by Perry McDaid
It was a special time. While all about may have been storms and tsunamis as nature strove to correct the equilibrium upset by man’s arrogance, the sea and air beneath the sleigh’s current course wore the semblance of sleep, a corridor of calm reiterating the omnipotence of the creator which had echoed so loudly in a much dryer kingdom so many years ago, long before the figure wielding the reins was born.
No disruption of energies was involved in this supposedly supernatural flight, no chaotic deflection of turbulence. The incredible forces were merely transmuted in locum to power the flight of sleigh and reindeer, stilling the winds so that the most famous Finnish forest deer could speed through the upper Troposphere with impunity while on their mission of hope and charity.
Far beneath the ungulates, their distant cousins according to modern scientific speculation—minke whales—surfaced in their magical wake to breathe easily, safe from whalers and so-called scientific surveys for at least a while.
Local pods of dolphins took time out from feeding to enjoy the temporary armistice: leaping, sporting and cackling joyfully around their less playful brothers, sharing miles of oceanic Christmas with the whalers’ favourite prey—seeking, as they did each year, to bolster any flagging hope or self-importance within the community of the hunted minke.
Side by side dolphin and minke sped, seeking to benefit from the passage of peace as much as possible, even to the point of ignoring potential meals also basking in the magic. Even an orca pod joined them for a distance, their characteristic contrast giving them the appearance of a maître d’hôtel convention there to organize and direct. But they didn’t stay long. Like most, they trailed off either through an inability to keep up or to cede to their more pragmatic imperatives.
However the dolphins persisted even after the surreal placidity returned to the brusqueness of the everyday ocean and the sleigh far above had fully committed to its overland route. Only when the minke had reached deeper and safer waters beneath storm and squalls and were able to manage to smile in the manner of cetaceans, did the dolphins deign to follow their own needs.
Saint Nicholas looked over his shoulder and down, his gifted eyes piercing distance and atmospheric curtains alike. His heart swelled.
“If not angels of the ocean, at least sheepdogs,” he murmured to himself.
The keen ears of Prancer pricked up and she slowed. Her head half-turned, eyes wild.
“A figure of speech, you silly thing,” the saint chuckled. “Where would you get a dog up here?”
The rest of the reindeer snorted tauntingly. “Oi, none of that mean-spirited nonsense. It’s the lead’s duty to be ultra-wary for your safety.”
The deer emanated abashment.
“It’s okay, my friends, you are bound to pick up human characteristics with your long association with us. Just be aware. Now on … or do I have to go through the whole traditional litany?”
They answered with a spurt of speed which pinned his hat back on his crown of snowy hair.
For ages the two basalt pillars had stood, side by side, never touching … never wanting to touch for they were, after all, only rock. The Sea of Japan crashed against their kin far below, where water and issue of volcano still mingled, the ocean—as ever—dominant.
Apart from the better known and scientifically acknowledged species, there are many mythological creatures and entities in many lands, and some are even gifted the grace of life now and again by The Creator. One such sprite is the kitsune, a fox like sprite, but with many tails—some solid as those of its natural cousins, some pure energy, some shadowy appendages of dread, and others a rainbow vision of sparkling energy.
Usually these are benevolent creatures, if inclined to mess with the heads of other animals. They can detach both their shadow and magic tails and stick them on beside a dog’s own tail, for instance—resulting on we humans can only see as our poor pets chasing their own tail. When the kitsune has finished amusing itself it reclaims its appendage, leaving the dog looking sheepish—an inconvenience for a farm dog.
It was on a Christmas Eve that a particularly mischievous kitsune, named Asobi—Japanese for “fun”—decided to mess with Santa after the old man had stopped off with the Christian children of Sakai.
Not understanding that Saint Nicholas was respecting the beliefs of the non-Christians, and thinking him just mean-spirited, Asobi sneaked aboard the sleigh and pulled the bag with him out into the night air just above Mikuni-cho.
He was so shocked to hear that Santa knew his name that he dropped the bag as he flew with his nine-tailed rotor-motion, and it spilled on the rocks below, all sorts of goodies—including a set of top-grade sculpting tools—spiralling from an apparently half-full bag which floated gently after the presents.
Presents weren’t the only things loosed from the famous bag. Magic itself spilled upon the two rocks which had stood so peaceful and silent since their creation.
The magic seeped down between them from their tops.
“What?” It was not audible, but it was a thought.
“What?” The other rock tried out the new ability.
Then there was a stony bridge between them, a sort of symbiotic umbilical, formed from the shared thought.
This split into hands, one each, as the notion of individuality occurred—and just in time to catch a chisel each.
Some instinct detected the fall of two mallets. Instinctively they grew another hand each to catch these—then eyes to examine what they had.
Stone having memory, they were familiar with the many human forms which had climbed around them and up them to stand atop.
As one, they began to chisel away at each other to recreate the form which they would find most pleasant upon their new-found vision.
By the time Asobi reached earth, having been detained by the kami and taken before Santa to be rebuked, yet forgiven, and then having to retrieve and return the bag, the magical basalt pillars had made a disturbing amount of progress.
Asobi had no idea how he was going to explain this to the kami council.
