As Father Christmas retires, who is up to the job of replacing him? For What a Character.
Father Christmas stretched in his chair and popped his aching joints. He needed a break. Every year the world's population increased and his workload grew heavier. Christmas list number 475,342,641 lay in front of him on his desk. If only kids showed more imagination. Even the elves tired of making games consoles, and it was no easy task to bore an elf. He glanced at Mother Christmas, happily ensconced beside their cottage's roaring fire patching one of his ten thousand red suits. He wished he could join her, but the warmth and soothing crackling sound always sent him to sleep. As he lifted Christmas list number 475,342,642, someone knocked on the front door.
“Come in,” he shouted. They never locked the door; crime was nonexistent at the North Pole.
Two ladies entered with a flurry of snow, then closed the door behind them. Both wore gray business suits. One was plump and middle-aged, while the other was slim and in her twenties. The older woman approached his desk, trailed by the younger. Both reeked of Chanel No. 5.
“Allow me to introduce myself,” said the older lady. “I'm Ms. Thistledown-Smythe, the new Director-General of UNESCO.” She gestured to the young woman. “This is Andrea.”
The young lady's face appeared lifeless. Given her flawless, freckled skin and emerald eyes, Andrea would be pretty if she smiled.
He stood and smiled, holding out his hand. “Welcome to the North Pole.”
“Congratulations,” said Ms. Thistledown-Smythe, ignoring his hand. She handed over a tiny presentation box.
He lifted the lid to find the smallest gold watch he'd ever seen. “What's this for?”
She pulled an envelope from her jacket pocket. “Perhaps I should have given you this first.”
Inside he found a letter with the subject title MANDATORY RETIREMENT. “You're sacking me?”
“Oh, no!” Her smile didn't reach her eyes. “You've served humanity faithfully for one thousand seven hundred years. The retirement age in most countries is sixty-five. You deserve a well-earned rest.”
“You're pensioning me off?”
She bit her lip and avoided his gaze. “Not quite.”
“What do you mean?” He folded the letter and slipped it into his pocket for later reference. He might need to pass this document to his lawyers for their perusal.
“The World Bank estimates the combined value of your cottage, Santa's Grotto, the toy factory, and attached outbuildings at fifteen million US dollars. You're too wealthy to qualify for a state-funded pension from any member state.”
Mother Christmas left her comfy chair to join them. “How are we supposed to live?”
Ms. Thistledown-Smythe shrugged. “You've been self-employed for almost two millennia. You should have put money aside.”
Mother Christmas frowned. “Well, I suppose we could sell the Grotto and live off the proceeds.”
Ms. Thistledown-Smythe blushed and examined her hands. “Actually, UNESCO has slapped a preservation order on Santa's Grotto. It's a World Heritage Site. You can't sell or alter it in any way.”
As a tear ran down his wife's cheek, he put his arm around her. “Come, come, dear. We have many friends. We won't starve.” He turned to Ms. Thistledown-Smythe. “But who will replace me?”
She stepped back and gestured to her young colleague. “As from today, Andrea will assume your duties.”
He blinked and gaped at the morose girl, whose fixed expression betrayed no sign of her feelings concerning this new appointment. “I beg your pardon?”
“Your retirement is a wonderful opportunity for UNESCO to sweep away the archaic, patriarchal traditions surrounding the holiday season. You'll be replaced by a figurehead better suited to this modern age of sexual equality.”
He shook his head. “I don't want to sound patronizing, but I'm an immortal, supernatural being with the ability to suspend time and teleport down chimneys. How can Andrea replace me?”
Andrea's lips curled up into something resembling a smile—the first emotional response he'd seen from her. “I am a sophisticated cyborg sent back from the future by Skynet to terminate John Connor.”
“Ahem,” said Ms. Thistledown-Smythe.
Andrea turned her head toward Ms. Thistledown-Smythe, nodded, then returned her attention to Father Christmas. “Correction. I am a sophisticated cyborg sent back from the future by Skynet to ensure all human children enjoy a happy holiday.”
He addressed Ms. Thistledown-Smythe. “You're replacing me with a cyborg? And what was all that about John Cooper?”
“UNESCO acquired Andrea secondhand. There's still a few glitches with her programming, but she successfully completed preliminary trials.”
He wasn't convinced. “Andrea, how can you possibly visit half a billion households within twenty-four hours?”
Andrea's weak smile didn't waver. “I am a Cyberdyne Systems Class TOK716B Cyborg equipped with an internal time travel device. After visiting each home, I shall travel back to the point in time when I began. There will be zero time lapse.”
He did some quick mental calculations. “If every drop takes fifteen minutes, that's five million days—fourteen thousand years. Are you immortal like me?”
“My nuclear power cell has a potential lifespan of one billion years.”
Father Christmas combed his fingers through his beard. “What about access? Can you teleport down a chimney?”
“In stealth mode, I can enter any building silently with minimal loss of human life.”
Ms. Thistledown-Smythe placed a hand on Andrea's shoulder. “See! She is more than capable of performing your former role. However, I'd like you to show her the ropes.”
His wife put her hands on her hips, and her cheeks glowed as red as holly berries. “How dare you! First, you steal my husband's job, and now you ask him for help.”
He patted her arm. “Hush, dear. Think of the children. We must do all we can to ensure they continue to have a merry Christmas.”
“Humph,” said Mother Christmas and stormed into the kitchen, slamming the door behind her.
He returned his attention to Andrea. “Should I address you as Mother Christmas from now on?”
“Negative. The title 'Mother' carries overtones of sexism.”
Ms. Thistledown-Smythe grinned. “I've uploaded the latest academic consensus on model societies to her hard drive. Andrea's actions will be completely objective.”
