Nick poured himself a Scotch; a late liquid breakfast after a well-earned lie-in. He flicked on the box. The racing would be on soon; he had a couple of runners at Cheltenham. His well-worn armchair groaned a welcome as he flopped gratefully onto its cushion that was soundly moulded to accommodate his generous rear after years of use.
There was a timid knock at the door. Nick ignored it and turned up the volume on the TV. A few seconds later there was another knock, this time accompanied by a gentle “ahem.”
Nick took a slug of Scotch and rubbed his eyes. Why couldn’t he just have five minutes’ peace? Didn’t they realize yesterday was his busiest day of the year?
The knock came again, a little louder. This time there was no “ahem.” Instead, the door inched open, just a crack, and a little head, which was no more than three feet off the ground, poked through the gap.
“Bugger off!” said Nick, pointedly not looking at the head.
The face on the head winced as it was joined by the rest of the little body stepping into the room. “Aha . . . yes. Um, very droll, sir. Ah . . . I don’t quite no how to say this, but, er . . . your first piece of correspondence has come in for the new year. You always say you want to read them straight away to prevent a backlog.”
“What?” Nick leaned over the edge of his chair and glared at his elf. “I just got back from the deliveries for this year. Who is it? What do they want?”
The elf stood up straight and tall — as tall as he could at three foot nothing — and did his best to look official. He pulled a crumpled piece of paper from his pocket and cleared his throat.
“It’s from a Michael Cooper, from Kent, in England.”
Nick frowned. “Don’t recall him on the list . . . Cooper? Cooper, Michael? Cooper, Michael . . . Kent? Kent! Ah, yes. I remember him. He was on the naughty list for repeatedly teasing his delightful baby brother. He cut the child’s hair, painted him once when the mother wasn’t looking, with real emulsion. And he was even caught dipping the baby’s teddy in the toilet bowl before giving it back to him. Horrible child, and very short for his age too. I suppose he wants to know why he got nothing.”
The elf shook his little head and shifted nervously on his feet. The bell on his hat jingled. “Not exactly, sir. Shall I read it?”
Nick rolled his eyes. “If you must.”
The elf cleared his throat again and began to read:
Dear Father Christmas,
Last night I saw you come into our house. I saw you sneak into bedrooms to leave presents for my brother and my mum, but not for me. Last year I saw you as well. You came into my room and I got a rocket and a Power Ranger. It wasn’t the right Power Ranger; I wanted the green ninja one, but you left the blue Megazord instead. Perhaps you should read my letters a bit more carefully in future.
Anyway, last year you went into my mum’s room too. I could tell whatever present you left her she really liked because she was squealing and giggling lots. When I asked her about it she said she got to sit on your lap and she got exactly what she asked for.
In September my little brother arrived and I’ll be honest, I don’t like him very much. He cries and whinges and he makes my mum very tired. I certainly don’t want another one.
So I’m telling you this, Father Christmas: If I find out tomorrow that last night my mum sat on you again and asked for another baby, I will tell every child I ever meet exactly what they get when they sit on your lap.
Michael Cooper (age nearly 10)
The elf folded the letter and put it back in his pocket. He looked up at Nick, who, despite the freezing temperature outside, was visibly sweating. The elf had his little lips pressed firmly together.
Nick gulped the last of his Scotch. “Ninja Power Rangers?” The elf nodded, his bell jingled. “Have we got any more of those?”
The elf nodded again. “We have the whole set, sir.”
“Good! Go to the workshop, wrap them all nicely, chuck in come candy canes and a football, some chocolate too, if we have any. In fact, grab whatever you can find!”
The elf nodded and hurried away.
A few minutes later, just as Nick was just pulling on his red coat and boots, the elf appeared at the doorway lugging an enormous sack behind him. “All ready, sir.”
“Thanks,” grunted Nick. “And, er . . . not a word of this to anyone.”
The elf shook his head, setting off his little bell again. “No, no. Of course not, sir.”
Nick grabbed the bag and headed out into the snow.
As soon as he was alone the elf poured himself a thimble of Scotch and threw it back. Hopping up into the armchair, he jumped up and down on the cushion to get it comfy and flicked on the TV with the remote. From his pocket he pulled out his phone and started to text:
Merry Christmas, Son. The old fart is on his way now with everything you asked for. Say hi to your mum for me. X