by James Hanna

It is Christmas Eve in Santa Claus Town, but all is not well. On the street outside of Santa’s workshop, angry little voices fill the air. What could possibly be the matter?

Why, the Glumpf has come to Santa Claus Town!—a surly looking fellow with fiery eyes, moth-eaten fur, and an angry red boil on his snout. He is making a speech before an assembly of Santa Claus’ elves.

The elves are not themselves at all today. Their usually merry faces flush with anger; their fists close into solid little balls; they clench their jaws so tightly that some of them have bitten through their corn cob pipes. What could have made them so upset?

Rackham_elvesIt must be the words of the Glumpf. In language not at all pleasant, he discusses their working conditions.

“You mean to tell me,” sneers the Glumpf, “that in all the years you’ve worked for Santa Claus you have never received a raise in pay?”

“Never,” pipe the elves. “We have no salaries to begin with.”

“What about medical benefits, eight-hour days, and root beer breaks? Have you ever had any of these?”

“Never,” shout the elves. “This Christmas, we’re even delivering the toys.”

The Glumpf slaps his forehead and scowls. “Santa has grown too fat to slide down chimneys?”

The elves all nod in unison.

“I thought as much,” mutters the Glumpf. “What about retirement? Where do you go when you’re no longer able to work?”

One of the elves points to a cave on the outskirts of Santa Claus Town. Its huge empty mouth presides over the coming and going of broken-down elves. “When we’re too old and sick to work, we go to live in that drafty old cave.”

The Glumpf shakes his head in livid disgust. The boil on his nose turns as red as a beetroot. “No wonder you asked me to come here!” he shouts. “In all my years as a Teamster organizer, I’ve never seen conditions this rotten! Elves of Santa Claus Town, think of yourselves and unite! It is time that portly philanthropist realizes that charity begins at home!”

The elves raise their fists and cry out, “Hoo Jah!”

* * *

While all this is going on, Santa is busy in his workshop. The reindeer are already hitched to the sleds, and he’s now tinkering with his favorite project, a monstrous red turbo-powered sled with eighty-three compartments for presents. “Get this baby working,” he says to himself, “and this’ll be the last Christmas I’ll have to feed reindeer.”

Santa is so busy with his hammer and wrench that he’s slow to hear the clamor of the elves. When their racket reaches an intolerable pitch, he puts down his tools and tiptoes through his workshop to see what is happening.

When Santa sticks his head through his workshop window, he cannot believe his eyes. The elves stand shoulder-to-shoulder, and they glare at him with fierce scowls. They have drawn up a list of demands, which one of them reads in a loud bleating voice.

“Christmas ,” says the elf, “must be postponed until you have taken care of us. We demand salaries of two hundred dollars a week retroactive to our first day of employment. We require annual vacations to the Caribbean and a retirement home in Disneyland when we get too old to work. Finally, we call for twelve breaks a day during which root beer will be served to us by scantily attired elfettes.

“Be advised,” the elf snaps, “our days of slavery are over. Not one toy will be delivered this Christmas unless you meet our demands.”

Nearly speechless, Santa staggers away from the window. His great heart is bursting, and tears blur his eyes. Only the thought of a Santaless Christmas gives him strength to pick up his phone. But whom can he call? He hesitates only a moment then dials a number in Storybook Land. In a crisis like this, he can trust only his three favorite kittens: Hector, Bector, and Baby Boo. He met them last year at a taffy pull and has loved them ever since.

* * *

Baby Boo, a thoughtful little Tabby, is toasting marshmallows in his home and reading The Grapes of Wrath when Santa’s call comes. Seeing Santa’s name on the caller ID, he is instantly alarmed. He knows Santa would never phone at such a busy time unless he had a serious problem. What could the matter be? he wonders. His fears are sustained when Santa tells him that the elves are on strike.

“How did things come to this?” Santa sobs. “For years, I have held them to my bosom, fed them at my table, and nurtured them like my own babes. And what is my reward for this? Ingratitude and insurrection. There will be no Christmas this year, little friend, unless peace is made with the elves.”

Baby Boo assures Santa that he will be right there. He quickly summons his two brothers and tells them the shocking news. In a flash, the three little kittens are out the door and on their way to Santa Claus Town. An hour later, they stand before Santa’s workshop, stunned by what they see.

