“All rise,” the short bailiff wearing a green jacket called out. “The honorable Judge Claus presiding.”
A plump, white trimmed, red robed, silver haired man emerged from the judge’s chambers and sat down behind the bench.
“You may be seated,” the bailiff said.
The courtroom full of short, red and green clad individuals took their seats. Judge Nicholas Santa Claus picked up a stack of papers in front of him, straightening them before looking them over again. He raised his head enough to aim his eyes over his glasses, gazing down at the defendants.
“Hannibal Heyes and Jedediah Curry. You are charged with committing multiple acts of mischief over the past year. I will read them off and you will have a chance to tell your side of the stories after which I will decide whether or not you will stay on the naughty list.”
“But there’s no jury,” nine year old Hannibal pointed out.
“Your honor,” Judge Claus corrected him.
Han smiled. “ That’s a right nice thing to call me.”
“Not you!” Judge Claus was astounded. “That’s how you address ‘me’ young man.”
“Knock it off, Han!” Seven year old Jed whispered after elbowing his cousin. “We ain’t tryin’ ta make him mad at us! We’re tryin’ ta get off his naughty list in case ya forgot!”
Brown eyes were rolled at the blond haired boy. “Don’t worry, Jed. We’ll be just fine.” Han looked back up at the bench confidently. “Sorry, Your Honor.”
“That’s better son. And there won’t be a jury. ‘I’M’ the jury. Now, let’s take a look at the first charge.”
“Let’s not and say we did.”
Another, harder elbow was hit into his cousin’s side. “Han!” Jed hissed. “Stop it!”
Judge Claus glowered down at the brown haired boy. “Son, you’re about to be in contempt and have me make my decision right now.”
Jed gave Han an icy blue glare.
“I’m really sorry, Your Honor. I’m just a little nervous.” Han’s most innocent look graced his features.
“No you ain’t,” Jed said barely audible. “You’re just tryin’ ta be a pain in the…”
“Apology accepted, Hannibal.” Judge Claus’ eyes softened. “Now, on to that first charge.”
Han and Jed were both fidgeting as they stood in front of the man who would decide their fate of receiving Christmas gifts or not.
Judge Claus read the first charge. “Okay boys, the first thing on this list is leaving home without letting anyone know where you were going. And specific to you, Hannibal, leaving your house while being grounded. How do you plead?”
“Not guilty,” Han quickly said.
“Not guilty, what?” Judge Claus asked.
“Not guilty at all.”
Blue eyes rolled as yet another elbow hit Heyesian ribs. “Not guilty, Your Honor.” Jed gave Han the ‘look’. “Quit forgettin’ ta call him, Honor, Han!” the younger of the two whispered.
“I’m sorry!” the brown haired boy hissed back. “I ain’t never been in no court before! Besides, I’m busy thinking up how we gonna defend ourselves! And quit elbowing me! Just let me do the talking.”
“The way you’re goin’, you gonna talk us right outta here and into stayin’ on the naughty list!”
“No I ain’t!”
“Yeah ya are!”
“No I ain’t!”
“Boys,” the judge stopped the escalating argument.
The cousins looked back up at the bench. “I can explain that charge, your Honor,” Han replied, breaking eye contact with his cousin.
“You can, huh? Proceed.”
A confident, dimpled smile appeared as Han started his tale of innocence. “Well it went like this. First off, I want you to know that I was grounded unjustly. I don’t know how Ma’s pies kept getting ate while they was cooling on the windowsill. I think it was that dog from the neighbors down the road. That dog steals everything he sees.”
“The neighbors’ dog sounds pretty mischievous,” Judge Claus said hiding a smile.
“Oh he is, Your Honor. Meanest dog what ever lived. Do you know one time…”
“Han! Ya gettin’ off the subject!” Jed smacked his cousin’s shoulder this time since he was told to quit elbowing him.
Brown eyebrows furrowed as Han glanced sideways, then they raised in innocence as he turned back to the judge and his story.
“Anyway, Ma decided,” an index finger went up, “wrongly I might add, that it was me taking them pies and that’s how I got grounded. So the next day, Pa was out working in the fields and Ma went a couple miles down the road to another neighbor’s place to try and borrow some fabric or something. She’d told Pa that morning that she was gonna make an apple pie. So I figured I’d help her out by going and getting her some fresh apples, since, you know, that dog had stole a couple of her pies. Poor thieving animal musta been starving.” Han looked down a few seconds, making himself look sorry for a dog apparently not being fed.
