The Santa Swap

Dear Journal,

It’s Christmas Eve again, and it’s been the worst year of my whole life. I snuck you and this pen out of the trash, so I have to be careful. I’m hiding under my covers with a light right now so I can write everything down before I start forgetting even more about what happened last Christmas. 

The others are all asleep, and if she catches me up past bedtime . . . I don’t even want to think about what she’ll do to me. None of the others that she took away have ever come back. But I don’t want to forget my life from before, and it’s getting harder and harder to remember. After I write everything down, I’ll hide you in the secret hole I made in my bed.

I can already hear that thing outside in the sky again. Like it’s calling to me with that deep groan that echoes in my brain and makes my heart beat weirdly. I have to hurry now before I run out of time.


The silhouette of a young child facing the open double doors of a gothic-style ice castle. The doorway is glowing so that nothing inside can be seen (pure white), and black tentacles are emerging from the inside.
Santa Swap by John Donald Carlucci

“Cole said Santa Claus wasn’t real,” I said with a mouthful of ham and cheese sandwich. 

It had just the right amount of everything on it—the bright yellow mustard (not that grainy stuff), lots of meat, and extra cheese. No mayo. That’s gross. I made it myself like I do every morning before school. I’d already finished off the baggie of my favorite chips I packed. I asked Mom to get more since that was the last of them, so I hope she remembers this time.

“Of course, Santa’s real,” Billy said as he punched Cole in the arm. “Cole’s just messin’ with ya cuz he always gets coal in his stocking. Get it? Cole gets coal?” Billy cracked up, and the other kids sitting at our lunch table laughed at his joke.

“Yeah, good one.” Cole didn’t laugh. He just rubbed his arm where Billy hit him.

Billy took a drink from his thermos and burped. It smelled like tuna and grape soda. He came around the table and sat next to me, then put his arm around my shoulders. “Santa’s real, Jacob. Really real. But he won’t come to your house if you don’t follow the rules.”

I wiped my mouth with the back of my hand. My mom hates when I do that at home. “What rules?”

Billy grinned at me. “Well, ya gotta try to do good in school. With your brains, that’s easy for you.”

“I have all As,” I said. 

And I did. Even though I was only seven at the time, I was in Mrs. McMillan’s fourth-grade class. They made me take some special tests when I was in first grade a few weeks earlier, and then I had to move to the fourth grade because they said I was “gifted.” I guess being gifted just means you have fewer friends and more homework. I really miss naps and snack time these days. 

Sorry, Journal. Back to what happened.

Anyway, Billy rolled his eyes at me. “Yeah, yeah, we know. But you also have to do all your chores at home. Plus extra ones. So you have to go home tonight and tell your parents that you need more stuff to do.”

I was starting to not like the idea. I already had to help put away the dishes, wash the table, and keep my room clean, including taking all my clothes to the laundry room every Saturday. How much more was I supposed to do? I was about to ask when Billy started talking again.

“The last thing you gotta do is be super nice to everyone you meet. I mean, super extra nice.”


Billy grinned again but it didn’t look like a nice grin. “For starters, you can’t ever argue with anybody. You gotta do what they say. And if someone you know needs a favor, well, you have to help them.”

My eyebrows wrinkled up, and I put my sandwich down. “But Christmas is next week. We only have a few days of school left before the break.”

“Then that means you have to hurry, or Santa won’t bring whatever you want most.” Billy started to get up, but then sat back down and looked at me. “You know what? I’m gonna help you out and do a favor for you.”  

I closed my lunchbox so I’d be ready when the bell rang. I wasn’t hungry anymore anyway. “How does that help me?”

“Because it’ll be us doing favors for each other. And a couple of these other guys might be willing to help too. Cuz I’m a nice guy like that.”

“What favor?”

“You can do my math homework for the rest of the week! That helps both of us, and you can do Cole’s and Aiden’s too. But that’s all or Mrs. McMillan might notice.”

“I don’t know . . .”

I didn’t like the sound of that. Doing someone else’s homework is cheating, and I didn’t want to get in trouble. If Santa was real, then Billy said I could get what I wanted most. But if I said no, I’d have to wait a whole year for Christmas again.

“Come on,” Billy said, smacking me on the back. “No arguing, remember?”

I looked up and saw Riley walking over. She was frowning. Probably because she’s usually the only person who ever sits with me, and also, she doesn’t like Billy and his friends. I didn’t mind that day since she had to meet the teacher at lunch anyway and I would have been by myself.

“Okay,” I said. 

