Monthly Archives: December 2013

12 Days of Christmas STORIES, The Reindeer Ride, by Lynn Reynolds

Author Lynn Reynolds sent in this lovely, touching story. You should check out Lynn’s other writing at her web site www.lynnreynolds.com or consider buying one of her novels off her amazon page at www.amazon.com/author/lynnreynolds

Flake 6

The Reindeer Ride

by
Lynn Reynolds

The snow wafted down on Pete’s head, gently at first, but harder as the evening wore on. He leaned closer to the little fire pit he’d dug in his corner of the Christmas tree lot. There were still an awful lot of trees here. People just weren’t in a festive mood this season.
It had been a bad year all over the county. The fish cannery up in Tilghman Heights had closed, its owners having moved their operations to a cheaper facility in Mexico. That meant over 300 folks scraping by on unemployment.  A summer hurricane had destroyed the promenade next to the beach, so the usual tourist trade had never shown up. And even the town newspaper had become a free online weekly, so that was another twenty-five people who weren’t actually getting paid for the work they did. Not to mention the suggestion that the town was so dead, it didn’t even have enough news worth printing.
Little wonder almost no one had bought a tree from Pete this year. This was the downside of being a Christmas tree farmer. You spent all year tending those little trees for one big event. If it didn’t go well, you were stuck for the rest of the year. The pre-cut trees here on the lot would get ground up for mulch. Then he’d have to cull a fair number of trees on the farm, sell the larger ones to a cabinetmaker near Tilghman Heights who used them to make knick—knacks he sold in a gift shop on the promenade.
The farm was paid off now, so he’d get by okay, supplementing with the income from the organic eggs and cheese he sold in his roadside stand. But it sure wouldn’t be a year of extravagance.
The wind picked up and whipped the snow into a whirl around Pete’s face. He was getting too old for all of this. Since Ellie had died, it was hard to find the point in maintaining Evergreen Acres Tree Farm. The farm had been the dream of their youth. In the early years, they’d even had a couple of reindeer. They would spend the whole off-season making crafts—Ellie’s ornaments for the tree and Pete’s snow globes. Thirty years ago, when Pete and Ellie had started, Christmas had still revolved around family time— not 24-hour shopping frenzies. People came to Evergreen Acres in droves then. They toured the farm, fed the reindeer, bought handmade ornaments, then cut down their tree and took it home.
A few years back, the county had made them surrender the reindeer because it said the deer might harbor some obscure Norwegian mite that could infect other mammals. Then Ellie got sick and couldn’t make the ornaments anymore, and Pete just lost heart. He’d even stopped making the snow globes.  Last year a couple of high-powered lawyers from the city had gotten into an honest-to-God fist fight over who saw which tree first, and that was it for the cut-your-own business.  It was the last and worst in a series of increasingly unpleasant occurrences. People were so hurried and so angry nowadays. This year, Pete had only done the pre-cut trees and even that wasn’t going well.
Maybe it was time to sell to the developers. Let them turn Evergreen Acres into a monstrosity of McMansions or even a business “park.” He’d go live with his son’s family in Texas. Sleep late, go fishing, finally enjoy what was left of his life.
“Excuse me,” a small voice intruded on Pete’s lavish bout of self-pity. He looked up from the workbench he used as a counter. At first, he didn’t see anyone. The twilight and the snow definitely made visibility poorer, but this was ridiculous. Pete stood and saw a little girl in a knit reindeer hat. Her cheeks and nose were ruddy with the cold. She looked to be maybe ten years old.
“Well, hello, little lady,” Pete said. “How can I help you?”
“I want a tree,” she chirped.
“Where are your parents?”
“Daddy’s hurt,” she said. “He can’t move around too well anymore, and Mommy is sad all the time lately, so she doesn’t think she wants a tree.  I decided to come and get one for her.”
Pete swallowed hard. “Well, you’re a good girl to do that. What kind of tree do you want?”
“A big one!” she said, and her eyes lit up. Pete came out from behind his counter and knelt down beside her. Up close, he could see she had big brown eyes. Just like his dear Ellie.
“I can pay for it,” the little girl said. “I was saving up all year to buy presents, but I —” She stopped abruptly. “I decided to get the tree instead. I have $20. I saved it from my allowance.”
Pete chuckled. Normally, that would buy a small tree. But what the hell? It was Christmas Eve and no one else would be coming in this weather.
“Pick whatever tree you want, sweetie,” he said. He straightened and patted her on her reindeer hat. The little antlers jingled when he did so. There were tiny little bells on the ends.
The girl beamed at him and ran ahead, up one aisle and down the next. Finally she came to a tall, fat balsam fir.
“What kind is this?” she asked.
He told her its common name. Then he added, “Some people call it Balm-of-Gilead fir. There was an ointment in the Bible called Balm of Gilead that was supposed to bring healing to anyone who used it.”
Actually, he wasn’t too sure about that. Ellie was the Bible reader and after her lingering, painful death, Pete hadn’t felt inclined to pick the big book up ever again. But it made a good sales pitch, so he used it a lot.
The girl clapped her hands. “That will be perfect! It’s just what they need.” She fumbled in her coat pocket—it was a red cloth coat, the sort a child might wear for a special occasion, like going to Midnight Mass. Pete checked his watch. It was still early yet, only 6pm. He’d been planning on closing around 7pm, because he knew that no one else would bother coming in this weather.
The girl had dug out a rumpled clutch of five-dollar bills and was holding it out to Pete. He thought about the Dad—injured in some unnamed accident and no doubt short on funds because of it. He remembered a few rough years when he and Ellie were young and he’d actually swiped some money out of Tommy’s piggy bank to buy the Christmas turkey. Even though Tommy couldn’t be home this year, he called often. He’d even arranged for the grandkids to do a Skype session with Pete before midnight Mass tonight. Pete had been grumpy about the whole thing, but now he realized what a little technological miracle that Skype call would be. Looking at the little girl, Pete realized his somewhat dreary life could be a hell of a lot worse.
“What’s your name, sweetie?” he asked.
“Abby.”
“Tell ya what, Abby,” he said. “You keep that money.  This’ll be my Christmas present to you and your family.”
He expected a mild polite protest, but the girl stuffed the money back in her pocket and nodded solemnly.
“That’s a good idea,” she said to him, and she suddenly seemed older and wiser than her jingling reindeer hat would’ve indicated.
Pete went and got some netting and twine, bound the tree up and then dragged it to his truck. Getting too old for this sort of thing too, he thought, his breathing catching a bit as he hoisted the seven-foot tree into the truck.
“Hop up” he called, and the little girl climbed onto the running board and then scrambled up into the passenger seat. Pete banked the little flame in the firepot, then closed and locked the gate around the tree lot. He joined the girl in the cab of his Ford F-350.
“Where to, Miss Abby?”
“It’s not far. The Manning house, on Briarcliff Road.”
“Ah, so you’re one of the Mannings,” he smiled. “Sam Manning went to school with my Tommy.”
“I know,” the girl said.
Pete stole a glance at her. “Really?”
“He used to talk about playing football with Tommy Parrish a lot. He misses football most of all.”
Pete grunted a response, avoiding some trite expression of sympathy. Also, he was focusing hard on the road. The Ford had 4-wheel drive, but even so, best to take care in conditions like this. The snow was coming down harder, fat, wet flakes that would turn to rain later tonight and make an icy mess of the road when the temperature dropped in the wee hours of the morning. Pete turned the windshield wipers up higher. A dim memory scratched at the door of his brain. A car skidding on an ice-covered road last winter. Tommy had mentioned it in one of their phone calls. Sam Manning had been badly injured the day before Christmas, he’d said. Might never walk again.
Pete gave a heavy sigh. “Must be hard on your dad.”
The girl agreed that it was. “But the tree will cheer him up, especially when he knows it came from me!” She giggled, a laugh full of mischief and merriment. Pete laughed too.
“I sure hope you haven’t given your parents a fright, sneaking out on a snowy night like this.”
“They won’t know,” she said.
They drove down silent, deserted streets, their only company the yellowish glow of the streetlights and the occasional whistle of the wind. Pete turned off of Main Street, making a left onto Briarcliff. It surprised him that he remembered the way to Sam’s house, no doubt from driving his son there back in high school. But that was what? Twelve years ago. And would Sam still be living in the same house, the house he’d grown up in?
Apparently so, because little Abby pointed straight ahead and piped up.  “There it is. The grey house on the right.”
“I remember it,” Pete said.
The house was on a little hill, but the sturdy Ford easily traversed the distance in the accumulating snow. Pete halted in the driveway beside the house.
“You coming, Miss Abby?”
She shook her head until the bells on her little hat jingled. “I’m going to wait here for you to get the tree, if that’s okay.”
Pete hesitated, and then cursed his own cynicism. The girl’s feet couldn’t even reach the brakes.
“Well, you stay warm in here, and I’ll go let your mom and Dad know about their surprise.”
He traipsed up the path, noting the wheelchair ramp that had been built next to the front stairs. Poor Sam. Pete remembered him as a lanky, broad-shouldered quarterback for the high school team some fifteen years ago. Never easy to be wheelchair-bound, but must be even harder for an athlete.
Pete stepped onto the covered porch and stomped the snow off his boots. Then he rang the bell. After a few moments, a short, round woman with long red hair opened the door.
“Hello, Mrs. Manning, Merry Christmas to you,” he said. “I have your daughter’s special Christmas surprise here for you.”
The woman’s freckled face darkened. “Is this a joke? Because it’s in very poor taste.”
“I’m sorry?”
A man hobbled into view over the woman’s shoulder. It was Sam, equipped with crutches and leg braces. Pete looked forward to telling his son that Sam was back on his feet, however unsteadily.
“Mr. Parrish!” He bobbed his head by way of greeting and hobbled up to his wife’s side, the braces clanking as he approached.
“Hello, Sam. Sorry I haven’t seen you in an age. Don’t get off the farm much, now that Ellie’s gone.”
“Tommy always said his mom was your social director, sir.”
“Indeed she was, Sam, indeed she was.” After an awkward pause, Pete remembered his purpose. “I have a special Christmas surprise your little girl wanted me to bring you.”
Husband and wife exchanged what could only be termed a significant look. Pete had seen this look once or twice recently when he spoke to people younger than himself. It seemed to him to resemble the look he and Ellie used to exchange whenever his eccentric old grandfather spoke. Surely he wasn’t old enough to be looked at that way yet.
“That’s really not funny, especially at Christmas,” the woman said.
“Chrissie, I’m sure he doesn’t know,” Sam said to his wife. “I used to help out on Mr. Parrish’s farm back in the day. He’s a great guy.”
Sam turned his head to look at Pete. “You must have the wrong house, Mr. Parrish. Our girl died last year in the car accident.”
The wife gave an audible wince at the word “died.” “You don’t have to be so blunt,” she protested.
“Yes, I do,” Sam said. “We need to be able to say it.”
Pete sighed heavily. “Like cancer. Took my wife and me a long, long time to be able to say that word.”
He turned and looked back at the truck. He couldn’t see the little girl’s head in the window anymore.  Of course she wasn’t there anymore. That was how stories like this always ended.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “A little girl in a red coat picked out the tree. She rode in the truck with me. Told me to come to this house.”
He raised his hands in a gesture of utter helplessness. The motion of a man acknowledging that he was trapped in the grip of an inscrutable power. It was true that Ellie was the Bible reader, not Pete. But that didn’t mean Pete had no belief in things unseen.
“Listen,” he said. “Why don’t I bring the tree up to your house anyway? Consider it a gift.”
“What am I going to do with a tree?” the woman fumed.
“Chrissie —”
“I don’t want a tree!” she cried and she ran away from the door, into the dining room at the back of the house.
“It’s been a bad year,” Sam sighed.
“I’m sure it has,” Pete agreed. “I thought I was having a bad year, but I see now I was wrong.”
He raised a hand in a farewell gesture. “I’d tell you to have a Merry Christmas, but I know how much that annoyed me after Ellie died. Hope the new year treats you both better.”
He turned away from the door and took hold of the railing, preparing to head back to his truck.
“Mr. Parrish?” Sam called after him. Pete halted and turned to face the younger man.
“Why don’t you bring the tree up anyway? It might be a nice thing to have a tree after all. My mom’s coming over tomorrow. She’ll be glad to see we made the effort.”
Pete smiled. He remembered Sam’s mother as a fairly stern, strong-willed woman. He could imagine Sam wanting to have that tree in order to avoid an afternoon of nagging and criticism.
The snow was tapering off as Pete returned to his truck. He half-expected the tree to be gone. Wasn’t even sure the truck would be there. In fact, he wasn’t entirely sure he was awake.
In any event, he knew the girl would be gone and he was right. But when he opened up the passenger door, he found her reindeer hat sitting on the seat.
“Thank you kindly, Miss Abby,” he murmured, and he stuffed it in his pocket before going around to lower the truck’s liftgate.
Sam had opened the front door wide, but Pete left the bundled tree out on their porch. The young wife, Chrissie, had returned, wiping at her eyes and nose with the sleeve of her oversize sweater.
“I’ll let the snow melt off of it before bringing it in,” Pete said to them. “You can always decorate it on Christmas morning. I got nothing to do tomorrow, I could come back and help you get it up, put the angel on top if you’d like.”
“I’m sorry I was so rude,” Chrissie said to him. “Please come in for a minute.”
Pete stomped the snow off his boots and stepped into the foyer.
Unexpectedly, Chrissie Manning took hold of Pete’s hand. “I don’t know who you saw, but my little girl is gone. A year tonight.”
“I know,” said Pete. “I remember seeing it in the news stories now. I’m so sorry for your loss. But you see, a little girl in a red coat DID come to my tree lot this evening.”     He squeezed Chrissie’s hand in his own. “She said she’d saved up her allowance money and wanted a really big tree. Picked a balsam fir. That’s also called Balm-of-Gilead fir. It’s from a Bible story. The balm was supposed to heal the sick and—” Here he remembered something else Ellie had told him. “And it was supposed to help the dead rest easier.”
This time, the familiar sales pitch caught in his throat. He felt a stinging in his nostrils as he spoke.
“The young lady left this in my truck.”
He disentangled his hands from Chrissie’s surprisingly sturdy grip. Then he pulled the reindeer hat out of his coat pocket.
Sam, who’d been the calm, equable one up until now, turned white as a sheet. He staggered back from them and slumped against the closet door in the foyer. Chrissie gasped and held out her hand for the little hat. It was beige with big white googly eyes sewn on to it. It had little pink and beige ears and a pair of black stuffed antlers with tiny bells on the tips.
“Oh, Mr. Parrish!” she sobbed and sank to the floor on her knees, burying her face in the hat.
“It smells like her shampoo,” she said, rubbing the hat against her face.
“Chrissie—” Sam murmured, his voice pleading. She looked up at him, seemed to realize his frustration. She rose and held the hat out to him. Sam’s weight still rested on the crutches, but he stretched a hand out and fingered the hat. His jaw twitched with the effort to keep his emotions under control.
“I washed her hair that morning,” Chrissie said to him. “That weird watermelon shampoo she loved. Smell it!”
She held it up higher and he sniffed at the hat. Pete thought his heart would break, watching the two of them clutching at that hat.
“I stayed behind to finish wrapping gifts that night,” Chrissie said to him. “I was going to meet them at church and then we were going to go on to my mom’s from there. But I never got to the church. And except for the funeral, I haven’t been back since. I saw their wreck on the road when I left an hour later. I made this hat with my own hands, and she loved it so. I buried her in this hat. I buried her in it.”
Sam and Chrissie stared at him, as if expecting him to explain the impossible, the ineffable.
“I guess she wanted you all to know she’s thinking of you wherever she is. She was very jolly. Laughing a lot.”
“That’s good, that’s good,” Chrissie said. “Thank you, thank you for coming. And for not running away when I yelled at you earlier.”
She kept staring at the hat.
“It was no trouble at all, Mrs. Manning, no trouble at all.”
“Will you have some cider and stay a while?” Sam asked, his voice full of emotion.
“I think I will at that,” Pete agreed.
They took his coat and hung it on a rack with some other wet things. Then they ushered him into their home, past the dining room and into the cluttered kitchen. Chrissie knelt and helped her husband adjust the leg braces so he could sit at the table with them. She brought out a box of Girl Scout cookies and took a kettle of warm cider from the stove.
Pete ate the cookies and drank the cider. He listened to Sam and Chrissie talk about their daughter, and he even told them about his Ellie.
Suddenly, during a lull in the conversation, Sam spoke up. “How does something like this happen?”
None of them had an answer.
“Why doesn’t everyone get a miracle?” Sam went on. “And why don’t we get to choose what the miracle is?”
Chrissie gave a laugh. “Because we’d all waste it on winning lotteries and being rock stars.”
“Too true,” Pete admitted.
He thought about the little girl in the reindeer hat, coming so far just to get a tree for her parents, and he thought of his Skype call with his grandkids later tonight—and then he checked his watch. It was only eight p.m. He still had a couple of hours to go.
“You know, I thank you all for the cider,” he said, rising from the table. “I think we should get that tree up tonight. It just seems right.”
Chrissie and Sam murmured their agreement, gazing at the hat that was now sitting on the kitchen table.
“Do you have a stand?”
“No,” Sam admitted. “We had an artificial tree last year.”
Pete gave him a darkly comical look. “People like you are why I’m going to wind up retiring to Texas soon.”
Sam exchanged a sheepish shrug with his wife.
“I’ll go back to my lot and get a tree stand,” Pete said. “But I have some errands to run, so I might be a little while.”
He was thinking about Christmas trees and miracles and how we don’t get to choose the miracles but sometimes we do get to make one happen.
Pete drove back to the lot and loaded a bunch of the smaller trees into the bed, along with as many stands as he had. Then he headed up to Tilghman Heights, where the fish cannery had closed and people were scrabbling to survive on food stamps and unemployment and not much hope at all.  He figured he’d just start knocking on doors and see who wanted a free Christmas tree and a story about miracles.

