Bernard and Myrna recieve a letter. A Naughty and Nice elf notices something.
Chapter Fourteen: Elfmas Future
The cuckoo clock mounted over the fireplace mantel went off around 1:15pm, finally pulling Bernard out of his job search plans. Looking up through the crick in his neck, he watched as the doorway tucked under the face of the clock opened and the expected cuckoo shot out on a spring, holding a tiny “Mail’s here!” sign in its mouth.
Bernard’s chair creaked as he leaned back to rub at his eyes in a vain attempt to dispel the fuzziness encroaching after four hours of focusing on miniscule newsprint. It was past time for a break and now he had an excuse. Without opening his eyes he flicked his hands in the air, causing the bundle of letters to appear like a sleight of hand trick.
This was a mistake. A burst of dizziness swept over him and, had he not already been seated, would have knocked him to the floor. It was sheer luck that caused his chair to slam forwards and not tip him flat on his back.
The sensation didn’t stick around for long. The fact it had happened at all was more concerning. It wasn’t difficult to pinpoint it as a preliminary symptom of over-exertion.
I’m going to have to pay attention to my energy levels again, he realized, feeling just a smidge more drained at the thought.
The weight of the letters in his hand offered a distraction within literal arm’s reach and he readily accepted it. Flipping through the small bundle, he found that most of the mail was directed to Juniper from a surprisingly wide range of North Pole locals. Some looked like official invoices while others were clearly thank you notes. None of which was his business and honestly didn’t really interest him all that much. He set them aside, along with the Scout Elf reports for Myrna, and…
…oh. He put the unsorted pile aside, bringing the wax-sealed envelope up for a closer look. Yep. That was The Fold’s stationery alright. That salmon crest was a dead giveaway. There were only two people that could be from, neither of which foretold happy events.
He needed to tell Myrna.
There was no consensus at the Naughty and Nice Center as to what exactly had gone wrong with their computer system that morning. A few thought it was the physical printer, except that it printed the test pictures just fine. Others thought it might be a mundane software bug, as the problems seemed centralized to files directly connected with The List. Others, (i.e., the more conspiratorial of the lot,) postulated that it could have something to do with the magic permeating the system, especially with the rumors of magical glitches popping up everywhere the North Pole had reach. These were mostly ignored; everyone even remotely aware of how things worked knew the Naughty and Nice Center was plugged into an entirely different kind of magic than the rest of the North Pole, so it was highly unlikely these glitches had anything to do with that.
Sybil’s opinion was that ze did not care. Any excuse to take a break and not dwell on work was a welcome one and ze was not going to let this one go to waste. If any of these newbies were going to stick around for as long as ze had, they were going to have to learn to follow zer example. Ze honestly hoped most of them would end up transferring out, for their sakes. This wasn’t the mentally healthiest of jobs.
Ze really needed to find a therapist. But until that happened, ze was going to stick with not thinking about zer job when ze didn’t have to. Ze took another sip of zer mocha frappuccino as ze watched Curtis and the new Santa make their way over to the N&N Center.
Curtis, as usual, looked like he was on a mission: gait and gaze canted towards his goal (i.e., the group of zer coworkers still huddled around the borked computer input). Even before he took up Bernard’s position, that just seemed to be his default state. Ze didn’t get it. Seemed stressful. And tiring. No thanks.
The new Santa (Jack Frost, oddly enough,) on the other hand seemed liable to stumble into a Charlie Chaplin short if he didn’t watch where he was going. His head kept continually swiveling around into seemingly random directions, as if he’d never seen the main workshop before. Which ze knew, for a fact, he had. He’d just been far less interested in everything then. So that change was weird.
Obviously, Curtis was heading over to repair the terminal. Say what you will about his managerial style, the kid knew his way around computer hardware. Ze couldn’t figure out why Jack was there. Ze took another sip of zer complicated coffee.
It seemed Curtis couldn’t figure out why Jack was there either. He spun around in place, much like a separated child at Disneyland, before saying something to Santa with an air of that child’s parent telling them to stay put mere moments before. Sybil wasn’t close enough to hear anything over the bustle of the workshop, but either Jack didn’t answer or never heard him, as he hadn’t stopped flicking his head around like a parakeet. Whatever the reality was, Curtis ended up tentatively leaving Jack to stationarily amuse himself at the entryway to the N&N Center.
To his credit, Jack managed to stay put for at least a few minutes, rocking back and forth with his hands clasped firmly behind his back. The only thing he needed to do was whistle to complete the caricature of a notoriously innocent figure. It wasn’t until a small fluttering caught both of their attentions: a draft or breeze or something had snagged the topmost page of a nearby stack of the half-printed List.
