Happy Thursday, Christmas fanatics! Welcome to the fourteenth official installment of “Another Christmas Story“!
This week, Mike Westfall of the always amazing, nostalgic, informative, and hilarious “Advent Calendar House” will read to all of you Chapter Thirteen of our tale, entitled “Christmas Time is Here”. Within this chapter, we switch back to the perspectives of Aaron Rankin and his classmates on their Christmas Eve field trip to New York City!
We hope you like it! If you do, make sure to share this episode and our website, upon which the text of this installment is posted, to get it in front of as many eyes as possible! Make sure to check your podcast feeds for your regular weekly episode on Monday, in which the elves cover the 2016 holiday film, “Almost Christmas”, and next Thursday for the fourteenth official chapter of this story – “Chapter Fourteen: Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town”, which Kendall Farrae of “For Forks Sake” will be reading to you! In it, we switch back to the points of view of college students Elizabeth Meyer and Noah Clarke as they traverse Manhattan to find the perfect Christmas story for NYU’s streaming website!
Chapter Thirteen: Christmas Time is Here
December 24th – 9:00 a.m. EST
The drive from Newark airport into New York City was, at the same time, both magical and mundane. As expected, due to a variety of factors, the Greyhound bus that Tampa Palms Elementary School had chartered ended up stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic. This neither dampened nor deterred the spirits of any of the children aboard it, however, who were thrilled to be experiencing New York City at Christmastime – in addition to snow! – for the very first time in their young lives. Indeed, it was even enough to put Aaron at ease, his worries replaced by amusement at witnessing Kevin’s sheer excitement over the fact that they were passing through the Lincoln Tunnel. “Buddy the elf walked through here!” his friend exclaimed in wide-eyed awe. And Kevin wasn’t the only one! Driving across the city was an experience for the entirety of Patricia Warren’s third-grade class. The majority of students were climbing atop one another, eagerly bouncing up and down in their seats to press their noses against the bus windows, determined to get better looks at the enormous buildings shining brightly through the heavily falling snow, which were decked out in fairy lights and other holiday adornments. More than once, this necessitated Ms. Warren, Principal Rodriguez, or one of the parent chaperones to reprimand the children and urge them to sit down for their own safety.
With his nose pressed up against the cold glass of a window, so that it resembled the snout of a pig, Kevin asked Aaron, “Is it anything like you remember it?”
“Honestly, I was so young, I couldn’t even tell you.” Aaron laughed. “I definitely don’t remember it looking this…” He searched around for the appropriate word before finally settling on, “Beautiful.”
“It’s very romantic.” And to stress his point, Kevin jerked his head across the bus’s central aisle toward where Holly and Margot were sitting, gazing open-mouthed out of their own window. One look at Holly, whose head was framed perfectly in the center of the frosty glass, was enough to make Aaron’s cheeks burn hot and turn away from her quickly.
Eventually, the bus came to a stop on Sixth Avenue. beneath the iconic, vertical, neon sign that bore the words ‘Radio City’, directly across the street from a display of giant red baubles positioned a-little-ways away from an enormous toy train, which in turn was a-little-ways away from a giant display of multi-colored Christmas lights along the ground. At the sight of the music hall, Aaron felt his stomach constrict nervously. In under twelve-hours, he would be playing his drum in front of a crowd of New Yorkers in the middle of the world’s most famous holiday show on Christmas Eve. As that thought crept to the forefront of his mind once again, he suddenly wished that his mom was in town with him. He was only shaken from these persistent thoughts when Principal Rodriguez spoke up loudly a few moments later.
“Alright everybody, eyes up front please!” The man stood at the front of the bus, addressing his students. “Me and a few of our chaperones will be bringing your instruments into the music hall so they’re ready for us later tonight. While we’re doing that, Ms. Warren and another handful of chaperones will walk down the street to the Marriott to drop off the rest of your luggage and check us into the hotel.”
At the words, Aaron noticed his teacher glance warily out of the front windshield of the bus, as though uncertain as to whether or not she wanted to drag a bunch of heavy suitcases down the street in such heavy snow. “We shouldn’t take long,” Principal Rodriguez continued. “But while we’re doing that, we figured that instead of having you all wait for us on the bus, you might like to see the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree.”
