The real reason Santa's not making it this year.
"Christopher? I know you're hiding in here so you might as well come out now before I come and drag you out!" Her hands found their familiar resting spot on her wide hips and she tapped an impatient foot as she waited.
"How'd you find me?" Christopher pouted, poking his head up from behind a workbench.
Joy rolled her eyes, "There's not many places to hide out here, you old coot! Especially when you leave a trail in the snow wherever you go. Though I have to admit, I checked the barn first. The reindeer are most displeased with you."
Christopher ran a hand through his long, white beard, "They're not the only ones..." he grumbled.
Joy frowned and shook her head, "This room is usually abuzz with activity. Where are all the toys, Chris? For that matter, where are the elves?"
"I sent them on vacation."
"Vacation!" Joy sputtered, "Where?"
Christopher nervously licked his lips, "To the Bahamas..."
Joy closed her eyes and silently counted to ten. "Why did you send the help away, Chris? We need them to fill the quota and--"
"There isn't any quota, Joy," Christopher interrupted. His eyes, usually twinkling with merriment, flashed with disappointment. "Kids don't want the toys we make anymore. They want electronics and newfangled computer games. That's not what we do here!"
Joy bit her lip and nodded in understanding.
"Well then, we're going to have to change with the times, Chris. Hire someone to teach the elves computer programming. They can also start learning how to make electronic gadgets. And put Elash on marketing detail," Joy tapped her chin thoughtfully, "He has a good head for supply and demand..."
Reaching out a gloved hand, Joy gently tugged her husband from his hiding spot.
"That's all well and good for next year," Chris whined, "But this year we'll just have to cancel." His eyes flickered to Joy's face and then away again, like a scared snowbird.
"You can't get out of it that easily, you big baby! There might not be time to make toys but kids love gift cards. You can get a passel of them for their stockings."
"Gift cards, huh?" Chris pulled a red cap over his head and yanked it down to his ears.
"See?" Joy grinned as they shut the workshop door and tromped back through the snow, "Problem solved!"
Christopher kicked a clump of snow and sniffed, "I'm still not going."
"Why ever not?" Joy groaned in exasperation, pulling her hand from his.
"Well, you saw the reindeer...they're in no shape for flying. And my sleigh," he grumped, gesturing toward the barn, "The elves haven't waxed it--"
"That's because you sent them away!" Joy protested. She lifted a finger and wagged it in Christopher's face, "You'll just have to wax it yourself this year. And there's still," Joy glanced at her wristwatch, "Eighteen days to get your team in shape. Plenty of time!"
"I haven't checked the Naughty and Nice List..."
Joy cocked an eyebrow and placed a hand on her husband's shoulder, "What's wrong with you this year, Chris? You usually love your job. What happened to the jolly guy I married?"
Chris adjusted his spectacles and squinted at the sparkling white world around them. His mouth opened and then closed again with a snap.
"Come on, out with it!" Joy demanded, "What's the real reason you don't want to share the Christmas Spirit this year?"
"It's...the cookies," Chris sighed.
Joy blinked, "What about them?"
"They're all gluten-free!"
(word count 629)