If Sybil had been about 50 years younger, ze might have cared about any protocol at all enough to abandon zer coffee and warn the fledgling Santa that he wasn’t allowed to view The List in the state it was in, that zer department hadn’t finished combing through it yet, maybe even allude to what exactly their station was supposed to do to scare him off. But ze wasn’t and zer coffee was too well made to cast aside to be forgotten, so ze stayed put, content to observe. It was probably fine. It wasn’t as if they printed out The List willy-nilly. That’d be a needless waste of paper.
Jack held down the hyperactive corner with one finger as his eyes flicked around the page until they landed on one spot. The stack of papers was too high for Sybil to see anything from zer perch on the stairs on the other side of the center. But even the newbies could have told you that all those papers had printed on them were names. Nothing inherently fascinating on the face of it. Jack’s sudden stillness deeply unsettled zer, to the point ze felt nauseous. Maybe ze shouldn’t have skipped breakfast…
…Maybe ze should have warned him off. Too late now, I guess.
Curtis cut across zer line of sight, interrupting zer uneasy reverie. Was he already done? That was fast. After a short back and forth, the two left without fanfare. The drone and chunks of the printers reviving themselves signaled that zer coffee break was at an end. Ugh. Work. As one minor act of rebellion, ze wandered over, coffee still in hand, to whatever it was Jack had been so focused on.
As this printer, while online, had not resumed any printing jobs, the page in question lay uncovered and still fluttering. Ze could see why he was so interested now. One of the more proactive elves had tried to edit it by hand before wisely giving up. All the names had been scribbled through or crossed off, except for the last one: Natalie North.
Looking up at the adjacent screen, she saw this station was responsible for filtering out the 4N kids. Ze shuddered. Ze hated this station. None of the elves liked this station. But curiosity getting the better of zer, Sybil typed Natalie’s name into the search function. The results took a moment to load.
Her name was at the top of the search results.
That’s unfortunate, Sybil’s defenses thought as she helpfully crossed the name off of the printed list, before walking zerself and zer frap back to zer own station to forget this whole moment ever happened.
When Myrna left for work that morning, there was nothing of note on the floor of her kitchen. When she arrived home, both the contents of the spice and Tupperware cabinets and her brother filled the available kitchen floor space. Bernard sat smack in the middle of the mess, containers encircling him in an almost ritualistic manner.
“I take it you’re summoning dinner tonight?” she asked, causing him to twist around to face her.
“Oh,” he said. “Hi.”
“I’m fine. Just organizing.”
It was already organized, Myrna thought. A moment of what should have been an awkward silence passed, as he turned back to his organizing and she waited for him to share what was bothering him.
“Our father sent us a letter today,” he finally said, not facing her.
Yep. That would do it. “What did he say?”
“He wanted to know if we were experiencing any weird magical occurrences.”
“Did you answer him yet?”
“No. Wanted to run it by you first.” He tipped his head in the direction of the hallway. “I left it on the phone table. If you want to read it.”
“Thanks,” she said, taking no time at all to retrieve the letter.
“Damn, they hauled out all the bells and whistles for this one, didn’t they?” she said, unfurling a piece of parchment bigger than its envelope. “Used official stationery and everything.”
Myrna didn’t bother to read it in depth on her first pass through. “Sounds like they’re noticing weird patterns and some minor magical fluctuations.”
“They’re asking if we’ve noticed anything similar up here.” She turned the paper over expectantly. “…wow. Not even the bare minimum of niceties,” she frowned. “Oh, we’re fine, father, dear. Thanks for asking. Prick,” she added under her breath. Bernard snorted. “I swear, it’s nothing but business with those two.”
“Do we want to write back?”
“What? No. I’m not going to do their job for them. If it’s that damn important, they can come up here themselves.”
“They actually wrote, though.”
“Father wrote. If it really was important, Mother would have called.”
“Look, we don’t have to engage with them any more than we absolutely have to—,”
“I agree. That’s why we should ignore this.”
“—but something about this is really bothering me.” He chewed on the inside of his cheek before swiveling around to properly face her. “Also, if we don’t answer them, they’ll just flood us with follow ups asking if we read the first one.”
“They’re just letters. Pretty easy to ignore.”
“And they will eventually show up here. You know that, right?”
“Good!” Myrna shouted, “Maybe then they’ll finally fucking understand what we’re doing up here!”
“Who’ll understand what we’re doing up here?” Juniper said, causing both of them to jump. She stood behind Myrna, laden down with multiple brown bags of groceries. Craning around Myrna, her eyebrows raised upon seeing the state of the kitchen floor. “Woah. What happened in here?”
“He’s reorganizing our spices and Tupperware.”
Myrna, having no easy answer, looked over at Bernard. This was his crisis, after all. Unhelpfully, he only shrugged in response.
Juniper held up the crinkling mass in her arms, “So should I just leave these here, or…?”
“There should be a path to the fridge,” said Bernard, leaning over to point out some patches of clear tiled floor.
