“I always get so nervous about this,” whispered Jolly the elf to Jangle, who stood immediately to his left, precisely one elf-width away. With the year’s work finished, the weather control around Santa’s workshop had been shut down that morning, so the temperature was dropping and the snow turning from powder to ice.
Jangle said, “Don’t worry. If he thinks you’re worried, he might get suspicious.”
It didn’t help.
One of the reindeer, probably Vixen, snorted. Jolly could swear that her breath was curling in ways most unnatural. To be precise, it was curling like smoke from the fires of hell, and Jolly wouldn’t have been surprised if it formed a rudimentary arm and reached out to punch him in the gut.
Santa emerged from his sleigh. He walked heavily down the line of reindeer. Halfway through, he turned with military precision and stepped forward to address his elves. This was it.
“Another year completed,” he barked. “Another Christmas… in the record books. Am I pleased?”
None of the assembled elves responded, so he repeated his question, louder. This too was greeted with silence, so he answered his own question.
“For the most part, I am,” he declared. Jolly exhaled, but only slightly, for Santa began marching up the rows of elves in a quite menacing manner.
“For the most part… for the most part… I am delighted by the year’s festivities. There were a record number of toys built this year, and we have added three new classifications of squeals of delight to our register. ARE YOU PROUD OF THAT, ELF?” he suddenly screamed, directly into Jolly’s ear.
“Sir, yes, sir!” Jolly reflexively squeaked, high-pitched but loud enough to carry across the tundra.
“Sir, yes, sir,” Santa repeated, with a chuckle chillier than the air. “Sir, yes, sir. Then tell me, elf, why is it that I feel like perhaps some of my elves aren’t pulling their weight?”
“I-I-I… I don’t know, sir.”
“You know what happens to elves that don’t pull their weight, don’t you?” This question was clearly rhetorical, because as Santa asked it, he pulled a reasonably high-powered laser pistol from the folds of his red velvet suit.
“No!” shrieked Jolly, abandoning all sense of elfish decorum to lock his eyes shut and pull his green winter cap down over his ears so he couldn’t hear his demise coming.
Santa raised his arm and fired the laser into the air. It bounced off the NORAD satellite dedicated to tracking his movements, and burned through the skull of an elf some dozen or so rows over.
After some few seconds of not losing consciousness, Jolly finally dared to open his eyes. Santa had bent over to stare directly into his face. As Jolly trembled his way back to full height, his master gave him a menacing wink.
Then Santa addressed the full elf regiment again. “Young Jubles was caught on no less than six occasions sleeping on the job. You all know that this will not be tolerated.” He had reached the front again, and now stared down the line, slowly turning his head to make a full inspection, watching for any signs of naughtiness as he is wont to do. Jolly felt himself trembling, but desperately hoped it didn’t show.
After a thousand heartbeats, each louder than the last, Santa spoke again. “Merry Christmas!” he bellowed, and he concealed his weapon once more. “Dismissed!” he cried, as he walked away from the elves and toward his comfortable little home.
Jolly wasn’t the only elf to collapse in terror. Jangle extended a hand to help him stand, and kindly ignored the fact that Jolly had wet his little elf tights.
“Santa’s a real bastard,” Jolly concluded.