[For the month of December, just for fun, I wanted to share a story I’ve had lying around for a few years now. It seemed to fit the season. This is part one of four.]

Jeremy Tanner Bachman was never really sure what had started his father’s feud with Santa Claus.

Every Christmas as far back as he could remember, his father hatched a new plot to catch the great elf and capture that magical bag from which all gifts flowed. This year was no different. As Thanksgiving turned the corner towards hanging the first figure on the advent calendar, his dad was fast at it again.

Out with the Christmas decorations came the red-and-green-plastic bear trap his father had found in a convenience store a few winters back. Jeremy still jumped when it snapped shut, never braving to go near it. His father, in his dark green robe with a sparkle in his eye, pulled it from the hall closet. “This year, we will place it right here, next to the tree,” he said.

Jeremy remembered the awe with which he’d spoken, “Dad, do you really think we can catch Santa Claus?”

His father placed the trap carefully near the presents. He checked the rubber band on either side, then gingerly opened its jaws and set the plastic catch. “That’s the plan, son.” Then slowly, nimble as a cat, he reached forward and tapped his finger lightly on the spring of the trap. The jaws snapped shut on his wrist.

Jeremy jumped.

“When that old elf reaches for the bait, this is what will snag him. He’ll be trapped and won’t be able to get back up the chimney,” his dad said, easing his hand out of the trap. “See, it won’t hurt him.” He showed Jeremy his wrist was unhurt. “But it will catch him—and we’ll have all of Santa’s presents for ourselves.”

Jeremy shuddered as he remembered the Christmas morning from the year before. In the stillness before anyone else woke, he’d crept down the hall and peered into the living room with a mixture of anticipation and dread. He more than half expected there to be a large, red-suited man, exhausted from struggling, lying unconscious on the floor. But when he finally dared to open his eyes to look, no one was there. Instead, new gifts glistened beneath the tree and the stockings bulged before the fireplace. Lying harmlessly near the hearth, the Christmas trap was untouched.

His father pulled him from his reverie. “Ah, I know you were disappointed that we didn’t catch him last year, but this year will be different! I’ve discovered the problem,” Jeremy’s father began searching the pockets of his robe. “It’s the bait. Santa simply isn’t interested in any more cookies by the time he reaches Oregon.”

Jeremy was puzzled. Not want cookies anymore? Jeremy thought. I thought those were his favorite! So he asked, “What do you mean, Dad?”

“It’s just too much of a good thing, son,” he began. “Santa is tired of cookies and milk by the time he reaches us on the West Coast. It’s because of the time zones. You understand time zones, right?”

Jeremy certainly didn’t understand time zones—but that was not the type of thing you let your dad know—so he just nodded.

His father went on as if he hadn’t noticed, “He has to work his way down the East Coast, having come from the North, because it is night there first. He nibbles his way through each home: chocolate chip cookies in New York, peanut butter cookies in Georgia, Cajun cookies—if such things exist—in Louisiana, oatmeal cookies in Iowa, the best of chocolate swirls and hot cocoa through the Rockies, raisin cookies in California and then on to our little town in Oregon. Who, by that time, would even consider having one of your mother’s lopsided Christmas-tree cookies?”

Jeremy looked at the tray in the center of the table and noticed a couple cookies with extra frosting on the edge to cover the dark spots. His dad had a point.

“We have to have something completely different, something totally irresistible.” At this cue, he slowly circled his hand in the air, and with a magician’s gesture, pulled from Jeremy’s ear a red-and-white-striped peppermint candy. “And this is that something.”

Jeremy froze. To him, Christmas tasted of peppermint. This was a lure as inescapable as the season itself. He knew at that moment, with a certainty he hadn’t known since he was two, that if he didn’t do something to save him, Santa Claus was done for.

(To read on in Part 2, click here)

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