That was the first year. Every year afterwards, it got bigger and bigger.
Soon Pete wasn’t just delivering trees, he was delivering Christmas dinners and toys too. He sold a piece of his land to help pay for it all, but he still had plenty of room to grow his trees.
After a couple of years, Sam joined him on the rides. He always walked with a pronounced limp and he wore a back brace and couldn’t do the heavy lifting, but he drove the truck for Pete. Sometimes he brought the reindeer hat with him, if they’d heard there was someone on the route who had a real need to hear about a true miracle.
Now people call it Abby’s Reindeer Ride, after the little girl with the reindeer hat.

# # #


The 12 days of Christmas. Part 1 – days 1to 6

Another wonderful guest entry for our 12 Days of Christmas STORIES. This one is from SidevieW. Don’t miss more of her terrific blog at http://viewfromtheside.wordpress.com

Viewfromtheside's Blog

Tuesday December 24th, Christmas Eve

‘Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house, not a creature was stirring….

“And that is why we have oily gravy, lumpy custard and that dreadful stodge your Aunt calls eggnog” David’s grandmother said, smoothly. Oh so smoothly. Instead of helping Aunt Anne the old bat would rather moan.

He had only just arrived. He was tired after 18 hours of travel and several busy hours before that leaving his home in a state that would be fine when he got back.   But he was here, Aunt Anne needed his help, yet the old bat demanded his presence. This was like every other Christmas he could remember. Aunt Anne would have been sewing or painting or embroidering busily for weeks, making everyone a Christmas Present.  Yet it was his grandmother who wrote the cards to be attached. And the cards always…

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Shameless call for entries to 12 Days of Christmas STORIES

We are a couple of days into “12 Days of Christmas Stories” and we’ve already had one great guest starring gig (by Kate Shrewsday) and a rather long short story by little ole me.I’m working on another story but I think I’m going to need a little help to make it to 12th Night. So… I’m officially calling all writers to submit a short story to the cause (or Santa cause as the case may be.) Stories can be something you ink this season or something from the back of your drawer. They should be Holiday themed, but don’t have to be about Christmas. Send ’em to ritalovestowrite@gmail.com Cheers, Rita


12 Days of Christmas STORIES: “Stars of Wonder” by Kate Shrewsday

If you aren’t already enjoying Kate Shrewsday‘s blog on a regular basis you don’t know what you are missing. Do yourself a favor and click HERE to sample her lovely writing, then hit the follow button so you can enjoy Kate’s view of the world in the future.

Here’s a little something she wrote for 12 Days of Christmas STORIES (thanks Kate!!!)…

Stars of Wonder

by Kate Shrewsday

Flake 13

So Christmas wears on, and the presents are all open, the last vestiges of the turkey are finished, and this time two odd thousand years ago the smallest wise man would be asking asking the other two, “Are we nearly there yet?”

The question would not help matters. The charm of trekking across the desert after stars would have largely worn off, and the other two would scowl and hug their cloaks to them in the chill of the desert night.

And the camels would rumble ominously. Even camels’ feet get weary sometimes.

The visit to Herod was not quite what anyone had expected. The almighty power that commands the stars was supposed to have better lines of communication between himself and the powerful leaders of his pet planet. The wise men had banked on it, and the almighty’s systems had been found wanting.

The child who was to be born king of the Jews, it was naturally assumed, would be born with the full knowledge and co-operation of the local king, Herod. And the star gave the visitors no reason to doubt their hypothesis; it glided regally up to Jerusalem, bound ultimately for Bethlehem.

But stars: they can be a tease.

Have you ever tried a telescope? Using one is like playing a fine-tuned instrument. The struggle to get a star in the cross-thread, just in the right place; the precision tuning to get that image perfect.

Tonight we went through the whole thing for the first time with my 10-year-old son. Waiting until after dark, we climbed up onto a plateau into the forest nearby and pointed the telescope at a star. Would it stay still to be observed? It would not. It dodged and weaved like a prizefighter, and because the image is inverted on the telescope when we moved one way to chase it, it would move the other way. And finally, after fifteen minutes of painstaking star-chasing, we trapped it like Tinkerbell, a dancing spot in the firmament, for long enough to view it.