Excited cheers rose up at the words, forcing Ms. Warren to speak up loudly. “Quiet, please!” When her students fell silent once again, she went on, “New York is a big city, and like any place, it has its dangerous areas, so it’s important to stick together, even though the tree is just around the corner. If we let you do this, you must stay with your chaperones and do everything they say, do you understand?”
A few students gave scattered nods, at which point Principal Rodriguez said, “Chaperones, up front please! Let’s split you up and decide who’s helping me, who’s helping Patty, and who’s going to keep an eye on the children.”
After a quick debate at the front of the bus, six parents drew the short straws and were tasked with accompanying thirty children around the corner to see the world-famous Christmas tree – Ms. Ringwald, Mrs. Garrett, Mrs. Brady, Mr. Howell, Mr. Tanner, and Mr. Jefferson. “We’ll meet back at the bus in forty-five-minutes!” Ms. Warren called after the six parents and her students as they disembarked the bus, her voice oddly stifled by the swirling snow.
As the group rounded the corner into Rockefeller Plaza for the first time, Aaron felt his mouth drop open in amazement and saw similar expressions mirrored on the faces of his classmates around him. The enormous Christmas tree loomed large above them, its colored lights sparkling brightly, illuminating the snowflakes falling around it. At the base of the tree, an enormous crowd of people were mulling around, trying to find the best angles at which to get pictures. Glancing at the parents in charge of chaperoning them, Aaron saw their faces fall slightly at the throng of people before Mrs. Garrett instructed weakly, “Alright, kids! Please stick together!”
The words were barely out of the woman’s mouth when the children took off as one, running excitedly toward the foot of the tree and the monstrous crowd that encircled it, fanning out into a wide net. Aaron and Kevin stayed cautiously toward the back of the crowd, hugging the perimeter of the waist-high, stone wall that looked over the teeming ice-rink built into the sunken ground below. They observed the tree from this vantage point, watching with mild amusement as their chaperones chased down their classmates. As Kevin craned his neck to glance up at the star that hung upon the tree’s highest bough, he asked, “How do you think they get the tree here?”
“Paul Bunyan?” Aaron joked. “The Bumble?”
Kevin laughed. “I bet it takes forever to decorate.”
“I think my mom told me once that it takes all of November,” Aaron replied. “We watched the lighting ceremony on T.V. this year; it’s amazing how many celebrities show up for it.”
“Why wouldn’t they?” Kevin asked. “Who doesn’t love Christmas?”
“Scrooge,” Aaron pointed out. “The Grinch. Burgermeister Meisterburger.”
“Yeah, but they learned to love it,” Kevin corrected, as though it were the most obvious thing in the world before pausing thoughtfully and conceding, “Well, at least Scrooge and the Grinch did. You know who else loves it? Holly.” He jerked his head toward the crowd of people at the base of the ginormous Christmas tree.
Scanning the crowd for whom his friend was indicating, Aaron finally managed to catch a glimpse of Holly and Margot through the legs of adults much taller than they were. Sighing deeply, he asked Kevin, “Why do you care so much about me and Holly?”
“What kind of friend would I be if I didn’t?” Kevin asked, confused, as he straightened his glasses. “You like her, don’t you?”
“Then you should tell her,” Kevin interrupted. “She clearly likes you too.”
“As a friend, maybe.”
“Maybe as something more,” Kevin pushed. “You’ll never know if you don’t talk to her. Go on!” He nudged him gently. “You couldn’t ask for a more magical moment to do it!” He motioned around them wildly.
Glancing back at Holly, Aaron silently conceded to himself that his friend had a point. He mentally steeled himself to walk over to talk to her about how he felt, but before he could move in that direction, somebody tapped him on the shoulder. “Rankin!”
Aaron and Kevin exchanged a wary look and turned as one to face Chris and Daniel, who had sidled up beside them. “What do you two want?” Aaron asked glumly.
“I wanted to show you something,” Daniel said matter-of-factly, and from within his jacket pocket, he withdrew a crumpled piece-of-paper and pressed it into the palm of Aaron’s hand. Aaron and Kevin exchanged a curious glance before unfolding and staring down at it, doing their best to ignore the snickering of Chris and Daniel as they did so.
