I Will Tell You #100:
A Christmas Tale; or Santa Claus and Batman Have a Heart to Heart Chat in the Batcave
“Can I get you anything else, sir?”
Despite speaking in a hushed tone, the elder manservant’s elegant voice echoed through the dank, cavernous room. He looked across the chamber at the man who was like a son to him, and it pained him to see this usually strong and stoic man, who he still often thought of as a mere boy, once again partake in what had become a sad and isolating holiday tradition for him. The younger, dark haired man sat at a console adorned with a large videoscreen at its center, on which played a grainy video depicting the younger man as a boy, perhaps ten years of age, giddily ripping open a seemingly living room full of presents on Christmas morning, as the boy’s parents joyfully looked on.
A wisp of a smile momentarily crossed the servant’s lips, as he recollected filming this joyous Christmas celebration, as he had done on so many such mornings. But the smile just as quickly disappeared, as he also recollected that this particular footage was the final such moment that he had ever captured, and the final such Christmas the young boy would ever have, before the child’s life was forever changed months later.
“No, thank you, Alfred,” the younger man replied, his gaze never looking away from the screen.
“Very well, sir,” Alfred conceded. He remained where he stood, though, for the thought of leaving his best friend alone, especially on Christmas Eve, disquieted him, so he made one more attempt at interaction.
“Master Bruce, perhaps you might like to come upstairs, at least?” Alfred challenged.
“Good Night,” Bruce retorted, with a slight sternness to his voice.
The disappointed Alfred sighed, and with resignation turned to head back up the cave’s winding stairs to the mansion above. After taking a few steps, he turned back to Bruce momentarily.
“Good Night, sir. And Merry Christmas.”
“Merry Christmas, Alfred,” Bruce replied, with little emotion, as Alfred turned away once more and finished his journey up the stairs.
The Ghosts of Christmas Past
The steel door that closed shut behind Alfred made a reverberating echo, causing several of the cavern’s startled winged nocturnal inhabitants to flutter away from the sound. Bruce gazed at the images of his parents on the screen, whose unabashed smiles were exceeded only by those of his own younger self. As Bruce stared at the visage of a young boy whose existence seemed like an eternity ago, several of the bats crossed in front of the screen as they flew past.
The symbolic moment wasn’t lost on Bruce, who turned away from the screen and looked over at the bat-eared cowl that lay on the console a few feet away from him, and from there turned his gaze downward at the rest of the costume that he still wore from his nightly rounds, and the symbol of the bat that was emblazoned on its chest. He looked back up at the happy and carefree child in the video, and scarcely felt any connection to the boy he once was. The images he watched year after year were ceasing to be the sparks that rekindled memories of a happier time; instead, they were becoming more like peeking into the private moments of someone unknown to him. The connection to his childhood was becoming threadbare; he felt as though he were merely looking in on the ghosts of someone else’s Christmas past.
He was beginning to forget who he used to be. Even worse, he was beginning to forget who his parents were.
He paused the video as emotion began to overwhelm him. The image frozen on the screen was one of young Bruce, his mother, and father all assembling a classic model train set that he had just received, but at this point Bruce was no longer watching; instead, he leaned forward, and burying his face into his hands, he began weeping for the first time since he was a child.
A Familiar Friend Returns
For several minutes he wept, until from behind he felt the strong touch of a familiar and comfortable hand on his shoulder. The consolation came as a surprise to him, as he believed himself to be alone within the cave’s confines.
“I’ll be all right, Alfred,” he choked, regaining his composure and forcing himself out of the grieving he had momentarily succumbed to.
“Why, Alfred’s asleep, Bruce.”
The unexpected sound of the deep, jolly sounding voice coming from behind him made Bruce sit up and spin about in his chair. He instinctively reached towards his utility belt only to realize that it also sat several feet away, next to his cowl. He hesitated momentarily and looked at the large figure who now stood in front of him. In the shadows, he could make out the red costume trimmed in white, and the surprisingly familiar man who wore it, who oddly gave Bruce a sense of calm and peace that cut through his previous emotional state.
“You have nothing to dread,” the ripe jolly old elf assured him. “It’s good to see you again, Bruce.”
The incredulous Bruce could do nothing but sit in his seat, speechless, as a hundred different thoughts danced in his head. The first of which being, how this uninvited but seemingly friendly man had gotten inside.
“Ho ho ho,” the timeless man chuckled. “Wayne Manor his a chimney, does it not?” He looked around at all of the trappings of the cave; the dinosaur, the giant penny, the fancy car. “Although none of this was here the last time I visited.”
Bruce remained silent. His jaw even lowered slightly.
“I know what you’re thinking, you know,” the man continued, stepping out of the shadow and into the light over the console. The bearded man with cheeks like roses a nose like a cherry now stood in full view. “Yes, Bruce, I’m exactly who you think I am.”
The Greatest Gift Of All
Bruce closed his eyes for a few seconds, thinking that surely he must have fallen asleep. But when he opened them, the man in the red suit was still there.
“Ho ho ho,” he again snickered. “I see you when you’re sleeping, too. And I can most definitely assure you, you’re not.”
Bruce’s eyes followed the alpha elf as he walked over to one side. “I’ve always known when you are sleeping, Bruce. Which isn’t a lot, nowadays. And you never were this quiet as a child.” He looked up at the paused image of Bruce and his parents on the screen, and particularly his father.
“You’re a lot like him, you know,” he continued. “Ever since he was a child, your father always wanted to save people. Your mother, too.” The bearded man pointed at Bruce’s cowl. “And you have saved so very, very many people, Bruce. You honor your parents’ memories every time you put on that mask.”
