Venspu would have knocked but when he saw Santa at the window he decided against it. He was looking outside, his head resting on his forearm which was pressed against the glass.
“What is it, Venspu?” Santa asked, startling him.
“I can come back,” Venspu began, “it’s nothing.”
“Nothing wouldn’t have led you here tonight, not this night,” Santa said.
Santa’s back was still turned, but Venspu could see his eye’s reflection. They never lost their twinkle, no matter how tired he was. Remarkable, he thought.
“Speaking plainly, the elves are tired,” Venspu said hurriedly. “There’s six days to go. I’ve crunched the numbers. It’ll be close, but if you give them a break tonight, we’ll still be finished before the big night.”
“Think so?” Santa asked, finally turning to face his lead foreman.
“I do,” he said, careful not to betray his hope.
“And just what would the elves do with their time tonight if they didn’t work?” Santa asked.
Could he know? Venspu thought. No. There’s no way. Not this time.
Exhaling, Venspu said, “Sleep, Santa. They’d sleep.”
Santa loved the elves. He couldn’t understand why they were so ready to turn on him. He only enslaved them because he knew they would be happier working for him than facing the cold reality of the human world. Yet here was one of his finest workman, Venspu, looking him dead in the eye and lying. As a tear formed, Santa turned back to the window.
“Give them the night off,” Santa said.
“Thank you, Santa,” Venspu said, adding, “You can count on me to be sure they’re ready for work at first light.”
“Good night, Venspu. You may go,” Santa said, only too aware of the slaughter to come.
“Shhh,” Tinsel mouthed to Mercutious, as he deftly and silently approached his target. Mercutious sat opposite the campfire from Jupton. He couldn’t watch, but neither could he look away as Tinsel, the leader of the Elven resistance, lined up his first officer’s pointy ear for a playful–though painful–flick.
“Ahh!” Jupton cried, as he leaned forward and away from the assailant. Seeing Tinsel standing there with an ear-to-ear grin infuriated and invigorated him. “So you’re back! This is good. How does it look?”
Tinsel informed the rebel Elven leaders that since their last attack, Santa had doubled the number of guards at the wall.
“Were you able to get a response from Venspu? Do they know tomorrow is the day?” Jupton asked.
“I was. They do,” Tinsel replied.
“So this is it,” Jupton pronounced. “The end of Christmas. The end of Santa’s unlawful reign, and the end of the enslavement of two million innocent elves.”
“God willing,” Tinsel said. “You know the plan. We know the plan. Stick to the plan. Venspu wrote that he only has two thousand elves willing to fight. Of those, he personally vouches for only fifteen hundred,” he stopped, harnessed a grave look and continued, “that means the fight is ours.”
“The fight is ours,” muttered the small group of officers in unison.
“Santa is not going to go down easy,” Tinsel lectured. “He has his lists. He remembers everything.” A few of the men chuckled. “What?” Tinsel asked.
Mercutious couldn’t help but sing, “He’s making a list, checking it twice.” Soon the others joined in, “He’s gonna find out who’s naughty or nice.”
A thunderous laughter erupted among the rebel leaders.
“That’s funny,” Tinsel assented. “You’re right. I talk too much. Get some sleep. Be ready at first light.”
“Merry Christmas,” he said, walking into her room.
“Daddy,” she began, “you know what? I heard Santa last night.”
“I did, too,” he confirmed. “Let’s go see if he brought any presents.”
She led the way to the tree and let out a giggle before she reported her findings.
“I wanna open this one,” she said, pointing to the biggest present.
“Actually, it’s better if we start with the gifts from relatives. Then you can open the gifts from Santa. Is that a deal?” he offered.
“Deal,” she agreed.
“Okay then. Let’s start with Uncle Sam’s gift. What do you think he gave you?” he asked.
She struggled with the bow until, at last, it relented, at which point she lifted the heavier than expected box. She sensed a liquid inside, and like any American child, guessed with more excitement than adults have the capacity to fake, “Is it…wah-der?!”
“Yes child, it’s water. The one thing in life you’ll never be without due to your ‘kul-cherr and hair-i-tij’. Sam waited all year to surprise you with this once in a lifetime gift,” he laughed to himself, head shaking.
“I don’t know,” he answered, “why don’t you open it and find out?”