Mrs. Murphy glanced admiringly at Santa, impressed that the department store had found such a remarkably appropriate man. His beard was obviously real, for one thing. His girth was believable, his laugh was jolly. A few sleigh bells adorned his thick black belt and jangled merrily with each burst of his laughter. He was the perfect Santa. When he looked up from his “Ho, Ho, Ho,” Mrs. Murphy smiled at him, delighted that he was playing the role with such heart.
Mrs. Murphy enjoyed watching the giggling children, barely able to contain their excitement. The little girl next in line wore a red velvet coat and her hands rested inside an adorable, white fluffy muff. Mrs. Murphy decided on the spot that she would have to find such a muff for her four-year-old niece.
A slight commotion pulled her attention away from the little girl, and over to the boy sitting on Santa’s lap. Apparently, Santa was not paying attention as the child read off his long list, and the boy was now raising his voice in an effort to be heard. Santa was leaning forward, his shaggy eyebrows furrowed as he peered in the direction of Mrs. Murphy.
Mrs. Murphy looked around next to her, then behind her to see who Santa was so fixed on. There was no one near her. She realized with a start that he was staring at her! She put a nervous hand to her cheek. What did the man mean? Surely he hadn’t mistaken her earlier smile to him. She glanced around at the milling shoppers, hoping that none of them thought she was making eyes at Santa. When she looked up at the stage again, she found that Santa was positively staring now, ignoring the long list of toys the boy loudly read from his letter.
“And I want a sling shot, and a BB gun, and Ma said if I was good I could have a train set, the electric kind, and…”
Not only was Santa not listening to the child, but he now lifted the boy off his lap, and set him aside like a sack of potatoes.
Mrs. Murphy took a few steps back, bumping into a table full of toys, and knocking down a tower of colored blocks. She hurriedly gathered the blocks into a pile, all the while keeping a wary eye on Santa.
“Hey! I wasn’t finished!” cried the boy. “I didn’t get to the part about the bike. Get back here!” The boy’s mother put her hand on her hip at Santa’s hasty retreat, and tried to hush her son, who stomped and waved his letter. “But I wasn’t finished!” he protested.
The other mothers watched in perplexity as Santa pushed past them and their children, and climbed down the steps from the North Pole. Never taking his piercing blue eyes off Mrs. Murphy.
Realizing that he was headed for her, Mrs. Murphy started to move away. Hurry away. Perhaps he was a madman. Perhaps he somehow knew that she had extra money with her this evening.
She threw a glance over her shoulder, colliding with some shoppers in her haste. “Pardon me. Excuse me. Oh!” she cried. Santa was gaining on her, calling out to her, the bells jingling with each step.
Alarmed now, she hurried down the aisle and crossed to the check-out counter, trying to lose him. Surely one of the salespeople would stop the man, notify security.
“Excuse me, sir.” She held up a finger trying to get the attention of one of the harried sales clerks.
“Be right with you ma’am,” responded the clerk behind the cash register.
She rapped her knuckles on the glass countertop. “I say! There’s a –”
The jingling bells were closer now. She turned around and saw that Santa was coming towards her, moving rather briskly for such a large man.
He waved his hands, calling out, “Wait! Hold on there!”
She bolted from the counter and circled round it, only to find herself back at the North Pole. Where was the escalator? She had lost her bearings in her flight from Santa.
Another glance over her shoulder. He was on her heels now!
With a sense of fright, she realized that no one was coming to her rescue, and that she must face the deranged Santa on her own. Mrs. Murphy whipped around and braced for some kind of attack or altercation. She held up her purse in front of her chest and gave her fiercest stare, usually reserved for her youngest nephew.
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