The rain came down hard that Christmas Eve, rattling against the roof of The Katters’ and Zebra’s Inconspicuous Meat Pie Shop and Tonsorial Parlour. Inside, Katters and Zebra were curled up at opposite ends of the couch in the living room, sharing an obscenely large, blue comforter. Both had festive and obscenely alcoholic drinks, though they were not themselves in very festive moods.
“There’s something—” Zebra’s cheap Santa hat slipped down over his eyes and he pushed it back to its proper place. “There’s something off about this time of year.”
“Yeah,” Katters said, breathing peppermint. “I know what you mean.”
“I used to love Christmas. But now it all feels so forced.”
Katters nodded. “It’s, we’re, it’s because we’re adults, now. All the magic is gone.”
“Is that it?”
“No,” Zebra said. “I don’t think that’s it. I don’t think Christmas magic is rel— releg— I don’t think it’s just for kids. Adults can get into the Christmas spirit, too.”
“But they do it for the kids, get me? You get into the Christmas spirit because you’re spreading joy for small people. We don’t have any small people to foist Santa-related lies onto, ergo we have no Christmas spirit.”
Zebra took a thoughtful drink, a minty chill spreading into his sinuses and an alcoholic burn spreading through his chest. “No,” he said again. “I still don’t think that’s it.”
“Well, what is it, then, Mr. Smart Guy?”
“No.” Zebra sat up, energised by an epiphany. “You know what it is?”
“We’re on the naughty list. We’ve been seasonally ostracised by Santa Claus. There’s nothing to look forward to come Christmas morning — that is to say, no presents.”
“I thought presents were antithesis to the true meaning of Christmas. Rudolph said so.”
“Rudolph can go fuck himself. Presents are an enormous part of Christmas and anyone who tries to tell you otherwise is a fool. But more importantly, Katters, this is a problem we have with a very simple solution.”
“Does it involve moving?” Katters sunk deeper into her comforter cocoon. “Because I’d rather not.”
“If we’re missing out on Christmas spirit because we’re on some kind of blacklist, then all we have to do is take some Christmas spirit for ourselves. Be proactive. Take initiative.”
“You don’t mean—”
“I do!” Zebra said, scrambling to his feet. “Tonight, we steal Christmas!”
“Okay,” Katters said from the couch. “What exactly does stealing Christmas involve?”
“Toys, Katters! We steal the toys!”
“And this will somehow imbue us with the nebulous characteristic of Christmas spirit.”
“Zebra, you’re drunk.”
“I was drunk,” Zebra corrected. “I am now filled with purposeful energy.”
“Purposeful energy you intend to use to steal Christmas.”
Zebra sagged. “God, Katters, would you just — okay?”
“Would I just what? Sit here and let you convince yourself that robbing small children will do anything except get us even deeper into Santa’s shit-list?”
“Actually, I was kind of hoping you’d come with me and help me steal Christmas.”
Katters sat up, waving her drink in Zebra’s direction. “Will you just listen to yourself for a minute? You want to obtain some vague concept of “Christmas spirit” you think is missing from your life, and you’ve decided the best way to do that is by stealing a bunch of toys you neither really want nor need, and all you’re going to accomplish is ruining Christmas for some kid you don’t even know.”
Zebra snatched Katters’ drink out of her hand.
“Well,” Zebra said, taking both his and Katters’ drinks into the kitchen. “It’s not like we’ve got anything better to do.”
“I was honestly pretty happy getting drunk on the couch.”
“But we do that every Thursday. It’s Christmas Eve! We should be doing something special. Something jolly.”
“Candy cane booze is jolly.”
“You know what isn’t jolly? Robbing small children.”
Zebra re-entered the living room. “You’re really hung up on that detail, you know that?”
“It’s a pretty crucial detail, I think.”
“It’s not like you’ve never stolen anything before.”
“This is different,” Katters said. “There’s something ‘specially odious about stealing Christmas presents from a provably well-behaved child on Christmas Eve.”
“There’s something especially odious about murdering people but you’re all over that one.”
“Can we, can we not bring my morals into question tonight? Can we discuss my questionable ethics another time?”
Zebra tugged at the comforter, trying to urge Katters into getting off the couch. “No, actually, I think it’s relevant.”
“No,” Katters whined, clutching the blanket. “Stop, it’s cold out there.”
“If you get up, you can have the rest of your drink.”
Katters considered, then relented. “God, fine,” she said. She flailed, flinging the comforter off herself, then threw herself off the couch.
“And you’ll help me steal Christmas?”
“I guess so.”
It did not take them long to choose a home to burgle, spurred on by a desire to get out of the rain. They settled on a large house, which Zebra reasoned would have more than enough gifts, and so the occupants would not be heartbroken to find two or three missing.
“This still doesn’t sit right with me,” Katters whispered.
Zebra jimmied a window open and poked his head in. “It’s a bit late for objections now.”
“I objected before!”
Zebra ignored her. The house was quiet, and dark save for the twinkling lights on an enormous Christmas tree near the fireplace. Zebra slipped in through the window, and helped Katters in after. They stood a moment, awash in trepidation and coloured light, dripping rainwater on the carpet.
Their apprehension soon gave way to the cheap thrill that comes with trespassing. Zebra made his way to the tree, while Katters closed the window.
“Ah, yeah, look at this haul,” Zebra said, voice low. “They won’t miss a thing.”
“I’m sure they will, people generally notice when presents go missing.”
“Which one do you think is the kid?” Zebra rummaged through the presents. “Johnny or Charlie? Or Jennifer?”
