A short story by Richard Bleil
“Mr. Claus, would you please hand me the sprinkles for the cookies.”
“Of course, Mrs. Claus”, Santa replies handing her the icing. “Christmas is neigh upon us, I’d better go check on the workshop.”
Tobin watches as Santa leaves. He picks up the sprinkles and hands them to Mrs. Claus as she puts down the icing. Mrs. Claus looks at the elf, and a sly smile crosses her lips as she notices the concerned expression on his face. “Something on your mind, Tobin?” she asks.
“I…I’ve never…Santa never makes mistakes. Why did he hand you icing?”
Mrs. Claus lets out a laugh. “Oh, he doesn’t?” she asks.
“Tobin, he doesn’t make many mistakes, I’ll give you that, but sometimes. He might give a child the wrong toy, or let one pass that doesn’t work right, or” Mrs. Claus laughs again, “he might give a toy needing assembly to a family where the father has no proclivity for assembly!”
Tobin looks at Mrs. Claus with concern.
“Let me tell you a story,” Mrs. Claus says. “This happened many long years ago, back when we first moved here to the North Pole. See, living in such an isolated area, and harsh environment, there are difficulties that we have to overcome. Like water.”
“Water?” Tobin asks. “But this is the North Pole; there is water everywhere!”
Mrs. Claus smiles. “No, Tobin, there is ice everywhere, but not a lot of liquid water. We need water to drink, and a source of heat to keep warm when the sun takes its long nap.”
“But we’ve never had problems with that,” Tobin replies.
“Not anymore, but early on, we needed a miracle,” Mrs. Claus answers. “And we found one, in the form of a hot spring.”
“A hot spring?” Tobin asks.
“Yes,” Mrs. Claus says. “Just about a mile from here is a hot spring, where an underground fissure allows hot lava close enough to the ice to melt it, creating a pool of clean water, more than enough for our needs, and heat that we can pump into the complex here to provide us with environmentally friendly heat under the dome.
“A long-distance relative of yours, Julian the Elf, found the spring. Some think it was luck, but I suspect there was a little bit of magic involved. When she announced the discovery to us, we were all so excited. We were barely getting by, and ready to give up the dream of living on the North pole, so the jubilation was immeasurable. Santa wanted to see the spring immediately, so Julian led him to the spring that very night.”
“Wait, so the spring is where the water comes from?” Tobin asks.
“Yes, and our heat, our power, our electricity, everything we need. It even provides enough heat for us to grow our food in the greenhouse. Should I continue?”
“There’s more?” Tobin asks.
“Oh, yes,” Mrs. Claus replies, “see, there was a problem. See, Julian was lucky that the beast wasn’t there when she discovered it.”
“B…b…b…BEAST?” Tobin asks.
“Oh, yes,” Mrs. Claus replies, “the largest, meanest looking beast you can imagine, covered in fur, with eight eyes, six tentacle like arms, four massive clawed feet on huge legs, and sharp hooked and barbed fangs inside its seven foot maw dripping with sickening yellow venom. It has never been known to science, and today is still known only by those of use here. It stood between Santa and the spring, releasing an angry growl, and attacked Santa and Julian. It captured Julian easily, and would have captured Santa as well, but fortunately he likes old thread-bare clothing that he finds comfortable. His coat tore off giving him just enough time to escape. When he returned alone to the pole, he told us the story of the evil beast that he named a ‘Pfeifengaf’ for its horrible howl.
“He terrorized us, and our hearts all went out immediately to Julian. Almost half of the elves volunteered to go with Santa on a rescue mission. We don’t really have weapons here, but we have toy swords, bows and arrows, so with some modification, they all set off to confront the Pfiefengaf.”
“Wow,” Tobin says, “Julian was lucky that Santa rescued her!”
“Oh, but he didn’t,” Mrs. Claus said. Tobin looks at her, confused, before she resumes. “He didn’t return that night. None of them did. The next day, the anger among the elves grew, and nearly all of them rallied and were talking about going to rescue them all. That’s when I stepped in.
“I told them that I would go myself. They wanted to go with me, but I told them I would go alone. They were so angry, they almost wouldn’t let me go, so I gave them a chore. I told them to make plans to carry out if I didn’t return in two days, explaining that the time would allow them to come up with a strategy and build what they would need, and I went out towards the spring.”
“Wow, you’re really brave,” Tobin said.
Mrs. Claus laughed. “Not really, my loved ones were in trouble.”
“So, what happened?”
“I walked toward the spring, and found it easily enough, and sure enough, the Pfeifengaf was there, more frightening than Santa foretold, angry, and glaring at me. I saw Santa and all of the elves that went with him, including Julian, in an ice cage the Pfeifengaf had created. Sure enough, it lunged to attack me.”
“What did you do?”
“I sat down.”
Tobin looked confused. “You…you sat down?”
“Oh, sure,” Mrs. Claus says rolling out the dough for another batch of cookies. “I knew I couldn’t defeat it, and frankly, I didn’t want to. My goal was not to fight it, or rescue Santa and the elves. I just wanted to understand.”
“But there is no understanding,” Tobin insists. “It’s just a monster.”
“Oh, really?” Mrs. Claus asks smiling. “By sitting, I was taking a position that was not threatening, and from its expression, I think the Pfeifengaf was more surprised than you are. So, it stopped its attack. It stood and stared at me for a few moments, then it sat with me.”
“The monster sat?”
“And what makes you think it’s a monster?”
“Well, it’s ugly, mean looking, and angry.”
Mrs. Claus laughs. “It’s none of those things. I offered it some cookies as a gesture of good will and friendship, and when it seemed like it trusted me a bit, I pet it’s fur on the shoulder. It touched me on the face with one of its tentacle arms, and eventually stood up. It started to walk away, then turned and looked at me, as if waiting for me to follow. So, I did, and it led me to its nest.”
“Yes, nest,” Mrs. Clause says. “The Pfeifengaf was no monster at all; she was a mother. The spring was her source of water and heat, and she was just protecting her children.”
“So,” Tobin starts, then stops and thinks for a moment. “So, Santa just…didn’t know?”
“Exactly,” Mrs. Claus said warmly. “He assumed, and he was wrong. His response was wrong, and his assumption of the Pfeifengaf’s motive. A little bit of magic allowed us to communicate, so the Pfeifengaf and her family could stay safe and have everything that they need, Santa and the elves were freed, and we could tap into the spring for our needs as well.”
“Wow,” Tobin says. “And all because nobody really understood the creature or what it wanted. What ever happened to them?”
“Oh, they’re still around,” Mrs. Claus says. “They’re very shy, so we gave them a home here in the complex to share with our good fortune.”
“The limited access wing!” Tobin blurts.
“Yes, would you like to meet it?”