George’s Christmas Present – Day 6 of Cupán Fae’s 2019 Advent Calendar

A short story by Mark Kielty.

We run a tight ship here at the North Pole. Because to travel around the world in one night is no easy task. We all have our roles to play to make it happen. We’ve got the workshop-elves, who make and wrap the presents. We’ve got the elves at the sorting office, dealing with all the children’s letters and getting them ready for Santa to read. And we can’t forget about our wonderful reindeer who travel at lightning speed to get Santa to where he needs to be. 

Then, of course, there are the lists. You know, THE LISTS – the ones that tell us who’s been naughty and who’s been nice. Santa is in charge of those. He studies them every day throughout the year, hoping that the naughty list becomes smaller and the nice list becomes larger. 

But there is another list that people don’t know about. The one I’m in charge of. Because you know what they say; behind every great man there’s an even better woman. And I am no exception. After all, I am Mrs. Claus. 

So, what’s this other list? I hear you ask. Well, as you know, Santa reads all the letters he receives from children across the world. He loves reading them and he remembers every single one. However, it isn’t the letters he receives that I’m worried about, it’s the letters he doesn’t. It’s my job to make a list of all the children who don’t send any letters at all. 

Believe it or not, not all children send letters, which is fine. Not everybody believes and everyone is entitled to their opinion. However, there are some children who do believe but don’t send anything. And that’s a problem.

Nine times out of ten, they just didn’t send it on time. No panic though, I usually visit them and collect their letters directly. Or if they didn’t get a chance to write anything down, I simply ask them what they want and pass on the message to Santa. 

Just in case you get any ideas and “accidentally on purpose” forget to send your letter – just to meet me – then you’ve got another thing coming!  I use a memory spell so the children don’t remember meeting me. I have to. If I didn’t, everyone would catch on and I’d never get any peace. 

There are other times though, when children have other reasons for not sending their letters and it’s up to me to find out why.

That’s how I met George. Eight years old and he hadn’t even a word or an idea jotted down. It was Christmas Eve and time was running out. It would’ve been a shame if there was nothing under his tree on Christmas morning. 

When I went to the orphanage where he lived, I was delighted to see how well the reception area was decorated. There was a beautiful tree with a gorgeous angel sitting on top. Hanging from each branch were coloured baubles and purple streams of tinsel were wrapped around the tree like scarves. 

One of the walls had a lovely, life-sized, cardboard cut-out of Rudolph. It had a red light-bulb nose that really lit up. It made me swell with happiness to know that this orphanage took such great care of the children living there. 

“Can I help you?” the kind receptionist asked with a smile. 

“Oh, I wish you could, Vanessa, I really wish you could,” I said with pitying eyes. 

I pulled a handful of fairy dust from my pocket and blew on it. The gold glittering powder jumped from the palm of my hand and filled the room. It went flying through the doors and up the stairs until it filled every corner of the orphanage.

Vanessa stopped what she was doing and sat very still, staring into space with a goofy smile. 

Hopefully she won’t have to drool like that for too long, I thought. 

She was frozen and, if the spell did what it was supposed to do, everyone else in the building would be frozen too. Everyone except for George, of course. 

“Excellent,” I said to myself. “I have five minutes.”

As I walked through the orphanage, golden fairy dust hovered in the air. However, I knew that as soon as the glittering gold disappeared, it would mean the end of my spell. 

I searched every room until I came to the only one with a child who didn’t look like he was playing musical statues. Sitting on his bed, reading a book, was George.

I’ll never forget that sweet brown-haired boy. He sat there, wearing a red Christmas jumper which had a large snowman stitched into its front. He was reading a book about a boy who discovered he was a wizard and attended wizarding school. I loved that story. And I loved that he loved magic.

He looked like a normal, healthy boy. In fact, he was extremely clever for his age. So why hadn’t he written his letter to Santa yet?

“George, I am here to talk to you about Christmas,” I said. 

The little boy looked up from his book. He noticed the golden sparkles that floated in the air and when he looked at me, I could tell he recognised my outfit. Red was always a good colour on me. It brought out my rosy cheeks. 

“I knew it!” he whispered. A large grin began to stretch across his face. 

“Knew what?” I asked.

George snapped his book shut and shuffled to the edge of the bed.

“You see, I write a letter every year, so I knew if I didn’t write one this year, Santa would get worried and he’d try to find out why – maybe even send somebody to investigate. But I didn’t think he’d send you of all people! I thought I’d meet, like, an elf or something,” George explained.

“That was a risky move, how did you know he’d send anybody? You could have been left with no presents on Christmas morning!” I said.

“I knew Santa wouldn’t let me down. And besides, I’m not sure you can give me what I want anyway!”

“What makes you say that?” I asked. 

“Don’t you see? I knew if I pulled this off, it would be the best thing I’d ever done! But I also knew if Santa were to send somebody, there’d be a catch! I know that when morning comes, I won’t remember any of this. You’ll cast a spell to make me forget and I won’t remember meeting you. I won’t remember the best day of my life,” George explained with a saddening face. 

“And you know this how?” I asked. I knew George was clever, but I hadn’t expected this. 

“Because, if children remembered, you’d have every kid in the world pretending to forget to send their letters – just to meet you. And you wouldn’t have time for that.” he said.

“No, I suppose you’re right,” I answered. “But there must be something you want for Christmas? How about you tell me what you really want and I’ll see what I can do?” 

“I want to remember meeting you,” he replied. “I want to ask questions about the elves and the North Pole. And I won’t tell anyone, I promise. I just… I want something magical to happen to me. I don’t have many friends and life here can be a bit lonely at times. I just want something special to happen to me for once.” 

“Well, what you’re asking for George, it’s never been done before,” I answered. “I’ll… I’ll have to think about it.”

When I left the orphanage, I was stumped. I was kind of hoping we’d just cobble an Xbox together and leave it under his tree. But unfortunately, what George wanted couldn’t be put in a box and wrapped up with a bow. He wanted something different. 

I thought about the book he was reading. I wondered had he hoped that on his eleventh birthday, a friendly giant would come along, tell him he was a wizard and take him away to a magical school.

Then it hit me – an idea. But could I bend the rules just for George? Could I give him what he wanted? 

I returned later that night, fairy dust at the ready and hoped that Vanessa wouldn’t drool quite so much this time. She left a little bit of a mess before and it wasn’t flattering to say the least. But I suppose it wasn’t her fault. 

George sat on his bed, patiently waiting for me.

“You didn’t wipe my memory,” he said excitedly. “Does that mean you’re going to give me what I asked for?” 

“Hmm, I did think about it,” I replied. “But we have a saying in the North Pole. Why give someone what they ask for when you can give them what they want?”

George raised his eyebrow, confused. 

“You say you want to ask questions, about elves and such,” I said. 

“Yes, I want to know everything!” 

“I thought as much,” I continued. “And of course, you’ll want the memories to go with it. I’ll just have to make sure that this is a night you’ll never forget. We could tell you what you want to know, but wouldn’t it be better if we showed you?” 

Right on cue, Santa stepped into the room. He wore his iconic red suit and gave that smile which always made my heart skip a beat. 

“Merry Christmas, George,” he said. “Want to go for a ride?”

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!