Old Bill, as he was affectionately known to his cellmates, heard the warden's key turn in the lock. The door of his cell clanked, then opened. He put his photo of his sister back in his pocket.
"Well, Bill! Looks like you're leaving us, after all these years. You know, there's a growing movement now, to make incest legal! It's a bit late for you, though, even if they succeed."
The warden walked with Old Bill to his office and gave him back his belongings. "You've been with us eleven years, now Bill, and I must say I've never had a nicer fellow in my cells. You're out on parole, as you know, so keep in touch with your parole officer, and for god's sake don't even think about going near your sister again. We're all going to miss you, but we don't want you coming back here, do we!" the warder joked.
Old Bill stood with the warder at the door, waiting for the last minute of his jail term to be up. He said sadly "My sister died years ago, Harry. I think she died of a broken heart after I was jailed for loving her". Then as the clock struck twelve, an officer stepped forward and unlocked the door. Bill stepped through into the glaring sunshine. He was free!
Bill counted the money he had. He walked the three miles to the employment office. They had a special employment officer to help ex-cons get a job. Because of his age and shape, he thought Old Bill would make a very good Santa Claus, which all the big department stores wanted right now. The officer rang one of the department stores to make an appointment for Bill.
Old Bill used all of his money putting the first weeks rent on a small room in the slum area, just across the bridge from the city and the big department store. Bill had a nap in his newly rented room for an hour, then made his way down the street towards the big bridge leading to the city.
As he walked down the street through the slums, he couldn't help noticing the look of hopelessness in the eyes of the malnourished children, as well as their parents. As he looked into their eyes, he felt a deep pain. "If only there were something I could do to lighten their hearts" he thought.
He went into the department store. They too, thought he was just right for the job, with his white beard and hair, his relaxed friendly manner, and his corpulent shape. They tried him in one of their Santa suits, and it fit perfectly.
They told Old Bill he could start in the morning. Then they put his Santa suit into a locker in the staff change room and handed him the key. As he walked out through the store, he noticed a child screaming and angrily demanding every toy he saw. The mother looked exhausted.
As he walked to the corner, a thin young girl dressed in rags was singing carols with a paper cup in front of her. He looked into her eyes and saw the same look of utter hopelessness in her eyes. His hand automatically went into his pocket, when he remembered that he had used up the last of his money on rent. "Oh that poor girl" he thought. "If only there were something I could do!"
He walked back through the slums to his room, feeling another stab of pain each time he saw another look of hopelessness. He slept fitfully throughout the night, wishing with all his might there was a way to relieve all the dark hopelessness he had seen in the slum people's eyes.
In the morning he overslept and had to hurry to work. He made his way through the slums. It was no less painful than before, but hurrying helped him get through the area quicker.
He arrived at the store, made his way to the staff change room and changed into his Santa suit. He peeked through the curtains into the store at the shoppers. Already several children were lined up with their mothers, waiting to see Santa.
A salesgirl said to him "You're on, Santa! Good luck!" Old Bill took a deep breath, put on his best smile, and stepped out into the store, saying "Ho ho ho!"
The first little boy climbed onto his lap, saying "I want a train and a ball and a chemistry set so I can blow things up and a space ranger doll and a video game and a...." Old Bill thought to himself "Charlie Brown was right. Christmas isn't a time for giving. It's a time for getting."
Just then the manager came over at a brisk pace. He leant over Old Bill and whispered in his ear, "Would you mind coming to my office, Santa?"
Old Bill said "Okay, I'll just finish....."
The manager interrupted him "Now please Santa!"
The manager removed the child from Old Bill's knee, apologised to the mother, and grabbed Santa by the arm, briskly ushering him towards his office. He barked at his secretary on the way in "Get security in here now!"
The manager said "There's been a misunderstanding. We knew you were an ex-con, of course. But we had no idea what you were in for. We cannot have a sexual pervert as our Santa. It could cause a scandal and ruin our good image."
"I'm not a pervert. My sister and I were in love, that's all" said Old Bill.
"Oh all very pure and innocent, I'm sure!" the manager said sarcastically. "But you're fired!"
The manager barked at the security guards, who had come in behind Old Bill. "March this man to the back door and throw him out into the alley. But don't take him through the store."
Then he barked at Old Bill "Never enter this building again, even as a customer, or I'll have you thrown out again!"
The security guards took hold of Bill's arms and marched him to the back door and threw him out into the alley. He fell into a pile of garbage cans, which came clattering and clanging down around him.
Bill lay there slightly stunned, on the ground in the back alley. He reached for his photo of his sister, and remembered that he still had his Santa suit on! He thought of going back inside to try to give it back, but the thought of crossing the manager's path again made him put the idea out of his head.
"Well, here I am" thought Old Bill, looking around. "Lying on the ground in an alley, in amongst garbage cans, an unemployable penniless old pervert who has just been spending years in jail. I've probably had days as bad as this, but I don't remember one."
Bill noticed a light approaching from above. "A car? No, I'm still on the footpath" thought Bill. He looked up and he saw an outline of a man in the middle of a light floating above him.
"I must have hit my head on the garbage cans!" thought Bill "I'm seeing things!"