The elves have made picket signs and shake them in the air as they march back and forth under Santa’s window. They chant slogans the Glumpf taught them, and the street rings with their sharp little voices.

“The elves are revolting,” gasps Hector.

“They certainly are,” agrees Baby Boo. “But they’d look a lot more pleasant if they’d put down those nasty signs.”

A few of the elves overhear Baby Boo’s remark. In a matter of seconds, they cluster around the kittens.

“Pleasant indeed!” one of them scoffs. “How pleasant would you be if you worked fourteen hours a day, every day of the week, and didn’t have a penny to show for it?”

“How pleasant would you be?” chimes in another, “ if your shoulders were stooped from toil and your hands were arthritic from a cold and drafty workshop?”

“How pleasant would you be,” shouts a third, “if you had no place to go when you were too old and bent to work any longer? How would you like to spend your last days huddled in a cave at the edge of town?”

Baby Boo’s jaw drops in total surprise. Could this really be the lot of the elves of Santa Claus Town? He looks to his brothers, but they have left his side. So incensed are Hector and Bector by the plight of the elves that they picked up picket signs and joined them. Their faces stiffen with anger and their voices mingle with the din of the marchers.

“Solidarity forever!” cry the elves.

“Fleece the fatty!” shouts Hector.

“Kill the umpire!” cries Bector. This is not an appropriate remark, but it’s the only slogan he knows.

Baby Boo decides this rude gathering is no place for him to tarry. The elves grow angrier by the second, and somebody’s coat might get seriously mussed by the bright red tomatoes peeking from their pockets. Turning quickly on his haunches, he bounds away from the procession. In less than an hour, he is back in Storybook Land.

* * *

What to do, what to do? wonders Baby Boo when he gets back home. Certainly the elves have reason to be cross, but there is still Christmas to consider. The children of the world will be very unhappy if they wake up to no presents on Christmas morning. But who can help out and how? Baby Boo thinks long and hard. Suddenly, an idea pops into his head. Scab labor!

“Thank you, Mr. Steinbeck!” cries Baby Boo. “I’ll call all my friends, and together we’ll save Christmas!”

Baby Boo spends hours on the phone because he has many friends in Storybook Land. He is very pleased when all of them agree to help. Eventually, an army of volunteers assembles outside of his house. He recruits Henny Penny and Chicken Little. Simple Simon and the Pieman. Tom-Tom the Piper’s Son and a pickled Peter Piper. Mother Goose and Daddy Gander. He recruits Jack Sprat and Jack the Giant Slayer and Jack-be-Nimble. Sinbad the Sailor and Windbag the Whaler and Jinbad the Jailer. Wee Willie Winkie, the Farmer in the Dell, Little Jackie Paper, and Pretty Polly Pell. He recruits, in all, a hundred and forty-seven fearless volunteers.

Sitting atop the Cow Who Jumped Over the Moon, Baby Boo leads his army of volunteers to Santa Claus Town. Arriving at Santa’s workshop, he sees the reindeer still hitched to the sleds and breathes a sigh of relief. For his venture to be successful, he cannot waste a second.

“Shanghai the sleds!” shouts Baby Boo. Instantly, the air fills with the shouts of the brave volunteers. The elves, taken totally by surprise, scatter in terror before the charging army. Moments later, the volunteers sit aboard the sleds and whip the reindeer into action. “Don’t worry, Santa!” pipes Wee Willie Winkie. “The toys will all be delivered this Christmas!”

In all the excitement, Baby Boo is thrown from his mount. But he lifts his head in time to see the last of the sleds melting into the starry night. He draws a deep breath. “Now the kiddies will have Christmas,” he sighs.

Baby Boo’s relief is very short-lived. The elves, who have recovered their wits, descend upon him in a black rage. When one of them mentions kitten burgers for dinner, Baby Boo realizes how cross he has made them. His head begins to spin. Whatever shall he do?

Another idea pops into Baby Boo’s head. Binding arbitration. “Eureka!” he cries. “I’ll sit Santa and all his elves at a table. Together, we’ll work out a solution to this problem.”

* * *

The elves are not at all happy with Baby Boo’s proposal, but they agree to give it a try before they deal with him. There will be plenty of time afterwards to grind him into kitty burgers.

Minutes later, a coalition of elves faces Santa across a long workbench. Baby Boo, the appointed mediator, sits between Santa and the elves. His ears perk attentively as an elf speaks.

