Originally published online December 20, 2017
One would think that technology would make it easier to find Santa Claus, but the jolly old man is always one step ahead of everybody! This s a sequel to last year’s story: “The X-Mas File.” This is the second story to take place at Gooplezonsoft, the first was “As Designed.”
Somewhere within the bowels of Gooplezonsoft, Jack slowly walked between rows and rows of cubicles. He stopped at an identical, yet familiar cubicle and peered inside. A woman lay in an office chair with her eyes closed and her feet planted on her desk. Jack knocked on a cubicle wall. Tracy yawned and turned her head to look at him.
“Ready for the Christmas Eve slog, Tracy?” Jack asked, taking a step inside.
“Yeah. It should make for a nice nap.” Tracy replied. She wrapped her arms around herself before tapping her computer’s mouse with a foot. A computer screen lit up to show various status bars and numbers. All were green. “All is well.”
Jack leaned against a cubicle wall and made a ‘pbbt’ sound. “Yippee. I don’t get why we have to sit here babysitting.” He said.
“Because some weird stuff happened back in March, and now the bosses are afraid of more weird stuff happening.” Tracy answered. “Didn’t you read the email?”
“If I answer ‘no’ to that question, am I in trouble?” Jack asked. Tracy shook her head and wearily sat up.
“Never mind. I’ll forward it to you.” She said, reaching for her keyboard. She placed it on her lap to type. “You should read it; the incident was actually kind of frrreaky.” Jack simply replied: “Okay.”
Tracy began typing. A few keystrokes and one loud SMACK of the Enter key later, she was finished. “Begone from my presence, now.” she ordered, motioning towards the cubicle’s entrance. Tracy wriggled back into her chair and closed her eyes. Jack heard a contented sigh come from the cubicle as he walked away.
A few hours later, Jack sat hunched over a glowing monitor and fussed over the data that appeared on it. Every click, scroll, filter, and re-calculation that he had made over the last ten minutes had led him to the same impossible conclusion and he wasn’t happy about it. The tech leaned back into his office chair and wiped his eyes. “Tracy!” He barked at the ceiling.
Jack paused to listen for any activity. Silence filled the office. He stood up to look over his cubicle wall and repeated: “TRACY!”
This time, the squeaking of an office chair could be heard. A ponytail, followed by a pair of annoyed green eyes appeered over the cubicle walls. They occasionally bounced up and down, as if the owner was on her tiptoes.
“What?” Tracy asked.
“You doing anything right now?” Jack asked back.
The eyes narrowed. “I was, until you woke me up!” Tracy replied. She dropped from sight. A yawn was heard.
Jack shook his head. “I got something for you to look at. I need you to tell me I’m not crazy.” He requested.
The green eyes reappeared and opened wide: “But you are crazy.”
The eyes rolled before dropping out of sight again. “Fine, fine.” Tracy pouted. Her ponytail bobbed up and down and approached Jack’s cubicle. Content that she was on her way, Jack sat down and went back to his computer.
Tracy soon arrived to find Jack back to peering at his monitor. She leaned forward and whispered in his ear: “It’s Christmas Eve, Jack. What are you doing?”
“You know me; I can’t just sit on my rear doing nothing.” Jack sighed.
Tracy stood up and pointed at him. “Well, that’s your problem, buddy.” She stretched again. “Oh-kay! I’m here! What’s going on?”
“For starters, the phrase ‘ho-ho-ho’ is trending on our Corlexari home automation devices.” Jack said.
Tracy placed her hands on her hips and scowled. “Like I said, it’s Christmas Eve. So?”
“There’s a pattern to it.” Jack replied. “Check this out.” A map of the United States appeared on the screen. He clicked his mouse. White dots appeared on the map, spreading from right to left. “They started on the east coast and have been moving westward all night.”
“Time zones.” Tracy said. “Parents pretending for their kids.” She sighed and crossed her arms. “My dad used to do that when we were kids. Didn’t yours?”
“Yeah.” Jack replied. “I guess it’s one of those dad things they do.”
“Is that all?” Tracy asked.
