There was a subdued pop
far overhead. One moment there was only the pale sliver of moon and stars twinkling in the blanket of midnight sky. Then, from a faint sparkling of a cloud that wasn’t a cloud, emerged the silhouette of a sleigh pulled by nine reindeer.
“Here they come.” Pol pointed needlessly. They all knew what was there.
Lon watched with the rest of the handlers, captivated by the sight regardless of having seen it nightly over the past few months. At first, the sleigh and its chargers looked like little flying dolls, coasting shapes against the stars. Then they became more distinct as they neared. Reindeer galloping on air. The magical sleigh seemed weightless behind them. Even closer and the soft trill of jingle bells filled the air.
“Welcome home,” one of the handlers behind Lon and Pol murmured.
Lon smiled, nodding. It still filled his heart to see Santa and his sleigh, and it always would. It was part of the magic that still affected him and his brethren even though, as elves, they didn’t receive any of the physical bounty of the season. The feeling, the tone, the power of the giving and love of the Christmas season fueled the magic that kept their little corner of the universe in existence, and there was no harm in enjoying it.
The sleigh and its team touched down in the midst of a meadow spread before a sprawling barn at one end of Santa’s Village. The pulsing beacon of Rudolph’s nose shed its ruddy glow on the snowy field. Small hooves caused shallow dents in the deep rifts, the reindeer’s magic keeping them from sinking. The sleigh itself, although weighted by its rotund master, barely caused any runnels in the snow. The reindeer held their heads high, tossing proud antlers. They gradually checked their speed as they neared the barn, showing only a little of the exhaustion Lon knew they felt from the full night’s work. Each year, for the six months prior to Christmas in the human realm, Santa, the reindeer, and the sleigh passed between dimensions, bending time so that Santa could personally deliver joy to human children. The magic of Christmas had created the realm of the elves and sustained it, and for that the elves worked tirelessly to feed the joy so that on the one magical day when the times of the two planes converged and Christmas Day was celebrated simultaneously in both realms, the magic would support them for another year. Even though that special day was still five weeks away, the anticipation was palpable.
Lon stood aside with the other handlers, making a pathway toward the open barn doors. He waited as the sleigh passed by, then followed in its wake into the brightly lit expanse of the barn. Specially designed to house a unique sleigh, the interior of the barn was brightly lit and efficiently ordered. A large cubicle in one corner housed the sleigh itself during the off hours. Along the wall beside it were cupboards and shelves to hold spare parts and materials for the mechanics who tended it. Along the opposite walls were matching cupboards and shelves where the reindeer handlers like Lon stored the leather harnesses and jingle bells that adorned the reindeer. Directly across from the large doors was the single red door that was an entrance to Santa’s workshop. The reindeer brought the sleigh to a halt in the midst of the clear, hay-dusted floor, and only then did the runners settle from the air to the ground. Santa accepted the help of two assistants ready to see him safely to the ground as Lon and three fellow handlers approached the reindeer, two from each side.
Lon took a deep breath to still his nerves as he approached Dasher. Even after nearly a full season of working with the reindeer, he still found them wondrous, Dasher most of all. Three and a half feet at the shoulder, Dasher was the biggest on the team, and his thickly furred shoulder was on level with Lon’s chest. Lon made sure to catch the attention of Dasher’s large brown eye before reaching out to start unbuckling the harness. Jingle bells chimed as Pol worked with another handler to free Rudolph of the harness, while their other coworker aided Dancer. Supple red leather slid smoothly through gilded buckles, but most of Lon’s attention was on the gray and brown fur that covered Dasher’s powerful shoulders. Dasher’s spreading antlers rose above both their heads. By the time Rudolph had moved forward, free of the sleigh, Lon had the buckles loose from Dasher. A polite pat on the shoulder let the reindeer know he was free, and Lon held the harness until Dasher’s rump had passed by. As he moved to his left to begin loosening the straps of Prancer’s gear, Lon kept a part of his attention on the lead reindeer.
Dasher, Dancer, and Rudolph spaced themselves out in the center of the barn. Change charged the air, palpable to everyone. Slowly they turned, each carefully making sure everyone was clear of them. Then separate clouds of what looked like shimmering snowflakes filled the air around them, obscuring them briefly. One by one they emerged from the cloud in their true forms. Lon’s breath caught, his hands stilling for just a heartbeat on Prancer’s harness. From the cloud of magic that had encompassed Dasher emerged the most beautiful man he’d ever seen. Like his reindeer form, Rom was tall, just topping five feet. Sleek muscle filled every inch under pale, milky skin. He laughed and stretched skyward as the magic dissipated around him, proud and unashamed by his nudity. Not that he had anything to be ashamed of. He was a perfect specimen of an athletic elf, a prime candidate for his coveted spot leading Santa’s team. Broad of shoulder, narrow of hip, and hung like a buck, with sky blue hair falling in a shining straight cascade nearly to his tight, trim buttocks. He reached over to slap the meat of Wod’s shoulder, congratulating Dancer for another successful night. Wod grinned back at him, tucking his deep mahogany hair behind the delicate point of one ear. The blue-silver of their reindeer medallions shone from the centers of two powerful chests, Wod’s satiny skin a few shades darker than Rom’s, more of a pale caramel to smooth milk. Behind them, Tessie, the team’s Rudolph guide, stretched and yawned under the cloud of her bright orange hair, her own medallion resting between two small, creamy breasts. The three of them moved to the side to make room for the next reindeer to change. They were immediately surrounded by a number of other handlers, these bearing robes, shoes, and refreshment for the exhausted members of the team.
Lon bit his lip and forced himself to concentrate on his remaining work before his obsession with the lead reindeer became obvious. It wouldn’t do to let anyone know he was hopelessly, madly in love with Rom. True, nearly everyone
was in love with Rom, at least a little, but Lon was sure his feelings were different. His heart constricted when he was around the sexy lead reindeer. But he didn’t want to be seen as a simpering follower. He wanted Rom to notice him as a man. He would, one day. Soon. Although he had yet to come up with a suitable way to make that happen.
He managed to keep his eyes off Rom, and soon all nine reindeer were free of their harnesses and had shed their four-legged forms. Five men and four women, all chosen for their physical prowess to fill the role of Santa’s chargers. The waiting list to become one of the reindeer shifters included at least half of the population of Santa’s Village, certainly most of the youths. Although it was acknowledged hard work, nearly everyone wanted not only the excitement of crossing into the human realm to deliver toys but also the unique magic that allowed the shift into reindeer.
“Ho ho ho.” Santa’s signature laugh got everyone’s attention even if it was uttered by a feminine throat. Jannie mounted a small platform by the workshop entrance of the barn, still wearing the red pants with the white fur trim. But since the special coat that enabled her shift was slung over one shoulder, she was revealed as the elf she was. Her small breasts remained bare underneath the suspenders that held up the pants that sagged about her legs, pert, rosy nipples vivid against her snowy white skin. At all of four feet, she was much smaller than the five-and-a-half-foot form she presented in full Santa regalia. It wasn’t physical prowess that qualified Jannie for her leadership as Santa among them. Jannie had gotten her job for her smarts and her natural talent for magic. Not for the first time, Lon wondered what humans would think if they knew that Santa wasn’t always a man. For five years now, Santa had been this petite little woman with short, grape purple hair and silver and gold rings pierced along the edges of her pointed ears.
Jannie raised a golden goblet. “A fine night and a fine job, everyone.” She toasted her team and the handlers that surrounded them. “We made many a child happy this night.”