Though he was tired, he immediately went to the viewer. The controls were mechanical and extremely tactile, though smooth and polished. Charles supposed that there must be a team of elves which built and repaired the devices, unless they were simply conjured from grey blobs like the toys were.
He turned the dial back as far as it would go, to December 25th of the previous year, then zoomed all the way out until he was looking at the entire Earth. A small elfish equivalent to a dialog box, in scrollwork and elaborate cursive, popped up in the lower corner and asked him if he would like to move to the previous year, but he ignored it for the time being. There seemed to be a limit to the maximum distance away from the Earth he could move the viewer. After playing around with the control some, he realized that it was just beyond the orbit of the moon. He looked around for a pen and paper to write that down on, but found none around him.
He got up from the viewer and rang the bell, and was only mildly surprised when the door to his room opened less than half a second later, before the sound of the bell had even left the air.
“What can I get for you, Santa?” asked a female elf with long black hair. She was shorter than Kelvin by a few inches, and was dressed in a green skirt with striped tights.
“Um,” said Charles. “I need a pen and paper.”
“Certainly,” she said. “Do you have a preference?”
“No,” said Charles. “I’m making some notes, so more than a few sheets I suppose.”
“Right away, Santa,” the elf said with a smile.
Charles closed the door, and knocking came from the other side immediately afterwards. He opened the door to see what she had forgotten to ask him, but instead the same elf stood there with a pen and notebook in hand. Both were of exquisite quality.
“Will that be all?” asked the elf.
“What’s your name?” asked Charles.
“Matilda,” she replied. “I am honored that you asked.”
“How did you get this to me so quickly?” he asked.
“Your rooms can be offset in time from the rest of the North Pole,” Matilda replied. “We do it so that you don’t have to live through the entire time we spend preparing for Christmas. I momentarily disconnected you from the passage of time so that I could have those made for you.” She looked slightly worried. “Was that alright? The past Santa liked the perception of having things right away.”
“Ah,” said Charles. “I had wondered about that. So I don’t actually live out the fifty thousand years it will take.”
“You can, Santa, if you want,” said Matilda. “One of the benefits of your position is immortality.”
“I see,” said Charles. That would take some thinking on.
“Will that be all?” asked Matilda.
Charles looked down at the pen and paper in his hands. “You can get me anything that I want, within reason?”
“Yes, Santa,” replied Matilda. She hesitated slightly before more words spilled out. “I am also trained in many ways to offer you what assistance you need.” She blushed after she’d said it, and looked at the floor.
“You mean …” he trailed off, but she didn’t offer to finish his sentence. “If I asked you to do anything, no matter what it was, you would do it?”
“Yes, Santa,” she replied, eyes glued to the floor. She must have caught something in his tone. “Even that. I have training in ways to please you.” Charles felt his stomach lurch.
“Did the previous Santa ask for that sort of thing?” asked Charles. “Did he ask you to – did he – oh, I think I’m going to be sick.”
Matilda took his hand and led him to the bed, and for a moment he thought that she had the wrong idea, but she sat him down and then pushed his head gently until it was between his knees.
“Relax, Santa,” said Matilda softly. “Breathe. You’ve had a lot of shocks today, and they’re catching up to you.”
“How could he?” asked Charles. “How could he even do it? I mean, ethics aside, you’re only three feet tall, the anatomy of it all -“
“I’m three feet and seven inches tall,” said Matilda, somewhat defensively. “And I told you that I had training. I’ve been informed by my instructors that it would be somewhat painful -” Charles choked out a disbelieving laugh. “- but to have personal contact with Santa in one’s lifetime is considered an honor.”
“He was such a jolly man though!” said Charles. “And he kept sex slaves?”
“Elves aren’t slaves, Santa,” said Matilda.
“If I asked you – purely hypothetically – to take a knife and disembowel yourself, would you?” asked Charles.
“Yes,” said Matilda.
“You wouldn’t even make any arguments for why you should live?” asked Charles.
“My life is meaningless in the face of the Christmas spirit,” said Matilda.
“But if it didn’t matter to the Christmas spirit,” said Charles, “If I just wanted to see you die for fun?”
“Allowing you to satisfy your desires is part of maintaining the Christmas spirit, Santa,” said Matilda. “A merry Santa means a merry Christmas, as we say.” She smiled at him, but he could see something false in her small eyes.
“You don’t actually believe that,” he said.
“Of course I believe it!” she said. “All elves believe it.”
“Okay,” said Charles slowly. “Well even if you believe it, you still wouldn’t want to die.”
“I want what you want,” said Matilda. “If you want me to die, then I want to die.”
“I don’t want you to die,” said Charles.
“Then I don’t want to die,” said Matilda.
“The old Santa, did he … did he ever abuse his power?” asked Charles.
“In what way?” asked Matilda. “I’ve told you that we live to serve you in making a successful Christmas.”
“He had sex with you,” said Charles bluntly.
“Not me, Santa,” said Matilda. “Others though, yes.” Another false smile graced her face, and he could feel the strain of forced pleasantness. “He had very specific requirements, one of which was that any elf who gratified him sexually had to be a virgin. He also -“
“I don’t want to hear about it,” said Charles. His stomach was churning again, and he felt like he would throw up. “I need to know one more thing though. Did he ever kill any of you, or ask you to kill yourselves?”
“Yes, Santa,” said Matilda.
“Oh God,” said Charles. “Jesus, I can’t handle this. What … what kind of monster was he? Why would a man like that choose me to replace him?”
“I don’t know,” said Matilda.
“He seemed so nice,” said Charles.
They sat together on the bed for awhile.
“I need to be alone with my thoughts,” said Charles. “You’ll be there if I ring the bell?”
“Yes, Santa,” said Matilda.
“And can you stop calling me Santa?” asked Charles.
“Yes,” replied Matilda. “Do you want the other elves to stop calling you Santa as well?”
“So long as you’re the one that’s going to be there when I ring the bell, just you for now,” said Charles. “No need to make a big deal about it.”
“Very well,” she replied. She got up from the bed and walked over to the door. “I’ll be available if you need anything.” With that she left, leaving Charles alone with his thoughts.
After some time had passed, he went back to the viewer, more to give himself something to do than to actually make the notes he’d been thinking of making. He felt ill, but knew that he wouldn’t be able to sleep.
The viewer showed Earth, frozen in a single slice of time. He zoomed in towards the planet, rotating around the skin of the Earth until he found North America, then in again until he found New York City. It was the work of a few minutes for him to find a familiar landmark and then move the viewer along the streets until he found his apartment. He moved the viewpoint through the walls, then up several floors until he found his own apartment. He watched himself sitting there, with his arm around Catherine as they watched Die Hard on DVD. He’d always said it was his favorite Christmas movie.
That had been almost an entire year ago. He pushed down the lever to move the viewer forward in real time, and he watched himself interacting with Catherine, the lazy way he’d stroked her hair. They were six months away from a particularly brutal break-up after four years of dating. He wasn’t sure why he’d chosen to look at something that was still so painful. Perhaps it was to convince himself that he was just a normal person, with normal hopes and fears. He felt a nagging worry that perhaps the old Santa had started out like him, and simply gone drunk with power. Telling himself that he wasn’t like that helped somewhat.