Well, it’s officially Christmas Eve (in the UK) so here’s a story from ‘Slay Bells in the Snow‘. Uncharacteristically jolly for me, I think, but then we all need a break from bloody covid.
“They want what?” Tiddles slammed his toy-hammer onto the table.
George winced. “It’s not my fault. Santa’s letters were clear this year. The children want more trees.”
“They are up to their bloody eyes in trees.” Tiddles picked up the wooden train he was working on and considered smashing it. “If they got off their damn video games and looked outside, there are trees as far as they can see.”
George shrugged. “Seems they don’t think there are enough.”
“Oh crap.” Tiddles dropped the train and buried his face in his hands. “What will they want next year? Gender reassignment surgery?”
George coughed. “Well…”
“Don’t you dare.” Tiddles dropped his hands and stared at the wall. “Just don’t bloody dare. Okay?”
“It’s not really an issue.” George squirmed. “Santa says we can’t grant medical procedures as wishes so we’re off the hook for that one. There’s still the trees though.” He coughed again. “They also want something called ‘renewable energy’. Apparently it involves windmills and sunshine. Doesn’t sound too bad.”
“Oh…” Tiddles stared at the hammer and wondered whether he should use it on George or himself. “That ‘renewable’ crap involves clearing forests to set up wind and solar farms. Trees or those things. They can’t have both unless we magic up an entirely separate planet.”
George blinked. “Is that possible?”
“Of course not. If it were, we’d have done it and moved there and left all this rubbish behind for the humans to sort out.” Tiddles stroked his hammer. If I hit my head in just the right place it will all be over. He placed the hammer on the table and took a breath. “Right. We’d better go and visit Tubby.”
“Ho ho ho.” Santa raised his glass as they entered. “Another sack of letters for you. See they get passed around the workshop. We only have three more weeks.”
“That’s kind of why we’re here.” Tiddles folded his arms. “It’s about trees.”
Santa shrugged and took a sip from his glass. “Christmas trees are traditional. It’s nice to see the kiddies appreciate that.”
“Um…” George half-raised his hand. “That’s not what they’ve been asking for. They want real trees.”
“Huh?” Santa’s brow furrowed until his eyebrows merged into one.
“Real trees.” Tiddles tilted his head. “You hadn’t realised, had you?”
Santa stared into his glass. “I only have time to skim-read the letters. You guys get to read them in detail. Still, what’s the problem? People have had plants as presents for centuries. Just put a small tree in a pot and they can plant it themselves.”
Tiddles closed his eyes. “We are at the North Pole. Trees, indeed any kind of plant, are a bit thin on the ground around here. Every scrap of wood we have has to be shipped in and we use some of it for toys and the rest goes into the furnace so we don’t all freeze to death. We have three weeks. That’s barely enough time to grow a bloody radish.”
Santa pursed his lips. “Well. Would they know the difference?”
There was a long silence. George and Tiddles looked at each other. George raised his eyebrow.
“You know,” George said, “most of them think vegetables magically appear on supermarket shelves. We could sell the radishes as tree starter kits.” He screwed up his face and forced his mind, as far as possible, into thinking mode. “I reckon we can get away with it.”
“What? No!” Tiddles stamped his foot. “I will not be involved in such an underhand scheme.”
Both Santa and George raised their eyebrows as far as they could and stared at him.
“Yes, well…” Tiddles shuffled his feet and stared at the ground. “This is different. We make the presents in good faith. It’s the Job, you know? We’re talking about substandard work here. Passing off radishes as trees is going much too far.” He paused and cleared his throat. “Even for me.”
“Okay.” Santa shook his head. “If it’s too dodgy even for you then it’s a non-starter. So what do we do? Any good alternatives?”
“For trees?” Tiddles laughed. “Maybe a log? Or how about a windmill? They seem keen on those as tree replacements in many parts of the world.”
George rummaged in the sack of letters. “Hey, this one wants a train set. That’s easy. Oh, here’s one who wants a particular doll. No problem – eww.” He dropped the letter. “She wants a zombie doll with a removable brain.”
“We can do that.” Tiddles waved his hand. “Sick Bob is good at the creepy stuff. The problem is those who want trees. We can’t produce them to order.”