And guess what. It was a sphere. A great, round reddish sphere.

Mars was coming out to play.

Yes, they can be a tease, these celestial bodies. They are anything but static, hurtling through space at 53, 968 miles per hour, but they are held in thrall to a star themselves, and it is that which gives them their game plan, a great space waltz orchestrated by Madame Gravity.

Yet they have their order. The decision to follow a star, it is a huge gamble: every star has its path, but all the paths are part of a crazy whole which walks hand in hand with the Father of Time, Chaos himself.

What must it have been like to be following one of these; for its promises not to be quite as they seemed?

The New Year approaches. Our lives have a certain order, but anything might happen, once midnight chimes.

Who knows how our story will twist and turn?

But each has its trajectory.

When it happens: may you have a Happy New Year.

 

 


12 Days of Christmas STORIES, Toby the Elf (conclusion)

Click HERE to read part 1

Click HERE to read part 2

Click HERE to read part 3

Toby  the Elf

Flake 15

Seven — Toby

I am working at my old bench when Santa comes into the workshop.  He heads straight for me and holds out a truck I’d put in the refuse bin earlier in the day.

“What the hell is this?”  He asks me in his most demanding voice.

I can tell that he is  not in the mood for excuses, so I let my head hang down and my voice soften away from defiance and whisper  “a truck, sir.”

“It’s the sixteenth goddamned truck you’ve thrown out since you’ve been here, isn’t it?”  he bellows. His voice fills the workshop.  It shakes the tools on the table in front of me.

I don’t dare speak.  I just nod.

Before he can go off on a full-blown tantrum Skipper speaks up in my defense.  “Show him your hands Toby.”

But as soon as he says it I tucked by hands under my table instead.  I don’t want to show Santa the bandages and cuts that criss cross them.

Of course, he demands to see them, and of course I can’t deny that booming, overbearing voice anything.  I bring out my hands and hold them up to him for inspection.  “How did this happen?” He asks.  His voice is softer, surprised, warmer.

But I still can’t answer. The shift from ogre to concerned manager is some how scarier than anything Santa has done before. My hands are shaking now and has to grab them to keep them still enough to examine.

Skipper has to tell him for me.  “His hands are too big for elf tools, sir.”  He says bravely to the big man, “He keeps cutting himself with them, that’s why he’s got such a high rejection rate. It’s not that he isn’t trying to do his best.”

I should look up to Skipper. I should acknowledge the friendship and courage it took for him to stand up to Santa on my behalf, but I’m still frozen to my work bench.  I can’t even lift my eyes to elf level.

“You can use my bench.”  Santa says without changing the touching tone in his voice.  But then his voice toughens, “and,  no more god-dammed rejects!  You go it?”

I bring my hands back to my lap and move my head up and down.

When he leaves the room I take the piece of wood I am trying to craft into a truck chassis up to his bench and I sit down.

Flake 12

Eight — Chrissie

The elves really responded to Toby’s courage in coming back to face Santa.  He’s become a magnet for their energies and seems to be able to pull the work out of them.  He’s smiling all the time now — at least when the Old Man isn’t around.  He’s even got the elves whistling and singing again.  That in itself is a pretty amazing feat considering the atmosphere of doom and fear that was here when we arrived.  Toby would probably be a pretty happy guy…if it wasn’t for the crotchety old man in the red suit.  But Santa can keep Toby in his place with just a look.

So, it really surprises me when Toby stands up when we bring Dr. Munchler by to see the workshop.  Santa tries to ignore him, but Toby remains standing as Santa finishes his lame speech about how the workshop is the heart of the complex.

When we turn to leave, Toby opens his mouth and speaks.  “Uh, Dr. Munchler, I-I would like to ask you a few questions, sir.”

“Who are you?”  Munchler asks him.  The strangeness of the Bulgarian accent fills the room.

“I’m Toby,” he answers bravely, “the truck maker.”

“I was not aware that you employed human workers.”  Munchler says to Santa.

“He only looks human.”  Santa tells him and tries to get him out of the workshop.

“Sir.”  Toby follows us into the hall.

“We don’t have time for this Toby.”  Santa says nastily to get Toby to back down.

“Sir, there are some questions —”

“Go back to your workbench  nobody here wants to hear what you have to say.”

Toby lets us add two steps to our lead before speaking again.  “What are you going to do  about the clones once you’ve located them all?”

“Shut-up Toby.”  Santa complains.

“How are you going to replace the elves who have left?”

“What part of ‘shut-up’ don’t you understand?”

“I want to represent the elves in your meetings with Dr. Munchler.”  Toby tells him.

“Your little girlfriend can represent the elves, now go back to the workshop and leave us alone.”

“I’m five feet, six inches tall and I’m thirty-three years old.”  I say stopping Santa.  “I’m not little, and I’m not a girl.”

“Chrissie has a lot of valuable insight to bring too.”  Toby says as his eyes settle on me briefly and he smiles. But then he blinks away, unable to say this to my face, “but she doesn’t really understand what the elves have been through.”  He gives a sigh of frustration.  “I want to be in on the meetings.”

“How do you think the number of workers should be replenished?”  Dr. Munchler asks Toby.

“I’ve been going though the List, sir, — trying to update it — and I think that we could find plenty of human adults who we could recruit.”  He holds out a note-book.  “These are the names I’ve found so far, but I’ve just gotten up to the ‘g’s.”  He tries to give the book to Santa, but the old man slaps it away.  “I-uh-I think we could update the product line too.  There are a lot of disillusioned electronic toy makers out there who would love to come here and work for Christmas.”

All the elves are allowed, even encouraged, to read the List and find out about the children they are making toys for.  But it’s more than a list of what kids want for Christmas.  It has adult names; along with their special Christmas wish.  Santa used to review the list of adults and if he found someone who was especially worthy he would work a little North Pole magic and grant their wish.

Santa pokes Toby in the chest.  “You stay away from my List!”  He shouts full force.

Toby stands his ground.  “Why?”

“Because I said so.”  The old man bellows at him.  “That’s why!”

Toby lowers his head. Santa’s voice echoes down the hall then disappears.

I move over to Toby, physically putting myself between the two of them.  “Toby.” I say with a nice,  calm voice. “We wouldn’t have room for Adult sized humans.  We wouldn’t be able to store enough food to feed them all.”

His head is still down;  he is still recovering from Santa’s tantrum,but he manages a nod and a quiet “I know.”  Then he gathers some strength and shifts his weight.  “But they could become elves.”

I look at him, and wonder if the stress is getting to him.  I touch his elbow and say. “No, that can’t be done.”

“Yes, it can.”  He looks at me with tired eyes.  “Santa can morph down the humans to elves just as easily as he morphed us up from elf to human.”  He tells me as if I should know what he is talking about.  I keep waiting for Santa to jump in and give him hell for coming up with such a crazy story, but the old man is quiet.

“Morphed?”  Dr. Munchler asks.

“Metamorphosised.”  Toby explains.  “Santa has the magic to change creatures in to anything he wants.”  He is quiet for a minute, then as he looks down at his big hands he adds, “Even if they don’t want it.”

Santa Harumphs.

I can see that Toby really believes this, and since Santa isn’t denying it, or making fun of him, I have to assume that maybe it is possible.

“Well,”  I ask him quietly, “why don’t you ask him to change you back?”

He shakes his head no.

“He’s afraid to ask!”  Santa chides him.

Toby looks up at him with some defiance, but shies away when the old man looks back.  “No, not entirely.”

“Why then?”  I push.  “Tob,” I say gently, “wouldn’t you be happier at your old size? I mean then you’d really be united with your friends.”

He lets out a breath of frustration.  “I, uh, I don’t want to be an elf again because I don’t want to be just-one-of-them to you.”  He tells me, and only me.  He seems to be successfully ignoring Santa for once.  “I’ll put up with the size inconvenience and the ostracization if it means that you will see me as Toby and not just one of the elves.”  He lifts his hands to my cheeks and cradles my face in the cup of his palms.  Then he leans in awkwardly and kisses me with passion.  “It’s a more than fair trade.”  He says with a smile as he pulls back. Our moment of tenderness if over and he squares his shoulders to face the others.

“Well, wasn’t that a saccharin display of emotions.” Santa snides.

“Leave us alone.”  Toby tells Santa.

“Leave us alone.”  Santa mocks back.  “Do you really have to kiss her right in front of everybody?  Can’t you control yourself?  Save it for you after hour trysts?”

“Shut-up Old Man.” I warn him.  He is embarrassing me, and I am not easily embarrassed.   I know that he is only saying these things to get to Toby.  And by the flush in Toby’s cheeks I can tell that he is succeeding.

“Why don’t you take her right here, big elf?”  He says with disgust to Toby.

Toby looks at him finally and there is anger in his eyes.  “What Chrissie and I do after hours is not your concern,” he says slowly, keeping the anger in his eyes only.  “You made us both adults, and now we can both make adult decisions and have an adult relationship.”

I am surprised that he’s saying all of this.  We hardly ever see each other ‘after-hours’ and when we do Toby is too afraid that we’ll run into the Santa to come to my room in the cottage.  So all we ever do is hold hands and talk.  Everything else is just part of the Old Man’s imagination.

“Everything that happens at the compound is my concern.”  Santa tells him, matching his anger.  “So you just keep your adult relationship where it belongs.”

Toby shakes his head.  “I’m glad I knew you before.”  He tells Santa to his face.  “Because if all I had to judge you on is the way you act now, I don’t think I could bring myself to like you very much.”

“Oooh,”  says Santa with sarcasm, “now you’ve hurt my feelings.”

Toby looks at him for an extended minute and Santa looks back.  The staring match ends with Toby lowering his head.  “O.K.”  He says quietly.  “I guess there is too much animosity between us for this to work.”  He admits to the Old Man. “But I still think there should be an elf representative at your meetings.”

Santa sighs, like it will be a big hardship for him to grant this one small request.  “Who?”

Toby thinks for a second.  “Corbin?”

That’s a good choice.  Corbin is a well-established Reindeer handler.  He’s been around for a long time.  He’s loyal to Santa, but he’s also loyal to the elves.

“No!”  Santa snaps, as if it was the most preposterous suggestion he’d ever heard, “not Corbin!”

“Uh, Sami?”  Toby’s voice is a little less brave.

Sami is another good choice.  Her work as a toy maker is exemplary, and she’s been around for a long time too.

But Santa dismisses her candidacy with an angry “No.”

Toby thinks again.  “Pete?”

“Pete?” Santa says with a sarcastic smirk, “no, I don’t think so.”

“Do you have someone in mind?”  I ask him.  My voice is calm, but a little demanding.  If  he’s got a good reason for not wanting Corbin, Sami, or Pete that’s fine, but I can see that Toby is running out of elves who could both put up with Santa’s temper tantrums and stand up to the old man for the elves.

Santa signs heavily.  “Oh, I guess Corbin will do,”  he says.

