his is my entry for the 2020 Winter Holidays contest.
Please enjoy yourself.
“Yes.” The deep voice was severe.
“You can’t be serious!”
“But I didn’t do anything all that wrong!”
There was a deep sigh from the portly figure behind the desk, as if in unwilling recognition of the accumulated weight of having maintained a public jolliness for millennia. Strong fingers combed through a snowy beard as if seeking for proper words.
“Need I remind you, Trixellian, of the specifics of the charges brought against you?”
“Filling a co-elf’s locker with coal, to start off with.”
“I thought it was kind of funny, Santa.”
“Tillenia hardly found it funny. Especially when each chunk of coal had legs.”
“Yes, but… “
“And started chasing her.”
The heads on serried ranks of elves turned as one towards the still-pale Tillenia, faces full of sympathy.
“I thought it might break up the boredom, sort of.”
“Boredom!” his voice bellowed. “BOREDOM?” The word echoed throughout the vast hall.
The elves brought from their shops and labs to witness judgement turned pale themselves. Nobody, not in living memory, could remember Santa Claus ever speaking with such fury.
Good one, idiot! was their collective thought. Now it’ll be eternal banishment! And good riddance!
Trixellian’s jaw snapped shut in self-preservation.
“Putting cling-wrap across the toilet bowls in the Executive Elves’ Lounge?” The old elf’s eyes twinkled, but not with merriment.
The front row of witnessing elves scowled as one. Truth be told, there were a few badly-repressed grins in the ranks behind them. The existence of that very comfortable and exclusive salon had long been a sore point at North Pole Labour-Management Relations Committee meetings.
“Pre-loading sex chat line phone numbers on smart phones being sent to 12-year-old boys?”
Trixellian by now was simply staring at the floor in front of her.
The old saint consulted his list, mumbling to himself in his anger.
“Enchanting the bells on my Sleigh so that, instead of ringing, they played ‘Who Let the Dogs Out’? Continuously?”
“Well, I thought…”
“Rudolf is still complaining of an ear worm, you idiot!”
There was a chilly silence in the ranks. Everybody liked Rudolf.
“Changing the voice recordings in Doodlebelle dolls…,” and here Santa looked up to stare at Trixellian for a moment before continuing, “…to shout, ‘Do me Baby! Just like that! Yes! Oh yes! Harder! Pound me, you throbbing stud!'”
The stump of the pipe he held tight in his teeth snapped as they ground together in his wrath. The remains of the pipe fell onto Santa’s lap, scattering embers in every direction.
This ain’t gonna end well! the other elves thought to themselves. All eyes rolled upwards, downwards — anywhere but at the sight of the bulky figure leaping to his feet and frantically brushing burning coals aside before they scorched holes in his best set of furs.
Santa stomped out a couple of still-smouldering embers on the floor before resuming his seat.
“Switching pieces between jigsaw puzzles?
“Crazy Glue in Chinese finger traps?”
Trixellian kept silent.
“Itching… powder… in… Mrs… Claus’… talcum… powder?” This time, Santa’s voice had dropped to a bare whisper, pregnant with menace.
Some of those present had not heard of that one and a couple of giggles brought dagger-like glares from more senior elves. Names were being taken, further examples might be necessary. HR would see to it, when and if.
Santa’s gloved hand descended like a mallet on his desk.
“ENOUGH!” the old figure bellowed. His round belly shook like a bowl of, let’s face it, jelly. But in this case, habanero jelly.
Santa’ voice was iron now, his words almost an incantation.
“Trixellian, it has been decades since an elf in my service has so disgraced themselves. It has been literally centuries since I have been forced to convene such an Assembly.”
Wow! thought many of the elves. Then a ripple went through the ranks as, almost in unison, they realized, ‘Forced?’ Oh, yeah, gotcha. Given the looks Mrs. C had been tossing around lately, yeah, ‘forced’ is probably about right. When the North Pole gets frosty, it gets frosty!
“Trixellian Elf,” Santa intoned slowly, “I sentence you to banishment to the mortal realm for a period of one month.”
“But that’s not fair!” she protested. “Nobody gets banished from the North Pole!”
There was no joviality in the rumbling reply, no ‘Ho-Ho-Ho’, none of that. You could have used the voice to freeze a forge flame intact, leaving it still bright.
“We don’t do ‘fair’ here, Elf. We do ‘fun’. We do ‘happy’. We do ‘wonderment’. ‘Fair’ is not on the list.”
