A commercial Christmas story
© Lyz Russo, 2009
It’s a little known fact that Santa has a younger brother.
While Santa is the well-behaved, responsible one who carries out his duties with admirable efficiency and unstoppable enthusiasm and cheer, Fanta Claus was spoilt as a child and just never quite reached the same levels. Where Santa brings children gifts, Fanta would shadow his big brother’s footsteps and nick cookies, and a small prezzie here or there. Santa set up a workshop with twelve elves helping (the numbers of which grew as the work pressure increased); Fanta bumbled around the workshop knocking paint pots over and getting the pliers jammed. Santa donned his honourable Coca-cola suit only on Christmas Eve, wearing his more functional but less glamorous heavy fur mantle for the rest of the year; Fanta hung about in his Fanta Orange, Fanta Grape and Cream Soda suits all year round, getting them dirty and creased and the seams unravelling. Fanta, in short, was a disgrace. It was therefore no wonder that at some point kind Santa retired his brother from the factory and paid for him to have a long, in fact permanent sabbatical on a paradise island, where Fanta got into trouble scaring the natives with his bloodcurdling “hee-hee-hee” and decimating the local bird population for their colourful feathers, from which he fashioned himself swimsuits.
All this came to a head one Christmas though.
Santa hadn’t been feeling too well all week. He sat down often between rounds of overseeing the manufacture, and when he put his finishing touches on hand-made toys (which he always did personally), he huffed, out of breath, and could hardly move his right arm. He broke out in a cold sweat when thinking of Christmas Eve – and the night was approaching at a terrible pace.
Around noon his current head elf, Dwelf the Umpteenth, brought him some ginger tea. Santa eyed it with suspicion but drank it on the elf’s advice. It helped lift his mood a bit as it burnt its way down his gullet worse than any Christmas brandy had ever done. When he thought of all the mince pies and brandy he’d have to sup, he felt nauseous.
The elves were very worried. They called an emergency meeting in the tearoom of the factory, away from where Santa sat hunched on a small wooden tripod, and whispered amongst themselves.
“Santa is dying,” said one.
“It’s the children,” speculated another. “They don’t believe in him anymore!”
“It’s the nasty rumours going around about him being the Devil,” whispered a third.
“I’m sure it’s the mince pies,” said Dwelf resolutely. He wasn’t going to have any of this voodoo nonsense. “Let’s call a doctor.”
A young elf by name of Misty was sent as an honourable delegate to the world of humans, riding Prancer. Misty found a small house on a hill in Greenland, and knocked on the door, her green pointy elf-cap respectfully in her hand. A middle-aged woman opened the door.
“May I see the doctor who lives here please?” Misty muttered shyly.
“That would be me,” said the woman. “Doc Vera. How can I help you?”
“I need to take you to the North Pole,” explained Misty. “Santa Claus is not well. I understand you are the last human medical doctor who still believes in Santa?”
“I am?” replied Doc Vera, surprised. “I do? Well, certainly! Never really thought about it much. Poor Santa.” She checked her watch. It was one in the afternoon. “We had better hurry then, Elfkins. He can’t have much time left before tonight!”
She packed her briefcase and mounted Prancer behind Misty, and they set off through the dark, polar afternoon, surrounded by spectacular polar lights.
Back at the North Pole, Doc Vera marched straight into the workshop, and zoomed in on Santa, who was hunched over on the little tripod, his head on his arms on the workbench, an in-line skate missing its final gloss abandoned in front of him. He opened his tired eyes.
After a thorough medical examination Doc Vera’s first suspicion was confirmed. She called a meeting with the elves.
“There is good news and bad news,” she explained. “The good news is, our beloved Santa is not dying from a lack of belief. Thanks to Coca-Cola and rampant American and worldwide materialism, a lot more children and adults believe in him than actually ever did before. But,” she added with a warning frown just as the elves were ready to cheer, “the fact is, Santa is very, very tired. He has a heart condition. The reasons people believe in him are all the wrong ones. They believe out of greed. He is also hopelessly overworked. Isn’t that so?”
