It was always going to be given away free because I wrote it specifically for the Gingernut Books Ltd Newsletter.
Here it is, I hope that because it's now 'out of season' it won't diminish your enjoyment.
Dusty - Santa's Little Helper
Dusty was awake, wide awake. She lay in her bed trying to sleep but sleep wouldn’t come and to top it all off, to make sure that she wasn’t going to sleep any time soon, she had the rhythm of a poem going around in her mind. It was just starting to really annoy her because she knew the poem – or at least part of it – but the words just wouldn’t come to her.
Then the first line seemed to just arrive and along with it came a sense of satisfaction because she’d finally remembered it.
Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house,
not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.
The self-satisfied feeling left her as she wondered one other thing... what on earth had prompted her to think of that poem? It was something that her mother had read to her either on Christmas eve or Christmas night, she thought. No, it would have been Christmas eve, a bedtime story for an excited little six year old girl. A tear slipped from her eye as she remembered her mother and she wiped it away before it reached the pillow.
In the darkness, Dusty remembered that last Christmas and more tears followed the first one. There were too many to catch before they soaked into the pillow, so after a short time, she stopped trying.
The next lines of the poem came to her and she thought of the tradition her grandparents still kept to. Her stocking, a large, fluffy bed sock, was hung up at the side of the hearth in the kitchen. The ritual was always the same, a cup of hot chocolate before bed and then the stocking or sock was produced and it was pinned to the wooden mantle shelf away from the fire of course, just as it had been since she came to live with them after her mother, their daughter, had been murdered.
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
in hopes that St Nicholas soon would be there.
There was only her stocking, her grandparents loved to spoil and indulge her, especially at this time of year. Dusty knew that they felt a certain amount of guilt at how they had treated their daughter when they found out she was pregnant and Dusty thought that they had made up for their initial disappointment and mistrust since then but that wouldn’t stop them treating their only grandchild to everything she could ever want – and a lot more things besides.
The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
while visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads.
Dusty muttered in the darkness of her room: “Now where did that line come from?” She thought it must be her overactive brain dredging up the poem from her distant past that had put the line in her head.
And mamma in her ‘kerchief, and I in my cap,
had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap.
“I wish I could settle my brain.” She spoke out loud; she was frustrated and knew that sleep wouldn’t be arriving whilst the poem was running through her mind like it was. Dusty sat up in bed and thought about the poem.
The next line wouldn’t come. She knew that she knew it but it was evading her. At one point she thought it was coming, she had an image of someone at a window but before the words could form, they scattered and were lost.
Then she heard a noise outside, it sounded as though there was something large rooting about in the bins on the front yard but that couldn’t be right, her granddad had put the bins in the garage for the Christmas period, there wasn’t going to be a collection over the Christmas break, so they may as well be in a more convenient place.
Dusty got out of bed and went to her window. The next lines of the poem arrived in her head just as she pulled back her curtain:
When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.
Though there had been weeks of heavy snow the previous year around this time, this Christmas was proving to be one of the mildest in her lifetime and when she opened the curtains to see what was disturbing the peace outside, Dusty had the shock of her life. There had been a massive snowfall in the half an hour since she had gone to bed and another couple of lines of the poem popped into her head.
The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below.
Dusty was beginning to become concerned. This wasn’t normal. An unexpected and un-forecasted snowfall and a phantom Christmas rhyme rattling around in her brain. Something wasn’t right. Dusty waited and sure enough, the next line was in her head. It seemed as though someone was reciting the poem and she just couldn’t shut it out.
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
but a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer.
Dusty pressed her nose to the glass and looked up into the sky. There were no clouds, but millions of bright twinkling stars.
With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
and he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name!
What was going on? Dusty was beginning to get worried. She could remember the next lines of the poem and those were the only lines that had not been put in her head. She had a horrible feeling in the pit of her stomach and she closed her eyes and wondered if she was going mad. Then she spoke the next words that were in the poem out loud, she spoke quiet yet clear but it didn’t seem to matter that her grandparents might hear her, she knew for almost absolute certainty that they would not.
"Now Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! On, Cupid! on, on Donner and Blitzen!
To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
Now dash away! Dash away! Dash away all!"
As she shouted the last instruction, there was a crashing noise above her head and she ducked by instinct. As she watched through the window, the long shadow of a sleigh and the animals that pulled it passed over the house and became more than a shadow, it seemed to fill out, become more substantial and become real!
The sleigh made a bad landing, the animals seemed to be all alright as they skidded and slewed to a stop in the snow but the sleigh bounced off a few trees before it juddered to a halt on the driveway outside Dusty’s window.