Billy jumped up. “Good. Don’t forget to turn everything in on time,” he said, poking me in the shoulder. When he saw Riley, he leaned in and whispered to me. “And you can’t tell anybody about the chores and homework or Santa won’t come.”

Then he waved at his friends and they all followed him back to their table. As they passed Riley, Billy bumped into her and almost knocked her down, but she was fast and grabbed someone’s chair to not fall. Billy laughed, and then Riley sat down next to me.

“Hey, Jacob.”


“What did those buttheads want?”

I giggled, but then I remembered what Billy said about not telling anybody. It made me sad to lie to Riley. She was my only friend in the whole class.

“We were talking about Santa Claus.”

Riley tilted her head and looked at me like she was studying for a test. “What did they say?”

“That if you’re good, Santa Claus will bring you whatever you want the most.”

“Oh. Well, um, do you believe in Santa?”

I shrugged my shoulders. “My parents said he’s not real, but Billy said that’s just because grownups don’t believe anything anymore. Sara and Michael said he was real. Before I had to leave their class to come to this one.” Thinking about my friends made me sad. I never got to see them anymore.

“Did you write him a letter yet?”

“No. I think it’s too late, so I just have to try to be extra good.”

“It’s never too late. I’ll help you write one at lunch tomorrow, okay?”

“You believe in Santa too?” 

“Um . . . well—” 

Before she could finish, the bell rang, so we hurried to class. 


After I got home from school that day, I did everybody’s homework, then asked my mom if I could do anything to help her. She seemed suspishiss. Suspishus. I don’t know how to spell that word yet, but she looked like she thought I was being sneaky about something. She gave me some stuff to do anyway and then the next day I asked my dad. I did that until Christmas Eve.

Oh, and Riley did help me with my letter to Santa. She told me to write down that I’ve been really good, and that I’m helping around the house, and then to tell him what I wanted most. I knew exactly what to write for that, even though I wouldn’t let her read that part.

For as long as I can remember, my mom and dad have worked all the time. My grandma used to babysit me before she died, so now I go to Miss Gwynn’s house across the street until one of my parents gets home. Grandma was tired all the time, so it was really boring when she came over. Miss Gwynn is nice and gives me cookies after school, but she’s still a grownup, so it’s not the same. 

There aren’t any kids my age in my neighborhood, and now that I’m in a new grade, I don’t even get to see my friends anymore. My mom and dad are always too busy to take me places, and they don’t want me going anywhere if they don’t know the people. Riley is my only friend, but I only see her at school. 

So when I wrote my letter to Santa, I already knew what I wanted most in the whole wide world—brothers, and sisters. We would all live together and play after school, and nobody would ever be lonely. I folded up my letter, and Riley put it in an envelope and mailed it from her house because I didn’t want my parents to see it and get mad.

The whole rest of the school week was kinda boring except for the Christmas party we had where Mrs. McMillan gave us little bags with candy canes and erasers and stuff. I did all the homework and a bunch of chores. My mom and dad “worked from home” for a couple of days, but Miss Gwynn was on vacation and couldn’t babysit. I got to watch extra TV as long as I sat quietly and didn’t get into trouble, so that was pretty good.

Finally, Christmas Eve came. I hid the candy from Mrs. McMillan’s party bag because my parents say sugar makes me bounce off the walls, and they would have taken it away. I saved it for that night so I could stay up to meet Santa. Some of the kids in my class said that if you were awake, Santa wouldn’t come to your house, but I asked Billy since he knows all about it, and he said that the other kids were making stuff up and that I should stay up all night so I could talk to Santa in person about my biggest wish in case he didn’t get my letter in time.

When I went to bed that night, I pretended to be asleep, then I ate all my candy and stayed up until my parents went to bed. It made my tummy hurt. I waited a long time, then I put on my slippers and snuck down the hall with my special Pixar flashlight. I could hear my dad snoring before I even got to their room—I wonder how my mom sleeps with all that noise. Maybe that’s why she’s always so mad.

I went down the stairs on my tippy toes and jumped over the bottom step because it was squeaky. I slipped and almost fell, but I didn’t. No one came out to yell at me, so I walked super quietly into the living room. They had turned off the lights on the Christmas tree, so it was really dark except for my flashlight, but I wasn’t scared. I sat on the sofa and waited. 

After a while, I got bored. I went to the little bathroom downstairs so I wouldn’t wake anybody, then got a glass of water. And then I remembered something! I went to the kitchen and got my green cup and poured some rice milk into it. I don’t know if Santa likes that milk because it’s kinda gross, but it’s all we had. Then I found the sugar cookies Mom brought home from work and put them on a napkin since I couldn’t reach the plates, and I took it all to the living room with me. 