The elves had to admit that they’d had a particularly busy year, and that consumer demands had risen where the intricacy of toys was concerned, too. Plain wooden rocking horses didn’t satisfy parents of toddlers any longer. All sorts of electronic gizmos were expected. The toddlers played with the carton boxes and ignored the toys, but their parents then played with the toys.
“There is no way,” said Doc Vera, “that I will allow Santa to go on a crazy round servicing billions of children and squeezing through chimneys – or even throwing bags of gold through windows, tonight. The ride alone will kill him. As of now, Santa, I’m booking you off. Two week’s bed rest and special fruit-and-veg only diet; after that, a year’s holiday on the South African Wild Coast. I’m prescribing daily activities: Surfing, hiking, boogie-boarding. Walking and swimming are amongst the only exercises suitable to a man whose heart is in such a state.”
The elves agreed heartily.
“The good news,” said Doc Vera, “is that I can practically guarantee that within a year we will have Santa back here and fit as a fiddle, if he sticks to my prescription. Surgery will not be required.”
The elves cheered.
Santa stuck up his hand. “But, Doc…”
Doc Vera turned to him and lowered her glasses.
“Dear Santa,” she said sternly, “the alternative is that you carry on as usual tonight. I predict that you’ll be dead before midnight.”
The kindly old man sighed deeply. What a fiasco!
“Get a stand-in,” ordered Doc Vera, aware of what he was thinking.
“But whom?” replied Santa despondently.
“What happened to the Christkindl?” challenged Doc Vera. “It’s His birthday anyway! Doesn’t He usually help you?”
“Baby Jesus does accompany me, to the houses of Believers,” said Santa. “But He doesn’t distribute material goodies. He spreads Christmas spirit, Love, Peace and Blessings. That is something quite outside my scope. I wouldn’t dream of loading my workload onto Him! You’ve got to understand who is the boss and who is the servant!”
“What about your manager?” asked Doc Vera. “Can’t he take it over just this once?”
Dwelf, who was the child of an elfin father and a dwarf mother, shrunk a bit shorter than he was already. Santa smiled.
“Poor Dwelf! No, Doc – the elves are mortally scared of humans. Rightly so.”
It had to be Sunny, the smallest, youngest apprentice elf of them all who had to stick up his hand and pipe up: “And what about Fanta Claus?”
Fanta Claus was lounging on the beach in a special wooden beach lounger, dressed in his colourful, paradise bird-feather Speedo, with a pina colada in his left hand and a beach bunny in his right. The surf crashed onto the white sand in a relentless, hypnotic song. Parasols and towels littered the beach; it was high holiday season on Fiji. The din of children screeching in playfulness was ear-splitting.
Fanta stretched, deeply contented. It was Christmas Eve. Tonight he’d wave at his workaholic big brother in passing and offer him an island daiquiri – more to annoy him, because Santa never stopped to chat on his busiest night of the year – and then check what the big old softie had left for him in his pillowcase sized Christmas stocking. Santa never forgot his brother. Fanta was very pleased about this.
He sounds like a very callous bloke, but actually Fanta loved his brother very much. More so at Christmas; but in fact all year round. Santa had never been anything but kind to him. Fanta wasn’t callous. He was only a bit irresponsible and childish.
The blue sky suddenly birthed a small, white cloud that grew quickly and descended towards the beach. Bathers looked up, concerned. Some over-anxious moms started packing up their beach gear. But it was only Misty on Prancer, looking for Fanta Claus. Nobody except Fanta could see her or the reindeer. And he rolled his eyes, got up a bit unsteadily, and waited for the slight elf on the reindeer to come to a halt.
“News from the old lunatic?” he asked jovially, holding the pina colada out to her in a sharing gesture. Misty refused hastily. Spirits were not something elves liked to consume. It struck them as cannibalism.
“I have a message,” she started uncertainly. “Your brother is very ill, Fanta. He needs you.”
“Aw, the poor dude,” commented Fanta with feeling. “Will it be enough if I text him? Hee, hee, hee,” he added compulsively, then clapped his hand over his mouth. “Oops! Sorry!” He grinned and stared at his pina colada.
“That is the trouble,” explained Misty, scared. The drunken “hee-hee-hee” spooked her. “He needs you to stand in.”
“Har-har-har!” replied Fanta with a snort. “You’re kidding me!”