“And while we’re on the subject,” he continued. “We also do ‘devoted’, ‘industrious’ and…” He paused for a second, looked around at the Deputy Chief Elf standing obsequiously behind him. “What were the rest of those things you had me put in the, um, ‘Manual of Politics’?”
“‘North Pole Policy Manual’, Santa,” said Omerlon, respectfully. Jeez, I can’t believe the old fart has made it this far on his own! “‘Joyful’, ‘pleasant’ and ‘team-playing’ were also on the list,” he added helpfully.
“Oh, yeah. Them.” Santa’s ulcer was for some reason especially bad this morning.
“Yes, well. One month, Trixellian.” His memory of Mrs. Claus’ barbed remarks last night echoed though his mind. “One month as a mall elf. Take her away, Omerlon.” With that, the old saint lurched to his feet and stomped off to his office.
A whole month! thought the massed elves, shaken to their cores. As a mall elf! Boy, the old woman must really have put the holy Fear into him!
Almost at the door, the fur-clad figure stopped, wheeled and pointed a stubby finger at the cowering Trixellian.
“Fuck this up, missy, and it’ll be Hollywood elving for you! Understand?” With that, Santa stamped through the door and disappeared from view.
The ranks of elves watching were, for the first time, almost — almost — sympathetic for Trixellian. Oh shit, he threw the book at her!
The condemned figure swayed and Omerlon had to keep her from falling, such was her dismay. He pushed Trixellian into the waiting arms of two burly elves wearing the brassard of the newly-formed Polar Investigatory and Special Services department and turned to face the parade. He was about to speak but paused, turning his head slowly, as if seeing the brassards for the first time. Hmm, he thought to himself, Might want to get Himself to authorize a name change there.
He shrugged, glanced at Vinditta, his personal assistant. She handed him a clipboard bearing Form NP-235-8-A, the warrant for formal execution of Santa’s sentence. In triplicate, of course.
Trixellian stared balefully at her as Omerlon scrawled his signature. There was little love lost between Vinditta and the other female elves. Indeed, most of the latter felt Vinditta owed her elevated position more to her pouty lips and lingual expertise than to any basic skills or knowledge.
Knowledge of, say, the entire alphabet.
It was of course not something ever discussed in public. Not, at least, by elves averse to having their names arc-welded to the reindeer stable cleaning roster…
Turning back to the front row of elves and coming to attention, Omerlon barked sharply, “Dismiss your departments. Back to work.” The leading elves snapped to attention, crisply turned to face their subordinates and bellowed one by one.
“Bakery and Confectionary Department! Dismissed!” A section of elves snapped to attention, made a sharp right turn and sprinted off to their duties, chattering.
“Candy and Sweets Department! Dismissed!”
“Stuffed Animals Department! Dismissed!”
“Dolls and Other Eventually-Genderless Toys Department! Dismissed!”
“Batteries Not Included Department! Dismissed!”
“Some Assembly Required Department… Wait for it! Disss…. missed!”
“Electronics and Computers Department! Dismissed!” These elves’ turns were anything but sharp and Omerlon made a mental note to speak to their department head about their haircuts. Man-buns were definitely out and those nose rings had to go. Modernity and individuality could only go so far, even here.
The assembly room emptying, Omerlon turned to Trixellian. Reaching out, he pulled a smallish purse out of thin air.
“This contains your, erm… ‘identity card’ and other things needful for you to survive for the next month.”
Numbly, the elf took them.
“Any last words?” he asked.
“Look, I can explain…” she began.
“Good choice,” smirked the Deputy Chief Elf. “Short, but pithy. Succinct.” He raised his right hand, snapped his fingers.
And Trixellian was gone.
When Trixellian opened her eyes, she was sitting in a metal cubicle of some sort, with chipped beige paint disfigured by childish handwriting. Two toilet rolls were held in lopsided metal brackets; one was empty, three sheets at most dangled from the other.
There was a banging on the sagging door.
“You gonna be all day in there?”
“Oops, sorry.” The girl — for now she certainly was — lurched to her feet and pulled the door open. An almost frantic figure squeezed past her.
“You’ve been in there like 10 minutes. Oh shit! You used the last of the paper!”
“It was like that when I got there,” Trixellian muttered before heading to the sink. Without thinking, she materialized a new roll of paper and, reaching over the door, handed it to the fuming girl inside the stall. “Here.”
