by Roy Barton
A mass of bright blue flame appeared on the raised platform at the front of the workshop, combined with an almost deafening explosion.
What in blue blazes am I doing here ? shrieked Satan incredulously, as the blue blazes around him died way.
In front of him several hundred elves stared back in awe and amazement. Several hid behind the largest toys with fear.
The lead elf walked a few paces forward. He had earned the right to be their leader and spokesman, through the fact that he was a full two inches taller than anybody else.
He cleared his throat nervously and stared up at the scarlet one. This is an awfully complicated story. He started to say.
Im not interested in stories ! roared Satan, his eyebrows tightened together so much that sparks flew into his audience. Quite a few more elves dived for cover. If I wanted stories Id ask the Marquis de Sade to tell me a few. I bet theyre a darned sight more interesting than the one youre going to tell me, too.
The elf bristled at the newcomers comments. Now listen here. he squeaked with as much authority as he could muster, as he was only about a third of Satans height, and more so too, because of the raised platform that the latter was stood on. It did seem to do the trick, though. Mainly because Satan wasnt used to being spoken to in that way. Secondly, he had just tried to summon up a ball of fire to hit the elf with and it hadnt appeared. Taking this into account, Satan realised he would have to listen to the story after all, and then he would just ask politely to go back where he came from, and that would be that. He would just pass this off as a bad dream and forget about it in a few days.
I know what youre thinking. We can read each others thoughts here, you know.
"Oh, blast !" thought Satan.
Oh, blast, indeed. Echoed the lead elf. Lets get one thing perfectly clear- youre about as welcome her as a massive outbreak of very nasty, virulent diseases but we have absolutely no control of these events. Its a time paradox and my story will explain it.
Satan sighed and gave in. He just hoped that it wouldnt take that long. He had left his favourite fork in the furnace and it might liquify if he didnt get back soon. At least get me a chair. He implored. Almost as he finished the last word a couple of elves brought a seat up for him and he sat down on it. Okay, you may continue.
The lead elf almost glowed with self-importance and he puffed his chest out before he started. All through the year we help Santa Claus get the presents ready for the next Christmas. It is a long and rewarding job which we enjoy doing. Unfortunately it takes a lot of time to read the letters coming in, and some are so badly written that we have to employ special elves that can read all kinds of hand-writing to decipher what they say. They not only have to deal with these childrens letters but medical prescriptions and maths teachers reports as well, so, as you can see, it is a very demanding job. Some other letters have careless spelling mistakes but normally we can deal with those, ourselves.
As soon as all these letters are deciphered and read the presents they ask for are gathered and made ready for despatch. Ours, and your, problem occurred when we got this letter. He formally handed over a crumpled note to Satan, who took it and read it out loud.
"Dear Santa, for Christmas I would like a train set, a Dreamcast thing and an Action Man. Could I have some chocolates as well, even though Mum said they rot your teeth. Thank you very much, Luke. (aged 6)."
Satan shrugged his shoulders, singularly unimpressed and made to hand it back.
Thats what we thought it said at first, but then something caught our eye about the first couple of words. Read it again.
Satan was about to lose patience with all this but he had a second look, "Dear San ." His voice trailed off. I see what you mean - Dear Satan, it says.
Im afraid it does. The lead elf concurred, gravely.
But why am I here. surely you can see the boy made a mistake, just got a couple of letters the wrong way round.
Oh, I agree. Agreed the elf. In fact, I cant understand why it never happened before.
So why cant you just send him his toys and forget about it ? asked Satan.
Extra-dimensional law. Were all covered by it. You, me, Santa, The big man upstairs, angels, ghosts. We all have a duty to the laws that govern us, and we all exist within the same extra-dimension, but we should be completely non-compatible with each other. A bit like DVD players on Earth.
Why am I here then, if that is the case ? enquired Satan, even more puzzled than when he first arrived.
Because this letter has found the one paradox within our laws. On page 10,317, chapter 4, sub-section 12, part 2, amendment b, it categorically states that "The person that the Christmas request is written to has to deliver the presents." I mean, you didnt realise that Father Christmas and Santa Claus were different, did you ?
Satan had to admit that the idea had never crossed his mind.
In fact every nation has their own version, so, in fact, there isnt just one that goes round the world, just the one they ask for.
But I have to go out there and deliver this boys present ?
You catch on pretty quick, dont you ? The elf didnt bother to contain the sarcasm in his voice.
Satan sat there without saying a word for several minutes. He was still trying to take in the situation, and not having luck, either. He didnt often set cloven hoof outside of his cosy domain, and when he did venture into normal peoples lives it was just to make sure they were coming with him. To take a present to some-one on Christmas Day was uncharacteristic, to say the least. He also thought it was a waste of time, the kid was probably going to grow up to be a thug or rogue.
There you go again, thinking the worst of everybody. The elf interrupted Satans line of thought. You still dont get it, do you ? By the time you see anybody they have already become the kind of person that you have to deal with. We, on the other hand, see people before they grow up. Sure, some do grow up and stop believing pretty much in anything, not necessarily us, just anything. They become cynical, manipulative and devious and then they go down to you. But others believe in something, grow up honest and true to what they believe, and I like to think that we help to create them and help them on their way, and, lets face it, one more nice person is one less pain in the neck for you.