“No, I’m serious,” Misty insisted. “He needs you to distribute presents to children tonight. The doctor booked him off.”
“Get a second opinion!”
“Fanta, the doctor’s second opinion was that he’ll be dead by midnight if he does it all himself.”
Fanta got a very thoughtful frown. His huge bushy eyebrows, still a motley black-and-white, tried meeting over his great red alcoholic bulb nose.
Poor Santa! Dead by midnight? This was bad news indeed! His only family. A huge tear rolled out of his polar-blue eye. And what was worse – the whole workshop would fall to him then! He’d have to run it – or sell, it occurred to him. But sell to whom? The Easter Bunny certainly had more than enough to do herself. So did the Tooth Fairy. No, Santa’s workshop would become his millstone. The thought frightened his feathered Speedo into a knot.
“Fanta,” the little elf was saying urgently, “you have to do it! You’ve got to take over for Santa just for tonight, if you want him to be alive by tomorrow.”
What she said, sank in. Oh. So the only way to avert that terrible doom was by taking it on voluntarily, for tonight only? Oh. Oh-oh. Fanta sighed. There went his silent, holy night! He burped.
“Guess I’d better,” he mumbled and staggered off the beach to find his Fanta suit, leaving the elf staring after him.
Fanta Claus opened the huge wooden gate to his polar abode for the first time in many decades. It was a bit rusted on its hinges, which annoyed him. It was a cheek of that doctor to make such dire predictions about his brother when he was just in the middle of such a nice beach party. He wasn’t too steady on his feet anyway; those pina coladas the island girls made, were good.
“Swabs!” he bellowed, hoping his main elf hadn’t gone deaf in the meantime. “Schweppes! Schwipps! Bei Fuss! Zu mir! Marsch! Dallidalli! “
His entire staff of three elves came trundling in, unkempt, and slovenly, with an attitude. He studied them in despair. They had applied for jobs at his brother’s workshop and had failed. In his crazy youth when he’d had the idea one year to compete against his older brother, he’d rounded them up, along with the mad reindeer triplets Smasher, Crasher and Flasher and the runt of the litter, prune-nosed Randalph, who had this nasty habit of using anyone’s convenient leg for uncouth stuff. Fanta had then tried to put a workshop together, using wood off-cuts and other leftovers from his brother’s place, but had very soon given up.
“We have a task tonight,” he announced to his unwholesome staff, glaring at them and his rabid reindeer in a state of alcoholic depression. “Randalph! Get offa me! We have to take over for ol’ Santa, or else he dies.”
“Haw, haw, haw,” mentioned Swabs cynically. “Surely this is a hoax?”
Fanta shook his head solemnly, and promptly lost his balance. “We don’t have to like it,” he stated when the room had stopped spinning. “But look on the bright side. All his stock is ready for dis- dish – ag, you know. We don’t have to actually build anything. We’re just the deliv. The delivery service.”
“Good luck,” growled Swab with his sour face. And his one round ear. There were rumours that he had human in his ancestry. A disgrace to elfkind.
“Well, gear up!” said Fanta cheerfully. “We’re gonna show the world that Fanta Claus is anytime as good and twice as jolly as his big brother!”
“Hic,” agreed Schwipps in Latin. He was the elf who didn’t find imbibing cannibalistic. He and Fanta understood each other.
(Santa opened his eyes a tad, momentarily coming to, out of his half-comatose sleep. The Doc had given him something for that anxiety, and it had made him extremely drowsy. He thought he heard something rumbling around in his workshop. A vague memory wanted to surface, like a whale shark out of the depth of his uneasy conscience, about someone calling his younger brother to the North Pole to help out. Oh dear. But it couldn’t really get worse than children not getting their Christmas presents – especially those good children who had been looking forward to him all year round. There were many good children these days. Those brats of past centuries, who pulled the wings of flies, stole for a lark and tortured kittens for fun had been left in the middle ages, thank goodness. But it did make his workload greater – a work of love, he reminded himself.
A small freckly hand landed lightly on his arm.
“Mr Santa, please relax. Everything is under control.”
He glanced at the redheaded child who sat there monitoring his vital signs – he had been hooked up to all sorts of hi-tech machinery, he realized. And the child was human. How did a human get into Santa’s North Pole?
