Jimmy Deal looked at the chalk in his hand, twisted it in his fingers, almost dropped it as he did so. Outside the rain was tapping at him on the window. Christmas Eve and it was wet again. That singer, what was he called again? Bang Crispy? He didn’t sing ‘I’m dreaming of a wet Christmas’ did he… and yet… Jimmy sighed and looked back at the chalk. Clean and blue and perfect in his fingers. Just a tiny chip in one end. Was he dreaming now? Or had he really bumped into Father Christmas on his lunch break, eating mince pie sandwiches, in the local superstore? The big round fella had been adjusting his chunky leather belt, his cheeks puffed out with food like a giant red hamster. Jimmy had been hardly paying attention really, till the big man held up a hand to stop the two of them colliding. And somehow the Christmas fella had made the chalk appear from nowhere. Like a magician producing a pound coin from his empty hand.
‘Draw a circle and jump through it,’ the mince pie chomper had told him, crumbs clinging to his huge beard.
Not jump in it, jump through it. What did that mean? Jimmy went outside. The rain seemed to stop as he stepped out the door, that was handy. Though the ground was still shining from the rain. He trudged round the side of their house to a sheltered spot. Just enough dry ground to draw a small circle. He crouched down and jabbed at the ground with the chalk. Was that an electric shock or something? That spark that flew up as he began chalking. He stopped and looked at the end of the chalk. No sign of anything strange. He pressed it to the ground and drew again. A bit of a wiggly scribble, but just about recognisable as a circle. And the blue was so bright it made him squint. He stood up and put the chalk in his jeans pocket. No doubt he’d forget about it and his mum would find it shrunken and withered after she’d done the next wash. Now what? He looked around, just in case he was being watched. He wasn’t. And that old Father Christmas hadn’t suddenly appeared to make sure he was doing things right. So he did it. He bents his knees, took a breath and made a standing jump into the circle. Nothing. No blinding flash or earthquake. At least not immediately. He was about to step out of it again when the ground opened up. Like a sliding door in the floor, for a moment he hovered in mid-air, standing on nothing, his face a picture of startled wonder. Then he fell through. And kept falling.
It was snowing. Yes. Really snowing. He was glad he had his jacket on. No scarf though. He looked around, the trees, the plants, the road, everywhere was white. Which way to go? He couldn’t see his house anymore, in fact he couldn’t see any houses. Then he noticed footprints in the snow, big boot prints, perhaps Father Christmas had been this way. He placed his foot in the first one and took a step, then he put his foot in the next, it was quite a stretch for him, as Father Christmas clearly had long legs. And so he took up the trail, one boot print at a time. Jumping from one to the next warmed him up and he even began trying it backwards and sideways and on one foot. Hopping I suppose when you think about it.
Then he heard the crunching of boots and looked up to see a big man in an even bigger coat carrying a sack. Without thinking Jimmy forgot about the boot prints and ran up close to him. They were on the edge of an old town now, and as the big man wandered down the street he kept stopping to lower his sack, open it up, and hand something whenever he met someone in the snow. Whenever he stopped Jimmy stopped, and when he walked on Jimmy walked. Then the big man turned and looked and smiled at him. He had a kind face, and a beard, though not a big white woolly one.
‘Who are you?’ Jimmy asked and the man laughed.
‘Wenceslas,’ he said in a big booming voice, he pronounced it wen-suss-lass, and Jimmy tried mouthing the name. Spotting a small child standing nearby the big, jolly man went over and took another present from his sack.
‘You’re giving out lots of presents then,’ said Jimmy.
‘Oh yes, I like to help people at Christmas. I’m a duke you see, and these people don’t have what I have. So I share it.’
‘Do they give you anything back?’
The big man scratched his head then nodded. ‘They give me a smile. And a warm heart. I like that.’
‘I wanted it to snow,’ said Jimmy. ‘Where I come from I mean, back up through the chalk hole.’
Jimmy pointed at the sky. It was like creamy ice cream up there, thick with cotton-wool clouds.
‘Well it’s snowing here,’ said Wenceslas. ‘Deep and crisp and even.’
‘Isn’t that a song?’ said Jimmy and the man shrugged.
‘I think I’ve heard of you,’ said Jimmy, ‘we sing about you.’
‘I hope it’s a good song,’ said Wenceslas, ‘I’d hate to be remembered for sad things.’
He went over to a family huddled at their small front door, and handed over a parcel that looked for all the world like a chicken wrapped in paper.
‘Do you ever run out of presents? Jimmy asked, but the big man shook his head.
‘No, but the people round here do, that’s why I come out to see them with my sack.’
‘Can I have a present?’ Jimmy asked and the big man stopped and thought for a moment.
Then he lowered his sack, reached down and picked up some snow. Splat! Before Jimmy knew it a snowball scooshed across his chest. Then another and another. Before long he was throwing some back, then the family with the chicken started joining in and then others did too and soon the whole street was throwing snowballs. Jimmy had never known anything like it. His head buzzed with the thrill of it. At some point the snowballing stopped and Jimmy piled up some of the snow into a Wenceslas shaped snowman.
‘Got to go now,’ said the big man and he held out his hand for Jimmy to shake it.
‘Remember,’ said Wenceslas, ‘a smile and a warm heart. Be seeing you.’
As Jimmy shook his hand there was a sudden blue flash, and a burst of snowy sparks. And there he was back outside his house, looking down at the blue chalk circle. He still had snow on his arms and shoulders, but he didn’t brush it off. He wanted to hold on to the memory.