I put the food on the table by the tree and went to get one of my books from the shelf. While I was looking for my favorite one, I heard bells from outside, so I stayed behind Dad’s chair and hid. A couple of minutes later, there was a tinkling sound and sparkly lights over by the cookies. I peeked around the chair and saw someone with white hair with their back to me, wearing a red jacket and pants with fur—just like in the pictures! I slid out from behind the chair and stood there, watching.

Before I could decide if I should say something or wait for Santa to finish eating, he turned around, and I tried to scream but couldn’t. My whole body was frozen, and I couldn’t move or blink or anything. I don’t even remember breathing. The flashlight was still pointed at him because it was frozen in my hand.

Santa did not look like the fat old man in all the books. His face was all bony, but his skin was hanging down like silly putty. He didn’t have a nose or teeth, and his skin was gray or green—kinda both. The worst was his eyes. They were just big, black holes. 

“I see you, Jacob. You didn’t even turn off your flashlight when you heard me,” he said, but he didn’t really say it. 

His mouth didn’t move at all. It’s like he was whispering inside my head, and it made my brain all itchy but I couldn’t scratch it. I tried to scream again, and he jumped. Maybe he could hear me thinking. 

“Yes, I can hear you. You shouldn’t have stayed awake, Jacob. Don’t you know it’s bad luck to see Santa Claus? I’m afraid there are rules for a reason.”

He went to my water cup and drank the whole thing, then walked over to me and took a knife out of his pocket. I tried to run away with all my might, but my body wouldn’t work. He grabbed my wrist and lifted my arm up like a puppet, even though I couldn’t move it myself, and I finally saw the long claws on his hands. Then he put the cup under my hand and poked the end of my finger with the knife. It hurt really bad.

After there was some blood in the bottom of the cup, Santa went back to the tree and put the cup on the table. He reached into a brown bag that was sitting on the floor and pulled out a giant egg. It was so big that he used both hands to hold it. The egg was black with purple and blue swirls and dots all over it.

When Santa put the egg on the floor, I could barely see it behind the table, but he picked up the cup and poured my blood on the top of it. Then it started getting gold cracks on it that glowed, and I wished I could close my eyes because it kept getting brighter and brighter until the light hurt my head. Then it was dark again. It got bigger and bigger until it was almost as tall as me, then it exploded.

The room was super bright for a second, then the eggshell turned into a bunch of sparkles and just disappeared. I saw me, except it wasn’t me because I was still frozen. A little boy who looked exactly like me stood in front of Santa, and he wasn’t wearing any clothes. He even had a little mole on his thigh, just like I do.

Santa put his hand on the other me’s shoulder and whispered something into his ear. The boy looked at me and smiled, then ran upstairs without making any noise. Then Santa came back over to me, and he looked sad, but it was a creepy sad because of him not having eyes. He grabbed the little blanket off the sofa and wrapped it around my shoulders.

“I’m sorry, Jacob. Truly, I am. But even I can’t break the rules.” He touched the tip of my nose, and then suddenly I was gone.


The next thing I knew, I was standing outside, but it wasn’t anywhere I’d ever seen before. There were no houses or cars or trees anywhere—just snow as far as I could see in the light from the moon. I was able to move again, but I was freezing cold and the wind was loud. I was so cold that I was shaking, and it made my flashlight bounce all over. As I turned around, snow fell into my slippers, and it stung my feet.

Far away, I could see a light. I hoped it was a nice warm house. So I started toward it as fast as I could, but the fluffy snow was hard to walk on. Lightning made everything bright for a second, and then the thunder banged and scared me. It started snowing, and I could barely see the light anymore. My body felt tight and hard to move.

More lightning flashed, and then more thunder, but then there was something else. I heard a groan like when my dad hits his knee on the coffee table, except the sound hurt my head and made my chest pound funny. In the next lightning, I looked at the sky and thought I saw something moving. My chest hurt a lot, and I was so cold. 

I tried to hold on to the blanket, but the wind took it away. Then I dropped the flashlight because I couldn’t feel my fingers anymore. I kept walking and walking, and the light kept getting bigger until I could see that it was an open door. In the next flash, I finally saw what it was a door for. 

It was the biggest castle I’d ever seen, except it looked like it was made of glass or ice. Smaller dots of light were all over it, and then I saw they were windows. My legs didn’t want to move anymore. I fell down in the snow and couldn’t get back up. 