“This is my assistant,” said Doc Vera, loading a syringe with something. “Santa, please hold still, this may sting a little…”
As he slipped back into sleep, he heard the doctor whisper to her assistant: “We’ve got to keep him sedated! I don’t want him getting up and taking on the whole load himself anyway! That brother doesn’t look too competent to me.”
Oh-oh, was Santa’s last thought.)
“You can’t wear that!”
“Why not?” asked Fanta Claus indignantly. “I’m not going to borrow my brother’s red Coca-Cola suit! I’m sure the company will sue me!”
“Yes,” said Schweppes, the most realistic of his elves – and the only female, “but your seam on that jacket is hanging!”
“Well, my Fanta Grape suit has a huge rip in its pants,” countered Fanta irritated. “And there are buttons missing off the coat!”
“What about your Cream Soda suit?”
“Don’t like that one,” he objected.
Schweppes – or Bubble Wrap, as she preferred to be called these days, following certain associations with several of Santa’s elves over at the factory – had fed him soda water until his head had cleared a little. He was now nearly in a position to make decisions.
Bubble Wrap pulled the Cream Soda suit out and looked at it with a critical eye. It seemed whole. There was an indelible spill of something horrible and black – possibly dried-on black Sambuca – on the jacket though. She sighed loudly.
“You’ll wear the pants from the Cream Soda suit, and the coat from your Fanta Grape suit,” she instructed. “I’ll weld on a few more buttons, never fear. Let’s see the caps?”
The Cream Soda cap had half of its fur trimming singed off.
“That was from a flaming Uzu,” Fanta reminisced with a dreamy smile. “At that Jojo’s Twenty-First.”
“That does it,” snapped Bubble Wrap angrily. “You’ll wear the Fanta Orange cap. Period.”
Fanta Claus heaved a long-suffering sigh and squeezed his overweight form – flabby from too good a life – into the green pants, purple overcoat and orange cap. At least he represented everything that he represented, he thought with grim satisfaction.
Outside, Swab was trying to hitch up the four reindeer to Fanta’s sleigh – which could be called more accurately Fanta’s toboggan. Smasher was irritating Crasher, who was trying to catch a nap on the frozen ground and was baring a half-hearted set of teeth at him. Randalph was doing what he liked most, to Flasher who didn’t seem to mind at all – she was smiling, as usual. Fanta wondered why there weren’t thirty young reindeer calves by now – this had been going on for decades! But of course, nobody ever aged at the North Pole. So it followed that nothing ever grew, either. Sorry place this!
If he ever had to give up his island life, he’d get into breeding reindeer and elves, he thought. That was the only thing that seemed to come easily with this lot he’d picked.
“Hee, hee, hee!” he announced briskly. “Are we all ready?”
“Are we already what?” grumbled Swab. “Fanta, no offence, old dude, but why are we taking these? Shouldn’t we be taking Dasher, Dancer, Prancer and all those other vixen from your
brother, and his sleigh?”
Fanta cringed and remembered the Christmas he’d tried hijacking his brother’s sleigh. All he had wanted was a joyride. But the conscientious reindeer took him from rooftop to rooftop, and they didn’t budge until every present in Finland was delivered, before returning him kindly to Santa. Gnasher had almost eaten him that time, too.
“Get the presents loaded,” he commanded. “We’re taking nothing of my brother’s. Except the loot. To be delivered. Hee, hee, hee.” He clapped his hand over his mouth again at that nervous emission. “Oh, buttocks!” It was like a bad cold; he always caught it around Christmas time.
The toboggan puttered. And its engine died.
Fanta Claus was sober by now. And very angry. Clearly his toboggan hadn’t been serviced in all the decades that he had been away. This would have been more fun to discover standing on solid ground, rather than in free-fall, a mile above London.
London, of all places, thought Fanta as his toboggan went blades-over-keel and he toppled out of it, chased by a huge bag of gifts. He watched those rooftops approaching, and Simonster the Lucky Chimney Sweep dancing about on them. And then he crashed down a horrible black chute Simonster had clearly not yet serviced, and there was a loud noise and silence.