Jed sat down, slightly shaking his head. ‘Han’s crazy tryin’ ta sell that story as the truth.’
Judge Claus put a hand over his mouth to hide a grin.
Han looked up and went on with his story. “So, I left the house and went to get Jed.”
A blond head jerked up immediately. “Don’t bring me into this!”
“But he, I mean his Honor, said we was BOTH charged! He knows you was with me! I gotta explain that we was doing something for the good of our family!”
“Yeah! After ya came and got me from where I was fishin’!”
Judge Claus sighed which got the sparring cousins’ attention once more. Jed dropped his head into his hands. Han carried on.
“As I was saying, I went and got Jed and we started on a quest to go get apples. We walked ‘til we saw the apple trees, see there’s an apple orchard down the road from our place too, and we started picking up apples.”
Jed stood back up beside his cousin to help him plead their innocence. “And we was so busy doin’ that real good deed we didn’t hear a wagon comin’.”
Han picked the story back up. “And by the time we noticed, it was beside us…”
Back in July…
As Kiera Heyes approached the two young boys picking up apples, she abruptly pulled back on the reins, coming to a stop as she saw who they were. “HANNIBAL JOSHUA HEYES! JUST WHAT ARE YOU DOING OUT HERE?!”
Han froze where he stood, a few apples falling from his arms as his eyes wandered to the side. “How in the world didn’t we hear a wagon coming, Jed?” he whispered.
“I don’t know. Maybe you was talkin’ too much?” Jed replied wryly.
“Get in this wagon right now young man! You too, Jedediah!”
“But Ma, we’re on a quest. One to help you out. Then we’ll be right home.”
Back in the courtroom…
“We wasn’t tryin’ ta help her out,” Jed whispered as softly as he could. “We was pickin’ up rotten apples so’s we could play tag with ‘em.”
“Jed!” Han hissed back at him. “Nobody needs to know that!”
“But you ain’t tellin’ the truth. The preacher man said we ain’t s’posed ta lie.”
“I ain’t lying. I’m just leaving out certain parts of the story. That’s different from lying.”
“But you said we was trying ta help your Ma out.”
“We was picking up some good ones to give to her. Remember?”
“Yeah. Like three.”
“Quit whispering so loud, Jed! He’s gonna hear you!”
“How can somebody whisper loud?! Whisperin’s quiet. That’s why it’s called a whisper!”
“I overhear Ma and Pa whispering some…”
“Please boys, continue your story,” Judge Claus instructed.
Han turned back to the bench. “Like I was saying, we was on a quest and Ma was mad for no reason…”
Back to July…
“I said get in this wagon NOW, Hannibal! You were already grounded! Where was your Pa?! Your aunt and uncle also know you’re grounded. Does anybody know where you two are?!”
“Well, no, Aunt Kiera.” Jed looked at the ground, kicking at dirt as he answered.
Han shushed him quietly. “Don’t admit that!”
“Well it’s true!”
“This ain’t no time to be truthful!”
Jed gave him a sad, blue eyed look.
Han sighed. ‘I absolutely hate those dang guilt trip expressions.’ He looked at his Ma. “Jed’s innocent. I went and got him to help me. Besides, there wasn’t nobody in the house so I also needed to find either you or Pa to be grounded the right way ‘cause grounded kids always got somebody watching them and you both were gone. So, in a sense, it’s yours and Pa’s fault I left the house.”
Kiera was red in the face by that time. “In. The. Wagon. NOW.”
“Well, I guess I coulda let Pa or Ma know where we was goin’,” Jed admitted.
“Don’t say that, Jed! That’s admitting we’re guilty!”
“She already knows, Han!”
“BOTH OF YOU GET IN THIS WAGON! LAND’S SAKE!”
“Hold on, Ma. We’re having a discussion.”
Kiera looked like she might explode any minute so Jed climbed in. Han didn’t move, however, so she reached down and pulled her son in.
“Ow, Ma! That’s mean. ‘Specially when it’s partly your fault I got out…”
Back in the courtroom…
“…and Ma got mad at us for no reason. We was just trying to help.” Han held out his hands and raised his eyebrows for emphasis. “She didn’t even give us a chance to explain. I think the rules of being grounded can be bent a little to help your family out when they’re hungry.”
“Especially for desserts,” Jed added.