“Ah. I see,” she said, offloading one arm’s worth of groceries onto Myrna. “Can you help me sort these out?”
“Thanks,” Juniper smiled, pulling out a sack of potatoes from one of her bags. “So I take it your parents are up to their usual nonsense again?”
Myrna knew, for a fact, that Bernard was now staring at the back of her head. She decidedly did not turn to face him, not wanting to deal with either the judgment nor teasing about why, exactly, she knew about the touchy subject that was their parents. “Yeah. Just a letter. Nothing to worry about,” she said, trading her non-perishables for Juniper’s perishables.
Her roommate’s eyebrows had not reset. “That’s new. Was it directed to y’all directly?”
“One could even label it as nosy,” Bernard interjected. Myrna still refused to look at him, taking her groceries over to the fridge.
Juniper carefully balanced her armful of canned goods and bread over to the pantry. “That’s definitely weird. Is something happening?”
“Yes,” said Bernard.
“No,” said Myrna at the same time.
Myrna finally glared at her brother over the refrigerator door.
“Actually, we’re wondering if you can clear something up for us,” Bernard said, maintaining eye contact.
“No, we aren’t,” Myrna said, also maintaining eye contact.
“Sure, what’s up?” said Juniper, staying within the confines of the pantry.
“You do stuff all over the North Pole, right?”
There was a pause. Myrna continued to glare at him.
“…yeah, I guess. Why?”
“Have you noticed anything weird happening anywhere?”
“Um…” Juniper re-emerged from the pantry, “define weird.”
Myrna had let her brother win their petty staring contest to finish putting the groceries away and not continue to let the cold out. Thus, she was free to glance over at her roommate, she saw that most of her body language indicated interest and engagement with the conversation, but her eyes darting around the surrounding Tupperware and her arms tightly crossed in front of her chest gave away the annoyance she still held for her brother. She didn’t want to be there nor did she want to be particularly pleasant to him. But she was trying to be nice.
Myrna stored this observation with the other incidental observations she’d accumulated about her friend over the years to overanalyze at a later time.
“I mean weird as in established magical mainstays glitching out. Like things we’re so used to working that we forget they weren’t like that to begin with.”
Juniper’s jaw went from clenched to slightly ajar at this explanation.
“Not permanent changes! Just…weird temporary blips.”
“Well, if that’s the metric for ‘weird’ that we’re using, no. Can’t say that I have. Like, ever. Even before the North Pole.” She looked at Myrna. “What on earth are y’all dealing with?”
Jesus, it’s a miracle nothing got out while he was still head elf. “Nothing that drastic. He’s being dramatic. He does that.”
“But there have been one-off magical glitches popping up with the Scout Elves. Have there been any minor emergencies you’ve had to deal with that seemed to sort themselves out after a while?”
“Well if it has to be specifically magical in nature, I probably wouldn’t have noticed unless it was that big.” Juniper said, gesturing at Bernard. Her gaze dropped to the Tupperware once again, visibly fighting back a scowl. “Magic and I don’t bump shoulders that often, remember? I can ask around the other departments, though. See if they’ve noticed anything.”
“Yeah, if you wouldn’t mind,” Bernard said.
“No, that’s fine,” said Myrna, once again, at the same time.
Juniper’s eyes flicked between the two, unsure where she stood at this conversational crossroads. The two siblings were too caught up in their own bafflement at the other to notice.
“Why wouldn’t we want more information about this?” said Bernard.
“Because it’s not worth the potential security breech!”
Recognizing the two had become entrenched in a historied and well-trodden argument, Juniper decided to leave them to it. After carrying the last remaining groceries to the fridge, she slipped away to head to her room. She figured she could just ask again later once they ironed out whatever top-secret Scout Elf stuff they were bickering about.
“Look, you may be willing to put up with the inevitable letter avalanche,” Bernard said, “but not all of us can escape to work anymore. And you know they’ll enchant them to tell them if they’ve been opened or thrown away.”
Myrna desperately wanted to have a comeback, a snarky remark, a quip, anything to support her point and quash her brother’s. Except that he had a really, really good point. God, she hated dealing with her parents.
“Fuck it. Fine. You can answer them. Give them whatever information you deem safe. Just don’t give them too much. Use some discretion.”
“You know I wasn’t fired for incompetence, right?” he said dryly, scooping up the surrounding Tupperware in his arms.
“What were you fired for?”
“You know, I’m not sure. My best guess is ‘being annoying.’”
Myrna snorted. “And here I was thinking it was some trumped up charge,” she said, before ducking out of the way of a thrown lid.
A/N: This is my first time writing with neopronouns, so let me know if I’ve made any error in that section. Also, I’m still not dead! And more should be coming relatively soon, though again, I make no promises.
Next chapter (Coming Soon-ish)