A very merry Christmas gift to you. From me, with love. It ended up quite long, so I broke it into two parts to make for easier reading. I planned on posting part two tomorrow, but if there is enough (polite) fussing I can be persuaded to put it up today. Just don’t want to crowd all the posts into one day. 😀
Thanks and apologies to all the naughty elves who let me use (and abuse) their names.
For the beginning of the story, please go here.
Anastasia Peppermint-Twist adjusted her curly-toed slippers and lovingly straightened her opaque red-and-green tights. She spritzed a tiny amount of peppermint perfume onto her wrists and dabbed it behind her ears. Mere elves were not allowed scent, but she was Head Elf.
Striding into the nearest workroom, she boomed in the loudest tone her high-pitched voice would allow, “Get back to work! We have deadlines to meet!”
Anastasia turned on her heel, ready to perform the same action in the next workroom, but something pink caught her eye. The wooden rocking horses in Workroom Rudolph were not supposed to be pink. She marched over and snatched the fluttering strips of leather out of Elf Renee Mistlekiss’ hand. The sickly frozen grin on Renee’s face matched that of Elf Emma Snowsparkle.
“Just what,” Anastasia demanded, “are you making?”
Emma’s pointy shoulders shrugged toward Renee. “It was her idea.”
Renee gasped. “I’m not taking the blame for this!”
“I asked you a question, Miss Snowsparkle.” Anastasia prised Emma and Renee out of the way to discover a small pile of pink leather strips and black-coiled handles.
“Dusters,” Emma squeaked. “To package with the horses. You know. For when they get dusty.”
“How many rocking horses have you finished this week?” Anastasia snapped, gathering up the contraband. “Let’s see what Mrs. Claus has to say about this. You know what happens to naughty elves who break my rules, don’t you?”
“Oh, no!” Emma and Renee wailed, both sets of hands immediately plastering themselves across small skirted bottoms.
“Let me help!” offered Elf Jade Cinnabum. She dropped her tools and headed toward the disciplinary paddle that hung on the wall.
“Not yet!” Anastasia snapped. “And it’s my job anyway. If there’s any spanking needed around here, I’ll do it. I don’t need some Head Elf wannabe.”
Jade stomped back to her horse.
“You weren’t always Head Elf,” Renee pleaded. “You used to be our friend.”
“Back to work!” Anastasia ordered as she marched out of the room. Her grand exit was spoiled, however, as she tripped over the back end of a new, terrified elf hiding her front end underneath a horse.
“Aughh!” Anastasia screamed. Laughter cascaded from elf to elf as indignant red-and-green tights flailed in the air. She scrambled to her feet, gathered the offending goods once again, glared until every elf bent hurriedly over his or her rocking horse, and stalked toward the door. At the last moment, she turned around to stick her tiny chin in the air and scowl.
“And whoever is writing on the bathroom stall doors better stop before I catch you. We do not spread filthy rumors about sprinkles and defecation habits.”
Anastasia let the door slam behind her.
* * * * *
“Anastasia, I said no.”
“But Mrs. Claus…”
Flour-dusted hands went to ample, apron-covered hips where a large wooden spoon peeked out of the largest pocket. Anastasia re-thought her strategy very quickly.
“Please, Mrs. Claus, the work ethic is slacking and the lack of discipline is appalling. I caught Emma and Renee making illicit pink floggers instead of doing their work. Jade was rude to me, and Sue insists that she will only take orders directly from you. ”
Mrs. Claus chuckled. “No, Anastasia, you may not deliver lumps of coal and switches to your fellow elves for Christmas. If you’re of a mind to argue, we can continue this conversation.”
A hand sank ominously into the pocket. Anastasia shook her head furiously. “No, thank you! I think I’ll go put in some overtime right now!”
Mrs. Claus put a hand on Anastasia’s shoulder. “It’s Christmas. Lighten up and remember that this holiday is about bringing joy. Stop making everyone, including yourself, miserable.”
Anastasia sputtered in protest, but Mrs. Claus handed her one of her famous sugar-sprinkle cookies. “I’m relieving you of Head Elf duties until you can show me your ability to lead by example rather than intimidation.”
