“Why can’t we just buy a stupid tray, Mom?” Ryan kicked at the dust on the attic floor. “I’d rather be… well, anywhere but here.”
Virginia looked up from the pile of musty bedding in the corner. “Ryan, it’s Christmas Eve and we’ve looked everywhere else for the Lancelot Tray. We’ve used it every Christmas since I can remember. Your Great Aunt Rosemary made it as a symbol of peace and hope and—”
“—overcoming the horrors of war. I know, I know. It’s just… the story about her making the tray from Lancelot’s sword—”
“His sword had to end up somewhere, Ryan.”
“I mean… it sounds a bit… made up… that’s all.”
“It’s Tradition! With a Capital T. And that makes exaggeration okay.”
“Whatever. Hey, look.” He picked up a present wrapped in faded silver and gold paper dotted with glittery strawberries. Rosemary was scrawled on a wrinkled gift tag. “It’s squishy.”
“Probably socks. Just throw it away.” Virginia rubbed her forehead. “Ugh! She kept all this… junk… and gave away the one thing we need for the holidays.”
Ryan tossed it aside, returning to rummaging through the remains of his Great Aunt’s life: old books, handwritten love letters and moth-eaten party dresses.
“Why’d she leave all of this stuff to us?”
“She probably thought we’d value her treasures. We should have trashed it right after she died,” Virginia said, tossing a box of old quilts on the to-be-donated pile. She looked up at Ryan, holding the squishy gift again. “Seriously, Ryan—focus.”
“It’s just… I think I saw something like this on WishSpace.” Ryan took out his phone and opened the webpage.
“On WishSpace? You know I don’t approve—”
“Mom, I don’t post. I just like seeing what people want. Look… SamC posted: ‘Seeking a treasure, lost and old, wrapped up in silver and also gold. Fruit adorns its shiny shell, and also an herb on a tiny bell.’“
“SamC thinks he’s a poet? He shouldn’t quit his day job.”
“Aunt Rosemary was named after an herb, the gift tag is a bell… and it looks just like the picture. It says to dial #jolly13 from any wireless phone.”
“Probably some creep hoping to rob an innocent old lady,” Virginia muttered, shaking dead bugs from a dirty blanket. “Don’t bother—”
“Too late—it’s ringing.” Ryan switched to speakerphone.
“You have reached the WishSpace Fulfillment Center. If you possess the lost treasure, my friend, place the phone near the package and press Send.”
“Like they have an app for sending packages,” Ryan snickered. He pressed Send and a blinding light flashed from the phone. Colors swirled and the floor fell away.
Wind whipped across a desolate, snow-covered plain. Ryan pulled himself onto all fours, spotted his mother on the ground several feet away and crawled to her.
“Mom? Are you alright?”
Virginia groaned as he covered her with the dirty blanket she still clutched. The sound of bells caught his attention seconds before the wind buffeted him in the wake of two giant sleighs passing overhead, each pulled by thirteen reindeer. The sleighs landed nearby, sending sprays of snow into wispy eddies in the twilight.
A fat, little man dressed in red hopped down from the first sleigh, his cheeks rosy from the wind. His eyes twinkled as he sipped at a latte.
“Sorry about that,” he chuckled. “Last training flight before tonight’s Big Ride. The rookie reindeers are overzealous.”
“Um…” Ryan hesitated, not believing what he was about to ask. “Santa?”
“No! No! No!” the man laughed, his big belly jiggling. “I am Sam.”
“Sam,” Ryan said flatly.
“That’s right, Ryan. I see your mother is—”
“—still recovering. Here, let me help her.” Sam pulled a flask from his pocket and placed it to Virginia’s lips.
Ryan lunged at Sam. “Back off old man! I won’t let you poison her.”
“Oh! Oh! Oh!” Sam laughed. “It’s coffee— two sugars, extra cream— just like she likes it. Coffee is the perfect Transport Lag therapy.”
“The first few trips to the North Pole really shock the system. The coffee’s fresh; she’ll be herself in no time.” Sam looked around. “You have the package?”
Ryan raised his empty hands. “I had the package. I found it in my aunt’s stuff.”
“Marvelous person, Rosemary was,” said Sam somberly. “She always put broken things back together. I remember when she wrote, asking for a broken, old sword…”
Ryan shrugged. “Your package was here—I dropped it while we, uh—”
“Yeah, transported,” Ryan muttered, looking for the package in the snow.
Behind him, Virginia stretched. “Um… Santa?”
“No, Mom. There’s no Santa. His name is—” The sight of another man stepping from the second sleigh stunned Ryan into silence.
“I’m Nick,” he said, sipping his hot coffee and making donuts in the cold air with his breath. The dim light reflected off his bald head, but not as much as it reflected off the bright tie-dye tee shirt and plaid pants he wore.
