“Ho ho ho, little girl, ho ho fucking ho.”
“You’re drunk,” Louise said.
“No, my dear, I am not drunk. I am merely merry. It is Christmas after all.”
“You’re not merry, you’re drunk. You stink.”
The man let out a loud belch and leaned back in his chair, resting his hands on his large, red velvet covered belly. His once snow white beard was stained round the mouth, yellowed with old food and sherry. Louise stood in front of him, hands on hips, the fur trim on her short red skirt barely brushing the cheeks of her bum. It was much shorter than regulation and made her feel uncomfortable. The man leered at her and flung his arms open wide.
“Come and sit on Santa’s lap,” he said.
“Fuck off, pervert,” she shot back before storming out of the room.
The factory was buzzing and clattering as the elves worked overtime, loading dolls and bikes and footballs and scooters and new limited edition platinum DJ Hero, the ones in the authentic carry cases, into cargo boxes. Further down the line, worried looking little men with maps and lists scratched their heads as they sorted it all out into regions, as defined by local authorities. Every year they depended on the men from the council getting them the right lists in plenty of time, and every year they got it wrong. This meant that there was always a lot of sorting out to do at the factory. Louise wove her way through the conveyor belts until she reached the floor manager.
“How are you getting on?”
Dennis sighed and scratched his head some more.
“Well, I’ll be honest with you, it’ll be tight but I think we’ll make it. How’s the boss?”
Louise pulled a face.
“I’d best get on then,” he said as a whistle sounded and production groaned to a halt. Relieved, the elves stretched their aching fingers and started to chatter. Santa opened the shutter that blocked his office off from the rest of the factory.
“No fucking talking!” he yelled, throwing one of his boots. It hit one of the littler elves in the face, knocking her over and making her nose explode in a splatter of blood.
“Hey!” Louise hollered back. “They’re taking a break!”
“Yeah, well, two minutes, no more. In case you retards hadn’t noticed, we’re on a tight schedule here!”
“They’re allowed a break.”
“Yeah, well, if they want a break, you can send one of the little ones up here to see to their old Father Christmas, if not, get back to work!” He slammed the shutter down. The sweatshop slowly returned to silent work.
It was just their luck to have this Santa. No wonder Luxembourg had been so quick to get shot of him. The elves must have been tap-dancing in the street the day he left.
“Oh, we’re only a little country, we don’t need such an experienced Santa. No, no, you take him and we’ll have a trainee. We don’t mind at all.” American Santa, who had so much more to do and was always stressed, was firm but fair. Australian Santa was laid back in his board shorts and sunnies. German Santa was an Angel (well, ex-Angel). No, it was only British Santa who was an absolute bastard. The shutters flew open again.
“Louise!” he roared. “Bring me some fucking whisky! And a bucket of KFC! I’m wasting away here. Oh, and I’ve lost one of my boots and just stepped in a puddle of cold tea. Sort it out!”
By the time Louise battled through the wind and the snow, the fried chicken was cold and the grease had soaked its way through the bottom of the bucket. She stomped up to the office.
“About bloody time,” Santa grabbed the bucket from her, turned his back and started cramming the pieces into his mouth. The noise of his eating filled the room, nom nom nom. Then a split second of silence. A sharp intake of breath. Then all of a sudden he was coughing and spluttering.
“Help me, I’m choking!” Bits of deep fried poultry fell from his mouth as he opened and closed it like a fish, banging his fist on his chest to try and dislodge whatever was stuck there. “I can’t breathe!”
“Let me guess, you need the kiss of life? You’ve got no chance mate.”
Fifteen minutes later, Louise opened the shutter. A hundred pairs of frightened eyes looked up at her.
“Its ok, it’s just me,” she said, as they quickly returned to work. “Er, Dennis, can I borrow you for a minute please?”
They stood over the fat man’s prone body.
“Oh dear,” Dennis said, scratching his head. His scratching place was a little bald patch about half an inch long and two fingers width wide just to the right of his crown. “This is a bit of a situation, isn’t it?”
“He choked –“ Louise started. Dennis held up his hand.
“I don’t care to hear the details, the important thing is, it’s finally happened.” He smiled a little smile. “It’s a Christmas miracle!”
“What are we going to do now?”
“Why, my dear, its Christmas Eve. What do you think we’re going to do? We’ve got presents to deliver. We’d best get the reindeer.”
Louise led Rudolph through the silent workshop, his hooves clip-clopping on the wooden floor. He manoeuvred the rickety stairs with ease and squeezed through the door and into the office.
“Oh sweet lord,” Rudolph said when he saw Santa’s body rapidly cooling on the floor.
“He cho –“
“Shush. Ours is not to reason why. Now, let us take a moment to be thankful.” He bowed his head, Louise and Dennis followed suit. “Amen.” Rudolph muttered. He knelt down and slid his antlers under Santa’s body, bracing himself he bowed his head and rolled the fat man over until he was lying face down over his back.
“Jesus Christ, is he made of concrete?” he asked, shakily rising to his feet. Louise took his reins and they slowly made their way down the stairs, through the factory and out to the barn. The elves looked up in surprise.
“Nothing to see here people,” Rudolph called. “Drunk fat man coming through.”
They propped Santa up in the front of the sleigh and packed presents all around him to keep him upright. His head lolled back, his gaping mouth still packed with bits of chicken. Louise had filled his pockets with stones.
“Do you know where you’re going?” she asked Rudolph.
“Do I know where I’m going?” he tapped his antlers on the side of the stall. “In-built sat nav these things, of course I know where I’m going. I’ll let you know when the time is right, don’t worry. Now, have you got his security pass?”
Louise felt the plastic rectangle on a lanyard around her neck and nodded.
“Well I guess we’re ready to go then, aren’t we? Come on then boys,” he called to his colleagues. “Let’s get this show on the road.”
It was much easier than Louise expected. The pass let her in to houses with ease and no-one bothered her as she popped the presents under the trees and quietly left. Time passed in a blur as they moved quickly and efficiently, Rudolph occasionally shouting instructions to make sure she didn’t forget anything. It was two o’clock in the morning when they crossed over the Irish Sea. The reindeers slowed their pace, Rudolph leading them in a lazy circle. It was time. With a heave-ho, Louise pushed Santa from the sleigh. He toppled through the cold night air before landing with a barely audible splash.
“Well I guess that’s that then,” Prancer said. “End of an era.”
The reindeer cheered. Louise couldn’t help but smile.
“Come on, back to work.”
“Yes boss,” Rudolph saluted her and winked.