"Take this sack" said a deep resonant voice within the light. "Use it as you will!"
"Oh God" thought Bill. "Now I'm hearing voices".
There was a loud "plop" next to him and Bill looked around to see a large brown sack on the ground. The light disappeared.
"I'd better see a doctor" thought Bill. "I must have some concussion".
He picked up the sack. It still looked real. "It must have been there before, and I didn't notice" thought Bill.
Bill's Santa suit was a bit thin, and his legs felt cold, so he tucked the sack into his belt, and his legs began to feel a little warmer. "I'd best head home and rest" thought Bill "until my concussion wears off."
As Old Bill approached the corner, he noticed the young female beggar was back, looking forlorn and hopeless, trying to sing carols for passers-by. As he passed her he noticed a lump in the bottom of his sack was bumping him on the leg as he walked.
He reached into the sack to see what it was. He brought it out and looked at it. It was a beautiful little doll! He handed the doll to the singing girl and said "Merry Christmas!"
The girl gasped with a surprised smile, then took the doll, looked at it, and hugged it to her chest. "Oh, thank you, Santa!" she said shyly. Her look of hopelessness had vanished.
"Oh yes!" thought Bill. "I've still got the Santa suit on. The dear child probably thinks I'm the real Santa. I'd better get home and get back into normal clothes."
Old Bill walked across the bridge, knowing the dreadful pain he would be in when he saw all the hopelessness in the eyes of the impoverished people. As he came to the first house, a boy in the front yard was eyeing him curiously.
Bill noticed another lump in the sack was banging against his leg. He stopped and took a box out of the sack. It was a train set! He handed it to the boy, saying "Merry Christmas!"
The look on the boy's face changed from gloom to surprised happiness. As Old Bill in his Santa suit walked up the street, lumps kept appearing in his sack. Each one was a present for whoever was nearby, even the adults.
As Old Bill neared his home, the final one was given to an old thin man who lived next door to Bill. The old man said "I saw you giving presents to everyone as you were coming up the street. Are you from a charity or something? And how did you fit them all in that sack?"
Old Bill said "I'm as puzzled as you are! I'm Bill, from next door. I had a job as a Santa in town, and that's why I've got this Santa suit on. But presents seem to be coming out of this sack! Isn't that weird! I know it won't stop the poverty, but it does give everyone quite a lot of cheering up, doesn't it."
The man said "I'm Sid. Nice to meet you, Bill. Thanks for the present. Aren't you going to reach into that sack for yourself?"
"Oh no, Sid. There's nothing in that sack that would give me even a tiny fraction of the happiness I get each time I see people's faces light up with a warm smile! Ho ho ho!"
Just then a light appeared in the sky again. Again an outline of a man within the light appeared. Bill said "Sid, can you see that light?"
"No, what light, Bill?"
A deep reverberating voice said "He cannot see me, for his heart is too heavily weighed down by materialism, rendering him spiritually blind. I have come with a message for you and you alone".
"W-what do you want with me? Who are you?"
As Bill looked into the light, he began to see the man's features. He was dressed in a white robe. "I have a job for you, William. You are to be the next Santa Claus."
"Now I know I'm going nuts. Why me? I'm just an old pervert, an ex-convict who can't even hold a steady job!"
"You are the true spirit of Christmas" said the angel. "You give without thought of reward, other than the joy of giving. Your only desire is to gladden the hearts of others. You love, pure and unconditionally, without a trace of selfishness. You are therefore the most qualified person on Earth to be Santa Claus."
With that, the angel raised his hand, and out of the sky came a jingling sled pulled by reindeer. They landed on the ground in front of Bill. The angel said "Do you have any questions?"
"Er, yes. What about the current Santa?"
"His love for humanity has grown so intense he has been released for higher duties. That is why I had to test you with the sack, to make sure that you were the best man for the job. You passed the test by showing us you would not abuse the divine power of manifestation for selfishness."
"What happens to the best woman for the job of Santa?"
"She is Mrs Claus, and she is your sister. She is waiting for you."
"My sister! Really!" Bill said with surprise.
The angel said "Yes, William. Her love is as pure and as unconditional as yours. She has just been appointed Mrs Claus. She is eager to see you and to be re-united with you. Step into your sleigh, Santa."
As Old Bill stepped into the sleigh, he heard a loud "plop" behind him. He turned around to see what it was, and saw his body lying on the ground.
"There is no further need for your physical body, Santa. You will be in a spiritual environment using divine powers. The heavy burden of the physical body would only interfere."
"Bill!" Sid called out, springing forward towards the empty body that lay on the ground.
"I'm alright, Sid! I'm alright!" said the new Santa. Then he climbed into his sleigh, and shook the reins. As the reindeer took off, Old Bill thought of all the people he could bring happiness to now, working side by side with his beloved sister, and he couldn't stop laughing for joy, "Ho ho ho ho ho ho!" all the way up into the sky!
UG: Now, that's the Santa I have always believed in...to whoever wrote this, thank you from the bottom of my heart, it is the greatest present I have ever received.
W: Absolutely great. One of the finest stories I've read. Thank you.