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art by Agata Maciagowska

The Little Helper

Kat Otis lives a peripatetic life with a pair of cats who enjoy riding in the car as long as there's no country music involved. Her fiction has appeared in Orson Scott Card's Intergalactic Medicine Show, Daily Science Fiction and Marion Zimmer Bradley's Sword & Sorceress XXVI. She can be found online at katotis.com or on Twitter as @kat_otis.
The first time her parents left her home alone, Elvira was good. The second time, she managed to behave, too. But the third time, the temptation was too great. That Friday night, the instant her parents were gone, she ran down to the basement and entered the Forbidden Workshop.
Papa's workbench stretched out along an entire wall, covered with power tools and a half-built wooden train that was probably a Christmas present for her little brother. Other tools, so big they had to have their own tables, were pushed up against a second wall. The third and fourth walls were lined with shelves, which were filled with more tools and clear plastic boxes that had tool bits in them. The whole room smelled of freshly cut wood, and she stood in the center of the room, just breathing it in, for a few seconds. The Workshop was just as wonderful as she had imagined it would be.
She wandered through the Workshop, trailing her fingers through layers of sawdust and peering into every nook and cranny. A battered old cardboard box--the only box she couldn't easily see into--had been shoved underneath the work bench, so she pulled it out and opened it.
The box mostly seemed to be full of fabric: red velvet and soft white fur. Intrigued, Elvira grabbed a handful and pulled out a big, red velvet coat, trimmed with white fur. She recognized it instantly but looked back into the box to make sure. A pair of white gloves, a big black belt, pants to match the coat. She dug around and unearthed a red velvet hat with a white pompom on the tip.
A Santa outfit. Papa was secretly dressing up and pretending to be Santa. Why would Papa do that unless... unless her parents had been lying to her. Unless Santa wasn't real.
Elvira hugged the Santa hat to her chest and burst into tears.
After Elvira cried herself out, she started to stuff the outfit back into the box, to hide the fact that she had found out Papa's secret. As she piled the fabric back in, something shifted and she saw a flash of green in the bottom of the box.
Elvira hesitated, not sure if she wanted to know what that green meant, but curiosity got the better of her. How could it be any worse than the lie she'd already discovered? She tugged on the bit of green fabric and uncovered several more pieces in the process. She pulled all of them out and found herself looking at three of those silly elf hats. They were all made of green velvet, with red trim around the base and a bell on the tip. At first she thought they must be Mama's--to go with Papa's Santa outfit--but why would Mama need more than one hat?
She flipped one of the hats inside out, searching for some clue, and found herself looking at her name neatly embroidered in red thread.
For a moment, she just stared at the hat, not sure how she felt about it. She checked the others--there was one for Mama and one for her little brother. Those she tossed back into the box before returning to look at her own hat again. Finally, she flipped it right side out and pulled it down around her ears.
Guided by an impulse she didn't understand, she walked over to the tool bench and grabbed a block of wood. Then she picked up the handsaw and began cutting as if she had used Papa's tools her whole life. She cut and drilled, then glued it all together. Only after she had cleaned up after herself did she stop to admire her handiwork.
A little caboose sat on the workbench, a perfect match for the rest of the train that Papa had already built.
Elvira's hands itched to start on another block of wood, each step for converting it into a little marionette unfolding in her mind. She hastily pulled off the hat. Both the desire and the knowledge vanished as if they'd never existed. She bit her lip and slowly eased the hat back on.
Maybe there wasn't enough time to build a marionette before Mama and Papa got home, but she could probably make a dollhouse chair--
Elvira yanked the hat back off again and stared at it, awed. This was no ordinary hat.
And maybe, just maybe, Papa's Santa suit wasn't an ordinary Santa suit, either.
Elvira waited all the next day for Papa to say something about the Forbidden Workshop. She knew he had gone down there--he always went down there on Saturday mornings, and Sunday mornings before church too--but he acted like it was any other weekend. She thought maybe he'd take her aside after dinner, or after she'd brushed her teeth and was in her room ready for bed, but Mama only came in to kiss her goodnight, like always.
Sunday morning, Elvira woke up early to find a green velvet hat hanging from the footboard of her bed. She checked and found her name embroidered on the inside. It was the same hat she'd left out on the workbench, next to her caboose, on Friday night.
Elvira tiptoed down to the basement and knocked on the door to the Forbidden Workshop.
Papa opened it, wearing his hat. "Only nineteen days left until Christmas."
Elvira slipped the elf hat on. "Let's get to work, Santa."
The End
This story was first published on Thursday, December 6th, 2012


This story was inspired by the professional Santas of the world, particularly Ernie Boggs (1921-2011).

- Kat Otis

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