Someone started singing, and when I looked up, there was an old woman standing at the door light. She reached her hand out to me. The inside of the castle looked so bright and warm, and a giant Christmas tree filled the room. I could have sworn it wasn’t there before. 

I stood up and walked slowly to the front door. Even though I tripped two more times, I finally made it, and she caught me as I fell. She kinda reminded me of my grandma. The woman picked me up, but I was too cold and tired to hold on, so I just closed my eyes as she carried me into another room.

When she set me down, I opened my eyes and was sitting on a big cushy chair in a living room, and a fire was in the fireplace. She put a blanket over me, then handed me a cup of hot chocolate. It was a good thing she had some already sitting there.

“You just sit there and warm up, Jacob.”

My eyes got big. “How do you know my name?”

She laughed, but it sounded weird. “Santa and I know all about you.”

“Are you Mrs. Claus?”  

“I am. And you are Jacob Morgan, who only asked for brothers and sisters for Christmas.”

I sat up fast and spilled some hot chocolate on my shirt. “You got my letter?”

“Hush now, little one. You need to get warm before you become ill. Now not another word until you finish your drink and your lips aren’t blue.”

She leaned back in the chair across from me, watching. It was spooky the way she looked at me, and I swear her face changed. I mean, not really, but . . . it was blurry for a second like I could see through her face to another person behind her or something. It made my stomach loopy. I thought that maybe I was just tired and didn’t see what I thought I did. 

As I drank the hot chocolate, I started getting sleepy. I shook my head to keep my eyes from closing—I couldn’t fall asleep until I talked to her more! 

“Jacob, I need you to finish that drink right now. Every last drop. Then I’ll take you somewhere to sleep for a while, okay?”

I nodded my head, then drank the rest in one big gulp. She came over and took the cup from me, then patted my head. 

“Good boy. Now go to sleep.”

Her face did the weird thing again and I thought I was going to throw up. Something was wrong with her. But then she started humming and my eyes got so heavy that I had to close them.


I don’t know how long I was asleep, and when I woke up, I felt . . . wrong. It’s hard to explain. I opened my eyes, but everything was fuzzy for a minute. Then I noticed that I was almost standing up, and I wasn’t falling down because I was tied onto whatever was behind me. I tried to yell, but I couldn’t make any sound no matter how hard I tried. 

My arms and legs felt super heavy, so I could barely move them. I turned my head and saw I was in some kind of metal thing—like inside a giant soda can—but there was a little window in front of me. There was a tiny light above my head that didn’t give much light. I tried to look outside, but suddenly my right arm started to burn.

I looked down and there was a long tube sticking out of me that went down to the ground where I couldn’t see. Glowing gold stuff started coming out of my arm and through the tube, and I felt like the place where it was in me was on fire. I mean, I’ve never been on fire I don’t think, but that’s what people say when something is very hot.

Soon, I couldn’t feel it anymore, and I started getting sleepy even though I just woke up. I looked out the window to see if someone could help me and saw I was on a round football field. There were a lot of other giant soda cans too. More than I could count, and I can count really high. They were all sitting on benches like the ones in the gym at school, but I was near the bottom. 

All the cans had glowing tubes coming out of them, just like mine. They went into bigger tubes where they all mixed together, and then those big tubes went to a huge pool made of rocks in the middle of everybody. It was slowly filling up, but it didn’t ever spill over. The gold stuff climbed up the sides of the tower thing in the middle of the pool in curvy lines and made shapes all the way up. Just as it got to the top, I heard the same sound from when I first got there in the snow.

I remembered what the sound reminded me of more than groaning. It was like that but mixed with the crocodile from the animal show I watched with my parents, and sometimes there was a squeaky sound mixed in. My stomach flipped and jumped, and I thought for sure I was going to throw up. I wished it would stop.

The window was tiny, but I could see up into the sky a little bit. There was a ton of lightning, and it made lots of lines in the clouds like the glowy stuff in the tower. I thought I saw something moving, so I looked even harder. 

Giant tentacles came out of the clouds that were swirling all around. They went in and out and up and down, waving all around like an octopus, but there were lots more than one octopus has. Probably a bunch of them put together. Each one looked different. Some were spiky, and others had sharp things on them like on the back of a dragon, but the worst kinds were the ones that had eyes all over them. 

It felt like bees were buzzing around inside my head, and I got dizzy. Then I saw Mrs. Claus walk into the middle and stop next to the pool. I tried to yell and scream for her to help, but she didn’t hear me. 

