Operation Walrus – Day 3 of Cupán Fae’s Advent Calendar 2019

A short story by Tommy Arrigan.

[This story is dedicated to the bayakou of Haiti]

Santa Claus sighed. He missed the old days. How had it come to this? Progress, that was the problem. Modernisation. More, more, more of, well, everything really, had forced the world into this new way of being. So many people now, living like too many trinkets stuffed into a stocking. And to his mind, it just wasn’t right.

The problem wasn’t that he had so much more work to do these days, although he certainly did have that: more toys to deliver, more homes to visit. And it wasn’t the light pollution from so many cities and motorways, or their raucous cacophony, either. And it wasn’t even the airspace regulations of a hundred different nations. Although he had to deal with all of those now, as a matter of course.

Nor was it, although he mourned its passing keenly, all that was soon to be lost to the world that was bothering him so acutely in this particular moment. He missed deeply, already, the pure pleasure of slicing through the cold air above snow-draped, coniferous forests that went on forever. He missed the incredible peace of those stretches. He missed the flickering glint of window-candles shining bravely out into the darkness, and the cries of discovery from his eager spotter elves. He missed the tugging on the reins; the reindeer’s excited grunting; the banking, downwards arc of the sleigh towards each and every isolated homestead in its turn.

He missed, too, how a jolly Ho-Ho-Ho and a shake of the sleigh-bells used to carry through the crisp night air for miles, enticing adults and children alike from hearth to porch to gaze upwards in wonder. He missed their laughter upon the air. He missed the panoply of the stars.

Yes, that those times were fading was tragic. But when one got all the way down to the heart of it, it wasn’t any of this that had Santa Claus so unhappy. Not really.

No, his primary problem with these modern times was another change in how people lived now; one which made his job so much more unpleasant, so much harder for him to enjoy. And that change was the gradual disappearance of the chimney-pot, the extinction of the flue.

Not that it had ever been the perfect ingress. Teddy-bears weren’t exactly fireproof, and his toes had been roasted more times than he could count. But there’d been a certain charm to it all the same. It always looked very well on Christmas cards.

Yes, true enough, keeping his suit clean had been a nightmare, but Mrs. Claus had never minded a bit of smut. She would welcome him home at the end of each year’s odyssey with arms outstretched and a twinkle in her eye. These days it was twelve hours in the decontamination chamber before she’d so much as take a look at him. And he couldn’t really blame her for it, either. Santa sighed again, a second time. It was what it was.

They’d had to do something, was the thing, or that would’ve been the end of it all. One had to keep up with things or fall away, become forgotten. And things were changing fast.

Recent years had been particularly challenging. He’d gotten stuck behind too many stove doors shut tight from the outside. He’d picked the locks of too many apartment doors, set off too many security alarms. Santa Claus was a visitor, not a burglar. He was a craftsman, not a Jack-of-all-trades. They’d needed to find a fresh approach that worked everywhere, something universally useful that he could refine to the point of perfection. And they had, in the end. Although fresh wasn’t exactly the word for it.

With all the reluctance of a child on the way to the principal’s office, Santa hoisted his sack onto his back. He glanced back towards his sleigh, which lay parked in the shadow of a nearby alley. His chief elf, Bob, offered him an encouraging thumbs up from where he sat perched upon Dasher’s shoulders.

His other two helper elves had dragged the manhole cover away, and were standing back respectfully. They’d worked with him for years, and knew full well how difficult this was for him.

Yes, this was going to be unpleasant. But he was Santa Claus, he reminded himself sternly, and this sewer system led to forty-two apartments, to sixty-three expectant kids who needed some Christmas magic in their lives. The children were the only thing that really mattered. He cast his eyes downwards, and stared into the abyss. 

The blackness was absolute, terrifying. One never knew how far down the water lay. And fussing about with flares and the like only made the whole thing worse. Well. Plenty more after this one. Best get on with it then.

The main thing, he reflected philosophically, was to make sure no more children spotted him disappearing back down the toilet bowl afterwards, reaching back out to mop the floor with his hat as he went. For as long as this new approach of his remained largely unreported, he still had his dignity. And perhaps things would change for the better in the future, he thought hopefully. Perhaps this was only a phase.

Resolved to his fate, Santa Claus lowered his goggles and bit down on his snorkel. He laid a finger on each side of his nose, and stepped forwards into nothingness. He sighed for the third time as he plummeted. Oh-Oh-Oh.

Read more stories by Tommy in Cupán Fae’s anthologies.

Read our interview with Tommy here.

Come back tomorrow for another piece of our 2019 Advent Calendar!

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