Merry Christmas, everyone! 😀
Out of Retirement
By Adam Dixon
“Voila! What do you think, mon ami?” The old reindeer turned at the sound of the cheery voice, his legs creaking and his back threatening to cramp up. He lifted his shaggy white head at the newcomer as he stepped in through the door and into the tiny cabin. A large old man dressed in green cloth grinned and turned his flabby jowls towards the roaring fire. The orange and gold light flickered across his clean-shaven face.
“Well, Pierre, I didn’t realise you had quite so many chins,” he replied, sending the thought with a mischievous wink. The old man’s smile faded and he huffed, flopping his bulk down on a nearby armchair.
“Oh, you are a scoundrel!” he declared “Ah, but you are right, of course!” There was a small wooden table next to his armchair and upon it stood a bottle of wine and two clean glasses. Pierre uncorked the bottle and helped himself.
“So, the big night is upon us again, no? It comes around so quickly!”
“Yes, it does,” the deer nodded. “I still get the old feelings of anticipation, you know. I suppose they never go away, even after retirement. How long as it been now?”
“Twenty-five years for me,” Pierre replied. “And I believe that it will be twenty-two for you. Mon Dieu, how time flies!”
“Hard to believe that the new Santa is the second one after you,” the deer said. “And the Rudolph is the third after me. We seem to be getting through them these days. Pity about Seamus, he was a wonderful Santa.”
“Oui, he was,” Pierre said sadly. “But a bit too fond of whiskey, in the end. He shouldn’t have drank so much before flying through that Pacific storm…such a shame…and that was three years ago now, no?”
“Yes, that’s right. Still, the new Santa appears to be finding his feet,” the deer sent. As soon as he had finished speaking, there came a knock on the door. A moment later an elf poked her head inside, an expectant look on her face. The cold night air rushed in and disturbed the fire, sending shadows dancing around the room in a panic.
“Evening, sirs,” she said, curtseying as she stepped inside. The small bells on her tall, pointed hat jingled. “Santa would like speak with you. He’s a bit nervous about tonight, I think.”
“Speak of the devil!” Pierre said with a broad grin. “Wiggles and I are not up to much, please send him in!” The elf curtseyed again and left the cabin. The reindeer growled and glared at Pierre.
“Why do you insist on calling me that?” he sent.
“It is your name, is it not?” Pierre asked, pouring out an extra glass of wine as he refilled his own.
“That’s not the point, you know I hate it!” Wiggles sent, scowling. “That was the hardest part about retiring, having to lose my first decent name…” Before Pierre could begin laughing in earnest, the door to the cabin swung open again. Another very fat man strode into the room, resplendent in his red-and-white clothing and shining white beard. His dark face was creased in happiness as he walked over to Pierre and seized his hand.
“Pierre! Ça me fait toujours plaisir de te voir!” he said with enthusiasm. Pierre smiled at the compliment and nodded towards Wiggles.
“And to you, mon ami! But let us speak in English for the sake of our valued steed, yes? He is not intelligent enough for two languages!” Pierre yelped as Wiggles bit him on the hip.
“I have a working understanding of the language, you fat fool!” Wiggles chided. “Half a century of listening to you wail your old songs gave me that much at least!”
“Those are ballads of great beauty and skilled composition, I’ll have you know!” Pierre said with a laugh, rubbing his hip. “Now, what can we do for you, dear Emmanuel? May I offer you some wine?” The man in red smiled and spoke up, stroking his beard with his fingers.
“Nah man, I’d better not,” he said slowly, sampling the less familiar words with care. His accent was thick and exotic for the North Pole. “Pierre, I don’t like the take-off, man. Reindeers are all ready, but I’m the scared old goat! Ya both helped me last Christmas, an’ so could…could ya come an’ see me off this time? I’d be grateful.” Emmanuel’s eyes moved imploringly between Pierre and Wiggles. It was Wiggles who spoke first.
“Of course, Emmanuel!” the reindeer sent, shooting Pierre an eager look. “The fat fool and I were just discussing the old times, as it happens. I think we both miss the job more than we’d like to admit.” Emmanuel’s grin split his beard in unequal halves and he nodded with vigour.
“Oh, thank you, thank you!” he said with excitement. “I bet you do miss it, man! It’s the best job I ever had! The kiddies are so happy in the mornin’, an’ I get to make it happen! An’ seein’ Haiti again always brings me joy!”
“Oui, that is wonderful!” Pierre said with longing in his eyes. “I am envious, Emmanuel. I would love to see Lille again…to be frank, I would love to see the world again, but I am too old to travel away from here now.” Emmanuel seemed struck by a thought and he cocked his head to one side.
“Maybe not, man,” he said slowly. “Ya should come with me! Both of ya! Think about it, man! Up in the sky again, feelin’ the wind in ya hair and hearin’ those sleigh bells jinglin’!” Pierre’s eyes widened and Wiggles was too taken aback to say anything.
“Emmanuel, that is a magnificent idea,” Pierre replied, choked. “I didn’t realise just how much I missed that creaky old bucket and the stink of the reindeer blowing in my face until this evening. I’d love to do it all one more time!”
“Eloquent as always,” sent Wiggles. “You can count me in, as well, Emmanuel! That is if the Grand Elf sees fit to let us, and if we can get the ‘creaky old bucket’ off the ground with you both in it!”
