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Chapter One – The Day of Reasoning

As the first day of middle school quickly approached, Raquel Patek was in a bit of a quandary.  She wasn’t sure how to do it but decided it was time to tell her parents, though she knew the whole notion had blasphemy written in big red letters all over it. She took a deep breath and practiced saying the words aloud, first with authority.

“SANTA CLAUS DOESN’T EXISTS!”

Then with emphasis on certain words

“Santa Claus DOESN’T exist.”

Then trying to a different verb.

“Santa Clause can’t exist!”

As she said it aloud, it was almost like the words hung in the air like the smoke from the pipe her dad occasionally smoked during times of long and precise thoughts.  Though she tried fanning those imaginary words out of the air, they floated in place and it seemed that even hurricane force winds wouldn’t dissipate them.  But how could her Mom and Dad argue with her, she had the proof.   What Raquel would soon realize is that this one phrase would turn her and her sister’s world upside down with Raquel questioning every part of our short 12 years on earth.

At only twelve years old, the word smart didn’t do Raquel justice.  Her mother and father gave her the nickname Sherlock because of her unique ability to understand and deduce the outcome of any event as she discovered the facts.  The idea of believing in something she couldn’t see or feel was difficult for her.  Her Dad would always tell her,

“Sometimes you just must have faith even when every part of you says it can’t be, because you know deep down in your heart that it has to be true.”

“I know Dad, but how can you believe in something as big as Santa Claus without real proof?”

“Sometimes all the reasoning in the world doesn’t stack up to the idea of blind faith, that sometimes things exist even if you can’t taste them, see them, feel them, smell them or hear them, because deep down, your heart tells you that it’s true even though your senses tell you otherwise.”, he always reminded her.

But why was this so important to say to her parents at all.  Many parents don’t know exactly know when their children stopped believing in all the mythical people or creatures, whether it’s the Tooth Fairy, Easter Bunny, Pumpkin King or Santa Claus.  Is any parent horrified when their teenager tells them that Santa Claus doesn’t exist or are they more horrified when he or she tells them they think he does exist?

Raquel’s family was different though; the Patek’s had a unique way of looking at the world and those mythical people and creatures.  They had an almost cult-like appreciation for things like the Easter Bunny, Tooth Fairy, but especially Santa Claus.  It was almost like each year Santa Claus was running for a political office and Raquel’s parents, Fluer and Dori, had to ensure everyone voted for him.  So, each year without fail, Raquel and her sister had some form of Christmas showing up with them as they walked through their neighborhood on their way to the first day of school.  Whether it was a lunch box, backpack or sweater, Santa’s image wasn’t just there, it screamed, I BELIEVE in bold colors against whatever they carried or wore.  This was no big deal for Raquel’s sister Tate, as being a precocious seven-year-old wearing anything Christmas related was exhilarating.  But for Raquel, what started as a fashion statement with flair in kindergarten; became a cruel joke by fourth grade.  In fifth grade, it became almost unbearable with jokes abounding because of the rosy color on her cheeks and the tip of her nose.

“Just like Rudolph, we aren’t going to let you play any reindeer games,” the harsher children in school would quip during recess.

“Don’t let it bother you, they are all just jealous.” Tate would tell her. This still bothered Raquel as she headed back to the swings to swing by herself.

The only solace she had was her good friends Mark and Marie Donovan whose parents too had a weird fixation for all things mythical but not to the extent the Raquel parents did.  The story of the friendship between Raquel and the Donovan was both unusually and perplexing but we will save that for another time.

So, by the end of her fifth-grade year, Raquel decided that enough was enough and set her sights on the truth behind this so-called tale.  Though Raquel was well versed in the latest technology and could quickly find what she was looking for, starting on the Internet wasn’t the direction she was inclined to take.  She felt like the Internet was a cold, sterile environment that didn’t provide the warmth and comfort that books could provide.  She loved the smell of an old book.  The tactile experience she had in the way the pages turned in her hand and the thought of what interesting person could have held the book before her.