“So see, it was just an innocent act of selflessness. I, ‘we’, was willing to get in trouble to help my Ma out. You can’t possibly want to punish us for being thoughtful can you?”
Judge Claus faked a coughing spell to conceal the laughter that was about to burst force.
Jed bent over to speak in a hushed tone in his cousin’s ear. “Ya do realize ya probably wastin’ ya breath. Santa watches us kids. That’s how he decides who goes on what list.”
“Jed, he can’t possibly be watching every kid in the whole world at the same time. And it’s possible he’s just heard some of these rumors on us from his tattletale elves. We gotta try to prove our innocence.”
“But we ain’t innocent.”
“Well he might not know that!”
“I think I want a separate trial from you, Han.”
Judge Claus cleared his throat. “Okay then boys. These next accusations involve several instances of you being unruly in school. Mostly involving your teacher and you two being smart alecks in class. And especially one incident with another student.”
“Uh oh,” Jed mumbled to himself.
“I don’t think anything happened with our teacher this year, Your Honor. We made sure to be real good. Even to the kid who was a bully.”
“Just wait a few minutes, Hannibal, Jedediah. Let me read the charges and then you can give your side of the story.
First, I see you, Hannibal, was dared by a classmate to urinate behind a bush in the schoolyard. After you did so, you dared that classmate to walk behind the bush barefoot. When your classmate didn’t do as dared, you had your cousin, along with a few friends, hold him down, take his shoes off, which you then threw in a mud hole, and then you pushed him back there into the urinated area. Explanation?”
Jed turned his head to smile.
Han snickered softly before he spoke. “Well, the kid was the school bully. He was always picking on everybody. He dared me so he could embarrass me. You see, it was a small, thin bush and easily seen through. Well I couldn’t back down…’cause I had a plan. So yes, I did pee behind the bush. And then when he wouldn’t walk, I did do all that to him. And why you ask?”
At that point, Han started to pace as he talked. “Because he needed to be taught a lesson. He needed to learn that kids wasn’t gonna take it no more. And that was the perfect day for the kids versus bully revolution to begin. Boys like that need to know that you don’t pick on people smaller or younger than you. Or smarter than you.”
“Especially girls, even though they’re yucky,” Jed interjected with crossed arms.
Judge Claus had to turn his own head at that. After he composed himself, he continued to read charges. “Okay. That one is stricken from the record.”
The cousins smiled in unison as Han stopped and stood still beside Jed.
“Next, the smart aleck answers you gave just to aggravate. Your teacher asked, ‘Why did God give you your Ma and not some other Ma?’ Jed, you answered, ‘We’re related.’
“Your teacher: ‘Whoever answers the next question can go home early.’ Han, you then threw a piece of chalk. Your teacher: ‘Who did that?’ You said, ‘Me. And now I’m going home.’”
Both boys had their mouths covered stifling laughter.
Judge Claus kept reading. “Your teacher: ‘Jed, how do you spell ‘crocodile’?’ Jed, you answered, ‘K-R-O-K-O-D-I-A-L.’ Your teacher told you that was wrong and then you said, ‘Might be wrong, but you asked me how ‘I’ spelt it.’
“One more before I give you a chance to defend yourselves. Your teacher: ‘You have five cats and someone wants two of them. How many cats do you have left?’ Han, you answered, ‘Five. They ain’t getting none.’ Your teacher, after allegedly sighing: ‘Okay. Let’s say someone ‘forcefully’ takes two cats. How many do you have now?’ Han, you then said, ‘ Three, and somebody needing a doctor.’
Han put his hands on his hips as he looked up with a smug, crooked grin. “Your Honor, those might’ve sounded like smart aleck answers, but they were, in fact, the truth and therefore the ‘right’ answers. Jed ‘is’ related to his Ma, I answered the very next question, and may I add it wasn’t stated ‘what’ question would be asked next, the teacher did ask Jed how ‘he’ spelt crocodile, not how the ‘book’ spelt it, and I gave a truthful answer to the cat question. Ain’t just gonna let somebody steal my cats and get away scott free. Just ain’t fair. I love cats and doggone it, they should be avenged.”
Judge Claus put the papers down he’d been hiding his face behind and stared at the two boys. “Hannibal, Jedediah, I’ve listened carefully to your defense and have reached a decision. You will…”
Han woke with a start. Sitting up and looking around his room, he jumped out of bed and grabbed paper and a pencil. “I have to go get Jed and we have to write letters to Santa NOW.”