Well, I guess I left you wondering how everything turned out, but I stupidly mailed my letter before I realized that I hadn’t finished the story.
When Harshan and I had returned to the apartment and found Darryl missing, along with all of his Christmas presents, we didn’t know what to do. So we called our best friends in Thorgelfayne, Lanni Hargelstope and Harna Farsino. Harshan and Harna set out to find Darryl, while Lanni stayed back to help me gather my wits.
“Do you want to know what your problem is, Melissa?” Lanni asked abruptly as she set her cup down on my kitchen table. “You’re too melodramatic!”
“I’m sure you’re right,” I sniffed, rubbing my nose with a tissue. Thank goodness I had finally managed to stop crying!
“Look,” she said, grabbing my hand, “this is Thorgelfayne, not Illinois! What could possibly happen to a nine-year old boy out there on his own? In a city this large, he’ll be perfectly safe.”
Just then Harshan and Harna tromped in the door, knocked the snow off their shoes, and hung their jackets in the entry-way closet. “We couldn’t find him anywhere,” Harna apologized, as they stepped into the kitchen. “We checked all the playgrounds, shops, and restaurants in walking distance.”
Lanni squeezed my hand.
“Well, at least the mail is here,” Harshan announced. He tossed some envelopes on the kitchen table. I noticed that there was still some snow on his shoes.
“Is it snowing outside?” I asked in alarm. I jumped up and ran into the entry way. It’s bad enough to think of Darryl running away from home, but for him not to be adequately dressed for the weather… that’s an unbearable thought! I rummaged through the closet frantically, until I determined that Darryl had taken his coat.
“What is it?” came Lanni’s voice from the kitchen.
“It’s okay,” I sighed. “Darryl took his jacket and gloves.” I plodded my way back to the kitchen and flounced back into the chair. (That’s when I learned never to flounce into a wooden chair. It hurts!) “Wherever he is, at least he won’t freeze to death!” My voice broke, but I regained my very fragile composure.
Harshan started looking through the mail in an attempt to distract himself.
“Don’t you think we should call the police?” Lanni suggested gently. I protested that I wanted to give Darryl some time. After all, I didn’t want to traumatize the poor child by making him think we’ll sound a military alert every time he goes for a casual stroll; but Lanni’s logic prevailed. She finally convinced me that the Hapdorn Municipal Police are well trained to handle delicate situations like this, so I agreed.
“You received a neighborhood information card when you moved in. Is it still in the drawer to the left of the refrigerator?” Lanni asked. I nodded, and congratulated her on her good memory. She looked up the number, memorized it, and put the book away. Then she walked over to the telephone and picked it up. “Hapdorn Police, Domestic Affairs, number 3-2FA1,” she enunciated into the receiver, then covered it with her hand. “Everything will be fine, you’ll see!” she reassured me. I envied her. Maybe someday my pronunciation will be good enough so I won’t have to use the push-buttons. “Hello? I would like to report a missing child…” Lanni turned her head the other way. I couldn’t hear the rest of what she said.
“Bills, bills, nothing but bills,” Harshan said, sorting through the mail, “except for two letters from Earth.” He inspected the envelopes curiously. “This one must be a letter from your mother, but I can’t figure out the second one at all!”
“Let me see,” I said, taking the envelopes from Harshan. I dabbed my nose with the tissue as I looked them over. They were both green, which meant they were interstellar mail. The addresses had been covered over with Thorgelfaynese translations by the Universal Postal Union, so I had to identify the sender by the return address, not by the handwriting. One was from Illinois; that was most likely a letter from mother; but the second one was from Cupertino, California. “I don’t know who this is from,” I said, handing the letter back to Harshan. “The only people we know in California are Bob and Terry; and they live in Santa Clara, last I heard.” Harshan looked at me blankly. “You remember Bob and Terry,” I said, “we went out to dinner with them when they were in Chicago on a business trip.”
Harshan nodded, then ripped open the second envelope. It wasn’t a letter, it was a greeting card. As he opened it I could see a drawing of a large green tree on the front. “It’s a Christmas card!” he announced redundantly.
“Who’s it from?” I asked.
Harshan was still squinting his eyes at the card, “I can’t make out this script,” he said, and handed it to me to read.
“This is mysterious,” I confirmed. “It’s a card from somebody named Craig. Do we know someone named Craig?” Harshan answered me with a shrug. I cleared my throat. “It says, ‘I’m sorry to have put you through all this; the story line was basically my idea. But I hope it works out. Merry Christmas.” I looked up at Harshan with a puzzled look on my face.
“Oh, that!” he said, ripping the card from my hands. “That’s one of Ken’s jokes. He’s got someone thinking we’re fictional again!”
