|A Christmas Pudding
By April Sebree
I’d wanted to avoid this. I’d put it off for months – or years, depending on how you looked at it – but this crap with the economy was
the last straw. I’d just seen my only two friends hoof it off to the circus – the fucking circus, like it’s the Great Depression all over
again and let’s see how much we can all exploit ourselves – and if this didn’t work, then I’d be signing up for my own sideshow.
That should give you some idea of how I feel about good old St. Nick. Just looking at the building in front of me should have been
enough to make me turn around. The place looked like a meat-packing plant. (And bullshit he does it for disguise – he does it
because he’s cheap. But if the public ever found out? Forget it, he’d have candy canes hanging off the roof and chocolate soldiers
standing sentry at the doors.) But I had to go in. Because I needed the job.
The receptionist peered over her desk at me. Now that I was inside Fort Christmas (not its real name; no one knows that), everything
was stereotypical holiday cheer. This woman’s desk looked like a garishly wrapped present, all golds and silvers, and her headset was
molded into a pair of antlers. Her dress was the stereotypical Mrs. Santa get-up, complete with a low-cut collar of white fur. It all
made her look more suited to the Playboy Mansion, if you ask me.
I twiddled my fingers in hello, knowing that she wouldn’t ask what I was there for. Anyone my size was probably relegated to behind-
closed-doors work, a.k.a. the factory floor. I’d dressed to make it look like I had other options – button-down white shirt, corduroy
pants, the requisite pointed shoes just to prove that those fucking slippers I’d heard they make you wear wouldn’t be a problem. But
notice my colors; no way was I dressing in company red and green. The white was my concession, my bid to let them know that I’d
play along, to a point.
The pretty blond human at the desk smiled down at me. Women always liked me. One, on a date at Chuck E. Cheese (and yes, that
was my choice – you can’t tell me you don’t miss the ball pit), had told me that I reminded her of that elf who wanted to be a dentist
from that Christmas cartoon. I get that all the time, until I open my mouth and they see that my teeth aren’t exactly suited to a kid’s
cartoon, never mind a dentist.
But the illusion can be useful. Like with the receptionist, who nodded to the door next to her without a second’s glance at the
resentment I was sure was bubbling beneath my skin like an acid. Because the smile on her face was one she might use when first
spying a lost, mangy puppy. And so went another piece of my pride, trailing after me into Claus’s office like gumdrops.
I shut the door behind me, not at all surprised at the cheapo’s décor, now that his office was the focal-point. The vomit-inducing
festivity that the receptionist’s area had only hinted at hit its full stride here, starting beneath my feet with a holly-patterned rug, which
seemed to crawl like mold into the wallpaper. The drapes, of course, were of an antique-looking reindeer motif, and I wondered if
they had posed, and if they got any royalties.
The not-so-jolly but ever-so-obese man behind the desk gestured to the leather chair in front of him. For a second I thought of
reindeer gone bad, but then I remembered that they had fur, not skin.
“You’re here for the job posting, I trust, Mr… Phraust.” The old man in the – I kid you not – red licorice suspenders pronounced my
name wrong, but that was okay. It was better if he didn’t know, and besides, I was busy imagining what it would feel like wrapping his
suspenders around his neck, rope after rope, until his head popped off like an over-ripe cherry.
“Yes, floor manager, I believe,” I said.
“And on your application you spoke of graduating from Faustean University in 1903, and then…” He smiled, and I saw that his teeth
were no better off than mine. At least his got to blend in with his beard, which was the color of dirty straw. I wonder who dyed it for
him come December. “And then,” he continued, “you worked for over six decades with my dear friend Alma.”
I smiled back. Dear friend? Everyone in the underworld knew about the deal between Santa and the Tooth Fairy (everyone not in
the underworld thought she looked like Glinda the Good Witch from that horrible fucking fantasy movie, and she did. If you put
Glinda on a steady diet of meth). Santa and Alma went way back, before his deal with Coca-Cola, which led the sell-out to achieve his
current girth. I’d actually worked for that toothy bitch for seven decades, but I didn’t like talking about the last one. I’d been in the
Washing and Filing Department, and the smell… Let’s just say that when kids loose teeth, a nice shiny bone isn’t all that comes out.
“You were in the Retrieval Department?” asked Claus.
“Yes, and as you can see, I managed several Retrieval Teams at once near the end of my stay.”
“Why did you quit?”
“Well, I am a few centuries old, sir, and I’m not quite as limber as I used to be. That’s why I’m applying for the floor manager’s
position.” That, and honestly, it was a little too tempting, crawling into kids’ rooms at night. I’d worked a long fucking time to get
over the rougher aspects of my nature, and I wasn’t about to throw all that away for some broad’s business enterprise when she didn’t
even give us dental. And how’s that for ironic?
“And you checked off herbivore, good,” he said.
Actually, I go back and forth. Walking into his office, I’d started feeling a little anemic.