There they were chipping away at each other, each perfectly sculpted muscle joining in on the mutual evolution of basalt man and woman as they worked steadily towards where rock met earth.
Around about the waist, the female halted, demonstrating considerable distress, her exquisite features marred by a distraught frown.
The male paused briefly to see what was wrong, tried to read her expressions, then shrugged in defeat before chiselling enthusiastically at her hips, obviously intent on continuing.
She pulled a face, rolled her eyes, and folded her arms expectantly. The exasperation descended into a scowl as he persisted.
Asobi could tell what she wanted, but hesitated, in case he made things worse … but not for long. He simply could not help acting on his instinct.
He leapt from the ground onto her head and reached down to etch a gap between her luscious lips.
The man had finished with his aesthetics by the time the kitsune had magicked a tongue for the female.
She stepped back and away from the half finished male, a loud crack announcing her departure from the underground foundation. She turned this way and that, examining his work—admiring herself.
“Not bad, I suppose,” she said in Japanese.
She hobbled over to a non-sentient boulder like a model with a broken stiletto and sat down, crossing her legs to chip away the rough edges of her soles where she’d snapped off from the bedrock.
“Of course, it’s the best that can be expected of a man. True to form, they never seek advice, direction or preference.”
The male swivelled as best he could to face her and tapped the unformed part of himself with his chisel to attract her attention.
“Don’t you dare clack your chisel at me. I’m a real person now and deserve respect. I’ve a name you know.” She stopped, frowned in thought for a moment then continued. “Olivine! Yes that’s me.”
The male spread arms and pulled faces to express a number of emotions and frustrated retorts.
“Oh, of course nothing to say. And there will always be some excuse.”
The male eyeballed the kitsune where it sat in slack-jawed awe. He pointed at this own lips, brow furrowed and eyebrows lifted.
Asobi was too engrossed with the tirade to notice.
“And then you’ll apologize in such a way that it will all be my fault, and leave me crying,” she sobbed, silicate tears streaming a tiny landslide from her grey eyes.
Asobi winced as a chisel hit him in the rump. He snarled and turned, only to find the male a picture of desperation.
Olivine was giving herself a manicure with the sharpest edge of her chisel now. The kitsune rolled his eyes and flicked three of his tails, concentrating on statues he’d seen
The man tried to move but his legs were still fused to the basalt base. Asobi’s experience of anatomy was limited to the statues he’d actually seen.
The male waved his right hand in the general direction of his mouth, and Asobi leapt to repeat the process exercised on Olivine.
“And of course you’ll take his side. Does anyone care how I want him to look? No. Always the same old story.”
“I….” he coughed.
“And now I won’t get a word in.”
The greenish colour of his feldspar eyes betrayed the presence of lead in his makeup. He’d need the durability.
“For heaven’s sake, woman, we’re only just born.”
Olivine’s eyes turned red. Asobi hoped it was oxidation, but began to slouch off, just in case.
“Oh no, little kitsune,” a hale and hearty voice announced, the force of it pinning him to where he stood, “you neglected to mention this development.”
The male had noted the arrival and was hastily hacking away at his own feet, now concerned less with aesthetics than functionality.
“Look at the mess you’re making,” Olivine scolded.
Santa raised a hand and the statues returned to their inanimate state.
“Why did you not tell myself or the kami spirits about this, little Asobi?”
“I wanted to see what would happen. They came alive with wonderful new voices.”
Saint Nicholas shook his head. “New voices which immediately began to bicker like jaded adults?”
“They would have worked it out … but you … you stopped them.”
“Yes?” The saint smiled indulgently.
“You killed them.”
Screams of rage came from the sky in thunder. Stormclouds gathered with lightning fury. The very grass beneath Asobi’s feet stiffened like warrior’s blades.
Saint Nicholas again raised his hand and the power his Master gave him quelled the hubris of the phenomena. The skies cleared and the grass softened.
“Neither you nor my magic dust can create life, little one. The magic merely animated the stone. A couple of particularly troubled souls hijacked their forms.”
“Well, as on earth, when the case officers up there…,” he jerked a thumb heavenward, “…are dealing with clients, they occasionally let them walk around to calm down and clear their heads in between sessions. You get the odd souls who cling to denial more strongly than others.”
Asobi cocked his head. “So you—”
“I returned them to their therapy session.”
Santa shrugged. “Tow-mah-tow, tow-may-tow!”
“So you’re not mad at me?”
“Well, she did get to air grievances she might have been reticent to share in those heady surroundings. They keep thinking that they have to act all pious once their dead. It’s a process. They know who actually wants saving and who doesn’t. God is omniscient, after all.”
“Is that a no?”
Saint Nicholas laughed. “Take it that way. However…,” he interjected to Asobi’s intended departure, “… there is a matter of discipline.”
Asobi sighed, his shoulders drooping.
“Will the kami beat me?”
“Good Lord, no.” The saint looked affronted. “No, something constructive.”
Asobi perked right up.
“Those souls were a couple on Earth and need closure as a couple first, before they can move on.”
“Uh huh, uh huh?”
“Sometimes an intermediary brings people together to settle things. You’ve heard of pet therapy?”