Tears sprang to Anastasia’s eyes, and she blubbered promises to do everything, anything if only she could have her position back. Mrs. Claus only swatted her bottom and sent her to the dormitory to eat her cookie and think things over.
“It’s not fair!” Anastasia wailed. She’d worked hard to make everything perfect, and because of some rotten lazy elves she’d just lost her most prized honor of all. No more Head Elf? Why, she might as well be one of the riff-raff! She stormed to her room and knocked into Elf Cara Sugarcreme who stood dreamily next to the water cooler.
“Watch it!” Anastasia snarled.
Cara blinked at her. “I’m thirsty,” she said.
Anastasia shrugged and entered her room. As she swung her little legs on her bed and munched Mrs. Claus’ cookie, unwelcome thoughts came into her head.
You used to be our friend! Renee had said. Anastasia had, hadn’t she? Before her promotion, even when she scored top marks in all the yearly performance reviews she had still had fun with the other elves. She, Renee, and Emma had been an unstoppable team.
Maybe I have been taking myself a little too seriously, Anastasia thought to herself. One last bite of the sugar-sprinkle cookie calmed her until she found herself sinking into the pillow on her cot. Maybe it’s time to show that I can be Head Elf without making everyone hate me. But how?
* * * * *
Former Head Elf Anastasia nipped in and out of doorways. Where she used to delight in everyone snapping to attention at her presence, now she strove to remain unseen. She listened to conversations, took notes, and held her tongue. The last was most difficult of all. With time, however, she learned how much she had assumed without finding out for herself.
“So Renee and Emma received a special commission to make pink floggers because Celeste wanted them to have something fun to do? And I thought they were goofing off from their real work…”
Anastasia investigated some more. “And then Celeste’s friends got involved …”
A thoroughly shamefaced Anastasia reported to Mrs. Claus two weeks later.
“Well, dear?” Mrs. Claus asked. She set down her rolling pin and stamped her star-shaped cookie cutter in the cookie dough. She offered Anastasia one of the baked stars, but Anastasia declined. All of her check-ins with Mrs. Claus since becoming Head Elf had made her tights a bit snug.
“I shouldn’t be Head Elf any more,” Anastasia muttered. “In fact, I shouldn’t be an elf here at all. I’ve ruined Christmas…”
Mrs. Claus stood up in a hurry at that. “Hush your mouth!” she said, scandalized. “Anyone could have heard! I should take you over my knee right now!”
“But it’s true,” Anastasia moaned. “I never knew that the reason Sue always gets extra nice gifts is because she has you on speed-dial and lets you know about the naughty girls and boys. Or that Cara’s request for water jugs is for good behavior. I still don’t understand why. Something about a delivery boy?”
Mrs. Claus beamed. “Then you’ve put your time off to good use.”
“But I can’t do anything to fix it!” Anastasia wailed. “I thought Sue was naughty for tattling, so I had a punishment stool custom-made for her. It’s too late to change. Deliveries are next week! And I thought water jugs were an awful gift to give anyone, so I had a bathtub made for Cara instead. I mean, that way she could have a lot of water.”
“There’s a way around everything if you put your mind to it,” Mrs. Claus said. “Now let me see your notes, and we’ll make everything all right.”
“Really?” Anastasia clapped her small hands together. “It’s not too late? I haven’t ruined everything?”
Mrs. Claus let out a big, rolling laugh. “Land sakes, child! We specialize in miracles!”
For the first time in months, a smile crept to Anastasia’s face. She spread her list on the floury counter and nodded earnestly, taking notes as Mrs. Claus gave her instructions.
* * * * *
The next day, red-and-gold envelopes appeared in the mailboxes of Elves Renee, Emma, Celeste, Jade, Sue, and Cara. Each envelope contained a summons to meet in the dormitory common room at 10 AM on Christmas morning. Anastasia pretended not to notice when the babble of gossip swirled through the workrooms.
“I’ve got one! But it doesn’t say who it’s from. Do you think we’re going to be chucked out for fighting?” Emma gave Renee a push.
“It can’t be. No one knows I drew a line down the middle of our room with cotton candy. Or did you snitch?”
“Me? You’re the one who got us into trouble in the first place!”
