HOLIDAY HORROR CHALLENGE HONORABLE MENTION
Santa looked up as a knock sounded on his door. “Sir, are you busy?”
“Just going over the lists again, Cinnamon. What is it?”
“Pepper’s here, and he says you wanted to see him right away when he got back,” replied the elf. A larger elf standing behind him waved and held up a small gift bag.
“Right, thanks. Come in and have a seat, Pepper. Close the door behind you.” As the larger elf came into the office, Santa added, “You can leave early, Cinnamon. I shouldn’t need anything else today. See you tomorrow.”
“Thank you, sir,” replied Santa’s secretary as Pepper closed the door. The big elf started to speak, but Santa held up a finger and waited for Cinnamon to leave. At the faint creak of the outer door closing, Santa nodded to Pepper.
“Okay, report. How did it go?”
“A bit of a mixed bag, boss, but good enough overall. I think it’ll work,” came the reply. “We were only able to get one of them interested, but he really took to it and got the job done without the others.”
“Which one?” asked Santa. “As if I haven’t already guessed.”
Pepper nodded. “Yeah, boss, it’s Rudy. Took no time at all for him to dive right in. We grabbed some seals that were about the right size and put the outfits on them, and when he was done there wasn’t much left.” He held up the gift bag he’d brought in with him. “Just a bit of hair and cloth scraps, plus teeth.”
Santa leaned forward and looked into the bag. “Not much there. That’s good. But I wish more than one of them had gone for it.”
“Honestly, boss, I don’t think you’ll get any of the rest now. They freaked out when Rudy dove in so fast. None of them will let him anywhere near them now, and when they’re frolicking around the corral and he comes over, they all stop and watch him until he goes away. Even the young ones aren’t playful with him anymore.”
“They’re that worried?” asked Santa.
“Well, he’s always been different,” said Pepper. “We got him from that far off herd, and they’ve all got those weird eyes and jaws. Rudy never really looked like the rest. Plus, he really dug in. We’d throw a seal over the fence, and he’d be face deep in guts before you could blink. Just like in that newspaper story you showed us, where those crooks used the pigs the same way. His muzzle was so coated, the boys decided to give him a crook nickname like the ones in the paper. They started calling him Rudy Red-Nose.”
“Hmm. Maybe it’s just as well he was the only one. If they all got like that, it might be hard to keep them flying right.” Santa pondered a moment, then said, “All right, we’ll go with it. Put Rudy into a separate corral so he doesn’t keep riling up the others. Build it around the far side of your new quarters, so it’s out of sight. And tell Sparky and Pip to knock off that Red-Nose stuff, too. I don’t want any attention drawn to this.”
Pepper held up his palms placatingly. “Don’t worry boss, they know. We all want to keep our fancy new digs and radios. They won’t risk losing that.”
Watch them anyway, and make sure. You wanted to bring on some help, so you’re responsible for them. You know what that means.” Pepper blanched, but nodded his agreement. Santa continued, “Now, on to the reason for all this. Things have gotten worse while you were away. Periwinkle is talking more about wanting to get out into the real world, and a few of the others are starting to listen to him.”
“Even after what you told them about Glitter and Saffron?”
“Remember, those two were a couple, so we told everybody that they’d both been in the same accident. Peri’s been saying that one unfortunate incident isn’t enough to prove a pattern that the whole outside is dangerous.”
“What do you want to do?” asked Pepper. “Turn Rudy loose and make an example of him, maybe?”
Santa shook his head. “We can always do that later, if we have to. For now, I want to keep the workers happy, if I can. You’re hard to replace and take a lot of time to train.”
“Another accident, then?”
“I had an idea about that,” replied Santa. “If the same thing keeps happening, it might look suspicious. This time, we’ll say that Peri left like he wanted, then give reports once in a while about how he says the outside is miserable. Then, if we get another defector, we can say that we sent them to check on Peri, and lose track of them both. We can say that the resources we have to put into checking up on him are why the rest can’t have more room and luxuries, too. That way we can play up how wanting out is selfish and messes things up for everybody left behind.”
Pepper chuckled. “Clever, boss. Good idea.”
“Thanks. Okay, start watching for a time when Peri’s alone, then grab him and feed him to Rudy. Keep it quiet. Gather up whatever’s left and get it to me for disposal. That was the problem last time, especially with two of them. It was awkward getting rid of them without anybody else finding out. This way, I can just take what’s left with me when I fly out and dump it then, in the outside.” Santa stood up. “Tell me when it’s done, and I’ll start spinning our little story.”
A few days later, Santa was in the workshop supervising when Pepper walked in the door. As Santa looked over, Pepper nodded and held up a shiny gift bag.
“Ho ho ho, my wonderful elves. You’ve been working very hard, so let’s all take a little break. I’ve got some news to tell you about Periwinkle…”