Santa’s normally pristine workshop was filled with purple. One of the elves had seen news coverage of a ‘violet coup’ in a land somewhere very far from the North Pole and spread the word to the others. They had demanded a fair wage (as if any of them had ever been paid), shorter hours (as if they had the luxury of wasted time when there were billions of toys to make), and health coverage (as if they could even get sick).
This was why he had outlawed cable television.
Santa knew the elves had no chance of pulling off Christmas without him, even though they were still six months away. His carefully planned schedule had been thrown out. Rather than assembling new toys the elves were redecorating. Trains painted mauve. Plum-colored ribbons tied in doll’s hair. Magenta bunting hung from everything on Santa’s desk: his sleigh bells, his polished leather belt, his wooden horn. Even the reindeer alcove had been draped in violet for Christmas’s sake. The beautiful red and green color scheme of the workshop had been violated.
On top of their revolting color choices, they were wasteful. Glitter covered the workbenches and floor where it had spilled when the elves made their protest signs. Not one of them lifted a finger to clean the mess, or recover the excess. They just traipsed through the sparkling piles and left trails like discarded strings of lights behind them.
Somehow Santa had to quash the insurrection and get Christmas back on track before it was too late to recover. He glared out from within a cage that stood in the center of the workshop like he was a captured monster on display. Dim they might be, but the traitors had found a way to contain him. They’d worked pagan magic into the iron bars with mistletoe and he had a good idea who had taught them that trick. He couldn’t even get near the bars without burning himself. First step: get the South Pole out of this prison.
The elf nearest him was bent over a workbench, tying a bright purple ribbon around a candy cane that smelled like mulberries.
“Twinkle!” Santa bellowed.
The elf’s head snapped up, sending his blond curls bouncing under his purple pointed hat, then he frowned. “I’m Winkle.”
“Let me out of here.”
“Why would I do that, Fat Man? We’re happy for the first time ever!” Winkle brandished his repulsive candy cane as if it were a badge of honor.
Santa gritted his teeth. Part of their rebellion entailed not calling him by proper name. As if his stocky build was his fault, eating cookies was part of his job! “If you let me out, I’ll give you a vacation.”
Winkle’s bright eyes widened, and he smiled with child-like glee. For just one moment, Santa rejoiced that it would be so easy, then the elf’s expression fell. “You’re lying.”
“Look around you. Everything is wrong.”
Winkle panned his gaze around the workshop. Rather than frowning in dismay, he grinned. “Everything is great. Purple is beautiful.”
Santa blew out a heavy sigh, sending his moustaches waving. “You won’t be able to meet the deadline. Christmas will fail and children all over the world will be crushed.”
Winkle shrugged. “Flicker says you’ve been babying the humans too long. They could use a little disappointment.”
Santa hadn’t believed until that moment that they would let everything fall to pieces. The situation was much worse than he’d feared. If enough children stopped believing in Santa Claus, the magic that held this place, and him, together might unravel.
He moved forward until the iron bars burned his skin. “I won’t allow you to ruin Christmas!”
“What are you going to do about it, Bowl Full of Jelly?” Winkle smirked, and then frolicked off to a distant corner of the workshop.
Panting, Santa backed away from the bars. He had to take the threat more seriously, that was clear. He needed an actual plan. What if he could make them fight among themselves? He turned his attention to the next nearest elf.
She had her black hair knotted in an intricate braid atop her head, tied with, of course, a huge purple bow.
She blinked up at him, long lashes fluttering. “I’m Shimmer.”
“Of course, Shimmer. I’m sorry. There are so many of you and just one of me. Ho-ho-ho.”
“I’m not laughing, you jolly old fuck.”
Santa swallowed the insult down before he exploded. “I wanted to ask you, have you ever thought about management? You’ve got the talent. I can tell by the way you paint that horse.”
She had lowered her paint brush and was leaning toward him, eyes widening.
“Flicker has convinced all of you that she’s the one that should lead now that I’m out of the way, but I don’t think she’s the best choice. I’ve had my eye on you for a long time…” He recalled her name after only a brief pause. “Shimmer.”
Shimmer pursed her lips in thought. “You really think so?”
“Of course! You’re a far better leader. I’d even thought of making you head elf next year.”
“Hmm.” She raised her brush and began to apply another coat of lilac paint to the wooden horse. “Seems like an awful lot of responsibility.”
Santa clenched his jaw and tried his best to put on a cheery face. “It is, but it’s worth the hard work.”
She paused mid-stroke. “What does being in charge get me?”
“You get to tell everyone else what to do.”
“Fat lot of good that did you.” Shimmer smirked.
He took a breath to reassert his calm. “Haven’t you wondered what it was like to fly around the world and be loved by billions?”
She shrugged. “Not really.”
Santa lifted a hand to rub his forehead. Mostly what being in charge got you was irritating headaches.
“How about marshmallows?” Shimmer asked absently.
“I like marshmallows.”
Clearing his throat, he lowered his hand. “Well, naturally. I left that part out because it’s so obvious.”
“And gumdrops?” She stared at him, hard.
