(Photo Manipulation by Frances Bacani and Beata Escano)
Santa’s factory was full of elves running around, wrapping gifts, securing bows, and putting addresses to where the gifts will be delivered. One elf in particular was double checking the list of children he had watched all year, making sure that no one was left with no gifts.
In another corner, an elf with brown hair who was relatively taller than other elves, Elf No. 359, cleaned his countertop as he prepared for another day of meticulous toy-making. He made sure that the kids assigned for him to watch will be granted their wishes. He had been working on this all year-long.
“Hey,” Elf No. 359 was startled as his stout friend, Elf No. 256, put down the toy car parts at his station. “Have you heard about 335’s rest day? I heard he went to a Christmas event,” he said as he struggled to reach and have a seat at the counter.
“Wait, aren’t you getting yours tomorrow?” Elf No. 256 asked. Elf No. 359 looked at his friend briefly, before nodding his head, the bells on his pointed cap ringing with each nod. He then pushed his friend off the countertop, and got back to his work.
“Listen, my dear 359,” his friend said while holding his face to get his full attention. “You have worked hard all year, watching kids, listing their names, and making them gifts—and this? This is the one perfect day you get to enjoy yourself.” His friend backed a few steps away from him. “You should plan it.” he said while holding his hips. Elf No. 359 laughed at the way his friend’s forehead was creased, his brows almost forming one line. He didn’t want to tell his friend that he had arranged the perfect day because he didn’t want to know if what he had planned for was good enough.
The plan goes like this: first, he will take the “feel-good” train, the only train that gets you from the North pole to the city while making sure you are warm and cozy. The city is a place hidden from humans, only accessible by two trains, where other mythical creatures, like the elves, are free to roam and enjoy their versions of human activities.
Elves like him are subjected to limited amenities in their area, in fact, Elf No. 359‘s days consist of just work and home. The North pole was only allotted for Santa and his good works, there was not a single building for recreation in sight, only the factory, reindeer’s stables, and the houses where elves reside. Their houses were furnished with a bed, a bathroom, and a small kitchen. Elf No. 359 has few neighbors, but not unlike those he encounters whenever he is outside North pole. With its population consisting of elves, a few snowmen, Santa and his wife, and the reindeers, one would really be eager to visit the city.
There, he’d visit this exclusive country club that welcomes only 50 creatures every December 24th. Anyone who’d avail of the promo would be provided with a free buffet and access to the club’s facilities. One of their facilities included a spa, something Elf No. 359 felt he needed for experience.
Usually, elves like him would not be able to take advantage of such on their rest days, they would just watch a movie in a ginormous-for-their-size cinema, roam the malls with few boutiques catering to a specific creature, or stay at their own homes. But, he learned about this club a year ago, from a fellow elf who brought home a flyer from the same country club for New Year’s Eve. He can vividly imagine the look of astonishment from Elf No. 365 as he told him the stories encountered and the freebies he had taken home. From then, Elf No. 359 swore that he would avail it.
He spent the day building the toy cars with his elf friend coming every once in a while with a reminder of what a big day it is for him tomorrow.
As he got home, he went to bed early, determined to have a great day ahead of him. He even dreamt of the buffet and its wide variety of cuisines and the spa he’ll be getting from the club. Suddenly a chilling breeze passed through him, and he woke up. He glanced at his bedside clock and almost jumped when he saw that it was already thirty minutes late past the alarm he had set.
He quickly fixed himself before heading to the train station, not thinking of the “feel-good” train he missed. “I just have to get to the city, get in line, and everything will still go as planned,” he convinced himself while fixing his coat, running past all his co-workers telling him to have a great day.
That moment, he sat in an empty seat of the second train of the day. He was lucky to have one; as with each stop, it was jam-packed with snowmen and dwarves eager to get to the city. He almost drifted to sleep. Thankfully a pixie flew and bumped his pointed cap off his head. He bent down to pick it up and was fixing his cap back and his warm fluffy coat when he noticed that they were nearing the city.
He got off the train and ran towards the country club only to see that they had let attendees in, leaving a line of hopeful creatures behind. The remaining queue was much longer than he expected, with half of the line holding the same flyer he had. The club must have reached its full capacity for accommodation. “Maybe next year,” he heard a warlock explaining to his friend as they turned their back from the club. He could only imagine how early they had been and still missing the cut.
Elf No, 359 knew that he had no chance of entering the club. Disappointed, he decided to wander around the city. As he was walking, he saw a group of fairies walking towards the cinema. He later found himself following the group. “This might turn my day around,” he says as he lined up to buy a ticket for a Christmas movie. It is a rare opportunity for them to watch an up-to-date movie, and he was glad to be able to watch it.