“Aha, you a cheeky one, man!” Emmanuel said, grinning from ear to ear. “Come, come! Let’s go an’ speak with him right now!”
The Grand Elf was an old being who radiated knowledge and wisdom. His small face was cracked and creased by innumerable lines from innumerable years on the earth, and his long white beard trailed the floor in twin lines behind him. Standing in the large, decadent Grand Cabin, supported by two young elves who held him at the elbows, he looked hard at his audience. Despite their own long lives and their familiarity with him, the trio were struck dumb with awe at the elf. They fidgeted before his gaze, scuffing their feet on the floor and clearing their throats as he pondered their question.
“This…is most irregular,” the Grand Elf rasped. His voice sounded like sandpaper scraping across a wooden toy. “There is no precedent for a former Santa Claus and Rudolph taking part in Christmas Eve so long after the termination of their duties. Why should I allow it?”
“Master Elder, sir,” Emmanuel began, wringing his hands together. “I’m still scared about the take-off, an’ I could use the help.”
“The elves working here can provide ample instruction,” the Elder wheezed, frowning.
“I know, sir, but I would feel much better to have my friends with me,” Emmanuel pressed. “An’ also, they wanna fly again! You’d be doin’ them a great favour, too!”
“Hmm…” the Grand Elf mused, rubbing his chin with a trembling, time-withered hand. “It is not simply a question of missing the journey into the sky, but of the magic of Christmas. Do these two still hold that magic close, I wonder? Or has it faded with the decades of inactivity?”
“Tch! Don’t be silly, man!” Emannuel said, affronted. He was immediately contrite. “’Scuse me, sir! I mean, of course the magic is still there. These two are walkin’ Christmas spirits!”
“I would ask them the question and not you, young man,” the Grand Elder said with a stern frown. Emmanuel blinked at the comment but held his tongue.
“Sir, I don’t know where I ought to begin,” Pierre said with confusion. “I… Christmas has always been special to me, and I tried to spread my happiness every year when I was living in France. I helped charitable organisations feed the homeless and visited the elderly in my younger days….” Pierre trailed off, thinking. The Grand Elder stood in silence, waiting. Pierre gulped and continued.
“But I must talk to you about the work itself…I still remember the first time I was given the honour of being Santa…” Pierre stared into the distance with a smile on his face. “Mon Dieu, it was fantastic! To wear those wonderful clothes, to see the world with sturdy animals and the starlight to guide me…. incredible! But…but most of all I loved to imagine the smiles on the faces of the children on Christmas morning. Ah, the rosy glow of happiness! The cheer in their eyes! The laughter and the love! That, to me, is the real joy of Christmas!”
“Pierre is right,” Wiggles sent. “It’s been a long time since I was a foal, but I have spent every year since trying to make humans happy. The children and the old, the merry and the glum, they all deserve to be joyful at Christmas. Serving mankind as Rudolph for forty years has been the highlight of my life. I’ve never been happier, and I still want to spread my happiness across the world with my friend Pierre.”
“We did it together, mon cher ami,” Pierre said with great affection. He laid a meaty hand on the old reindeer’s head. Wiggles nuzzled Pierre’s hand and bleated fondly. The love between the two friends was palpable and one of the Grand Elder’s aides sniffed loudly. The other dabbed at her eyes. Gradually, the air inside the Great Cabin became warmer and seemed to shimmer around Pierre. The fat man laughed in delight as he flexed his tingling fingers, his eyes growing wide as soft, white sparks danced along his skin. His belly shook as he laughed, the happy, rich sound booming around the room as he sparkled with light. Next to him, Wiggles began to croon in the back of his throat, bucking his legs and shaking his head. He squeezed his eyes shut, snorted twice and then sneezed. As he lifted his head, a crimson light shone around his nose, lighting up the astonished onlookers. His face looked as close to a bright smile as a reindeer could get. Bathed in the light from the two friends, Emmanuel clapped his hands together and bounced up and down, his bulk making the floorboards creak.
“You see! You see! They’ve still got it!” he said, his wide smile threatening to burst from his face. “What did I say, man? I told you!”
“Yes, this is quite a display!” the Grand Elf said, beaming through his own beard. “The magic of Christmas is still strong within you both! Excellent, excellent! I see no reason for you not to accompany Santa, if you are both able. Blast the irregularity, it is Christmas!” Emmanuel seized Pierre’s hand in both of his and pumped it vigorously.
“Oh, Pierre, my heart sings for you!” he said, still bouncing on his heels. “This will be the best Christmas ever!”
“Oui, mon ami,” Pierre said, sharing the excitement with tears in his eyes. “It certainly will! Now, I must prepare! I will need my old suit, my old hat and my old boots! Oh non, will I still fit into them? I have gained so much weight since then…Oh, Mon Dieu, why did I decide to shave today of all days?” Emmanuel burst out laughing as the old man hurried off towards his own cabin, muttering to himself and fretting about the cold night air. Wiggles shook his great head and sent his amusement to Emmanuel.
“That old fool never did have the best timing!” the glow from his nose waved merrily as he laughed. “Now, I’d best get ready myself. See you on the runway, Santa!”
“Not soon enough, Rudolph!” Santa answered with a wink. Wiggles scampered off, feeling as happy as a foal at feeding time. What a wonderful Christmas it was going to be!