Toby gives him a look that is full of frustration, but says quietly, humbly, “I’ll go tell him.”

flake 1

Nine — Toby

I  am staring at a new block of balsa, trying to find the truck that is hidden inside.  I am concentrating so hard that I don’t notice that the worker to my left, Ginni, has stopped singing her soft lull of It Came Upon A Midnight Clear.  I don’t notice that the room has become tense, that the elves are tight with anxiety until Ginni touches my arm.

I look up at her and smile, but she doesn’t smile back.  She nods to our right, to the entrance of the workshop, and as I turn to see what’s gotten her attention I realize how quiet and still my coworkers have become.  By the time I get to Santa and his entourage my head is already beginning to duck.

“Well.”  He says loudly, “Now that I have everyone’s attention…”

I can feel the blood rushing to my cheeks, my eyes filling with water.  I am so embarrassed that I want to erase myself from being there, but he doesn’t allow me to erase myself.  Santa moves over; he stands right in front of my — I mean,  his  — workbench.

“I have a few things that I want to discuss with all of you.”

Discuss?  Santa hasn’t discussed anything with us for two years.  But his voice has changed, his tone has settled away from anger and disgust.

“You all know that I have been sick— I haven’t been myself for a long time.”  From out of the corners of my eyes I can see other elves nod in agreement and sympathy with the old man.  “Well, I now know that I am not going to get any better.”  He sighs; it is not a sigh of self pity, but more one of acceptance.  “In fact, I’ll probably get worse.”

My stomach sinks a little, I can’t image what he’d be like if he got worse.

“So I’ve decided  not to be Santa Clause anymore.”  Every elf head in the workshop looks up at him in disbelief, including mine.  “Well, you don’t expect me to do this forever, do you?” This is said with a bit of unexpected jolly teasing and some of the elves gives quiet giggles in response.

Forever, no, not forever.  But everyone expected him to be around until our service had ended.

He chuckles, but somehow instead of sounding jolly it comes out gritty, stained.  Santa has been a dark Santa for too long, and now even in this relaxed, kinder mode he seems just a little bit sinister around the seams.  “I just don’t fit the profile of jolly-old-man any more.”  He tells us.  “And I want to spend my few remaining mortal days somewhere warm.  Some where I don’t have to constantly worry about walking on the ice.”  He looks around the room and I duck my head before he can get to me.  “Come on now; buck up.”  He tells us with what passes as warmth.   “I’m not the first person to put on this suit, and I wont be the last.”

He smooths the white fur lining of his lapel.  “That’s the other thing I want to discuss with you.”  He rolls from the heals of his boots to his toes and back then he says in a very dramatic voice.  “I want to name my replacement.”

Now, there’s not one elf in the room who could honestly say that he or she hadn’t thought about wearing the red and white, but none of us are silly enough to think we could actually do it.

He clears his throat,  maybe  this is harder for him to do than he originally thought; “Well, there’s only one person here who has had the guts to stand up to me.  Who has organized the rest of you and focused you all on the goal of Christmas.  Who had the guts to come back here after going South.”

I lift my eyes to where Chrissie stands and smile at her.  I know that she will do a fabulous job.

She smiles back and nods.

“Toby.”  Santa says.

I turn my face toward him, not quiet able to lose the smile on my lips. “Sir?”

“Well?”

I nod,  “I think Chrissie will make a wonderful Santa.”

Her brow knits, confused, for a second then she lets a chortle escape her lips before covering her mouth.

“No, not Chrissie!”  He says loudly in mid laugh.

I lower my head; it is my turn to be confused — I’m the only other one who has gone South and has come back.

“You, Tob.” She says to me.

I shake my head.  “No—I—not me.”  I stutter.  My head is firmly down.  I don’t think this joke is at all funny.

“What’s the matter Toby, don’t you want to be  Santa?”  He laughs at me.

I shake my head again. I want to shout at him to leave me alone, to stop picking on me and do something useful — like make a toy!— but I’m too stupid and embarrassed to open my mouth.

Then I think of Chrissie.  Santa might be making fun of me, but would she? I steal a look at her and see that her face is full of pride, not sarcasm, definitely not cruelty.  I begin to realize that Santa is serious.  This is no joke.

He is leaving. And this fills me with another kind of sadness.  I look at him finally.  “I want you to be Santa.” My voice is tear-stained, and there is nothing I can do to calm it.

“I’ve been Santa for a hundred and fifty years!”  He says; there is still laughter in his voice.  “Isn’t that long enough for one person?”

I squeeze my eyelids shut.  “I’m going to miss you if you go away.”  I say as calmly as I can.

I feel his beefy hand on my shoulder (and the first time in months the touch is gentle).  “I’ll always be here with you.”  He says sweetly and squeezes my shoulder with love.  “Just like the Santas who came before me will always be here.  I’m a part of Christmas, that wont change.”

Chrissie moves around him and moves in close so are noses almost touch. “What do you say Toby, will you do it?”

“Why didn’t you ask Chrissie?” I ask the old man, but I’m looking at her.

“Because you are the one who deserves it.”  She answers for the him.  “Besides I don’t want to be Santa Claus.”

I look at her, taking her measure And her beautiful face smiles back at me. I am so in love with this woman that it makes me melt inside to see her smile at me that way. I manage to ignore the elves and Santa. “Would, uh, would you consider being Mrs. Claus?”   I ask her quietly.  “I don’t think I can do this by myself.” I shrug.  “I don’t know that I want to do it without you.”

“Well”  She smiles back at me.  “You do need someone to organize the bakery,”  she teases.

“I don’t think I could pay you what you earned down South.”

She takes hold of my collar and pulls me closer somehow.  “That’s O.K., Toby,”  She kisses me full on the lips.  “I’ll do it for the fringe benefits.”

As we kiss I can hear the elves begin to clap.

…And I realize that I am no longer a truck maker.


12 Days of Christmas STORIES; Toby the Elf (part 3)

Click HERE to read part 1

Click HERE to read part 2

Toby the Elf

Flake 2

Five — Toby

At noon the Bronco finally gives into the cold and ice and dies about a mile from the pole.  We shimmy into our parks and hats and scarves and gloves and boots and snow shoes.  We grab two sacks of food each from the back of the vehicle and begin to walk due North.

I am very nervous.  I know Santa will not be expecting to see me.  I wouldn’t have come at all except that I wanted to make sure Chrissie made the trip safely.

It is very cold, of course, but it’s not too windy right now.  I keep my eyes on the horizon; keeping a look out for some sign of the complex.  But I can’t see very far because it is dark.  (The sun won’t make an appearance up here for another two months.)

Chrissie swats me with a gloved hand.  “Listen!” She shouts through her scarf.

I obey.  At first I don’t hear anything but then I do.  I hear bells.  Jingle bells.  I smile beneath my layers of protection and I can see by her eyes that she is smiling too.  We quicken our pace all the way toward the “jingle, jingle” and soon enough we can hear a high-pitched voice yelling “Yar, Dancer, good boy…Keep in step Blixen, that’s the way…”  It is one of the elves.  Someone is exercising the reindeer.

The complex appears before us.  It is smaller than I had remembered, but that, I guess, it’s to be expected.  The reindeer are to our left.  I wave at their tender — I recognize him by his coat, it is Blinkie — but he makes no gesture toward me.

“Come on.”  Chrissie leads me toward the main building, the workshop.  As I follow her down the hill Blinkie runs for the nearest building.  He is calling an alert.

I am not surprised to find most of them congregated at the entrance when we come into the workshop.

“What do you want?” One of them asks.  It is in such an angry, inhospitable  tone that I am not sure which one of my friends has said it.

I realize that they don’t know who we are so I pull down the hood of my parka and yank off my ski mask and goggles.  But, they still don’t recognize me.  Then it dawns on me — it’s because I’m a human now.  I smile at them.  “Stanley, Pot-Belly, don’t you recognize me?”

Pot-Belly steps forward and examines my big face, then he turns from me and walks back to the group.  “You shouldn’t have come back Toby; the Old Man won’t like it.”

“You here will only cause trouble.”  Carrie, the stocking maker tells me.

My cheeks are hot with embarrassment  “I had to come back.”  I hadn’t expected a triumphant return, but… “Uh, I brought back Chrissie —”  I try to explain.

By now she has gotten her Parka and ski mask off too and is warming herself by a wood stove.  “Well don’t expect ‘em to be happy to see me, Tob — they never much cared for me in the first place.”

She says it with light sarcasm, but I know that she thinks it is the truth, and it breaks my heart that non of my friends has the energy or the courage left to deny it.

I move next to her and find her hand with mine.  “Where’s Santa?”  I ask with determination.

“He’s in the cottage.”  Stanley tells me.  “But I wouldn’t go in there if I were you.”

I am already headed for the hall way that leads from the workshop to the cottage.  “Why not?”  I say with my own bit of sarcasm.  I want to get the maelstrom of confrontation over.

“Because he isn’t going to like it.”  Stanley warns.

“Don’t tell me what to like, elf!”  Santa’s big voice fills the room.

Suddenly I am not so sure I want to confront him at all.

He walks in from the hallway.  He is big.  I am surprised that he is bigger then me in my tall, gangly, human state.  His suit is smudged with dirt, and his beard is grizzled. He would scare children away. He fixes his eyes on me for a brief minute then gives me a dismissing Harumph.  He looks passed me and sees Chrissie and his face changes.  His eyes actually sparkle.  “Look who came back.”  He says as nastily as he can, but clearly he is glad to see her.  “The prodigal elf.”

“Hello, Santa.”  Chrissie’s smooth, southern (for us) accent answers him.  “How are you doing?” She moves around me and takes his arm.

“Not too good Chrissie, not too good.”

“Uh-huh.”  There is enough sarcasm in her voice to let him know that she isn’t buying his self-pity.  “Well, we’ll just have to see what we can do about that.”

They start to move toward the cottage hallway,  but then he stops.  “You can go now,”  he says over his shoulder to me.

I want to protest.  My mouth wants to move up and down, and say “No, I’m staying, I belong here.”  But I have obeyed him for so long that my rebellion can not over come my well-warn obedience.  I duck my head and zip my parka.

“No.”  Chrissie’s voice holds command with both Santa and me.  “If Toby goes, I go.”

Santa looks at her, trying to judge her resolve.  Chrissie has never been a woman to mess with, clearly that hasn’t changed, so he shifts gears and turns to me.  “So, you finally got it, didn’t you?”  He asks me meanly.  “The minute you headed South you went straight for her…Like a dog after a bitch in heat.”

Now my mouth does move.  My voice does find it’s way to my lips.  “You watch your mouth in front of her.”  I say before I can stop myself.

Santa steps away from Chrissie to rebuke my defiance.  “You know Toby I used to think you were a nothing little shit, but I can see that that is no longer true.”  He says softly, almost kindly.  But his smile turns sour. “Now you’re a nothing big shit.”  He says angrily.  “This is my workshop and my compound, and I don’t have to watch my mouth around anybody!  You got that!”

“Yes, sir.”  I whisper.

Chrissie has come back over to us and she takes my hand and pulls me toward the door. “Come on.”

