By Amanda Pizzolatto (Rated G)
Part One: The Workshops
“Alright everybody, listen up!” an old tontu announced. “We only have ten days until Christmas! Time to get things moving faster if we want our two month break! We were able to finish on time for December sixth and thirteenth. Great job everyone!” The crowd listening cheered. “Christmas Eve is next, followed by New Year’s Day and Epiphany. We get done with all of it, the big guys . . .”
“And girls!” There was a round of laughter, though it was true.
“Yes, and girls, will give us a two month break!” The crowd cheered again. “Thank you for listening to the update, I’ll have another one for you in a week!” The elder tonttu left the podium and entered a side room where a desk and chairs were situated. He sighed as he sat down at the desk behind a pile of papers. At least the majority of what they had to make was candy, but there were still toys to consider, particularly for Christmas. He let out another sigh. Even with the help of the yetis, the monks, the gypsies, and the fairies; they still never seemed to be able to finish earlier than the eves. Well, there was always a solution; he just had to find it, though it might have to wait until after Epiphany before he could figure something out. He dug into the pile of papers, going through them as quickly as he could before a knock came at the door.
“Come in.” The door cracked open, and a young mop of brown hair peeked in.
“I hope I’m not disturbing you, Master Clarence, but I just came to notify you that the workshops are ready for inspection as you asked.”
Clarence nodded. “Thank you George, I’ll be there in a minute.” George gave a little nod before closing the door behind him. Clarence let out a breath as he took off his glasses. He set them on the desk before walking out of the room, and out of the building. He walked briskly through the falling snow, pulling his coat tight around himself to keep out the bitter chill of the wind. About a dozen, different-colored lights could be seen blinking against the dark backdrop of the long, arctic night. Clarence headed towards the red lights, the dimmest of the lights, and for good reason, he thought. There shouldn’t be anyone there but the one to show Clarence the status of the place as this was the workshop for St. Nicholas Day, which was finished with nine days ago. But it still needed a last minute inspection before being closed till next year, just in case they needed to keep it open to help with production for the other delivery dates, as has happened before, and on more than one occasion. Clarence got to the building and let himself in, bringing some snow and a bit of the wind chill with him.
“Welcome, Master Clarence, may I help you with your coat?” smiled the monk.
Clarence shook his head. “No, thank you, Brother Joseph, I won’t be long. Just the usual inspection, is all. Only ten days till Christmas, you know.”
Brother Joseph smiled. “I do know. Then come, let us begin, if you will be so kind as to follow me.” Clarence nodded and followed him into the well-lit workspace. Clarence found it much to his satisfaction, all clean and tidy, but he could expect that from the monks. When the inspection was finished, Brother Joseph closed the shop and left the building with Clarence, the two fighting the bitter wind to get to the closest workshop, the one with the green lights. Clarence and Brother Joseph were greeted warmly by the yetis.
“Why thank you,” said Clarence as he smiled at the yeti that took his coat and shook out the snow.
“That was very kind of you.” Brother Joseph smiled. The yeti muttered something in its native language, but both Clarence and Brother Joseph understood yeti completely, and knew it to mean “No problem”. The workshop was quite the different setting compared to the outside tundra. It was most certainly alive and bustling with activity, with life, as the yetis worked on toys. Color was everywhere, and it was a much warmer climate than the one the duo just left.
“Well, shall we begin?”
The yeti answered in the affirmative, and went with them as their guide. Several other yetis took a little break from their work so they could take them around, all of them eager to show off their progress in the countdown to Christmas. Clarence nodded at what he saw, he was very pleased, they were a little ahead – in fact, perhaps this year things would be early! But he had to check the rest of the workshops to be sure, so he and Brother Joseph went to the next one, where the star boys were just cleaning up from Saint Lucy’s Day. As with the workshop of St. Nicholas, everything was ready in case they needed to help for the major holidays of Christmas, New Year’s Day, and Epiphany. Clarence and Brother Joseph trudged over to the next workshop, where the tonttu of Santa and Kris Kringle were hard at work. They at least were on time, despite the setbacks they had had earlier this year. Clarence let out a huff; well at least things were on track, for the most part. He and Brother Joseph continued the round, checking on the other monks working for St. Basil, the fairies working for Befana, and the gypsies working for the three kings. Things were looking good so far, most were on time, and there were a few who were a bit early. That at least took a load off Clarence’s mind, for now anyway, but there was one last stop on his round, and he was more than happy to have Brother Joseph along.
Part Two: The Animals
Clarence and Brother Joseph trudged through the blinding snow towards their last stop, a series of red, white, and green lights illuminated the outline of the barn. The two stomped their feet upon entering the barn, trying to get off as much of the snow as possible, but their welcome party of nine reindeer led by Rudolph certainly didn’t mind as they licked the snow as quickly as it tumbled off their coats.
