When I was a precocious twelve year-old, my older brother dared me to stay awake and catch Santa in the act. I found out it was no act.

The most difficult part involved feigning sleep enough to fool my parents. My brother dozed off immediately, a grin on his stupid face. I matched his breathing pattern, and battled with the Sandman, who tried in vain to drag me off to slumberland.

When I figured the coast was clear, I tiptoed in my footie Cowboy-and-Indian pajamas until I was past my parent's room and their useless, nosey French Poodle. A conveniently staged blanket and thermos of hot chocolate joined me on my trek to the comfy chair in front of the faux fireplace.

I didn't seem to have to wait too long, though I drifted through layers of consciousness. I heard noises. Loud, neighbor-banging-on-the-pipes noises. I figured my idiot brother set me up. Again.

I picked up the thermos and prepared to grenade-throw it at him, when a big man in a red suit erupted out of the fireplace, smelling like brimstone and covering Mom's doilies with ash.

"Ho, ho, my lad. Why are you out of bed, you naughty boy?"

I didn't recall Santa having two big horns on his head. We just saw him at Harrod's earlier that week, and horns were certainly not evident.

"Who are you? Where's Santa?" I couldn't tell if I was shouting or not, but in normal life, the poodle should be barking as though someone took his chew-toy.

"I am Santa," said the Devil, "and Santa is me. Clever play on the spelling, wouldn't you agree? Mix up a few characters, and every kid loves you."

"No, seriously, how did you get in my house? Why are you here?" I asked, burrowing deeper into the blanket, since blankets came with a built-in No Monsters Can Get You Guarantee, as long as your feet didn't dangle over the side.

Old Scrotch pulled up an ottoman and sat down. I could smell the charring leather, and I knew Mom would be irate.

"Look, kid," he said, leaning in and whispering conspiringly, "Think about it. Santa knows who's been bad. Who has the market cornered on knowing who's been bad?"

"What about who's been good?"

Satan waved his hand and set a lampshade on fire. "Simple process of elimination." He blew at the flames until they went out. "Santa wears red, but he's not the first. I'm the original trend-setter. Who knows how to break into every house in the world?"

I opened my mouth, but he cut me off. "That was rhetorical, kid. The answer is me. I know what's in every criminal's mind."

This was getting a little weird, and I wondered if my brother put something in my hot chocolate. "Fine, you're Santa-slash-Satan. Why are you leaving presents?"

Satan sighed, looking embarrassed. "I've been doing this gig for millennium. Penance. Trying to get back in His good graces, if you catch my drift."

"Let me get this straight. You supposed to give the good kids presents. I know I was bad last year. Why did you leave me anything?"

"Ah, my lad," he said, rubbing his horns with the end of my blanket. I thanked God they were made of flame-resistant wool. "Therein lies the rub. Suzie, the little girl who lives in the next flat, received a new bicycle and a pile of dolls because she was good. What did you get?"

I wrinkled my nose, trying to recall. "Oh, yeah, you gave me a BB gun and a slingshot."

"That's my weakness, and why I never get anywhere with Him. I end up rewarding the bad ones with destructive and annoying gifts. I gave your brother a drum set last year, after all."

I laughed. "My parents thought he stole that."

"Nope, that was me. Now, let's check what's in store for you." He stroked his pointed goatee, twisting the little curl at the end. "You've been relatively good for most of the year. Too bad, I had some great gifts lined up for you. So tell me, what do you want?"

I had thought about it since I decided to take my brother up on the dare. "I want frozen marbles."

"Frozen is tough for me. How about some nice lava?"

"Nope. Frozen marbles."

Santa/Satan reached into his bag. I heard some moaning and howling, and I pulled my blanket up to my chin. "So tell me," he said, still rummaging, "why do you want such a strange gift?"

"I'm gonna dump them in my brother's bed while he's sleeping. No matter where he moves, the marbles will follow him around and torture him."

His smile grew three sizes, and he produced my gift, still smoking like dry ice on a calm summer day. "That's my lad." He pulled out several other items, including a new cricket bat and a ten-speed bicycle. "Those are an advance on next year's presents. You go to sleep now, and let me finish up."

My eyelids became heavy, and I drifted off under his spell. My new wristwatch, set for three a.m., woke me up from under the Christmas tree. I guess he didn't want me to miss out on getting even with my sibling. The marbles were still frozen, and I crept back into our room, ready to give my evil sleeping brother a White Christmas he'd never forget.

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