“What?”  I plant my feet firmly on the wooden floor.  I’m not going to let one temper tantrum scare her off.

“We’re going.”  She says tugging at me.  “If he can’t speak to you like a being of worth than he can go to hell!”

“Oh, that’s right, doll maker, run away.”  Santa says nastily to her.  “That’s what you do best isn’t it?  If things don’t go exactly according to your plan you just run away.”

“Looks who’s talking!”  She yells back at him.  “Of course, you don’t run away, do you?  You just push everybody away from you!”  She is very angry.  “How many elves have gone South, Old Man? How many have you scared off?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” He protests.

“Toby, how many?”  She asks me.

“Uh, 39.”  I half whisper, she still doesn’t understand that Santa views anything that comes out of my mouth as a lie.

“44” Pot-belly corrects me.

“Shut up!”  Santa commands him.

I look up and search the crowd of elves to see which of my friends are missing.  Pete is gone, and Gimble and Lucy, Smite, and Corey.  I am both relieved—that they have escaped from all of this and—very concerned for their safety in the world below.

“Five more in so short a time?”  Chrissie asks.  “Come on, Santa, you’ve got to admit that something is wrong here.”

He looks at her with defiance at first, but that melts quickly and he bites his lip and turns so she can’t see the tears welling up in his eyes.  “Of course there’s something wrong.”  He whispers with self-pity.  “I can’t do this any more.”  He tells her — successfully ignoring all of us.  “There are too many children…too many request…too many disappointed faces on Christmas day. They open their presents expecting to find XBox One, and they get a wooden truck.”  He sighs.  “I haven’t been able to keep up with the technology for decades. I thought that the clones would help, but they’ve turned out to be more trouble than help.”  He looks around the room at the elves.  “A third of the elves have gone South, and the ones who have stayed aren’t good for anything but giving me grief.”  He looks over to Chrissie now; tears trail down into his grizzled beard.  “I’m a tired old man Chrissie; I can’t do this any more.”

We all stare at him for a minute.  For Santa to admit this in front of all his elves tells us just how deep his depression has gone.

Chrissie is shaking her head.  “Cry me a river, fat man.”  She says as she pulls on her parka and gloves.

“What?”  He says still too steeped in self-pity to see she’s not buying it.

“I didn’t come here to listen to you blame this on the people who are trying to help you.”  She tells him.  “When you are ready to stop feeling sorry for yourself call me.”

“Don’t be so hard on him.”  Darien protest.

“That’s exactly what he wants.”  Chrissie chastises.  “You feel sorry for him and let him use you as a crutch.”  She looks around to all the elves, pinning each of them with guilt.  Then she looks at me, and she makes me accept my portion of the guilt too.  When she finally looks away from me I feel so bad that I want to die.  The blood is in my cheeks pulsing up under my eyes, making the water in my eyes collect in the corners and threaten to come streaming out.  “In that way he is right.”  She continues.  “You are partially to blame.”

“We stay with Santa because we love him.”  Jimmy is brave enough to say.

“Well, I’m not going to stay because I love him…I love him too much to let him use me as a device for his down fall.”

Every one is quiet for a minute then Santa straightens up.  “Well, what exactly did you have in mind?”  He asks with all the strength he can muster.

“Call Dr. Munchler and get him back here.”  She suggests.

Santa rolls his eyes.  “Now you sound like Toby!”  He complains.

“No, Sir.”  I feel my voice coming from me but I am as surprised as anyone else that I am speaking.  “I sound like Toby.  She sounds like Chrissie, and I think you ought to listen to what she has to say.”  Now everyone is looking at me and I am embarrassed, but not so embarrassed that I don’t finish what I have to say.  “Just because she agrees with me doesn’t mean that she is speaking for me.”

“Come on.”  Chrissie pulls at Santa’s arm, distracting him before he can lay in at me again.

“All right.”  The old man says as he lets her pull him toward the cottage.  “We’ll call Dr. Munchler.”

As soon as they disappear around the corner the elves relax.  Dotti, who makes children’s books steps up to me.  She lifts her right hand over her head and pokes me in the chest.  “You sure got big, Toby.”

“I -I know.”  I stutter, self-conscious of my size.

She smiles at me and covers her mouth when she begins to giggle.  “And you were a small elf.”

I look around the room and see other smiles.  For the first time I feel as if I have come home.

Flake 4

Six

I haven’t seen Toby for a couple of days except at dinner which we all eat together.  I sit up front with Santa, at the head table.  Toby sits at his old place at the elves’ table on the right, ninth from the front, wall side.  He looks like a football player sitting at a child’s table.  His knees are bent up to his chin as he sits on his little stool.  He is always very careful not to reach to far, because he could lose his balance and fall off the stool.

Every time I see him I’m with Santa and there is enough friction between the two of them that Toby doesn’t dare approach.

Not that I’ve been too eager to talk to him.  We got very close on our trip North, but things are different now.  He is home now; he is surrounded by all his friends.  He doesn’t need me.  And I’m just not sociable enough to hang on to the outskirts of his circle.

He’d been so lonely when we were on the road that even I seemed like good company.  But, compared to Pot Belly or Carrie or Boxie I just don’t stand up.  He’s with the most popular of popular elves now.  The only thing I’ve got to offer him is size proximity…hardly a basis for a growing relationship.

So what am I doing here? Why am I standing in front of his door about to embarrass myself?

Somebody comes out of another door and heads down the hall toward me before I can knock.  It is Skeeter one of the Reindeer handlers.  The hall is small, it caters mostly to elf traffic, and I am too big to be standing in the middle of it.

“Hi Chrissie.”  Skeeter says as he squeezes passed me.  “It’s good to have you back.”

“Thanks.”  I mumble after him.  I don’t bother to lie and say that it is good to be back.

Skeeter disappears around the corner. I don’t want to be standing here when he comes back so I knock.

When Toby opens the door he is almost squatting.  I look past him into his room and see that the ceiling is even lower in there than it is in the hall way.

“Chrissie.”  He says with a warm smile.

“How ‘bout these spacious accommodations?”  I tease him.  My voice is high and nervous.

He looks over his shoulder.  “I guess it’s a good thing that I’m not claustrophobic, huh?”

I look inside the room again and see that there is no furniture, just his parka and a rumpled wool blanket where the bed should be, a small lamp and a pile of folded clothes where the dresser should be.

“I took out the bed.”  He explains.  “I didn’t fit in it, and it took up too much room as a purely decorative item.”  He smiles at me, really smiles at me.  “I miss you.”  He says sweetly.

“Sure you did.”  I snicker.

“I’d, uh, I’d invite you in, but I don’t really think we’d both fit in here.”  He gives a little laugh and I do my best to smile back at his joke.  I can’t help wondering if he’s trying to blow me off.  “Would you like to go someplace else?”

I shrug.  “Sure, if you’re not too busy.”

“No,” He half laughs, “I’m not too busy,” Then he looks at me with sincerity, “uh,  unless you’re too busy.”

“No.”  I say firmly.  “I’m not too busy.”

“Uh, let me get my sweater.”  He ducks back into the sparse, tiny, room and moves to the pile of folded clothes.  I guess a clothes’ locker would be too big for the room too.  He finds the “Buckeye” sweatshirt we bought him at the Goodwill store in Boonesburg — that’s where most of Toby’s wardrobe came from — and slips it awkwardly (because of the low ceiling) over his head.  Then he comes back to the door.  He has to go through sideways to fit, but once he is out in the hall he can stand almost all the way up.  His bulk  fills the hall, and I have to think that it IS a good thing that he isn’t claustrophobic.

He leads the way down the passage and when we get to an intersecting human sized hall he reaches over and takes hold of my hand.  “Where to?”

I shrug.

“Workshop?”  He suggests.  “It should be pretty quiet in there by now.”

“No.”  I say trying to keep my grumpy mood to a minimum.  “Not the workshop, O.K.? Lets go some place neutral.”  I begin to lead him toward the dining hall.

“Neutral?”  He prods.  “How is the workshop less than neutral?”

“The workshop is elf territory.”  I tell him.  “I’m not an elf anymore; I don’t feel comfortable sitting in a little chair.”

I didn’t say it to hurt his feelings, but clearly I have.  “Oh.”  He says too quietly.

“How are you adjusting?”  I ask and get a shrug in reply.  “Everybody’s probably real glad to have you back.”

“Well, not everybody.”  He says meaning Santa.  “I don’t know…I guess it’s going O.K.  It’s just, I’m so big.”  He tries to smile. “I don’t fit in anywhere.  Even the most friendly elf gets tired of looking up at me all the time.”

I realize that maybe the reason he’s been so quiet during lunch isn’t all Santa.  Maybe he hasn’t had any body to talk to.

We are at the dining room.  We go in and sit down at the big table.  “You hungry?”  I ask him.  “I could find us something to eat.”

“No, that’s all right.”  He says quietly.  “He thinks I eat too much already.”  Santa has complained about this even to me.  I tried to explain that we brought enough supplies to get us through the first thaw, but he is consumed with the thought that we will run out.  I tell him to go to hell when he brings it up, but Toby listens to the old man’s ranting and eats only elves’ portions.  That is like a full-grown man eating from the children’s menu.  I know he’s got to be hungry.

“Trixie said you’ve been getting the workshop organized.”  I compliment him.

“Na-No- they’ve done it themselves.”  He stammers, not able to take the compliment.  “I’ve just made a few suggestions.”

“Well, whatever you’ve done it’s working.  Production is way up.”

He looks at me with disbelief.  “It is?”

“You sound surprised.”

“A little, morale isn’t very good.”  He shrugs.  He looks at me and smiles.  A twinkle lights up his eyes.  “Sorry,”  He says, “I don’t mean to complain.”

I smile back.  There is something in that glint in his eye, that smile, that apology for nothing, that makes me realize that nothing has really changed between us.  I lean over to him and kiss him.  Then I rest my head against his shoulder.

“What’s that for?”

“I miss you, too.”


12 Days of Christmas Stories — Toby the Elf, part 2

Click HERE to read part 1

Toby the Elf

Flake 9Three — Toby

Our rented Ford Bronco makes its way down the deserted main street of Katoonak.  This is about as far North as were going to get in the civilized world and Chrissie has persuaded me to stop and rest for the night.

I’m driving — she gave me a crash course in driving a stick shift — and I have been afraid of just that — crashing — ever since.  I pull over in front of the cabin.  The chains on the wheels stop screaming at us but my ears still ring from it.  The man at the gas station and general store rented us this house for the night.  It’s not very big.  One room plus bath.

We zip up our parks and make a run for the front door.  After a brief struggle with the frozen lock we are inside.  Chrissie finds the light switch and flips it on.  The cabin isn’t as bad as I had feared. It is bright inside.  The wood of interior walls has been painted white.  And it is pretty clean, just a few cobwebs and a lot of dust.  I head for the kitchen and set down the bag of groceries I brought in from the truck.  I try the kitchen facet and after a sputter or two a stream of cold water splashes into the sink.  I look over at Chrissie and smile.  “It works.”