She felt it being taken from her hand before a curt but less-stressed voice said, “Thanks.”
Trixellian paused, turned again to look at a mirror above a filthy sink.
“Oh, poop!” she breathed.
Gone was her treasured and dignified elven uniform of iridescent silk. Gone were the comfortable dragon-skin shoes.
The image in front of her was dressed in an outfit she found to be as shabby as it was tastelessly embarrassing, centring as it did on a skin-tight shoulderless green dress with its hem at mid-thigh, set off with above-the-elbow fingerless red gloves and striped green and red thigh-high hose. The red high-heeled boots were not even real leather. Worst of all, they were festooned with small chromed bells.
Jingle bells! she cried to herself. Oh, polar bear poop! It was of course a point of universal agreement at the North Pole that bells were for reindeer. Oh, and kitten toys, of course, but that hardly mattered. No self-respecting elf would ever be seen wearing jingle bells.
And the damned dress was short enough to almost show the knickers she…
… wasn’t wearing under it, she realized.
Omerlon! You smarmy, self-righteous bastard!
Even the hem of the skirt was itself hung with entire rows of small bells. Every movement Trixellian made brought a jingle to the room.
Damn you, Omerlon!
She tossed her head back and tried to compose herself. Looking at the reflection in the glass, she realized that her costume was custom-designed to pander to the fantasies of every male above the age of 10 while not — not quite — drawing the vocal ire of every woman.
She would make it through this month, she swore to herself. She would be revenged on the Omerlon if it was the last thing she ever did.
She tried to settle her nerves, drew a deep breath.
Which was, she quickly realized, a mistake.
Her abbreviated costume did not split. Not quite. If cloth could speak however, her bodice would have screeched, cursed and groaned its distress.
The extent of Omerlon’s vindictiveness was again apparent to Trixellian. Not only had he put her into a highly revealing costume, but he’d not stopped there. Her normal, attractive — and yes, damnation, properly elvish – figure had been… amplified. Trixellian was not, for instance, used to having a sizable bosom.
These aren’t boobs! she scowled. These things are tits!
Or a waist. Well, yes, of course elves have waists, in the same sense that pieces of string have mid-points, but hers was now sharply emphasized by her bosom and… hips. Turning in front of the wretched mirror, it was apparent that her new bottom matched her enhanced bosom.
And my ears! she inwardly screamed at the mirror. These aren’t my ears! They barely have any points at all.
Trixellian peered out the door, saw a dingy corridor leading out into a brilliantly-lit open space. Hesitantly, she stuck her head out. People hurried past, ignoring her, each concentrating on their own thoughts and lists.
“Excuse me,” came a voice from behind her. Trixellian turned her head to see the young woman from the toilet waiting to get past her.
“Oh, sorry.” She stepped aside.
“Thanks.” The other figure slipped by her, but stopped and turned. “Sorry to snap at you,” she said. “I shouldn’t blame you for Management’s stinginess. Not very Christmasy of me.”
Trixellian saw a blonde girl in her late teens, rather taller than herself, wearing much the same tacky costume but in green instead of Trixellian’s red. The woman tilted her head in puzzlement.
“You’re an elf!” she said.
Got it in one, deary! Trixellian thought to herself as she nodded.
“Odd,” the other girl said, “I haven’t seen you before. Have we met? When did you start?”
“I just got here. Literally.” Trixellian stammered. “First day. Just now.”
“I guess I’m late,” she added. “Sorry.”
“Well, I’m Sandy,” the blonde girl said, sticking her hand out. “Thanks for the spare roll back there.”
The elf wasn’t sure what the gesture meant, but stuck hers out to mimic it.
“No problems. I’m Trixellian.”
Sandy looked at Trixellian’s hand, about four inches to the right of her own. She raised an eyebrow, but moved hers over to shake hands.
“Tris… I’m sorry, I didn’t catch that.”
“Trixellian.” She returned the handshake, letting go the instant Sandy’s hand pressure let up. What was all that about?
“Tris… kell…eon,” Sandy said slowly. “It’s a beautiful name, but what is it? Turkish?”
“A fair bit north of Turkey, actually. It’s a very old name. Call me… Trixie.” She did her best to smile in a friendly fashion.
“Well, it’s beautiful. Does it mean anything in… erm, your family language?”
