhead, a mistletoe hung from a wooden chandelier that had candles on every branch.

“Would you like some hot chocolate?” the elf asked in his squeaky voice.

The siblings looked at him, and wordlessly nodded.

“Right this way,” the elf said and walked towards the fireplace, the bells on his pointed shoes jingling with each step. He poured out two mugs from a steaming kettle and passed them to the children.

Mateo looked down at his mug to find a dark brown liquid topped with silver marshmallows. He lifted it to his lips and took a curious sip. Immediately, warm sweetness exploded on his tongue. He grinned gleefully and took another sip, and then another.

“Slow down, soldier,” the elf chuckled. “There’s plenty more where that came from.”

Mateo smiled at him. “Thank you.”

The elf smiled back and sat on a wooden armchair by the fireplace. “Why don’t the two of you take a seat and tell me what’s bothering you.”

Mateo and Daniela looked at each other and then sat on the warm rug by the armchair, their mugs carefully nestled in between their hands.

“Who are you?” Mateo asked, leaning back on the soft cushions.

The elf smiled, his skin crinkling around his bright blue eyes. “I’m Tinker Ribbons. You can call me Tink.”

“I like your name,” Daniela giggled.

“We’re on the naughty list,” Mateo blurted out, unintentionally silencing Daniela’s laughter.

Silence hung in the air for a moment before Tink spoke. “Are you sure? You both seem like lovely kids.”

Daniela nodded.

“Hmm,” Tink looked out the window in contemplation and scratched his chin. Then, his gaze shifted back to the siblings. “Why do you think you’re on the naughty list?”

Daniela looked down at her mug, staring at the swirling chocolate. “Because we ran back to CPS from our foster home.”

“We had no choice,” Mateo said quickly, wrapping a supporting arm around his sister. “They were mean to us...and very bad.”

Tink saw the fear and sincerity in the children’s eyes, and his heart broke. He got off his chair and stepped up to them, a sad smile on his face. “How old are you both?”

“I’m ten,” Mateo said, “Dani is eight.”

Tink reached out and pulled both the children into a warm embrace, hugging all the discomfort and sadness out of them. Although Tink was small, his hug was vast and loving. Mateo and Daniela smiled, actually smiled for the first time since...they didn’t even remember how long it had been since they’d actually felt happy.

“You both are so precious, and I know that the world has been unforgiving,” Tink said softly. “Escaping mistreatment is never a bad thing to do. You both are very brave, and I’m so proud of you.”

Tink’s words touched Mateo’s soul like the rays of the sun after a cold winter night. Mateo wrapped his arm around Tink and tightened the hug, inhaling the scent of snickerdoodle cookies that wafted from the elf’s clothes. “Thank you.”

Tink leaned back and smiled at the children. “Let’s find out why you were really placed on the naughty list.”

Mateo and Daniela nodded in unison.

From a wooden shelf that was built into the wall, Tink pulled out a small box and took it to the children. He opened the box, revealing red glitter.

“Take a handful,” Tink said, and the children obeyed. Tink himself took a handful and placed the box on the table. “Now, we will need to throw the magic dust in the air and say, ‘I believe in the magic of Christmas.’ Alright?” The kids nodded. “Three, two, one.”

The three of them flung the red glitter and chanted, “I believe in the magic of Christmas.”

Instead of falling, the glitter hung in the air. Then, it started swirling around the trio. Daniela instantly reached for her brother and gripped his arm. The swirling got more ferocious for a second and then fell to the floor.

They were no longer in the Tink’s cabin. They were in a hall, a massive hall. Doors lined up the circular wall on one side, and the other side took Mateo’s and Daniela’s breath away. A ginormous red and gold sleigh, fastened to nine powerful reindeer, stood. A sac, as big as an oak tree and as red as Tink’s cheeks, was placed at the rear of the sleigh. Elves, like Tink, were scurrying about, moving wrapped presents and unwrapped toys from the doors to the sac. Although they seemed stressed, the elves were...happy. They skipped and hopped with joy, humming merry tunes as they moved about the hall. Behind the sleigh, a towering Christmas tree, climbing as far as the eye could see, stood. It was decked up with glowing magical arrangements, and the star on the top shone like the north star itself. The air was buzzing with magic and wonder. Never before had the siblings felt so alive.