Raquel had at her disposals, in her opinion, one of the best libraries just a few steps from her front door right, within her self-contained neighborhood the Villes de l’Antarctique.  It was funny to Raquel the breadth and depth such a small library carried and how few people took advantage of this grand, slightly stern building.  The outside of the building carried an old world, craftsmen style with overgrown ivy covering most of the beautiful inlaid stone while the interior walls were lined with dark oak as the books gave off an archaic musty smell from the yellowing pages of stories growing old yearning for someone to hold them again and bring their imagery back to life.  Need to see a copy of Leonardo da Vinci’s Codex Leicester, by the time you finished the sentence, Hermes, the stodgy leather-face librarian would have it in your hands.  For such small old frail man, Raquel always was astonished at the speed that Hermes could deliver the materials someone needed.    There was never a case when a book, manuscript, DVD, record, CD, 8-track tape, manual, or some other media couldn’t be found.  Raquel always pondered how such a small cramp building could carry such an infinite selection of materials.  When she had visited other libraries ten times the size of her quaint little library they wouldn’t have half the section, many times other librarians would give her a puzzle look for books she requested that were hundreds of years old.  She reminded herself that one day she needed to do some detective work to determine why.

So, as she began her research, she knew that she had to be careful in what she asked as just like her parents, Hermes too had a weird fixation on things like Santa Claus.  Asking for the obvious could have a disastrous outcome if not described in way that could be easily explainable to Hermes.  Like Raquel, Hermes had a very analytical mind and could easily do astronomical computation is his head or find the most miniscule relationship between two items.  Many times, Hermes spooked Rachael as it almost seemed like he could read her mind regardless of how much she disguised her question.  As she settled on several books that could help her prove her theory, she wanted to make sure she had the best possible back-story on the books she was looking to help her prove her point.

As she approached Hermes desk, the desk felt more like a judge’s bench similar to the one you would find at court house.  This reminded her of the Supreme Court Bench she had seen on a recent family vacation to Washington DC.  But this desk was 6 feet tall, made of rich mahogany with a stain that had a beautiful amber honey glow that was polished to a mirror finish allowing anyone to see every grain of detail in the wood on close inspection.  But close inspection would be difficult as most anyone that approached the desk was required to keep at least 3 feet away; and touching the desk would get a one year expulsion from the library.  Down the middle of the desk was a large panel with a beautiful carved crest in the center of it.  In the middle of the crest was a beautiful deer, surrounded by garland with Everest trees in the background.  If you looked at the crest in the right sunlight, it almost appeared if it was snowing.  Each side of the desk had a several very strange almost hieroglyphic symbols that protruded out.  To Raquel it appeared that the symbols were some kind of code and if each symbol were pushed in the correct order the secrets of the universe would appear before you.   Each time Rachael approached the desk, she would ask Hermes what each symbol meant, immediately, he changed the subject with short stern quips.

From this tall perch, the dwarfish Hermes could survey all parts of the library without moving, it seem more like a command station, than just an ordinary library desk.   As she approached the desk she strained her neck upwards and stood on her tippy toes to see what appeared to be a napping Hermes, before she could hesitantly ask for help with her quest Hermes declared,

“G-o-o-d m-o-r-n-i-n-g, Raquel, I didn’t think I would be seeing you today.”

“Hermes, how are you today.”

With a stoic face, Hermes looked down trembling a bit as he answered, “It’s 10 am missy, shouldn’t you be in school.”

“Hermes, we are a month into the summer holiday, school won’t be back in session till August,” retorting in her most pleasant voice.

“Hmmm,” is all he said as the one-second stare he gave her seem like a lifetime before he spoke again.

“SO,  what are you looking for this time?”

“I know it’s a lot to ask, but could I see the following books, please.”

“The North Pole, Its Discovery in 1909 Under the Auspices of the Peary Artic Club by Robert E. Peary.”

Rachel continued determined to get what see needed to build an effective case on her theory of Santa Claus, “Natural History – Smithsonian by DK Publishing and the Codex on the Flight of Birds by Leonardo da Vinci. On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin and lastly the book from Albert Einstein, Relativity: The Special and General Theory….”

After hearing all the books that Raquel requested, Hermes removed his coke bottle glasses, rub his eyes and peered down from his perch and with a great sigh and said, “Sometimes we find a book that calls to us, read me, read me, and though deep down inside we know that for some odd reason, not only should that book not be read but we should keep it away so no one else can read it. Do you know what I mean?”

With an extremely puzzled look on her face, Raquel shook her head and decided that the best course of action was fewer words so Hermes wouldn’t catch on to her plan. Hermes started again,

“Sometimes a book not only changes us, but how we perceive the people around us, changing not only how we see them but ourselves in the process. These books seem like a very odd collection and whatever you may find may not only change your life but the life of everyone around you, so think wisely Missy, are you sure you want these books?”

