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Toby the Elf
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.
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.”
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.”
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?”
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.