Just then there was a knock at the door. It was a diminutive, very fragile-looking elderly lady. She didn’t look like anyone from the neighborhood.
“Resh gol,” I said in greeting, “Who are you?—I mean, what can I do for you?”
“Hapdorn Municipal Police,” she announced as she pointed to the badge on her blouse, “Domestic Affairs. Are you Melissa Lahtissimon, mother of the missing human boy?”
“Why, yes!” I said, somewhat flabbergasted at the officer’s appearance, “Do come in!” I opened the door wide.
Lanni and Harna remained in the kitchen, while Harshan and I were interviewed by the police officer in the living room. We explained about Darryl’s personal history: how he had been orphaned, and how his deafness had made it difficult for him to find adoptive parents. We explained about our reason for emigrating to Thorgelfayne: partly because we wanted to, and partly because Darryl could obtain better medical care here. Then I had to explain all about Christmas; at least the Illinois version of Christmas.
“Oh, so that’s it!” the police officer laughed heartily. “I wondered why that house plant had all that glittery stuff all over it!” She turned to get a good look at our improvised Christmas tree. “I wanted to ask about that earlier, but I didn’t want to seem rude!”
The police officer closed her notebook and explained police procedure to us. They would find the boy in the most non-threatening and non-intimidating manner possible. If he even suspects that the people helping him are police officers, she reassured, the officers involved will be required to take remedial training. What I call ‘foul play’ isn’t normally even a remote possibility, but because of the missing gifts, it must be taken into account as well. She reassured me of the police department’s ability to handle even the most remote possibility.
“So, you see, the case is in good hands,” the woman concluded, “You have nothing to fear about the welfare of your son.” She paused and looked around. “May I use your telephone? Then I can get things started.”
“It’s in the kitchen,” I said, pointing.
“I’ll just be a moment,” the police officer promised. Just as Harshan was helping her out of the chair, we heard the sound of the front door opening and closing. Harshan looked at me, and I looked at him. My heart fluttered with hope.
“Darryl?” I called tentatively, “Is that you?”
“Yes ma’am,” came a weary reply. “Sorry I’m late; it took me longer than I thought!”
We looked around at each other in disbelief and joy!
Darryl entered the living room and collapsed in an arm chair. “Boy, am I pooped! This Santa Claus business is very hard work!” he announced. Then he noticed the police officer. “Who are you?” he asked.
“I’m just a little old lady from the neighborhood,” the police officer fibbed, “Your parents were telling me how much they love you and how much they missed you when you were gone.”
Darryl looked at us both apologetically, “Were you guys worried about me?”
I got all choked up, so Harshan had to do the talking. “We were scared,” Harshan said. With my ear next to his chest, his voice sounded very loud. “We didn’t know where you went, so we were scared you didn’t love us anymore and had run away!”
“I’m sorry!” Darryl said in panic, “I would never run away from you guys! You’re the neatest parents anybody could have!” Then he ran over to us, and we had a three-way hugging and crying contest for the next eight or sixteen minutes. After we had all regained our composure and wiped our eyes dry, I asked Darryl where he had been all that time, and what had happened to his toys.
“Oh, that,” he said casually. “I never ever got more than one toy for Christmas in my whole life, so I was really excited when I got so many presents this time!”
I beamed with pride. We wanted him to have the best Christmas he had ever dreamed of, so we intentionally overdid the presents.
“But then when I found out that none of the other kids even heard of Christmas, I was really sad,” Darryl confessed. Then he looked us straight in the face, “When you two went away for a while, I had time to think. Then I knew why I had so many presents!”
Lanni and Harna had returned to the living room to hear this. We all just looked at each other stupidly.
Harna finally broke the silence with the question we were all thinking, “So why did you think you had so many presents?”
“Santa has to deliver all the presents on Christmas Eve,” Darryl explained, “and it’s a long way from Earth to Homeland. So he gave me the job of distributing the presents on Homeland, and that’s a better present than all those presents!”
You could have heard a pin drop. Harshan cleared his throat, and said softly to no one in particular, “This kid thinks Santa gave him a distributorship for Christmas!”
We laughed so hard our bellies ached! But at least we were right about Darryl being a special child.
The police officer was impressed, Lanni and Harna were moved, and Harshan and I were very proud. And so, after they all had left, I thought it was over and the three of us could have a cozy evening at home together.
Boy, I was wrong!
I have never received so many phone calls in one evening in my life! If I explained Christmas and Santa and presents to one parent, I explained it to a million parents. The calls came as late as thirty o’clock!
Merry Christmas, I told every one of them. It’s a quaint human custom, I said. Darryl would be disappointed if your child didn’t keep the gifts.