There was a crudely drawn, yet horrifyingly unnerving, sketch of some sort of demonic entity upon it. The hairy creature had curled, ram-like horns atop its head and long-fingered claws for hands. A forked-tongue stretched out of its open mouth, in which fangs were visible, and stretched all the way down to the ground, curling past its hooved, cloven feet. In Aaron’s mind, it looked similar to a satanic, anthropomorphic goat, and though he knew instinctively what the drawing was of, he brandished it at his tormentors nevertheless. “What’s this supposed to be?”
“What do you think?” Daniel rolled his eyes. “That’s what Krampus looks like! Scary, right?”
“No,” Aaron lied.
“I bet you’ll find him scary tonight when he sneaks into your bedroom to punish you because you don’t believe in Santa Claus,” Chris teased.
“Don’t listen to them,” Kevin advised wisely, as Chris and Daniel doubled-over laughing. “They don’t know what they’re talking about. I’m sure Krampus isn’t going to visit you tonight.”
Aaron noted how hollow the words sounded coming out of his friend’s mouth and noticed that Kevin was no longer trying to deny the entity’s existence like he had on the plane before they left Tampa. Perhaps, Aaron thought, it was because his friend feared retribution from the demon if he expressed aloud doubt of his existence. Before Aaron could ask him – or any of the four boys could say another word – however, Mr. Howell’s sharp voice sounded from behind them. “There you are!” He sounded half-annoyed, half-relieved. “Come on, let’s go! Back to the bus, all of you!” And as they silently followed the tired looking man, Aaron discreetly folded-up the picture of Krampus and shoved it into his pocket. A gust of wind blew through the plaza at that moment, and Aaron pulled his coat more tightly around himself, his mind racing with worry once again.
Once everyone had piled onto the bus, and it lurched yet again into the crowded New York City street, ambling downtown in the direction of Macy’s, Aaron closed his eyes and allowed his troubled thoughts to consume him completely, the image of Krampus burned into the forefront of his brain. Beside him, Kevin sat in silent awe as he stared out of the window at the buildings passing by them outside. He remained oddly quiet, offering no words of reassurance to Aaron at all. Behind him, kicking his seat gleefully, Aaron could hear the laughter of Daniel and Chris, whom he instinctively knew were reveling in his panic and worry. Just because they didn’t like him though didn’t necessarily mean they were lying about Krampus, did it? He was shaken from his thoughts when, somewhere behind him, one of his classmates shouted loudly, “Can we visit FAO Schwarz?”
“What’s that?” another student inquired from the front of the vehicle before Ms. Warren or Principal Rodriguez could address the first question.
“It’s a gigantic toy store,” Chris replied from behind Aaron, causing the boy to tense up automatically at the sudden sound of his voice.
“I heard it’s like a winter wonderland in there!” Margot chimed in, straightening up in her seat beside Holly in a dignified manner. “My parents told me it looks like Santa’s workshop at the north pole and that they have toy soldiers guarding the entrance!”
At this proclamation, an excited murmuring broke out throughout the bus as more students chimed in, imploring their teacher and principal to take them to the store in question. With a note of sympathy evident in her voice, Ms. Warren replied, “We don’t have time today, children, we’re on a tight schedule.” She bristled in frustration as loud groans of disappointment began to sound up and down the bus at that moment. “Besides, all of you already got your letters in the mail to Santa! What’s the point of going there and looking at a bunch of new toys that you had no idea existed if Santa won’t bring them this year?”
A few of the parents chuckled at the statement, but Daniel was having none of it. Standing up to peer over the back of Kevin’s seat, he shouted his rhetorical question at their teacher. “What’s the point of visiting Santa at Macy’s if he already knows what we want, and whether or not he’s going to bring us gifts this year?”
As more students began to voice their agreement, Principal Rodriguez rolled his eyes. Raising his voice, he snapped, “Sit down, Daniel. Is that any way to speak to your teacher?”
“It’s fine,” Ms. Warren assured him before staring around the bus wearily. “We’re in New York until the twenty-eighth, which means after tomorrow – which is obviously Christmas – we have two whole days to explore the city. I promise you that we’ll be sure to stop in FAO Schwarz at some point, alright?”
