"Grandpa Nick? Santa?" She spun to the white-bearded man peeling off his brown coveralls, uncovering a white shirt with black suspenders and a red pants. She thought he was just a mechanic named Claus. Was he her Grandpa? She watched with such bug-eyed confusion she saw three of him smiling back at her. She blinked. This couldn't be the real Santa? She whipped her gaze back to her father. "Santa is my grandpa?"
Her father nodded.
She tugged the arm of Christmas pajamas. "But my name is Clausinsky?"
Her father reached out and squeezed her shoulder. "Long for Claus."
With a shake of her head, and a quirk of her lips, Madison turned to study the grandpa in question. He pulled on a red coat with a furry, white collar and fastened a black belt around his ample tummy. She lay her finger beside of her nose. Her father's name was Nickolas. Only he didn’t look much like this rosy, cheeked man. But who could really tell behind all them whiskers? There was something in the eyes. And daddy surely wouldn't lie. "Am I a jolly ol' elf too?"
Santa's beard opened with his laugh then settled around his wide grin. His bushy white brows arched above his dancing eyes. "No, sweetheart. There are many elves here at the North Pole, but the Claus's are human."
Human. She held her frown as visions of happy Christmas colored clothes and shoes and hats with bells faded from her mind.
"Madison… Madison Hope Klausinsky? Please, if you can hear me…"
"Mom?" Madison's gaze hit all points of the room expecting to find her mother in the garage. She was still alone with her daddy, her grandpa Santa, and Gibb. Did they go get her and bring her to the North Pole? Maybe she just couldn’t see her.
She looked up at her dad. "I just heard mommy. Is she here too?"
Her father's smile wasn't quite as bright as his hand lowered from her shoulder. "No."
Her shoulders slumped. "Mommy sounded scared. We need to go home." She started for the door. Her father caught her hand in his and pulled her gently to him.
"We can't go home yet."
She laid her head against his soft Christmas sweater. "But mommy is… she--"
"Hush, Madison, it will be okay." Her father caressed her shoulder. "We'll go home soon. But first, we have work to do."
Madison's lips puckered. Gibbs told her she had magic, but she didn't feel the magic inside, she just wanted to go home.
"Madison… oh, Madison… Oh God, please let her be okay." Her mommy sobbed now.
"Mommy needs me."
Her father let her go. She eyed the door, thought to run, but didn’t know where to go.
"Here, Madison," Santa called her name softly calming her fear. "Come and look."
Madison turned. Grandpa Santa held out his hand, a snow globe appeared in his palm.
She clung to her father, afraid to move.
"It's okay, honey." He patted her back softly. "Take a look."
Slippers sliding on the floor, Madison took hesitant steps toward the snow globe. There she saw her mother sitting on the front step in the snow. A flashlight's beam encased her booted-feet.
"She's been looking for you," her father said coming to stand behind her.
I'm here, mommy. Madison put her fingers to the glass. Tears stung her eyes. "I can't come home though."
"No, darling," her father whispered. "The same thing that's kept me away, now holds you too. We have to stop it so we can go home."
"But…" She blinked her tears. "What is holding us?"
Santa shook the globe slightly. Madison held her tears as the scene changed and her mother disappeared. The earth and the sky above it settled into view when the snow of globe stopped swirling.
"Do you see the darker shadows of the night?" Grandpa Santa asked.
Madison squinted. It all looked like night to her. Then she saw the difference. Saw the black inkiness beyond the silent starry night. The closer she looked the darker it became. She shivered. "What is that?"
"That is the growing despair of Christmas," Santa said.
"Where does it come from?" Madison asked.
"Hmm. That's a good question." Her daddy said and pulled her up into his arms.