Fred yawned as he padded into the living room of his one-bedroom apartment. He admired the colorful 5-foot tree with a sad smile.
“Merry Christmas, mom,” he whispered to himself. After a moment, he decided it was time to get something in his stomach. Before he turned toward the kitchen, a rustling noise broke the silence. “Damnit, it better not be rats again,” he mumbled to himself and looked for the origin of the sound. He heard it again coming from behind the tree.
“What the hell?” Fred walked around to get a better look and found a single red-wrapped gift under his tree. A bright green bow sat on the bread-loaf shaped box. He immediately glanced at the door. The deadbolt was still turned the right way and his chain was still on the door. His living room only had one small window and the tree sat directly in front of it.
“How the hell did you-” Fred knelt to inspect the gift; but, it moved. “WHOA!” he immediately jumped back when the box inched toward him.
“Damnit,” a disappointed voice said next to him. Fred, already plenty confused, turned toward the voice; his jaw dropped. “I was hoping you hadn’t seen it yet,” a white-bearded round man in a red suit said.
“S..SANTA!??” Fred screamed. On any other Christmas morning, he would have been concerned about having a stranger in his house; even one dressed as Santa Claus. But, there was an unexpected gift under his tree. The doors and windows were still locked, and most of all the gift moved. Either Santa was actually in his apartment, or he was dreaming. Either way, Fred believed the stranger was Father Christmas. Santa nodded.
“Sure. Let me just grab that, and I’ll be out of your way.” The fat man shoved past Fred to grab the gift; it growled at him.
“Isn’t it for me?” Fred asked. He wasn’t the type to be greedy; but, everyone knew Santa delivered gifts. The familiar stranger shook his head as he turned around; the red gift wriggled and growled in his hands like a chihuahua headed for a bath.
“Wrong you. Sorry.” Santa said. He managed to shove the wild into a purse-sized red velvet bag. Then, he pulled something out of his pocket and handed it to Fred.
“Keep this mistake between us, and this is yours. Deal?” he asked. Fred inspected the card-sized rectangle of glass; it was almost as thin as a sheet of paper.
“What is it? And, what mistake did you make exactly?”
“It’s a node. Uh, it’s like a cell phone, but better. You’ll figure it out,” he said; then sighed. “I found out the guy that was supposed to get this gift died, that’s what threw me off. Anyway…,” Santa tipped his white-trimmed cap. “See you next year maybe.”
“Whoa, wait!” Fred was quick to stop Santa. “Did you say, ‘wrong you‘? Is there another me?” Santa sighed, and his head dipped low.
“There are millions of other you‘s in millions of different universes. The version of you that was supposed to get this baby mimic died,” Santa shrugged. “It’s my first day and mistakes were made. Sorry. I still have some gifts to go, so…” Santa waved a mitted-hand at the air and a black portal opened in Fred’s living room.
“HOLD ON!” Fred yelled. He dashed between Santa and the portal.
“You gave me way more questions than answers. Alternate universes are real? That’s a real baby mimic? What are you going to do with it? How is it your first day? Santa’s been around forever.” Santa sighed.
“Look pal, we’re both adults. Santa Claus isn’t real.” Fred was quick to gesture at the fat bearded man as if to say, ‘You’re right there!’ Santa shook his head.
“Corporate Santa,” he said and patted his chest. “It’s a job like any other. I, and hundreds of other guys, got hired to play Santa. Yes,” Santa nodded. “Alternate universes are real.”
“This,” he shook the red bag and shrugged. “I’m delivering to the right house,” he paused for effect. “in another universe. I think the kid’s mom would appreciate it for her son.”
“Mom?” Fred asked. “The other me’s mom is.. alive?” Santa nodded.
“Wh…” Fred began to ask but hesitated. He wasn’t sure he wanted the answer. After a moment, Santa stepped forward and Fred decided. “What’s her name!?”
‘Uh..,” Santa raised his mitt to his face; Fred noticed he held another node. “Carolyn Embers” Fred rushed two steps forward and pushed the gifted node against the fat man’s chest.
“Take this back. Take me to meet her, and I won’t say a word about your mistake to anyone.” Fred spoke quickly, his voice cracked and tears began to pool in his eyes. “Please,” he begged.
“Yeah, alright,” Santa said. He stepped forward and shoved Fred backward through the portal. Fred lost his balance and stumbled backward. “Merry Christmas and whatever.”