By Rachel Ann Michael Harris
Tommy hopped down the basement steps, cupping Cotton’s fluffy brown and white body tightly in his hand. The hamster squeaked like he was saying “Oof,” with each step. The Christmas music Tommy’s mom played faded away as he descended. Seven days till Christmas, and he didn’t have to think about the names of states and capitals for two weeks! The only one who had to worry about that was Santa when he delivered his presents on Christmas Eve.
At the bottom of the stairs, Tommy searched through the maze of beakers, computers, and other large sciency instruments that looked like they should be in a Star Trek episode.
Dr. Holden peeked above a countertop as he rubbed his head. “Hey, buddy. Whatcha doing down here? I said come get me when it’s dinner time.”
Dr. Holden paused. “We just had lunch. It’s only…” Checking his watch, he scowled. “Huh.”
Tommy’s gaze wandered to the machine his father had been tinkering with. As he petted Cotton, Tommy asked, “What’s that?”
His dad’s face brightened. “This is going to change human intelligence.” He guided Tommy to a computer shielded behind a large, glass barrier. “The laser will scan a patient’s brain, focusing in on where there is a deficit, and enhance it.”
Typing in a few commands, Dr. Holden smiled as the laser started up with a loud whirring sound. Placing Cotton on the counter behind him, Tommy hopped up on a stool and swiveled back and forth. The basement grew brighter as the laser glowed like the Christmas star guiding the Magi. As his eyes watered from the glaring light, Tommy wondered if the house could be seen from space. Multi-colored lines and graphs appeared on the computer, waving up and down. With a flash, sparks flew from the laser with a loud pop, and everything dimmed as it shut down. Tommy blinked as the spots in his eyes disappeared.
“Well,” his dad shrugged, “it will when I figure out how to keep it from overheating.”
Tommy blinked. “Okay.”
Chuckling, Dr. Holden patted Tommy’s back. “Let’s go have dinner.”
Spinning around, Tommy reached for Cotton. But the counter was empty. “Cotton? Cotton!”
From around the base of the machine, Cotton pattered into view. Tommy ran over and scooped him up, turning him around. Cotton continued his perpetual squeaking, like he was trying to tell Tommy all about the bright light he’d just seen. Shrugging, Tommy followed his dad upstairs and back into a Christmas wonderland of his mom’s baked gingerbread men and the sparkling tree.
“I’ll be home for Christmas…” A high-pitched, squeaky voice sang.
Tommy sat up in bed. It was the middle of the night. Who was that? Grabbing a flashlight, he snuck out of his room and down the hall to the stairs.
“Please have snow and mis-tle-toe…” The voice rose in a high, harmonious pitch, but the squeak was undeniable. “And presents on the tree.”
Glancing over the railing, Tommy tried to see into the living room. The Christmas tree’s yellow lights cast a warm glow into the hall. Creeping around the corner, Tommy saw a little figure standing at the base of the tree in front of the Nativity set. Its paws were folded as it swayed with the song, head tilted back as it sang the final lyrics.
“I’ll be home for Christmas. If only in my dreams.”
After a moment’s pause, the little creature turned around and smiled at Tommy.
Cotton? The flashlight in Tommy’s hand drooped as his grip loosened.
“Isn’t that a beautiful song?” Cotton said. “Did you know it was written during World War II? I think that adds to its beauty.”
Tommy dropped his flashlight.
Landing on all fours, Cotton scurried halfway across the living room towards Tommy. “I hope you don’t mind, but I borrowed one of your socks.”
Tommy glanced in the direction Cotton gestured. On the fireplace, hanging next to his and his parents’ stockings, was one of Tommy’s socks, tacked in place by a paperclip.
Cotton smiled and shivered. “I hope Santa brings me a plane. I always wanted to fly. I’m not too late, am I? Christmas hasn’t come and gone, has it? I’ve lost a little sense of what day it is.”
“Uh…” Tommy shook his head, “Christmas is next week.”
Hopping up and down on his hind legs, Cotton clapped. “Yay! I’ve been good for so long, and now it is almost here. This will be the first one I get to celebrate. I can’t wait till it’s Christmas.”
“Dad!” Tommy called behind him. “I think your machine works!”