“Master Clarence, Brother Joseph! Welcome to the barn!” George grinned as he grasped their hands in greeting.
Clarence returned the smile. “Thank you, George. Are the animals behaving for you?”
George nodded. “For the most part, I think I have the most problems with the camels, but that’s to be expected seeing as how they’re equipped for the desert.”
Clarence rolled his eyes. “Of course, but you’ve been able to keep their stalls at a reasonable temperature?”
George gave a sheepish smile. “I am; I tried to make it as hot as a desert, but it seems that they enjoy a little chill too.”
Clarence chuckled. “Yes, we’ve spoiled them; they’ll turn up their noses at the camels who do live in the desert!” The three laughed – the camels at the North Pole had it pretty good. “But other besides that?”
George shrugged. “Other besides that, things are going smoothly. Want to take a look?”
“Sure, that’s kinda why we’re here.” pointed out Clarence with a grin.
“Right, of course, follow me.” George led them through the barn and down to the bottom level, where the camels sat, or stood, according to their pleasure, enjoying the hot sands.
“Spoiled indeed,” muttered Clarence as the camels seemed to eye him disdainfully. They seemed to huff, turned away, and began walking towards the other side of the room.
George chuckled nervously. “Still don’t like you, I’m afraid.”
Clarence shrugged, “It’s alright, I don’t like them any better.” The camels seemed to turn as one and give him the evil eye before giving a snort and turning away again.
Brother Joseph snickered. “Do they do that every single time?”
Clarence sighed. “Basically. But that means they’re in good health. Let’s head to the next level.” The next level had the bouncy kangaroos. As George called each one, they raised their paw before hopping off.
“All present and accounted for, Clarence.”
“Good, and perfectly as bouncy as always.” smiled Clarence.
“I guess no one can get on their bad side.”
“Not for long, anyway, they’ll just punch you or kick you and call it good.” quipped George.
Brother Joseph laughed. “A good system, if I do say so myself.”
Clarence nodded. “No kidding. Shall we continue?”
“Of course!” George led them to the next level, where the alligators wallowed in mud.
Brother Joseph chuckled nervously. “Friendly creatures, aren’t they?”
“Actually, they can be. But this you’ve got to see. Roll call!” The alligators rose out of the water slowly and eyed George before raising their jaw and opening their mouths wide. George called out names, “Gaston, Tiboy, Pierre, Alcee, Ninette, Suzette, Celeste, Renee!” As each name was called, one after another jaw was snapped shut. Then as one, they lowered their heads, and slowly sank back into the murky waters they called home.
“Wow, that was . . . interesting.”
“I think it’s cool, I never tire of watching them do it.” grinned George.
Clarence smiled. “But it’s also their way of saying that they are perfectly fine too. Thank you for the neat trick! George?”
“Right, onto the next one! Bye bye gators!” George led them up to the next level where a few pretty gazelles grazed.
“I can see why Befana and Father Christmas prefer them,” quipped Brother Joseph as a couple of gazelles approached and nudged them gently.
“They are some of the friendliest animals here,” smiled George as he petted one.
Clarence chuckled as he examined one. “If not the friendliest, but they are certainly the gentlest of them all, a real pleasure for company.”
“I can see that,” remarked Brother Joseph as he petted one. They petted the gazelles some more before heading up to the next level. Clarence let out a little huff on their way.
“Getting tired, Clarence? Or are the next ones almost as testy as the camels?”
Clarence chuckled, “You’ll see.” And boy did Brother Joseph see – the donkeys were practically furballs of energy, bounding to and fro. But they were far more pleasant than the camels. Only, they could be very, very stubborn, as George pointed out.
“As long as they are stubborn for the right things,” commented Brother Joseph.
George chuckled. “No kidding.”
“Well, they are certainly doing well. Just two more levels to check on.”
George nodded. “Right, on to the next one!”
“We’re right behind you.” George led them to the next level, where horses were snoozing away.
“Ah, now here’s an animal I know well,” smiled Brother Joseph as a couple trotted over to greet them.
“Oh, quite, a far different temperament than many of the others,” commented Clarence.
George laughed, “You got that right. Some days they are really easy, other days, almost as hard as the camels, but never have been quite as troublesome as the camels, or some days, the donkeys, for which I am very grateful.”
Brother Joseph chuckled. “The camels are that bad, eh?”
“Oh, you have no idea,” quipped Clarence as he looked over one of the horses.
George laughed. “Some days I almost want to tell them to stop misbehaving so, or the Wise Men would not give them a treat this year. But they always behave so beautifully for them, so it seems almost useless.”