“Hallelujah!” She’s got her parka off and she puts down her barrel duffel bag and starts to look through it.  She pulls out a blow dryer and a hand full of clothes.  “I’ll make a deal with you.”  She says with mischief.  “You let me get the first bath and I’ll let you have the bed.”

I shrug.  “You can have the bed too; just don’t use up all the hot water.”  She smiles and heads for the other door.  I start to unpack a few of the cans we bought from the man who rented us the cabin. I think about washing the dishes in the closet, but before I can start I hear the pipe sputter then moan.  I don’t want to use any water when she’s in the shower.  The water stops after only a few minutes and I realize that she must be taking a tub bath.  So I do the few dishes I think we will need.  I light the gas stove and begin to heat up a 16 oz. can of Dinty Moore Beef Stew.

I straighten up the cabin.  While it is cooking I clean off the desk — there isn’t a table in here so I guess we’ll use that instead.  I set it up for dinner.

I check on the stew and when I look up Chrissie is in the room again.  She nods to the desk.  “You didn’t leave anything for me to do.”  She says without complaint.

“You can watch this,”  I indicate the stew, “while I get cleaned up.”

“O.K.”  She goes to her bag and pulls out a towel.  “Here,” she tosses it to me,  “there was only one in there.”

“Thank you.”  I grab the plastic bag the acts as my suitcase and head toward the bathroom.

Flake 10
Four — Chrissie

The stew is good, considering it came from a can.  Toby — who is usually quiet — hasn’t spoken a word since we sat down to eat.  It’s hard to believe the change in him since he was an elf.  He was always so popular; always the perfect worker bee; completely in tune with the rest of the hive.  He’s told me that one of the things he finds disheartening about his human body is that it is so solitary.  It is hard for him to be alone, disconnected from the collective.

On the other hand, I like the isolation; I like the singularness of being human.  I like that the only person I have to worry about  pleasing is me.

Except, I do try to please other people.  As Katie and I became closer and closer friends it became more and more important to me that she see me in a good light.  And, now, with Toby, I find myself being on my best behavior.  Oddly, it is very important to me that I be accepted by this down and out elf.

Luckily for me Toby is very easy to please.

I keep telling myself that I’m doing all this for the sake of Christmas.  But a big part of me is doing it for him.  At first, maybe it was out of pity, but now it is somehow more.

He looks up from his bowl, catching me staring at him, and tries to smile.  “It’s pretty good, isn’t it?”

“Yes, Toby,”  I tease him.  “You make a fine bowl of beef stew.”

He has learned that my sarcastic tone is not meant cruelly and he no longer ducks his head in embarrassment.  “Dinty Moore had more to do with it than I did.”  He says with a shrug.

We do all the dishes and pack our supplies back up for the rest of the trip.  We are both tired so we settle right in to go to sleep, me up on the bed, him in a sleeping bag on the floor near the heater.

I turn off the light and it is quiet for a minute, then I hear Toby shift on the floor.  “Chrissie?”  He sounds nervous.

“Yeah, Tob — What’s the matter?”

“Nothing.”  He is quiet for a few seconds.  “Uh, I have something I have to tell you, O.K.?”

“Yeah, well, I’m listening.”

“Uh, do you remember when I said that I tried to get Santa to send someone to find you?”

“Uh-huh.”  I say with a yawn.

“Well, actually, I asked Santa to send me.”  He is quiet for a second, and when he speaks again his voice seems tighter in his throat.  “He accused me of having impure thoughts about you.”—I’m pretty sure that the old man didn’t use the term ‘impure thoughts,’ but Toby seems embarrassed enough as it is, so I don’t make him spell things out.  “Well, uh, that wasn’t  true at the time  — I mean I don’t think that I was capable of impure thoughts as an elf — but now, in this body, I don’t know that he was so wrong.”  He pauses and when he speaks again his voice is rushed.  “I find you very desirable Chrissie, I guess I always have.”

I can’t believe he is saying this to me.  My heart is in my throat.  I have never had a  man — human or elf — make me want to hear this more.  And I didn’t even realize that I desired him, until just now.  I take a deep breath.  Half of me, the sarcastic, cynical half — is waiting for him to tell me that this is all a joke.

“I, uh, wanted to tell you before we got to the Pole.”  He says quietly. “I guess I wanted to be the one to tell you.”  I can hear the frustration in his voice, but I can not make my own voice come out of my throat and tell him that I understand.  “Maybe I am only doing this for selfish reasons.”

I want to tell him that I know him well enough to know that that isn’t true, but my voice is still out of commission.  My body, however, seems to know exactly what to do.  My legs swing themselves off the side of the bed and my feet find the carpet.  I head over to the mass on the floor next to the heater.  The red “on” indicator is my only illumination, but I successfully traverse the cabin and find myself standing over Toby.

He is sitting in the sleeping bag, looking up at me, waiting to see what I am going to do.

Finally my hand extends down to Toby.  “Come on.”  My voice makes it though my throat and out of my mouth.  “It’s too cold to sleep on the floor.”

He takes my hand and lets me help him to his feet, then I lead him to the bed.


12 days of Christmas STORIES — Day 1 Toby the Elf (part 1)

Merry Christmas to all!

I thought I mix things up a bit and give your the gift of fiction with 12 days of Christmas Stories! Look for some guest writers in the next week or so, but to start things off here’s part one of a story I wrote quite a while back, Toby the Elf.  (Please note: Although this is a Christmas story it is not for younger readers.)

Toby the ELF 

Flake 12

One — Chrissie

I have been a human for a little over four years.  It is O.K., but it isn’t what I thought it would be.  Still, it’s better than being an elf.

My first year out I went to New York City.  I wanted a change, and NYC offered the most exciting possibilities. I did what I did at the pole, but here I could do it my way.

I was a performance artist at night and a cookie baker during the day.  You’re thinking; wait a minute they don’t have performance art at the North Pole.  You’re right, of course, but my art involved baby dolls and I did make baby dolls up there.  Anyway, I liked it. For the first couple of months I lived off the euphoria of doing what I wanted, so the city didn’t get to me too much. But the longer I stayed the more I found the Big Apple anything but enchanting.  It seemed so picturesque from the sky, in the sleigh, but up close, at ground level it looks, and feels, dirty.  I saw one too many muggings, and had one too many friends die of AIDS.  God, so much crime. So much poverty. So much wealth disparity.

I guess all those years of happy people singing while they worked, dancing their way from workbench to workbench — all that North Pole merriment — must have tainted me.  I left New York.  It was too depressing.

I moved west to the little town of Boonesburg, Ohio.

It is a quiet as quiet can get here.  They roll up the sidewalks at 10:00 at night.  This is fine with me, I’m always in bed by 10:00 at night.  I don’t get to do my performance art act any more,  but that’s O.K. too.  You can only incinerate so many baby doll parts before the smell starts to get to you.

So here I am 4:23 in the morning, making my way down the snowy main street of this no where burb to my place of employment the Mundo-Muncho Bakery.

It’s cold and windy, I have my head well buried in my scarf, so I don’t see him until I’m practically on top of him.  Some bum is sitting on the stoop in front of the shop’s door.  I head for the kitchen at a faster pace and he gets up.  “You stay away from me!”  I shout over the wind, but he doesn’t heed my warning.  He keeps coming, closing the gap before I can get to the door.  I reach for my keys and realize that I wont have time to get them in the lock before he over takes me.  “Get back!”  I hold up the key chain and finger the trigger of my can of mace.  “You stay away from me you son-of-a-bitch or I swear to god I’ll spray you!”

He steps closer “Chrissie?”

I spray him before I realize that the word he is speaking is my name.

The guy spins around, blinded my the mace and rubs his eyes to try to alleviate the pain.

I don’t waste time telling him that rubbing his eyes will make it worse.  I find my key and get it in the damn door lock.

The guy has sunk to his knees and is murmuring “Oh, dear.”

That’s when I realize that he’s an elf.  What human would say “Oh, dear” to a mace attack?

I make him sit down in the snow and go inside for a damp cloth. When I get back outside he is trying to comfort his human body by rocking back and forth.  “Oh, dear, oh dear…”   I pull his hands away from his face and make him put the compress up to his eyes.  He obeys and settles quietly for a few minutes as the warmth steals a little of the pain from his face.  Then he seems to gather his strength and sits up straighter.  He takes the cloth from his face. “Why’d you do that Chrissie?”  he says, “that really hurts.”

I  can see his face now, clean because of the cloth, and puffy and red from the mace and the cold.  He looks like an elf I used to know.  He looks like one of the all-time-super-elves… Toby, the truck maker.

“What the hell are you doing here?”  I pull him to his feet and push him inside the bakery.

Toby, the truck maker was not one of my favorite elves.  I hardly ever spoke to him.  He and his friends were way too  haughty for my taste.  He was always too busy kissing up to the big man to have time to say something nice to a trouble maker like me.  When he did talk to me it was with a condescending  tone.  One time he actually said to me “Why don’t you just paint all the dolls with happy, rosy faces?” I told him that I was sick of happy rosy faces, especially his, so why didn’t he go back over to the truck bench and leave me the hell alone.  He didn’t bother me much after that. What I’m trying to say is Toby was happy being an elf.  He was an elf’s elf.  I can’t figure out what he’s doing here so far away from the old man, from the pole.

I take him back to my work station in the back of the kitchen and make him sit down on a stool next to my bench. I’ll let him stay here until I can figure out what to do with him.

I look up at the clock, its 5:11. I give a soft whispered “Shit.”  I’m never going to get everything done before we open. I go into the refrigerator for a bowl of cookie dough and bring it back to the prep table back.

“I need to talk to you.”  His voice startles me. It is strong and human, not at all like the whimper out in the alley.

“Well, we’re talking.”  I roll the dough to the thickness I want and start to cut it with my heart shaped cutter.  It’s getting close to St. Valentines day. Hearts are selling well.  I’ve cut out a whole tray’s worth of hearts and he still hasn’t said anything.  “How’d you find me?”  I ask him.

He shies away. “It’s a long story”  He says quietly in his deep, warm, human voice.

“Well, we got about forty-five minutes till we open.” I move the tray to the oven and put it in.  “You think you can tell me your long story in forty-five minutes Toby?”  I ask as I push the timer.

He nods.  “I guess.”

Man, he looks so glum.  This isn’t the super cheery Toby I always made fun of at the pole.   Something has changed him, and I don’t just mean the metamorphosis from elf to human.

“You O.K.?”  I ask and he looks up with a little surprise in his eyes.  I can see he thinks that I’ve changed too.  As much as we hated each other up North he probably EXPECTED me to mace him when he showed up.

He smiles an alarmingly human smile.  “I need you to come back with me.”  He says very quickly. He’s rehearsed this part.  He’s reciting it.  “That’s why I’m here. That’s why I came.” He reaches out and grabs my arm. “I need you to come back with me.”

I shake him off.  “I’m not going any where.”  I tell him firmly.

“No.”  He seems caught off guard by my refusal.  He is at a loss of what to say now that his rehearsed speech didn’t work.  “Uh,”  He stands up straight. “No, you  don’t have any choice.”  He commands.  “You have to come back to the pole.”