When the flurry of snow had settled a little, Dusty could see something odd in the sleigh. There was the figure of a man and he was waving a beautiful, magnificent and glowing sword. He was fighting with something. Dusty couldn’t believe her eyes; she turned to grab her boots and pulled them on. She didn’t bother with the stairs or the doors; she opened the window and just before she clambered out, she leaned over her desk and grabbed something, then she leaped onto the porch roof to slide down it and land in the snow – the surprisingly deep snow – then she ran to the sleigh to see what the man was fighting with.
It was a horrible little thing. It was black, green, yellow and purple, the same colours as a healing bruise and it was just as attractive. It had sharp, uneven and broken teeth and claws instead of fingers and toes. Its ears were pointed and the snarling sounds that were coming from it sounded very much as though it were a little dog trying to growl through a throat full of phlegm.
Dusty shuddered, she knew what the creature was; she’d seen goblins before. She could hear the sword whizzing through the air as the man swung it and each time it caught one of the goblins, there was a sizzle as it cut through its body and then a weird and musical ‘plink’ sound. Dusty almost smiled at the sound but the man was beginning to struggle with the sheer weight of numbers, so she unfurled her unicorn rope and threw it over a bunch of the creatures. Instead of the singular ‘plink’ as when the sword dispatched one, she managed to get three or four and the noise was similar to pebbles being dropped into a pool – ‘plinkplinkplink’.
The man was still struggling on the sleigh with a swarming morass of the goblins because as soon as he ‘plinked’ one out of existence, one more took its place with another ‘plink’ as it winked into this realm. Dusty understood then, she realised that they weren’t doing as well as she had thought at first. She had assumed that each ‘plink’ noise was one goblin gone but only half of the ‘plinks’ were goblins going, the other half were goblins arriving.
Dusty set to work in earnest then. She lassoed three, four, five at a time but she didn’t stop to relish the sound of them ‘plinking’ out of existence, she was on to the next group and the next. Soon the goblins were dwindling in numbers and the sleigh driver was beginning to get the better of them rather than becoming bogged down as he had been.
When the last of the goblins that were on the front of his sleigh was cut in half with his sword, he picked up the reins in his sword hand and reached down to grab Dusty by the collar of her dressing gown, to yank her off her feet as the sleigh began to move. He dumped her unceremoniously on the seat by his side, slapped the reins and they were jerked back into the seat by the acceleration.
As they took off and the acceleration evened out, he turned to her and said: “Take my sword and get rid of the rest of them, they are hiding around the back. Be careful though, their bite is deadly, even to demons.”
Dusty did as she was told and took the sword. She was at once amazed at the feel of it, she could tell that it was sharper than any blade she had ever encountered and she had an irresistible urge to test just how sharp it was. She looked back and saw that the driver was right; there were more of the goblins behind them. She took hold of the sword properly and gave it a practice swing and then she was upon the goblins, scything through them without effort it seemed. The sword was doing all the work. She knew that if she held this sword, she could go all day and all night in battle and never feel weary.
The blade shone with an eerie blue glow, brighter than the stars above their transport and each time she killed a goblin, to accompany the ‘plink’, the sword gave that blue light an extra bright glint.
When she was satisfied that there were no more goblins to kill – and she checked twice, because she wanted there to be more to kill – she sat at the side of the man that had become her battle comrade and said: “Hi, I’m Dusty.”
He looked at her and a huge grin appeared on his face. “I know who you are, sweetness. I’m Santa, I know all the good boys and girls.”
“You’re not Santa!” Dusty said, she was still grinning from the delight of the victory. “You’re not fat or hairy enough to be Santa!” She found that she had to shout a little so as to be heard over the sound of the rushing air.
At her comment, the driver laughed. It was a deep and humour-filled laugh and Dusty wondered if she could be wrong. The man was skinny, almost emaciated. His green robes were voluminous around him as though he didn’t belong to them – and she wondered why she had thought it that way around, he didn’t belong to them.
His hair was white, as was his beard but both were cropped quite short and his beard was styled, “Santa doesn’t sport a goatee!” She said and laughed along with him.
The poem that had been whirling around in her head seemed to be being recited now. Instead of the words being inside her head, she could now hear them and she noticed that Santa was reciting them in a quiet voice too. Dusty wondered where the words were coming from.
As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky.
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
With the sleigh full of Toys, and St Nicholas too.
“Yeah, the toys,” she said in a distracted tone. “Where are the toys?”
“Ahh, I never gave out toys, Dusty. That was never me. I give out different gifts.”
They were coming to a large town and Dusty hoped that her questions would all be answered soon.
