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
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.
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.”
“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.”