I push him out of the way and load two more trays into the oven.  “Weren’t you listening to the old man’s farewell speech? Once you’re gone, you’re gone. I can’t go back; and neither can you.”

“You can.”  He tells me with kind of a hollow voice, but then he draws on some reserve of determination.  “You left because you wanted to leave– “

“I know why I left Toby.”

“The point is you can go back if you want.” He starts speaking quickly again. “You can make a difference by coming back, Chrissie. Santa loves you; he always loved you best.  You have so much spunk, so much independence.  Out of two hundred elves you were the only one who ever stood up to him —”

“I was a thorn in the old man’s side.”  I tell him and push him out of the way to get back to the prep table. “He never loved me and neither did any one else.”

“You’re wrong!”  he protests with sincerity.  “Just because we didn’t understand you doesn’t mean we didn’t love you.”  He looks at me again.  His eyes are watery from the mace — or maybe something else — “Listen you’ve got to come back.  Things have changed.”

I’m getting madder by the minute. “Oh, they’ve gotten better?” I smirk “I can go back now and make the kind of dolls I want?”  I am being very sarcastic with him.  “Do you remember those sad faced dolls I used to make? The ones you hated so much?  Did you know that those dolls are collectors’ items now?  People pay hundreds of dollars for those dolls.”

“I never hated anything you did —”

“Don’t try to bullshit me, Toby.”  I look at the oven.  A thin wisp of smoke is coming from it. I realize that I never plugged the timer in. “Shit!”  I try to get around  Toby. “WILL YOU get the hell out of my way?” I shout at him.  “I am trying to work here.”  He retreats.  The first tray of cookies is burned black. “Great!” I slam the tray down on to the cooling rack.

We are both quiet now.  I scrape off the burnt cookies and throw them into the trash.  Then I flip the pan into the sink with a crash.  I storm my way passed him again to the prep table and furiously roll another handful of dough to a 1/4” thickness.

“I’m sorry”  He says finally in a hushed tone.  I guess he’s not used to angry people.

I finish up another tray and take them to the oven.

I turn around and see him leaning against the prep table.  He holds onto it awkwardly swaying once back and forth.  “Toby?”

He looks up at me then he looses his grip and begins to slide down.

I run over and get there just in time to catch his head before it hits the floor.

flake 1

Two — Toby

I have been a human being for seven days.  I’m not very good at it.  My body is too big and too sensual.  I am much more at the mercies of cold and pain and even emotions than I was when I was an elf.

Plus, I’m too naive to be a human.  I’ve spent my whole elf life thinking that hard work and good thoughts are enough to get you a good life.  Here, in this body, this far south, I’m lucky if a day’s hard work is enough to get me some food and, maybe a  dry place to stay.  Down here good thoughts aren’t worth anything.

Right now I am lying, flat on my back, on somebody’s bed that I don’t recognize.  There’s a cool cloth across my forehead.  I feel queasy and my head hurts.  My pulse is racing.  I am trying to figure out how I got here — where ever here is.  The last thing I can remember clearly is seeing Chrissie, the doll maker, pick her way across the icy street outside of the bakery where she works.  Then it is all a blur.  Something happened — she sprayed me with something that burned my eyes and throat — but then I was inside the building with her and we were talking.  And now I’m here in this bedroom I’ve never seen before.

I know that if I open my eyes that the room will start to spin around me and that the canopy above me will fall toward me, and the windows and the pictures on the walls will slip away from my field of vision and the blackness will over take me again.

I do not open my eyes for a long time.

Then I hear someone come into the room and move toward me.

I am overcome with fear.  I force my eyes to open and demand that they focus on the woman who is too close to do me anything but harm  — My seven days as a human have taught me this if nothing else: SLEEP LIGHTLY.

I reach out and grab her hand before she can touch me.

“Holy Mother!” She curses at me in alarm.

“What are you doing?” I demand.

She shakes off my grasp. Panic washes over me. If I’m too weak to hold her wrist than she is definitely strong enough to do me ill will.  I shimmy away from her the best I can, but the bed is against the wall. I can only go so far.  The bed gives way beneath the weight of my body in uncertain waves and it’s all I can do not to throw up.

She moves toward me again but stops short of touching me.  She picks up the wash cloth that fell off my head during my hasty retreat.  “I was going to change your cold compress.”  She tells me.

Everything about her, her face, her voice, the smell of her perfume rushes at me and retreats in eddies of unfocused senses.  I can not push myself to a more steady platform of consciousness.  “Who are you?”  My voice sounds weak, it’s not nearly strong enough to keep her at bay.

She steps back from the bed and puts her hands on her hips.  “I’m Katie Elizabeth Mary O’brien,” she says proudly, allowing a little more of her Irish brogue into her voice, “and who are you?”

“I’m Toby, the truck maker.”  I tell her with so much innocence in my voice that she replies with a laugh.

“Well, relax Toby, the truck maker.”  She  says in a voice that is warm and emptied of her previous surprise or sarcasm.  “You’ve got nothing to fear from me.”

I  should say that I’m not afraid, but that is so clearly a lie that I don’t event attempt it.  “Uh, where am I?”  My voice is calmer, and so are my senses.  I can focus clearly on her now.

“Take a deep breath.”  She tells me.  I obey, breathing in a big gulp of air through my mouth. “No, darlin’, take a deep breath though your nose.”

I do and my head fills instantly with a warm crispy smell.

I feel a smile tug at the corners of my mouth — my body realizes where I am before my brain can catch up.  Then my brain clicks  “We’re near the bakery.”  I whisper as I acknowledge the revelation that the smell is the odor of bread baking.

She nods.  “We’re above the bakery to be exact.”

“Is Chrissie still here?”

I attempt to move, to get up, before Katie Elizabeth Mary O’brien can answer me, but the bed buckles beneath me and my head dims with dizziness.  I lean back against the wall again, and its firm smoothness settles me a little.

“Yeah, she’s downstairs.”  Katie answers my question.

I close my eyes and pray that he room will stop spinning.

“You all right, now?”  She says with concern.  “You don’t look so hot.”

I answer her slowly; my eyes still closed.  “I’m not hot; I’m cold.”  I never expected it to be this cold this far south.  But here, even inside, even under the thickness of blankets, I am shaking from the cold.  I move my hands up and down over my arms, hoping the friction will warm them, and I realize that I am no longer wearing my jacket.  I’m not wearing my flannel shirt, or my long underwear.  I realize that I’m not wearing my shoes or my jeans or any of my own clothing.  I open my eyes and peek under the blanket.  I am in someone else’s black sweat pants and pink “Mundo-Muncho” shirt.

“Uh.” I can feel  my cheeks warming with a blush as I realize that if I didn’t take off my clothes than someone else did. “Where are my clothes?”

“Your clothes are in my washing machine.”  She tells me.  She turns her back on me and goes to her dresser.  “Don’t worry darlin’. I was a nurse’s aide at the Baltimore Veteran’s Hospital for six years before I moved to Ohio.  You’ve got nothin’ down there that I haven’t seen before.”  She comes toward me with another comforter.  “Now, try to be a good boy, and not to get sick on this one.  I just got it. I’d hate to see it ruined before I got to use it.”

“O.K.”  I say quietly.  “I’ll try.”

She settles down in a rocking chair across from me.  “So you’ve been laid off, have you?”

“Laid off?”  God, I don’t understand 70% of what these people say.

“From the trucking industry,”  She explains, “I can tell by the shape of you that you are not currently employed.  I was wondering if that was because you were laid off or if you got fired.”

“Uh, fired I guess.”

She gives a little “tuck” sound with her mouth that I take to be a sign of disapproval  “So what kind of trucks did you make?”

“All kinds.”  I tell her.  I try to sit up straighter on the bed.  The nausea has subsided and I don’t feel so dizzy, but the bed still moves beneath me.

“Macs? Pick-ups?  4-by-4s?” She pries.

I nod.  “Yes, what ever is in demand.”

She gives me an impatient look.  “You mean to tell me that you’ve hopscotched your way from one plant to another going right through the truck industry from big rigs to pick-ups?”

“No — I mean — well, yes.”  I stop myself  long enough to take a breath.  “I make toy trucks.”

She smiles at me when she realizes that I’m not a chronic drifter.  “So, you know Chrissie from when she made toys?”

“Yes.”  I tell her.  I hope that she wont continue this interrogation.

“How are your feeling?”  Her voice has changed, softened.

“Better,”  I try to move again and bed buckles again beneath my weight.  I return to the more stable wall, “except I can’t seem to get my bearings on your bed.” I look up at her.  “Maybe I should sit on the floor.”

Katie gives a slow low laugh, “It’s a water-bed, Toby.”

“I’m sorry?”  I’ve never seen water-bed before.

Katie sits on her edge of the bed and a ripple of mattress flows against me than recedes back toward her.  I realize that it is the mattress that is fluid, not my equilibrium.

“Oh,” I whisper.

“Come on.” She holds out a hand toward me.  “I’ll help you to a chair.”

I edge toward her, leaving my stable wall.  I don’t think she realizes what a leap of faith this is for me.  When I get to the side of the bed it seems to collapse from our collective weight and I am thrown against her side.  “Sorry.”

She moves a strong arm around my waist, “Now, now, it takes a bit of getting used to.  I don’t suppose it was the best choice for someone as sick as you —”  she holds firm to the waist band of my sweat pants and pulls us both up to a standing position, “But we didn’t have a lot of choice, did we?”  She surveys the room.  “Now, I don’t suppose the rocker will be better,  do you think you can make it to the kitchen?”  She starts walking me toward the kitchen before I can respond and helps me sit in a straight-backed chair at the table.

I put my hands in front of me and hold onto the oak table.  I still feel very weak.

Katie moves over the counter and pours herself a cup of steaming coffee.  She pushes a button on the intercom on the wall.  “Yeah?” Chrissie’s voice says from the box.

“Your friend, Toby, the truck maker is up.” Katie says into the box.  She says my name as if it is a joke, and I don’t understand why.

“I’ll be right up.”  The box says in Chrissie’s voice.

Katie brings the coffee and a plate of cookies over to the table and sits down next to me.

My stomach buckles when I see the food.  Not because my nausea has returned, but rather because I am hungry.  I watch her as she picks up one of the cookies, dunks it into her cup then puts it to her mouth and sucks on it.  When she notices that I am staring at her I lower my eyes.

“Are you up to something to eat?”  she asks me.

“Yes.”  I don’t want to tell her how hungry I am.  It is a weakness I am not willing to admit.

“Well, I guess I’d better fix you something.”  She gets up and goes back to the counter.  I should tell her not to go to any trouble, but my mouth stays shut and my stomach rumbles.  She goes to the refrigerator and extracts a large Tupperware bowl.  She dips a ladle into the big bowl and scoops two portions of a thick green soup into a smaller ceramic bowl.  She puts that bowl into the microwave and hits 1 minute 30 seconds.  While the timer on the microwave ticks off the seconds Katie puts the cover back on the big bowl, burps it, and returns it to the refrigerator.  Then she pours a second cup of coffee and sets it in front of me.   Before she can sit down the microwave beeps three times.  She goes to it,  opens it, and pulls out the same ceramic bowl.  Now the contents of the bowl are hot.  Steam is rising from it.  She puts the bowl in front of me.