“Isn’t it enough,” snarls the elf, “that you steal our labor? Must you also plot against us with a silly little feline? Well, there’s more than one way to skin a cat. You will meet our demands tonight, or not one sled will return to your barn.”

“Burn the barn,” shouts another. “Let the reindeer freeze, too.”

Baby Boo shakes his head. Things are only growing worse and worse. Say something, Santa, he silently pleads.

Santa slams the workbench with a heavy hand. “I’m a charitable institution—not a business!” he bellows. “Nobody pays for the toys I make. Last year, I had to borrow a million dollars just to put smokestacks on choo choo trains! I’ve filed bankruptcy eighty-six times, and the only reason I keep getting away with it is because I’m Santa Claus! How can I pay you salaries when I can’t even pay myself?”

Santa lowers his voice, and a hush settles over the room. “Ours is a labor of love,” he says as a heavy tear crawls down his cheek. “I can remember when love was enough.”

The elves are not unmoved by Santa’s tearful words. One even drops his picket sign to the floor. Baby Boo breathes a little easier. Perhaps he will not become a Booburger, after all.

Long into the night, the elves and Santa negotiate. Santa agrees finally that he will allow them three root beer breaks a day if they will burn their signs instead of his barn. Although weary from lugging their signs around, the elves hesitate to accept this offer. Something more is needed.

Baby Boo whispers into Santa’s ear. Santa pauses for a long moment then reluctantly nods. “If you want it,” he tells the elves, “you may have my shiny super turbo-powered sled for a retirement home.”

“Done!” cry the elves, and the matter is settled.

Santa decides it’s time for a toast. He fetches several bottles of peach-flavored schnapps and pours everyone a tumbler full. The elves raise their glasses. and everyone begins to sing.

* * *

While the elves and Santa celebrate, Baby Boo slips silently from the workshop. His whiskers are sticky with peach schnapps, and he feels a little tipsy. But a feathery snow caresses him as he walks the quiet street. In the glow of the rising moon, his little body casts a long shadow.

There is much to be thankful for this Christmas, thinks Baby Boo. He is thankful Santa and the elves have ended their nasty quarrel. He is thankful his friends on the sleighs will not have the stuffing beaten out of them when they return from delivering toys. And he is thankful that everyone will now have a merry Christmas.

Everyone, that is, except for the Glumpf. The Glumpf peers from a tiny jail cell on the edge of Santa Claus Town. He has been incarcerated for unlawful assembly, inciting a riot, and being an old meanie. Thoroughly uncomfortable, he clutches the frozen bars of the window. Baby Boo takes a moment to visit with him.

“After all I done for them,” mutters the Glumpf. “Three root beer breaks a day. A shiny new retirement home. And they leave me to rot in this miserable cell. After all I done for them.”

Baby Boo listens politely. He can’t help but feel pity for this bitter fellow. How could the elves have left him to freeze in that cold and drafty cell?

“I’m sorry you’re in jail, Mr. Glumpf,” he says finally. “But you’re nothing but a trouble maker, after all.”

Not waiting for a reply, Baby Boo heads back to Storybook Land. It is time to clean his whiskers then have a bowl of milk.

James Hanna wandered Australia for seven years before settling on a career in criminal justice. He spent twenty years as a counselor in the Indiana Department of Corrections and has recently retired from the San Francisco Probation Department, where he was assigned to a domestic violence and stalking unit. James’ familiarity with criminal types has provided fodder for his writing.

James’ short stories have appeared in Old Crow Review, Sandhills Review, Edge City Review, Fault Zone, Eclipse, The Literary Review, Red Savina Review, The California Writers Club Literary Review, Zymbol, The Sand Hill Review, and Empty Sink Publishing. Three of James’ stories were nominated for the Pushcart Prize.

James’ novels are available on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle. His debut novel, The Siege, depicts a hostage standoff in a penal facility. Call Me Pomeroy, James’ second novel, chronicles the madcap tales of a street musician on parole who joins Occupy Oakland and its spinoff movements in England and France. He does not join for political reasons but to get on television, attract an agent, and land a million dollar recording contract. Grady Harp, Hall of Fame Reviewer, calls the book an “instant classic.”

Three of the tales in Call Me Pomeroy were serialized in Empty Sink Publishing prior to the release of the book. A second edition of the book is now available on Amazon. The book includes a brand new misadventure entitled “Pomeroy and the Black Widow.”