With a still somewhat puzzled look on her face, Raquel looked to pick the right words just as her mother seemed to pick the best apple from the apple tree in her garden.  Her mother seemed to have an uncanny knack to pick the best things in nature so just like her mother, Raquel leaned back a bit and imaged a tree filled with words, the right words would deliver what see needed while the wrong words will leave her with another year of Christmas sweaters and holiday lunch boxes. As she leaned forward to speak she said,

“Hermes not really sure what you mean I’m trying to determine why the Great Auk can’t fly. As you know the Great Auk was indigenous to the North Pole in the early 19th century but because they couldn’t fly and they became extinct.  The book by Charles Darwin will help me understand the evolution of animals and how even though a Great Auk has feather and wings, it still cannot fly. The book by Peary will help me understand the North Pole, where the Great Auk lived. The book from the Smithsonian will provide me and understand on flight and why things like bumblebees can fly while Great Auk cannot, lastly the Codex of flight will give me a clear understanding of the principals of flight.”

“…and the book on Relativity,” Hermes quipped.

“Oh, as you remember from last summer, I’ve been wanted to read that book for a while.” This was convenient coincident that help further distract away from her real quest, proving that Santa Claus didn’t exist. Raquel, settled back on her heels feeling that she had done a good job in deceiving Hermes, but should couldn’t help from feeling remorseful in her deception to Hermes, as Dori and Fluer had worked hard to raise a well-behaved, trustworthy, responsible young lady. Though deceiving anyone went against everything part of her DNA, Raquel rationalized that her search for the truth was an overriding factor just as Einstein worked to reconcile his Theory of Relativity.

“OK, but please remember what I said, by the way, it appears that your shoe in untied.”

As Raquel looked down to her black converse sneakers, she could see one perfectly tied loop on her left shoe with the laces on her right shoe untied flapping uncontrollable as if somehow the solid concrete floor was leaking air up.  How odd she though, as her mind worked to deduce how this could possibly occur; she reminded herself to focus at the task at hand.

As she looked back up, she started to say,

“Don’t worry Hermes, I will…” before she could finish her sentenced Hermes reached down from his desk, with the 4 books and the manuscript that she requested.

“Here you go missy, please be careful with the manuscript, it’s the only one.”

Raquel stood there for a minute dumbfounded and speechless, this was an impossible to accomplish in just a matter of seconds especially for someone that was so old and frail. How, in a matter of seconds, was Hermes able to get down from his desk, go find the books that probably were scatter throughout the library, climb back up to desk and be there in a matter of seconds.  It almost appear to Raquel that time stood still for Hermes to accomplish his task. Though this wasn’t the first time he had done this to her, her curiosity finally got the best of her.

“Hermes, I know that I have asked you timeless times before but how could you find these books so quickly, your kind of old and um… frail.”

As Hermes stoically look down from his perch, Raquel could see that he was just about to read her the riot act but before he could, she looked down at the ground and said, “I’m sorry Hermes if I hurt your feelings, that speed at what you can do things amazes me and I guess my curiosity made me disrespected and I…am really sorry.”

The deceitfulness of her request and the need to find out the truth regardless of the cost finally caught up with her and like any twelve-year-old the pressure finally mounted to be too much.

Hermes could hear the regret in her voice and see a tear rolling down Raquel’s cheek.  Hermes climb down off his perch and came to see her at eye-level, though he needed a stool to see her eye to eye.  Hermes lift her chin, pulled a cloth from his pocket, wiped the tears away from her face and said,

“It’s ok missy, I forgive you, I know that you are reaching your teenage years and you think you either need to know everything or think you know everything, sometimes we should stop worrying about what other people think any only care about we what think about ourselves.”

Raquel couldn’t image that Hermes understood her dilemma but appreciate the fact that he tried to comfort her.  Raquel collected the books, thanked Hermes for the help and understanding and headed to a large oak table to begin the task of proving that Santa Claus doesn’t exist.

As Raquel walked away, a voice came from the shadows of the perch, “…as I told you before Hermes, she will either be our savoir or our downfall.  Either way life will never be the same.”

“Should I do anything about this,” Hermes queried.

“No. This is no longer in our control and no persuasion or magic can change this course, our future is in Raquel’s hands.”

“I understand,” sighed in response.

“Don’t worry my old friend, Fluer and Dori Patek raised her right.”

“She isn’t the one I’m worried about, its…”, Hermes words trailed off in fear.

“I know, I know…” the voice quietly whispered.