Katters approached the fireplace and inspected the stockings. “Which presents feel the most toy-like?”
“I don’t know, most of them are in boxes. I don’t want to shake them, in case they’re fragile.”
“Jennifer and John have embroidered stockings.”
“A decal of Santa.”
“Excellent, that sounds like a kid’s stocking to me.”
“Hold on, Zeebs,” Katters said, pulling the stocking open.
“Yeah, Charlie’s got the most stuff down here, they’re definitely a kid.”
“Zebra, these stockings are empty.”
Zebra stood and shoved a present into Katters’ hands. “So?”
“So, that means Santa hasn’t come yet.”
“Okay,” Katters said, shoving the present back under the tree. “First off, that means if you steal any of these presents, you’re not taking some “Christmas spirit” for your own, you’re just robbing a kid, and as I pointed out previously, I think that’s a dick move.”
Zebra crossed his arms. “Yeah, sure, whatever.”
“And secondly, it means—”
She was interrupted by a faint crunch from somewhere above them. They flinched back, staring at the ceiling.
“Parents?” Zebra whispered.
Katters shook her head. “No,” she said, cowering. “Like I said, Santa hasn’t been here yet.”
Santa’s bag came down the chimney first, landing in the fireplace with a puff of soot. It rolled out and onto the hearth.
“Hide,” Katters hissed. Zebra dove for cover behind a rocking chair, and Katters hid herself around the corner, in the hall.
Santa followed his bag, crushing burnt firewood beneath his boots. He had to duck to get out of the fireplace — he retrieved his bag of toys as he did so.
He struck an impressive figure, easily passing six feet in height. His suit was well-tailored, and lent his girth an air of authority rather than sloppiness. He gave a fatherly impression.
He got straight to work pulling items out of his bag and stuffing them into the stockings. When the third stocking was full, he stopped and turned to the room.
“All right,” he said, and his voice was deep and playful, but there was a stern edge to it. Like he was trying to be serious, and at the same time trying not to laugh. “Fun’s fun, but enough’s enough. Come on out and let’s get a look at you.”
Wishful thinking kept Katters and Zebra from believing that Santa was talking about them. But time passed, and no one else came out of hiding, and Santa just stood there by the fireplace with his fists on his hips. So Zebra stepped out from behind the chair, head low and hands behind his back, and Katters came back into the room looking just as guilty.
“There you are!” Santa said with a grin. He grabbed the two by their shoulders and pulled them close. “It’s been a long time,” he said. “Why, I don’t think I’ve seen you two in six or seven years.”
“Didn’t Zebra kill you before?” Katters asked, still whispering.
“Ho ho!” Santa laughed. “Don’t you worry about keeping quiet, now. The Finleys upstairs wouldn’t wake up for the world. There’s a certain magic to Christmas Eve, you know.”
“Good to know,” Zebra said, extracting himself from Santa’s grip.
Santa relinquished Katters as well. “Let me get a good look at you two,” he said, and stepped back. “My, you’ve grown! And you’ve been busy, too, haven’t you? Up to no good at all.”
“Well,” Zebra said. Katters let out a self-conscious cough.
“You could be such good kids if you wanted to.” Santa shook his head. “And when that day comes, I’ll be sure to give you a visit. But in the meantime, I hear you’ve been feeling down in the dumps this Christmas.”
“You could put it that way,” Zebra said.
“I hear you’ve got a plan to steal poor Charlie’s toys to make yourselves feel better.”
“That was Zebra’s idea!” Katters said. “I wanted nothing to do with it!”
“And yet,” Santa said, “here you are.”
“Ah, well.” Katters shuffled her feet.
Santa got down on one knee and draped an arm around Zebra’s shoulders. “Listen, kiddo. Christmas spirit isn’t in the toys and the presents. It’s in your heart. You’re twenty-three years old, you should know that by now.”
Zebra stared at the ground. “I just wanted to be proactive. I didn’t know what else to do.”
“Anything that isn’t stealing toys from children.”
“That’s what I told him,” Katters said.
Santa stood and began pulling boxes out of his bag and putting them under the tree. “Now,” he said as he worked, “I can’t very well give you any presents. You’re both on the naughty list and, well, let’s say it’ll take a lot of work to change that should either of you want to turn over a new leaf. But hopefully seeing ol’ Saint Nick like this has rekindled some Christmas magic for you.”
“Yes, Mr. Claus,” they said in unison.
“And I’ll tell you what — don’t expect any toy trains or anything, but if you get the heck out of this nice family’s house and go home, there’ll be a surprise there waiting for you.”
“Yes, Mr. Claus,” Zebra said. “Thank you,” Katters said.
Santa, finished with his work, hefted his bag over his shoulder and ducked back into the fireplace. “You’ve got good hearts,” he said, “buried somewhere in there. I hope you dig them out, someday. Merry Christmas.”
With that, he disappeared up the chimney.
Zebra hefted himself out the window, then helped Katters through. It had stopped raining, though the ground was still slick and dotted with deep puddles.
“Santa was nicer than I would have expected,” Katters said. “Especially since I’m still pretty sure you killed him one year.”
“Yeah,” Zebra said. They began the short, but cold walk back to the pie shop. “I guess we don’t have to steal Christmas spirit from other people. I guess maybe we can make our own.”
“As good a lesson as any, I suppose,” Katters said. “But I’ll bet you five dollars Santa is waiting for us with a shotgun.”
“I can’t imagine this ending any other way.”