Two chubby Father Christmases sat in the bath together, one at the tap end, one at the plug end. It was a rather big bath. The steam from the bathtub swirled upwards and misted the large mirror on one wall, making the whole atmosphere moist and foggy. The Santas were chest deep in foam, their long beards had soapsuds on the ends. They were contentedly splashing each other with their flannels and toy boats. One popped loudly, sending a volley of bubbles up to the surface. They both laughed, until the smell hit them.
‘Phoar’ said one. ‘That stinks.’
‘Sorry’ said the other. ‘Couldn’t help it’
‘Right. I’m getting out’ and then he yelled loudly ‘Mother Christmas!’ Usually, this would bring his wife, scurrying into the room, laden with large, white, fluffy towels to wrap the two St Nicholases up in, and then she would help them to dry themselves. They continued to sit in the tub, casually flicking water at each other, listening for her rapid, footsteps – nothing.
‘Mummy Christmas. We’re ready to get out!’ shouted the other Father Christmas. They both sat still, in the now rapidly cooling water, waiting to hear Mother Christmas’ approach. Still nothing, until finally one said.
‘Brrr, I’ll have to get out, and get the towels.’ He pushed his hands onto the side of the bath, heaving his tubby, body to standing. The warm water had made his skin pink, and bubbles and water dripped liberally off him, as he stepped out onto the floor. He plopped from the room, across the landing to the cupboard where the towels were kept, leaving a trail of wet footprints on the carpet. Speedily, wrapping a bath sheet around his vast waist, he carried another into the bathroom and handed it to the other Father Christmas. They proceeded to rub themselves dry, and then liberally throw baby powder over their semi-damp bodies. The ensuing mess left the bathroom looking like the snow-covered landscape outside their home. They disappeared into their own rooms to get dressed, now leaving two sets of footprints in the scattered talc.
A few minutes later, dressed in matching tartan slippers, baggy red trousers and plaid shirts, they met on the landing.
‘Time for breakfast’ said one eagerly rubbing his hands together. They descended the staircase into the empty, brightly lit kitchen. Most days, Mother Christmas would be there waiting for them, asking ‘What’ll it be this morning boys? Pancakes, bacon and eggs?’, but today she was nowhere to be seen. In fact, the cottage was eerily quiet.
Whilst the Father Christmases took their bath, Mother Christmas had gone out into their snowy garden. Recently, Santa’s elves had built a massive trampoline out there, and whenever she got the opportunity, she liked to go on it. This morning, was no different, she had crunched across the frost hardened snow, the crisp, cold air pinching her cheeks, plumes of vapour escaping her mouth as she breathed. Quickly, she swept last night’s new snowfall off the trampoline’s black, shiny surface, and with an ungainly flop, manoeuvred herself up on to it. She started to jump, bouncing up towards the inky blue sky. Because this was the North Pole, in the winter the sky stayed dark even during day time hours. As she bounced, her long skirt billowed outwards, revealing thick stripey stockings, and long cotton bloomers, to anyone who cared to look. She only intended to be out for five minutes; she would be back before the Father Christmases needed their towels. Higher and higher she sprung, high above the cottage’s roof, reaching for the bright diamond stars. She leapt higher than she had ever done before, until suddenly, CRASH! Her head hit a solid object, and she was seeing stars of a different kind. She felt herself being pulled, her arms grasped by bony fingers, until she was safely laying on a stable surface. She waited until the whirling in her head stopped, and then opened her eyes. A man was crouching over her, he wore a black top hat, and had a long curling moustache perched under his pointed nose. His black beady eyes met hers, as he asked.
‘Are you alright? You took quite a wallop.’
‘Yes, I think so. I’m so sorry, I didn’t notice you there.’
‘No, you wouldn’t. I’m driving the Rocket Mark Two, fastest sleigh ever built.’ As Mother Christmas came to her senses, sat up and looked around her, she realised that she was sitting on the floor of a sledge. The stranger held out his hand and shook hers.
‘Lucifer Slugchewer. Used sleigh dealer to the rich and discerning. Pleased to make your acquaintance Mother Christmas.’ Before, she had time to wonder how he knew her name, he took her arm and solicitously helped her up onto the sledge’s purple, velvet covered bench seat. It was a luxurious vehicle, the outside frame was silver and glittering, and it was pulled by six, large blue bottle flies. Their wings rapidly flapped, and their iridescent blue and green bodies shone as the sleigh sped through the sky. Mother Christmas realised that the sled was racing through the sky, even as she came to her senses enough to look around her.