Satan stood up, Lets get on with it, then. He sighed.
They showed him around the workshop and to where the goods inward were received. The lead elf explained to him that although they didnt make as many toys themselves, anymore, they had about a thousand elves working in places like Lego and Sony, to name but a few. After several hours of mind-numbing statistics about what the average life-span is of a doll and what children progress to at what age they had reached the outward dock.
I had to show you round first, because your costume wasnt quite ready. After all you cant go out like that, you could scare the boy to death ! the elf explained. As he finished speaking, three elves appeared with their hands full of material.
Satan looked at the bundle that they left in front of him. He then stooped down and picked up the big, heavy jacket. Green, I thought it was red. He noted.
Look, just because some American soft-drink company advertised their brand with a red Father Christmas and several million particularly stupid Yanks believed in it, does not mean that everybody does. Unfortunately we have had to move with the times and many of our delivery Santas have to wear red, but green is the traditional colour and still is in most places !
Satan almost fell over with the force of the rhetoric that came at him, I was only saying. He said, sheepishly.
Before too long, he was ready and he looked almost passably like Santa Claus in his voluminous coat and trousers. His boots had been specially adapted for his hooves and a hat and fake beard covered most of his face.
Okay, what are your reindeers names ? questioned the lead elf.
Satan looked a bit vague before answering, Right, I think Ive remembered - Harpo, Chico, Groucho er .er Dave, Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Titch.
The elf sighed and walked over to the waiting reindeer, Look, guys, You probably wont hear him call your names. In fact, by the time you get back even you might not remember your names, but dont worry about it - just get him there, make sure he doesnt mess up - then get him back, in one piece if possible, but if not then just in as few pieces as possible. Got that ?
All the reindeer nodded and he walked back to Satan. Ive cleared it with the boys there and theyre ready to go when you are.
Satan strode over to the waiting sleigh and climbed inside. The reindeer watched as he got ready to sit down and then charged off of the loading bay and into the night sky/ Satan hadnt actually managed to sit down before they left and he pulled himself up from the floor and attempted to tidy the undignified mess he had been left in. He thought he could hear sniggering from the eight reindeer, but they cant laugh - can they ?
The first thing he was aware of was the severe cold. Although he had been coached in what to expect, they seem to have left out the fact that he would not be able to feel his nose within minutes of his journey. He hoped that it would not spread. He was also dimly aware that he had no idea where the boy lived or how long it would take to get there.
Nice reindeer. He coaxed, hoping that they had all the answers.
He need not have worried. The reindeer had been doing this job for centuries, they knew everything about every journey, and if they could have replied to their passenger, they would have told him so. Actually, they probably could have replied, but they were secretly hoping that Satan would make a complete fool of himself, trying to show them how much more intelligent he was. They were a bit disappointed that he didnt.
The journey probably didnt take much more than half an hour but, to Satan, it had been almost an eternity. He had his eyes closed for most of the journey because he had found out fairly quickly that he couldnt stand heights. When they arrived on the roof of the house, they did so as quietly and as gently as possible. Not just because they didnt want to wake the family, but because the reindeer wanted to play a trick on Satan. They waited for several minutes, looking at him with his eyes tight shut and his hands clenching the sides of the sleigh.
Well, you getting out then ? asked one of them.
Satan opened one eye and realised that one of the reindeer had actually spoken. Oh, blast. He muttered. He tried to look casual as he composed himself, Wind gets in the eyes after a while. He whispered to them as he got out.
Yeah, tell us about it. Came a scornful reply.
Satan ignored it. He stepped out and took the small bag of goodies with him.
Dont forget, were on the roof. A reindeer volunteered.
Satan had just perceived that he was standing at a forty-five degree angle and gulped. It was icy and snow was falling, and he was on a roof, which wasnt the easiest of places to walk at he best of times. Very gingerly, he slid towards the chimney.
After several near catastrophes he reached the solid brick chimney and grasped hold of it gratefully. He then proceeded to climb down it.
The fire was still hot as he fell on top of it and he reminisced about home as it caught the seat of his trousers alight. He knew he couldnt enjoy himself for too long here, the sooner he did this job, the sooner he would be back home, anyway. With this in mind he clambered out of the hearth and dusted himself down. Just to his right, the Christmas tree lights blinked and chased each other and he opened up the bag and gently laid the toys down under it. As he looked up he saw the boy asleep on the settee. He must have crept down earlier on so he didnt miss Santa, he thought. He saw a glass of milk and a biscuit on the coffee table near the settee and took them, thankfully.
The little boy stirred and opened his eyes.
This could be a problem, Satan thought.
Thank you, Santa. He said.
No - I thank you. Satan replied.
The little boy smiled and fell back to sleep and Satan looked at him for a while and understood why the elves believed in what they did year after year, and he hoped with all his heart that he would never see this boy in his own extra-dimension.
He returned to the fire-place, wandering how on earth he was going to get back up, but no sooner had he questioned his next move, than he found himself back in the sleigh and flying off of the roof of the house, back to the elves base - and back home. He briefly thought about bringing the spirit of good will down with him, but dismissed it with a touch of sadness.
Oh, well. He mumbled to himself , still feeling a little of the seasonal warmth inside him. Merry Christmas, everybody.
Dear Satan first appeared in In Front Magazine in December 1999
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