It was Christmas Eve in the village. Mrs. Claus strolled about, her velvet skirt softly rustling. Strains of "Silent Night" could be heard from the choir at the other end of the plaza. Mrs. Claus looked up and down the street, smiling coyly. It was such a crisp night. The air fluffed white with her exhale and she turned toward the end of Main Street, toward the Aurora Borealis Bar. Just for a moment, she thought to herself. Entering the tavern, she took note of the festive candles listed in the greenery and the moose horns over the bar draped with gold garland. “All looks as it should, my dear Magpie,” she said in her sing-song voice to the woman behind the bar. “No one else is here yet, the bar’s empty,” Magpie replied. “Oh, that’s a relief,” sighed Mrs. Claus, her gently coiffed hair rising in two spots. “I get so tired from holding these in all the time.” Two small ivory-colored horns sprouted from her head. “You said it, sister,” replied Magpie, wiping lipstick off a glass. “So, what’s on the agenda this year, Mag?” Mrs. Claus said, sipping her whiskey sour. “Not a hellofa lot,” Magpie sneered back, her horns rising with her ire. She shifted her stance and seemed to twitch a little. “Now don’t get all riled up, Mag,” Mrs. Claus warned. “But it only comes once a year, this chance,” Magpie pleaded, pushing a dark lock of hair from her face. “No, it’s too soon since the last one. Absolutely not this year,” Mrs. Claus said firmly. “I bet you sneak bites when he’s asleep,” Magpie accused. “I certainly do not!” said Mrs. Claus, rising. “Well, the carolers are headed this way. Ready the hot chocolate, my dear, and don’t forget the luscious marshmallows for the top!” she crooned, back to the singsong voice effortlessly. “Whatever.” Three hours later, the sleigh was all packed. Ralphie, Senior Elf in Charge of Presents and Wrappings, hurried up to Mrs. Claus. “I can’t find Santa!” he told her. “Well, now, don’t you worry, Ralphie, I know all his hiding places. He’s probably stealing some last minute egg nog,” Mrs. Claus soothed. Ralphie’s forehead creased with worry. He had been with Santa for 140 years now and things sure were strange the last few decades. First the red, only red for Santa and Mrs. Claus. You’d think they’d get tired of wearing that color all the time, sashaying around like two top-heavy holly berries. Then it could only be velvet. Red velvet. Santa had developed some strange skin sensitivity. Next came the chimney thing. Mrs. Claus always had some excuse for Santa’s ever-changing behavior, but Ralphie was starting to wonder about it. “It helps him get over his claustrophobia,” Mrs. Claus had told them, “and the world isn’t the same trusting place—people don’t like to leave their doors open anymore.” Still, he had argued, it slows down delivery time, and then Santa has to bring along a portable cleaner for his suit where a child’s present could be. And what if Santa got stuck in a chimney and couldn’t get out? he had asked. “Hush now,” Mrs. Claus had purred, and that was the end of it. Mrs. Claus hurried straight to Aurora Borealis, the tavern teeming with Christmas revelers. Magpie was behind the bar, looking very satisfied. She was actually smiling at the customers as she handed out frothing, spiced nog. “May I see you, dear?” Mrs. Claus asked. Magpie sighed without looking at Mrs. Claus. “Sure.” In the backroom, Magpie couldn’t help rubbing her stomach in satisfaction. “I specifically told you not to,” Mrs. Claus said sharply, peering around the room. “Well, honey, it’s been a couple years and I had to satisfy the craving,” Magpie said, planting her feet and crossing her arms in front of her. “Take some, it’ll help with the effort of keeping the horns in.” “Where is he?” Mrs. Claus asked. An hour later, Santa strode toward the waiting sleigh. Ralphie was pale with worry. He stopped pacing and looked closely at Santa. He was walking oddly, as if there was a burr in his boot. “Everything ok, boss?” he asked Santa, fidgeting his hat. “Just fine, Rodney, Ho Ho Ho!” Santa replied. “It’s Ralphie, sir. Senior Elf in Charge of Presents and Wrappings,” Ralphie said, raising his chin. “Yes, sorry, son. Say, get me my pipe, would you? Ho Ho Ho! It’s time for my magical journey, Ralphie.” “Yes, sir,” Ralphie said hesitantly. It had been 10 years since Santa requested his pipe, said it made him cough. He hurried off Tessa, the Elf Second in Charge of Production, to get it from Santa’s desk. Meanwhile, Ralphie bundled Santa in, handed him the portable suit cleaner and raised his hand to signal the reindeer. Tessa arrived with the pipe, nearly tripping on her curled-toe shoes. “Have a lovely journey, my dear,” Mrs. Claus said, rushing to kiss Santa’s cheek. “Yes, yes, sled away! Now Dasher…” he cried. After Santa and the reindeer cleared the local airspace, Mrs. Claus walked down the street slowly, her skirt swishing. Magpie closed the tavern door, joining her. “Mag, we must remember next time to re-program the cloning machine with names and more extensive memory. We’ve used it so many times, the output’s getting sloppy. I think some elves are starting to notice, with all the eccentricities he’s got now.” “Yes, yes, I’ll remember,” Magpie said. “Is it all cleaned up?” Mrs. Claus asks, her boots crunching the frozen snow. “Nice and tidy,” Magpie answered, the dusty flakes swirling at their feet. The two walk on silently a moment, full-bellied, admiring the lights. “I tell you, this is the best planet yet. No one suspects a thing. It seems like every year, no matter how bizarre his behavior gets, the people just accept it, no question,” Mrs. Claus said. “You’re right,” Magpie agreed, her shiny horn nubs glowing in the reflection of flashing lights.
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