“Dude!” Sam whispered harshly. “Your hair! And your—”
“Whoa-oh-oh! My bad,” said Nick, hastily turning and fumbling with a sack on his sleigh. Adjusting a bushy, white wig with one hand, he zipped up red overalls with the other. “Better?”
“Much,” said Sam.
“I must have hit my head pretty hard. I’m seeing double,” said Virginia. “Is this real?”
“Yes, Virginia,” the two men said in unison. “There is a Santa Claus.”
“And we are he,” said Nick.
“Twins?” asked Virgina.
“Well, I hardly see a resemblance,” said Nick. “Clearly I’m taller. And more handsome. And I’d never be caught with a pipe—”
“My beard’s whiter,” said Sam, running his fingers through it. “and I don’t dribble coffee down my front like someone I know.”
“So wait—there are two Santas?” Ryan scoffed.
“Well, no,” said Nick.
“Oh,” said Ryan.
“There are five of us,” said Nick. “Sam handles Europe while I cover the Americas.”
“Claude takes care of Africa,” added Sam, “and Nole manages Australia and Oceana.”
“And then there’s Lao…” started Nick.
“He’s supposed to deliver toys in Asia,” said Sam, “but he…let’s just say, until recently he hasn’t had much interest in the family business.”
Nick leaned in, coffee sloshing out of his cup. “I heard he shaved off his beard!”
“I heard he drinks tea now,” Sam said, pushing Nick aside. The pair shuddered.
“I’m finding this hard to believe,” said Ryan. “Five Santas?”
“You didn’t think one man could deliver toys to all the good little girls and boys in a single night, did you?” asked Sam.
“Such a huge misconception, that is,” said Nick to Sam.
“A gigantic fabrication, it is,” said Sam to Nick. “But it’s late. We should hurry to the business at hand. The package is lost—”
“It’s under the blanket.” Virginia handed the glittery, crushed package to Nick. “It… may have been under me, too.”
“It’s here!” The two men jumped toward each other, attempting a celebratory chest bump but failing due to the size of their bellies. They fell to the ground, laughing.
“What is it?” asked Ryan.
“Open it,” said Nick, tossing it to Ryan.
Ryan tore open the package, pulling out a brown, sticky lump. “A…fruitcake?”
“Not just any fruitcake,” said Sam.
“It’s our mother’s fruitcake,” said Nick.
“We’re talking about a true yuletide treasure,” said Sam. “The best-tasting fruitcake—”
“Nobody eats fruitcake,” said Ryan.
“They’re just re-gifted year after year,” added Virginia.
“Fruitcake used to be what made the Holidays special,” said Nick. “We’d bake it and bring it to all the houses across the world. It was a Holiday Tradition meant to continue forever. And it would have… until somebody messed up.”
“It’s been ninety years since I accidentally baked the recipe into one of the fruitcakes,” Sam took the fruitcake from Ryan, “and never a moment’s peace since. Without the recipe we couldn’t bake it. Others tried… but those False Fruitcakes never matched the magic of Mother’s recipe.”
Sam split the fruitcake in half and steam rose from it. “Fresh as when it came out of the oven! Always perfect with a cup of coffee. And here’s the recipe, right where I, uh, left it. Try some, you’ll love it.”
Ryan and Virginia warily bit into the fruitcake. Colors swirled around them as the twin Santas shouted “Merry Christmas!” and vanished in a gust of wind.
Virginia awoke on the dusty attic floor.
“Ryan, we fell asleep. I dreamt it was snowing.”
Ryan sat up and rubbed his eyes. “Me, too. It’s drafty up here.” He opened the old notebook which had been his pillow and read for a few moments. “I didn’t know Aunt Rosemary was a silversmith.”
“Just one of her many gifts.”
They talked and laughed as together they dusted off a lifetime of forgotten memories, enjoying each other’s company for the first time in years. When Virginia stepped out from behind a dressing screen, wearing an old prom dress, Ryan laughed. “I think I’m scarred for life now,” he said, looking up in mock torment.
“You just wait young man. When you’re my age, you’ll wish you could fit into your prom dress… well, something like that.”
Ryan stretched. “Hey, I’m getting hungry. Breakfast?”
Downstairs, under the Christmas tree, they found fresh fruitcake and hot coffee waiting on the shining Lancelot Tray.
“Merry Christmas, Aunt Rosemary,” said Virginia.
“Thanks for the memories,” added Ryan.
“Yuletide Treasures” originally appeared in 2012 as part of the Literary Mixtapes anthology, “Deck the Halls”. This anthology was built from stories using the lines of the well-known carol as the inspiration. You can read more about the anthology in the release announcement (note that links in the announcement post may no longer work).
“Deck the Halls” is available for purchase on Amazon. Check it out!
Thoroughly enjoyable story, Rob. They never found the tray though. Can we have a sequel…maybe one involving King Arthur?