Late at night, when everyone was asleep and dreaming, Sogwa got out of bed. She jumped to the floor and went to the crack between the bed and the wall.
Sogwa crept behind the bed. She knew that eight steps away from there was the door into dreamland. Her plan was to go from dreamland to the City That Only Kids Can See, in the Land of the New Light.
She planned to go there because of something Grandma Marge once said. Grandma Marge had said that a single ray of that New Light, if only you could bring it home, would dispel the darkness of the world’s mind.
Sogwa took eight steps to dreamland. Sogwa stepped to the left, then she stepped to the right. She took one step forward and one step back, at right angles to the previous two steps. Then she took a step up, then a step down, at right angles to the previous four steps.
Then - and this is the important part - Sogwa took one step ana, then one step kata, at right angles to the previous six steps. She stepped along the ana-kata axis; the 4th dimension, also called Hyperspace. Now, most people can’t see Hyperspace, nor move through it; but Sogwa the supercat had figured out the trick years ago.
Eight steps done, Sogwa fell through the door into dreamland.
She looked around. She was in a shopping mall, complete with hordes of shoppers. None of them seemed to notice that Sogwa was there too. She walked amongst them, unseen.
A sign on the wall gave the place’s name;
Sogwa window-shopped in Nowheresville Mall. The prices were very low, but that did Sogwa no good at all. Sogwa the supercat wore no clothes, of course, so of course she carried no money at all, not a cent. It didn’t matter that all that cool stuff was marked down from a thousand dollars each to a penny each; she couldn’t afford it either way.
Somehow the floor was harder than ordinary marble; it made Sogwa’s feet ache. She sat on a bench near a fountain. Shoppers swarmed by, not seeing her.
Right next to the bench was a short pedestal. Someone had left a Santa doll on it. The Santa doll’s arms and legs splayed like a starfish; his smile was stitched on a linen face as round as a full moon. Sogwa reached for it.
The moment she touched the Santa doll, it flew upwards with a shimmering sound, shedding sparks and streamers of light. The doll rose into the air, turning and growing.
Full-grown, Santa rotated in midair. He boomed, “HO, HO, HO! Have a merry Christmas! A healthy Hanukkah! A quality Kwanzaa! A soulful Solstice! AND A HAPPY NEW YEAR!” Santa waved his right hand, and candy rained from the ceiling.
Sogwa yowled, “YOW!”
Santa looked at her, winked, and put a finger beside his nose. There was a flash of light.
When Sogwa’s eyes cleared, she saw that she was sitting on Santa’s lap, and Santa was on a kind of a throne. He said, “What’s your name, kitten?”
“I’m Sogwa the supercat, and I think your special effects are really neat, Santa!”
“So Sogwa, you like magic?” She nodded, and he said, “Then here, have a magic wand!” Santa handed her a short stick.
She looked it over. “What’s it made of?”
“Genuine cheap plastic, ho ho ho!”
“Thank you, Santa! But how does it work?”
“It works well enough.”
“I mean... how does it work? What’s the secret?”
Santa said, “It’s magic!”
Sogwa said, “Yes, I know it’s magic, but how does magic work? Tell me the truth!”
Santa’s face fell. “You want... the truth?”
Sogwa said, “Yes, that’s just it! How do you do it, Santa? I mean, really and for true? ’Cause I’d like to do it too!”
Santa slowly stood up; Sogwa leapt off his lap and turned to face him.
Santa said, “Are you sure you want the truth?”
Sogwa said, “Yes, I’m sure!”
“Even if truth isn’t what you’d like it to be?”
“Especially if! Tell me, Santa!”
“Even if magic isn’t what it seems to be?”
“Even if it isn’t there at all!”
Santa said, “I will tell you the truth, but only if you insist; for the truth will set you free - but first it will drive you crazy.”
“I insist! Tell me, Santa! Do you exist, or not?”
Santa heaved a huge sigh.
He said, “No, Sogwa. I do not exist.”
Santa said, “You may watch the fireplace all night, but I will not come. You may wire a reindeer alarm on the roof, but it will not ring. You may seek me at the shopping mall, or the Post Office, or even the North Pole, but you will not find me. There is no flying sled, no magic reindeer, no polar workshop, no elf workers. None of those things exist; nor do I.”
Santa said, “So people pretend to be me, they play at being me, but only so far, and not for real, because I am not for real. I cannot help them; I am not there.”
Santa said, “For there is no Santa Claus! No lunch is free, no machines save labor, no tyrant is benevolent, no motives are pure, and no results are guaranteed. There is no Invisible Hand of the Market, for that hand would be mine. There is no Philosopher-King, for he would be me. There is no Perfect Lover, apart from me. And I do not exist.”
“And believe me, Sogwa,” Santa said, with tears in his eyes, “I wish I did exist!”
Santa cried, and Sogwa rushed to his side to hug him and pat his shoulder. Santa said, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m a fake, a fraud, a funny story, a lie for children, and I’m sorry that’s what I am, because I wish I were real, I wish I could actually help!”
He blew his nose, and there was a flash of light.
When Sogwa’s eyes cleared, she saw that Santa was now a teenager. Teen-age Santa was dressed in red spandex from head to toe. He said, “I would have been your genie, your magical helper, your fairy godfather.” He grabbed Sogwa by the hand and flew away with her into the air. “I would have been anything for you, done anything, for you. For you! ”
Teen-age Santa took Sogwa to a high place, and there he showed her in a glance every country in the world. “All of this would have been yours. I would have given you anything, given up anything, all for you! But I can’t, I can’t, I don’t exist, I’m nothing at all...”
Teenage Santa burst into tears. He blew his nose, and there was a flash of light.
When Sogwa’s eyes cleared, she saw that she was back in Nowheresville Mall. Santa was now a tiny baby. The baby Santa was on top of the same pedestal Sogwa found him, and as before crowds of shoppers swarmed by, none noticing him or Sogwa.
The baby Santa cried, “IT’S NOT FAIR! Not for me, not for ANYBODY! I don’t exist, there ain’t no Santy Claus, and IT JUST ISN’T FAIR!”
Sogwa said, “Poor thing.”
She picked up the baby Santa, she cuddled him and she rocked him.
Sogwa said to the baby Santa, “I forgive you.”
The baby Santa wailed louder than ever!
“Hush, little one, don’t cry,” Sogwa said. “I forgive you for not existing. It’s O.K., I mean it. Hush, little Santa, I forgive you for being a fake.”
The baby Santa sobbed and wept.
“Hush, dear Santa, I love you and I forgive you. You did give up everything for me. How generous! You never even were - and for what? So I would doubt. So I would question. So I wouldn’t believe just anything, just because it sounds good and somebody said it’s true.”
The baby Santa sniffled.
Sogwa said, “O patron saint of skepticism, may your memory protect me! Whenever a schemer offers me something too good to be true, and I am tempted to believe, may I remember you, and what you turned out to be, and may I not be fooled. By your gift, Santa, I will doubt, I will question, and I will save myself. So thank you, Santa. Thanks for the warning.”
The baby Santa lay quiet.
Sogwa said. “Nobody’s perfect, and you’re nobody, so you’re perfect! I will never forget what you never were. I love you just the way you aren’t.”
Sogwa saw that she was holding a Santa doll. The Santa doll’s arms and legs splayed like a starfish; his smile was stitched on a linen face as round as a full moon.
Sogwa left the Santa doll on the pedestal for the next kid.
While walking away, Sogwa said to herself, “Well, at least I got some loot.” She waved the cheap plastic magic wand. “This ought to be worth something.”