The sleigh pulled up on the roof of a house and Santa got out. He didn’t disappear down the chimney as Dusty was expecting, but instead he took a long staff from the side of the sleigh. It was a gnarled and old branch but it was straight and it looked to be extremely tough and hard. Then it started to glow and sparkles and sparks began to spin around the knobbed top of it. The sparkles and sparks swirled around as though they were caught up in a miniature whirlwind. Then the whirlwind began to expand and grow. It grew wider and larger but the density of the sparkles didn’t diminish and then Santa tossed the staff up into the air, just like a majorette in a marching band would but the effect was far grander, more explosive than any baton. As the staff spun in the air, suspended by what Dusty could only assume was magic, the sparks and sparkles were flung far and wide. Dusty saw them as they landed on houses and gardens, cars and even one lone passerby. He didn’t seem to see the sparks landing on his coat but as they sunk into the heavy fabric, he straightened his back, pushed out his chest and seemed sprightlier than he had moments before.
Dusty smiled, she couldn’t help feeling happy, delighted, euphoric. She saw sparks trickling down chimneys and at least one cat was the recipient of whatever it was that those twinkling things bestowed.
She could hear Santa’s voice as he recited more of the poem:
And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St Nicholas came with a bound.
He returned to Dusty and the sleigh and he winked at her. She grinned back and then her mouth dropped open in surprise and her eyes grew wide. Santa was putting on weight and his beard was growing.
Santa saw her reaction and he laughed. He was still laughing as he climbed into the sleigh. He took hold of the reins and slapped them once and the sleigh was jerked into the air by his reindeer.
“I don’t go down the chimneys anymore,” he said. “I can’t be doing with the blocked off ones, or the dogs and burglar alarms. Sometimes even the smoke alarms got me.” He laughed again and Dusty looked at him in wonder.
“What gifts do you give out?” She asked.
“Ah, I give hope, stamina, fortitude, belief, energy, love, passion - all those things that seem to be in short supply sometimes. I also give out luck and good fortune, to those that deserve it and sometimes to those that don’t. I have my reasons of course and sometimes they become clear immediately but sometimes they may take generations before an understanding of my gifts arrive.”
“No toys then?” Dusty grinned as she asked her question and Santa took it as the joke it was meant to be.
“No, sweetness, I deliver no toys, I don’t deliver money either. The material things are left to humans. The gifts I give are far more valuable. Where can you buy peace of mind? Who else but me could give strength of character, or the lessons that build strength of character? The deep and meaningful gifts for the human spirit are what I give.”
“So, you’re kind of like Karma then?”
“Oh no! She is a wonderful deity but be warned, when she is crossed, she can also be...”
“A bit of a bitch?” Dusty filled in the missing words for him and he laughed again. Dusty laughed with him, that laughter was definitely infectious.
Dusty sat forward in her seat and studied her companion and more of the poem arrived in her head. She began to think that the evening was very well scripted.
He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot.
A bundle of Toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a pedlar, just opening his pack.
“You don’t have a sack,” she said. “And you’re not tarnished with ashes and soot.”
“That’s right. Now that I don’t go down chimneys, it’s a lot easier to keep these robes clean, not to mention the beard.” He ruffled his fingers through his beard and Dusty saw that the whiskers were growing. His face was less emaciated, she could still see his cheekbones but they weren’t protruding like they had been when she was first dragged aboard the sleigh.
She wondered what was going on and then he turned to look at her. His piercing stare seemed to penetrate into her soul and she had the impression that Santa wasn’t just a kindly and gentle jolly old gentleman at all. She had seen how he wielded the sword. He was a warrior, but what was he doing here, across the top of the world, delivering fulfilled hopes and realised dreams to the millions below. More to the point, what was she doing here?
“Why are you here, sweetness?” He asked the very question that she’d had in her head.
Dusty was dumbfounded, she couldn’t answer, so she nodded instead.
“Ahh, you’re here because you deliver some of the same gifts that I do. Your friend Ange, for example. This year alone, you have saved her from a fate that your own mother endured. You also helped her cousin and you have given passion to another half demon like yourself. You have even helped out a father and son that were estranged and likely to remain so. You performed all of those tasks with no thought for yourself, for gain or thanks and you have come of age. You have used the gifts that I bestowed upon you last year to their greatest use and I am so proud of you.
His eyes-how they twinkled! his dimples how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow.
Dusty had to sit and think for a moment about what Santa had told her. She looked at him as he concentrated on his driving. She looked over the side and saw that they were passing over towns and cities but not stopping to land. She put aside her thoughts about last year’s gift and asked another question instead. “Why aren’t you landing? I can see houses below.”
“Lean farther over the side and look back.” Santa told her.
She did as he said and she could see the same sparkles and sparks flying off the runners of the sleigh that had come from the gnarled staff he had used.