“Memories,” Bruce finally said. “You talk about memories. Tonight, I realized that I barely remember them.”
“You haven’t forgotten them,” the old man corrected. “You’ve just forgotten the innocence of being a child. It’s something that many people decide to forget, at some point in their lives.” He then paused and took a breath.
“You just had yours taken from you before you could make that decision.”
Bruce turned away and again faced the videoscreen, and resumed playing the tape. “I remember the moments. Like this one. But not the feelings. Times like these? They just don’t feel real anymore,” Bruce admitted. “My parents; they don’t feel like they’re real anymore, either.”
The old man smiled, but Bruce didn’t see it. He stepped up closer behind Bruce and down at him.
“Not real?” he chuckled. “Ho! Do you have any idea how many times people have said that about me?”
Bruce took his eyes of the screen for a moment, pondering the irony of what the ageless man behind him just said.
The red suited man continued. “You wanted that train set so badly, Bruce. You dreamed of it. You begged your poor parents for months. And that Christmas morning, you never felt happier. But it wasn’t because of the train set, was it?”
Bruce cracked a smile as he looked back at the screen and replied. “No; it was because I felt like I had the best parents in the world.”
“That’s right,” the older man said, also smiling.
“You still remember, Bruce.”
All Is Calm, All Is Bright
Bruce indeed remembered how wonderful that Christmas was. How much he loved his parents. And how fortunate he was to be so blessed. He remembered playing with that train set for hours, days, and weeks after. And how it served as a reminder of his undying love for them.
He realized he hadn’t forgotten any of those feelings, after all.
“The fact that I’m here means that you remember that innocence after all,” jolly old St. Nick said. “And if you remember that, then you can never forget all of these wondrous moments. All you needed was a little reminder. This is my gift to you, Bruce.”
The big man continued. “I remember your parents, too. Believe me when I say that they would have been extremely proud of the son that they raised, and the man that you have become.”
Bruce half-heard the old man’s words, but his attention was mostly focused on the video, as the waves of warm memories that he had thought were on the verge of being forgotten washed over him, as fresh in his mind now as they were on that Christmas morning so many years ago.
When the video ended, Bruce realized he had nearly forgotten about the visitor that stood behind him. But when he turned to speak to him, the old man was gone, like he had never been there at all. Bruce looked around the cave briefly, and was at first befuddled, but then let out with a small laugh, as he thought about his longtime friend and ally, the city’s police commissioner, who he himself had ducked out on many times in mid conversation.
“So that’s what it feels like,” Bruce thought.
He then stood up, and as he walked up the stairs of the cave back up to the mansion to retire for the evening, he tried to make sense of what had just happened, and whether or not the man in the red suit had somehow been real, or was perhaps the result of a fanciful imagination brought on by momentary fear; fear that he might have actually been on the verge of forgetting some of his most treasured memories. He passed by the illuminated Christmas tree in the living room, standing for a moment in the very spot where so many of these memories unfolded. He made his way upstairs to his sleeping quarters, and as he went to sleep late that Christmas Eve night, he put the mystery of what had happened out of his mind, and instead focused on the many wonderful memories he had to draw from as he drifted off to sleep.
That night, for the first time in many years, he dreamed of that train set. It was a Merry Christmas indeed.
Here’s where I will tell you all: May you all have a very Merry Christmas, full of wonderful memories to be forever treasured.
Thanks to Mr. Paul O’Neill and Mr. Scott Snyder for the inspiration!
And thanks to Mom and Dad, who have both passed on but have left behind countless special memories year-round.
For more Christmas reading, please check out:
I WILL TELL YOU #50.1: Yes, Virginia, There’s Still A Santa Claus
I WILL TELL YOU #90: A Christmas Tale, Or Santa Claus and Superman Hang Out and Do Shots at the North Pole
Surprise Post-Credits Epilog
After sleeping more peacefully than he had for longer than he could remember, Bruce awoke that Christmas morning as the dawning sunlight peeked through the curtains of his chamber, immediately thinking of the strange but enchanting discussion he had partaken in the night before. As he did, he thought he detected an odd sound coming from downstairs; he couldn’t quite place it and immediately tried to dismiss it, but its incessant albeit non-threatening nature piqued his curiosity, so he ventured downstairs to investigate.
As he made his way down, he could tell that the sound came from the mansion’s living room. As he turned the corner and walked into the room, a surprise awaited him. Beneath the still fully-lit Christmas tree, was a fully functional and operating model train set, that at first glance looked similar to the one he had received on this morning so many years ago. Moving closer, and watching the miniature locomotive round the tiny tracks, he observed that in fact this set looked exactly like the one he had received as a child.
With the same childlike fascination, he repeatedly watched the chain of train cars go round and round, and he again found himself lost in the most wonderful Christmas memory of his lifetime. The fascination now trumped his curiosity, and there probably wasn’t much to be curious about, anyway; undoubtedly Alfred had set up this train set for him after observing him watching the old video in the cave last night.
Upon thinking of Alfred, Bruce recalled the mildly gruff dismissal he had given him in the cave last night, so he tore himself away from the nostalgic gift so he could go find Alfred and apologize. He wandered into the kitchen but his old friend wasn’t there, so he continued his search elsewhere throughout the house.
Meanwhile, taking advantage of the one day of the year he could typically sleep a little later than usual, Alfred slept soundly in his chambers, where he had been since he had exited the cave the night before.