The first of many strange memories that surfaced when I was sixteen involved an incident which I know occurred on Christmas Eve, though I am uncertain of the year. Judging from the fact that I had my own room at the time, it could not have been any earlier than 1984, which would make me at least six years old.
No matter how hard I tried that night I simply could not get to sleep. This bothered me a great deal, too, as somewhere along the line I had latched onto the idea, no doubt fed to me by my parents, that if I was not asleep Santa would pass by our house and leave us with nothing. As I am a compulsive worrier, thoughts of a Christmas morning without gifts or so much as a lump of coal in my stocking filled my paranoid little mind and that, of course, made it all that much more difficult for me to get to sleep. So I just lay there with my restless mind, trying to give off the appearance of being asleep, painfully aware of the alleged ability of the jolly old elf to see through such a facade and hoping that if, by chance, that were true that my efforts might be enough to earn some sympathy.
For what must have been hours, however, I had been terribly thirsty. While I always kept a cup of water beside my alarm clock on the shelf below the window to the side of the top bunk of my loft bed, I had been afraid to move a muscle, let alone reach out for it. After all, if my sudden movement to reach out for the cup didn’t give away the fact that I was wide awake, drinking the water itself would undoubtedly make me have to leave my room in order to pee, and that would most certainly give away the fact that I was awake. My inability to fall asleep and my tremendous thirst ultimately won me over, however, so I sat up in bed, leaned over the safety bar and extended my hands towards the cup. I don’t know if I ever actually took so much as a sip of that water, however, or if my hand ever came to touch that cup, as in the midst of reaching out for it I happened to glance outside my window.
Once I saw the face staring in at me through the window I swiftly retreated to the far corner of the bed. As I shook in that corner, heart beating wildly, my mind tried desperately to put together how it could possibly be real.
At that point in my youth, I had found it rational to adopt a “Pascal’s Wager” sort of attitude towards the idea of Santa, reasoning that faith in his existence in either case would only be beneficial to me. After all, if he didn’t exist and I called my parent’s bluff, I may no longer receive the gifts that perhaps only came as a benefit of believing in the lie. And if he did exist and was as omniscient as the holiday tales made him out to be, he might very well take disbelief in him as a n insult and skip over our house in his annual rounds. Though my parents had never said it, by that time I had, of course, suspected that Santa Claus was nothing more than a lie parents told children and it was really them that stuffed the stockings hung by the chimney, that it was actually themselves that put the presents beneath the tree.
Yet here it was, Christmas Eve, and there was this strange face at my window. Was this Santa after all? If so, his appearance did not seem at all resonant with what I had been told of him. He had no beard, he wore no white-and-red-colored suit, and that face did not look at all human. Nor did those wide, violating eyes bulging out of that wrinkly, brown-colored skin give off the appearance of being the eyes of a saint. And with that bottom lip firmly pressed against that little monkey-like nose to stretch out that long, unearthly frown, he didn’t have the look you would expect to be on the face of a jolly old elf.
Just as I was in the process of convincing myself that the whole thing had been the product of my overactive imagination, that was when I heard it: a deliberate, persistent tapping on the window. At the sound of it I just locked up and stopped breathing. From where I was the creature at the window could not see me, save for perhaps my legs, and I had no intention of so much as moving, let alone getting back within its line of sight to answer its apparent call. Instead, I just remained there, motionless save for my terrified trembling, thinking that perhaps if I only ignored that gruesome creature he might go away.
A short time later, when the periodic tapping at the window had finally ceased, I thought perhaps that I had managed to will him away through the awesome power of denial, but as I peered down into my dark room and towards my bedroom door, my terror returned and wasted no time blasting to a fever pitch. There was unmistakable movement down there. There was a figure, what I remember as a dark, featureless silhouette, walking through my closed door with the ease of an apparition. I would later call it “the ghost of Santa Claus.”
The figure remained there, before the door, as a parade of shorter forms marched along the wall of my room, towards my closet and the step-ladder at the end of my loft bed. They, too, seemed to be featureless silhouettes, and though basically slender with large heads, they seemed to be morphing in the shape, almost fluid in a way. For years I referred to them as a gang of shape-shifting elves, though I often speculated that the shape-changing nature may have been an inaccurate interpretation on my behalf, inspired by the coupling of my unadjusted eyes, their actual form, and the shadows they cast on the wall as they moved.