“I don’t have to land to deliver my gifts. I only do it for show if I have a guest. I don’t like to land because there are too many evils in the world. You saw what happened when I came to visit you. The goblins aren’t the worst of them either. They want to steal my gifts but they don’t seem to realise that they cannot be used in any other realm but this one, the one where humans live. Hopes and dreams are a human thing. No other realm uses them so my gifts are worthless. The goblins are greedy and malicious creatures and maybe they do know that they cannot be used elsewhere but, like spoiled and vindictive children, if they can’t have them, then they will break them so that none shall benefit.” Santa sighed and seemed maudlin for a moment and the sleigh began to grow sluggish. Dusty felt the reindeer struggle to maintain height and speed and she understood why Santa laughed so much – he had to, he fuelled the sleigh.
Dusty had to break the melancholy and as if on cue, the poem occurred to her and she stood up in the foot well of the sleigh, placed her hand on her heart to strike a dramatic pose, turned to Santa and recited the next verse.
The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath.
Santa looked at Dusty as she began to recite the words. He seemed puzzled for a moment and when she got to the lines:
He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook when he laughed, like a bowlful of jelly!
He couldn’t help himself. His smile appeared amongst his whiskers and he grinned, a broad, infectious smile and when his laughter broke free, Dusty laughed too.
Dusty carried on reciting the poem that she had thought she’d forgotten and the sleigh gathered speed and height and when she looked back, beyond the sleigh, the sparks coming off the runners were doubled in intensity and volume. They were being thrown up behind them like the powered snow would be if they were on a sleigh down on the ground. The sparkles glittered and glinted as they fell to earth and the recipients of those gifts would be certain to have a joyous and delightful Christmas, Dusty was certain of that.
The rest of the poem came unbidden to her mind in fits and starts over the course of the night’s work and she would find herself grinning for no apparent reason at the odd line.
He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself!
Dusty wondered how the poem had come to be written and she asked about it.
“Ah, that chap,” Santa said. “He caught me when my guard was down. I don’t know what I was thinking, it may have been that I was distracted, but I think it was more a case of fate. That poem is a wonderful celebration of my work and I am proud and honoured to be portrayed in it.” Santa winked and the next part of the poem was placed neatly in Dusty’s head and she jumped in surprise.
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.
Santa laughed as though he had made the funniest practical joke that he had ever witnessed and Dusty couldn’t help herself, she laughed too.
She imagined the man that had written the poem, dressed in his night shirt and cap as Santa was discovered, filling the stockings and pillowcases, clogs and shoes all over the world with hope and strength to carry on in the face of disasters, wars, grief, misery and every awful, terrible, horrifying event that man has to face on any given day.
He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled all the stockings, then turned with a jerk.
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose!
When at last the sky was beginning to lighten as the sun finally caught up with them, Santa delivered Dusty back to her home. The landing was much smoother this time and though she was tired, she was delightfully happy. Santa got out of the sleigh and came around to her side and lifted her down. He stood resplendent in his green robes, trimmed with ermine. The robes now looked as though they had been tailored just for him. He filled out the clothing magnificently and his bead and hair spilled over the green in perfect, luminous contrast. Dusty thought that she preferred the green to the new tradition of red robes. The green harkened back to an age where deities were revered, worshipped and utterly ruthless.
“I have left you a gift, sweetness. You’ll find it tomorrow but only use it when absolutely necessary because it will take you over if you let it.”
Then the final verse could be heard over to the side of the driveway and as Dusty’s attention was diverted by the words, Santa did exactly as the poem told:
He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, ‘ere he drove out of sight,
"Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night!"
Dusty may have been tired, but she was also curious. She went over to the bushes where she had heard the poem being spoken and as she approached, a beautiful robin hopped on to a branch and began to sing. Dusty was so close that it stopped her in her tracks at its brazen fearlessness. She listened for a moment or so and then turned to go back to her window and her bed. As she turned, the robin stopped singing and Dusty heard the repeat of the last line: "Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night!"
She turned back to where the robin was still sat on the branch and it winked at her, bobbed forward in the semblance of a miniature bow and then took flight, chirruping as he went.
Dusty clambered back up to her window and pulled it open. She scrambled inside, too weary to be anything but clumsy and she got back in bed. She was surprised at how warm it was under her covers and she was so tired that she didn’t see the present that Santa had left for her.
A few hours later, when her grandparents had got too impatient to wait any longer, they went upstairs to wake her up. They took her stocking and her presents and dumped them on the bed to wake her.
It was only after their gifts had been unwrapped that she saw Santa’s gift lying right at the bottom of her bed, adorned with a beautiful green ribbon.
It was Santa’s sword. She picked it up and showed her grandparents. She told them the story of her adventure the previous night and then she saw the note on the hilt. “This is a gift that will come to you when you think you need it. Use it wisely, it is strength, honour, fortitude and determination but it is also aggression, fury and anger. Remember the blade is double-edged and you will vanquish all enemies, yet never lose sight of why I call you ‘sweetness’. Happy Christmas!”