He glanced up – into the white slavering jaws of two huge Rottweilers. And into the gun barrel of a man who looked just like Parker Porker-Harrington from the blog. Ironically it was a South African gun.
“Who the hell are you, old chap?” the man asked cheerfully.
Fanta got up out of the fireplace and dusted himself off. Randalph scrambled out of the ashes behind him and started abusing Parker Porker-Harrington’s leg. The man pointed his rifle at the happy reindeer and shot. The bullet went straight through Randalph’s head and out the other side, with no effect at all.
“Would you kindly remove that unsavoury ghost beast off me?” demanded Parker, annoyed. “I’d be ever so frightfully thankful!”
Fanta called Randalph and scolded him. The demented reindeer transferred his affections to one of the baffled Rottweilers. Moments later the toboggan and the bag of gifts came crashing down into the fireplace, scattering Christmas presents all over the room, beeping electronically.
“The rocking horses,” explained Fanta. “Hee, hee, hee! Ignore that!”
“Oh,” said Parker, “of course. I do recognize you now. You’re that American chap.”
“His brother,” agreed Fanta. “Heep!”
“And you seem to be having a spot of trouble?” observed Parker Porker-Harrington perceptively. “Let me know if I can help you out, old chum. I wouldn’t fancy being remembered as the bloke who ruined Christmas for America.”
Fanta opened the engine compartment of the toboggan and pored over it.
“Don’t really think so,” he muttered. “There are things broken in here.”
Parker Porker-Harrington bent over the toboggan.
“By pork, old chap! You’ve lost practically all of your inter-dimensional pseudo-pontificators! When last was this crate serviced, old chum?”
Fanta scratched his head.
“Coming to think of it, this doesn’t look like the illustrations of Saint Nicholas’s sleigh at all,” observed Parker Porker-Harrington. “Sure you are not an impostor, old fellow?”
“I’m his brother,” reiterated Fanta patiently. He had the suspicion that he’d be hearing a lot of this kind of thing. “He’s the favourite. I’m only the stand-in.” This might have a very good side to it! “Don’t get too used to me,” he added hopefully.
Parker studied him thoughtfully.
“You’re in luck,” he said then. “I’m positive I have a few spare IDPP’s in the sub-freezer. Care for a spot of tea while I’m at it?”
Fanta Claus accepted obediently, and then sat down on a barstool and watched in awe how Parker exchanged the faulty parts, swiftly and with efficiency.
“Don’t ever tell anyone about this, do you understand,” warned the Blogger. “I’d hate for my pals at the club to find out that I have an aptitude for such manual labour! There you are now, old fellow, off you go… Brutus! Leave the reindeer alone now!”
Now that the largest problem was out of the way, Fanta soared with his four reindeer and his newly serviced toboggan through the smoggy air of London. It turned into the longest night of his life. He followed the map with which Bubblewrap had supplied him, religiously; it showed where all the inter-temporary portals were. It was seriously tiring to re-live the same half-hour over and over, every time in a different house, down a different chimney. However, he eventually got it done. His suit was black by now. Bubblewrap had been right. The colours didn’t matter. But it was more important than ever that the children should not spot him.
“That was London,” he sighed. “And I used up all the portals and nearly didn’t finish in time anyway!” The trouble with those portals was, they only opened once a year, and each could only be passed through once, and you had to get the direction right. He had a costly learning experience moving through a few of those portals the wrong way and moving time ahead instead of back. It had cost him a lot more portals to fix the bungle. The other problem was that some of those portals badly needed to be oiled. He had very nearly gotten stuck in inter-temporary time in a couple of them. His post-party girth had not helped.
There was a quiet twinkling next to him.
“Oh, hello,” he said, blinking at the flashing little light. “Could you tone the lights down a bit? I can’t see you properly!”
The light dimmed marginally, and the intervals between flashes lengthened to half a second.
“Oh,” said Fanta. “You’re Tinkerbell, aren’t you?”
“Tinkerbell,” snorted the tiny being disgustedly. “What next! I’m the Christmas Fairy! I noticed your predicament and came to help!” She stared at him, dismayed. “Now that I see you clearly,” she added, “you’re not Santa! You’re an impostor!”
