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My sleep pattern had drifted like a wave on an open sea. Awake, semi-comatose, asleep, they all merged into one long night of indolent intent.

I knew Father Christmas would visit for he had never failed me over the last three decades. Others of my age had long ago forgotten the magic of Christmas, but not I. Maybe I had been chosen as one of the few to actually see the silver haired man over the decades, or perhaps my intense curiosity had endeared him to me. Whatever it was, I eagerly awaited his usual visit on the night before Christmas.

I saw a swirl of mist first, felt coolness in the air, and the room shimmered like an astral body. He materialised before me, his red rimmed eyes staring, his skin rippling like gentle waves on a sea. Naturally I hadn’t seen him for twelve months but with such a scowl on his face, he didn’t look too happy. He had turned into an old man since we last met, and I thought he looked more like a demon than a jolly Santa.

The eyes of crimson bored into me as if he wanted to turn me inside out. I could feel my guts turning into bile and it was all I could do to stop myself gagging.

What was wrong with him?

I wanted to ask questions, but on seeing his anger, my lips stayed shut.

“I do not know how to say the words, but I have a serious problem,” Santa said.

“You and me both,” I said. He didn’t look at all well. Did I see his hands shaking?

“Odin has always insisted that I, the true Father Christmas, must age as my believers mature. Conversely, I must appear young and vibrant to the children.”

“Yeah! You look so much older this year but what’s the big issue? We’ve talked on every Christmas Eve since my childhood and as I’ve aged, so have you. The only problem I can see is that you’re now wearing the face of a very old man, with more wrinkles than a prune. What happened to the regular face, the happy face?”

Santa looked to the heavens, a long sigh escaping from his lips. A flush, the same colour as his outfit, ran across his forehead, surrounded his eyes, and around his neck. I guessed his cheeks were burning under that beard. I had never seen him look so uncomfortable in the past.

“Even with you being the last devotee, my energy levels are declining. I am tired in body and soul. Being a mortal, you cannot understand the power of Odin. Truly I am sorry, for his wish cannot be disobeyed.”

“Why not?”

“Because I would fade away ... and Christmas ... will be no more.”

“Bollocks!” I shouted louder than I intended.

My mind raced with his words. I had never stopped in my belief and Santa had never failed me, but now? Why should I care whether he had a problem with Odin? I believed, so what the hell was happening?

“I hate looking like an aberration of Father Christmas, old and ancient, to you. You have been my most faithful follower, never failing in your devotion, but times change and no longer can you believe in me.”

“That’s up to me,” I said.

“I wish it was, truly I do, but unfortunately my destiny and yours are no longer entwined. Odin commands and I must obey.”

“He doesn’t command me. What does your god want?” I shouted again.

“It is Odin’s wish that I always appear young for the little ones. No longer will he allow me the luxury of your loyalty. Your unswerving belief lives in the past, and it is draining my power.”

“I don’t believe you.”

“Your opinion is worthless, even though you are the last of my followers. Can you not understand? I am only aging because of you.”

His eyes darted from one side of the room to the other as he moved closer. I felt his hot breath wash all over me; he stunk of rotting leaves and decay. I assessed my options. None were particularly favourable and I knew I was in deep trouble.

Backing away seemed appropriate but Santa blocked the doorway, so I leapt for the lounge window.

His hands grabbed me in mid-flight.

“At least you will never see the face of an old man staring back from a mirror, as I do now, but soon I will be handsome again, and the children will never be disappointed.”

As his hands twisted around my neck I stopped believing.

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