He scratched his head. “Citizen Christmas?”
“Negative,” said Andrea. “The term 'Christmas' is biased toward the Christian religion. You may call me Citizen Holidays.”
He cringed, believing Christmas was better before political correctness ceased its common sense focus on equality and evolved into a do-gooders' political obsession.
“Well, Citizen Holidays, let's begin here.” He gestured to the Christmas list on his desk. “Every year I receive half a billion letters. I read them, write replies, then list their requests—where reasonable—in the production ledger over there that the elves use to plan toy production in Santa's Grotto, and I add their names and addresses to my delivery ledger.”
Andrea examined the ledgers. “Do you have digital versions for upload?”
He shook his head.
“How inefficient.” She turned to Ms. Thistledown-Smythe. “With your permission, I shall create a Citizen Holidays' website and instruct all children to submit future wish lists by Email. It will significantly reduce reading and writing times. I'll have access to figures as they arrive, and my Email account will automatically reply, eliminating the need to write individual responses."
Ms. Thistledown-Smythe's eyes sparkled. “See, Father Christmas. She is extremely efficient.”
He sighed and opened the delivery ledger. “Here are the names, addresses and summarized toy list for each child.”
Andrea turned to page one. “Scanning.” She flicked through the pages so fast that her hair was blown behind her like a wind sock. “Scanning complete. Accessing school databases.”
He frowned. “Why are you checking schools?”
“A subroutine in my programming insists a naughty list be compiled. I am assessing their teachers' reports.”
“Naughty list? That's a myth. I've always delivered presents to all the boys and girls. After all, Christmas is a time of forgiveness and reconciliation.”
“Negative. Bullying, theft and other crimes cannot go unpunished.” She closed her eyes a second. “Cross check complete. Sixty-seven percent of children eliminated from the delivery schedule.”
“How wonderful!” said Ms. Thistledown-Smythe, beaming at Andrea. “See how efficient she is at streamlining.”
“Ah-ah. No buts. This is a 'can do' operation now, and I can do whatever I want.”
“What about the elves? If we make sixty-seven percent fewer toys, we'll need sixty-seven percent fewer workers.”
“Don't worry about that,” said Ms. Thistledown-Smythe. “UNESCO will establish retraining schemes to assist them in obtaining suitable employment elsewhere.”
“That means they'll have to leave their community at the North Pole where their friends and families live.”
“The whole world is undergoing great changes. They must be flexible, just like everyone else.”
Andrea opened the production ledger and scanned through. “Fifty-eight percent of toys unsuitable.” She grabbed Father Christmas' quill and letter pad. “The elves must halt production of the following toys immediately.”
As she wrote, he skimmed through her growing list. “You want the elves to stop making Barbie dolls?”
“They reinforce gender stereotypes.”
“What could possibly be wrong with a football?”
“Elitist competition should be discouraged.”
All the most requested toys appeared on her list. Father Christmas squeezed his eyes shut and imagined over half the world's children waking up to nothing, and the remainder running downstairs in excitement to discover only a single orange and a spinning top in their Christmas stockings. Somehow he felt this was a problem his lawyers would be incapable of handling effectively. A more direct approach was required.
“You know, Citizen Holidays, I've been neglectful. You've yet to see the most important part of our operation.” He walked toward the door. “Follow me.”
“The Grotto?” she asked.
“No. The stables.”
When he opened the door, a biting wind stung his cheeks. He shrugged it off and stepped outside, accustomed to the cold. Andrea had no problem keeping up as he trod swiftly across the driven snow, but Ms. Thistledown-Smythe trailed behind. He led them to the stable block, a structure three times the size of his hovel because it accommodated all nine reindeer and his sleigh. He halted beside the reindeer's paddock, where they were happily munching on bales of hay.
“Why do you say this place is important?” asked Andrea. “Sleighs are an outdated mode of transport. Yours can be exchanged for a Mi-26 helicopter with greater load carrying capacity.”
“You don't say,” said Father Christmas. He turned to Ms. Thistledown-Smythe. “I've been thinking.” He pulled the termination notice from his pocket and ripped it in two. “That's what I think about your plans.”
Ms. Thistledown-Smythe's forehead furrowed. “I am very sorry you've decided to take that attitude.” She addressed Andrea. “Deal with this problem, please.”
Andrea faced Father Christmas, her expression blank. “You have been scheduled for termination.”
He clicked his fingers once. Time halted, freezing Andrea and Ms. Thistledown-Smythe in place, though the reindeer continued munching their hay, their magic protecting them from his time-suspending spell.
He opened the paddock gate. “Oh, Rudolph!”
The chubby reindeer trotted over. “Yeah, boss?”
Father Christmas pointed at Andrea. “Please remove this hunk of scrap metal.”
“What's in it for me?”
He produced a fat, juicy carrot.
Rudolph licked his lips, turned his rear on Andrea, and kicked out with his super strength, sending the cyborg flying into orbit on a trajectory toward the sun.
“Hasta la vista, Baby,” said Father Christmas.
Once Rudolph had claimed his wage and returned to the paddock, Father Christmas clapped his hands. Time resumed.
Ms. Thistledown-Smythe's eyes widened. She glanced around. “Where's Andrea?”
Father Christmas smirked and gazed into the sky. “She's following a star in search of the true meaning of Christmas.”
Ms. Thistledown-Smythe glowered at him for a moment before storming off toward a white UNESCO Range Rover. As her chauffeur opened the door, she turned and shook a fist. “I'll be back!”
Featured in: "Fantasy Newsletter (December 28, 2016)"
WORD COUNT: 2000