For release Dec. 19, 2008
The elves had filled the sleigh beyond full. The young elves were certain it was far too heavy and would never, ever budge. The old elves looked wise, as the old in heaven and on earth and everywhere in between do, and quietly advised them to wait and see. The old elves were unexcited. They had seen too
Warm from their great effort, all the elves – in every corner of the North Pole, in the toy shop, in quality control, in the planning department, in the cafeteria (when it comes to eating, elves hit far above their weight), in the barn, and of course the sweating packers and loaders – stood expectantly around the sleigh, their breath making icy haloes in the cold, cold air. The reindeer impatiently pawed the frozen turf, their breath in long twin cylinders. Not strong enough to pull the sleigh? Just watch us! They shook
with anticipation, making their sleigh bells ring out as if it was Christmas. Which, of course, it was.
Santa and Mrs. Claus appeared at their cottage door, to great applause. Santa waved and blew the elves kisses. Mrs. Claus fidgeted and fussed, checking Santa’s suit buttons, fluffing up his scarf, trying not to look anxious.
“Be sure to keep warm and do drive carefully,” she said. “So much traffic in the skies these days!”
Santa chuckled softly, deeply, from the bottom of his chest: “Ho, ho, ho. Now don’t you worry about a thing, my dear. Have the reindeer and sleigh ever failed me?”
“I do hope you won’t need that one with the dreadful red nose,” said Mrs. Claus. “So tasteless! And I really dislike the way the others fawned over him that year!”
“The night will be perfectly clear,” Santa assured her. “I’ll let you know when I’m close enough to put the tea on. Goodbye!” And he kissed her cheek and turned to the sleigh.
His Top Elves stepped forward. “Fine night, sir,” said Snowy, the director of the Itinerary Department.
“The sleigh is in perfect order and the runners have been thoroughly greased,” said Chilly, chief of the Service Department.
“Whereas,” said Icy, head of the Legal Department, ” Santa Claus, doing business as Santa Claus Corporation Unlimited, the party of the first part, and whereas the nations of the world of the second part, having divers statutes, tort laws, property rights, local bylaws and acts and regulations pertaining to responsibility for accidents, misrepresentation, safety of chimneys, defective toys …”
“Yes, yes,” said Santa soothingly, “no need to go through the list, Icy, you always look after such matters very capably.”
” … and responsibility for purity of milk and cookies left under the Christmas trees, etc. etc.,” said Icy, stiffly, insisting on getting that point in.
“Well done, all,” said Santa affectionately. “Now, the sun is just dipping below the horizon. Perfect timing! Goodbye!” And he sat down, shook the reins once, and reindeer, sleigh and Santa shot off in a flurry of snow and quickly disappeared.
Before settling down to the night’s work, Santa decided to take the slow and scenic route from the North Pole through a galaxy or two, where the twinkling stars briefly glowed even brighter in friendly acknowledgement as they passed. Then Santa put down the reins and turned on the GPS to return to
Planet Earth. The diversion had taken less than the smallest part of a human-measured second, for Santa of course operated on SST, Santa Standard Time. In truth it is a timeless time without beginning or end.
The sleigh glided smoothly and silently into Earth’s skies. Below Santa could see the lonely lights of farmhouses in the darkness, and clusters of lights that meant cities. And with his crinkly eyes he could tenderly see into the homes where families slept – tired mothers and dads, restless children so excited it had taken them a long time to nod off, cats curled up on warm vents, and at the foot of beds snoring dogs who would quickly come alert at the slightest suspicious noise.
But Santa made no noise. There were few chimneys these days – as mankind measured time – but it is well established that Santa is a resourceful elf, and able to slip under doors, through keyholes, cracks in walls, and, sometimes most difficult, into hardened human hearts. And everywhere he left gifts, not always the gifts asked for, as he knew well, and not as many as people would want if they had limitless choice. One did not have to be an elf to know that among this race of men there are those for whom even enough is not enough.
At last the sleigh was empty. Their night’s work well done, the proud reindeer seemed to dance with the prospect of a swift dash home. Santa punched some data into his computer and prepared to sign out.
A message flashed on the screen: “One missing.”
One missing! How could that be? Santa never missed anyone. For even those who didn’t “believe” in him were always left with a gift – nudging them to doubt their doubt.
