A Christmas Story
James Marler drove on through the gathering twilight and pelting rain to an unfamiliar section of town. He'd never heard of Green Mountain Publishers, but the man said they were interested in his manuscript, even tonight on Christmas Eve. The directions he was given wound through an ancient industrial section of the city filled with old red-brick warehouses that had changed hands who-knows-how-many times selling grease fittings, discounted men's clothing, truck axles and discount computers. At last where one street dead-ended into a patch of thick, overgrown woods by the river, there was the office he was looking for. It was at one time a residential house in the craftsman style, built many years ago before the neighborhood was swallowed by industrial parks. He parked in the gravel driveway and dashed up to the porch. A shake, a brush and a deep breath composed him sufficiently to enter the front door.The contrast with the chilled, wet outside was startling and welcomed. A fire blazed on the stone hearth, casting a red glow over the room. The furnishings were all of wood, their ancient patinas basking in the firelight. The rug was evidently handmade, like but unlike patterns of oriental rugs he had seen before. It was based on deep, rich crimson instead of the tawdry red seen so often. But the most striking feature of the room was its sole occupant rising from behind his walnut desk. "Mr. Marler," the man said, "I'm Mr. Osterberg. Thank you for coming at such a late hour." The man speaking was tall, well over six feet with hair black as midnight. His motions belied a man of great physical power, but it must have been all sinew, for he wasn't bulky, but panther-lithe. His ears were interesting, not really pointed like Mr. Spock's on Star Trek, but they had a slight odd fold at the apex. What epicanthic folds are to an Oriental's eyes, so these were to his ears. His double-breasted suit was well cut, fitted perfectly and had a sheen like silk and worsted, but richer and more diffuse. But his most notable features were his eyes: the palest of gray, with flecks of green, or was that just the reflection from the green-visored banker's lamp in front of him?"I regret we didn't get your manuscript in time for publication this holiday season, but we'd certainly be interested in using it next year. Actually, I'll probably hand this project off to an associate of mine, Ms. Elkannah. Here's her card. She's across town in the high-rent section. But I'm most interested in helping you." Mr. Osterberg said after hands were shook and they were seated. He had a touch of foreign accent, but so slight as to not betray its origin."Really?" asked James Marler, "so far not too many publishers have been interested in the subject.""All in how it's packaged, Mr. Marler""Call me Jim.""Certainly. My first name's from my family's ancestral language, but you can call me Eldar, it's close enough. Anyway, Jim, as I was saying, at face value a book tracing the history and de-evolution of Santa Claus to its current deplorable state could certainly seem like so much humbug, especially at the holiday season. That's where marketing, positioning and good editing come in to play.""Forgive me, Eldar," Jim said, looking at Eldar somewhat suspiciously, "for being a bit slow at this, you see I've written mostly scholarly works, my thesis and such. This is my first foray into popular writing. What kind of editing are we talking about here? I'm more used to peer review than having an editor.""Well, if it will help, think of me as a friendly member of your thesis committee. By the way, when did you get your doctorate?""Two years ago from State. I'm teaching there now, trying for tenure," Jim replied, brightening in the reflection of his newly-minted PhD."Ah, an uphill battle from what I've heard about the current state of funding. I hope you make it. I'm sure a well-received popular work wouldn't hurt your cause any.""And bring in a few extra dollars. At least that was my hope.""We'll try, anyway. But back to your question about editing. The main thing that struck me about your manuscript was more of tone than content. The general style seemed to be aggressive, almost confrontational. What were your feelings as you wrote it?""You've about pegged it: aggressive, confrontational.....""Angry?" asked Eldar, not really patrionizing, but seeming to know more than he said."Yea, angry. Angry at what Christmas has become. Angry at the materialism, the greed, the hyprocracy, the out-and-out lying to kids about Santa, giving kids something to believe in only to have it hurt because it's all one big, fat lie." "Like you were lied to and hurt as a child, Jim?" Jim paused and looked down. "That obvious, huh?""I'm afraid so. Of course I can't blame you. I get mad myself when I see the 'old elf' depicted as this miserable red velvet and fur clad, short, fat . . . DWARF!" Eldar's teeth and neck muscles had clinched and tightened suddenly, catching Jim a bit off-guard. Eldar regained his composure quickly. "Um, excuse me, old passions run deep, as you know. But anyway, back to the case at hand. For this publication to be successful we'll have to do a bit of editing to retain your style and passion while draining the vitriol out.""I understand. You're probably right. Anything else?""Well yes, actually. The book needs an ending.""I thought I summed things up pretty well in the conclusion," said Jim, more puzzled than defensive."Yes, very well insofar as it goes. You've shown the sorry state Santa is in and how he got there, but you don't show any way out. To make this project work, to avoid the humbug label, we must end up being proactive."Jim's face fell. "I'm afraid you've got me there. I'm much more of a historian than social architect. I have no idea what direction we should go from here.""Well, Jim, many times the key to the future is in reclaiming the far-distant past. You have a whole chapter about the ancient Germanic elf-lore of Sniter Klaus of the Teutonic peoples, the winter watcher, the shadowy guardian at the edge of the wild. Therein may lie your key.""I still don't follow you, Eldar.""Well, I've taken the liberty of sketching out some topics you might want to develop in a conclusion. Here, take a look. I tried to warn you to think of me as a friendly thesis advisor. Always one more chapter, I'm afraid," Eldar chuckled.The pain of Jim's thesis defense was now sufficiently distant to allow him to chuckle with his host. "Well, I should be used to it. Let me take a look..." Jim thumbed through the pages of Eldar's flowing, almost ornate handwriting. "I'm still a little slow here, I guess. I see the case you're making, and it's good, but this would make it sound like, like I actually believe in elves.""Shouldn't you?" asked Eldar with a raised eyebrow."Of course not! That's all just myth and legend, started by fearful, superstitious people of long-forgotten times. You don't believe in that rubbish, do you?""Well, Jim, I don't have much more time to spend with you on this our busiest of nights, so I'm going to have to tell you straight. The key to your future is belief in the past. Before this so-called 'age of reason', before the Morning Star rose, before the lore-kings, before the tougues of men, before the wellsprings of the deep opened, in fact before your feeble, dusty race was formed, the Old Race DID roam abroad. Their charter was to guide and protect, keep and preserve the imperfect bloodline through which the Perfect-blooded One came this night two millena ago. I still don't even pretend to understand how or why He did. It's a mystery too great and too deep for me. But strangely enough, it's not too great for you. You can step into this mystery and lay hold of it. So, here's is my editorial and personal advice: Let go of the anger you show in your manuscript. Forgive being lied to and thus receive forgiveness. Add a final chapter filled with belief. You haven't really believed in anything in a long, long time. You see, you've used your anger and your hurt as excuses not to believe. Believe, Jim, and become a true keeper of Christmas."Jim's mind and heart were racing in opposite directions as he hung his head. He turned to the window to wipe the tear from his eye and saw in the streetlight outside that the rain had turned into huge, damp snowflakes. He turned back to try to answer his host, but Eldar Osterberg was no longer in the room. The strange, sweet smell of frankincense hung heavy in the air as the fire blazed a bit higher.