‘I’ve been wanting to talk to you for some time.’ Lucifer continued, but before he could elaborate, the sledge began a violent juddering. It stopped as suddenly as it had begun, and Slugchewer muttered. ‘Gremlins in the system. Better continue this when we’re back in my office.’ At this, Mother Christmas noticed three pairs of reptilian eyes peering out from beneath the opposite seat. As she looked more closely, she could see that they belonged to gremlins, their large, fleshy ears and mouths filled with small, pointy teeth made them unmistakable. She began to feel uneasy.
‘Actually, Mr Slugchewer, it’s kind of you to have picked me up, but I’m feeling fine now. If you wouldn’t mind just dropping me back at my cottage, please.’
‘No, no. I beg of you. Just a few minutes of your time at my showroom. I have an offer you’ll find hard to refuse.’ Mother Christmas just wanted to go home, but felt it would be rude to refuse her rescuer a little of her time. In any case, as they spoke the sledge was rapidly descending from the sky and it had stopped outside a large building, which appeared to be constructed entirely of glass. Lucifer leapt from the sleigh and gallantly offered his hand to help Mrs Christmas down from the sleigh. He led her to a door in the glass, and threw it open. There she saw a vast display of sledges and sleighs. There were all shapes and sizes, and at first glance they appeared pristine. However, close inspection showed that most had scuffs on their gilt trims or dents in their shiny paintwork. Slugchewer led her to a desk in the corner, on top there was a computer screen and on either side chrome and leather upholstered chairs. He pulled one out for her and indicated that she should sit.
‘Something to drink, Mother Christmas? Or may I call you Carol?’
‘No, I’m fine thank you.’ He slithered round to the chair opposite and sat down, carefully hoisting his suit trousers up over his knees.
‘The fact of the matter is, Carol, that the bottom has fallen out of the used sleigh business. All sorts of reasons: less witches and fairy queens around. Global warming melting the snow.’ At this Lucifer let out a wistful sigh. ‘So, I’m looking for a new venture, and I think that you can help me.’ Mother Christmas continued to sit stiffly upright on her chair, not saying a word.
‘You see you have access to the lists of presents, which children want. If we could visit the children’s parents before Christmas, tell them what toys their little cherubs want, ask them to give us the money and we’ll buy the gifts for Santa to deliver.’
‘We don’t need money. The elves make the toys.’
‘Exactly, but the parents don’t know that. We can give the elves a cut, to keep quiet and of course, you’ll get a generous percentage for supplying the necessary information.’
‘Absolutely not. It’s criminal!’
‘My dear Carol. You have no choice. You’re not leaving here until you agree.’ Mother Christmas was used to dealing with men demanding their own way. She prepared for a stand-off, or in this case a sit-in, she relaxed back into the chair, crossed her arms and said.
‘Fair enough.’ And with that there was a puff of smoke, and amidst glitter and sparkles a fairy appeared, it was Fairy Nuff.
Meanwhile back at the cottage, the two Santas looked for Mother Christmas, they searched every room, calling her name. When it became obvious that, she was not there, they decided to go to ask the elves if they’d seen her. Pulling on their fur lined wellingtons, they trudged through the crunchy snow to the barn where the elves lived and played. The first Father Christmas knocked on the barn’s wooden door, and it was opened by the chief elf, Robin. He was tall for an elf, being at least three feet, and despite years of experience working for Santa, he still looked young, with rosy cheeks and unlined skin.
‘Morning Father Christmases. What brings you here, so bright and early?’ The rest of the elves were seated around an old-fashioned, pot-bellied stove, eating their breakfasts. The unmistakable aroma of porridge hit the Santa’s’ noses, and their bellies grumbled in response.
‘Has anyone seen Mother Christmas this morning?’ One elf answered ‘She was on the trampoline a few minutes ago, I heard the springs squeaking.’
‘She’s not there now, and she’s not in the cottage.’
‘We’ll help you to look for her.’ And as one, the elves pulled on their curly shoes with bells on the toes, and furry waistcoats and all trooped out of their cosy barn. They searched the workshop where they made the toys, the storeroom where they kept the finished presents ready for delivery, the reindeers stable and finally the garden in case Mother Christmas had slipped and fallen. All to no avail.
‘I think the best thing to do is wait for a while, see if she comes back.’ Suggested Robin. The two Father Christmases nodded in agreement. They didn’t have a better idea. They plodded sadly back to their cottage. Without removing their boots (Mother Christmas always had to remind them to do this), they went into the warm kitchen.
‘Best make some breakfast’ said Father Christmas number one.
‘One egg or two?’ asked Father Christmas number two.
‘Oh at least six.’ And with that the original Santa, turned one of the burners of the gas hob full on, and placed a heavy black frying pan over it. The other Santa, pulled a tray of eggs from the fridge, cracking them on the side of the wooden kitchen table, and tossing their contents into the pan, dropping the shells where ever they landed. Neither had any real idea how to cook, Mummy Christmas had always done this for them. The high gas, and lack of oil in the pan meant that the eggs in the pan were soon a blackened, cremated mess emitting a bitter, acrid smell of burning.
