A Short Story by Richard Bleil
“And how is Vixen feeling?”
“She’s recovering nicely, Santa,” the elf replied. “She’ll be ready in plenty of time for Christmas.”
“Good, good,” Santa laughed. “It’s only a few days away. Will she be okay leaving little Antwe alone for a whole day while she’s out helping with the sleigh?”
“Yes, she’s told me that she understands. She’ll leave milk for Antwe while she’s away, and we’ll take great care of her while her mom is out.”
“And the elves?” Santa continues. “You know, they can’t spend all their time with little baby Antwe with Christmas so close! We can’t fall behind in our toys!”
“No problem, Santa,” Herbert the elf replies. “Vixen is taking care of that. She won’t let the elves with her baby for more than a few moments for a quick visit!”
Santa laughs at this. “I’d better go pay a visit myself!”
Again, Santa laughs as inside the stables, the stable elves are frantically running around, all looking up. Santa strolls over to Vixen, treating her to a sugar cube from Mrs. Claus’ kitchen. “What’s going on, Vixen?”
Reindeer can’t talk, not like you and I do, but they have no problem understanding and communicating with all of the ambient magic floating around the North Pole. Santa understands Vixen as she communicates, “Antwe just realized she can fly.”
Santa laughs, and looks up. As large as the dome is, it’s not easy seeing the littlest reindeer at first, but soon picks up on her as she’s clumsily flying too close to the ceiling and walls and bumping into them as she does. Santa looks down, and laughs as the elves try desperately to keep underneath of Vixen’s new baby with their arms outstretched ready to catch her, but succeeding only in creating a comic dance often resulting in them colliding and falling down as they do. Santa shakes his head and mumbles to himself as he laughs while heading out of the stable, “we should be live streaming this on BleilBanter.Blog if for no other reason than to finally get some eyes on his site.”
The entire complex is abuzz as tonight is the big night, the one night a year that everybody works so hard for. The sleigh was loaded up, and the reindeer hitched. The great dome was oiled and checked and ready to open for Santa’s big departure. Antwe is standing by Vixen who is giving him loving kisses.
“Vixen, is Antwe ready for her big day without momma?” Santa asks over a laugh.
Vixen nods and leans back down to whisper something in her daughter’s ear in Reindeerese. Santa climbs onto his sleigh and takes the reigns. He stands to address the gathered crowd, including the elves, reindeer and even Mrs. Clause as she sips on her hot chocolate. “This is the most important year,” Santa starts in his projection voice, “for this is the most recent year in history!!”
The crowd erupts into cheers.
“Open the dome, and let the dance commence!!!”
The great dome slowly opens as the reindeer and sleigh carefully levitate off of the ground. The elves all cheer in excitement as their crafts will be delivered into the hands of the children around the world for whom their skill have been applied. Snow filters through the opening dome giving the stables a magical atmosphere as the sleigh takes off, slowly at first as Santa maneuvers it to the proper orientation, then it disappears, leaving nothing but a rainbow. The crowd below erupts in new and heightened excitement, and the day of rest is finally with the Elves as they are in standby mode in case they’re needed. Slowly the dome closes, and everybody filters into the main hall for a glass of Mrs. Claus’ hot chocolate and cookies.
Except for Herbert. Just as the excitement of the night settles into joyous happiness, Mrs. Claus can’t help but notice that Herbert the Elf seems to be frantically running around, but he certainly isn’t enjoying the hot chocolate or even a cookie for that matter. She makes her way through the crowd to intercept his path as he’s running around, so deftly that he actually runs into her and lands on his back.
“Oh, I’m so sorry, Mrs. Claus”, he says.
“Herbert, whatever is wrong?”
Herbert knows he should tell her, but he’s afraid to admit that in the confusion of the excitement, he lost track of Antwe. It’s not the first time Antwe played “hide-and-seek”, but Herbert is a little worried about the little reindeer getting trampled underfoot in the celebrations. “Oh, uh, nothing, Mrs. Claus” Herbert says. “Just playing a game.”
Mrs. Claus smiles knowingly. “Okay, Herbert. Let me know if you need anything,” she smiles as she turns away.
The entire night of celebration was enjoyed by all except for Herbert. The weight not only of having lost Antwe, but the burden of keeping the secret made the night the worst he could remember. Throughout the night of gatherings, dances and games, Herbert spent his entire time running through the oddly quiet workshop, the empty stables, the ghostly quiet repairs department all in search of Antwe.
Finally, the night is coming to an end. Everybody is gathered in the stables, awaiting the big moment. Herbert stands alone in the back, the pressure almost too much for him to take. He doesn’t even notice as the great dome begins to open and everybody, or nearly everybody, breaks out in cheers. But Mrs. Claus notices the one elf who is not joining in the celebration.
“Herbert,” Mrs. Claus says as she walks up to stand beside him, “won’t you finally tell me what’s on your mind?”
Herbert breaks out in tears. He grasps Mrs. Claus by the pant leg and buries his face. “I’m so sorry, Mrs. Claus!”
“Good heavens, sorry for what?”
“I was in charge of Antwe, but I lost him. He’s been gone all day. I don’t even know where she is!!”
Mrs. Claus puts a reassuring hand on Herbert’s head. “It’s okay, dear,” she says reassuringly. “She’s with the sleigh!
Herbert looks up at Mrs. Claus. “She is?”
“Well, of course,” Mrs. clause responds. “It’s like a rite of passage. Antwe is a lot younger than usual, but it seems like every time there’s a new reindeer, they hide just before Santa leaves, and sneaks out behind them through the great dome, but they always return with the sleigh.”
Herbert’s eyes grow with the hope in his heart.
“It’s their first big flight,” Mrs. Claus continues. “We don’t have them help with the burden, but think of it, when Antwe returns, she will have proven that she has the strength to keep up with Santa and fly around the entire world in just one night. Look!”
Herbert’s eyes follow Mrs. Claus finger as it points to the great open dome, where Santa’s slay is just becoming clearly visible, and right there, in front of the slay and leading the way, in Antwe, with a proud Vixen watching her the entire way.
Herbert’s cheers were so loud that they drowned out the entire collection of all of those gathered to welcome them home.