Aaron’s stomach sank at the words. He wasn’t staying with the rest of his class at the hotel, nor taking part in the rest of the field trip; he would be going home with his grandparents after that evening’s performance at Radio City. Who knew if he’d get the chance to see the iconic toy store before he flew back to Florida? It seemed that his tormentors were following the same line of thinking, because Daniel kicked his seat hard and said loudly, “Don’t worry, Rankin! We’ll be sure to pick up something nice for you!”
Aaron’s face turned beat-red as scattered chuckles echoed up and down the length of the bus. To his left, Kevin rolled his eyes, exasperated, as Holly stared pityingly at him on his right. He didn’t get the chance to reply for himself, however, for Principal Rodriguez snapped, “Daniel! Knock it off! What did we talk about?” Daniel rolled his eyes, annoyed, and crossed his arms across his chest in defiance as he sank down into his seat. Seizing upon the momentary silence that had settled throughout the vehicle, the principal continued. “Behave. All of you. If any of you act out again, I’m going to report you to Santa once we get to Macy’s.”
Ms. Warren smiled as the man winked at her and frightened debate broke out in low murmurs amongst all of the students, as they argued about whether or not their principal’s threat was an empty one. Out of the corner of his eye, Aaron noticed Kevin sympathetically staring at him, but not in the mood to talk, he flashed his friend a smile before leaning back in his seat and closing his eyes, feigning tiredness.
* * *
Megan Rankin was nearing her wit’s end, and glancing around the crowded plane, she noticed that she clearly wasn’t the only one who felt that way. They were two-hours past the time at which they were supposed to takeoff from Tampa, and they had still yet to pull away from the gate. Apparently the snowstorm pummeling the northeast had ramped up more quickly than expected, and because of its force, flights were being delayed and outright cancelled en masse. Megan was grateful that their flight had not yet been cancelled – the thought of missing Aaron’s performance and not being with him Christmas morning was almost too much to bear – but was getting antsier with each second they were being forced to wait on the tarmac to depart.
Amy had been dozing on and off in her lap, and Megan knew that would end up being bad news for her fellow passengers, who were already buzzing with annoyance, because it meant that her daughter would be keeping them up with her crying if they ever did manage to get off of the ground. Beside her, Jake looked even irater than she felt. “This is bullshit!” he sulked when he noticed his mother glaring at him.
“Language!” Megan reprimanded, rolling her eyes despite agreeing with his assessment. “What the hell do you want me to do about it, huh? I don’t control the weather!” Then, with a wry smile, she added, “Take it up with the Snow Miser and Heat Miser.”
“Ha. Ha. Ha.” Jake rolled his eyes, unamused. “You’re hilarious, Megan.”
The woman ignored the use of her first name as her daughter stirred in her lap, rubbing her bleary eyes with her tiny fists, whining slightly. “Oh, it’s okay honey!” She cooed at her baby. “Sh! It’s okay! Mommy’s here!”
“What are we going to do if they don’t let us leave?” Jake demanded.
Megan had been wondering the same thing herself. Around her, she could hear snippets of conversations that other passengers were having, debating alternate holiday plans. Before she could reply to her son, however, the voice of the plane’s captain began to echo up and down the length of the fuselage over the loudspeaker. “Ladies and gentleman, this is your captain speaking. Air Control has just granted us a Christmas miracle by giving us the go-ahead to depart for Newark.”
Cheers rose loudly from the passengers as a huge sense of relief swept through Megan. Turning toward Jake, she winked at her smiling son. “See?” She placed a hand on his knee. “Everything has a way of working out in the end, Jakey.”
“New York, here we come!” Her son replied ecstatically, eliciting a genuine laugh from his mother.
“I’ll do my damnedest to get you all where you need to be in time for the holidays,” the captain continued with his announcement. “Flight attendants, please prepare for takeoff. Ladies and gentlemen, please buckle your seatbelts and keep them fastened for the duration of the flight; it’s going to be a bumpy ride.”
Though Megan hated flying, oftentimes becoming nauseous when there was bad turbulence, she couldn’t care less at that moment about the prospect of a rough flight. She was too thrilled that she, Jake, and Amy would make it to New York in time to surprise Aaron in time for his big performance. And with that happy thought at the forefront of her mind, she kissed the top of Amy’s head as she fastened her seatbelt over both of their laps.