In another corner, Sue and Cara exchanged worried looks. “It doesn’t say we’re in trouble, right?” Cara held out her envelope to Sue.
“I’ll take care of this,” Sue assured her. Sue flipped open her cell phone and hit the “1” key.
“Mrs. Claus? I thought we had an agreement…what? Really? You can’t? But…”
Sue put the phone into her pocket with a pout.
“That’s your way of taking care of things? I thought you said you had a special ‘in’ with Mrs. Claus. Maybe if you spent more time helping us meet our quota and less time with your constant tattling…”
Sue glared at Cara. “As if you don’t spend half your time running over to the water cooler to drool over the delivery boys! I saw what you did the last time.”
Cara lifted a small elf hand and gave Sue a noisy smack on the cheek. At the sound, the entire workroom ground to a halt. Jade barged into the center of the room and forcibly separated Cara and Sue.
“I’ll manage the two of you, and then we won’t have any trouble.”
Cara shrieked. “Don’t tell Mrs. Claus! I’m going to hide all the wooden spoons!”
Jade sent the unrepentant elves to separate workstations and then turned on Elf Celeste Frostsnap.
“If you’d share a room like every other elf has to do around here instead of insisting that your delicate elf snoring entitles you to a room of your own, we’d be able to put Cara and Sue in separate rooms and none of this squabbling would happen.”
Celeste turned her back on Jade and took out a Worchester-flavored pretzel. She savored the saltiness and adjusted the harness on her rocking horse.
“Stop trying to act like the new Head Elf,” she said coolly. “I don’t know why we all got these summons, and I don’t care. The longer you flap at me, the longer until I can go back to my room and finish knitting my new slippers.”
At each cross word, Anastasia shrunk lower and lower. She crept out of the room and darted into the unused workroom where Mrs. Claus had allowed her to store her surprises. Anastasia went from one package to the next, tidying ribbons and patting wrapping paper until everything looked absolutely perfect. Then she flopped to the floor.
What was the point of showing everyone she had changed if she’d only made them start fighting with each other?
* * * * *
“Mrs. Claus? I’m sorry to bother you, but…”
Anastasia slid into the chair next to Mrs. Claus’ table and put her small elf hands under her chin. Mrs. Claus gave her gingerbread dough a stir with her ferocious-looking wooden spoon before looking up.
“I know you want to get back to work, but you’re not ready yet.”
“I know,” Anastasia mumbled. “But everyone hates me, and if I can’t work I can’t make it right.”
“You’ve got your surprises all ready for your friends, right dear?” Mrs. Claus set the wooden spoon onto the countertop and picked up a glob of pungent spiced gingerbread. She plopped it onto her pastry board and energetically began rolling the dough with swift, sure strokes.
“Yes, but when I gave them the secret invitations they started fighting because they thought it was trouble. Maybe it was a bad idea. Should we cancel?”
Mrs. Claus straightened up and waved her rolling pin with alarming emphasis. “And waste all of our hard work? Do we need to have a talk about waste?”
“No!” Horrified, Anastasia jumped out of her chair and backed toward the door. “I’ll find a way to fix things.”
“Good,” Mrs. Claus approved.
“Somehow…” Anastasia sighed. Right as she got to the door, Mrs. Claus called out for her to stop.
“Take these, dear. I think they’ll help. But no peeking until after you reveal their gifts, understood?”
Anastasia surprised them both by rushing to fling her arms around Mrs. Claus’ soft waist. She would have preferred to fling them around Mrs. Claus’ neck, but little elf arms only reached so far. She took the small brown paper parcel and skipped—yes, skipped—into the hallway. Mrs. Claus shook her head.
“Now she’ll go to the other extreme and try to be too nice to everyone all the time,” she said to herself. Then she smiled. “Nothing that a good spanking can’t cure.”
(End of part one. Watch this space for part two, coming soon! In the meantime, you can read Emma’s alternate sequel here. It’s set in a parallel universe in which Mrs. Claus answers to Santa, but we all know that in Ana-land Mrs. Claus reigns supreme. The alternate last names there for Jade are simply a reflection that it’s set in this parallel world. Enjoy!)