Until Next Year
Voices echoed in the hallway. Five strokes to midnight and there were voices, keeping him awake. He pushed the blankets from him and reaching for his stick with one gnarled hand, heaved himself out of bed and slowly across the room. But as he walked his heart quickened. Something fell away from him, like burdens, and by the time he’d found the door, the hand that reached out to it was small and hopeful. With eyes wide he peeped outside.
“Busy again, my friend,” said a voice and then there was laughter.
“Yes,” said another voice and suddenly, the boy was looking at him. The fat man in the red suit, sitting on a chair in the nursing home hallway, eating a mince pie. Flakes of snow covered his beard and boots. A sack bulging with promises lay at his feet.
“Ah,” said Father Christmas with a wide smile. “At last!”
Then the boy heard the other voice again. “Come closer,” said the other voice. “We’ve been waiting for you every year.”
This time he had to turn and look because the light was so bright, he couldn’t pretend any more that there wasn’t a huge, golden lion, filling the hallway. Not a tame lion, of course. The boy stepped forward and his arms went around Aslan, until he could smell the perfume in his mane, just as he knew the children had.
“Happy Christmas,” said Aslan.
“Happy Christmas,” said the boy.
He stood back and the great lion breathed onto the top of his head.
“Time to go,” said Father Christmas, picking up his sack. “Until next year.”
With the chime of Midnight, they vanished.
The boy went back into his room. He picked up his stick, walked slowly to the edge of the bed. As he lay down under the blankets his limbs felt heavy. His bones began to ache again. He shut his eyes and slept.
When the nurse pulled back his curtains in the morning, he raised his head. The end of the bed was bare. The hall through the doorway was empty.
Until next year, said the old man as the voices echoed in his head.