She held her arms up in the air, and I saw her mouth moving as she stared up at the monster in the sky. Then she laughed and looked right at me. Her face changed again like before, and her body did the same thing. First, she looked like nice Mrs. Claus, and then like a lizard, and then she had tentacles on her face, plus eyes and mouths on her body. Everything moved all over her like she was made of jelly and it all mixed together until I couldn’t tell what she looked like anymore.

I cried and threw up. I couldn’t help it. When my stomach was empty and my throat hurt, a light outside made me look again. The gold stuff from my body shot up out of the tower and straight into the sky where the tentacle thing was. It made a horrible sound that filled my ears and head until I couldn’t think anymore. Then I don’t remember anything. 


When I woke up the next time, I was in a bed—the one I’m in right now as I write all this—in a room with lots of other beds, some stacked on top of the others. A tiny old man was shaking me and telling me I had to get up or we’d both be in trouble. I sat up and rubbed my eyes, but it was so dark that I couldn’t see much past the light in the middle of the room. He pointed at some clothes and told me to put them on. The shirt and pants were red and green, and there were matching striped socks and a floppy hat. The shoes were ugly and hurt my feet.

After I was dressed in the clothes that were just like his, he grabbed my arm and pulled me behind him. He was really fast. I had to run to keep up. He took me to a huge room filled with tables and benches just like where we eat lunch at school, but much bigger. There were lots of old people just like him that all wore matching clothes. 

Everyone was eating. I followed him to a line where they gave us a bowl of oatmeal and some water. My hands and arms were all wrinkly and had brown spots on them. I started to ask why I looked funny, but the old man kicked me in the leg and pointed at two tall men dressed all in black. They stood next to the door and had weird-looking guns.

I sat down with him at a table and no one talked, so I didn’t either. The oatmeal looked like oatmeal but it didn’t taste like anything. It felt like I was eating chunky water. I watched the others eating fast, then run off. 

“Eat faster, kid,” the old man who woke me up said so quiet I almost didn’t hear him. “If we’re late to work, there will be heck to pay.”

(He didn’t say heck. He said the other word that only grownups are allowed to say.)

“I have to go home. My parents are probably looking for me!”

The old man sighed. “Look, noob. We don’t have time for this right now. Trust me—your parents have no idea you’re gone. Just make my life easier and do what I tell you so we don’t get in trouble. When we go back to our rooms tonight, I’ll explain, okay? Now finish every bite and all the water. They won’t let you throw anything away.”

I saw one of the tall men in black walk toward us. My chest started pounding. I nodded to the man and ate the rest of my food in two big bites and drank the water fast as we took our dishes to a counter. The man with the gun went back to where he was standing. I followed the old man out and we ran down the hall a long way until we got to a big metal door. A tall woman in black stood next to it. She looked at us for a minute, then waved a card in front of a screen and the door went up.

We went inside, and the door slammed shut behind us. The room was filled with a bunch of tiny old people sitting at tables and making stuff. Toys. 

“Come on,” the old man said, grabbing something off a shelf. “You’re working with me.”

He took me to a table and we sat down. Then he pushed a piece of paper to me that had pictures on it.

“That’s what we’re making. They’ll cut you a little slack on your first day, but you better get it right tomorrow or else. Here.” He smacked my chest, and when I looked down, I saw a yellow smiley-face sticker. “That means it’s your first day, so it’ll keep you out of too much trouble. But throw it away tonight. I’m supposed to watch out for you, and if you screw up, we’re both done for.”

“What am I supposed to do? I just want to go home.”

“Don’t start that again. Later, remember? Just watch me and do what I do. I’ll walk you through the steps until you get the hang of it. Tomorrow, you’ll have to make a certain amount or you won’t get food. I get a pass on my numbers today since I have to help you, but we can’t sit around talking all day.”

I watched him carefully, but I kept thinking about my mom and dad. A long time later, my stomach started making noise. When a buzzer went off, a red light turned on, and everyone stopped working. They opened the drawers under their seats and the old man did the same. He handed me a granola bar. People in black came in the room and gave us each some water to drink. After fifteen minutes for lunch, we went back to work.

By the end of the day, I was super tired. We went back to the dining room and got more oatmeal and water, then we went back to our room. Just like he said he would, the old man came and sat on my bed with me and told me everything.

“I’m going to be straight with you, kid. It is what it is, and you just have to deal with it. I know it’ll be hard at first, but the sooner you get it together, the easier things will be for you. We’ve only got a few hours until bedtime and we still have to shower, but I’ll give you the facts. If you want to ask questions after—which you will—then fine. Got it?”