Brother Joseph laughed, “I can imagine.”
“Well, these horses are definitely doing quite well. Shall we continue?”
“Of course!” replied George before leading them up to the last and topmost level, where the reindeer lay almost in wait for them.
Brother Joseph glanced at his companions. “Do they always do that?”
“Yes,” George and Clarence replied in unison. The three burst out laughing.
“Ah well, they’re certainly doing pretty good, considering the five-star treatment they get.” Clarence winked.
George laughed, “Well sir, I do try my best.”
“Well, your best seems to be working just beautifully. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I must go make my reports to our leaders. Good day, George, stay warm!”
“Good day, George, and be careful.”
“Thanks, the same to the both of you!” The three shook hands before Clarence and Brother Joseph walked out, the two trudging back to Clarence’s office. Between the two of them, the reports were completed fairly quickly.
Clarence sat back with a huff as he glanced at the completed task. “Thank you for all of your help, Brother Joseph, it was most appreciated.”
Brother Joseph smiled. “You are very welcome. Shall I deliver these for you on my way back to the monastery? That should give you some time to get some of this paperwork done.”
Clarence glanced at the pile. “Yes, I would like to be able to get as much of it done as possible, thank you again, my friend.”
“Don’t mention it. Have a great rest of your day, Master Clarence, and I shall see you soon!” Brother Joseph rose from the chair and grabbed the reports before heading towards the door.
“Thank you again, Brother Joseph, and the same to you!” Brother Joseph smiled and gave a little nod before exiting the office, leaving Clarence to finish up the paperwork.
Part Three: The Helpers
The days flew by, and before they knew it, it was Christmas Eve! There was a hustling and a bustling as the tonttu and the yetis prepared the sleighs and the teams, reindeer for Santa Claus, kangaroos for Kris Kringle, and gazelles for Father Christmas. The sleighs were piled high with presents and goodies for the three to deliver to the children expecting it in certain parts of the world. Clarence made sure everything was in spit-spot order and ran smoothly since Santa, Kris, and Father Christmas were helping load the sleighs. George helped to keep the animals steady while they waited for the sleighs to fill, all the activity was riling them up with excitement, knowing that the moment for departure was fast approaching. If George could rate them from easiest to hardest to calm, the gazelles were the easiest, then the reindeer, and finally the kangaroos, considering he and his assistants had to calm them down every five minutes, it seemed.
But despite all that, Clarence couldn’t help smiling to himself when George reported to him about the animals; he had chosen the right gypsy for the job. He took a moment to think of the others he had chosen to head the workhouses and to act as head assistants to the big nine. Brother Joseph as head assistant to Saint Nicholas was a no-brainer: their personalities worked well together, and Clarence certainly enjoyed working with Brother Joseph. Brother Jack, on the other hand, was a little more difficult to work with, in Clarence’s opinion. He was rather mischievous, but he worked quite well with Saint Basil, and the two adored each other.
The tonttu twins, Holly and Ivy, were the head assistants for Santa Claus and Kris Kringle, and Clarence had chosen them because they would be working together a lot in the biggest of the workshops. They had proved themselves over and over again, even now, as he watched them coordinating the loads. He glanced over at the head assistant of Father Christmas, the yeti Forrest, as he talked with the tonttu twins. He had been another great choice, a rather thoughtful fellow with the greatest amount of patience, perfect for dealing with tonttus’ great tempers. And though he worked primarily with Saint Lucy, Christian, the head star boy, could be seen flitting around among the blustery activity as everyone prepared. He and the other star boys liked to be present at every departure and they often proved to be a great help to George with the animals.
Then there was Noelle, the fairy assistant to Befana, a sweet little thing who was constantly reminding people that the decorations didn’t have to come down all at once after Epiphany, they had until Candlemas to take everything down. Finally, there were Steven, Carol, and Mary, the gypsies who worked with the three kings. The siblings had always been a joy to work with; even Noelle didn’t have to remind them about the Christmas decorations. All in all, with the possible exception of Brother Jack, they were a great bunch. Okay, Clarence admitted to himself, even Brother Jack had his good points, even great points. He just wished there was more of those seen than the mischief.
A cheer snapped Clarence out of his thoughts; the three teams were taking off! A grin spread across the old tonttu’s face, regardless of the rushing around, the paperwork, the reports, the inspections, the griping, and even the complaining, when it all came down to it, it was worth it. This was the moment they had worked hard for, that moment when any of the nine left the base to deliver gifts to children around the world, to know it was finally done, it was worth it.
The cheers finally died and the party finally quieted as everyone fell asleep, except for one old tonttu whose childlike heart welcomed the teams on their return with a sincere joy.