Claus was nodding and smiling, smiling and nodding. But I noticed that the nodding had a nice way of letting his eyes bob over to his
candy jars. They were grouped on one side of his desk – NECCO wafers, jelly beans, sweet-n-sour pops, the ubiquitous candy canes,
chocolate something’s that looked a lot like grasshoppers. Or maybe cockroaches – I get them confused.
“Do you think,” he said, “that you’d have a problem working with the, how shall I say, less illustrious of my departments?”
“Sir?” I cleared my throat – calling him sir was making me want to flex my hands in a decidedly unfriendly manner.
“You’ve heard my favorite song, I trust?”
“Ah… ‘Santa Claus is Coming’—”
“The very one!” He’d pointed his finger and now, thankfully, was putting it down. I hate finger-pointing. One of my brothers, who
lost a hand when we were kids, can attest to that. But Claus was laughing now, and the room seemed to balloon out with each “ho.”
“And do you know the verse about the naughty and nice?” he asked.
“I do recall that, yes.” Perhaps if I’d said “no,” things would have ended differently. But I didn’t think quick enough. You see, I’d
heard the stories. Missing cats, missing dogs, missing hamsters. Pets of any kind qualified, I suppose. And let’s just say that if
wrapped correctly, naughty boys and girls couldn’t tell for how long their present had been “missing” before it wound up under the
Yet society revered him. It just goes to show you – PR is king. And my kind – what kind of PR do you think we have? The luckiest
we get is somewhere between dressing up in green and carrying a bucket of gold around or singing an Oompa-Loompa song. Oh, and
then there’s the actual job I’m applying for, which I guess is slightly less offensive. I ran my tongue over my teeth and tasted blood.
The job, I reminded myself. I needed the job because I needed to eat.
“Would you like to see the floor?” asked Claus.
“I would love to.” And now, how to ask my next question? How to make me seem like I was in control, like I could name my price,
like I wasn’t desperate and hadn’t been on a steady diet of rats and crushed kiddie teeth myself (the teeth provide a nice high when
snorted and are also a diuretic – two reasons that the creative juices as Disney keep flowing).
Claus was in the middle of pushing his heft out of his chair, which, I noticed was fur-covered. Not leather, like mine. My question
made him plop back down.
“I was wondering what the pay was, and the benefits?” I’d asked.
He steepled his sore-covered fingers under his second chin. Not very much in the way of fruits and vegetables up here at the Pole, I
guess. “Pay and benefits,” he mused. “Well, John—”
“Jack. You can call me Jack.” I cut him off with my mistake. Cut both of us off, come to think of it. That’s what happens when I
try to get all smooth – I end up fucking myself, which is how I end up most of the time. Even with the ladies.
He cocked his head to the side, then glanced at my application and in specific, the name I’d put there.
“Well well well,” he said. “Jack Phraust, is it? Am I pronouncing that correctly?”
I sighed. Here we go, I thought. Back to the circus, which I thought I’d left permanently after my accident with Frank the Fire-Eater
and the Bearded Lady.
“Am I correct in assuming that you are the Jack Phraust? Because if I am, I think I’m going to have to adjust any package I offer you
to take into consideration the elements of the law that I’ll have to deceive in employing you.”
I guess if I was smart I could have used this. Blackmail. It’s illegal in all worlds, underground or not. But I wasn’t feeling very smart,
and besides, no one would have taken my word over his. Elf versus the Almighty Claus? Please. I’ve heard that story, and it ends
with a reindeer trough.
I cleared my throat, stalling while my anger started to boil over, when I remembered where I was. I was talking to Santa Claus, whose
affection for children had gotten turned into something a little more acceptable by the graces of a God who chose to ignore the likes
of me. And he was pulling the Holier-Than-Thou card. It’s the one in the deck I hate the most.
“You’re one to talk,” I said, loud and clear.
His hand stopped on its way to a jelly-bean. Or, probably, a cockroach. “What is that supposed to mean?”
“I know who you are, what you’ve done. We all do.” I jumped out of my chair to stand up. Granted, I could barely see above his
desk, and I knew I couldn’t eat my pride, but still. There were alternatives.
“And I know who you are.” He pointed his pudgy little finger at me, jabbing the air with each pause as if pressing the buttons on that
little doughboy man, whom he’d probably enjoy eating. “You’re Jack Frost, who kills things with a touch. Your brother is Spring-
Heeled Jack, who lives in England and rips the clothes off women with his sticky steel talons. You’re—”
He shouldn’t have said that. Anyone who knows me knows that I hate it when my brother’s brought up. He never killed anyone,
after all. He’s a good kid, not an ounce of ego in him. Unlike me, his older brother. I was the problem kid. I was the one with the
steel talons, which weren’t sticky. Yet.
I lunged over the desk. Elves like me have great joints, you know, all the better for scaling into kids’ second floor bedrooms, bouncing
around the toy room, delivering presents down the chimney, and jumping onto Santa’s belly like it actually is a bowl full of jelly.
But I started with the suspenders.