Santa’s pride was hurt. He turned off the GPS. He would find the missing recipient. He would navigate the traditional way, by the stars. He gave the reins a shake and the reindeer sprang joyously into the skies.
His travel brought him into open countryside over what he thought might be a small motorcycle or garden tool shed, or was it a low barn of some kind? In no time at all – quite literally, for, to repeat, Santa is timeless – he was inside.
The room was totally bare, even coldly stark. It was empty except for a Very Old Man seated in a chair, which, in contrast, was magnificent, almost a throne. The Very Old Man nodded cordially.
Santa looked closely. No, rather he was an exceedingly handsome Young Man in full strength of manhood. On further examination it was not a man at all but a Woman of breathtaking mature beauty. But Santa strained to see – not a Woman after all, instead a Girl no more than 10 years old. Then her fine features seemed to melt into that of a Boy. Santa shook his head, for he had repeatedly been mistaken – it was a Child, the rich chair a small plain bed. Santa removed his spectacles and rubbed his eyes. Mrs. Claus had scolded him to get his prescription changed, and how right she was.
“Good evening, Santa,” said the Child. “I was expecting you.”
“Good evening to you,” said Santa. That a child spoke so clearly was startling, but no more than his appearance, which continually and fluidly morphed into the other forms. “But I’m afraid I will disappoint you. You were not on my list. I have no gift for you.”
“I need no gift other than your welcome visit,” said the Child. “I too distribute gifts to those who wish to receive them.”
Santa’s white eyebrows rose. “Then we are competitors!” he smiled.
“No,” said the Child, “we are comrades, Spirits, you and I, to the race we both love and cherish. For you are the Spirit of Things Seen, and I of Things Unseen.”
“Ah,” said Santa. “I wish my lawyer, Icy, an impressive intellectual elf, were here to debate this. I fear I am out of my depth. Icy understands ideas, including human ideas. Though I sometimes wonder if elf flesh is so different from human flesh after all.”
“Just as Spirits will always have something of the human in them,” the Child replied. “How else could we enter their sorrows and their joys, and their wounds and their triumphs?”
“I just distribute gifts,” Santa said humbly. “Things.”
“You are the gatekeeper of goodness,” said the Child. “How many children learn their very first lessons of goodness from you? And your jolly face and figure bring smiles to even the wearied old. Yours is the republic of Earth’s gifts, as mine is the kingdom of the searching soul. The bodily first need food, water, light – material things that are the clothes of the soul.”
“I have seen my material gifts misused,” Santa said, unnecessarily, for it was clear that the Child equally knew the spoken and the unspoken.
“Gifts come in all colours,” the Child said. “Possessions have no morality in them. The way of the world is for some to make, for others to sell, for others to use, and for yet others to misuse. Even the hungry and the dispossessed are a special gift to the world. The world is a teacher. It was not misdesigned. It is perfect of its kind – an experiment, and each life an experiment in it. What benefit would there be if each of those you and I love and care for were handed a script?”
The reindeer were stamping impatiently on the roof.
“I too must go,” said the Child, and abruptly he disappeared and was replaced by a youth, bearded, with green-tinted hair, flashing a beautiful smile and astride a motorcycle – Santa’s first impression that the structure was a motorcycle shed was correct. “I will do good this night in this guise, because like you I can take many forms and leave no signature. Good night, sweet elf!” And the Spirit vanished.
When Santa landed at the North Pole his elves were gathered outside his cottage, Mrs. Claus anxiously waiting at the door.
Snowy, the director of the Itinerary Department, stepped forward worriedly. “If I had a watch,” he said, “and if there were such a thing as time here, I would think you were a nanosecond late. Did I make a mistake in planning?”
Chilly, chief of the Service Department said tremblingly: “I hope the sleigh didn’t break down?”
Said Icy, head of the Legal Department: “Whereas the return of Santa, party of the first part, was inexplicably delayed, his elves, party of the second part, did debate assembling and dispatching a search party …”
Santa left his reindeer with affectionate pats, and hugged Mrs. Claus, who hid her worry by scolding him for giving everyone a fright.
“Everything went just fine,” he reassured the elves. “The light in the sky made navigation even better than at other Christmases. Now let us all have a well-earned rest, for tomorrow we will be back at work. That is the joyful task of elves. We must make our toys.”
© Trevor Lautens, 2008