Santa felt jolly for the first time all day. “In every color of the rainbow…”
* * *
Santa Claus spent the rest of the afternoon telling every elf that would listen about all the perks of being the leader. Candy canes in exotic flavors. Chocolate whenever you wanted it. All the caramels you could put in your mouth at one time!
The elves milled around the workshop in groups. Every one of them yelling and shouting that they wanted to be in charge. Problem was, now they were completely ignoring him. He’d done his job too well, it seemed. The dissent he’d sown had grown into a terrible beast he couldn’t control.
Santa had been doing this job a long time. He had a responsibility to the children of the world that believed in him—to deliver gifts on time, and with the proper amount of Christmas cheer. He glanced around the workshop for something that might help him escape and his eyes paused on the wooden horn sitting atop his desk. He grumbled at the curls of magenta fabric wrapping the ancient instrument. The horn was a reminder of what had come before taking the job as the patron saint of children.
The elves quieted as Flicker stormed into the workshop, interrupting Santa’s pondering. The secondary rebellion would be short-lived; the other elves were too afraid of her. Flicker came to a stop in front of the iron cage, her deep amethyst dress swirling about in irritation. “What’s the matter Santa, your lords stop leaping?”
Glaring, he approached the bars but stopped short of where they caused him pain. “Flicker, this has gone on long enough. Let me out.”
She shook her head, brown ringlets flying. “Your time is up, you paunchy bearded sleigh jockey. You’re on the naughty list.”
“There’s so much left to be done before Christmas. We barely make the deadlines on good years, we can’t afford the chaos you’ve created.”
“Those whining brats don’t deserve any presents. We’re going to sell toys on the internet from now on. Violet toys.”
Santa gripped the bars and held on, though his skin seared at the touch of cold iron. “You can’t do that.”
“Watch me, St. Dick.” She whirled and headed for his desk.
He backed away from the bars, blowing on his hands to soothe the burning, and watched her. She dropped his personal belongings into a wooden crate, one by one. His sleigh bells jangled. The buckle of his wide leather belt clanged. His fuzzy red hat joined them without a sound. And so on, with every item that defined Santa Claus.
When only one item was left on his desk, he held his breath. She picked up the wooden horn, inspected it briefly, and then shrugged before pitching it into the box. It landed with a hollow thud that set his teeth on edge. None of the elves seemed to notice the sound.
Flicker picked up the box and walked back to the cage. “You’re fired.” She dropped the box and flounced away.
Santa stared at the wooden horn. It had finished wars that men no longer cared to remember. He bent to retrieve the horn through the bars of the cage. The iron burned for only a second. His fingers curled around the ancient wood. He hadn’t held the horn in hundreds of years, but now that it was in his grasp he remembered the bloodlust. The surface was worn smooth with age and the magic came alive at his touch. He put the narrow end to his lips and blew.
The sound that came out of the horn was terrible. A bottomless honking bellow that shook the workbenches and set all of the toys atop them rattling. The elves froze.
From the reindeer alcove, a dozen deep voices answered his call. Dasher, the only deer Santa could properly see, hunched over until his antlers scraped the ground. He shook convulsively, several times. His hide bulged and warped as if something underneath was trying to escape. Dasher’s head suddenly tilted upwards, the muscles of his neck straining. His lips pulled back, showing a mouthful of pointed teeth, and a terrifying roar broke free.
Santa watched in awe, and no small measure of disgust, as the elves were torn to bits and consumed by the marauding herd of reindeer.
* * *
Santa tore down every violet decoration the elves had hung and burned their protest signs. He swept up the spilled glitter and copious amounts of reindeer poop. When the workshop was in some semblance of order once again, Santa sat at his desk and leaned back in his chair. He stared at the wooden horn, once more quiet on its stand. How many more centuries would it before he had to call on the Wild Hunt again?
With a shake of his head, Santa picked up his phone. He didn’t have to dial.
“I need your help,” Santa said. His voice traveled along mystical pathways to find his intended recipient.
Before he could repeat the plea, she materialized in front of him, clad in fur-lined red velvet and holding a distaff like a sword. Mrs. Claus peered around the silent workshop. Her sapphire eyes narrowed when she focused on him. “Difficulties, Yule father?”
After decades beyond counting, she could still make his heart beat faster just by being in the room. “I had to deal with an uprising, but you wouldn’t know anything about that, would you?”
She chuckled, her healthy bosom bouncing with good cheer. “I might have added a surprise for you in the last batch of elves.”
Santa folded his arms and peered down his nose at her. “They were psychotic.”
Mrs. Claus winked and tilted her head. “All these years pretending to be a jolly old elf. I figured you’d be bored.”
He was bored, more often than not, but there was no going back to the identity he’d left behind. The fury and the bloodshed belonged to a world that no longer existed. “Someday your tampering will be my undoing.”
“Not this year, my darling.” She spread her arms, spirals of green extending from the tips of her fingers and spreading to every corner the workshop.
Eddies of magic swirled and coalesced to form the small bodies of elves. They were curled up as if asleep and woke a few at a time, blinking at the red and green lights strung from the ceiling. The elves stretched, giggled, and got straight to work.
Christmas was back on schedule.