“Am not,” growled Fanta, who was getting tired of this. “I’m his brother.” He yawned hugely. The fairy thought she saw galaxies twinkling at the back of his palate. “I’m standing in for him,” he enlightened her. “He has a heart condition.”
“Oh dear!” The fairy paused to think, one finger on her cheek, her wings whirring nervously. The blinking slowed down some more. “That’s very bad news. Let Finkie give it some serious thought…”
“Your name is Finkie?” blurted Fanta, struggling to keep a straight face.
“Tsitsifinkanola the eleventeen-hundred-and-twenty-ninth, if you must now,” she retorted, annoyed. “Why? What’s funny? What’s your name?”
Fanta Claus shook his head and quit grinning. It wasn’t funny anyway.
“Now,” said Tsitsifinkanola the eleventeen-hundred-and-twenty-ninth thoughtfully, “the thing to do is enlist the children.”
“The children must never see me,” said Fanta, taken aback. “It’s the protocol!”
“Oh no, they never see you,” the fairy assured him. “But they can believe in you! Every child that believes in you, doubles your power and efficiency, and for every one who declares that they
believe in you, another time portal opens. Every child who writes you a letter enables that all the presents for that household deliver themselves, magically and faultlessly, out of your bag! All you need to do is pass over their house. So you see, if you can get them all to believe in you…”
“They don’t,” replied Fanta. “They believe in my brother.”
“Ha,” said Finkie. “This may indeed be a problem!” She thought about it some more. “We may have to enlist the tooth fairy.”
“Becauve,” ecfplained Finkie, staring at him as though he were exceptionally thick, “if we can get them all to fay, ‘I believe in Fanta Clauve’, it may just work! Of course it will also solve half of your problem, because all they’ll want for Chrithmath is their two front teeth!”
“Is that where you got your…” Fanta had the wisdom to shut his mouth quickly. The fairy glared at him. “It strikes me as a cruel solution,” he added. He was after all not a bad sort, only a bit lazy.
“Oh well,” sighed the fairy. “You’re probably right, it’s not nice.” She applied her solitary but highly efficient brain cell some more. “I know,” she said eventually. And she grinned a grin broader than her face. It looked rather strange. “Here’s the plan!”
She jumped onto Fanta’s shoulder and whispered her brilliant plan in his ear.
There was the sound of footsteps down the stairs. Fanta looked around for a hiding place. He dived in behind the heavy curtains.
“Uh-uh,” whispered the fairy in his ear. “It’s the wrong girl!”
“That’s why I’m hiding!”
“But the child can still see you! You’re huge!”
“Gee, thanks,” snorted Fanta Claus. And then, with immaculate timing, “hee-hee-hee” boomed out of his belly, without him having any say in it whatsoever.
The curtain was moved back, and a tiny girl stared at him with huge blue eyes.
“Fanta Clauve?” she whispered.
“Jenny, what are you doing?” came another child’s voice.
“Amy, quick, come look,” peeped the small girl. “I fee Fanta Clauve! He’v here!”
A girl of about nine, quite as blond as her little sister, stared at the black apparition behind the curtains.
“My word, Santa,” she stated quietly. “You need a clean-up! You look like you’ve been in an oil spill!”
“What’f an oil fpill?” queried the younger sister.
“Jenny, go back to bed,” said Amy sternly. “You’re only dreaming this. You can’t see Santa Claus. Otherwise you won’t get any presents!”
“Not true!” protested Jenny.
“Go,” urged Amy. “Don’t want Mom and Dad to wake up, do you?”
Jenny allowed herself to be bullied back upstairs. At the top of the staircase, Amy turned around and pointed an authoritative finger at Fanta.
“Stay!” she commanded. “I have to speak to you!”
Fanta waited, holding his breath. They only had a few minutes to get this right.
“The little one was not supposed to see you!” tinkled Finkie furiously. “Can’t you stick to a plan?”
“Well, she did,” replied Fanta with a shrug. “That’s life!”
Amy re-emerged and came back down the stairs.
“Let’s get you cleaned up,” she said briskly. “I never knew Santa works in the coal mines!” She scurried off through a door and returned with a bowl of water, soap and a cloth. She started scrubbing the hashed-together Fanta suit.