“Got it. But can I ask one thing first?”

He rolled his eyes. “What?”

“What’s your name?”

The old man laughed. “Howard.”

“I’m Jacob,” I said, holding out my hand like grownups do.

He smiled and shook my hand. “I know. Now listen up. You stayed up last night and saw Santa Claus, didn’t you?”

I nodded.

“Yeah. We all did at some point. He left a clone in your place, so no one is ever going to know you’re gone. Your parents won’t look for you because they think you’re still there. Then Santa poofed you here, and you had to make your way to the castle before you froze to death. Mrs. Claus warmed you up by giving you hot chocolate that made you sleepy, then they put you in a container where gold stuff was taken out of you and blasted into the sky. Right?”


“Shh! Keep your voice down. We’ve all had the same experience, but no one knows else. There are rumors, of course, but not many of us ever find out more. I’ve been here a long time, so trust me when I say that I understand what you’re going through. You have to just do what I tell you if you want to stay alive.”

I nodded again, but I was trying not to cry.

“Every one of these sleeping rooms has someone in charge who has to make sure everyone gets up and goes to bed on time. For our room, that’s me.”

“There’s more rooms—”

“Questions at the end. Anyway, you do just like today, but you do it every single day forever. No weekends. Get up at five a.m., eat the same exact meals, work from five-thirty in the morning until six at night, then free time until bed at nine o’clock. The faster you eat dinner and shower, the more time you get to hang out. Lights go out at exactly nine, and you’d better be in bed when they come around to check on us.”

People started coming into the room with towels around their shoulders and wearing pajamas.

Howard looked at them, then turned back to me. “Let’s hit the showers. Most people are finishing up, so we won’t have to wait as long for empty stalls. I’ll answer your questions on the way.”

We went to the shower room where we each had cubbies to stand in with a curtain in front. Howard found two next to each other, and we kept talking. When I took off my clothes and saw my body, I screamed. Howard rushed over—I could see his feet under the curtain.

“You okay, Jacob?”

“What’s wrong with my skin?”

Howard sighed, and I heard him tell someone that everything was okay. I could tell by the shoes that it was one of the guards in black. After a minute, he poked his hand inside the curtain and handed me my towel from the hook.

“Come out here for a second,” he said. 

I wrapped the towel around my waist and stepped out. He took my hand and walked with me over to a long counter with sinks and mirrors and told me to look at myself. I stared at me and watched as I started to cry—I was an old man. Howard turned me to face him. 

“Jacob, I . . . how old do you think I am?”

But I couldn’t talk. All I could do was cry. He didn’t say anything for a while, and when I cried all the tears I had, he sighed. 

“How old do you think I am?” he asked again. 

“I don’t know. A hundred?”

Howard laughed and looked in the mirror. “Harsh, kid. I wouldn’t have put me past seventy-five.” He turned and leaned on the counter to face me. “I’m seventeen.”

My mouth dropped open. “But everyone else . . .”

“I know. I’ve been here for nine Christmases. There are some who have been here longer and others for just a few, but we all come out of those big metal cans looking the same way, and we seem to get shorter every year.”

“I called them cans too.”

Howard smiled, and I tried to smile back. “Okay, it’s time to get your stinky butt in the shower. I have a deck of cards we can play with before bed if we hurry.”

We finished cleaning up and then played go fish and some other games until it was time for lights out. Howard walked me back to my bed and tucked me in. I was suddenly very sleepy, but I grabbed his hand before he walked away.

“Merry Christmas,” I said.

“Merry Christmas, Jacob.”


So, Journal, that’s what happened. I’m already forgetting stuff about my life before I got here, and sometimes I can’t remember what my parents or Riley or Billy looked like. Howard said that’s normal. I don’t get to see him anymore because they moved him to another room when he turned eighteen. 

Some of the other kids got in trouble over the past year, though. Mrs. Claus came in with two of the people with guns and took the kids away in the middle of the night every time. No one ever saw them again. I made new friends with Eliza and Brian and Layna, and we play every night before bed. I guess I got what I wanted most after all.

The monster sounds are getting louder—that means new kids will be coming in tonight. I hope we can be friends. Oh no . . .

I hear footsteps outside!

I have to go now, Journal. 

Mrs. Claus is laughing, and she’s getting louder. 

I’m going to hide you now so she doesn’t find you. I think I’m in big trouble . . .

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