Tink grabbed Mateo’s hand and pulled him forward. “This way.”

Mateo resisted, his jaw dropping in shock as his eyes fixed on something ahead.

“What’s the matter?” Tink asked.

With a shivering hand, Mateo reached out and pointed at a pompous man who sat in the sleigh. He was dressed in red and had a thick white beard. His stocking hat had a white puffball at the end and a thick black belt wrapped around his waist. “Is that S...San…”

“That’s Santa!” Tink said.

Daniela gasped, her eyes bulging. She left her brother and bolted towards the sleigh with all her might, zigzagging past the elves. Mateo and Tink followed after.

“Santa!” Daniela yelled.

The man in red turned to her. His lips curved into a joyful smile, and he raised his arms. “Daniela!” he called back, the cadence in his voice booming.

The door on the side of the sleigh opened, and Daniela leapt in. She stepped up to Santa and wrapped her arms around his neck, pulling him into a passionate hug.

“Ho ho ho,” Santa laughed, pulling her onto his lap.

When Daniela let go, Santa turned to see Mateo and Tink approach. Mateo jumped onto the sleigh and froze before the man in red, disbelief staining his mind.

Daniela turned to her brother. “It’s really Santa!” she beamed.

Santa extended an arm to Mateo and pulled the little boy onto his lap as well. “What are you children doing here?”

“Tink got us here!” Daniela said.

Santa turned to the elf. “It’s good to see you, old friend.”

Tink took off his hat and offered a slight bow. “The children have a question.”

Santa turned back to the kids. “What did you want to ask me?”

Mateo lowered his eyes and swallowed.

“We’re on the naughty list,” Daniela said, sadness looming in her voice.

Santa furrowed his eyebrows. “Really?”

“Dani found the naughty list under her bed, and our names are at the end,” Mateo said softly.

Santa grinned and leaned closer to the siblings. “Let me tell you both a little secret,” he whispered, and the children looked up at him. He met their eyes and softly said, “There is no naughty list.”

“What?” Mateo spat. “What did we read in our room?”

“It was something created by the Krampus. They like spreading a bit of chaos during this merry holiday,” Santa said, his grin as wide as ever.

“So we’re not bad children?” Daniela asked, her eyes lighting up.

“No child is bad. No one is bad,” Santa said. “Situations are bad; they force people to make bad decisions. On the inside, everyone is pure and deserves a gift.”

Smiles as bright as the star atop the Christmas tree lit up Mateo’s and Daniela’s faces as they hugged Santa tight, relief washing over their minds.

“Ho ho ho,” Santa laughed, his voice booming. “Since the two of you travelled all the way here, let me ask you something. What do you both want for Christmas?”

Mateo and Daniela looked at each other and then at Santa. “Family,” they said in unison.

Santa smiled, his bright blue eyes sparkling. “I can do that.”

. . . .

“Mateo!” Daniela called, stepping into her brother’s room. She wore an ugly Christmas sweater with matching pyjamas. “I forgot my gift.”

“Don’t worry,” Mateo said, pulling on his own Christmas sweater. “I picked it up on my way back from college. It’s under the Christmas tree.”

Daniela’s eyes lit up, “You’re the best!”

“I know,” Mateo grinned.

“Do you think they’ll like my gift?” Daniela bit her lower lip.

“Every year, you buy Papa and Dad odd things, and they always love it. I’m sure they’ll love your gift this year too.”

Daniela smiled and turned to leave the room, “See you downstairs. Papa is cooking up a storm for Christmas dinner.”

“I’ll see you there.”

As Daniela left, Mateo turned to pick up his wrapped gift, and his eyes fell on a framed picture. It had four handprints—two large and two small. Above the prints were the words ‘Family.’ Mateo smiled as his mind took him back to the dream he had a decade ago about meeting Santa, or maybe it actually happened. He still didn’t know for certain. Yet, it was a fond memory that brought warmth to his heart. Remembering the wish he had made, Mateo turned and left his room. He descended the stairs and walked into a hall filled with music, joy, warmth and family.

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