“Oh-oh,” she commented. “Sorry, Santa.”
“What’s wrong?” asked Fanta Claus.
“The soap is discolouring your coat.” She sighed. “Now I’m in trouble!”
“No, you’re not,” tinkled Finkie impatiently. “He’s a great big slob! Your little sister has it right. This is not Santa. It’s Fanta, the younger brother!”
“It’s not Santa?” Amy took a step back and stared at Fanta Claus in horror.
“Just doing his job for tonight,” sighed Fanta. “So far it hasn’t been much fun. Can’t see why he bothers, year after year. I’ve seen some Norwegian kids in a rich household – that house celebrated Christmas Eve instead of morning, so I had to do them first – and those children stormed at the presents the moment they spotted them, and ripped them open, one after the other, it was horrible… never seen such greed! And then they started comparing. ‘Mine is better than yours’, all that. Next thing some of the toys were broken. I’m not supposed to stick around and watch, but I couldn’t help it…”
Amy tut-tutted, disgusted. “Absolutely shocking! Say, Fanta Claus, why are you doing Santa’s job tonight? Where is Santa?”
“Very sick,” said Fanta gravely. “He needs a break. The doctor is looking after him.”
“Poor Santa!” Amy sized Fanta up. “I didn’t think anyone except him could do what he does! Are you managing?”
Fanta shook his head.
“And you?” Amy challenged the fairy. “Christmas Fairy? Aren’t you helping him?”
“Some folks cannot be helped,” tinkled Finkie in irritation. “He’s a dweep. Gets everything backwards. And one of his reindeer keeps driving over trees and chimneys and even street lamps. And another keeps -” She shut her mouth.
Amy rammed her fists into her sides. “So! All backwards!” She stared at the sorry pair. “Ha! Two magical beings and both try to do things the normal way! You both need a manager! Finkie! Make a spell to clean up Fanta!”
The fairy swallowed and waved her wand. “But spells are expensive,” she complained as Fanta’s tri-colour suit was suddenly sparkling clean again. That had not been the plan – that the obligatory child took over!
“That’s better,” started Amy, and packed up laughing. “Oh my word! Fanta! What are you wearing! Christmas Fairy! Make a plan!”
Finkie reluctantly waved her wand again. She was a Scottish fairy. She was usually quite sensibly frugal with her spells. Fanta’s suit started twinkling, but the colours stayed the same.
“Don’t you know magic?” asked Amy disgustedly.
“It appears that the colours are copy-protected,” said Finkie grudgingly. “Can’t get them changed. By order, Coca-cola.”
Amy shuddered. “I’m learning more tonight than I wanted to,” she commented. “Enlightenment sucks. Now, next. Finkie, fink! – I mean, think. There are several billion kids to go -”
“We’re half a billion down,” said Fanta proudly.
“Half a billion! So you’ve only got through – let me see – one sixth of your workload yet?”
“Look,” replied Fanta, annoyed. “I’m only the stand-in. Those elves of Santa ought to be skinned. They should have told me about this a month back! I could have started delivering the presents early!”
Amy stared at him as though he were dense.
“This whole setup reeks!” exclaimed Fanta Claus, at the end of his tether.
“You’re still thinking in normal!” retorted Amy. “We need to think in Christmas magic! Now sit down…”
Finkie alighted on Fanta’s shoulder and whispered into his ear.
“Relax! The plan is working! We found the right kid!”
He snorted. Amy was the managing type, alright!
After Amy explained her plan, with Finkie listening and nodding avidly, the little girl disappeared into the kitchen once more.
Fanta Claus gestured Finkie closer. “Why do you say, she’s the right kid?”
“She’s the one who knows everything, Fanta! Other nine-year-olds think they know everything. So does she, but the difference is, she actually does . She’s not aware of this herself.”
Amy returned with her arms full of stuff that she dumped on the coffee table. She darted around the room like a sublatronic particle, fetching more items and adding them on the table. Fanta studied them.
Amy finished piling Christmas items onto the heap.
“There! And now, call the reindeer!”