‘Think they may be a bit overdone.’ Muttered one Father Christmas as he grabbed the pan’s metal handle. He howled in pain and dropped the lot onto the floor, he had forgotten to use an oven glove. The newly released flames leapt up and caught the bottom of his beard alight, which smoked and shrivelled, the heat and blaze speedily climbing towards his face. The second Father Christmas reacted quickly and threw a jug of orange juice over his friend’s burning beard. It did the trick, the fire was put out, but not before the kitchen’s sensitive smoke detector began to let out a high-pitched wail. One Santa stood with orange juice dripping down his face, and the blackened, remaining stubs of his once lustrous, white beard, repeatedly blinking trying to clear the citrous juice and smoke from his eyes. The other dragged a kitchen chair to underneath the shrieking smoke detector, clambered on to it, pulled the device open and removed the battery to silence it. At this point, a horde of elves came running in. They had heard the alarm and were rushing to the rescue. Robin reached up and helped Santa number one to descend from the chair, whilst another elf wetted a tea towel and started to clean the second Santa’s face.
Within minutes, the North Pole’s fire brigade arrived. Leading firefighter, Ebony Abara strode confidently in through the open door. She was tall, the buttercup yellow helmet perched on top of her head accentuating the fact. The double row of gold buttons fastening her uniform’s navy jacket confirmed her authority. Over this were red braces holding up yellow, soot- streaked trousers.
‘Everybody clear the building, into the garden.’ She instructed loudly; her voice clearly audible above the noise of the assembled elves. More firefighters followed her in, they were obviously well trained, one immediately turned off the still flaming gas ring, the others disappearing further into the cottage. Ebony half tailed, half ushered the crowd of elves and Father Christmases out and into the rear of the garden.
‘Everybody accounted for? Any casualties?’ She asked, but then she stopped ‘Two Father Christmases?’ The original Santa explained. ‘This time last year, I was very nearly unable to deliver the children’s presents, I was very ill with coronavirus. After that close shave Mother Christmas said we needed a backup plan. She said that since I’d started the Christmas Eve run, the number of deliveries had more than trebled, and my personal appearances at grottos and places had increased. She said I used to be busy for most of December, but now I was out collecting children’s lists for much of November too. We decided to appoint and train another Santa, to work out of the South Pole.’
‘And that’s me.’ Interrupted the other Father Christmas.
‘Hold on a minute, where is Mother Christmas?’ enquired Ebony.
Having searched the house, her team had filed out into the garden, and were now standing listening to the proceedings.
‘Not in the building. We’ve searched and it’s all clear.’ Responded a short thick set firefighter with a broad Scottish accent.
‘That’s just it, we don’t know, she’s disappeared.’ One of the Santas mournfully answered.
‘Walked out and left them, I should think, judging from the state of the house. There’s mud and orange juice all over the kitchen floor, egg shells and white everywhere, and the frying pan has burnt a ring on the table, there’s a scorch mark up one wall. Upstairs the bathroom floor is soaking wet and everything is covered in talcum powder. Wet towels are scattered all over the place.’ The Scots firefighter announced reproachfully. Both Father Christmases looked guilty[SW1] .
Back at the sleigh showroom, Lucifer Slugmuncher was also looking shamefaced. Fairy Nuff was giving him a proper telling off.
‘Lucifer Slugmuncher, how many times do I have to tell you to stop trying to drag good, honest people into your ridiculous schemes? You’ve tried selling glass slippers to Cinderella’s ugly sisters that didn’t fit. You tried to con Aladdin out of his magic lamp. Fortunately, he saw right through you. Not only are you a criminal, you’re stupid too.’ Lucifer looked down and pulled the end of his moustache nervously.
‘How else can I make a living? The sleighs aren’t selling.’
‘You get off your skinny, backside and work like other people. You wrap presents with Santa’s elves, you mine for gold with the seven dwarves, you can help Geppetto mend shoes, anything except try to involve other people in your ludicrous money-making plans. Do you understand?’
‘Are you going to punish me?’
‘What turn you into a frog or something? It’s no more than you deserve, but I’m worried that I’d offend the frogs. No, just keep out of trouble from now on.’ With an agitated wave of her wand, she disappeared in a flash, and Mother Christmas found herself back in her own garden, surrounded by elves, firefighters and Father Christmases. The original Father Christmas stepped forward and gave her the biggest hug. ‘Thank goodness you’re safely home. Where were you?’
‘Let’s all go in and have a cup of tea, and then I’ll tell you all about it.’ With that everybody crowded back into the cottage’s kitchen, and over steaming mugs of tea and chocolate biscuits Mummy Christmas told her story. From that day on, the two Santas were much more careful about putting their talc on after their baths.