Trixellian wasn’t willingly going to go down that particular road, but realized that she had to say something.
“Um, I think it means ‘playful one’.
The two walked out of the corridor, towards a impressively overstated display of Christmas lights, and a small forest of plastic Christmas trees, seemingly constructed mainly of ornaments and tinsel. A small imitation log cabin had a clearly plastic chimney, rolls of cotton batting on its roof in place of snow and far too many very fake icicles. The huge green chair in the center looked comfortable to her, but the rest was a hole in her heart, a damning reminder, a tacky reflection of what had been taken away from her.
Sandy led them into the ‘North Pole Village’, dodging a ‘Staff Only’ sign to one side of the entrance. A very tall, dark-haired young man was fiddling with an elaborate camera setup in front of the throne.
“Hey, Liam!” Sandy greeted him, “Have you met Trixie?”
“Not yet.” The boy’s eyes turned to Trixellian. His eyes opened wide and he broke into a shy smile.
“Hi,” he said. “I’m Liam.”
Trixellian’s second attempt at shaking hands went better than her first, but she was surprised by Liam’s firm grasp. And his appearance.
His eyes are blue! she thought to herself. Really blue. Such an odd color – eyes are supposed to be green, aren’t they?
She found herself drifting up into his eyes, in a way she’d never experienced before. For some reason, she was finding it harder than normal to breathe.
She gradually became aware of Liam trying to pull his hand loose from hers. Elves are far stronger than they look.
“Sorry,” she said, releasing him. “You’ve got…”
Thinking quickly, she changed lanes. “How tall are you, anyway?”
Liam snickered. “Six-feet-seven. I get that a lot, actually.”
Sandy giggled. “I was like that the first time I met him, too. Nobody should be that tall.”
Liam grinned. It was obvious that his height was a standard subject of discussion.
The mall was crowded and in front of the Village was a lineup of perhaps 40 people, youngsters and parents, queued patiently for their chance to meet ‘Santa’.
“So, what do we do here?” Trixellian asked Sandy quietly.
“They didn’t tell you?” Sandy asked in surprise.
“Um, they sort of skimmed over it. ‘Be pleasant and help out?'”
“Well, it’s not difficult. We keep people in line and ask the parents what the kids’ names are and introduce them to Eric.”
“Santa. I’ll introduce you. Just don’t let him get you alone in the cottage; he’s got about five hands.”
“And we ask if they want photos taken of Santa with their kids. It’s $15, cash only ’cause the credit card reader is still broken. We take the money — there’s a float in the cottage. And one of us may have to help the parents getting the brats to smile. Liam’s got a teddy bear you can wave at them; it helps sometimes. And the printer inside can print off photos if they want them right now — that’s another $10.”
“And that’s about it. We shut down for half an hour for lunch, but… You did eat already, right?”
Sandy looked at her, nodded. “All right. There’s another half hour break for dinner and then we’re here until the mall closes. That’s about it, but the kids taper off after about eight.”
The day passed quickly enough.
So, these are the children we exist for, Trixellian thought to herself. Rude, cranky – and smelly! But filled with hope, with excitement, with belief as solid as a reindeer’s antlers. The elf was both reassured and confused by them but, perhaps, comforted by the love and patience she saw in their parents.
Even the trite representation of Santa’s castle brought happiness to them, she realized.
A voice from the ceiling made her jump. “Attention, mall shoppers. We are now closing. We thank you for your business and hope we will see you tomorrow. Please drive carefully — it’s snowing again.”
“I guess we’d better get going,” Trixellian said. “I wouldn’t want to get locked in or something when the mall closes.”
“Oh, I wouldn’t worry about that. There are always a few people and the doors lock themselves behind you.”
Trixellian tried to figure what sort of spell would cause a door to lock itself.
“Where’s the old man?” Sandy asked.
“Eric? He took off five minutes ago – claimed his back was bothering him.”
“Typical. I think the reason he doesn’t need a pillow to play Santa is ’cause he’s so full of crap!
Locking everything remotely valuable in the cottage took but a few minutes in any case.
Inside the cabin were three coats hanging on a row of quite ordinary hooks. Liam took the larger of the three and pulled it on; as he did, Sandy pulled a second coat off its hook and slipped it on.
Apparently concluding that the third belonged to Trixellian, the tall boy pulled it off the hook, but instead of passing it to her, he turned it around and held it out as if to help her put it on.