What's In Store, For Santa Claus?
The queue for Santa's Grotto consisted of just a few people. It had been a lot longer but the day was almost over and most of the supplicants had now been processed. Hardly anyone paid any attention to the few remaining, except for a boy and a girl at the end of the line who caused one or two raised eyebrows. This wasn't just because they were on their own, unshepherded by the mandatory responsible adult, but rather because they were wearing the same scarf. As Peregrine (the boy) would have pointed out, that is not the same thing at all as wearing similar scarves.
Inside the Grotto, Santa was looking forward to concluding what had definitely been a busy and very long day. It wasn't that he didn't enjoy the work, he did, but you had to keep your wits about you and remain in a good humour whatever they pitched at you, which could get a bit wearing after a few hours. Kids today, he thought, were definitely more demanding than they had ever been in his day.
"Here are the last two children to see you, Santa" An Elf escorted two children into the chamber. Santa had to look twice as they seemed to be connected together by a rather long scarf. "This is …" the Elf prompted.
"Peregrine" Said the boy.
"And…?" The Elf looked expectantly at the little girl, who stared back at her, blankly. Faced with the prospect of this going on for ever, the Elf said, in a stage whisper, "Tell him your name!"
"Oh, Prudence" The girl said, eventually, "It's Prudence"
The Elf straightened up, thankfully, and ushered the two toward Santa.
"Ho, Ho, Ho, Merry Christmas children! Now then Peregrine…Prudence, have you both been good this year?" Santa beamed at the children.
"Oh yes!" Peregrine said, emphatically, whilst rolling a ball of Plasticene in his pocket around a little guiltily, "but I thought you would know the answer to that?"
"Well, of course we do have our records" Santa confirmed "we make a list and check it twice. And how about you, Prudence, have you been good?"
"Yes, Santa" Prudence smiled, winsomely.
"Well, in that case, I think I should ask you both what you're hoping for this Christmas?"
"Peregrine wants a chemistry set" Prudence offered.
"That seems a good choice, Peregrine." Santa approved, "What do you want that for?"
"He wants to poison his English teacher" Prudence said matter-of-factly.
"I do not" Peregrine yelled
"You do so. You told me she was an 'evil old cow but it was nothing that a simple poison wouldn't fix'" Prudence quoted.
"Ha! My sister will have her little joke" Peregrine glared at Prudence, who stuck her tongue out at him. "My English teacher and I had a slight disagreement on the topic of sentence construction…" Peregrine explained to Santa, who was watching all of this in bewilderment.
"You said she was 'barely literate and would be better off six feet under'" Prudence added.
"I may have said some intemperate things in the heat of the moment" Peregrine admitted, "but that is not the rationale for the chemistry set. I want to have a crack at Cold Fusion"
"I beg your pardon?" Santa looked puzzled.
"You know how the Sun produces heat and light?" Peregrine looked questioningly at Santa, who nodded slowly, "well, that comes from a process called nuclear fusion. To replicate that, here on Earth, you would need electro-magnetic forces of a considerable magnitude just to contain the reaction but with Cold Fusion you wouldn't need any of that, it could all be done at room temperature"
"You're not going to blow us all up, are you young man?" Santa chuckled.
"No, no, you're confusing it with nuclear fission, that's atom bombs and stuff, it's nothing like that. If I'm right, it would provide limitless cheap energy for all" Peregrine said, proudly.
"I see! Well, a chemistry set goes down on the list then." Santa tapped something into the tablet on his knee, "And what about you, Prudence, what would you like?"
"I would like a dolly" Prudence said, shyly.
"Ah, now that's more like it. I'm sure we could find you a nice dolly" Santa said, relieved to be back on a traditional footing.
"I think you may be at cross purposes, actually" Peregrine warned. "Tell Santa what sort of dolly you want, Pru"
"I want a gel dolly" Prudence confirmed.
"A gel dolly? I don't think I've ever heard of one of those" Santa admitted.
"It's for determining the nature of the weapon and the force with which it was used in an attack upon a person" Prudence explained, "I want to be a Forensic Scientist when I grow up"
"Well, that's very laudable, I'm sure. We'll put it on the list and see what we can do" Santa tapped furiously on the tablet, wishing this particular interview was over and he could head to the pub.
"Are you the real Santa Claus?" Prudence asked.
"Well, you know that the real Santa Claus is a very busy person and, obviously, he can't be everywhere" Santa began his prepared speech on this frequent topic.
"Seems to make a good job of it on Christmas Eve" Peregrine sniffed.
"That's because Christmas Eve is a magical time when lots of things are possible that couldn't happen normally" Santa wasn’t going to be caught out like that.
"Like Cold Fusion?" Prudence suggested.
"Who knows? Anything's possible on Christmas Eve" Santa beamed at Prudence. "I'm one of Santa's helpers. He asks me to talk to the boys and girls here in the shop and find out whether they've been naughty or nice, and what they want for Christmas"
"So, will you make sure the real Santa gets to hear what we want?" Prudence asked.
"Of course, that's what I've been putting into my tablet and all of that information will be transferred to the North Pole. But, just in case something goes wrong with our systems. you might want to put it all down on a list and ask your parents to help you send it to Santa." Santa was quite pleased with how he had navigated that particular problem.
"Hmmm!" Peregrine had his arms folded and a suspicious look on his face.
"Now, one of my elves will take you out of the Grotto and you can choose a nice present each to take home with you and a money-off voucher for the New Year to give to your parents so that they can save on their shopping. Ho, Ho, Ho, Merry Christmas!" Santa's cue brought an Elf into their presence, who began to shepherd the two children out. However, Prudence, after a few paces, suddenly turned and ran back to Santa, nearly throttling Peregrine in the process, and gave him a big hug.
Santa was considerably surprised but rather gratified. It was little things like that, he reflected later in the pub, that made the job worthwhile.
Out in the bustling street, Peregrine was about to ask his sister just what she had thought she was doing, when he noticed that she was sorting through some plastic cards in a wallet.
"Ha!" She said, triumphantly after perusing one card, "His name's Cedric Roberts and…" She dragged another card from the wallet, "he only lives two streets away from us! Santa's helper my…"
"I think you're being a bit unfair, Pru. Perhaps it's some sort of franchise or something? Anyway, Dad's going to go berserk if he finds out you've stolen Mr. Roberts' credit cards" Peregrine pointed out.
"I'll take it back to Customer Services and say I found it on the floor" Prudence suggested, "Might even get a reward!" She continued her examination of the wallet until "Oh!" she said, suddenly, "you might be right Peregrine, after all" She removed a card with the word 'Iceland' printed on it in big red letters.
"You see" Peregrine smiled, "there is a Santa Claus!"
You can find more about Peregrine and Prudence, along with a host of other Christmas stories, in my 'A Christmas Cracker' collection.