Not the Naughty List

“Get back to work,” a fat voice bellowed.

Sherry Wintersleigh yawned, stretched her arms wider and opened her eyes.

“What, what, what,” she began.

“He’s always like this,” whispered a passing elf.

“But Christmas is…,” Sherry said. The shadow standing over her shook his finger at her.

“You heard what I said,” bellowed Santa. “On your feet.”

“Finished,” whispered Sherry as she stood. Santa scowled down at her.

“Well, ho, ho, ho,” he replied. “To the mailroom. Now.”

“But, but…” said Sherry as she uncurled her arms and rubbed her eyes.

But by then Santa had gone.

“Better hurry,” said another passing elf.

So many passages, so many corridors, so many wrong turns, Sherry said to herself, as she wandered, only occasionally lost now through the North Pole.  

Until finally she found it. Mail Room. She tried the door handle. It turned and clicked but didn’t open. She looked up. There was a handwritten sign that said, Press for entry.

She pushed the door bell.

“Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells,” the door chorused.

Christmas is so over for you now, she thought.

She opened the door, pushed aside a Santa sack which and stepped inside.

“Glad you could make it,” said a friendly voice.

“Alabaster,” she said. She couldn’t see him for the room was filled, floor to ceiling with Santa sacks. She pushed another sack aside to see better. It fell to the floor with a gentle bump.

A wizened grey elf was crouched over a trestle table. His face flickered. Santa’s administrator. She heard scratching and leaned forward to see. He was writing.

The candle next to him sizzled. Sherry jumped.

“What, what, what,” Sherry began.

“Sit down, and I’ll tell you,” Alabaster said.  

Sherry crept forward, bumping into and stepping over sacks, pulled out a folding chair and sat opposite.

“All these letters,” he gestured around him.

The mail was late this Christmas, Sherry thought to herself.

“Are from children who,” he paused.

Sherry leaned forward.

“Don’t believe in Santa anymore,” he finished.

Sherry looked down at her hands. Oh no, she thought. Not the Naughty List.

Alabaster looked up and smiled.

“No, not the naughty list at all. An opportunity instead.”

He held up a letter.

“We write back to them. We tell them the truth.”

Sherry gasped. The Naughty List was now starting to look like the best job at the North Pole.

“What, what, what do we tell them?” Sherry whispered.

“That the person who gave them the present works for us. And yes sometimes they get gift-giving wrong. But only you can make it right. By giving love and joy and peace until next Christmas day.”

Sherry stood up, clapped her hands and shouted for joy.

Alabaster pushed a pile of letters, a pen and pad towards her.

Sherry began writing.

Book Meet

Buff notebook, fine point pen.

A grubby dog-eared novel more well-read than me.

“Moby Dick” by Herman Melville. I’d already made sure they had a spare.

All I had to do was wait. I kept my head down. The only sound I could hear was the scratching of my pen on paper.  I was meant to be making notes. But I was making doodles that only a shrink could understand. 

Every so often I reached out, pinched a page between my fingernails. I had to. My hands were too wet. Each time I would shake my fingers and palms free of sweat. And every so often the pen would slip out of my hand. 

I tried not to listen to my breathing.  

He’d already missed the first meet. If he didn’t make this one, the fallback, we’d have to put out an alert. 

I’d chosen my position carefully. Chair and table backed by a reflective glass window. So I couldn’t be seen from the street.

Bookshelves to my left where pensioners glided like ghosts leaving everything untouched.

In front of me, teenagers at reception jostled, emptying and refilling backpacks. 

Another quick look. No nameless face caught my eye and stared that microsecond too long.

No couples speaking with mismatched gestures and words. No one hanging around looking falsely lost waiting that minute too long. 

There’s nothing to worry about, I thought.

Besides there’s no need nowadays. That was my cue. I looked up. There was a black globe glowering at me from the ceiling. CCTV. 

I smiled to myself. It didn’t matter anyway. What we were about to do was so innocuous, so innocent that it couldn’t possibly arouse suspicion.

Unless he doesn’t turn up. Or makes a scene and botches the meet. 

I quickly looked at my watch.  Your time starts now, I said to my nameless contact. A twelve minute window to make the meet. 

A few eternal moments later, I heard soft footsteps. I kept my head down.  

A rustle of paper announces my visitor. “Excuse me,” his voice purrs, “was this seat ever occupied?” 

Perfect. The game is on. 

“Not by me,” I muttered back. 

Swiftly I see my notebook moved. And replaced by a beige A4 spiral notebook. 

Wait a moment, I thought. That’s the confirmation? 

Then Moby Dick disappeared. Replaced by Jane Eyre. A copy in worse shape than mine : Charlotte Bronte with a broken spine. 

Too late for outs now, I thought. Even if he’s sky written his intention in mile-high capital letters. 

I swapped back both notebook and novel. No deal pal.

 I heard the sharp rasp of his breath.

His copies disappeared.

His footsteps quickened and faded away. 

Beep-beep-beep. The librarians picked him up before he could ever escape.