In any case, watching those forms approaching the area where a step-ladder would provide them easy access to me was the very last thing I recalled regarding the events of that night before Christmas.
The next thing I knew it was morning, and not only were the events of the previous night still fresh and clear in my mind, but I had the distinct, nagging impression that far more had occurred; things which, try as I might, I was entirely unable to recall. An ominous shadow seemed to drape itself over the excitement that traditionally filled me in untainted form on Christmas mornings. Cautiously, I told my parents about it, hoping that perhaps they could provide some sort of explanation. The only person that had anything to offer was my father, who suggested that the whole incident may have been a hallucination due to dehydration, but that interpretation was far from satisfying.
The question as to what had really happened that night hung with me all year, and by the following Christmas I had a plan. In an unfortunate coincidence, I believe that this was the very year that my parents called me into their room and announced that the whole Santa thing was, as I had long expected, a lie parents told their children. A confusion seemed to fill the room as I cried, for, as they quickly revealed to me, they would have thought I had by that time figured it out on my own anyhow. While in a deep sense I most certainly had, they had, with their sudden and unexpected announcement, entirely eliminated the only explanation I had within my worldview at the time for the events that had occurred the previous Christmas Eve, leaving me with nothing but a frightening, mysterious memory devoid of a ready-made context.
Despite the grim revelations only hours before, that night I remained awake in my room until the early morning hours with my camera in hand, staring at the window, all my senses acute as I patiently awaited the return of that frowning creature and his vertically-challenged henchmen. Of course, they never came. As much as I knew there was no Santa, as strongly as that had now been confirmed, I felt the comfort of thinking that perhaps I was wrong, perhaps my parents were wrong, that perhaps he was real, and that this could still explain what I’d seen that night — and that the mysterious beings would reappear in anniversary of their previous visit and I would capture evidence of their existence on film.
At some point during the second grade year, our teacher had to take a leave of absence, at which time a substitute teacher came in to replace her for what I believe was the remainder of the year. It was a maternity leave, though so far as I know it was an unscheduled one, which seems strange, considering it should have been anticipated. Regardless, at some point after she took her leave I remember feeling ill during school. When I went down to the nurse’s office, however, I seemed incapable of describing to her what the problem was. I was only able to convey to her that my head felt strange, that I felt dizzy and confused and was unable to walk straight. Quickly, I picked up on the fact that this was not enough for her, and that she suspected that I was only faking an illness to get out of class, but she nonetheless permitted me to lay down on the cot she had in her office. Grabbing the white curtain around the cot, she drew it around me, concealing me from the office and the rest of the world, and there I lay alone, the nauseous feeling escalating, my mind spinning like a top. Though I would have no way of knowing it back then, what I was experiencing was almost drug-like, almost like a psychedelic experience. In tandem with the symptoms previously described, I began seeing strange, spinning visions in my head that were frighteningly vivid and horribly perplexing. In these visions, I found myself running around in this room at high speed, trying to find a way out. The room was dark and everything was draped in this eerie, red highlight. Chasing me around in the room were these creatures, these little monsters, that looked like demented versions of the Muppets, and one of them in particular I recall staring down at me with its big, buggy eyes, beneath which it wore a long, unearthly frown.
My parents were called and they took me home. I remember that I stayed in bed a lot, and my mother grew concerned due to the time I was taking off from school. I only recall that I felt depressed and frightened about something that seemed beyond my ability to explain. When my mother came into my room one day while I was in bed and confronted me, however, revealing that she knew I wasn’t sick and pressing me for some explanation, I didn’t know what to say. when she questioned as to whether it was the new substitute teacher I didn’t like, I figured that was as good an explanation as any, so I “confessed” to it. My mother seemed satisfied, and understanding, though she did say that I had to go back to school, and when I later asked her whether she told my teacher that I “hated” her, she said that she had told my teacher that I had problems adapting. That made me feel awkward for the rest of the time that we had her. What made matters worse was the fact that I couldn’t articulate what was truly wrong.