All was well as he sat perfectly inside the theater with a bucket of popcorn, a tall drink, and a clear view of the screen. It was a miracle that he was able to bring everything to his seat without spilling the bucket of popcorn being much bigger than his torso. But he sure had some help in finding a spot to sit in. He followed a group of gnome—surely wherever they sit would be ideal for him, as well.
The movie started with the protagonist going home to her family because of a business proposition. Halfway through the film, each of the protagonist’s secrets were slowly being unraveled. Elf No. 359 was on the edge of his seat. The characters were having one misunderstanding after another that it seemed to go beyond the screen. Two gnomes sitting closeby, started to bicker at each other. Much like the movie, one of them pretty much screamed already.
It was all too much that he decided to have a drink, only to find his cup holder empty. He tried searching for it, but found it in the hands of a fairy who was now trying to calm down from sobbing over a scene. He took it as a sign to leave, since it was impossible to appreciate the movie by then.
Deciding to have a final stop, he aimed his steps towards the best burger shop his co-elves told him about. This would be his first time eating a burger, and it felt great knowing it was dubbed as the best one. He hoped that this would be the last chance to turn his day around.
He reached the shop having an item in mind, his stomach growling at the idea of a burger. As he neared the counter, he reached for his wallet in his coat’s pocket. His heart dropped as he felt nothing but the soft garment of his clothing. He stopped his tracks and tried to stop the trembling of his hands as he reached for the other pocket. The dwarf in front of him was already finishing his transaction when he felt a lump in his back pocket. He sighed a relief as he stepped forward to say his order, getting the wallet out of his pocket. It turned out to be his handkerchief. Immediately, he looked around, trying to see a familiar face for help but was startled by a chirpy sound asking him for his order.
“I’ll have a-,” he started stuttering, reaching for the last pocket of his pants. “Nothing.” He turned and walked out, dragging his short legs home. It looked like he had to walk back to the North pole.
He spent the rest of the day walking back to the North pole. He arrived home ten hours later, each step towards the door heavier than the previous one. He eyes the mailbox, finding a letter from Santa’s village. It read: “We hope you had a great day off. You, among every other, deserve this. See you around the village!” He held tightly on the piece of paper, before tossing it on his bed. He let out a silent scream as he rapidly took off his shoes. He threw himself onto his bed, his head buried into his pillows.
“This is the one perfect day you get to enjoy yourself,” he mumbled, trying to remember the words of his good friend. How he wished he had a great day off. Now, he’s just left with sore legs and a disappointed spirit.
The next morning, he arrived at the workshop sporting a gloomy ambiance. He was set to start his work when Santa called out for him. As Elf No. 359 entered the stable where all the reindeer are housed, Santa greeted him.
Normally, he would be the one to greet Santa, or play with the reindeers for a while, sometimes he would even take a cup of hot cocoa and talk to Santa but today, he didn’t. He just went straight to one of the reindeers, handing it some food, booster, and checking it out.
“Hey, little buddy, didn’t you have fun on your rest day?” Santa said as he stopped by him, knowing well that something wrong was going on with Elf No. 359. The latter bowed his head in silence. Santa took this opportunity and dragged Elf No. 359 onto his sled. In one swift move, he had commanded his reindeer to take them on a ride across way beyond the North pole and the city. Santa and his reindeers were known for their quick travels. In an instant, they arrived near a little girl’s home, where they saw her opening a gift. Good thing, their sleigh has a built-in telescope so they won’t need to go near the house.
Elf No. 359 took a peek. “Why are we here, Santa?” he asked, eyebrows creased as he looked back at Santa.
“Each one of these kids had their fair share of good and bad experiences, and they have tried to be good as they waited all year for this day,” Santa looked at the little kid as it got the toy car from its box. He looked back at Elf No. 359. “Much like how you waited for your only rest day.” Santa smiled at him.
“I wanted to remind you that some days would feel like the worst, some would be just normal, and of course the great ones, the ones we strive our best to have—they are all bound to happen. We just need to get past each of them, and keep moving forward.” Santa tapped his shoulder. “That kid wished for a toy car, and because of your hard work all year-round, he’s going to get it. I hope a day of misfortunes didn’t dishearten you and your desire to serve these children. I hope you still find it in your heart to do good even if worse comes to worst.”
Elf No. 359 now looked at the kid playing with his new toy car. He was just one of the kids whose Christmas wishes he had fulfilled and he can’t wait to make it possible for others, as well. “I sure will,” he replied to Santa.
That day Santa took him as they gave out gifts to kids and people who wished for it. It turned out to be one of the best days of Elf No. 359—even better than all the day-offs he had combined.