Peter Steward's Web Site
Chapter One - Beginnings
Christmas was approaching and the weather was growing cold.
In the old house by the railway line the wind whistled round the windows and the snow began to fall.
The snow had come early this year, taking away any chance of a warm Christmas.
But inside Rebecca and Michael Fotherington were excited. The news of the first snow fall had sent them scurrying to the window.
"It's going to be a white Christmas," said eight year old Michael. His sister nodded and looked out the window at the layer of precious white beginning to take over from the normal dull stone colour of the paving that led down to the railway line.
Yes it was going to be a good Christmas.
For Michael the excitement was not as strong as for his sister. For Michael had a problem ... and it was one that he could not discuss with his mother or father.
They were grown-ups and wouldn't understand his concern. Grown-ups were practical people not known for day dreaming - or so it seemed.
Michael continued to look out the window and think.
He was sure nobody else had ever had the same problem. Just what was happening to him?
Rebecca realised that something was worrying her brother. She was a very sensible girl for her age and was also very sensitive.
Michael had not been his happy, lively self of late and now Christmas was only three days away.
Michael and Rebecca lived a comfortable life in the old house by the railway line. Their parents were loving and kind and Rebecca was passionately looking forward to the Christmas festivities. The early morning opening of presents, the warm Christmas morning bath, the cooked breakfast, the turkey and Christmas pudding for lunch and the end of the day when she would dop happily into bed ready to drift into a wonderful and refreshing sleep.
Christmas was a fun time in the house by the railway line.
But for Michael, Christmas would not be the same this year or perhaps ever again. For he had found something out and it was quite alarming.
It had happened two nights before. At that time he was looking forward to Christmas as much as his sister. Such was his excitement that he was finding it difficult to sleep.
He decided to go downstairs for a drink of water and was just on his way back to his room when he overheard voices from the sitting room.
It was his mother and father up late and adding some decorations to the six foot Christmas tree which was the focal point of the room.
His mother and father were talking in low voices but something made Michael stop and listen. Perhaps it was just curiosity.
What Michael heard next mystified him.
His mother was speaking and saying the most unlikely things.
"You know I don't know how long Michael will continue to believe in Father Christmas. He's eight years old now and it's not going to be long before he finds out the truth."
"I think we should let him find out for himself though," said father.
At that point Michael's foot slipped and made a scratching noise on the door. His father heard it and came to the door. Michael just had time to run and hide in the dark halfway up the stairs.
His father had a quick look round and then shut the door and Michael returned to his room and shut his door behind him. It couldn't be true. They hadn't actually said it but what his parents had been discussing was obvious.
His mother and father were saying that there was no such person as Father Christmas. How could this be? Hadn't Michael and Rebecca been brought up to believe in Father Christmas. They had been brought up to believe that the cheery old man in red with the white beard existed somewhere in a far away land that was very different from England.
Hadn't mum and dad assured the children that Father Christmas in the big department stores was simply the great man's helpers. Hadn't it all made sense?
Yes of course it had. Michael's parents must have made a big mistake. Of course Father Christmas existed. But then there was this nagging doubt in the back of Michael's mind and it was a doubt he couldn't discuss with anyone.
That night Michael lay awake in bed for hour after hour. Counting bananas didn't send him to sleep as it usually did. And Michael kept seeing ghost like figures swimming before his eyes and mingling with his tears because Michael was sad.
By morning his eyes were sore, his tummy ached and he felt tired. He had to tell somebody and it would have to be Rebecca. She would be able to help. She would know what was right or wrong in this matter.
So when morning came Michael and Rebecca were back at the window, looking out at the snow which was now falling fast. There was no school today and perhaps later in the morning they would be able to wrap up warm and build a snowman in the garden. If they placed him near the bottom of the garden he would be seen by the people travelling to work on the train.
Every day brother and sister dreamed of the days when steam trains huffed and puffed down on the line at the bottom of the old house. Those were the old days that daddy talked about. The days before diesel power took the romance out of train journeys.
Michael spoke first:
"Becky do you still believe in Father Christmas?"
Rebecca didn't even have to think about her reply:
"Of course," she said.
"Why," asked Michael.
"Because," replied Rebecca.
"Because what asked Michael."
"Just because ... mummy and daddy told us and we see him at Christmas every time we go to the supermarket."
"Yes but that's only his helper and anyway mummy and daddy don't believe in him anymore. I heard them last night. They said Father Christmas didn't exist anymore."
"Then who brings us our presents on Christmas Day," asked Rebecca.
"I don't know. Oh Becky I'm so confused. Mummy and daddy were putting things on the tree and I heard them say that Father Christmas doesn't exist."
"Oh Michael don't be so silly. Let's ask daddy when he comes home from work tonight. Tomorrow's Christmas Eve. Daddy will tell you all about Father Christmas just as he does every Christmas.
"Don't you remember all the stories about Rudolph and the other reindeers and how Father Christmas always delivers to good boys and girls and all the marvellous stories that daddy has told us. He couldn't make them all up could he?"
"I suppose not," said Michael although he sounded far from sure.
That night the children waited impatiently for dad to come home from work and have his tea.
Michael was the first to speak to him: "Dad does Father Christmas really exist?" he asked.
"Of course he does Mike. Why do you ask?" daddy replied.
"Oh no reason, replied Michael unwilling to tell his father that he had crept downstairs the previous night and listened in through the partly closed door.
"Come here you two, sit on my knee," daddy said giving the two youngsters a cuddle. "I'm going to tell you a story that I haven't told you before."
Well both Michael and Rebecca liked their dad's stories, particularly when they were about Christmas.
Daddy took a long breath and then started.
"Many many years ago when I was a little boy myself and steam trains ran on the railway line at the bottom of the garden, my father told me a story about magic and a little boy who didn't believe that Father Christmas existed.
"Well the little boy, whose name was Richard, lived in a house just like this with a railway at the bottom of the garden. But Richard was a bad tempered little boy and he was angry because he felt that Father Christmas had let him down.
"On Christmas Eve Richard went to bed not expecting any presents because Father Christmas would not call on him.
"Richard soon fell asleep and he dreamed a wonderful dream. He dreamt that he was taken away by a band of elves glowing in golden light, and carried across the star-filled sky to the home of Father Christmas. There he met Santa who was busy putting together all the presents and making the final toys.
"Richard was taken aboard Father Christmas' sleigh and helped to deliver all the presents down all the chimneys throughout every country in the world.
"When Richard woke he was back in his bed, but there were wonderful presents all around him and he had one of the finest Christmas' ever because he knew that Father Christmas was real.
"Now come on you two, it's time for bed. Up you go because tomorrow's Christmas Day and you both need your sleep for all those presents that will be coming your way. Remember Father Christmas never comes to children who are not asleep."
An hour later Rebecca was tucked up in bed asleep. But Michael wanted to see Father Christmas and was determined to keep awake. But slowly he began to feel sleepy and by 10 o clock children were fast asleep unaware that they would soon be embarking on a journey that would take them to the other end of the earth.