Father clapped his hands loudly to silence the noisy house.
“Now then,” he said, “are all you children ready for bed? Before you scamper off to dream of stockings and sugar-plums, Grandmother will tell you a story.”
The old woman hummed to herself while they gathered on the floor around her rocking chair. Once they grew quiet again, she spoke over the soft crackling of the fireplace.
“When I was a girl, there was a tradition of telling scary ghost stories on Christmas Eve. But not this year. This year, I’m going to tell you the truth. Would you like that?”
Sleepy heads nodded. Grandmother cleared her throat and began to recite a poem.
“Six little children, all in a row.
Which one will be dragged out into the snow?
Santa brings gifts but he takes a gift too,
Each year a young tribute, as is his due.
He works them to death making next year’s toys,
Those we call elves, who were once girls and boys.
But Santa weaves magic and once morning dawns,
Good children forget the bad one who’s gone.
So which of you six was the naughtiest tot?
Can’t hide from Santa, you’re sure to be—“
“But Grandma!” the smallest girl interrupted, then covered her mouth.
In a tiny voice, almost a whisper, the girl continued.
“There are only five of us.”
Grandmother leaned forward, raised her spectacles, and slowly counted the children around her chair. When her finger reached an empty spot, she stopped.
“My goodness, so there are. I’m getting forgetful, too.”
Then she leaned back and began again.
“Five little children, all in a row…”