I  look at it. It is light green and creamy with lumps of brown and orange.  “What is it?” I ask as she hands me a spoon.

Katie looks a me for a minute, realizes that I’m not making fun of her or her cooking and says, “It’s split pea soup.”  She sits down next to me again and sips at her coffee.  “Its good,” she assures me, “you’ll like it.”

I pick up my spoon and skim some of the split pea soup out.  Katie is right.  It is good.  It is really good.  As soon as the creamy salty taste hits the back of my throat I have another spoonful ready to go in.  I allow myself to be consumed with the action of eating this wonderful soup.  After the tenth spoonful I look up.

Katie and Chrissie are both there, staring at me with surprised eyes.

“Thank you.” I say, trying to smile.

“How long has it been since you had a good meal, darlin’?” Katie asks me.

“Uh, I had a sandwich the night before last.”  I admit quietly.  I suddenly feel very poor and un-empowered.

“Well,”  Katie smiles at me “I guess you’ll be wanting some more soup then.”

Chrissie isn’t smiling; she is looking at me hard. When Katie gets up to go to the refrigerator for some more of her delicious split pea soup Chrissie sits down next to me.  She leans in.  “Toby how long have you been out?”

I take another spoonful of soup and allow my self to concentrate on the food so I don’t have to concentrate on Chrissie.  “Seven days.”  I tell her then take another spoonful.  I can’t help thinking that if she gets really angry at me that she will take the soup away.  I don’t want her to be angry, and I don’t want her to take away the soup.

“You mean to tell me that you spent all the money the old man gave you in seven days!”  She is very angry.

I pull the bowl closer to me.  “No.”

“Oh, that’s right you last ate a day and a half ago so you ran out of money in what, five days?”

Katie moves in between us and puts a cup of coffee down in front of Chrissie.  “Have something to drink.”  She tells her.  It is obvious, even to me, that she is also telling Chrissie to calm down.

Katie steps back to the counter and I look up at Chrissie. “He didn’t give me any money when I left home.”  I tell her in as strong a voice as I can manage.

“What?” She says in disbelief.  We both know what a dishonor it is not to be given South Money.

Somehow I am able to keep looking at her as the blood rushes to my cheeks and I blush.  “He, uh, he threw me out.”  Then I let my head go down.  I look at my big, ugly, human hands.

“What?”  She says again. Her voice is softer, more sympathetic. “Why?”

“He hasn’t been himself for a long time.”  I say to her without out lifting my eyes.  “He was in bed one day, and I brought him some porridge for lunch.  Only,  he didn’t want porridge, so he threw the bowl at me.  I got mad and told him that I would be happy to fix him whatever he wanted for lunch, but that he didn’t have to throw things at me.  Well-uh-he got really mad.  After that anything that went wrong in the workshop he saw as my fault.  He was convinced that I was trying to sabotage the toyload.”

“But, you were the best elf there.”— I look over to Katie.  She didn’t seem to notice that Chrissie had used the word ‘elf’— “You always did your best to please him.”  Chrissie insists.

“Well, uh, I failed.”  I tell her.

Katie moves over to us again.  She puts a warm hand on my shoulder and tells me “Give me your bowl.”

I hold fast to my bowl.  “No, Please.” I say to her.  “I’m still hungry.”

“Well, how in the world am I going to give you more soup if you don’t give me your bowl.”

I look up at her.  She isn’t there to take away my food.  She isn’t judging me at all.  She smiles a little and squeezes my shoulder.  “Come on now.”

I give her my bowl and she refills it with her wonderful soup.   She has warmed the whole Tupperware bowl up for me. She sets my ceramic bowl in front of me and then settles into a chair.

I take a few more spoonfuls of soup then raise my head to look at Chrissie who I know has been staring at me.  “I think you’d better tell me exactly what is going on.”  She says when our eyes meet.

I nod toward Katie. “I can’t.”  I whisper.

Chrissie lets out a laugh.  “She knows.” She tells me.

“She knows?”  I answer in disbelief.  We both took a vow not to reveal anything  specific about where we come from and who we are to adult human beings.

“Don’t look at me that way!”  Chrissie says, her mouth is turned down in a sour expression, “I am a human now, I am not bound by any promise I made as an elf.”

I can’t help cringing when she says ‘elf’.  I want to shush her, but I know that that will make her more angry at me.  So I straighten in my seat and say with a little too much temper “Isn’t that convenient for you.”

Chrissie puts her coffee cup carefully down on the table.  “Look,”  she says calmly but with an edge of anger,   “you are in no position to look down at me here.  So you can just put away that condemning frown, and tell me what happened or you can leave.

I am properly chastised.  I don’t mean to anger her, but all I seem to do is anger her.  It is like whenever I tried to talk to her at the pole, everything I say seems to come out the wrong way.  “O.K.”  my small voice leaves my big human mouth and doesn’t sound nearly as humble as I feel.  My eyes have fallen to the bowl of soup in front of me.  My arms are folded tight against my chest.  “Uh, do you remember when Santa was cloned?”

“Of course I remember.”

“Well, something has gone wrong.”  Eight years ago, a year or so after Mama Claus passed away, Santa became convinced that he should have himself cloned.  The clones could do all the preseason parades and department store work and he could concentrate on the workshop and the delivery.  “When we began the cloning procedure there were 25 Santas, plus the real one.  2 years ago the number had jumped to 38.  Last year it was up to 57 —”

“Imitators.”  Chrissie says interrupting me.

“Uh, no,”  I answer pulling my shoulders up to a shrug.  “We don’t think so.  These are new clone units. Someone has cloned one of the clones.”

“Well, you can’t do that, can you? “

“You can, but you shouldn’t,”  I try to explain.  “It would dilute the gene string. Each new series of clones would be weaker than the one before it.”  That was kind of a failsafe that Santa was relying on when he first had the procedure done.  “The second set wouldn’t have enough original DNA to last more than a few days.” I shake my head, “but, that’s not what happened.  We know that there are at least two second sets of clones out there and that probably one of those sets was cloned again.  The problem is that the new clones aren’t going away after just a few days.  They are surviving, and they are mutating.”

“Mutating?” Katie says wide-eyed.

“Yes.” I know they don’t believe me, “They had to get some replacement DNA for what they were missing from the source donor — Santa.  And, well, we think that perhaps they didn’t make the best choice in selecting a secondary donor.”

“Who is we?”  Chrissie wants to know.

“Uh, me.” I tell her honestly.  “This is my theory of what’s been happening.”  They don’t believe me any more than Santa or any of the other elves.  “But it’s a good theory,”  I say defending it, “it’s better than what any body else has come up with.”

“So, you’ve got a PR problem, a couple dozen second generation clones are exhibiting less than Santa qualities.”

“Well, it’s worse than that,” I admit, “the gene pool seems to have been effected right back to the source.  I told you that Santa hasn’t been himself lately. Well, he started to act strangely at about the same time the second set of clones was created.  It seems to be having a degenerative effect.  All the clones are acting strangely, and their behavior is getting worse.  At first it seemed pretty harmless.  A Santa in Santa Fe bungee jumped off the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge. The Santa in London was arrest for streakin’ in Hyde Park.  One in Chicago was singing Christmas Carols at 2:00 in the morning at O’hare Airport.  Then it began to get more serious.  In the past two years over half of them have been arrested on misdemeanors, and an additional fifteen have been institutionalized in mental health facilities.  We’ve lost track of five of them all together.”

“Six Santas go on a shooting spree.”  I look over to Katie, who said it.  “I read it in the Inquirer.”  She says with a little smile.

“This isn’t funny.” Chrissie tells her.

“Sorry.”  Katie shrugs.  “But, this all seems a little too much like the plot a 50’s horror movie to me. I mean the science doesn’t really add up, does it?”

She’s right. This is bad science, it shouldn’t be happening, but it is. I shift in my seat.  “I’m telling you the truth.”

“Toby,” Chrissie says evenly, “I don’t see what any of this has to do with me.”

“Things haven’t been any better up at the pole than they have been with the clones.”  I tell her.  “About two years ago Santa started to get lazy about the quality around the workshop.  He became more and more lethargic.  I said before that some days he didn’t get out of bed, well, sometimes it lasted longer than days.  Sometimes it lasted for weeks.  All the work fell to us elves.  We did our best to keep up, but with out his leadership…Elves began to ask for their ‘south’ money.  Santa would argue with them for a while, but then he’d let them leave.  He just kept looking at how much work was left to do and how few of us there were left to do it, and he’d get more and more frustrated.  We barely made the big trip last year.  Since Christmas it’s gotten worse.”  I look up at them to see if they believe me or not, but I can’t tell yet.  “I, uh, I begged him to get help, to call in all the clones, to talk to Dr. Munchler “— the geneticist who did the original cloning—”I even tried to get him to send somebody to get you. I know you’ll be able to talk some sense into him.  But, he wasn’t really happy to listen to any thing I had to say.” I shrug. “So when he finally kicked me out in the snow I knew I had to find you myself.  I started walking and by the time I arrived at the first Eskimo village I had turned into a human. From there I hitch hiked to New York and then here.”

“Oh, Tob.”  Chrissie’s voice is so full of pity that it makes me squirm.

“This isn’t about me.”  I tell her, “It’s about saving Christmas.”

She rocks back in her chair, evaluating my story. “So what am I supposed to do?”

“Go back. Tell Santa to get out of bed and get in touch with Munchler and the clones —”

“Whoa,” she interrupts and leans into me “what makes you think he’s going to listen to me?”

“You’re the only one he will listen to.” I move my big human hands from the table and touch them to her shoulders.  It is a very elfin  gesture.  “He always listened to you.  You were the only one with the guts to stand up to him, and you are the only one who he respects.”  I don’t want to push her too much.  I know that she’ll retreat if I try too hard.

“But, I can’t just leave, Toby.” She tells me, and I am relieved that at least she is considering my proposal.  “I have responsibilities here.  We’ve got a big week coming up with Valentine’s Day…”

Katie stops her “I can handle the bakery.”

I look at Katie and realize that she believes my story.

“But, its too much work.”

“Then I’ll hire a temp.”  Katie smiles at Chrissie.  “Look at it as an investment, how many cookies will we sell this December if there isn’t any Christmas?”

“Please, Chrissie.”  I say with a minimum amount of pleading, “please say you’ll do it.”

She is quiet for a minute “O.K.”  She says finally.  “But only if you’ll come back with me.”

“But—”

“We’re going to need every pair of hands we can get once the workshop gets back to speed.”  She explains.  “And you’re the best truck maker the North Pole has ever seen.”


Seasonal Pick 11 — I belive that baby will come home (two U2 Christmas ditties)

Who can resist a little U2 under the Christmas Tree , am I right?

Here’ are the boys singing Baby Please Come Home when they were, well, a bit more boyish…

And here they are a bit more recently with I Believe In Father Christmas...


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