Jack snapped to attention. “Oh! Not quite.” He said before doing some more clicking. “Out of curiosity, I listened to some of the audio recordings.”
“You mean, ‘for quality assurance,’ you listened, Jack.” Tracy insisted.
Jack looked back at the lead tech for a moment and tilted his head. His eyes opened wide and he quickly answered: “Yes! Quality assurance! That’s it!”
“Good answer.” Tracy answered, glaring down at the tech.
Jack gulped. “When listen…I mean doing quality assurance, I noticed some of the recordings sounded the same.” Jack said. He reached for a speaker and turned it towards Tracy. “Check this out.” He clicked a few times.
“Ho ho ho!” A happy voice exclaimed over the speaker.
“Okay.” Tracy said.
“That was from Maine, now listen to this one from North Carolina.”
A few clicks later, another “Ho ho ho!” from the speaker. Tracy’s eyebrows went up. The voices were identical.
The happy voice was heard a third time, same as the first two.
“It’s a coincidence.” Tracy said. “It has to be.”
“That’s what I thought, too, so I had the computer search for similar recordings.” Jack said, clicking again. The map of the United States reappeared; the eastern half was again covered in white dots. “Here are all the ‘ho-ho-ho’ recordings.” He paused. “Now I’ll filter out the ones that don’t match.” Jack clicked his mouse again; a few of the dots on the map disappeared.
“Okay. Run the filter.” Tracy said.
“I did.” Jack stated. “Ninety-five percent of the recordings are identical.”
Tracy gasped. “No way.”
“Now you see what I’m talking about.” Jack said. “The only explanation I can think of is that one person made all those recordings, but that’s impossible. Un-less…” He let his voice trail off.
“Don’t say it.” Tracy said.
“It must have been ol’ Santa Claus?” Jack raised his hands.
Tracy stood straight up and flatly said: “We are not telling anybody about this.”
Jack turned back to look at her and gestured at the screen. “But the data!” He cried.
“It’s a glitch.” Tracy insisted. “Unless you want us both to be out of a job, nobody else has to know this.”
“No one. Not. A. Soul. It’s a glitch.”
A deep, jolly voice from just outside the cubicle them interjected. “She’s right, Jack! It’s a glitch.” The pair turned around to see Santa Claus standing before them, smiling. Santa winked, put a finger to his lips and went “Shhh.”
Jack and Tracy looked at each other, mouths agape.
“Is that?” They both asked.
The pair turned back to Santa Claus, but he was no longer there. They looked at each other silently for a few moments.
Finally, Tracy spoke: “I’m going back to my desk. Wake me when it’s quitting time.” She turned and quickly exited the cubicle.
Jack shook his head. “Yeah, that’s not a bad idea.” He said. He clicked a last time and the map disappeared from his screen. Jack rolled in his chair away from the computer, turned, and began to raise his feet onto his desk. He stopped upon seeing an immaculately wrapped gift sitting on the desk where he had intended to place his feet. Jack sat up and examined the tag. It read, in perfectly rendered script: Merry Christmas, Jack. -Santa
“Uhh, Tracy?” Jack asked loudly.
“I got one too.” Tracy replied.
“Not a soul, Jack! I know where you live!”
Jack smiled and looked at the gift for a moment. “Merry Christmas, Tracy,” he said.
“Merry Christmas, Jack.”
At a modest dining room table somewhere in Texas the next morning, Santa regaled Mrs. Claus with his version of the visit.
“I’m surprised they didn’t take your picture with their phones, Papa.” Mrs Claus said.
“I never give them a chance” He chuckled. “People always ask each other if they really see Santa and that’s my chance to disappear!”
“Very clever, dear. And the gifts?” Mrs. Claus asked.
“I always place the presents first,” Santa beamed before taking a sip from a glass bottle of soda. “Learned that trick ages ago.”
“That was a nice thing you did for those young people, Papa.” Mrs. Claus said. “Was there any particular reason you dropped in on those two kids?”
“It’s the principle, Mama!” He pointed a thumb at himself and grinned. “I’m the only one that should be working on Christmas Eve!”