Christmas magic. A fruit mince pie, a tot of brandy, a bowl of milk (although Fanta couldn’t understand how the Brownies fitted into the picture), a Christmas tree with carved wooden nativity scene underneath it, the toboggan, the four crazy reindeer (who were a handful; especially Smasher seemed intent on breaking every ornament in sight); snow – this the fairy supplied with a wave of her magic wand, right into the living-room of Amy’s parents – and a quietly hummed Christmas carol. Fanta thanked his brother’s insistence on him taking singing lessons early in their childhood.
Everything started to twinkle softly, and a very low whispering sound filled the air. (Fanta didn’t dare to think of it as a “susurration” as he didn’t know how to spell that word.) A faint glow started up, and then a beautiful white being became half-visible. It smiled at Fanta, Amy and the Christmas Fairy.
“The Spirit of Christmas,” explained Finkie.
“Hee-hee-hee,” agreed Fanta anxiously. He had seen this being before – long ago, once, when he was a child. The Spirit of Christmas was a spirit bordering on extinction.
The spirit winked at him. The horrible urge to emit those three mindless syllables disappeared completely. Fanta sighed in relief. His Christmas present.
“We need a favour,” said Amy, planting herself squarely in front of the spirit with her hands on her hips. “Santa is ill, and Fanta is not coping. Can you help?”
The answer came into their minds, as lightly as falling snow.
Every child on Earth had a Christmas dream that night. That was, all except Amy, who was having a glorious time riding through the air next to Fanta and Finkie on the toboggan.
The children dreamt that Santa Claus passed over their house with his sleigh. It was a bit of a funny-looking sleigh, and there were only four reindeer, and Santa was wearing a really odd outfit; but it didn’t matter, because there was Christmas Spirit all over the world. The children dreamt that they got onto the roofs and waited for Santa, and he handed each of them their presents personally; each child only got one present, but it was received with delight and a feeling of wonder. They were instructed to put their presents under the tree or in their stocking or wherever Santa would normally have placed them, not open them but go back to sleep. And each of them returned to their beds and slept on with a feeling that this was the most wonderful Christmas of them all.
“You did great!” Amy was very proud of Fanta Claus, who grinned ear-splittingly.
“And what would your wish be for Christmas?” he asked.
“I already got my wish,” she cheered. “I saw Santa. Well, Fanta. And I got to ride on his sleigh! Wow!”
“What about me?” asked Finkie, insulted.
“And the Christmas Fairy!” added Amy. “But there is one thing…”
Fanta smiled. “You want to meet my brother, the real Santa.” He turned the toboggan and directed it home, to the North Pole, and stopped in front of Santa’s place.
Amy walked around the workshop with huge eyes, marvelling at it all. The elves bustled around and gave her cookies, which she munched with delight. Fanta led her into the cubicle that Santa Claus called his bedroom. Doc Vera and the redheaded young girl were still at his bedside, keeping watch over him. Santa was asleep.
“Aw!” breathed Amy. “Poor Santa!”
The old man opened an eye and peered at her.
“Merry Christmas, Amy,” he muttered.
“You too, Santa,” she whispered. “Get well soon!”
He smiled. “I will, dear child.” And he closed his eyes again.
Fanta gazed at his brother with a knot in his throat. That’s right, he thought. Get well jolly soon, bro! Hurry up already! Because Fanta is definitely not cut out for this kind of work!
“That was amazing,” exclaimed Amy as she emerged from the workshop into the Northern snow. “Thank you, Fanta Claus! And well done tonight!” She peered at the bag. “Hmm! You’ve still got a lot of presents in there. What are you going to do with them?”
Fanta scratched his head. Hmm! Good point.
“Want them?” he asked, motioning at Amy.
“Oh heavens, no thank you,” she exclaimed. “I wouldn’t know where to put it all! Maybe one or two… Oh, but please don’t give them all to my sister either,” she added hastily. “I’m the one who clears up her room!”
“Aha,” said Fanta. And wrinkled his nose thinking about the present predicament.
And then it hit him.
“Obvious,” he said. “Look, it’s still midnight. Care for another round?”
“Yay,” cheered Amy. Finkie looked baffled.
“Now for the real Christmas,” explained Fanta.
There are a lot more poor children in this world than rich children. And did they appreciate their presents this year!
And Amy woke up the next morning finding her Christmas stocking filled to the rim. And her little sister’s too.