“Hm.” George held up a letter. “This one wants a vaccine. Well, we can’t do medical stuff.”
“That reminds me.” Santa scratched his head. “All this current vaccine stuff. Do you think we should vaccinate the elves? Should I get it?”
“Hell no!” Tiddles took a step back. “They haven’t even finished human trials yet. Besides, you can clear yourself of disease using magic when you get back. You’ll have time before it shuts down for the year.” He narrowed his eyes. “As long as you remember this time.”
George patted Santa’s shoulder. “We’ll remind you. In case you get knob-rot again.”
Santa coughed and examined the buttons on his jacket. “Well anyway, I’ve been interested in this green stuff for some time. I don’t have much to do other than browse the news, while you lot are busy in your workshops. So I was thinking, maybe we should replace the furnace with heat pumps?”
George and Tiddles stared at each other for a few moments.
George wrinkled his nose. “What’s a heat pump?”
“It’s a brilliant idea.” Santa refilled his glass. “These machines take heat from outside and pump it inside. They can get it from the ground or the air.”
Tiddles smacked his lips. “I believe I have already mentioned, Santa, that we live at the North Pole. There is no heat outside. Not in the ground and not in the air. The only thing you’d pump in from out there is frostbite.”
“Well,” Santa took a swig of whisky, “The scientists are saying cold is good for you.”
“Sure.” Tiddles walked over to the drinks cabinet and poured himself a large one. He had a feeling it was going to be one of those days, and wondered if Santa had really cleared himself of madness-inducing syphilis last time. “It’s fine if you’re surrounded by twelve inches of insulating blubber. We elves are forest creatures. We don’t like the cold.”
“You don’t like the idea?” Santa swirled his glass, his face filled with disappointment.
“We are keeping the furnace.” Tiddles folded his arms. “Can we get back to the problem at hand now?”
George coughed and stared at the drinks cabinet. Tiddles poured him a small one and handed it over.
George took a sip. “How about Bonsai trees? They’re small and they’re real trees.”
“They take decades to grow. We can’t possibly do that in the time we have.” Tiddles shook his head. “Still, George, that’s probably the best thought you’ve had this century.”
George smiled a wide and smug smile.
“There is a way.” Santa rubbed his beard. “You know that whole ‘adopt a penguin’ crap? Or ‘adopt a monkey’ or whatever rubbish they come up with? How about ‘adopt a tree’?”
After a considerable pause and a hell of a lot of blinking, Tiddles and George said, in unison, “What?”
“It’s a great scam.” Santa rubbed his hands. “People pay to keep alive things that are perfectly capable of keeping themselves alive anyway.”
“Scam?” Tiddles perked up.
“Well not for us.” Santa glowered at Tiddles. “Certainly not for you.”
“Right.” Santa took a deep swig of whisky and strode the room. “We send those kids an adoption certificate. Tell them they have adopted a newly planted tree in a forest somewhere and because of their wish it will grow tall and strong. Doesn’t matter where, there will be trees growing everywhere anyway. Include a picture of a small tree and next year send a picture of a bigger tree. Until they get bored of the whole shebang and ask for a PlayStation.”
Tiddles smacked his hands together. “Brilliant. We charge them for trees that were growing anyway and they believe they are making those trees grow.”
Santa lowered his head. “Tiddles, drop the scam idea for just a moment. These are presents. We do not charge for them.”
“Of course, of course.” Tiddles held up his hands. “I got a bit carried away there for a moment.” He motioned to George to leave. “We’ll get right on it, Santa. Thanks for solving our problem.”
“Yeah, back to work.” Santa sipped his drink under lower bushy eyebrows than usual. “Remember, I’m always watching.”
“No problem, Santa.” Tiddles backed out of the room with George.
“So we’re doing it under Santa’s watchful eye?” George struggled to keep up with Tiddles’ pace on the way back to the workshops.
Tiddles laughed. “He’s plastered and rummaging in the silly corners of the internet for most of the year. We don’t have to worry about him watching us.”
“Yeah but…” George furrowed his brow. “I don’t see how we scam this.”
“That’s why I’m in charge.” Tiddles said. “We’ll make the tree-adopting certificates as instructed, but they will include some small print.”
He winked at George. “Very, very small print.”